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NES-cafe is a NATURAL Brew

“NES-cafe is a NATURAL Brew”

Parshas Yisro begins with the words, “And Yisro – the Minister of Midyan – the father–in– law of Moshe, heard everything that Elokim did to Moshe and to Israel His people, that Havaya had taken Israel out of Egypt” (18:1).
One technical question on this verse is, “Why does this pasuk begin by referring to Hashem as ‘Elokim’ and conclude by referring to Hashem as ‘Havaya’? Why is there a lack of consistency?”

Rashi (ibid; based on Meseches Zevachim, chap. 14, “Paras Chatas”, pg. 116a) asks, “What did Yisro hear about that motivated him to come to the wilderness and convert to Judaism?” Rashi answers this question by saying that Yisro heard about, “Keriyas Yam Suf (which is the opinion of either Rebbi Eliezer or Rebbi Elazar ben Ya’akov) and Milchemes Amalek (which is the opinion of Rebbi Yehoshua).”

Another question is, “Where is there a hint in the verse itself which indicates that these were indeed the events which Yisro had heard about?”

Since Yisro heard about Keriyas Yam Suf and Milchemes Amalek, we must take a peek into last week’s parsha where these events are recorded.

When it came to Milchemes Amalek, Moshe went to do battle with them in a natural way. We see this from the fact that Moshe sent Yehoshua with troops to engage in warfare (Parshas Beshalach, 17:8-9).

However, when it came to Keriyas Yam Suf, Moshe went to do battle with them in a supernatural way. We can see this from the fact that Moshe told the people, “Hashem will make war for you, and you will remain silent” (Parshas Beshalach, 14:14). This meant that the Jews would not have to lift a finger or fire a shot because Hashem would do miracles for them.

This brings us to yet another question which is, “Why did Moshe choose to wage war against the army of Amalek in a natural way, whereas he chose to battle the Egyptian army in a supernatural way?”

Speaking of Amalek’s attack on the Jewish people, the Jews had asked a question which was, “Is Hashem among us or not?” (Parshas Beshalach, 17:7). The very next verse tells us that Amalek battled with Israel in Rephidim (Parshas Beshalach, 17:8).

Rashi (ibid, 17:8) quotes the Medrash Tanchuma which points out that this story of Amalek’s attack was juxtaposed to the verse about the Jewish people’s question (“Is Hashem amongst us or not?”) because this was Hashem’s way of conveying to the Jewish people that He (Hashem) is always amongst us, prepared to provide for all of our needs. Since the Jews had the chutzpa to ask if Hashem was with them, He sent a dog (Amalek) to bite them. Then they would cry out to Him and learn very quickly where Hashem is.

This begs us to ask, “How could the Jews ask such a question? How could they have forgotten about all the miracles that Hashem had performed for them? They saw the miracles of the plagues and Keriyas Yam Suf with their very eyes. Therefore, how could they ask, ‘Is Hashem with us or not’? Were they suffering from some sort of a mental illness?”

In his Emek Davar (Parshas Beshalach, 17:7), The Netziv (Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin; 1816 Belarus-1893 Poland; Rosh Yeshiva of the Volozhiner Yeshiva) answers this last question by saying that it is true that the Jewish people saw all of the plagues and Keriyas Yam Suf. Yet, the Jews thought that Hashem only performed miracles for them which were transcendent and supernatural, because such miracles are only temporary, and because they only happen in the merit of Moshe Rabbenu.

The Jews thought that once Moshe would die, they would revert back to “normal” life, which is governed by the laws of nature. It was concerning the natural world that the Jews asked, “Is Hashem with us or not?” Meaning, “Does Hashem govern nature? Is Hashem in control of nature, or, is nature left to other forces such as the planetary bodies and stars?”

Therefore, even though the Jewish people witnessed supernatural miracles, in no way does that prevent them from asking, “Is Hashem in our midst or not?” Witnessing obvious miracles does not contradict this question, because they were asking, “Is Hashem in our midst,” meaning, “Is Hashem found with us even within the natural world? Can we depend upon Hashem even within the world of nature? Is Hashem taking care of us in the day-to-day humdrum of life?”

One of the principals of faith is that Hashem is very much in control of nature. However, since the Jewish people demonstrated a lack of faith in this principal, Hashem sent Amalek to attack them in order that they should witness how Hashem is with them even within the laws of nature. They would see this from their victory against Amalek in battle. The Jews were an untrained army, and yet they won the trained army of Amalek. How could they possibly win such a war? The answer is that Hashem performed a miracle for them within the natural world order.

The Netziv goes on to answer a question that we did not even raise above. That question is, “Why did Moshe not lead them into this battle against Amalek?” As king of the Jewish people, Moshe should have been on the front line. Why did he remain behind and appoint Yehoshua to go instead (Parshas Beshalach, 17:9)?

The Netziv answers this question by saying that Moshe did not go out in front of his soldiers in battle because Moshe Rabbenu was very much connected to the world of miracles. Moshe was like their miracle working rabbi. If Moshe would have led his troops into battle, people would have said that we won that war because he (Moshe) waived his magic wand and brought the Amalekites to their knees through open miracles. That would have defeated the purpose of this war which was to teach the Jews that Hashem is with them even within the world of nature. Therefore, Moshe chose to remain behind and sent regular soldiers into a normative battle.

Now it becomes obvious why Moshe chose to wage war against the army of Amalek in a natural way, and yet, he chose to wage war against the Egyptian army in a miraculous way. It is because Moshe wanted to teach us that Hashem is with us in both worlds, whether in the world of miracles and even in the world of nature.

Based on all of this we will be able to appreciate the following verse even more so. Prior to the battle against Amalek, Moshe told Yehoshua, “I will ascend on top of the hill, and the staff of Elokim will be in my hand.” (Parshas Beshalach, 17:9). Reb Shlomo Kluger (1785-1869, Ukraine), in his Chochmas HaTorah (Parshas Beshalach) explains this verse based upon the teaching of the Ramak (Rabbi Moshe Cordovaro, 1522-1570, Tzfas) in his Pardes Rimonim.

He says that the reason why Moshe emphasized that the staff was the staff of Elokim was because whenever a miracle beyond nature happens in this world, it comes from the spiritual energy of God’s Name Havaya. However, whenever a miracle occurs in this world within the confines of nature, it comes from the spiritual energy of God’s Name Elokim. In fact, the numerical value of the Name Elokim is the same as the numerical value of the word Hateva (the nature). Both equal 86 exactly. This numerical equivalency supports the notion that miracles within nature stem from the spiritual energy of the Name Elokim.

Therefore, Moshe was meticulous to say that he was going to be holding the staff of Elokim so that he would awaken the spiritual energy of Elokim which would bring about a miracle within nature.

This approach will explain the following Mishna in a deeper way. The Mishna itself is based on the verse regarding Milchemes Amalek which says, “It happened that when Moshe raised his hands Israel was stronger” (Parshas Beshalach, 17:11).

In Meseches Rosh Hashana (chap. 3, “Ra-uhu Beis Din”, Mishna 8, pg. 29a) the Mishna asks, “Did the hands of Moshe make it (war) or break it (war)?” “Rather,” says the Mishna, “so long as the Jews looked heavenward and subjugated their hearts to their Parent in Heaven, they would overpower Amalek, but if not, not.”

There is a very strong question that a person could ask on this Mishna. How could the Mishna ask, “Did the hands of Moshe make it or break it?” The answer should be a resounding, “Yes!” Moshe had an incredible track record when it came to raising his hands. Every time Moshe moved his hands, things happened. For example, Moshe raised his hands and the waters of the Yam Suf parted (Parshas Beshalach, 14:21). Moshe raised his hands again and the water came crashing down upon the Egyptians (Parshas Beshalach, 14:27). So, what was the Mishna asking?

The Shvilei Pinchas answers this question based on the Netziv above. The Netziv said that when the Jews asked, “Is Hashem in our midst or not,” they were asking if Hashem was with them within the world of nature. Therefore, by Milchemes Amalek, when the pasuk said, “When Moshe raised his hands Israel was stronger,” the Mishna meant to ask, “Did the hands of Moshe make it or break it in a natural way?”

This means to say that the Chachmei Hamishna were well aware of the magical powers that Moshe possessed in his hands. However, the war against Amalek was meant to demonstrate that Hashem was even in complete control of nature itself. Therefore, the Mishna asked, “What was Moshe doing raising his hands during the battle against Amalek?” The battle against Amalek was supposed to be a miracle within nature, but Moshe’s hand-raising belonged to the world of the supernatural. So, why was Moshe raising his hands during that battle?

The Mishna answered its question by saying that, in this instance, Moshe’s raising of his hands had nothing to do with transcendent miracles. Rather, Moshe merely raised his hands to attract the Jewish people’s attention so that they would look up and remember that God was with them and that God was giving them their success. Moshe’s message was, “Yes, we have a military with tanks, soldiers, jets, and an iron dome. However, the success of these tools is totally dependent on Hashem.

As a means of an extension to this idea, we find that Amalek’s timing was impeccable. This is because the verse stresses that Amalek attacked us on the way when we were leaving Mitzrayim (Parshas Ki Seitzei, 25:17). Why does the Torah connect Yetziyas Mitzrayim to Milchemes Amalek?

Based on a fundamental teaching from the Ramban (Parshas Bo, 13:16) we will start to understand this connection. The Ramban says that the purpose of the revealed miracles which Hashem had performed to bring us out of Mitzrayim was in order that we should realize that there is something called a miracle. Hashem expected us to take the next mental step to realize that there are also miracles which happen within nature. More than that, Hashem wanted us to realize that nature itself is miraculous. In other words, the miracles which occurred at the time of Yetziyas Mitzrayim were supposed to introduce us to the concept of miracles which was then supposed to trigger a series of thoughts leading us to the conclusion that everything is a miracle.

The Shvilei Pinchas adds that this idea of the Ramban is hinted to in the pasuk which says, “And you will know this day and take to your heart that Hashem – He is the God in heaven above and on the Earth below, there is none other” (Parshas Vaeschanan, 4:39). There are two expressions in this verse. They are: 1) in heaven above, and 2) on the earth below. These two expressions represent two categories of miracles: 1) supernatural miracles which stem from above, and 2) the miracles which occur on Earth below within the laws of nature.
Regarding both types of miracles that very same verse says, “Know this day that Hashem – He is the God.” Meaning, Hashem controls both kinds of miracles.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that this explains why the Torah emphasizes that Amalek attacked us on the way when we left Egypt. It is because Hashem had performed open miracles for us when we left Mitzrayim so that we should come to realize that Hashem also operates in a miraculous way within nature itself (as the Ramban taught us above).

This is why Amalek attacked us precisely as we were leaving Egypt. It is because they wanted to inject us with thoughts of heresy which dictates that Hashem does not govern nature. This is why we began to ask, “Is Hashem in our midst or not.” We began asking this question because we were already starting to feel the influence of Amalek who was a nation of atheists who did not believe in God at all.

The reason why Amalek wanted to imbue us with their heretical philosophy specifically when we were on the way leaving Egypt is because Amalek wanted to undermine the entire purpose of the miracles which Hashem had performed for us at that time. Since the supernatural miracles of Mitzrayim were meant to teach us that Hashem governs nature as well, and that nature itself is miraculous, Amalek wanted to uproot such thoughts. Amalek wanted us to adopt their philosophy.

Now we can understand why the verse links Amalek’s attack to Yetziyas Mitzrayim. This comes to teach us that Amalek wanted to ruin the lessons that we were supposed to glean from Yetziyas Mitzrayim.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that now we can see how Rashi and Chaza”l knew, from the verse itself, that Yisro had heard about specifically Keriyas Yam Suf and Milchemes Amalek. The answer is based on Rabbi Shlomo Kluger and the Pardes Rimonim mentioned above who said that a supernatural miracle occurs from the spiritual energy of the Name Havaya, whereas a natural miracle within nature occurs through the spiritual energy of the Name Elokim.

Therefore, when the opening sentence of this week’s parsha said, “And Yisro heard everything that Elokim did for Moshe and Israel,” Chaza”l understood that the Name Elokim represented the miracle within nature which transpired during the war against Amalek.

When that same pasuk went on to say, “[And Yisro heard] That Havaya had taken Israel out of Egypt,” Chaza”l understood that the Name Havaya represented the supernatural miracle which occurred at Yam Suf. With the Names Elokim and Havaya, this verse hints to us that Yisro heard about Amalek and Yam Suf.

Now it is obvious why the opening verse of our parsha is inconsistent by first referring to Hashem as Elokim and later referring to Hashem as Havaya. It is because this pasuk is teaching us, what it was specifically, that Yisro heard about. He heard about 1) Milchemes Amalek – a miracle within nature – that stemmed from the Name Elokim, and 2) Keriyas Yam Suf – a supernatural miracle – that stemmed from the Name Havaya.

Before concluding, perhaps we could add that this explains the essence of Purim. After reading Megillas Esther one realizes that the entire miracle was one in which Hashem operated within nature, manipulating and moving the political pawns around in such a way that brought about salvation to the entire nation of Israel.

The reason why Purim’s miracle was camouflaged within nature was because our primary enemy at that time was Haman. Haman was a descendent of Amalek (Megillas Esther, 3:1)., and Amalek was a nation who denies God’s governance of nature. Therefore, the entire miracle of Purim happened within nature to teach us that Hashem is even involved in the natural world.

This week, there are two practical take-aways:
Number one:

Let us pay a little bit more attention to the end of the first paragraph of Aleinu which says, “And you will know this day and take to your heart that Havaya is Elokim in heaven above and on Earth below, there is none other” (Parshas Vaeschanan, 4:39). This verse says it all. The Name Havaya represents supernatural miracles that come from heaven above, and the Name Elokim represents miracles within nature that come from the Earth below.

When saying this liturgical passage, let us be reminded that God not only performs supernatural miracles, but He is also in complete control of what we call natural events.

Number two:

Each day, after Shacharis, say, “Keriyas Yam Suf, Milchemes Amalek” (Note: Milchemes Amalek is anyway one of the six remembrances). When we say these words, let us be reminded that just as it was obvious that Yam Suf was a miracle, so is all nature a miracle. Let us be reminded that Hashem is with us even in the most mundane and challenging times.

So, may we all be blessed, like Yisro, with the awareness to hear and to understand that Hashem is with us in our everyday lives, in every situation, and in every circumstance, and in that merit, may we live to witness the transcendent miracles that Hashem will bring during the Final Redemption, which will teach the world, once and for all, that God governs every aspect of what we call nature.

Borrowers Must be Choosy

Borrowers Must be Choosy

Among the many topics contained in this week’s parsha, we find that Hashem commanded Moshe to, “Speak in the ears of the people, let each man request of his fellow, and each woman from her fellow, silver vessels and gold vessels” (Parshas Bo, 11:2).

This instruction was already mentioned to Moshe at the beginning of his aency, by the Burning Bush, when Hashem commanded Moshe to instruct the Jewish people, “V’sha’ala” (Parshas Shemos, 3:22), which means that they should request gold and silver from their Egyptian neighbors prior to leaving Mitzrayim.

The Radak (Rabbenu Dovid Kimchi, 1160-1235, France) defines the word “V’sha’ala” as “borrow” just as we find in Parshas Mishpatim when it says, “And if a man ‘Yishal,’ (will borrow) from his fellow” (22:13). Since the words “Yishal” and V’sha’ala” share the same root, just as “Yishal” means to borrow, so does “V’sha’ala” mean borrow.

This definition raises a question. You see, Hashem never intended the Jews to return the gold and silver that they borrowed. We know this from the verse where Moshe prophetically tells the Jewish people, “For as you have seen Egypt today, you will not see them ever again” (Parshas Beshalach, 14:13). The Egyptian army would drown at sea, and the Jews would never see any Egyptians who were left in the land of Egypt ever again.

If the Jews would never see the Egyptians again, they would never be able to return the silver and gold to them. Therefore, how could Hashem, the paradigm example of truth (Shabbos, chap. 5, “Bameh Biheima”, pg. 55a, Rebbi Chanina), instruct them to borrow gold and silver from the Egyptians if Hashem intended that the Jews would keep the gold and silver for themselves. How could such an honest God tell them to do something that was simply not true?

The Ibn Ezra (Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra, 1089-1167, Spain; Parshas Shemos, 3:22) asks this very question when he writes, “There are those who complain and say that our forefathers were robbers.”

The Ibn Ezra (ibid) answers this question by saying, “Hashem created everything. He gives wealth to those whom He chooses, and He takes that wealth away from them and gives it to others as He chooses. This is not evil, because everything belongs to Him.”

Although the Ibn Ezra has shown how our ancestors were not thieves, he has not explained how we were allowed to lie. We still asked the Egyptians to borrow their gold and silver when we had no intention of ever returning it to them. How could we lie?

Rabbenu Bachya (1255-1340, Spain), the Rashbam (Rabbi Shmuel ben Meir, 1085-1158, France, Rashi’s grandson), and the Tosafists (Da’as Zikeinim m’Ba’alei Hatosafos, Parshas Shemos, 3:21) answer this question by saying that the word “V’sha’ala” does not mean to borrow. Rather, it means to make a request for a gift. Support of this translation is found in Tehillim where it says, “Sh’al (ask; make a request) of Me and I will give you nations as your inheritance” (2:8). The two words “V’sha’ala and Sh’al” share the same root. Therefore, just as the word “Sh’al” in Tehillim means ask for a gift, so does the word “V’sha’ala” mean ask for a gift.

Therefore, the Jews never asked to borrow the gold and silver. Rather, they requested that the Egyptians give them their gold and silver as gifts. In this way, the Jews never lied. The Rashbam says that this is the primary way of answering the heretics who try to say otherwise.

Although these Rishonim have said that the word “V’sha’ala” means “requesting a gift,” there is a Gemara which indicates that “V’sha’ala” means “borrow.” In Meseches Sanhedrin (chap. 11, “Cheilek”, pg. 91a) it tells us that once upon a time, the Egyptians took the Jewish people to a Greek court before Alexander the Great. The Egyptians said that the Torah itself says, “And Hashem gave the people favor in the eyes of the Egyptians, ‘Vayashilum’ (and they loaned them; Parshas Bo, 12:36). Therefore, the Egyptians complained that the Jews owed them the gold and silver that we had borrowed but never returned.

Geviya ben Pesisa (a Jewish Sage who lived in the time of Alexander the Great, who represented the Jewish people in several law suits brought against them) responded that the Egyptians owed the Jewish people back pay for enslaving 600,000 people. The Egyptians imposed forced labor upon the Jews making them build their empire with cities and storehouses. The Jews were never paid for their work and deserved to be compensated.

Payment for 600,000 people over many decades was an astronomical amount of money. So, the Egyptians decided to leave things as they were. The gold and silver that the Jews had taken would serve as their payment.

From this Gemara we see that the word “Vayishalu” means “borrow.” Only then does the dialogue in this Gemara make sense. Only then could the Egyptians make a claim that we must return what we borrowed. Because, if “V’sha’ala” meant “gift,” how could the Egyptians make their claim that the Jews should return the gold and silver? One does not have to return a gift. They would have been kicked out of court. Obviously, “V’sha’ala” means “borrow.” If so, this would contradict the Rishonim who said that it means “gift.” This Gemara would also bring back the question of how the Jews could lie.

The Shvilei Pinchas answers this question by saying that the Egyptians interpreted the word “V’sha’ala” to mean “borrow.” That is how they were able to make a claim against the Jews in front of Alexander the Great. However, the true definition of the word “V’sha’ala,” in this context, means “request a gift.”

At this point, I must add something to the words of the Shvilei Pnchas. In order for all of this to work out, we must say that the Jews spoke to the Egyptians in Lashon Hakodesh (Biblical Hebrew). After all, the Midrash in Vayikra Rabba (Parshas Emor, 32:5) tells us that the Jews in Egypt preserved their Holy tongue. We must also say that, by that time, the Egyptians were somewhat familiar with Hebrew. Perhaps we could offer an analogy which supports this notion.

I just returned to Eretz Yisrael from a trip to the United States. Most of my time was spent in Elizabeth, N.J. In certain neighborhoods within Elizabeth, if you want to get something done properly, speaking Spanish would come in handy because there are so many Spanish speaking people living there who still communicate in Spanish. It is typical for English speakers to pick up some Spanish in order to communicate with the Spanish speaking community. So, just as Americans become somewhat familiar with some Spanish words, so were the Egyptians somewhat familiar with some Hebrew words.

Therefore, the Jewish people must have said something like, “Anachnu Yecholim Lishol?” Although the Jews meant, “Can we receive gifts,” the Egyptians interpreted those words to mean, “Can we borrow?” So, the Jews were not liars. The word “V’sha’ala” meant “request of a gift,” as the Rashbam, Rabbenu Bachya, and the Tosafists said.

Yet, simultaneously, the Egyptians mistakenly thought that the Jews were asking to borrow their silver and gold, which led them to make their claim against the Jews in the time of Alexander the Great.

But there is still a difficulty here. Since the word “V’sha’ala” has two meanings: 1) borrow, and 2) request of a gift, why would Hashem instruct the Jews to use that word? Why not just use a word that clearly means “request of a gift” and circumvent any confusion? For example, just say, “Vayevakshu Ish,” which means, “Let every man request [of his friend gold and silver].” The word “Bakasha” can only mean “request.” “Bakasha” never means “borrow.” So, why use an ambiguous word when we could have spoken in a way which was not misleading?

The following teaching will lay down our fundamental point for today and address the questions that were just raised.

The B’nei Yissasschar (Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech of Dinov, Poland, 1783-1841; Shabbos, 7:17) cites the Chidah (Rabbi Chaim Yoseph Dovid Azulai, 1724 Jerusalem-1806 Italy; Rosh Dovid, Parshas Tetzaveh) who quotes a Midrash in Tanna d’bei Eliyahu Zuta (chap. 19) which says that Ya’akov and Eisav had decided to divide the worlds amongst themselves. Eisav took Olam Hazeh (this lower materialistic world) as his territory, whereas Ya’akov Avinu chose Olam Haba (the upper spiritual world) as his possession.

Now, if Eisav owns Olam Hazeh, how are we, the descendants of Ya’akov, allowed to take physical pleasures from this world, beyond what is absolutely necessary for our survival (Pikuach Nefesh)? The pleasures that we take from this world should constitute theft, because we are stealing from what rightfully belongs to Eisav.

The B’nei Yissasschar and Chidah cite the Maharash Frimo who answers this question by quoting a Gemara in Meseches Avoda Zara (chap. 1, “Lifnei Eideihen”, pg. 3a) which focuses on the verse which says, “Vayehi Erev Vayehi Voker Yom Hashishi” (and there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day; Parshas Bereishis, 1:31). The Gemara wants to know why there is a seemingly extra letter hey attached to the word “Shishi” making it “Hashishi?” By no other day is the letter hey added (Sheini, Shlishi, Revii, etc.).

The Gemara explains that this letter hey teaches us that after Hashem created the world, He made a condition with creation. Hashem said that if the Jews will accept the Torah at Mount Sinai, then everything created will continue existing. However, if the Jews reject the Torah, then everything created will revert back to Tohu and Vohu (null, void, chaos, emptiness).

We can see this from the added letter hey because the letter hey is numerically five which represents the Five Books of the Torah. Additionally, the letter hey on the word “Hashishi” means “THE sixth day,” referring to the famous sixth day of Sivan (Shavuos) upon which the Jewish people accepted the Torah. So, if the Jews will accept the Chamisha Chumshei Torah on the sixth day of Sivan, everything will continue to exist. If not, not.

Now, we know that Hashem offered the Torah to the other nations of the world (Avoda Zara ibid, pg. 2b), but they turned it down. It turns out that from the perspective of the nations, the world was going to self-destruct. It was only the Jews who accepted the Torah and who saved the world from imploding. This is crucial information, as we will now see.

The Gemara in Baba Metzia (chap. 2, “Eilu Metzios”, pg. 24a) cites Rebbi Shimon ben Elazar who says that if an object which was owned by somebody sinks in the tides of the sea, or gets swept away by the surge of a flooding river, and somebody else finds it, the object belongs to the finder, because the original owner had “yey-ush” (loss of hope) of ever retrieving it. Yey-ush causes loss of ownership. Therefore, in this case, finders’ keepers.

The Maharash Frimo says that Olam Hazeh was like that object sinking in the ocean because as the nations rejected the Torah, the world was about to self-destruct. When the nations felt the trembling of the earth underneath them, they had yey-ush. Not only did they lose hope of ever getting their possessions back, but they lost hope of holding onto their very lives.

Therefore, when the Jews accepted the Torah, the world calmed down. The world was saved. The Jews had rescued the world from sinking into oblivion. As a result, the Jews became the new owners of Olam Hazeh. This is how Jews are allowed to take pleasure from this world, beyond what is necessary for our survival. It is because we became the new owners of this world. We are not taking anything away from Eisav by enjoying the pleasures of Olam Hazeh.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that this explains why Hashem wanted to use the ambiguous word “Vayishalu.” It is because Hashem wanted the Egyptians to interpret this word to mean “request for a gift.” Hashem wanted the Egyptians to think that they were giving away their gold and silver to the Jews as payment for decades of forced labor that they made compulsory for the Jews. Although the Egyptians never lived up to this expectation, as we saw from their claim against the Jews in front of Alexander the Great, this was still Hashem’s intention.

However, Hashem wanted the Jewish people to interpret this word to mean “borrow.” This is because Hashem wanted the Jews to know that right now, before Matan Torah, this lower-worldly wealth rightfully belongs to the Egyptians. However, should the Jews accept the Torah, thereby saving the world from imminent destruction, this wealth would belong to the Jewish people according to the letter of the law, because the Egyptians would have already had yey-ush.

Hashem also wanted the Jews to know that if they would reject the Torah, the silver and gold would remain as a loan which they would have to return to the Egyptians sometime before the world would be destroyed.

Perhaps we could add that, based on this approach, there is another answer to the question raised above as to how the Jews were allowed to steal the Egyptian gold and silver. According to the Ibn Ezra above, it was not considered stealing because everything belongs to Hashem. Hashem chose to give that wealth to the Egyptians, and then He decided to take His wealth away from the Egyptians and deposit it with the Jews.

However, according to this new approach, there is another reason as to why the Jews were not guilty of thievery. It is because we accepted the Torah and rescued the world from destruction. Due to Egyptian yey-ush, their property no longer belonged to them, and we rightfully took possession of it.

Perhaps we could add more to modify what we mentioned above about the word “Vayishalu” not being considered a lie. On the contrary, the word “Vayishalu” is extremely precise because this word tells us that if the Jews would not accept the Torah, then all of Egyptian property was on loan and the Jews would have to return it. At the same time, this word teaches us that if the Jews do accept the Torah, then all Egyptian property is a gift (as the Rashbam, Rabbenu Bachya, and the Tosafists said), because the Jews would own the gold and silver since they saved it from sinking into oblivion.

The Shvilei Pinchas concludes by saying that this teaching is relevant to us today, because if we want all of the blessings that this world (Olam Hazeh) has to offer, we must fulfil one condition. That condition is to accept and reaccept the Torah upon ourselves. Every resolution of accepting the Torah reaffirms our ownership of Olam Hazeh which makes us the only people who have the right to benefit from the materialism of this world.

So, practically speaking, let each one of us choose at least one mitzvah that we are going to improve upon a little bit more, because improvement on a mitzvah is an expression of Kabbalas HaTorah for which we will become the beneficiaries of even materialistic gain.

So, may we all be blessed with the wisdom to cling to Torah even more so, and thereby enjoy even the gifts of Olam Hazeh.

Standing Guard at the Door

30 Kislev, 5782; December 4, 2021
“Standing Guard at the Door”

When the brothers of Yoseph returned to Mitzrayim for the second time with Binyamin, they had a conversation with the man in charge of Yoseph’s home about the money they had found in their sacks. The brothers were apologizing to this man and they explained to him that they had not taken the money.

The verse says, “And they approached the man (Menashe) who was in charge of Yoseph’s house, and they spoke to him at the entrance of the house” (Parshas Miketz, 43:19). Why would the brothers choose to speak with the man specifically at the entrance of the house? It would seem awkward to have a conversation there. Apparently, they should have entered into the house and sat around the table to talk, as most people do. Why did they insist at having their conversation davka at the entrance of the house?

The Sifsei Kohein (Rabbi Mordechai Hakohein of Tzfas, 1523-1598; a disciple of the Arizal) answers this question by saying that they chose to speak to the man specifically by the entrance of the house because that is the place which would have a mezuza affixed to it, and on the outside of a rolled up mezuza, the Name of God called “Shakkai” is written on it. The Shevatim (brothers; heads of the tribes) wanted to awaken the prayer of their father, Ya’akov, who davened for them using that very Name of God, as it says, “And may God Shakkai grant you mercy before the man” (Parshas Miketz, 43:14).

The Imrei Pinchas (Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz, 1726 Belarus-1791 Ukraine) adds that when we stand by a mezuza, every one of us should decide to follow in the footsteps of the Shevatim by awakening the tefillah of Ya’akov Avinu. One should say, “ViKeil Shakkai Yiten Lachem Rachamim” (Parshas Miketz, 43:14; and may Keil Shakkai grant you mercy). When saying these words, one should have in mind that Hashem should be merciful to the entirety of Klal Yisrael. One should also keep in mind that Hashem fulfill the meaning of His Name Shakkai which is, “May the One Who said ‘Dai’ (enough) to the world, say ‘Dai’ to our suffering.”

The explanation of how “Shakkai” means “Say Dai,” is as follows. When God created our planet, it began from a point and then it began to expand, until Hashem told it, “Dai” (enough). Then the Earth stopped expanding (Meseches Chagiga, chap. 2, “Ein Dorshin”, pg. 12a).

The Name Shakkai is connected to this idea because it is spelled with three Hebrew letters which are: Shin, Dalet, and Yud. The Shin of Shakkai stands for the word “Sheh-amar” (the One Who said). The two remaining letters of Shakkai, the Dalet and the Yud, spell the word “Dai.” Therefore, Shakkai means, “Sheh-amar Dai” (the One Who said stop, enough).

This is how the Name Shakkai evokes the idea that the One Who said “Dai” to the expansion of the world, should also say “Dai” to our suffering.

Since we are speaking about the Mitzva of Mezuza, let us share some more information concerning it.

The Gemara in Menachos (chap. 4, “Hatecheiles”, pg. 43b) quotes Rebbi Chanina who says that Hashem’s ways are not similar to our ways. A king of flesh and blood sits in his royal throne room, or in modern terms, the President of the United States sits in the Oval Office, while his secret service protects him from the outside. However, Hashem does not behave that way. On the contrary, we, Hashem’s servants, sit inside while Hashem Himself protects us from the outside. The reason why Hashem watches over us from outside the home is on account of the mezuza that we affix on the doorpost which is outside.

In fact, the Darchei Moshe (Rabbi Moshe Isserles, 1530-1572, Cracow, Poland; Yora Deah, 286:4) cites Maharam (Rabbi Meir of Rottenburg, Germany, 1215-1293) who says that he is certain that any home which has a kosher mezuza hanging on the doorpost in the halachic way will not be affected negatively by any destructive forces.

However, if a person does not hang his mezuza in a kosher halachic way, that home and its inhabitants are in danger of mazikin (destructive forces; Menachos, chap. 3, “Hakometz Rabba”, pg. 32b, Rav Yehuda in the name of Shmuel, and Rashi ibid).

Since a mezuza serves as a form of protection, the Name Shakkai is written on the outside part of the parchment (Rambam, Hilchos Mezuza, 5:4; Tur Yora Deah, 288 citing Rosh; Beis Yoseph ibid, citing Zohar Vaeschanan, pg. 266a). This is because the Name Shakkai also represents protection because the Rema in Darchei Moshe (Yorah Deah, 288:3) cites the Kol Bo (author not ascertained, chap 90) who says that the name Shakkai is also an acronym which stands for, “Shomer Dirat Yisrael” (the One Who protects Jewish dwelling places).

In fact, the Zohar in Raya Mihemna (Parshas Vaeschanan, pg. 263b) says that a “sheid” (demon) stands on the left side of a Jewish doorway and wants to destroy that home and its inhabitants. However, when a Jew looks at the Name Shakkai on the mezuza which is on the right side of the doorway and pronounces it, the sheid is neutralized and he can do no harm.

The Matzas Shimurim (by the Mekubal Rabbi Nasan Shapiro; Sha’ar Hamezuza) adds that the Name Shakkai does not just stand for “Shomer Dirat Yisrael,” but it also serves as the acronym for, “Shomer Daltot Yisrael” (the One Who protects Jewish doorways).

Perhaps we could add the following observation. Within the Name Shakkai are the letters shin dalet which spell “sheid.” The only letter which separates the word “sheid” from the word “Shakkai” is the letter Yud. The letter Yud often stands for Hashem because it is the first letter of God’s Name Havaya. This teaches us that when we focus on Hashem (represented by the letter Yud of Shakkai), we are connected to Hashem. Therefore, just as it is impossible to damage Hashem, we too will be protected from being harmed, because Hashem is with us protecting us.

Another benefit we receive from the Mitzva of Mezuza is longevity, as it says, “You must write them on the doorposts of your house” (Parshas Eikev, 11:20; this verse is found in the second paragraph written on a mezuza), and immediately afterwards it says, “In order to prolong your days and the days of your children” (ibid, 21). This juxtaposition teaches us that through the Mitzva of Mezuza, one will live a long life (Shabbos, chap. 2, “Bamh Madlikin”, pg. 32b).

The Tur (Yora Deah, chap. 285, based on Shabbos ibid) adds that by inference we learn that if one is not careful in fulfilling the Mitzva of Mezuza properly, the lives of him and his children will be cut short (Lo Aleinu; see Shulchan Aruch, Yora Deah 285:1).

However, to accentuate the positive, fulfilling the Mitzva of Mezuza increases one’s lifespan. The Shela Hakadosh (Rabbi Yeshaya Horowitz, Meseches Chulin, Torah Ohr 13, in the name of the Reikanti Parshas Miketz) based on the Zohar (Tikkun Yud, pg. 25, and Tikkun 22, pg. 66a) says that there is a remez (hint) which supports this notion.

In Parshas Vaeschanan (6:9; which is found in the first paragraph written on a mezuza) it says, “And write them on the ‘mezuzos’ [doorposts] of your house.” The word “mezuzos” in this verse is spelled without the first vov. You see, there could have been two vovs written in that word. The first vov should have appeared after the first letter zayin, and the second vov after the second letter zayin.

Yet, the first letter vov is absent. When we take the letters in this word “mezuzos” and unscramble them, they spell two words which are, “Zaz Maves” (move death). This teaches us that in the merit of the Mitzva of Mezuza, death will be removed from us, resulting in longevity.

At this point, it is important to mention that we affix a mezuza on the right doorpost. The right side is determined by walking into the room. Whichever doorpost is on your right side as you walk into the room is the right side upon which the mezuza is affixed (Meseches Menachos, ibid, pg. 34a). This information will become relevant after mentioning another instance in the Torah where we focus on doorposts.

The Jews in Mitzrayim were told to take the hyssop and dip it into the blood of the Korban Pesach and touch it to the lintel and to the two doorposts. Then, Hashem will pass over those homes and not let the destroyer enter into them (Parshas Bo, 12:22-23).

In Shemos Rabba (Parshas Bo, 17:3) it says that the lintel represents Avraham Avinu, and the two doorposts represent Yitzchak Avinu and Ya’akov Avinu. In their merits, Hashem will not let the destroyer inside.

Rabbi Elazar Rokeach (1665-1742, Amsterdam) in Ma’aseh Rokeach (Parshas Korach) says that it is obvious that the right doorpost represents Ya’akov Avinu because his middah was Tiferes which leans toward the right, whereas the left doorpost represents Yitzchak because his middah was Din and Gevura which is on the left.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that we see from all of this that the mezuza is connected to Ya’akov Avinu because the mezuza is affixed on the right doorpost which represents Ya’akov Avinu.

Moreover, it was Ya’akov who instituted the recitation of Shema (Bereishis Rabba, Parshas Vayechi, 98:3, Elazar ben Achoi). Since the first paragraph of a mezuza is the Shema paragraph, we find another connection between Ya’akov and the mezuza.

The Arizal (Likkutei Torah, Parshas Vayeira, 22:20) points out that the gematria of “Ya’akov” is 182. This is the same exact numerical value as seven Sheimos Havaya. The Sheim Havaya, which is spelled: Yud – Hey – Vov – Hey is numerically 26. Seven such Names equals 182. The reason why we multiply the Sheim Havaya by seven is because there are seven Sheimos Havaya in the two paragraphs written on a mezuza. Three Sheimos Havaya are found in the first paragraph, and four Sheimos Havaya are found in the second paragraph. Once again, Ya’akov is connected to the mezuza.

The Shvilei Pinchas adds yet another connection between Ya’akov and the Mitzva of Mezuza. To understand this connection, he shares three pieces of information.

Number one: Rambam (Hilchos Mezuza, 6:1) says that there are ten conditions that a home must meet in order to be obligated in the Mitzva of Mezuza.

Number two: There are two paragraphs written on a mezuza. They are Shema and Vehaya Im Shamoah.

Number three: There are 170 words in the two paragraphs written on a mezuza.

These pieces of information connect to Ya’akov Avinu. This is because the name Ya’akov is spelled with four Hebrew letters which are: Yud, Ayin, Kuf, and Beis. The first letter of Ya’akov, Yud, is numerically ten, representing the ten conditions enumerated in the Rambam. The last letter of Ya’akov, Beis, is numerically two, representing the two paragraphs written on a mezuza. The remaining two letters of Ya’akov, Kuf and Ayin, equal 170, representing the 170 words which make up the two paragraphs written on a mezuza.

The Shvilei Pinchas adds that once we connect a mezuza to Ya’akov, we can understand why it works like a charm providing protection. This is because Ya’akov was promised protection (Parshas Vayeitzei28:12-13; Meseches Chulin, chap. 7, “Gid Hanasheh”, pg. 91b; Parshas Vayeitzei, 28:15). Therefore, when we affix a mezuza on our doorposts, we connect with the energy of Ya’akov Avinu. Just as he was protected, we will be protected as well.

Additionally, just as Ya’akov merited longevity (Meseches Ta’anis, chap. 1, “M’eimasai”, pg. 5b, Rebbi Yochanan said “Ya’akov Avinu Lo Mes,” Ya’akov never died), we will also be blessed with long lives when we affix a mezuza to the doorpost because we connect with the energy of Ya’akov Avinu (Shvilei Pinchas).

Before concluding, perhaps we could suggest a connection between this teaching and Channuka, because we are currently celebrating Channuka.

The Gemara in Meseches Shabbos (chap. 2, “Bameh Madlikin”, pg. 22b) cites Rabba who says that, preferably, Channuka candles should be lit outside a person’s front door, facing a public domain. Rav Shmuel m’Difti adds that the Channuka candles should be placed on the left side of the doorway so that the home is surrounded with mitzvos; the mezuza on the right side, and the menorah on the left side.

Perhaps we could suggest that the menorah also serves as a form of protection. This is because the shape of a menorah is the same shape as the Hebrew letter shin, and the letter Shin stands for the Name Shakkai.

Therefore, Channuka candles are also connected to Ya’akov because he davened using the Name Shakkai. It turns out that this is the formula. Channuka candles represent the menorah, and the menorah was in the shape of a shin, and a shin represents Shakkai, and Shakkai is connected to Ya’akov because he davened for his sons protection using the Name Shakkai.

Therefore, Channuka candles also draw upon Ya’akov’s prayer for protection. Therefore, Channuka candles also have the power to destroy the sheid who stands on the left side of a doorway.

Just to be clear, the menorah is in the shape of a letter shin, and shin stands for “Shakkai,” shin stands for “shemira,” and shin stands for “sheid.” This teaches us that Shakkai will be shomer over us and protect us from the sheid. All that from the “shemen” of the Channuka candles!!!!!!!!

One practical exercise from this teaching would be as follows. We walk in and out of doorways constantly and thereby pass by mezuzos multiple times throughout the day. Let us try, at least once a day, to stop at a doorway with a mezuza and concentrate on the name Shakkai written on its outside.

Then, give the mezuza a kiss and say, “Hashem Shomrecha Hashem Tzilcha Al Yad Yeminecha (Tehillim, 121:5), Hashem Yishmor Tzeischa Uvoecha Meiata Viad Olam (Tehillim, 121: 8), ViKeil Shakkai Yiten Lachem Rachamim (Parshas Miketz, 43:14), Dear God, as I stand by this mezuza which corresponds to Ya’akov Avinu [as we can see from the mezuza’s 7 Sheimos Havaya which equals 182 which equals the gematria of Ya’akov; and as we see from the 10 conditions for a mezuza which corresponds to the letter Yud of Ya’akov, and from the 2 parshiyos of the mezuza which correspond to the letter Beis of Ya’akov, and from its 170 words which correspond to the letters Kuf and Ayin of Ya’akov, and as we see from the right doorpost which connects to Ya’akov’s Middah of Tiferes], may I and my family be beneficiaries of Ya’akov’s tefillah that Hashem should say “Dai” to our tzaros, and may we be protected from any mazikin and sheidim as a result of Your Shechina which dwells by the mezuza, thus fulfilling the intent of Your Name Shakkai which stands for, ‘Shomer Daltot Yisrael’ and which also stands for ‘Shomer Dirat Yisrael,’ and may we even be blessed with longevity just as Ya’akov was zocheh to.” Now give the mezuza another kiss.

So, may we B’nei Ya’akov – B’nei Yisrael be blessed with kosher mezuzos, and may we all be blessed with the benefit that comes with the mezuza, such as protection and long life, that we can tap into every time that we give the mezuza a kiss.

Fill Her Up

"Fill Her Up"

The Gemara in Meseches Shabbos (chap. 2, “Bameh Madlikin”, pg. 21b) relates that the Yevanim (Syrian Greeks) contaminated all of the oil in the Beis Hamikdash. The Chashmonaim (Hasmonean family) fought a war against them and won. When they returned to the Beis Hamikdash, they found only one flask of oil that was not defiled by the Greeks. This flask of oil had the seal of the Kohein Gadol (High Priest) on it. They used the oil in this flask to light the Menorah, but there was only enough oil in it to last for one night. However, a miracle occurred and it lasted for eight nights. The following year they established those eight days as Yomim Tovim (holidays) during which we praise and thank God.

One question comes to mind. Why did a Kohein Gadol prepare a flask of oil and seal it for the purpose of lighting the Menorah? We do not find anywhere in Jewish history or in halacha that it was the job of the Kohein Gadol to prepare oil for lighting the Menorah. Yes, the Kohanim did the Avoda (service) with oil, but they were not the ones picking olives, packaging them, shipping them, and squeezing them for the purpose of lighting the Menorah.

Therefore, how did it come to be that there was one Kohein Gadol who did prepare oil for the purpose of lighting the Menorah? Who was that Kohein Gadol anyway? And why did he prepare just one such flask?

Moreover, in the Al Hanisim prayer, which wasdrawn up by the Anshei K’nesses Hagedola, it says, “When the wicked Greek kingdom rose up against Your people Israel, Lihashkicham Torasecha (to make them forget Your Torah) etc.” From this text it seems that the Greeks knew how to make a person forget the Torah that he had already learned.

This brings us to another question. What magical powers did the Yevanim possess which could make a person forget that which he already learned and knew? What was their strategy?

In order to begin addressing these questions, the Shvilei Pinchas says that we must probe a well-known story in the Chumash that we had recently read.

The pasuk says, “And Ya’akov rose early in the morning, and took the stone that he placed around his head, and set it up as a pillar, and he poured oil on its top” (Parshas Vayeitzei, 28:18).

The Paneach Ruzuh (Rabbenu Yitzchak, son of Rebbi Yehuda Halevi; Parshas Vayeitzei) asks a question. We know that when Ya’akov arrived in Charan, he cried because he was penniless (Rashi, Parshas Vayeitzei, 29:11, based on Bereishis Rabba, Parshas Vayeitzei, 70:12; Sefer Hayashar). The reason why he was impoverished was because Eisav had sent his son Elifaz to run after Ya’akov [who had just fled from Eisav] to murder him.

After Elifaz caught up with Ya’akov, he did not have the heart to murder him because he had grown up on Yitzchak’s lap, and the kedusha of Yitzchak made an indelible impression upon him. Elifaz confided in Ya’akov and told him why he had come, but he explained to him why he could not go through with it.

Elifaz was nervous that Eisav would kill him (Elifaz) for not killing Ya’akov. However, Ya’akov advised Elifaz to take away all of his possessions. In that way Ya’akov would become a pauper and a poor man is equivalent to a dead man (Nedarim, chap. 9, “Rebbi Eliezer”, pg. 64b). Elifaz would then be able to tell Eisav with confidence that he indeed “killed” Ya’akov. That is precisely what Elifaz did.

Now, if Ya’akov was robbed of all of his possessions before he arrived at the future site of the Beis Hamikdash, where did he get oil from to pour over the stone that he had erected?

The Paneach Ruzuh answers this question by saying that Elifaz took almost everything away from Ya’akov. However, there was one item that Elifaz allowed Ya’akov to keep. That item was Ya’akov’s staff.

We know that Ya’akov still possessed his staff after the Elifaz episode from a verse. When Ya’akov was about to meet Eisav again, he prayed to God and said, “For with my staff I crossed this Jordan” (Parshas Vayishlach, 32:11). The crossing of the Jordan happened after Elifaz has stolen all of Ya’akov’s belongings. Therefore, it is clear that Ya’akov kept his walking staff.

This staff of Ya’akov’s was hollow on the inside. Ya’akov would regularly fill the hollowed part of his staff with oil so that he would have what to light when he wanted to learn Torah at night.

The Paneach Ruzuh says that this is where Ya’akov got the oil from to pour over the stone. He got it from the hollowed part of his staff.

After answering the previous question, the Ruzuh d’Meir asks, “How could the Paneach Ruzuh say that the oil came from Ya’akov’s staff if the Midrash says that the oil came to Ya’akov miraculously from Heaven?” Let us share this Midrash right now.

In Pirkei d’Rebbi Eliezer (chap. 35) it says that the twelve stones that Ya’akov had taken (on the night that he arrived on the future site of the Beis Hamikdash) was from the altar that Avraham built to place Yitzchak upon during Akeidas Yitzchak. Hashem had arranged for there to be exactly twelve stones because He was sending a message to Ya’akov that, one day, he would become the father of twelve sons who would become the leaders of the Twelve Tribes of Israel.

However, the Midrash continues, those twelve stones merged into one stone which served as another message to Ya’akov that those Twelve Tribes would merge into one unified nation (Divrei Hayamim Aleph, 17:21). Ya’akov erected that one stone which had been twelve stones and oil had come down to Ya’akov from Heaven, and he poured that oil over the stone.

So again, if the Midrash says that the oil came to Ya’akov from Heaven, how could the Paneach Ruzuh say that the oil came from Ya’akov’s staff?

The Shvilei Pinchas says that the answer to this question will become clear after we share a teaching from the Sifsei Kohein.

The Sifsei Kohein (the Mekubal Rabbi Mordechai Hakohein of Tzfas, one of the Arizal’s desciples, 1523-1598) advances a novel idea. Later on, there is a pasuk which says, “Vayivaser Ya’akov L’vado” (and Ya’akov was left alone; Parshas Vayishlach, 32:25). The Da’as Zekeinim m’Ba’alei Hatosafos says that we should not only read the word as “l’Vado” (alone), but rather as “l’Kado” (for his flask).

In a Sefer Torah, the letter beis is similar in shape to the letter chuf. Therefore, for purposes of uncovering hidden layers of Torah understanding, we can substitute the letter beis with a chuf. When we do, we find that the Torah is teaching us that Ya’akov went back alone (l’Vado) in order to retrieve his flask (l’Kado).

Now let us get back to when Ya’akov was on the future site of the Beis Hamikdash. When Ya’akov realized that the twelve stones had merged into one, he also noticed that a flask of oil had been provided for him miraculously. Ya’akov realized that he was supposed to pour the oil from this flask over the one stone that had been twelve stones. After pouring the oil on top of the stone, he realized that the flask was still full of oil, as if it had not been used at all. It was then that Ya’akov knew that this flask would bring forth blessings. Therefore, he understood that he should not leave the flask behind. So, Ya’akov took that flask with him wherever he went.

Later on, when Ya’akov was on his way to meet Eisav, Ya’akov crossed over the Jabok River. But then he remembered that he had forgotten that flask of oil on the other side. So, he went back to retrieve it.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that now we can reconcile the apparent tension between the Paneach Ruzuh who said that the oil used for pouring came from Ya’akov’s staff, and the Pirkei d’Rebbi Eliezer who said that the oil came from Heaven. The answer is, yes. It is both. The oil in Ya’akov’s staff got there from Heaven.

The Sifsei Kohein adds that the reason why Ya’akov was prepared to place himself in mortal danger in order to retrieve that flask was because Ya’akov foresaw prophetically that there would be many miracles that would happen with this flask in the future. By the time we are done, we will see that there were six miracles connected to this flask.

The first miracle with this flask of oil occurred when the Jews were in the Midbar (wilderness). They used that same flask of oil to anoint the Mishkan (Sanctuary), its vessels, and Aharon and his children as Kohanim. Yet, no matter how much oil they poured out of that flask for anointing, the oil was never diminished.

Therefore, on the verse, “The sacred oil of anointment will be for Me for generations” (Parshas Ki Sisa, 30:31), the Gemara in Horios (chap. 3, “Kohein Moshiach”, pg. 11b) explains that this verse means that the flask’s oil was preserved in its entirety for the future. How could the oil be preserved in its entirety if it was used for anointing? The answer is that the flask kept refilling itself miraculously. As such, it was completely preserved in its entirety.
The second miracle with this flask occurred at a later time.

Eventually, this flask of oil made its way to the possession of Eliyahu Hanavi. Eliyahu used this flask of oil to help a certain widow and her son who were starving to death on account of a drought (Melachim Aleph, 17:8-17). Eliyahu promised her that the small amount of flour that she still had would not run out. Then, Eliyahu handed her this flask of oil and told her that this flask of oil would not run out until the time that Hashem would bring rain. She used that oil for an entire year, and yet, its supply of oil was never diminished.

The third miracle with this flask of oil happened a little bit later on. This flask of oil made its way to Ovadia Hanavi. Ovadia was a convert to Judaism from Edom. Ovadia was a disciple of Elisha Hanavi, who in turn was a disciple of Eliyahu Hanavi. In Melachim Beis (4:1-8) the story is told of a man who died. Rashi (ibid) says that that man was Ovadia.

Ovadia’s widow went to Elisha Hanavi, her late husband’s Rebbi, and complained that she owed a debtor a considerable amount of money but she did not have the funds to pay him back. The debtor threatened that if she did not pay the money back soon, he would take her two sons away and make them his slaves as payment for the debt. Ovadia’s widow was asking Elisha Hanavi for his advice and for his help to rescue her sons from this predicament.

Elisha asked her, “What do you have in the house?” She responded, “Only one flask of oil.” That flask of oil was passed down to Ovadia by Eliyahu Hanavi. That flask of oil could trace its history all the way back to Ya’akov Avinu. Elisha told her to borrow as many pots, pans, bowls, cups, etc. as she could from her neighbors. When her house was full of these vessels, he told her to close the door of her home and pour oil from the flask into all of the vessels, filling them to the top.

When she finished doing this, Elisha told her to sell the oil that was in the vessels and use the money to pay the debtor back. She did as she was told. But she realized that the original flask was not diminished of its oil one iota.

Since Ya’akov foresaw all of these miracles connected with this flask of oil, he was prepared to retrieve it even at personal cost. That is why he placed himself in danger by going back for the flask alone at night, where he was indeed attacked.

The Shvilei Pinchas adds that when Ya’akov woke up in the morning after his prophetic dream, not only was there oil in the cavity of his staff, but he found that there was a flask inside the hollowed part of his staff filled with oil.

However, when Ya’akov first arrived at the future site of the Beis Hamikdash, the sun set abruptly (Rashi, Parshas Vayeitzei, 28:11; based on Chulin, chap. 7, “Gid Hanasheh”, pg. 91b). Ya’akov poured oil out of his staff so that he would be able to learn Torah all night long by candle light. This oil was regular oil, not miraculous oil. You see, during the fourteen years that Ya’akov studied in the Academy of Sheim and Eiver (Rashi, Parshas Toldos, 28:9), he always kept oil in his staff so that he would be able to learn all night long by the light from the oil that was kept within his staff.

Each morning, Ya’akov would have to find more olive oil to refill his staff with so that he would be able to learn Torah throughout the following night. So, when Ya’akov arrived at the place of the future site of the Beis Hamikdash and it got dark suddenly, he poured the regular oil out of his staff, as he had always done, so that he would be able to learn Torah throughout the night.

After lighting his candle, Hashem caused a deep sleep to overtake Ya’akov so that He could reveal secrets to him through a prophetic dream. When he woke up in the morning, he realized that the candle he had lit went out. Ya’akov thought that he would have to find new olive oil for the next night’s Torah learning session.

But when he picked up his staff, he realized that it was still heavy, as if it was still filled with oil. Ya’akov looked into the hollowed part of his staff and found a flask filled with oil neatly tucked inside. This was the fourth miracle that happened with the flask of oil. The miracle was that it appeared out of nowhere.

Then, when he poured that miracle oil over the stone that he had erected, Ya’akov noticed that the flask was not diminished of its oil whatsoever. That was the fifth miracle which occurred with that flask of oil.

These last two miracles (numbers 4 and 5) happened before the other three miracles we mentioned above. These two miracles (4 and 5) that happened to Ya’akov were paving the way for the other miracles (1, 2, and 3) to occur.

The Birchas Shmuel (Rabbi Aharon Shmuel Koidnover, 1614-1676, Poland; Parshas Miketz) adds that not only was this flask of oil used by Ya’akov, the Jews in the Midbar, Eliyahu Hanavi and by the widow of Ovadia Hanavi, but this was the very same flask that the Chashmonaim found in the Beis Hamikdash after they drove the Yevanim out. This flask of oil kept refilling itself miraculously for eight days.

This approach fits in beautifully with an answer that the Beis Yosef provides to his own question. The Beis Yosef (Rabbi Yosef Caro, 1488 Spain-1575 Tzfas; Orach Chaim, chap. 670) asks what is arguably the most famous question in Judaism, and it is most certainly the most famous Channuka question ever asked. He asks, “Why do we celebrate Channuka for eight days? The flask had enough oil for one day. Therefore, the first day was not miraculous. Only the next seven days were miraculous. If the holiday was established because of the miracle with the oil in the Menorah, Channuka should only be celebrated for seven days. Why do we celebrate it for eight days?”

This is such a juicy question that there are sefarim out there which offer over one-hundred answers to this question. It seems as though everybody has something to say about this question. The Beis Yosef himself offers three answers. We will share his second answer right now. The Beis Yosef says that after they poured all of the oil into the cups at the top of the branches of the Menorah, the flask remained full. Therefore, there was a recognizable miracle even on the first day. Thus, we celebrate the holiday of Channuka for eight days.

At this point we will be able to address the question we raised above regarding why any Kohein Gadol would have prepared one flask of oil for lighting the Menorah if this was never the practice of the Kohanim. The answer is based on the following Midrash.

In Bamidbar Rabba (Parshas Bamidbar, 4:8) it says that Adam Harishon was the bechor (first-born) of the world. As such, Adam Harishon was the worlds first Kohein Gadol. Prior to the Sin of the Golden Calf, the Avoda (service) was performed by the bechorim (first-borns). Therefore, Adam Harishon brought korbanos (Tehillim, 69:32).

Since Adam Harishon functioned as a Kohein Gadol, he wore the Bigdei Kehuna (priestly garb) of a Kohein Gadol. This is the meaning of the verse which says, “And Hashem God made for Adam and his wife Kosnos Ohr (garments of skin) and He clothed them” (Parshas Bereishis, 3:21). Those Kosnos Ohr were Bigdei Kehuna Gedola.

By the way, the verse says that Hashem had made Kosnos Ohr for both Adam and Chava. This would imply that Chava also served as a High Priestess in some capacity. However, this discussion about Chava’s role in Kehunaship is beyond the scope of this article. Therefore, as we proceed, we will be focusing only on Adam as the Kohein Gadol.

Rabbenu Bachya (1255-1340, Spain; Parshas Bereishis, 3:21) supports this Midrash with two proofs. The first support comes from the following gizeira shava (when the same or similar word appears in two different scriptural verses, the two verses are joined together to teach us something).

In Parshas Bereishis (3:21) it says by Adam’s clothing, “Vayalbishem Kosnos” (and He clothed them in garments), and in Parshas Tzav (8:13), when it talks about the sons of Aharon being inaugurated as Kohanim, it says, “Vayalbishem Kutanos” (and he dressed them in tunics). The words “Kosnos” and “Kutanos” are spelled the same. There is only a slight difference with respect to pronunciation.

Therefore, just as the word “Kutanos” by Aharon’s sons is referring to Bigdei Kehuna, so is the word “Kosnos” by Adam referring to Bigdei Kehuna. This supports the Midrash which posits that the Kosnos Ohr of Adam were Bigdei Kehuna.

Rabbenu Bachya adds another proof which supports this Midrash from a hint in the verse itself. We know that the Bigdei Kehuna of a High Priest consisted of eight garments, known as the Shmoneh Begadim. When examining the verse about Hashem clothing Adam, there are specifically eight words in that verse. They are: “Vaya’as Hashem Elokim l’Adam Ul’ishto Kosnos Ohr Vayalbishem.” These eight words allude to the fact that Hashem had clothed Adam in the Shmoneh Begadim of a Kohein Gadol.

The Midrash (ibid) continues to say that when Adam died, he bequeathed those Bigdei Kehuna Gedola to his son Sheis. Sheis passed them on to Mesushelach. Mesushelach gave them to Noach. Noach handed them down to Shem. Shem handed them over to Avraham, who in turn gave them to Yitzchak, who in turn gave them to Ya’akov.

Even though Ya’akov was not the biological first-born (Parshas Toldos, 25:26), he was the technical halachic first-born after he purchased the rights of the first-born from Eisav (Parshas Toldos, 25:31). Ya’akov wanted to become the first-born so that he could officiate as Kohein Gadol and offer korbanos (see Parshas Vayishlach, 35:1).

This leads right into a discussion about Eisav’s clothing, which were called, “Bigdei Chamudos” (desirous clothing; Parshas Toldos, 27:15). Those Bigdei Chamudos were the Bigdei Kehuna of the Kohein Gadol. Yitzchak had given those clothing to Eisav because he was the first-born. As such, Eisav should have functioned as the Kohein Gadol.

Perhaps we could suggest that the brachos which Yitzchak wanted to give Eisav (besides what the Torah says explicitly about those brachos) were the Birchas Kohanim that Eisav would be entrusted with so that he would bless the nation. Yitzchak wanted to teach Eisav the halachic and kabbalistic aspects of those blessings.

But Rivka knew that Eisav had already sold his birthright to Ya’akov. Therefore, Ya’akov deserved those Bigdei Chamudos. So, Rivka dressed Ya’akov in those Bigdei Chamudos when she sent him into Yitzchak to receive the blessings, because Ya’akov would have to learn about the secrets of Birchas Kohanim.

Another verse supports this entire approach. It says, “And Rivka took the Bigdei Hachamudos of Eisav Hagadol (her older son), and she clothed Ya’akov in them” (Parshas Toldos, 27:15). Before proceeding with the proof, I must interject. Why would this verse have to stress that Eisav was “Hagadol” (her oldest son)? This verse appears toward the end of Parshas Toldos. I think that by now we all know that Eisav was the oldest born son as it says in the beginning of Parshas Toldos. So, why repeat it again?

Perhaps we could suggest that the word “Hagadol” is not coming to teach us that Eisav was Rivka’s oldest born son, rather, the word “Hagadol” comes to teach us that Eisav potentially could have been the Kohein “Gadol.” But, Eisav sold those rights to Ya’akov.

In any case, Yonasan ben Uziel on this verse in Parshas Toldos (27:15) says that those “Bigdei Hachamudos” once belonged to Adam Harishon. All we have to do now is connect the dots. If the Bigdei Hachamudos were the clothing of Adam, and if Adam’s clothing were the Bigdei Kehuna of a High Priest, then it turns out that the Bigdei Hachamudos were the Bigdei Kehuna Gedola.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that now we can understand why there was one flask that was prepared by a Kohein Gadol, even though it was not typical for Kohanim Gedolim to prepare oil for lighting the Menorah. It is because that Kohein Gadol was Ya’akov Avinu! When Ya’akov foresaw the miracle of the Menorah that would be done through that miraculous flask of oil which appeared to him suddenly, he put his stamp upon the flask in order to preserve it for that miracle. This also explains why they only found one such flask. It is because there was only one miraculous flask of oil.

At this point we could address the only remaining question concerning how the Greeks intended to make us forget the Torah. We mentioned above that Ya’akov would burn the midnight oil from his staff to learn by candle light all night long. Now, we know that it is difficult to learn at night. If we wake up early in the morning and work all day long, by the time its dark, we are exhausted.

Yet, Reish Lakish says that Torah will only remain with a person who “kills” himself over it (Berachos, chap. 9, “Haroeh”, pg. 63b; based on Parshas Chukas, 19:14). This is called Mesirus Nefesh (self-sacrifice) for Torah. Rambam (Hilchos Talmud Torah, 3:12) expands on this idea. He says that Torah will not remain with those who approach its study with weakness. Torah will not remain with a person who pampers himself with eating and drinking. Rather, Torah will be possessed by those who push themselves to learn even if it hurst them physically, such as robbing themselves of sleep.

Rambam continues to say that the majority of a person’s Torah wisdom is acquired by the Torah study that he does at nighttime. Therefore, one should be careful with his nights, not to lose even one of them with eating, drinking, sleeping, schmoozing, or with any other activity which takes away our time from Torah study. We paskin like this Rambam in Shulchan Aruch (Yora Deah, 246:24).

This is how Ya’akov Avinu acquired his Torah knowledge. It was by his self-sacrifice to push himself to learn even at night, by the light of the candle that he lit with the oil from within his staff.

Now, we mentioned in previous articles that the Menorah in the Beis Hamikdash represented Chochmas HaTorah. That is why one should face south when he prays if he wants to become wiser in Torah (Baba Basra, chap. 2, “Lo Yachpor”, pg. 25b, Rebbi Yitzchak). It is because the Menorah was situated on the southern side of the Beis Hamikdash. Therefore, when one prays toward the south, he is connecting with the energy of the Menorah which was Chochmas HaTorah.

The Ben Ish Chai (Rabbi Yosef Chaim of Baghdad, Iraq, 1835-1909) in his Ben Yehoyada (Meseches Baba Basra ibid) says that since the Menorah represented Chochmas HaTorah, it was lit specifically at night to teach us that we will acquire the majority of our Torah wisdom from the Torah learning that we do at nighttime.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that this was the Greek strategy to make us forget our Torah learning. The Greeks recognized that the key to Jewish success in Torah learning was due to the Mesirus Nefesh which the Jews had invested in Torah study. The Yevanim recognized that Mesirus Nefesh for Torah learning meant to learn Torah even at night when it is difficult. The Yevanim recognized the message of the Menorah’s lights which burned brightly at night, conveying the lesson to become enlightened with Torah from the learning that we do at night.

Therefore, it was part of the Greek military campaign to contaminate Jewish oil. Their thinking was, if there is no oil, then there is no light at night. If there is no light at night, there will not be any Torah learning at night. If there will not be any Torah learning at night, there will be no Mesirus Nefesh for Torah. If there will be no Mesirus Nefesh for Torah, Torah will not remain with them. Meaning, they will forget what they learned. As they say, “Easy come, easy go.” This is how they planned to make us forget our Torah knowledge.

The Shvilei Pinchas points out that this is why the Reish Lakish in Bereishis Rabba (Parshas Bereishis, 2:4) says that the word “Choshech” (darkness; Parshas Bereishis, 1:2) represents Galus Yavan (the Greek Exile). It is because the Greeks tried to darken the eyes of the Jewish people. The way in which they tried to darken our eyes was to prevent candles from being lit at night which would cause the cessation of Torah learning at night.

The Shvilei Pinchas concludes that this is why Hashem orchestrated that the Channuka miracle happened specifically with the flask of oil that Ya’akov Avinu had possessed. It is because Ya’akov would always use that oil to learn Torah throughout the night. So, when the Chashmonaim found that very flask, it was a message from God to the Jewish people that the way to win the spiritual battle against the Greeks would be to increase the amount of Torah learning at night, when it’s hard to learn.

Although we realize the need for eight hours of sleep at night, one practical exercise that we could implement from this teaching would be to increase our nighttime Torah learning, even just a little bit. Even a five-minute seder of Torah learning at night (or an additional five-minute learning seder at night) would demonstrate our Mesirus Nefesh for Torah learning. From a night seder we will benefit that Torah will remain with us and our children for generations to come.

So, may we Mamleches Kohanim be blessed with the willingness and strength to push ourselves a little bit more in our Torah study, even if it means robbing ourselves of a little sleep, in order that we tap into the holy lights of the Menorah which was fueled by the hidden oil of Ya’akov Avinu, because this Mesirus Nefesh will serve as our guiding staff which will walk us safely through the darkest roads of our life’s journeys, illuminating the path before us constantly filling us with more Torah, until the time that God reveals the full measure of Hidden Light with the coming of Moshiach and the building of the Beis Hamikdash, when the Kohein Gadol will light the Menorah once again in full Bigdei Kehuna attire.

River of Challenge

November 20, 2021
"Rivers of Challenge"

After Ya’akov returned to Eretz Yisrael, he made his way toward Eisav. The verse tells us that Ya’akov got up at night, took his family, “Vaya’avor Eis Ma’avar Yabok” (and crossed the shallow place of the Jabok; Parshas Vayishlach, 32:23). Rashi (ibid) tells us that “Yabok” was the name of a river. In fact, the very next verse tells us that the Yabok was a “Nachal” (stream or river; Parshas Vayishlach, 32:24).

Since we know that every single detail in the Torah comes to teach us a lesson, we must wonder why it was necessary for God to tell us about this river called Yabok. How is this relevant to our lives?
Earlier in our parsha, it tells us that Eisav was headed toward Ya’akov with four-hundred men (Parshas Vayishlach, 32:7). This fact about Eisav’s four-hundred men is repeated a little bit later on in our parsha (Parshas Vayishlach, 33:1).

The Megaleh Amukos (Rav Nasan Nata Shapira, 1585-1633, Poland; Parshas Shemos) says that these four-hundred men represented four-hundred forces of impurity that Eisav possessed. Ya’akov would have to overcome these four-hundred forces of evil.

This information begs us to ask, “Why are there specifically four-hundred impure forces? Why are there not three-hundred or five-hundred forces of evil?” Additionally, “How did Ya’akov overcome these four-hundred forces of evil?”

Since we are getting close to Channukah, we will already begin talking about this most beloved of holidays because it is very much connected to our parsha, as we will soon see.

The Mishna Berura (671:1; Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan Hakohein, 1838 Belarus – 1933 Radin, Poland) says that according to the Gemara and all of the halachic authorities, including the Maharshal (Rabbi Shlomo Luria, 1510-1573, Poland), the text of the first blessing recited over lighting the Channukah candles is, “L’hadlik Ner Shel Channukah” (to kindle the Channukah light).

However, the Arizal (Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, 1534 Jerusalem-1572 Tzfas) in Sha’ar Hakavanos (pg. 108b) says that the text of the first blessing recited over lighting the Channukah candles is, “L’hadlik Ner Channukah,” omitting the word “Shel.” The Arizal says that the reason for this text is that the acronym of the words, “L’hadlik Ner Channukah” is “Nachal” (when the letters are rearranged).

The Arizal says that “Nachal” is a sacred Name of God. Moreover, the word “Nachal,” spelled: nun, ches, and lamed, serves as the acronym for another three words found in Parshas Ki Sisa (34:7) which says, “Notzer Chesed L’alaphim” (God is the preserver of kindness for thousands of generations). This is one of the Thirteen Attributes of Divine Mercy.

Not only does the Arizal maintain that omitting the word “Shel” is the correct nusach haberacha (text of the blessing), but the Vilna Gaon (Rabbi Eliyahu, 1720-1797, Lithuania) in Ma’aseh Rav (paragraph 239) says the same thing. Rabbi Yoseph Caro (1488 Spain-1575 Tzfas) in Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim, 676:1) also agrees with the text which omits the word “Shel” from this blessing.

Let me be clear. I am not sharing this information in order to change anybody’s minhag (custom). Everybody should continue to follow their custom. If one does not know what his custom is, he should consult with his Rav. After all, the Mishna Berura does say to insert the word “Shel.” However, in this article, we are going to explore the meaning behind the nusach of the Arizal, GR”A, and Shulchan Aruch, who maintain to leave the word “Shel” out.

We are going to begin by sharing a teaching put forth by the Shvilei Pinchas. This teaching is based on a few Talmudic passages which we are going to learn together right now.

The Gemara in Brachos (chap. 9, “Haroeh”, pg. 60b) quotes a teaching from Rebbi Akiva who said that a person should always accustom himself to say, “Whatever the Merciful One does is for the good.” A similar statement was said by a fellow called Nachum Ish Gam Zu. Nachum was his real name but he earned the nickname “Gam Zu” because he would always say, “Gam Zu L’tova” (this too is for the good; it is for the best) no matter what the circumstances were.

These two Tzaddikim would witness their challenging situations transform into pleasant ones all because of their attitudes. For example, when the wind blew out his candle, and a cat ate his rooster, and a lion devoured his donkey, Rebbi Akiva did not say, “Oh my gosh, why are all of these terrible things happening to me?” Rather, he said, “Whatever the Merciful One does is for the best.” Lo and behold, the next morning, Rebbi Akiva realized just how fortunate he was. Rabbi Akiva had encamped on the outskirts of a town that was attacked by bandits. Had the candle been lit, or had the rooster crowed, or had the donkey breyed, he would have been noticed by the gangsters and he would have been murdered (Meseches Berachos, pg. 60b).

Another example occurred when the Jews sent Nachum Ish Gam Zu with a chest full of diamonds as a gift to his majesty the king. On the way, Nachum checked into a hotel. That night, the hotel manager robbed Nachum of the diamonds and replaced them with dirt to maintain the same weight so that Nachum would not realize that he had been robbed. When Nachum stood before the king with a gift from the Jews, the chest was opened and they saw that it was filled with dirt. The king was livid. He wanted to kill Nachum on the spot and then do the same to the Jews for mocking him.

Nachum did not say, “Oh my gosh, why is this terrible thing happening to me?” Rather he said, “Gam Zu L’tova.” Suddenly, Eliyahu Hanavi, disguised as one of the officers of the king, said, “Your majesty, I believe that this is the magical dirt of Avraham which he used to win the battle against the four mighty kings. When thrown at the enemy, each particle of dirt turns into arrows and spears which completely overwhelms the enemy.”

The king tried it out and it was true. The king was so pleased with this gift that he filled Nachum’s chest with precious stones for him and the Jewish community to enjoy, and Nachum was sent away with tremendous honor and glory (Ta’anis, pg. 21a). How were these tragic situations transformed into positive ones?

The answer is found in the Toldos Ya’akov Yosef (Rabbi Ya’akov Yoseph Polonoy, 1710-1784, Ukraine; Parshas Noach) who cites his Rebbe, the Ba’al Shem Tov (Rabbi Yisrael, 1698-1760, Ukraine) who says that in order to sweeten the harsh justice, we must find a kernel’s worth of kindness within the difficult situation, because then, the entire situation can be turned into complete chesed.

The reason for this is because we are supposed to believe with complete faith that Hashem is completely good. As such, we are supposed to believe that no evil can emanate from a God Who is totally good. Hashem only wants to bestow goodness upon His creatures (Tehillim, 145:9). It is just that, sometimes, the good is concealed within a coat of harshness which makes things appear as if there is a tragic situation.

But if a person believes with complete faith that the “evil” is just external, and if a person believes that inside the challenging situation lies a great light of kindness, and if a person merits to find even a kernel’s worth of good within the “bad,” then the external coating of evil melts away, and the person is left with a situation that has been transformed into a positive one.

This was the greatness of Rebbi Akiva and Nachum Ish Gam Zu. They had such a deep-seated belief that evil cannot emanate from a good God that they searched for the good within what appeared to be a horrible situation, and that, in and of itself, turned their circumstances around.

At this point, it is well worth pointing out that Rebbi Akiva and Nachum Ish Gam Zu saw immediate results in those specific circumstances. We may not always witness immediate results like they did. We may never understand how tragic circumstances are really for the best, not in this lifetime anyway. However, the point of those stories is to demonstrate that challenging situations are really good at the core. Maybe, one day, Hashem will show us how.

The Shvilei Pinchas adds to this by saying that we often find two Names of God that are joined together. Those two Names are 1) Havaya, and 2) Elokim. For example, after his prophetic dream, Ya’akov said, “And Havaya will be an Elokim to me” (Parshas Vayeitzei, 28:21). What did Ya’akov mean when he uttered those words?

Havaya is the Name that always represents kindness and compassion, whereas the Name Elokim is the Name that always represents strict and harsh justice. When these two Names are combined, the message is to always find the Havaya (kindness) within the Elokim (harshness). This means to say that we must believe that everything that Hashem does is for the best.

This is what Ya’akov Avinu prayed for. He meant to say, “For me, I want to live my life in such a way that I will always search for the Havaya within the Elokim.” This idea will help us appreciate the following Midrash.

In Bereishis Rabba (Parshas Vayechi, 98:3), Elazar ben Achoi says that it was Ya’akov Avinu who instituted the recitation of Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad (Parshas Vaeschanan, 6:4).

The Tzlach (Tziyun L’nefesh Chaya, Rabbi Yechezkel Landau, 1713 Poland-1793 Prague; author of the Noda B’Yehuda; he named the Tzlach after his mother whose name was Chaya) in Meseches Pesachim (chap. 4, “Makom Shenahagu”, pg. 56a) explains what the Shema sentence means.

When we say the words, “Shema Yisrael,” we are calling out to every Jew, including ourselves, that we must believe with complete faith that “Havaya Elokeinu,” meaning, that there are Havaya (compassionate) times, and there are Elokeinu (difficult) times, but “Havaya Echad,” meaning that ultimately, they are all compassionate.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that it is no longer shocking that it was specifically Ya’akov who instituted the recitation of the Shema. This is because Ya’akov was the one who accepted upon himself the responsibility of always trying to see the Havaya within the Elokim, as we mentioned above. Therefore, it was specifically Ya’akov who instituted the recitation of the Shema so that all of his descendants (that’s us) should repeat this lesson to themselves a number of times throughout the day.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that Ya’akov Avinu taught this lesson to his family. As they approached Eisav, they had no idea what to expect. There could have been an all-out war. There was a possibility that many members of Ya’akov’s family, if not all of them, would be slaughtered by Eisav and his army. Imagine how frightened they must have been. Imagine the anxiety that they were probably going through.

Yet, Ya’akov taught them how a Jew is supposed to approach challenging moments like the one that they were facing. Ya’akov told them to look for the Havaya within the Elokim. Where do we find that Ya’akov told them about this outlook? The answer is when the verse said, “Vaya’avor Eis Ma’avar Yabok” (and he crossed the shallow place of the Jabok River).

The word “Yabok” is spelled: yud, beis, and kuf. The numerical value of “Yabok” is 112. The number 112 is a propitious number because it is the same gematria as the Names “Havaya Elokim.” Therefore, when it says, “Vaya’avor,” it does only mean that Ya’akov “passed over” a river, but it also means that Ya’akov “passed on” the message of “Yabok = 112 = Havaya Elokim” to his family, teaching them to always focus on the kindness within what appears to be tragic.

This is why Hashem recorded Ya’akov’s crossing this river in the Torah and this is why Hashem included the name of this river in the Torah. It was to teach us this very lesson contained within “Yabok.”

We find another source which shows how Ya’akov personified this teaching about finding the good within the bad, or shall I say, about finding that the bad is really good. That source is a pasuk from last week’s parsha which says, “Vayeitzei Ya’akov” (and Ya’akov departed; Parshas Vayeitzei, 28:10).

In his sefer, Imrei Noam, the first Djikover Rebbe, Rabbi Meir Horowitz (1819-1877, Ukraine; Parshas Vayeitzei, #13) cites the Megaleh Amukos who says that the word “Vayeitzei,” spelled: vov, yud, tzadi, and aleph, serves as the acronym, in order, of the words, “Vayar Ya’akov Tzuras Aleph” (and Ya’akov saw the shape of a letter Aleph). The meaning of this will be understood as we proceed.

The Toldos Ya’akov Yoseph (Parshas Bereishis, #1) quotes the Ba’al Shem Tov who explains the verse, “Amar Oyeiv Erdof Asig Achaleik Shalal” (the enemy declared, “I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide plunder”; Parshas Beshalach, 15:9) in the following way. The first five words of this verse begin with the letter “Aleph.” The reason for this is to teach us that even when we are going through difficult times, such as is described in this verse which talks about the entire Egyptian army racing towards the Jewish people to slaughter them, we must believe with complete faith that the “Aleph” is with us.

The letter Aleph represents Hashem because when the letter Aleph is spelled out, aleph, lamed, phey, it spells the word “Aluph” (chief in command), which represents the Alupho Shel Olam (the Chief in Command of the world); God. The letter Aleph was emphasized five times to teach us to remember that Alupho Shel Olam is with us even in our darkest hour.

Although the letter Aleph represents Alupho Shel Olam, the letter beis represents a concealment of Alupho Shel Olam. This is because there are two alephs in a beis (aleph is numerically 1, and beis is numerically 2. Therefore, there are two alephs in a beis). Yet, we cannot see the alephs within the beis because the aleph is covered over by two layers. Since a beis is numerically 2, it represents that the beis covers over the aleph with two layers.

It follows that the letter gimmel [numerically 3] covers the aleph with three layers. This process continues until you reach the letter taf (the last letter which is numerically 400) which covers the aleph with four-hundred layers of concealment.

However, our purpose is to peel away those layers of concealment to reveal the Aleph that is hidden. Not only can we find the Aleph inside of the taf, but there is even more Aleph to be seen in a taf because there are four-hundred alephs within a taf. This teaches us that we can see Alupho Shel Olam four-hundred times over even in the “tafest” (most difficult) of situations.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that this explains the coded message in the word “Vayeitzei” which was, “Vayar Ya’akov Tzuras Aleph.” Ya’akov was forced to leave the home of Yitzchak and Rivka which was a home permeated with such holiness that the Shechina resided in it. Not only did Ya’akov have to leave a place of upmost kedusha, but he was traveling to a very dark and unholy place of Lavan the trickster.

Ya’akov was concerned that he would get caught in the traps of Lavan because there was so much Hester Panim (Divine concealment) there. In order to rescue himself from such a fate, Ya’akov etched the shape of a letter Aleph on his inner mind so that he would always concentrate on Alupho Shel Olam Who would be with him every step of the way.

Since Ya’akov constantly connected to Alupho Shel Olam, even in the most trying set of circumstances, he was able to nullify the external coating of harshness and his situation was transformed into pleasantness. By the time Ya’akov left Lavan’s home, he was married, he had built a righteous family, and he was extremely wealthy. Ya’akov’s potential tragedy was turned into a very productive life.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that now we can understand why there are specifically four-hundred forces of evil which were at Eisav’s disposal. It is because this teaches us what Eisav’s power was. Eisav would tear people down by causing them to give up hope due to four-hundred layers of concealment which made their situations seem insurmountable. Just as the letter taf represents four-hundred layers of concealment, so did Eisav possess the power of four-hundred, dragging many people down into the pit of darkness where they felt alone and abandoned.

The way in which Ya’akov overcame those evil forces was to concentrate on the Aleph – Alupho Shel Olam that he had branded onto his inner mind.

By the way, the Shvilei Pinchas points to a Gemara in Baba Kamma (chap. 4, “Shor Shenagach Dalet v’Hey”, pg. 41b) which tells us that Rebbi Akiva (together with Shimon Ha’amsuni) would expound on every word “Es” in the Torah. The rule of thumb regarding the “Es” word is that it always comes to include something that is not apparent in the text.

The Shvilei Pinchas suggests that one common message that every “Es” carries is the connection between the Aleph and the Saf (or Taf). Since the letter “Es” is spelled: Aleph Saf, it teaches us that there is Aleph/Alupho Shel Olam in even the “Tafest” times.

The Shvilei Pinchas goes on to say that it is not surprising that Rebbi Akiva preoccupied himself with the study of the word “Es” because the Arizal (Likkutei Torah, Parshas Vayechi) says that Rebbi Akiva was a gilgul (reincarnation) of Ya’akov Avinu. We find scriptural support to this idea from the Bracha that Ya’akov gave to Yoseph just before he died.

Ya’akov said, “Midei Avir Ya’akov” (from the hand of the mighty power of Ya’akov; Parshas Vayechi, 49:24). When you take the letters of the words, “Avir Ya’akov” and rearrange them, they spell, “Rebbi Akiva.” This hints to us that Rebbi Akiva was the might of Ya’akov. One of Ya’akov’s “powers” was that Rebbi Akiva would be his gilgul.

Since Ya’akov trained himself to always search for the Havaya within Elokim, it is not shocking that Rebbi Akiva, his gilgul, would busy himself with the study of the word “Es” which serves as a constant reminder that the Aleph exists within the Taf. Rebbi Akiva simply continued the holy work of his previous transmigration, Ya’akov Avinu.

The Shvilei Pinchas goes on to explain that the Name “Nachal” represents the level of recognizing that the Aleph is found within the Taf. We can see this from the acronym of Nachal which is “Notzer Chesed L’alaphim.” This does not just mean that Hashem is the preserver of kindness for thousands of generations to come. Rather, it also means that Hashem will preserve kindness for thousands of generations (L’alaphim), for those who always seek “Alaphim” (the Alephs; the Alupho Shel Olam) in every situation that life throws at us.

Ya’akov Avinu overcame Eisav’s four-hundred forces of evil not just by engraving the shape of a letter Aleph on his mind’s eye as we mentioned above, but he also concentrated on combining the Names Havaya and Elokim to constantly remind himself that Havaya is inside of every Elokim, or better yet, that every Elokim is actually Havaya.

We see that Ya’akov did this from the word “Yabok” which equals 112, which equals Havaya Elokim. Since the verse says “Vaya’avor,” it tells us that Ya’akov was Ma’avir (passed on) this message to his family. This is how Ya’akov did not get sucked into Eisav’s trap of concealment and loss of hope. It was by connecting to God by being reminded that Hashem is with us always and by remembering that whatever happens is somehow for the best.

The Shvilei Pinchas adds that there is yet another set of words which are hinted at by the word “Nachal.” “Nachal” also serves as the acronym of, “Nafsheinu Chiksa LaHashem” (our soul longed for Hashem; Tehillim, 33:20). This teaches us that once we are reminded of the fact the Aleph is always with us (Notzer Chesed L’alaphim), we should then long, hope, yearn, and depend on Hashem (Nafsheinu Chiksa LaHashem).

The Shvilei Pinchas says that we can now delve a little bit more into the nusach haberacha, “Lihadlik Ner Channukah,” without the word “Shel.” When the Chashmonaim (Hasmoneans) waged war against the Yevanim (Syrian Greeks), The Jewish people were going through a very difficult time. The Jews were few and weak, whereas the Greeks were strong and many (taken from the text of the Al Hanisim prayer).

But the reason why the Chashmonaim, a bunch of Kolel guys, deserved to have such an incredible miracle performed on their behalf on the battle field by God, was because of their Emunah (faith) and Bitachon (trust) in Hashem. They truly believed that the Alupho Shel Olam was with them, even as they stood opposite the entire Greek army of trained soldiers.

We know that the Chashmonaim had this faith because Yehuda was called a “Maccabee.” The Degel Machaneh Ephraim (Rabbi Cahim Ephraim Sudilkov, 1748-1800, a grandson of the Ba’al Shem Tov) at the end of Parshas Miketz (divrei Hamaschil “Isa”) quotes Sefer Yosifun (the Book of Josephus; born as Yoseph ben Matisyahu. He was a general of the Jewish army. However, he surrendered to the Romans, defected to Rome, and became a Roman Jewish historian, 37 C.E.-100 C.E.), who says that the reason why he was called Yehuda Maccabee was because when he went out to battle the Greeks, he would constantly cry out, “Mi Kamocha Baeilim Hashem” (who is like You among the mighty Hashem; Parshas Beshalach, 15:11; Shiras Hayam). The acronym of this verse is: mem, chaf, beis, and yud, which make up the word “Maccabee.”

This teaches us that the Makabim (Maccabees) always remembered that Hashem was with them even in moments of great concealment. This meaning of Maccabee is well-known. However, there is another meaning behind the word Maccabee which is less known.

The Shela Hakadosh (Rabbi Yehoshua Horowitz, 1555 Prague-1630 Tzfas) on Meseches Tamid (Torah Ohr, #4) says that when the letters which make up the word “Maccabee” are rearranged, they also serve as the acronym for the words, “Baruch Kivod Hashem Mimikomo” (blessed be the glory of Hashem from His place; Yechezkel, 3:12).

This teaches us that the Maccabee philosophy was that Hashem was with them “Mimikomo,” from his place,” meaning, that no matter what places they found themselves in, the Macabim knew that Hashem was with them. They trusted that there was good behind their bleak situation. This belief caused the exterior layer of devastation, which was manifest in the Greeks, to melt away.

Now, we know that it is a Mitzva to light the Channukah candles at nighttime (Shabbos, chap. 2, “Bameh Madlikin”, pg. 21b), just as the Menorah in the Beis Hamikdash was lit at night. These Channukah candles at night teach us that even when we experience our darkest hours, Hashem is there illuminating the way for us.

We also know that, preferably, we should light the Channukah candles outside the front door of our homes (if halachically appropriate; Meseches Shabbos, chap. 2, “Bameh Madlikin”, pg. 22a, Rabba). Channukah candles outside our homes teaches us that even when we are far from home, away from our comfort zones, Hashem is illuminating the way for us.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that now we can understand why the Arizal, Vilna Gaon, and Shulchan Aruch maintain that the nusach haberacha is, “Lihadlik Ner Channukah.” It is because the Channukah candles are meant to remind us that Hashem is with us even in the darkest of places, and even in the furthest of places. Therefore, the appropriate blessing would be, “Lihadlik Ner Channukah,” because its acronym is “Nachal,” which is meant to remind us of the words, “Notzer Chesed L’alaphim,” which teaches us that Hashem has preserved kindness for thousands of generations (L’alaphim) for those who always look for the Alupho Shel Olam (L’Alaphim) in every situation.

The plural “Alaphim” does not mean to indicate that there are many Alupho Shel Olams, rather it just means to say that we can find the One Alupho Shel Olam again and again and again, working behind the scenes.

The acronym “Nachal” from “Lihadlik ner Channukah” is also supposed to remind us of the words “Nafsheinu Chiksa La’Hashem,” to remind us to always hope for Hashem because He is right there with us.

Perhaps we could suggest one practical exercise from this teaching which may sound a little strange at first. At least once a day, in the middle of the day, let us say out load two words from this week’s parsha. They are: “Nachal Yabok.” Let us not just say these words but think about the meaning behind them.

Let us remember that “Nachal” means that Hashem will reward those who search for Him (Notzer Chesed L’Alaphim), and that we should always hope for His salvation (Nafsheinu Chiksa LaHashem). Let us also remember that Yabok means that there is Havaya in every Elokim (112).

Just by saying these words out load and just by concentrating on their meaning, we will be able to strengthen our awareness that God is always with us and that everything is somehow for the good. This itself can transform a harsh situation into a compassionate one.

So, may we all be blessed to cross all 400 Nachal Yaboks – or shall I say, may we all be blessed to cross over all 400 Rivers of Challenge throughout the courses of our lives, with strength in the knowledge that the Alupho Shel Olam is always with us, and may we tap into that Aleph with the understanding that even difficult situations from Elokim stem from Havaya, and therefore they are all good; in order that Hashem preserve His kindness for us for thousands of generations to come, and defeat our enemies, and remove our loss of hope by illuminating us with the holy Channukah lights, which will make Ya’akov Avinu, Yehuda Maccabee, Rebbi Akiva, and Nachum Ish Gam Zu so very proud of us.

The Sounds of Silence

“The Sound of Silence”

Ya’akov Avinu gets married in this week’s parsha. When he did, Ya’akov thought that he was marrying Rochel, but in the morning he realized that he had married Leah (Parshas Vayeitzei, 29:25). Rashi (ibid) cites the Gemara in Megillah (chap. 1, “Megillah Nikreis”, pg. 13b) and in Baba Basra (chap. 8, “Yesh Nochalin”, pg. 123a) which says that Lavan intended on switching Rochel for Leah. Since the bride would be heavily veiled, Lavan knew that he could pull it off. Therefore, Ya’akov had given signs to Rochel so that he could identify her under the chuppah.

However, when she saw that Leah was being forcibly taken by Lavan to marry Ya’akov, Rochel realized that Leah would not be able to respond properly to Ya’akov’s signs while they were under the chuppah. Ya’akov would rip the veil off of her face and Leah would be publicly humiliated as an imposter in front of the entire town. In order to prevent Leah’s public disgrace, Rochel divulged the signs to her sister.

It was in the merit of those signs that Rochel gave to Leah which served as the reason why Hashem listened specifically to Rochel’s voice and to Rochel’s weeping when she begged Hashem to have mercy on His children even though they had sinned and were exiled to live amongst enemy nations.

The verses which support this idea are found in Yirmiya where it says, “A voice is heard on High, wailing, bitter weeping, Rochel weeps for her children, she refuses to be consoled, for they are gone. Hashem said, ‘Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for your children will return to their border’” (31:14-16).

Moreover, it was Rochel’s tears and prayers which caused her to not to be buried next to Ya’akov in the Machpeila Cave in Chevron. After she died, Hashem had instructed Ya’akov to bury Rochel on the side of the road so that when the Jews would march down that road as they were being kicked out of Eretz Yisrael by Nevuzaradan (Nevuchadnetzar’s general and chief executioner), Rochel would emerge from her grave and pray that God have compassion on them (Rashi, Parshas Vayechi, 48:7, based on Bereishis Rabba, Parshas Vayishlach, 82:10). It was because of Rochel that Hashem promised to redeem the Jewish people eventually.

We are going to see where Rochel got her strength from to the point that it was her tears and her voice that would bring about the Geulah.

The Gemara in Meseches Yoma (chap. 1, “Shivas Yamim”, pg. 9b) tells us that the first Beis Hamikdash was destroyed because the Jews had committed the three cardinal sins: idolatry, immorality, and murder. However, the second Beis Hamikdash was destroyed because the Jews were guilty of Sinas Chinum (baseless hatred for each other). We see from this that Sinas Chinum is tantamount to the three cardinal sins combined.

The Ba’alei Mussar (commentaries on ethics) have suggested that the way to rectify the iniquity of Sinas Chinum is to go in the opposite direction and embrace Ahavas Chinum (baseless love for each other). This means that unconditional love is the way to nullify baseless hatred.

Rochel possessed this quality of Ahavas Chinum. We find this trait in Rochel from the Midrash in Eicha Rabbasi (preface 24) which tells us that Rochel waited for seven long years to marry her chasan, Ya’akov, while he worked as Lavan’s shepherd in order to gain her hand in marriage.

Imagine how excited Rochel was when her wedding day finally arrived, and yet, her hopes were dashed, for Lavan substituted Rochel with Leah. Seeing that Leah would be publicly embarrassed by not being able to provide the signs, Rochel gave the signs to Leah. Not only that, but that night, after the wedding ceremony, Rochel hid under Ya’akov’s bed. Whenever Ya’akov spoke, Leah kept quiet while Rochel responded from underneath the bed so that Ya’akov would not be able to detect Leah through her voice.

What Rochel did for Leah was motivated by an unconditional love that she had for her sister. It was this Ahavas Chinum which has the power to nullify Sinas Chinum. Therefore, Hashem promised to redeem us, who still suffer from a galus that was caused by Sinas Chinum, specifically in the merit of Rochel on account of her Ahavas Chinum. It was Rochel’s Ahavas Chinum that gave her prayers and tears so much strength.

There is another aspect of Rochel’s personality which lent such strength to her tearful prayers. This will become evident from the following Midrash.

The Tanchuma (Parshas Vayeitzei, 6) tells us that during the seven years that Ya’akov worked for Rochel, he sent her gifts. However, Lavan took those gifts away from Rochel and gave them to Leah. Although this was aggravating to Rochel, she kept silent and did not tell anybody about what Lavan was doing. Not only did Rochel adopt the practice of silence, but so did her son Binyamin.

Although Binyamin did not participate in the sale of Yoseph, he knew that his brothers had sold Yoseph. Yet, Binyamin did not say a word about this to Ya’akov. This is why Binyamin’s stone on the Choshen Mishpat was “Yashfey” (Jasper; Parshas Tetzaveh, 28:20). The word “Yashfey” is spelled: yud, shin, fey, and hey. When split in half, “Yashfey” becomes two words which are: “Yesh Peh” (there is a mouth). Meaning, Binyamin had a mouth. This means to say that if Binyamin wanted to, he could have opened his mouth and snitched on his brothers. However, just as his mother Rochel adopted the practice of silence, so did Binyamin know how to keep his mouth shut.

Another descendent of Rochel was Shaul Hamelech who was from Shevet Binyamin (Shmuel Aleph, 9:1-2). Shaul also adopted the practice of silence. We can see this from the time when Shmuel anointed Shaul as King of Israel. Although Shaul was excited to share this news with his uncle, he kept it quiet because Shmuel had instructed him not to tell anybody yet (Shmuel Aleph, 10:16).

Another descendent of Rochel was Queen Esther who was from the Tribe of Binyamin (Megillas Esther, 2:5-8). Esther also adopted the practice of silence. We can see this from the verse which tells us, “Esther told nothing of her relatives or her people” (Megillas Esther, 2:20).

So far, we have established that Rochel and her descendants mastered the art of silence. But to put things into perspective, we must point out that man also possesses the power of speech (Parshas Bereishis, 2:7; see Onkelos there). The gift of speech is extremely important because with it one can describe to another what his needs are. In this way, his needs can be met. Another productive use of the gift of speech is to learn Torah, teach Torah, pray, and offer words of encouragement to lift another person’s spirits.

It turns out that man possess two opposing forces. They are, the power of speech and the power of silence. How can we strike a healthy balance between these two opposing forces? Koheles provides an answer to this question when he says, “A time to be silent and a time to speak” (3:7). In other words, it’s all about timing.

Sometimes keeping quiet is harder than speaking up. For example, the Gemara in Meseches Yoma (chap. 2, “Barishona”, pg. 23a) says, “Concerning those who are insulted but do not insult others, who hear themselves disgraced without replying, about them the verse says, ‘And let those who love Him be like the powerfully rising sun’” (Sefer Shoftim, 5:31; towards the end of Shiras Devorah). This Gemara is comparing the power of silence to the power of the sun.

In order to concretize this idea, I would just like add that the Torah says that the dogs did not bark at the Jews as they departed Egypt (Parshas Bo, 11:7). Therefore, we are told to repay dogs until the end of time by throwing them any treif meat that we might have. However, we also know that the frogs jumped into hot ovens, and died from the heat, during the Plague of Frogs in Egypt (Parshas Vaeira, 7:28). Yet, we do not find the Torah instructing us to repay the frogs for their sacrifice. Why not? One answer is that it is harder to keep your mouth shut than it is to jump into a fiery furnace. In order to emphasize this point, we feed the dogs but not the frogs.

This is why Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel said, “All the days of my life I grew up amongst the Sages and I have found nothing better for oneself than silence” (Pirkei Avos, chap. 1, “Moshe Kibel”, Mishna 17). The Shvilei Pinchas explains this statement by saying that if a person misuses his faculty of speech to utter forbidden words, he damages this tool. Then, when he tries to use the same tool of speech to teach Torah to others, it will not have such an impact on them.

But when a person keeps his lips zipped when he is supposed to, such as refraining from speaking Lashon Hara, his power of speech is strong because this tool has not been damaged. Then when he does open his mouth to teach Torah, it will have a tremendous impact on the people he is addressing.

This was the secret to the success of those Sages that Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel became familiar with when he grew up. Those Sages did not speak when they were not supposed to speak. Therefore, when they finally did open their mouths to teach Torah, their words had a tremendous impact on their disciples. After all, Rebbi Akiva said, “A protective fence for wisdom is silence” (Pirkei Avos, chap. 3, “Akavia”, Mishna 13 or 17, depending on the version of Pirkei Avos).

Based on the relationship between silence and speech, the following pasuk will take on even more meaning. Yitzchak had said, “Hakol Kol Ya’akov Vihayadayim Yidei Eisav” (the voice is Ya’akov’s voice, but the hands are Eisav’s hands; Parshas Toldos, 27:22).

The Shvilei Pinchas makes an observation. The first word “Kol” in this verse is spelled missing the letter vov, whereas the second word “Kol” in this verse has the letter vov in it. The missing letter vov in the first “Kol” represents a missing voice, i.e., silence. However, the letter vov which is present in the second “Kol” represents a voice which is present, i.e., speaking. Yitzchak meant to say that when Ya’akov masters the art of silence and the art of speech, then Eisav’s hands will have no power.

Silence is so crucial to Torah study that “limited conversation” is a necessary item (the twenty-first one) found on the list of forty-eight ways of acquiring the Torah (Pirkei Avos, chap. 6, “Kinyan Torah,” “Bereisa d’Rebbi Meir.” Bereisa 6).
The Shvilei Pinchas says that this is why Rochel’s prayers were so powerful. It is because she possessed the power of silence and the power of speech. On the one hand, Rochel was silent all of those years that Lavan gave Leah the gifts that Ya’akov had sent to Rochel. On the other hand, when Leah was about to be publicly embarrassed, Rochel opened her mouth and told Leah what the signs were.

Since Rochel possessed the power of silence, she also possessed the power of speech to such a degree that Hashem chose her prayers over those of Avraham, Yitzchak, Ya’akov, and Moshe’s (Eicha Rabbasi, Preface, 24).

The same thing was true of Binyamin. Since he mastered the art of silence by not revealing to Ya’akov what the brothers had done to Yoseph, Binyamin had the power of speech as was indicated by his stone “Yashfei,” which means “Yesh Peh.” Meaning, that when Binyamin wanted to use his power of speech to pray, it would have an effect. After all, the Kodesh Hakadashim rested on Binyamin’s territory. The headquarters of Tefillah was situated on Binyamin’s land to teach us that Binyamin had the power of prayer.

Identically, the same was true of Esther. Since she mastered the art of silence by not revealing to Achashveirosh anything about her family and people, Esther also possessed the power of speech which would impact others in a powerful way. This was apparent from the time that Esther chose to speak up. When Esther finally said, “[There is a] man who is an adversary and an enemy, [it is] this wicked Haman (Megillas Esther, 7:6), it went straight into Achashveirosh’s heart. The next thing you know, Haman was hanging from the gallows.

Before concluding, there is one more aspect of Rochel’s personality worth pointing out because it will add another dimension as to why the Final Redemption will happen specifically because of Rochel and her prayers.

Based on Tikkunei Zohar (Tikkun mem, pg. 80a) the Shvilei Pinchas says that both Rochel and Leah were concerned about being forced to marry Eisav. Leah thought to herself that Rivka had two sons, whereas her (Rivka’s) brother, Lavan, had two daughters. It would seem fitting that the older daughter, Leah, would marry the older son, Eisav, whereas the younger daughter, Rochel, would marry the younger son, Ya’akov (Rashi, Parshas Vayeitzei, 29:17, citing Bereishis Rabba, Parshas Vayeitzei, 70:15).

However, Rochel was also concerned that she may wind up being Eisav’s wife. This is because Rochel said to herself that Eisav had already sold his birthright to Ya’akov. That made Ya’akov the halachic firstborn, which made Eisav the halachic second born. Therefore, it would be fitting that the older daughter, Leah, would marry the older son, Ya’akov, whereas the younger daughter, Rochel, would marry the younger son, Eisav.

Therefore, when she gave the signs to Leah, Rochel had no idea that she would wind up marrying Ya’akov anyway. In her mind, Rochel thought that she would have to marry Eisav. When she gave those signs to Leah, Rochel was prepared to throw her life away into the garbage can by sealing her fate to marry the monster, Eisav.

This was an incredible act of Mesirus Nefesh (self-sacrifice). Since Rochel was prepared to fall into the hands of Eisav, Hashem paid her back, measure for measure, by decreeing that the descendants of Eisav would fall into the hands of the descendants of Rochel (Bereishis Rabba, Parshas Vayeitzei, 73:7, Reb Pinchas in the name of Rebbi Shimon bar Nachman).

Therefore, we will be redeemed from this last exile specifically in the merit of Rochel. This last exile is called “Galus Edom,” and Eisav is called “Edom” (Parshas Toldos, 25:30). Since Rochel was ready to fall into the hands of Eisav/Edom, Edom will fall into the hands of Rochel’s descendants.

There are three main points which emerge from this teaching. They are: 1) Ahavas Chinum, 2) the power of silence and the power of speech, and 3) Mesirus Nefesh. So, practically speaking, let us try to improve a little bit more in our Ahavas Chinum. “How can we do that,” you ask? One concrete way of achieving this is to exercise, with Mesirus Nefesh, the art of silence when we have criticisms of others.

In most cases, we are probably not the ones in the position to criticize, nor do we necessarily know how to criticize properly. Probably, our criticism will have the opposite effect on those we are trying to correct.

Therefore, let’s just keep our mouths closed when it comes to dishing out criticism, and instead, let us exercise the power of speech by giving compliments, even to those within whom we have found criticisms. Let us focus on the other person’s positive qualities and compliment him on them. We will be surprised at how much improvement will be made by lifting another person’s spirits.

This is one key to success in the realm of Ahavas Chinum. It is to stop criticizing others, and instead compliment others. This alone will breed more and more appreciation and love for the other fellow.

So, may we all be blessed with the wisdom to know when to speak and when to remain silent, which will cultivate an even greater love for each other, because then we will all become the spiritual children of Rochel into whose hands Eisav will fall, and subsequently our brothers and sisters will return to their borders within which we will live peacefully in the Messianic Era.

In this Corner (2021)

“In This Corner”

Toward the beginning of this week’s parsha, the verse tells us, “And Yitzchak entreated Hashem opposite his wife because she was barren, and Hashem allowed Himself to be entreated by him” (Parshas Toldos, 25:21).

Rashi (ibid) cites a Bereishis Rabba (Parshas Toldos, 63:5) which explains the meaning behind the words that say that Yitzchak prayed, “Opposite his wife.” These words come to teach us that Yitzchak stood in one corner and prayed, while Rivka stood in the opposite corner and prayed.

There is no doubt that Yitzchak and Rivka had a specific reason for davening in this peculiar way of standing in opposite corners. They could have sat at the table together and prayed to Hashem. Instead, they chose to pray in opposite corners. What were they thinking when they decided to pray in opposite corners of the house?

The Gaon of Ostrovtza, Rabbi Meir Yechiel Halevi Halstock (1852-1928, Poland), in his book Ohr Torah (Parshas Toldos), says that the answer to this question can be understood based on a Mishna in Meseches Yevamos (chap. 6, “Haba Al Yevimto”, Mishna 6, pg. 65b) which says that only a man is commanded to be fruitful and multiply, not a woman.

However, if a couple is married for some time and do not have children, not only can the husband divorce his wife so that he can marry somebody else and hopefully have children with his new wife in order to fulfill his mitzvah of being fruitful and multiply, but even the woman may claim that there are grounds for divorce so that she can get remarried to somebody else and hopefully have children with her new husband so that she will have family to depend upon in her old age. Her children will be able to support her, even financially, when she gets older.

We see from this Gemara that the primary motivation for a man to have children is to fulfill the mitzvah of Pru Urevu (be fruitful and multiply; Parshas Bereishis, 1:28). However, the primary motivation of a woman to have children is not to fulfill her mitzvah/obligation of having children because she is not commanded in that mitzvah; rather, her primary motivation is to have children so that she will have people at her side to lean upon when she is older. When she can no longer care for herself as she used to, she will have children who she will be able to rely upon.

Based on what we have just said, we will be able to understand the idea behind Yitzchak and Rivka standing in different corners of the house to pray. This will become clear after sharing the next Talmudic passage.

Rebbi Yitzchak said that if a person wants to become wise in Torah, he should pray facing the south, but if he wants to become wealthy, he should pray facing the north. The reason behind this is because the Menorah was placed on the southern side of the Beis Hamikdash, whereas the Shulchan (table of showbread) was placed on the northern side of the Beis Hamikdash (Baba Basra, chap. 2, “Lo Yachpor”, pg. 25b).

Since the Menorah represents the light of Torah, when a person prays toward the south, he taps into the light of Torah wisdom and draws from it. Since the Shulchan represents wealth (because bread is the staple of life), when a person prays towards the north, he taps into the wealth and draws from it.

Therefore, Yitzchak and Rivka davened in opposite corners. This is because although Yitchak and Rivka were praying for children, their motivations were different. Yitzchak’s motivation was to fulfill the mitzvah of Pru Urivu. This was a spiritual motivation. As such, Yitzchak davened in the southern corner because the south represents Torah wisdom and spirituality.

However, Rivka davened for children for a different reason. Rivka’s motivation was to have children so that she would have family to lean upon in her old age. This was a physical motivation. Therefore, Rivka prayed in the northern corner because the north represents wealth and materialism.

We will now elaborate on this idea by asking a series of questions.
In our parsha, we find a difference between Yitzchak and Rivka with respect to the blessings. Yitzchak wanted to give the blessings to Eisav (Parshas Toldos, 27:1-5), whereas Rivka wanted the blessings to be given to Ya’akov. Rivka worked toward that goal and succeeded (Parshas Toldos, 27:6-18).

We must wonder, what was the debate between Yitzchak and Rivka? Why did Yitzchak want the blessings to be given to Eisav, whereas Rivka demanded that they be given to Ya’akov?

Speaking of husbands and wives and the differences between them, we find a fascinating Gemara in Meseches Baba Metzia (chap. 4, “Hazahav”, pg. 59a) where Rebbi Chelbo said that a person should always be very careful with the respect and honor that he gives to his wife, because blessing is found in a person’s house only on account of the wife, as it says, “And he (Pharaoh) treated Avraham well for her (Sarah’s) sake” (Parshas Lech Lecha, 12:16). If Avraham became wealthy because of Sarah, we are meant to learn from them that a man’s success in producing a livelihood depends on his wife.

The Gemara goes on to report to us that Rava would tell the people of his town, “Respect your wives so that you will become rich.” These statements in Chaza”l beg us to ask why blessing in the home is solely dependent on the wife and not on the husband?

Another well-known Gemara is found in Meseches Sota (chap. 2, “Haya Meivi”, pg. 17a) where Rebbi Akiva said that if a husband and wife are meritorious, the Shechina (Divine Presence) will dwell between them.

Rashi (ibid) famously demonstrates where we find the Shechina dwelling between husband and wife. He says that Hashem took His Name “KA” (spelled Yud and Hey) and distributed it among man and woman. Hashem planted His letter Yud from “KA” in the word “Ish” (man; spelled aleph, yud, shin), and then He took His letter Hey from “KA” and planted it in the word “Isha” (woman; spelled aleph, shin, hey).

This passage raises the question as to why Hashem specifically give the letter Yud to man and the letter Hey to woman? Why not the other way around? Additionally, of all the Names of God that Hashem has at His disposal, why choose specifically the Name “KA” to distribute between man and woman?

At this point, we are going to share a teaching from one of the commentaries that the Shvilei Pinchas quotes, because this approach will begin to open a path which will start addressing all of the aforementioned questions.

The Keren L’Dovid (Rabbi Eliezer Dovid Greenwald, 1867-1928, Austria) on Parshas Chayei Sarah cites a verse in Yeshaya (26:4) that says, “For with ‘KA’ Hashem fashioned the worlds.” The Gemara in Menachos (chap. 3, “Hakometz Rabba”, pg. 29b) cites Rebbi Yehuda bar Rebbi Ilai who says that this verse comes to teach us that Hashem created the worlds of Olam Haba (the heavenly world) and Olam Hazeh (the earthly world) with the two letters Yud and Hey of His Name “KA.”

The Gemara (ibid) gets more specific. It says that Hashem used His letter Yud to create Olam Haba, whereas He used His letter Hey to create Olam Hazeh. Now, Olam Haba is a spiritual world, whereas Olam Hazeh is a physical world.

The Keren L’Dovid says that this is why Hashem specifically placed His letter Yud in the word Ish. It is because Hashem was informing us that a Jewish man’s primary tafkid (purpose, function, mission) in this world is to engage in Olam Haba type of activities such as Torah study and mitzvah performance. We can see this from the letter Yud in the word Ish. Since the Yud created Olam Haba, a spiritual domain, man (Ish) should be primarily occupied in spiritual pursuits, which translates into Torah study.

Before we go any further, I feel it necessary to interrupt the words of the Keren L’Dovid because we are starting to suggest delegating different roles to men and women. This can be a somewhat sensitive topic and sometimes people take offence to such proposals. Therefore, let me be clear.

What we just said about men does not exclude man from his responsibilities as the bread-winner. The curse of working to provide for a family was said to man (Parshas Bereishis, 3:19), not to women. The responsibility to provide for a family falls squarely on the shoulders of the man as it is written in the Kesuva.

Moreover, what we said above about man being preoccupied in the spiritual does not exclude him from participating in chores around the house. In fact, a story is told of a man who went to the Steipler Gaon (Rabbi Ya’akov Yisrael Kanievsky, 1899 Ukraine-1985 Bnei Brak; father of Reb Chaim Kanievsky, YBL”C) to ask him a question.

As a side, I was privileged to meet the Steipler Gaon on a few occasions. Those meetings were impactful, to say the least. In fact, I have a number of stories which have emerged from those meeting, but they are beyond the scope of this article.

In any case, getting back to the previous story, this man asked the Steipler if it is true that if a man folds his Tallis on Motzoi Shabbos (Saturday night) in front of his wife, it is a segulah (charm) for Shalom Bayis (harmony in the house). The Steipler Gaon responded that if he wants a segulah for Shalom Bayis, he should pick up a broom and help his wife clean the house.

Again, nobody is trying to encourage a man to shirk his duties around the house. Rather, the Keren L’Dovid is just trying to say that the primary responsibility of a man to God in his Avodas Hashem is to engage in as much Torah study and mitzvah performance as possible.

Now let us get back to the Keren L’Dovid. He goes on to say that Hashem placed His letter Hey in the word Isha to teach us that a Jewish woman’s primary tafkid is to help her husband and assist her children in the study of Torah. We can see this from the letter Hey in the word Isha. Since it was the letter Hey which was used to create the physical domain of Olam Hazeh, it teaches us that the Isha should primarily be engaged in preparing the physical needs of her family (i.e., food and clothing) so that they will have the time to study Torah.

Again, I feel it necessary to interrupt the Keren L’Dovid and add that this does not exclude women from Torah study or mitzvah performance. On the contrary, when women learn Torah, they will have a greater appreciation for what they are being moser nefesh to support. Rather, it just means to say that a Jewish woman’s primary responsibility to God in her Avodas Hashem is to support others in their pursuit of Torah study and mitzvah performance.

When women assist men in learning Torah, they will also merit to be resurrected at the time of Techiyas Hameisim (Resurrection of the Dead). This is because the only mitzvah that has the power of bringing a person back to life after he has died is the study of Torah (Kesuvos, chap. 13, “Shnei Dayenei”, pg. 111b, based on Yeshaya, 26:19).

Once this has been established, the Gemara in Berachos (chap. 2, “Haya Koreh”, pg. 17a) tells us that Rav asked Rebbi Chiya, “How will women be resurrected?” His question is based on the idea that women do not have the same responsibility of Torah study as do men. Therefore, if women do not learn Torah, how will they come back to life at the End of Days? Are men the only ones who will be resurrected?

Rebbi Chiya responded that women will also merit resurrection by sending their children to study Torah, and by sending their husbands to the Beis Medrash to learn Torah. Not only that, but the women should wait up until their husbands return from learning. This last bit of advice contains a dose of psychology. Imagine a wife who tells her husband, “Honey, I know you had a long day at the office, but still, go to the Beis Medrash and listen to a shiur, or learn with a chavrusa.”
Envision that the man listens to his wife, but when he comes home the house is dark and cold, and everybody is sleeping. When his wife tries to encourage him to learn the next evening, he may not be so eager to go because he will feel like he is going to miss out on the companionship that he wants with his wife. But if she stays up for him until he comes home, he will feel like he is not going to lose anything by going to learn Torah.

In any case, we see from this Gemara that woman will be able to cash-in on Techiyas Hameisim by supporting their husbands’ Torah study. The man’s Torah learning is also credited to his wife when she is supportive of his learning. Therefore, she too will have the power of being resurrected.

Now we can understand why Hashem specifically placed His letter Yud in the word Ish. It is because Olam Haba was also created with the same letter Yud. Since Olam Haba is a spiritual domain, the letter Yud represents spirituality. Therefore, Hashem placed the letter Yud in Ish to teach us that a Jewish man’s primary tafkid is to preoccupy himself in spiritual pursuits such as the study of Torah.

This also explains why Hashem specifically placed His letter Hey in the word Isha. It is because Olam Hazeh was also created from the same letter Hey. Since Olam Hazeh is the physical domain, the letter Hey represents physicality. Therefore, Hashem placed the letter Hey in Isha to teach us that a Jewish woman’s primary tafkid is to preoccupy herself in physical matters. This does not mean that women are meant to pamper themselves and overindulge in physical pleasures, rather, it means that women are supposed to utilize the material world and elevate it by using it to help further the study of Torah.

It turns out that it was specifically the Name “KA” that Hashem chose to use to distribute between man and woman because this Name guides and instructs man and woman as to how they can fulfill their tafkidim.

These two distinct missions of men and women are not just relevant as to how a husband and wife are meant to behave in their marriage, but this also has an effect on how they are supposed to educate their children. This is because it is the father’s job to teach his sons Torah (Meseches Kiddushin, chap. 1, “Ha-isha Niknis”, pg. 29a, based on Parshas Eikev, 11:19). Teaching Torah to the children is not the mother’s responsibility (Kiddushin ibid pg. 29b). Rather, the mother must see to it that the physical needs of her children are met (i.e., meals to eat and clean clothing to wear).

The Shvilei Pinchas says that now we can understand why blessing in the house is dependent solely on the wife, and not on the husband. It is because the letter Hey is found in the word Isha in order to hint to the woman that her job is to tend to the Olam Hazeh needs of her family so that they will be able to spend more time learning Torah. When women use materialism for that purpose, Hashem rewards them, measure for measure, by giving the family more parnassah so that she can continue using that materialism to further promote Torah study.

The Shvilei Pinchas adds that Rebbi Chelbo emphasized that a person should have tremendous respect for his wife (Baba Metzia 59a mentioned above) because, unfortunately, some men and some women might make the mistake of thinking that the man who studies Torah is superior, whereas the woman who is involved in cooking and cleaning is inferior. Such thoughts could lead to disrespecting the woman.

In order that nobody should mistakenly think that way, Rebbi Chelbo said that one should be extremely careful as to how he treats his wife. Meaning, he must demonstrate absolute respect for her because her role is not inferior but rather equal to the man’s role. A man’s role and woman’s roles may be different from one another, but that does not make one better than the other. Rather, when each one fulfills his and her tafkid, in God’s eyes, they are equal.

Moreover, when a man respects his wife, he taps into the letter Hey of Isha which allows him to draw from the energy of the letter Hey which means that he can draw from physical success of Olam Hazeh which was created by the letter Hey.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that we will now be able to understand the debate between Yitzchak and Rivka regarding the blessings. Both Yitzchak and Rivka recognized their perspective tafkidim in this world. They knew that Hashem had placed His letter Yud in Ish so that he would be involved in activities that are in sync with Olam Haba that was created by the letter Yud.

Yitzchak also knew that his children were men. As such, they should be primarily focused on Olam Haba pursuits. However, Yitzchak saw that Eisav was not engrossed in Torah study. Eisav spent his days roaming around the deserts and forests. Since Yitzchak cared for Eisav, he came up with a plan. The plan was as follows.

The blessings of Yitzchak were not spiritual in nature. At Bar Mitzvahs today, the Rabbi will bless the young man to become a Tamid Chacham and a Yirei Shamayim. That was not the nature of Yitzchak’s blessings. Rather, Yitzchak’s blessings were all about gashmiyus (materialism). Yitzchak would bless his son with the dews of heaven and with the fats of the land. The blessing would be to have grain, wine, and political power (Parshas Toldos, 27:28-29).

The reason why these were the blessings that Yitzchak chose to give was because Yitzchak said to himself that if Eisav is not going to learn Torah, let him at least be blessed with wealth so that he can support Ya’akov and his learning of Torah.

In this way, Eisav would have a part in Ya’akov’s Torah learning just as Zevulun would be credited with the Torah learning of Yissachar on account of his supporting Yissachar. In this way, Eisav would also be deserving of resurrection when the time would come.

This sounds like a great plan. Why did Rivka object? The answer is that Rivka agreed that hypothetically this was a good idea. However, Rivka realized that if Eisav would be given the blessings of wealth, he would not be writing checks out to Ya’akov to support him in Kollel, nor would Eisav pay the yeshiva’s bills or build the Yeshiva building. Rivka knew that Eisav would take his money and run to Vegas where he would waste his wealth on emptiness.

Besides, Rivka argued that the best people to be Ya’akov’s supporters would be his future wives. After all, that is their tafkid. Therefore, Rivka maintained that the blessings of materialism should be given to Ya’akov so that after Ya’akov marries Rochel and Leah, those blessings of material success would be passed on to them. Then, Rochel and Leah could use those blessings to help support Ya’akov’s Torah learning and to help support their son’s Torah learning.

The following Gemara will fit into this entire approach and even offer another layer of understanding as to why Yitzchak and Rivka davened in different corners.

In Meseches Berachos (chap. 1, “M’eimasai”, pg. 5b), Rebbi Chama b’Rebbi Chanina said in the name of Rav Yitzchak that anyone who places his bed between north and south will have male children (who will succeed in Torah).

The disciples of Rabbenu Yona (Gerondi, 1200-1263, Spain) explain this passage in Meseches Berachos based on the passage from Baba Basra (pg. 25b) that we mentioned above which said that facing south while davening is propitious for obtaining Torah wisdom whereas facing north while davening is auspicious for procuring wealth.

Therefore, when the Gemara in Berachos said that a person’s bed should be placed in the directions of north and south, the very position of the bed is meant to remind the parents to pray on behalf of their children that they succeed in Torah from the energy of the Menora which was situated on the south, and that they should succeed financially from the energy of the Shulchan which was located on the north.

It turns out that the Gemara in Baba Basra serves as a commentary on the Gemara in Berachos. May I just add that it is interesting to note that both statements which were made in these two perspective Talmudic passages came from Rebbi Yitzchak. Therefore, it is not shocking that one statement of Rebbi Yitzchak should clarify another statement from the same Rebbi Yitzchak.

In any case, the Shvilei Pinchas uses this information to suggest a chiddush (novel Torah thought) with respect to how Yitzchak and Rivka prayed. He suggests that Yitzchak and Rivka placed their bed in the direction of north and south, just as the Gemara had instructed couples to do. They were privy of this information way before the Gemara was written down.

Right before they were together to try and bring children into this world, Yitzchak and Rivka’s bed reminded them to pray towards those directions in order to benefit from what each one had to offer. As a man, Yitzchak concentrated his efforts in prayer on the southern side for the spiritual success of his children represented by his letter Yud, and Rivka, as a woman, concentrated her efforts in prayer on the northern side for her children’s material success represented by her letter Hey. May I just add that it is interesting how relevant Rebbi Yitzchak’s teachings were to explain that practice of Yitzchak Avinu, his name’s sake.

After sharing these insights, there are three practical take-away messages that we could implement immediately:

1) The first exercise is for all of us men. Let us try to make an even greater effort of honoring and respecting our wives. Not only will this improve our Shalom Bayis, but it will allow us to tap into the letter hey of Isha upon which we will be able to draw even more parnassah for our families.

2) The second exercise is directed at women. May women go to even greater lengths to help facilitate Torah learning. This may translate into encouraging husbands to learn more, which might require tending to other chores, even more so, in order that those precious moments can be taken advantage of and utilized by the husbands. This also means helping our children study more Torah. This can also translate into financially helping support people who have committed their lives to Torah study. This will bring blessing to all parties involved and it will also ensure that all people will be brought back to life at the time of Techiyas Hameisim.

3) Another practical application of this teaching would be for all of us to strengthen our davening. Let each and every one of us “pick a corner” in the house from where we are going to beg Hashem for what we need and even for what we want. We learn from Yitzchak and Rivka that prayer goes a long way.

So, may we, from the four corners of the earth, be blessed to increase our respect for each other, and may we try to do more for each other, and may we also increase our commitment to Torah and Tefillah, in order that we and our families be blessed by KA with healthy marriages, and with healthy children that we get true Yiddishe nachas from.

Tough Love

24 Cheshvan, 5782; October 30, 2021
“Tough Love”

Rashi (Parshas Chayei Sarah, 23:2) explains the juxtaposition between the end of last week’s parsha, Vayeira, which dealt with Akeidas Yitzchak, and the beginning of this week’s parsha, Chayei Sarah, which talks about Sarah’s death. Rashi says that this adjacency teaches us that when Sarah heard about the news concerning Akeidas Yitzchak, her soul left her body and she died.

It seems strange that Sarah would die from the pain that Akeidas Yitzchak caused her because Sarah was on an even higher spiritual level that Avraham was (Rashi, Parshas Vayeira, 21:12; citing Shemos Rabba, Parshas Shemos, 1:1). Yet, Avraham had enough faith in God which prevented him from dying from the pain of Akeidas Yitzchak. Therefore, if Avraham did not die from the pain of Akeidas Yitzchak, then Sarah should certainly not have died from the pain of Akeidas Yitzchak. If Avraham had such a solid faith in God, then Sarah most certainly had that type of faith in God. So, how could Sarah have died from the pain of the Akeida?

Additionally, Rashi tells us about the story which brought about Sarah’s death (namely, that she died from the news regarding Akeidas Yitzchak) at the end of the pasuk on the words, “Lispod L’Sarah V’livkosa” (Avraham eulogized Sarah and wept for her; Parshas Chayei Sarah, 23:2). Apparently, Rashi should have already shared this information with us at the beginning of the pasuk on the words, “And Sarah died” (Parshas Chayei sarah, 23:2). Right there and then, on the words, “And Sarah died,” Rashi should have told us how her death came about. Namely, by being informed of the Akeida episode. Why did Rashi wait to tell us about this story until the end of the verse?

Moreover, the Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh (Rabbi Chaim Ibn Attar, 1696 Morocco-1743 Jerusalem; Parshas Chayei Sarah, 23:1) points out that the verse begins by telling us, “And Sarah’s lifetime was” (Parshas Chayei Sarah, 23:1), and then, at the end of the very same verse, the Torah seems to repeat itself with the words, “The years of Sarah’s life.” We already know from the beginning of the verse that we are speaking about the years of Sarah’s life. Why do we have to repeat the same thing at the end of the pasuk?

The Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh answers this question by saying that although those last words seem to be redundant, they were added to teach us that Sarah lived out her full life. This means to say that we should not think that Sarah died a premature death when she heard about the Akeida. Rather, those last words come to teach us that Sarah lived all of the years that Hashem had set aside for Sarah to live.

However, the Ohr Hachaim adds that the catalyst which caused Sarah’s death was the news concerning the Akeida. When Sarah heard about the Akeida, her soul left her body.

This begs us to ask, “Why would Hashem orchestrate that the catalyst which brought about Sarah’s death was the news regarding Akeidas Yitzchak? Why did Hashem arrange that the last thing that Sarah heard about right before she died was the story of Akeidas Yitzchak?”

Furthermore, The Zohar Chadash (Tikkunim, pg. 139b) says that the catalyst which brought about Sarah’s death was the recitation of two verses. First Sarah recited the “Shema Yisrael” verse (Parshas Vaeschanan, 6:4), and then she said the “Baruch Sheim Kivod Malchuso L’olam Vaed” verse (Devarim Rabba, Parshas Vaeschanan, 2:35; blessed is the Name of His glorious kingdom forever). Immediately after the recitation of these two verses, Sarah’s soul left her body and she died.

This Zohar seems to contradict the Rashi we mentioned above who said that it was the news concerning the Akeida which killed her. Rashi’s comments are based on the Medrash Tanchuma (Parshas Vayeira, 33). The Tanchuma elaborates on the historical backdrop. According to the Tanchuma, this is what happened.

Right after the Akeida, Satan disguised himself as Yitzchak and appeared to Sarah. Sarah asked him, “My son, what did your father do to you?” Satan responded, “My father took me on a hike over mountains and through valleys, and then he schlepped me up to the top of a certain mountain, built an altar, arranged wood on top of it, tied me up, and placed me on the altar. Then, he grabbed a knife to slaughter me. If not for Hashem Who interrupted him and said, ‘Do not stretch your hand out against the child’ (Parshas Vayeira, 22:12), I would have been slaughtered.” The Tanchuma concludes by saying that before Satan had the time to finish the story, Sarah’s soul left her body.

From this Tanchuma it turns out that Satan caused Sarah’s death. Yet, according to the Zohar, it was the recitation of two verses which caused Sarah’s death. Will the real cause of Sarah’s death please stand up?

The Shvilei Pinchas says that to begin addressing all of these issues, we will have to take a look at the following Talmudic passage.

Right before the Akeida, Hashem said to Avraham, “Please take your son” (Parshas Vayeira, 22:2). In Meseches Sanhedrin (chap. 10, “Eilu Hein Hanechnakin”, pg. 89b) it explains why Hashem had to beg Avraham with the word “please” to go through with the Akeida. It is because if Avraham would have chickened out of this tenth and final test, people would have said that the previous nine tests were not substantive. But if Avraham would go through with this final test, people would realize retroactively that the other tests were also substantive.

One question that this Gemara raises is, “Why would people say that the other nine tests were not substantive if they were indeed very difficult tests to pass?” Why was Avraham’s reputation riding specifically on this tenth test?

The Shvilei Pinchas says that the upcoming Zohar’s question and answer will begin to open the door of explanation which will answer all of the aforementioned questions.

The Zohar (Parshas Vayeira, pg. 119b) asks why the verse by the Akeida says, “And God tested Avraham” (Parshas Vayeira, 22:1)? It was Yitzchak who would be slaughtered on the altar, not Avraham. As such, the verse should have apparently said, “And God tested Yitzchak.” Why does it say, “And God tested Avraham?”

The Zohar answers its own question by saying that Avraham and Yitzchak did not share the same type of personalities. Avraham was a man of chesed (loving kindness), whereas Yitzchak was a man of din (harsh and strict justice; discipline).

Yitzchak was not a softy. In fact, the Midrash in Bereishis Rabba (Parshas Toldos, 67:7) cites Rebbi Yosi bar Chalafta who strikingly said that Yitzchak instructed Eisav that if he saw Ya’akov and his descendants transgressing the Torah, he (Eisav) should decree forced conversions upon them (the Jews), without displaying any compassion upon them. We see from this Midrash that Yitzchak was tough. He had no tolerance for transgressors.

By contrast, Avraham was the embodiment of chesed. Avraham had so much patiences with people that he wound up davening on behalf of the ruthless inhabitants of Sedom because maybe they would eventually turn around (Parshas Vayeira, 18:23-33).

Therefore, it was much easier for Yitzchak to be slaughtered upon the altar than it was for Avraham to slaughter Yitzchak. Once Akeidas Yitzchak became the will of God, it became the din (law). Since Yitzchak’s nature was din, he was more inclined to allow himself to be slaughtered because that was the din. Yitzchak had a natural proclivity to do even acts of cruelty if it was God’s will. Therefore, the Torah does not say that God tested Yitzchak, because it was not such a test for Yitzchak.

However, Avraham’s personality was chesed. Avraham was the kindest person you would ever meet. Avraham was the type of fellow who would not even kill a fly that was buzzing in his ear for the past forty-five minutes. Avraham would certainly not be comfortable with killing animals, not to mention killing people, and he certainly would never raise his hand against his son in such a cruel way.

Yet, Avraham went through with the Akeida anyway. He grabbed a sharp knife and he was prepared to slaughter his own son. This required Avraham to change his natural tendencies of compassion and cultivate a propensity towards harshness to fulfill Hashem’s decree. Avraham had to embrace Middas Hadin (the trait of discipline) in order to carry out Hashem’s directive concerning the Akeida.

That was a most difficult thing for Avraham to do because the Akeida did not only go against everything that Avraham believed in, but it was diametrically opposed to his constitution.

Therefore, the verse says that God tested Avraham, not Yitzchak. In fact, the Name of God used in the verse which commanded Avraham to offer Yitzchak as a sacrifice is “Elokim” which is the Name that always represents Middas Hadin. So, it was Elokim/Middas Hadin that tested Avraham whose middah was chesed.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that this explains why people would have said (if Avraham did not go through with the Akeida) that the other nine tests were not substantive. It is because none of the other tests went diametrically opposed to Avraham’s nature of kindness as did the test of the Akeida. Therefore, people would have said that the previous tests were not substantive. They would have said that Avraham only did them because his followed his natural proclivity of concern for others, but he was not prepared to do something cruel which went against his natural disposition.

However, after having gone through with the Akeida, which went against every grain and fiber of Avraham’s existence, people would say that they now understood that whatever Avraham does is for Hashem. Now they would realize retroactively that all of the other tests that Avraham endured were all in the line of duty in serving Hashem.

Since we are speaking about the traits of chesed and din, it is important to keep in mind that unbridled chesed can lead to an unhealthy place such as immorality. Similarly, unbridled din can lead to an unhealthy place which can lead to cracking under pressure and depression. Therefore, one must strike a balance between the two so that neither aspect gets taken to an unhealthy extreme. We find this balance between chesed and din with respect to the Creation of the World.

In Genesis (1:1) it says that Elokim created the heavens and the earth. Rashi (ibid) cites the Bereishis Rabba (Parshas Bereishis, 12:15) which points out that the opening sentence of the Torah does not say that Havaya created heavens and earth. Havaya is the name of Hashem that always represents the quality of compassion and kindness. Rather, the Torah begins by saying that Elokim created heavens and earth. The Name Elokim is the Name which always represents the side of harsh and strict justice. The reason why the Torah began with the Name Elokim is to teach us that God ideally wanted to create a world that He could judge through the prism of strict justice and yet the inhabitants of earth would still deserve to exist.

However, Hashem realized that humanity would not last for more than one hour if they were to be judged through the lens of pure din. Therefore, Hashem had to recreate the world a second time, but this time around, Hashem would join Middas Hachesed to Middas Hadin. Therefore, in chapter two of Parshas Bereishis, which is the Second Story of Creation, the verse says, “On the day that Havaya Elokim made earth and heaven” (2:4). Not only was the Name Havaya (Middas Hachesed) joined to Elokim (Middas Hadin), but Havaya was placed in front of the Name Elokim. Through the balance between chesed and din the world would be able to exist.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that it is not just by the creation of the world that we must strike this balance between chesed and din, but so it is with respect to the creation of a new home. When a man and woman choose to get married to each other, they are going to create a new home. That home must be permeated by both chesed and din.

Only by striking this synthesis between chesed and din will the parents succeed in raising their children properly, as Chaza”l (our Sages of blessed memory) say, “A person should always push a child or student away with the left hand, but simultaneously bring the child or student near with the right hand” (Meseches Sota, chap. 9, “Egla Arufa”, pg. 47a). The left side always represents din, whereas the right side always represents chesed. There must be discipline when raising children, but there must also be compassion, acceptance, and patience.

Another story in our parsha will become even clearer in light of this teaching. Avraham had sent his servant Eliezer to find a soul mate for Yitzchak. Eliezer made a sign to figure out which young lady would be worthy of marrying Yitzchak. The sign was that after asking the young lady for some water to drink, she would offer water not only to him (Eliezer), but to all of his camels as well (Parshas Chayei Sarah, 24:14).

The first Radomsker Rebbe (Rabbi Shlomo Hakohein Rabinowitz; Poland, 1796-1866) says in his sefer, Tiferes Shlomo (Parshas Toldos), that the reason why the worthiest girl to marry Yitzchak would be a woman who was committed to engaging in acts of loving kindness was because Yitzchak’s personality was tough din. Therefore, he would need the chesed of Rivka to counterbalance that din and sweeten it. Only when the balance between chesed and din has been reached would Yitzchak and Rivka be able to create a wholesome and healthy environment for their children to grow up in.

This idea was already expressed when the Torah said that it was not good for man to be alone. Rather, Hashem said that he would make for man an “Eizer K’negdo” (a helper corresponding to him; Parshas Bereishis, 2:18). The Chasam Sofer (Toras Moshe, Parshas Chayei sarah, 24:14; Rabbi Moshe Sofer, 1762-1839, Frankfurt, Pressburg) explains that this verse comes to teach us that when a wife’s nature is “k’negdo,” she winds up helping (Eizer) her husband.

It would not be a good idea for both the husband and wife to be the types of people who always give in and run around doing chesed for the entire world because that could lead to the neglect of one’s own family. There must always be a voice of discipline in the house to balance things out.

The Chasam Sofer says that Avraham was the quintessential paradigm example of a Ba’al Chesed. Who would be the worthiest woman to become Avraham’s soul mate? Only a person who personified strict discipline. Sarah was that person. Sarah’s middah was that of din.

We find this in the story with Yitzchak and Yishmael. Sarah saw that Yishmael was “mitzacheik” (playing around; Parshas Vayeira, 21:9). What does this mean? I’ll tell you this much, Yishmael was not shooting hoops in the driveway. Rather, Rashi (ibid) says that “Mitzacheik” teaches us that Yishmael was playing around with idolatry, immorality, and murder.

Pointing to the front door, Sarah told Avraham (she does not ask Avraham, but rather tells him) to kick Yishmael out of the house (Parshas Vayeira, 21:10). Avraham was extremely distressed by this (Parshas Vayeira, 21:11). Just imagine, Avraham invites the entire world into his home, and now he would have to kick his own son out of his home. How ironic!

Avraham, the personification of chesed, patience, and tolerance refused to kick Yishmael out of the house until Hashem appeared to Avraham in a prophetic dream and told him to listen to Sarah’s voice (Parshas Vayeira, 21:12). This story demonstrates Sarah’s personality. It was tough love. Sarah was tough as nails.

Not only from the story with Yitzchak and Yishmael do we find that Sarah’s middah was din, but her very name points to the fact that Srah’s personality was harsh discipline.

The Arizal (Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, 1534 Jerusalem-1572 Tzfas) says in Likkutei Torah (Parshas Lech Lecha) that the name “Sarah” always points to the Name Elokim which represents Middas Hadin. In Hebrew, Sarah’s name is spelled: shin (or sin) reish, and hey. Each letter of her name points to the Name Elokim/Middas Hadin. Let us take one letter at a time.

The letter shin of Sarah’s name is numerically 300. The number 300 is that same gematria (numerical value) as the Name “Elokim” in its fullness. Although the regular gematria of “Elokim” is 86, the Name Elokim in its fullness is 300. What does “in its fullness” mean? It goes like this.

Each letter of the Name “Elokim” must be spelled out in its fullness. The Name “Elokim” is spelled: aleph, lamed, hey, yud, and mem. Each one of those letters must be spelled out in its fullness. So, for example, the aleph of Elokim is spelled: aleph lamed phey. The Lamed of Elokim is spelled: lamed mem, dalet. The hey of Elokim is spelled: hey yud. The yud of Elokim is spelled: yud vov dalet. The mem of Elokim is spelled: mem mem.

Now that all the cards are on the table, or shall I say, now that all the letters are on the table, the gematria of all of those letters together equals 300 exactly. It turns out that the letter shin of Sarah’s name is connected to the Name Elokim which teaches us that Sarah was all about din.

The next letter in Sarah’s name is a reish which is numerically 200. The number 200 is the same gematria as the Name Elokim squared. What does squared mean? It goes like this. The first letter of Elokim is an aleph which is numerically 1. Now take the first two letters of the Name Elokim which are aleph lamed whose gematria is 31. Now add the number 31 to the number 1 that we had before, which brings us to 32. Now go back to the beginning of the Name Elokim and take the first three letters which are aleph lamed hey whose gematria is 36. Add the number 36 to the previous number 32 and you get 68. When you follow this formula until the end of the Name Elokim, you will get to the sum total of 200. Once again, the letter reish in Sarah’s name is connected to the Name Elokim which teaches us that Sarah was din through and through.

The last letter in Sarah’s name is a hey. The letter hey is numerically 5 which corresponds to the 5 letters in the Name Elokim (aleph, lamed, hey, yud, and mem). Once again, the letter hey in Sarah’s name is connected to the Name Elokim which further illustrates that Sarah shared the same middah as Elokim which is harsh discipline.

In his sefer Bris Kehunas Olam (chap. 41), Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac Hakohen Katz (1705-1731, Ukraine) says that the name Sarah has the gematria of 505. The number 505 is a propitious number because 505 is the same gematria as two Hebrew words “Din Emes” (truthful judgement). This numerical equivalency further demonstrates that Sarah’s personality leaned toward unadulterated discipline and that she was committed to unapologetic truth.

All of this shows us how Sarah was the best soul mate for Avraham. Since Avraham’s personality was that of compassion, acceptance, tolerance, and patience, he needed a voice of authoritative discipline in his home in order to strike a healthy balance. Sarah provided that stance.

At this point we can go on to answer the remaining questions that were mentioned above. The Rambam (Rebbi Moshe ben Maimon, 1138 Spain-1204 Egypt) wrote a letter to his son Rabbenu Avraham (1186-1237, Egypt) in which he says that when a person fulfills the tafkid (mission) that Hashem sent him on to accomplish in this world, his soul returns to its maker.

However, there are times when Hashem will give an extension of years to a person who has already fulfilled his tafkid (mission). The reason for the extension is so that such a person can help another person fulfill his tafkid.

The Shvilei Pinchas cites the Chasam Sofer (Parshas Ki Savo, 28:11) who says that according to this Rambam, perhaps Sarah was such a person. In other words, Sarah was on such an incredibly high spiritual level that she had already reached her full potential years before she died. If Sarah had already maximized her potential, and as such fulfilled the purpose of her creation, why did she live more years? The answer is because she was kept alive to help somebody else reach his full potential. That other person was her soul mate, Avraham.

You see, although Avraham was a spiritual giant, he did not yet possess enough Middas Hadin. Since Avraham’s focus was on unconditional love and acceptance, he did not yet master how to serve God with strict discipline. Therefore, Hashem added to the years of Sarah so that she could be a true “Eizer K’negdo” by helping Avraham adopt Middas Hadin in addition to his Middas Hachesed.

One example of when Sarah taught this lesson to Avraham was when she demanded that he kick Yishmael out of the house. This was a hands-on training exercise for Avraham to build within himself the quality of tough love in the service of God.

Now let us fast-forward years later. Sarah hears about Akeidas Yitzchak where Avraham was just about to slaughter his son Yitzchak as an offering to God on the altar. When Sarah heard about that, she was impressed. Sarah saw that Avraham had embraced Middas Hadin and used it in the service of Hashem. Sarah said to herself that there was no longer a need for her to remain alive to bring Avraham to his full potential because Avraham had already maximized his potential.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that now we can understand why the catalyst of Sarah’s death had to be the story of the Akeida. It is because the story of the Akeida teaches us that Avraham had already reached his full potential, and as such, there was no longer any reason for Sarah to remain alive.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that this is why Sarah died when she heard about the Akeida, even though she was on a higher level than Avraham who did not die from the pain of the Akeida. The answer is that Sarah did not die because of the pain of the Akeida, because Sarah certainly possessed faith in Hashem. Rather, Sarah died because there was no longer any need for her to be a constant reminder to Avraham to serve Hashem with din as well. Avraham was self-sufficient. Avraham would know when and where to flex the chesed muscle and when and where to flex the din muscle.

When I read this in the Shvilei Pinchas, a question came to mind. If Avraham had already maximized his potential at the Akeida, why did he not die at that time together with his wife Sarah? Perhaps we could suggest an answer based on the Rambam’s letter we mentioned above. Maybe Hashem gave Avraham an extension of years in order to bring somebody else to his full potential. That other person was Yitzchak.

You see, Yitzchak was complete din. I guess you could say that Yitzchak was a real “mama’s boy.” This means that Yitzchak took after the Middas Hadin of his mother. Therefore, Yitzchak needed a compassionate voice reminding him to serve Hashem with chesed as well. Only after Rivka, whose middah was chesed, would grow older and establish herself in Yitzchak’s home by becoming the voice of chesed, could Avraham also leave this world and rest in peace.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that now we can understand that there is no contradiction between the Tanchuma which said that the cause of Sarah’s death was the news about the Akeida, and the Zohar which said that Sarah’s cause of death was her recitation of Shema Yisrael and Baruch Shem. The answer is yes. It was both. Meaning, first Sarah was informed about the Akeida, as the Tanchuma said. But then Sarah realized that she was no longer needed to teach Avraham to use din in Avodas Hashem, because Avraham seems to be doing quite well for himself in that area without Sarah at his side.
Therefore, after hearing about the Akeida and realizing that she was no longer needed, she recited the Shema and Baruch Shem, and her soul left her body, as the Zohar said.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that this also explains why Rashi waited until the words “Lispod L’Sarah V’livkosa”, which are at the end of the verse, to tell us about the backdrop story concerning Sarah’s death, instead of telling us the backdrop story at the beginning of the verse on the words “Vatamas Sarah.” The answer is as follows.

On the word “V’livkosa,” (and to weep over her) the letter chaf is written smaller than usual. The Ba’al Haturim (ibid; Rabbenu Ya’akov ben Rabbenu Asher, the Rosh, 1269 Germany-1343 Spain) says that the small letter chaf comes to teach us that Avraham cried only a little bit because Sarah was an older person who lived a full and long life. Since her death was not as tragic as the death of a young person, he only wept for her a little bit.

The Shvilei Pinchas suggests that there was another reason as to why Avraham cried for her only a little bit. The explanation is based on the Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh we mentioned above who said that Sarah lived out her full allotment of years, and maybe even more. Sarah did not die a premature death of a heart attack when she received the news of the Akeida.

When Avraham found out that Sarah died when she heard about the Akeida, he realized that Sarah’s faith in God was such that she did not die from the pain of the Akeida. Rather, Avraham recognized that Sarah died because there was no longer any need for her to remain alive in order to teach Avraham how to utilize din in Avodas Hashem, because the Akeida proved that Avraham had finally learned from Sarah how to serve God with strict justice and discipline.

This is another reason why Avraham only wept for her a little bit. It was because Avraham was comforted to know that his wife had reached her full potential and that she had carried out her mission for which Hashem sent her down to earth to begin with. Since Avraham was satisfied in the knowledge that Sarah had fulfilled her tafkid, he only cried a little bit.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that this is why Rashi waited to tell us the story which brought about Sarah’s death until the end of the verse on the words, “Lispod L’Sarah V’livkosa.” It was in order to teach us that Sarah died because she had fulfilled her purpose in this world. We only see that Sarah already fulfilled her tafkid from the small letter chaf at the end of the verse which indicates that Avraham only cried a little because Avraham was comforted to know that Sarah had accomplished her goals. Avraham wept only a little because he knew that she was going to the most beautiful place of eternal bliss in Olam Haba. Therefore, Rashi waited until the end of the pasuk because that is the most fitting place to talk about the cause of Sarah’s death.

One practical take-away message from this teaching would be to find one area of Avodas Hashem that we are not comfortable doing, and just do it anyway, just as Avraham did. One example would be concerning money. Most of us feel uncomfortable asking other people for money. But what if we hear about a chesed organization, Torah institution, or a family struggling financially. Although it may be very uncomfortable for us to go around knocking on the doors of friends and neighbors to ask them for money, let us do it anyway. The tzedakah we raise is Avodas Hashem. We should be willing to serve God no matter what.

This is just one example. There are many more. Each person may feel that a different aspect of Torah observance is uncomfortable to do. Well, that is when we must try to get out of our comfort zones and do the right thing.

So, may we all be blessed with the willingness and fortitude to overcome any hang-ups we may have and just serve Hashem anyway, even if it goes against our grain, because these are the tests that Hashem is testing us with throughout the journeys of our lives, and in this way, we become even more balanced within ourselves, our marriages, and with raising our children and students.

The Inherited Gift

17 Cheshvan, 5782; October 23, 2021
“The Inherited Gift”

The end of Parshas Vayeira talks about the test of Akeidas Yitzchak. In that story, Hashem sent Avraham two angels. The first angel told Avraham not to slaughter Yitzchak (Parshas Vayeira, 22:12), whereas the second angel told Avraham that he would be rewarded with many offspring and with receiving the Land of Israel (Parshas Vayeira, 22:17).

One question is, “Why did Hashem have to send Avraham two angels in order to convey these messages to him when one angel could have sufficed to tell him all of this information?”

Additionally, when comparing the words of the fist angel to the words of the second angel, there is a striking difference. The first angel said, “You have not withheld your only son Mimeni (from me; Parshas Vayeira, 22:12). The second angel said, “You have not withheld your only son” (Parshas Vayeira, 22:16). The second angel did not say, “Mimeni” (from me). Why did the second angel omit the word “Mimeni?”

Furthermore, the second angel said, “Since you have done this thing, etc.” (Parshas Vayeira, 22:16). How could the second angel say that Avraham “Did this thing” if he did not slaughter Yitzchak? What was the thing that Avraham did?

Finally, the second angel said, “Your offspring will inherit the gates of its enemy” (Parshas Vayeira, 22:17). Why would Avraham’s descendants only inherit their enemy’s gates? Why would they not inherit their enemy’s land?

The Shvilei Pinchas begins addressing these questions by introducing a teaching from Reb Yonasan Eibeschutz (1690 Cracow, Poland-1764 Prague) in his Tiferes Yehonasan in Parshas Beha’alosecha.

Reb Yonasan Eibeschutz says that sometimes we find Eretz Yisrael referred to as a matanah (gift), and sometimes we find that Eretz Yisrael is referred to as a yerusha (inheritance). For example, in Parshas Eikev (11:17) it says, “And you will be swiftly banished from the good land that Hashem gives to you.” The word “gives” (Etein; the Hebrew word used in this verse) implies that Eretz Yisrael is a matanah.

Yet, another verse in Parshas Shoftim (16:20) says, “Righteousness righteousness you must pursue so that you will live and inherit the Land.” The word “inherit” (Viyarashta; the Hebrew word used in this verse) clearly states that Eretz Yisrael in a yerusha.

The Tiferes Yehonasan explains the difference between Eretz Yisrael as a yerusha as opposed to Eretz Yisrael as a matanah, based on the following Gemara.

In Meseches Gittin (chap. 5, “Hanizkin”, pg. 57a), Rav Yehuda said in the name of Rav Asi that Yanai the king ruled over 600,000 cities. In each city lived 600,000 inhabitants, with exception of three cities in which 1,200,000 people lived.

Before proceeding with this Gemara, let us share a brief biographical sketch of Yannai the king. Yannai was Jewish. His great grandfather was Matisyahu Maccabee. Unfortunately, Yannai became a Sadducee, and yet he served not only as king but also as the Kohen Gadol. Yannai opposed the Chachamim and executed as many of them and their followers as he possibly could. He wound up murdering thousands of people.

Yannai’s wife, Shlomtziyon Hamalka, did not share her husband’s distaste for the Sages. In fact, her brother was the famed Shimon ben Shatach, who was a great Sage. She did everything she could to protect her brother and the Sages. Yannai reigned for twenty-seven years and died at the age of fifty-nine. Now let us return to our Gemara.

Ulah, who lived a long time after Yannai, said that he once visited one of the three cities that had contained 1,200,000 people in the days of Yannai. Ulah commented that that city was not even big enough to contain 600,000 stalks.

A certain Sadducee, who heard about Ulah’s testimony, approached Rebbi Chanina and said, “You [Sages] are a bunch of liars.” In other words, the Sadducee claimed that the Sages have always exaggerated and they never report accurate data.

Rebbi Chanina said to the Sadducee that there is no contradiction whatsoever between the earlier statement of the Sages, who said that those cities were packed with hundreds of thousands of people, and Ulah’s testimony that claimed that there was not even room in those places for 600,000 stalks.

Rebbi Chanina explained to the Sadducee that there is a pasuk in Yirmiya (3:19) which refers to Eretz Yisrael as “Eretz Tzvi” (Deer Land). The reason why Eretz Yisrael is referred to as “Deer Land” is because a deer’s skin cannot technically hold its flesh. After a deer is killed and skinned, its skin shrinks. Only when its skin is on its body does it stretch to cover its flesh.

Therefore, just as deer skin stretches to cover itself only when it is on the deer, similarly, only when Jews inhabit Eretz Yisrael does it stretch to accommodate its population. However, when Jews no longer live in Eretz Yisrael, the land shrinks.

Therefore, when Yannai was king and thousands upon thousands of Jews lived in those cities, the Land expanded to contain them all. However, after the Jews had evacuated those cities, those very same cities could not even hold 600,000 stalks.

From this Gemara it turns out that Eretz Yisrael has its fixed borders. Yet, when throngs of Jews choose to live in Eretz Yisrael, Hashem broadens her borders to house those multitudes of people. Herein lies an explanation as to the difference between Eretz Yisrael being called a yerusha as opposed to being called a matanah.

When we are talking about the natural borders of Eretz Yisrael as they are delineated in the Torah, Eretz Yisrael is referred to as a yerusha that we inherited from the Avos.

However, when we are talking about Hashem magically expanding her borders to contain large numbers of Jews, Eretz Yisrael is referred to as a matanah.

The Tiferes Yehonasan continues to say that this will explain what Moshe promised Yisro if he (Yisro) would journey with them to Eretz Yisrael. Moshe said to Yisro, “If you go with us, then it will be that the same good which Hashem will do to us, He will do to you” (Parshas Beha’alosecha, 10:32).

Rashi (ibid) cites the Sifri which asks, “What was the good that Hashem did for him (Yisro)?” The answer is that when the Jews first divided Eretz Yisrael to be apportioned to the various Shevatim (Tribes), the most fertile part of Yericho was 500 cubits by 500 cubits. They refrained from apportioning Yericho because they said that whichever Tribe gets to have the Beis Hamikdash built on its territory, the city of Yericho will be given to that Sheivet as a prize.

However, with time, things shifted, and they decided to give Yericho to Yisro’s descendants; to Yonadav ben Reichav. After all it says, “And the children of the Keinite – Moshe’s father-in-law – went up out of the city of Palm Trees” (Sefer Shoftim, 1:16). Yericho was called the city of “Palm Trees” on account of the many palm trees which grew there (Radak ibid).

Now, Yisro’s descendants turned out to be extremely numerous. They were like their own autonomous nation living within Eretz Yisrael. How could so many people fit into a place that was just 500 cubits by 500 cubits? Such a measurement is more like the size of an auditorium, not the size of a city.

The Tiferes Yehonasan says that Moshe Rabbenu already circumvented this question because in the verse right beforehand Moshe said, “We are journeying to the place of which Hashem has said, ‘I will give it to you’, go with us and we will treat you well for Hashem has spoken of good for Israel” (Parshas Beha’alosecha, 10:29).

By emphasizing the word “give” (the word in the pasuk is “Etain”), Moshe was saying that Hashem will give you Yericho as a gift (matanah) which will magically expand to meet the needs of your descendants.

Now we are going to see that the expansion of Eretz Yisrael is dependent on one thing. That one thing is the study of and adherence to Torah Sheba’al Peh (the Oral Law).

The Tiferes Yehonasan points out that Hashem gave us a Torah Shebichtav (Written Law) which contains the 613 mitzvos. The Torah tells us that we may not add to Torah Shebichtav, nor may we subtract from it (Parshas Re’eh, 13:1).

On the other hand, Hashem gave us a Torah Sheba’al Peh. With respect to the Oral Law, Hashem empowered the Chachamim (Sages) to expound on every single crown drawn on top of certain letters in a Sefer Torah, and bring forth piles and piles of laws (Parshas Shoftim, 17:11; Menachos, chap. 3, “Hakometz Rabba”, pg. 29b, Rebbi Akiva).

Now, the Chachamim have guidelines for expounding upon the Torah, such as the thirteen rules which are listed in the Bereisa of Rebbi Yishmael (Preface to Safra, which is also found in our Siddurim right before Pesukei D’zimra, Shacharis). Yet, within those parameters, the Chachamim were given permission to make safeguards, issue decrees, and make fences around the Torah.

When the Chachamim exercise those rights, we could apply to them the verse that says, “Make the Torah great and glorious” (Yeshaya, 42:21). In other words, the Chachamim make the Torah bigger and greater.

It turns out that Torah Shebichtav is set. Nobody is allowed to make additions to it. However, Torah Sheba’al Peh is expansive, and constantly growing.

Therefore, in the merit of Torah Shebichtav which is set, we receive Eretz Yisrael as a yerusha with set borders. However, in the merit of Torah Sheba’al Peh which expands, we receive Eretz Yisrael as a matanah whose borders will expand as well.

At this point, the Shvilei Pinchas ties all of this back into our parsha which discusses Akeidas Yitzchak.

There were two mitzvos being fulfilled at Akeidas Yitzchak: 1) placing Yitzchak upon the altar, and 2) offering a ram as a sacrifice to God in substitution for Yitzchak.

When Yitzchak was placed upon the altar, Avraham fulfilled a mitzvah right out of Torah Shebichtav, because Hashem told him explicitly to place Yitzchak upon the altar. That command became a pasuk in Torah Shebichtav (Parshas Vayeira, 22:2). Therefore, by placing Yitzchak upon the altar, Avraham fulfilled a mitzvah d’Oraisa.

However, when he offered a ram as a sacrifice to God, Avraham fulfilled a mitzvah right out of Torah Sheba’al Peh. This is because Hashem never told Avraham to offer up a ram. Rather, what happened was that Avraham was told by the first angel not to slaughter Yitzchak. Then, suddenly, Avraham noticed that a ram had gotten caught in the thicket by its horns (Parshas Vayeira, 22:13).

Avraham said to himself that if a ram suddenly appeared right after being told not to slaughter Yitzchak, it must be that the will of God is to offer this ram as a sacrifice to God instead of Yitzchak. That was Avraham’s interpretation.

Once Avraham “paskined” (decided) that it was a mitzvah to offer up the ram, it became a mitzvah right out of Torah Sheba’al Peh. Meaning, this was a mitzvah m’diRabanan. Avraham was the Sage of his generation. Therefore, once he decided that this was a mitzvah, it became a mitzvah, but it became a Rabbinic mitzvah. By slaughtering the ram, Avraham fulfilled his own mitzvah m’diRabanan.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that we can now understand why Hashem sent Avraham specifically two angels. It is because Avraham fulfilled two mitzvos; one from Torah Shebichtav, and the other from Torah Sheba’al Peh.

Now, every time a person fulfills a mitzvah, he creates an angel (Pirkei Avos, chap. 4, “Ben Zoma”, Mishna 13, Rebbi Eliezer ben Ya’akov).

Therefore, when Avraham placed Yitzchak on top of the altar and fulfilled a mitzvah from Torah Shebichtav, he created an angel. It was that very angel who told Avraham not to slaughter Yitzchak. That angel told Avraham that he had already fulfilled everything that Hashem had commanded him to do. Therefore, there was no need to slaughter Yitzchak, and it would even be forbidden to do so.

The angel even proved to Avraham that he (Avraham) had already completely fulfilled everything that Hashem had commanded him to do. The proof was that although every mitzvah creates an angel, the constitution of the created angel depends upon how the mitzvah was done. For example, if the mitzvah was done half-baked, the angel comes out half-baked. In other words, if a person leaves out details in his mitzvah performance, the angel created from that mitzvah would be missing limbs.

This explains why the first angel said to Avraham, “You have not withheld your only son Mimeni (from me).” This angel told Avraham that Hashem already credited Avraham with not withholding his son from Him. What was the proof that Avraham had done everything that he was told to do by Hashem? The answer is, “Mimeni!” In other words, the first angel said to Avraham, “Look at me. Am I missing any limbs? No. Therefore, Mimeni (from me) you can see that you did not leave anything out concerning what Hashem told you to do.”

Only the first angel, who instructed Avraham not to slaughter Yitzchak, had to add the word Mimeni in order to prove to him (Avraham) that no slaughtering should take place. The second angel; however, who did not tell Avraham not to slaughter Yitzchak, had no need of adding the word Mimeni because the second angel had nothing to prove to Avraham.

The Shvilei Pinchas continues to say that now we can understand what the second angel meant when he said, “Since you did this thing.” If Avraham did not sacrifice Yitzchak, what did he do? The answer is that Avraham did a second mitzvah which was offering the ram as a sacrifice to God. That mitzvah created the second angel. Therefore, that very second angel, who was created at that moment by Avraham’s second Rabbinic mitzva of offering up the ram, told Avraham that he did a mitzvah by offering up the ram.

This is why it was specifically the second angel who informed Avraham about his reward of numerous offspring and receiving Eretz Yisrael. It is because the second angel was created by Avraham’s second mitzvah which was from Torah Sheba’al Peh. Since Avraham expanded the Torah in that realm of Ba’al Peh, the second angel told him that he would have as many descendants as the stars in the sky and as many offspring as the sand on the seashore.

When this prophecy will be fulfilled, there will be a lot of Jews; as many as the stars and as many as the sand. One might ask, “How are we going to fit all those people into tiny Eretz Yisrael?” To that the second angel said that Avraham would receive Eretz Yisrael as a matanah. As such, its borders would expand to accommodate as many Jews as there would be.

This is why the second angel said that Avraham’s offspring would inherit the gates of their enemies. Of course, Avraham’s descendants would receive the Land of Eretz Yisrael. However, the second angel emphasized the gates as if to say that once the entrances, or shall I say, flood gates of Eretz Yisrael would open for his offspring, there is no telling where it would end. The Land would continue to grow in accordance with the needs of the nation. Therefore, the word gates was a way of conveying that the entrances to the Land would be opened wide for them to keep expanding as much as they would need to.

But again, all of this information about Avraham’s reward was told to him by the second angel, not by the first one. This is because it was the second angel who was created by Avraham’s fulfillment of a mitzvah from Torah Sheba’al Peh which he (Avraham) expanded upon. Therefore, it was specifically that second angel who would inform Avraham of an Eretz Yisrael that would expand as well.

This also explains why the second angel said, “Since you listened to my voice” (Parshas Vayeira, 22:18). A voice is different than a word. Words are explicit, very much like Torah Shebichtav. However, you can hear in a person’s voice whether he is scared, anxious, or excited. The voice is very much like Torah Sheba’al Peh which is left to interpretation by the person listening.

In fact, the Midrash (Bereishis Rabba, Parshas Toldos, 64:4; Rebbi Yonasan in the name of Rebbi Yochanan) says that when God said that Avraham, “Listened to My voice” (Parshas Toldos, 26:5), it meant that Avraham even fulfilled mitzvos mid’Rabanan such as Eiruvei Chatzeyros (a communally owned deposit of food to permit carrying in a courtyard, community, or town on Shabbos).

Therefore, if “My voice” in Parshas Toldos refers to mitzvos from Torah Sheba’al Peh, so does “My voice” in this week’s parsha refer to a mitzvah from Torah Sheba’al Peh.

Practically speaking, let us try to devote even more time to the study of Torah Shebichtav and Torah Sheba’al Peh, and let us try to fulfill both aspects of the Written and Oral Law, so that we hold on to the fixed borders of Eretz Yisrael and live to see the expansion of Eretz Yisrael with all of our brothers and sisters living within her broadened borders.

So, may we all be blessed with the willingness and strength to offer up our talents on the altar of God, dedicating ourselves to fulfilling the Ratzon Hashem which incorporates both Torah Shebichtav and Torah Sheba’al Peh, and thus merit to witness the ingathering of our exiled ones, when we will altogether live comfortably in large dwelling places, without there being any issues of over crowdedness, because it will be given to us by God as a Divine gift, just as Yericho was given to the B’nei Yisro.

Actions Speak Loudly (2021)

Tishrei 15 – 21 5782; September 21 – 27, 2021
“Actions Speak Loudly”

The Torah says, "You shall make [literally, "make for yourself"] the holiday of Sukkos for seven days" (Parshas Re’eh, 16:13). The Talmud (Sukkah, chap.1, "Sukkah", pg. 11b) explains the phrase "make for yourself" to mean that every person must consciously, actively make their own sukkah, rather than having their sukkah accidentally come into being as a result of some other action.

For example, the material that forms the roof of a sukkah ("sechach") must fulfill two conditions in order to be kosher: it must have originally grown from the ground and it must be currently detached from the ground. Imagine that I have four walls forming an enclosed space in my backyard. All summer long, I let the grass grow, until the weeds are so tall that they reach the top of the walls and droop over the edges, forming a roof. Obviously, these weeds are not kosher sechach, because they are still rooted in the ground. But a week before Sukkos, I finally mow the lawn, and the tall weeds - which are now detached from the ground can serve as sechach.

Now, is my sukkah kosher? The answer is no! The reason is because there is a third condition for kosher sechach; namely, that I do the action of placing it on top of the sukkah walls. In the scenario we just described above, I did not make the sukkah; it just came into being as an accidental result of my mowing the lawn. In order to transform my weed-covered hut into a sukkah, I would need to lift the weeds off of the walls and actively place them on top of the walls again for the sake of the mitzvah of sukkah.

This halachik aspect of the mitzvah teaches us a powerful lesson. If we want to accomplish anything in life, we must take action! This is just as true in the spiritual world as it is in the physical one. Of the four kabbalistic worlds, Atzilus, Beriah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah (Atzilus - next to God, Beriah - creation, Yetzirah - formation, and Asiyah - action) we live in the world of action.

This does not only mean that this is the only world in which we can accomplish, but it also means that in order to achieve anything, we must take action.

This teaching does not negate the importance of prayer. We must pray and ask Hashem for His assistance in every endeavor we undertake. Prayer helps us realize that our abilities and talents were given to us by God. Prayer reminds us that the result is also up to Hashem. However, it all depends on one condition and that is that we try to achieve by taking action. This is the system that God chose to create.

By taking action, we reach a certain level of maturity. By taking action, we learn about the benefits of earning our way. By taking action, we can begin to appreciate other people's actions. The responsibility and gratitude that we obtain by working for something is by far much more beneficial than having things come to us easily, served on a silver platter. Such people are more likely to become spoiled and unappreciative.

The sukkah represents the balance between taking action and believing in God. On the one hand, we had to take action in order to build the sukkah, on the other hand, dwelling under the sechach in the sukkah is meant to remind us that Hashem is constantly with us, protecting us and helping us in every step of the way.

Let us share one example of something that we must invest in if we are to reap its fruits.

The Vilna Gaon (cited in Sefer Kol HaTor 1:7) states that the entire body is involved in only two mitzvos: the mitzvah of sukkah and the mitzvah to dwell in the Land of Israel. (Mikvah, however, is considered to be a preparation for other mitzvos and not an actual mitzvah in and of itself).

The GR"A suggests that these sister mitzvos teach us that just as we must consciously, actively make a sukkah, we must also be consciously involved in building the Land of Israel to the point where everything is ready for Moshiach to come. According to the GR"A, we must not only long for Moshiach and pray for his arrival, but we must take an active role in order to create positive change.

There is a verse that we say every day in davening that supports this notion. It says, "And a redeemer will come to Zion" (Yeshaya, 59:20). Rashi explains this verse to mean that the redeemer - Moshiach - will come only to a built Zion. Only after we have laid the infrastructure into place, will Moshiach come and place the "icing on the cake" with the building of the Beis Hamikdash.

The Jerusalem Talmud (Yuma, chap. 3, "Amar Lahem Hamemunah", halachah 2, pg. 40b) elaborates further, saying that redemption will take place in small, gradual steps, like the sunrise. Our redemption is a process and we must be active participants in making it come about. If we want to benefit from Eretz Yisrael, we must invest in it.

The sukkah and Eretz Yisrael encompass our entire bodies which consist of 248 limbs and 365 sinews. Those parts of our bodies correspond to the 248 positive commandments and to the 365 negative commandments. As such, the mitzvos of sukkah and Eretz Yisrael are equal to fulfilling all 613 commandments.

Therefore, during this holiday, let us think of a way of taking the holiday with us into the upcoming year. Let us choose at least one mitzvah that we are going to invest in even more. Let us ask Hashem for His assistance in accomplishing our goal. Then, let us take the action necessary in order to make it happen.

So, may we all be blessed with a solid faith in Hashem and may we be blessed with the resolve and with the strength to take the necessary actions in order to reap the fruits of our labor.

Looking Back to the Future (2021)

"Looking Back to the Future"

After Avraham emerged victorious against the four kings, Malki Tzedek brought Avraham bread and wine (Parshas Lech Lecha, 14:18). Rashi (ibid) cites the Bereishis Rabba (Parshas Lech Lecha, 43:6) and the Gemara in Meseches Nedarim (chap. 3, “Arba’a Nedarim”, pg. 32b) which say that Malki Tzedek was the same person as Shem ben Noach (Shem the son of Noach).

Rashi (ibid) based on the Medrash (ibid) goes on to share a variety of reasons as to why Malki Tzedek gave Avraham bread and wine. One reason is because it was the practiced custom to give food and drink to soldiers who returned from war exhausted so that they could regain their strength. Therefore, the bread and wine were meant to revive Avraham from his fatigue.

Another reason was because Shem ben Noach wanted to show Avraham that he had no complaints against him. You see, Avraham had killed untold numbers of people in his war against the four kings. One of those kings was Kidarlaomer. Kidarlaomer reigned in Eilam and the people of Eilam were descendants of Shem (Sifsei Chachamim ibid, number 70; Rabbi Shabtai Bass, 1641-1718, Poland).

So, it turns out that Avraham had killed a number of Shem’s grandchildren in war. One would have thought that Shem would have been upset with Avraham for killing them. Therefore, in order to show that he had no grievances against Avraham, Shem brought him the gifts of bread and wine. Shem demonstrated that he understood that Avraham had to do what he did.

Another reason for the bread and wine was to hint to Avraham that his descendants would one day bring meal-offerings (represented by the bread) and wine libations (represented by the wine) in the Beis Hamikdash.

The Midrash (ibid) goes on to quote Rebbi Shmuel who said that the bread and wine meant that Shem taught Avraham about the laws of a Kohen Gadol who dealt with the Lechem Hapanim (showbread, represented by the bread) and wine libations (represented by the wine). The Rabanan said that the gift of bread and wine teaches us that Shem taught Avraham different aspects of Torah which are represented by the bread and wine (Mishlei, 9:5).

As we proceed, we are going to see another message that Shem ben Noach conveyed to Avraham by giving him bread and wine. This message would be a mission statement for Avraham and his descendants to carry out until the coming of Moshiach. We will begin by talking about Avraham’s pivotal role in building Klal Yisrael.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that Avraham was considered to be the first Jew. Avraham was the root of the Jewish people, and the holiness of Avraham served as the root of the holiness of the Jewish people. This is what was meant when Hashem told Avraham, “And I will make you a great nation” (Parshas Lech Lecha, 12:2).

The Gemara says in Brachos (chap. 4, “Haya Korei”, pg. 16b) that only three people are referred to as Avos (Patriarchs) and only four people are referred to as Imahos (Matriarchs). The Avos and Imahos were the foundations upon which the Jewish people were built. Yet, the first Patriarch was Avraham. This makes Avraham the “Av Harishon” (first father).

All of this begs us to ask why Hashem chose Avraham to be the progenitor of the Jewish people. There were other Tzaddikim who lived prior to Avraham, such as: Chanoch, Mesushelach, Noach, Shem, and Eiver. Why were they not selected to be the “first Jews” and the progenitors of B’nei Yisrael?
To answer this question, we will take a look at a Medrash which says that Avraham was the first person to begin the tikkun (fixing; repairing) of the first sin of the Eitz Hada’as that Adam Harishon was involved in.

In Bereishis Rabba (Parshas Bereishis, 14:6; expounding on Parshas Bereishis, 2:7) it says that Hashem created Adam Harishon in the merit of Avraham. Based on a pasuk in Sefer Yehoshua (14:15), Avraham was considered to be the greatest spiritual giant. As such, Avraham should have been created first. Why then did Hashem create Adam first?

The answer is because if Avraham was created first, and if Avraham would have sinned in Gan Eden, there would not have been anyone later in history as great as Avraham who could be metaken (fix) that sin.
Therefore, Hashem created Adam first. Although Adam was righteous, he was not as righteous as Avraham. Therefore, even if Adam would sin (which he did), there would be a greater Tzaddik in the future, Avraham, who would be able to repair the damage that was done by the sin of the Eitz Hada’as.

The Medrash concludes by saying that Hashem placed Avraham in the middle of the generations so that Avraham would be able to support both the generations that came before him and the generations that came after him.

This Medrash about Avraham being the first one to fix the sin of Adam Harishon, fits into a teaching from Tikkunei Zohar (Tikkun 69, pg. 109b) which says that after Adam died, he came back into this world as Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya’akov. The Avos were meant to fix the old sin of the Eitz Hada’as.

The Zohar in Parshas Behar (pg. 111b) tells us how they achieved that Tikkun. The three cardinal sins of idolatry, immorality, and murder were connected to the sin of the Eitz Hada’as. Let’s take one at a time.
When the serpent told Chava that they would become gods if they ate from the tree (Parshas Bereishis, 3:5), Chava and Adam ate the fruit so that they would become gods. For a person to think that he or she could become a god is nothing short of idolatry.

When the Nachash “came upon Chava and injected zuhama (a spiritual poisonous venom) into her,” (Messeches Shabbos, chap. 22, “Chavis”, pg. 146a), that was an act of immorality.

When the decree of death hit the world after the sin of the Eitz Hada’as (Parshas Bereishis, 2:17), that was mass murder on a global level.

Therefore, the three Avos worked at rectifying that sin. Each one focused on a different cardinal sin that was present during the Eitz Hada’as.

When Avraham destroyed the idols of his father’s idol shop (Berishis Rabba, Parshas Noach, 38:13), he fixed the idolatrous aspect of the Eitz Hada’as.

When Yitzchak was willing to be slaughtered on the altar as an offering to God, he fixed the sin of murder that was connected to the Eitz Hada’as.

When all of Ya’akov’s children turned out to be righteous on account of his sanctity and purity, it fixed the immorality that was present at the Eitz Hada’as.

Although the Avos fixed the roots of the sin of the Eitz Hada’as, we, their descendants, must continue to fix the remaining branches of the Eitz Hada’as. This is because the Arizal (Sefer Halikkutim, Tehillim, 32; Sha’ar Hagilgulim) says that all Jewish souls were part of Adam’s grand soul before he sinned.
As such, each and every one of us participated in that sin. Some of us urged Adam to partake of that fruit, while others did not protest strong enough against eating the fruit.

Therefore, the decree of death fell upon all of us because we were all guilty of that crime. Since we all participated in that sin, we must all bear collective responsibility for the consequences.
Therefore, although the Avos began the tikkun, we must follow in their footsteps and continue to repair whatever damage is left. Avraham was the first one to begin fixing the damage of the Eitz Hada’as which occurred before him, and at the same time, Avraham was setting an example for future generations to come to continue to fix that sin.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that this is why specifically Avraham was chosen to be the progenitor of Klal Yisrael. Although Chanoch, Mesushelach, Noach, Shem, and Eiver were righteous, they were only concerned with themselves, their families, and with their immediate students.

Avraham, however, was not content on focusing only on his inner-circle. Rather, Avraham was much broader than that and tried to bring the entire world to recognize Hashem. Additionally, Avraham insisted that his children, and their children after them, and so on, would continue to carry the torch that he initiated. This is what Hashem loved about Avraham (see Parshas Vayeira, 18:19).

We find that Avraham indeed focused his efforts on behalf of generations to come. The pasuk says that Avraham took Lot along with him (Parshas Lech Lecha, 12:5). The Zohar (Parshas Lech Lecha, pg. 79a) asks, “Why would Avraham want to hang around with Lot if he (Lot) left much to be desired?” The Zohar answers this by saying that Avraham always kept a close eye on Lot in order to protect him because Avraham saw, with his Ruach Hakodesh, that the holy spark of Dovid Hamelech was buried deep within Lot.

We know that Dovid descended from Lot because Lot and his daughter had a son named Moav (Parshas Vayeira, 19:37). The boy Moav grew up to be a man who fathered the Moabite nation. Rus was from Moav (Rus, 1:4), and Dovid descended from Rus (Rus, 4:13-22). Since Dovid could trace his ancestry to Lot, Avraham kept Lot in close proximity in order to protect the spark of Dovid that was buried within him so that Malchus Yisrael would come to fruition (see Bereishis Rabba, Parshas Lech Lecha, 41:4).

We are going to see that Dovid worked at fixing the sin of the Eitz Hada’as as well. Therefore, it is not surprising that Avraham would want to ensure Dovid’s survival. Since Avraham was the first one to begin the tikkun of Adam’s sin, it would be in Avraham’s interest to bring forth Dovid who would continue to do that job.

In Yalkut Shimoni (Parshas Bereishis, remez 41) it says that Hashem showed Adam a prophetic vision of all generations to come. Hashem showed Adam the birth of Dovid. Adam saw that Dovid would die three hours after he was born. Adam wanted to do something for Dovid. So, Adam gave seventy years of his life to Dovid.

It turns out that Dovid was a continuation of Adam because he (Dovid) lived out the last seventy years that Adam was supposed to live. Not only that, but the Arizal (Sefer Halikkutim, Parshas Ha’azinu) says that Dovid was a gilgul (reincarnation) of Adam whose purpose was to be metaken the sin of Adam. We find an example of Dovid doing just that.

In Meseches Sukkah (chap. 2, “Hayashan Tachas Hamittah”, pg. 26b) it says that Dovid Hamelech slept very little. How long did he sleep for? He slept the amount of time it would take a horse to breathe sixty breaths. Why did Dovid “horse nap” like that?

The Arizal says that it is because the Gemara in Berachos (chap. 9, “Haroeh”, pg. 57b) says that sleep is one-sixtieth of death. Therefore, Dovid did not want to taste the taste of sleep because Dovid did not want to taste the taste of death.

The reason why Dovid did not want to taste the taste of death was because he knew that he was a gilgul of Adam who brought death into this world as a result of the sin with the Eitz Hada’as. Therefore, Dovid wanted to remove death from the world. How can one remove death from the world? Well, by removing sleep from the world, one can remove a fraction of death from the world.

When this tikkun will be completed, Moshiach will come, the world will come full circle, and we will go back to Gan Eden Mikedem.

This explains why the first person was called “Adam.” It was not only because the word “Adam” is the root of the word “Adamah” (ground; Parshas Bereishis, 2:7) which teaches us that Adam was a derivative of the Adamah, but it is also because the name “Adam” is spelled with three letters: aleph, dalet, and mem. These three letters serve as the acronym for “Adam, Dovid Moshiach.”
This teaches us that when Dovid (the dalet) finishes fixing the sin of Adam (the aleph), Moshiach (the mem) will come.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that this is why Avraham was willing to put himself into mortal danger by fighting the four powerful kings to save Lot. It is because Avraham was the first person who began to do the tikkun of the Eitz Hada’as that Adam sinned with. Therefore, it meant a lot to Avraham that Dovid should enter into the world to continue this mission. Therefore, Avraham risked his life for Lot who carried around the spark of Dovid to ensure Dovid’s survival and seal the redemptive process which would benefit humanity.

As we mentioned above, every one of us must try to continue Avraham’s good work of fixing the sin of Adam because we all participated in that sin. We are going to see that we already do participate in this tikkun on a regular basis.

The Gemara in Brachos (chap. 6, “Keitzad Mivarchin”, pg. 40a) quotes Rebbi Meir who said that the Eitz Hada’as was Geffen (a vine). Adam drank from the wine that was squeezed from the grapes.

However, Rebbi Yehuda maintains that the Eitz Hada’as was Chitah (wheat). Adam ate the bread that was made from the wheat. The Shvilei Pinchas says that based on the teaching of “Eilu v’Eilu Divrei Elokim Chaim” (these and those are the words of the living God; Eiruvin, chap. 1, “Mavui Shehu Gavoah”, pg. 13b), the fruit of the Eitz Hada’as was both. It contained the Geffen and Chitah aspects.

Based on this idea, the Ben Ish Chai (Rabbi Yoseph Chaim, 1835-1909, Baghdad, Iraq; Halachos, shana shniya, Parshas Bereishis) says that every Friday night we make Kiddush over a cup of wine, and we make Hamotzi on Lechem Mishneh, in order to be metaken the sin of the Eitz Hada’as which was a combination of those two ingredients.

The Sifsei Kohein (Rabbi Mordechai Kohein, 1523-1598, Tzfas; Parshas Bereishis, divrei hamaschil “Ode B’midrash”) explains this idea a little further. He says that had Adam been patient and waited until Friday night, not only would it have been permissible for him to partake of the Eitz Hada’as, it would have been a Mitzvah. Adam would have made Kiddush on the wine component of the Eitz Hada’as, and he would have said the Hamotzi Bracha over the Lechem Mishneh component of the Eitz Hada’as.

Therefore, when we wait until Friday night to make Kiddush over wine and Hamotzi over Challah, we are demonstrating patience and we do our little part in fixing the sin of the Eitz Hada’as that we are guilty of.
Moreover, the Rema (Rabbi Moshe Isserles, 1530-1572, Cracow, Poland) in Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim, 271:10) says that during Kiddush on Friday night, we should glance at the Shabbos candles.

The Chochmas Shlomo (Rabbi Shlomo Kluger, 1785-1869, Galicia; ibid) explains why the Rema instructed us to do this. He says that it is because according to Rebbi Meir, the Eitz Hada’as was Geffen. When Adam drank the wine from that grape, it brought death into the world.

Now, what is death? Well, every person carries around a Neshama on the inside. That Neshama is a light, as it says, “The lamp of God is the soul of man” (Mishlei, 20:27). This means that every person is a light. However, when a person dies, that light is extinguished from this world. That light goes to a different world, but in this world, it has been extinguished.

Since the wine of the Eitz Hada’as extinguished light from this world, when we make Kiddush over wine to fix the sin of the Eitz Hada’as, we look at the Shabbos candles because we want to bring more light into ourselves and into this world.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that now we will be able to understand Malki Tzedek’s reaction when Avraham returned from war against the four kings. As we mentioned above, Malki Tzedek was Shem ben Noach. He was a Tzaddik who was king of Yerushalayim (Parshas Lech Lecha, 14:18). Shem’s righteousness, coupled together with the holiness of Yerushalyim, gave him Ruach Hakodesh.

Shem saw the real motivation behind why Avraham risked his life to save Lot. Shem saw that it was due to the spark of Dovid buried within Lot that Avraham intended to preserve. Shem felt an immediate connection with Dovid because both he and Dovid were kings in Yerushalayim (Shmuel Beis, 5:5).
Shem also knew why Avraham was so interested in saving Dovid. Shem saw that it was because Avraham was invested in fixing the sin of the Eitz Hada’as. Avraham himself began this tikkun, and Dovid would continue on with this mission.

Therefore, the gifts which Shem gave to Avraham was specifically bread and wine because they represented the Geffen and Chitah of the Eitz Hada’as. Shem was basically saying to Avraham that he understood why Avraham went to all that trouble. It was in order complete the tikkun and bring the Geulah to the world. As such, Shem ben Noach had no complaints against Avraham for killing so many of his (Shem’s) descendants because he (Shem) realized that Avraham had acted for the ultimate benefit of the world.

One more aspect of our parsha will be even more understood based on this teaching.

After the war against the four kings, the word of Hashem came to Avraham in a vision. Hashem said, “Fear not Avraham, I am a shield for you, Secharcha Harbei Me’od (your reward is very great; Parshas Lech Lecha, 15:1). Rashi (ibid) cites a Midrash (Bereishis Rabba, Parshas Lech Lecha, 44:4) which explains why Hashem had to tell Avraham not to worry.

Avraham was concerned that he had received all of his reward in this world when Hashem had performed miracles for him to win the war. Avraham was concerned that he had no merits left and that no other reward would be waiting for him in the next world. Therefore, Hashem said, “Do not worry, your reward is very great.”

The Shvilei Pinchas explains that miracles subtract from a person’s reward if the miracles were done only to help the individual. However, when the miracles are done to help Klal Yisrael, the merits of the person who had a miracle done for him do not get diminished.

Therefore, with respect to Avraham, he did not just go to war for personal reasons to save a family member (Lot was a nephew and brother-in-law). Rather, Avraham went to war to protect the spark of Dovid who would do more tikkun which would result in Moshiach and the Geula which would benefit all of Klal Yisrael and humanity.

Hashem even hinted as much to Avraham when He said, “Secharcha Harbei Me’od.” The word “Me’od” means “very,” but the word “Me’od” is spelled with three Hebrew letters: mem, aleph, and dalet. The same three letters that make up the name “Adam.”

In other words, Hashem told Avraham that although Hashem had performed miracles on Avraham’s behalf which won the war, he would still have great (Me’od) reward because he went to war so that Dovid (the dalet) would do the tikkun for Adam (the aleph), and bring Moshiach (the mem). All of this was done for the sake of the klal. Therefore, Avraham’s merits would not be diminished whatsoever. On the contrary, they would be increased.

One practical take-away of this teaching would be to make a conscious effort to look at the Shabbos candles during Kiddush on Friday night. At that moment, let us be reminded that we are involved in fixing the sin of Adam and the Eitz Hada’as which was Geffen and Chitah. Let us remember that we want to bring more light into this world.

Moreover, right there and then, let us make a commitment to try and be even more of a klal person like Avraham was. Let us think of how we can do something for the benefit of others. Then, let’s do it.

So, may we branches of Avraham Avinu do our part in fixing the sin of Adam Harishon by reaching out to help others even more so, in order that we deserve to usher in Moshiach ben Dovid who will bring the world back full circle to a Yom Shekulo Shabbos in Gan Eden Mikedem.

Joint Company

3 Cheshvan, 5782; October 2, 2021
“Joint Company”

Towards the end of Parshas Noach, we are told about a story concerning Haran who died in a fiery furnace (11:28). The pasuk (ibid) says that Haran died in the lifetime of his father Terach. Rashi quotes a Midrash (Bereishis Rabba, Parshas Noach, 38:13, Rebbi Chiya bar brei d’Rav Ada d’Yafo) who adds that Haran died because of his father Terach. This came about in the following way.

Terach complained to Nimrod, the king, that his son Avraham had cut down all of his (Terach’s) idols. Nimrod had Avraham thrown into a fiery furnace. Haran was watching all of this and said to himself, “If Avraham wins, I am with him (Avraham), but if Nimrod wins, I am with him (Nimrod).”

Before we continue this story, let us talk a little bit about Haran’s biographical sketch. Haran was the father of Sarah (Parshas Noach, 11:29). Haran’s father was Terach (Parshas Noach, 11:26), just like Avraham’s father was Terach. However, Avraham and Haran had different mothers. Meaning, Terach was married to two women. From one wife Avraham was born, and from the other wife Haran was born. This made Avraham and Haran half-brothers.

Since Avraham and Haran did not share the same mother, it was acceptable for Avraham to marry Sarah, his half niece. This is because we have a concept in Judaism which dictates that “grandchildren are like children” (Meseches Yevamos, chap. 6, “Haba Al Yevimto”, pg. 62b).
Based on this concept, Sarah was not just Terach’s biological granddaughter, but rather Sarah was considered to be like Terach’s own daughter. It follows that Avraham did not just marry his half niece, but it was as if Avraham married his half-sister. Although Noachides are not allowed to marry their sisters, nevertheless, they are allowed to marry their half-sisters as long as they do not share the same mother (see Rashi, Parshas Vayeira, 20:12).

Additionally, from the order of names in the verse, it seems that Avraham was the oldest brother, Haran was the youngest brother, and Nachor was the middle brother (Parshas Noach, 11:26).

After exploring Haran’s biographical sketch, let us return to the story. When Avraham came out of Nimrod’s furnace unscathed, Nimrod’s men asked Haran on whose side he was. Haran responded that he was on Avraham’s side. As a result, they picked Haran up and threw him into the fire and he burned to death.

This is why the name of that place was called “Ur Casdim” (Parshas Noach, 11:28). It is because of the story that happened there with the great fire or light. The word “Ur” is closely related to the word “Ohr” which means light.

The Shvilei Pinchas points out that Haran’s Mesirus Nefesh (self-sacrifice) was not complete because he actually considered joining forces with Nimrod, had Avraham died. Therefore, Haran’s thoughts left much to be desired.

Yet, in action, Haran did die Al Kiddush Hashem (in sanctification of Hashem). When Nimrod’s men asked Haran on whose side he was, Haran knew that if he answered that he was on Avraham’s side, they would throw him into the fiery furnace. Therefore, the act of Mesirus Nefesh cannot be taken away from him.
As such, he should be rewarded for his good deed because of what Rebbi Chiya bar Aba said in the name of Rebbi Yochanan in Meseches Baba Kamma (chap. 4, “Shor Shenagach Dalet v’Hey”, pg. 38b) that Hashem does not withhold reward from any creature.

Therefore, we must ask, “When did Hashem repay Haran for his act of Mesirus Nefesh?”

The Rama M’Pano (Rabbi Menachem Azaria of Fano Italy, 1548-1620; citing his Rebbi, Rabbi Yisrael Saruk, in the name of the Arizal) answers this question in his Sefer Gilgulei Neshamos (chap. 45). He says that after Haran died, he was brought back into this world again as Yehoshua Kohen Gadol. Let us explore who this Yehoshua Kohen Gadol was.

Yehoshua Kohen Gadol’s father was Yehotzadak (Chaggai, 1:1). Yehoshua Kohen Gadol lived during the time of the first Beis Hamikdash. We know this from the following story in Meseches Sanhedrin (chap. 11, “Cheilek”, pg. 93a) which is based on a few verses in Sefer Yirmiya (29:21-23).

During the time of Nevuchadnetzar, King of Bavel, there were two Jews whose names were Achav and Tzidkiyahu. Achav and Tzidkiyahu were false prophets. Even Nevuchadnetzar was suspicious of them and wanted to test them to see if they were as righteous as they claimed to be.

The way Nevuchadnetzar would test people’s righteousness was by having them thrown into a fiery furnace. If they would die, he (Nevuchadnetzar) knew that they were not righteous. If a miracle would occur for them and they would survive, he knew that they were righteous.

This was how Nevuchadnetzar tested the righteousness of Chanania, Mishael, and Azaria, who were righteous Jews. After being thrown into the fiery furnace, Chanania, Mishael, and Azaria emerged alive. As such, Nevuchadnetzar concluded that they were righteous.

Now Nevuchadnetzar wanted to put Achav and Tzidkiyahu to the same test. Achav and Tzidkiyahu protested that this was not a fair test because Chanania, Mishael, and Azaria were three people. They argued that maybe when there are at least three righteous people do they have enough merits to be saved from a fiery furnace. Since Achav and Tzidkiyahu were just two people, perhaps they did not have enough merits to be saved from a fiery furnace.

Nevuchadnetzar said, “Fine, you may choose one other person to be thrown into the fiery furnace together with you.” They chose Yehoshua Kohen Gadol because they knew that he was a righteous person. They thought that his merit alone would save all three of them.

Nevuchadnetzar threw all three of them into the fiery furnace. Achav and Tzidkiyahu died, but Yehoshua Kohen Gadol survived. It was only Yehoshua Kohen Gadol’s garments that got singed because his children had married gentile women and he did not admonish them for it (Sanhedrin, ibid, Rav Papa).

Based on this story, we will have greater clarity into some verses in Zecharia. Zecharia the prophet said, “Then, He showed me Yehoshua Kohen Gadol standing before the angel of Hashem, and the Satan was standing on his right to accuse him” (Zecharia, 3:1).

Rashi (ibid) explains that the Satan wanted to prosecute against Yehoshua Kohen Gadol because his children married non-Jewish women, as it is recorded in the Book of Ezra (10:18). Therefore, the Satan claimed that Hashem should not rescue Yehoshua Kohen Gadol from Nevuchadnetzar’s fiery furnace, because he did not deserve to be saved.

Zecharia goes on to say, “Hashem said to the Satan, ‘May Hashem denounce you O’ Satan, may Hashem Who chooses Yerushalayim denounce you, indeed this man [Yehoshua Kohen Gadol] is like a fire-band saved from a fire” (Zecharia, 3:2). Meaning, he does deserve to be saved.

Now we can get back to the Rama m’Pano because he says that the reason why Hashem saved Yehoshua Kohen Gadol from Nevuchadnetzar’s fiery furnace is because Yehoshua Kohen Gadol was already burned alive in Nimrod’s fiery furnace when he [Yehoshua Kohen Gadol] was Haran in his previous lifetime.

This is where Hashem paid back Haran for his Mesirus Nefesh. It was when Haran came back down as Yehoshua Kohen Gadol and Hashem rescued him from Nevuchadnetzar’s fiey furnace.
The Shvilei Pinchas adds that this could be the deeper meaning behind Hashem’s words to the Satan which were, “Behold, this man [Yehoshua Kohen Gadol] is like a fire-band saved from a fire (Zecharia, 3:2).” Hashem meant to say that Yehoshua Kohen Gadol does deserve to be rescued from Nevuchadnetzar’s fire because he was already burned in Nimrod’s fire when he was Haran, and Yehoshua Kohen Gadol is all that is left from the previous burning.

By the way, it would be a good idea to point out that both Nimrod and Nevuchadnetzar were kings of Bavel (Parshas Noach, 10:10). According to this it turns out that not only were both Haran and Yehoshua Kohen Gadol thrown into a fiery furnace by a king, but they were both thrown into the fire by the king of Bavel at that time.

The Shvilei Pinchas points out that both Haran and Yehoshua Kohen Gadol had an advantage and a disadvantage with respect to the mitzva of dying Al Kiddush Hashem.

Haran’s disadvantage was that his thoughts were corrupt. First of all, Haran entertained the possibility of joining forces with the dark side of Nimrod had Avraham perished in the fire. This means that Haran was ready to abandon Hashem and live life as an idolater.

Second, when Avraham emerged alive from the fire, Haran thought that the same miracle that happened for Avraham would also happen to him because Avraham already broke the ice and paved the way. Therefore, Haran’s willingness to be thrown into the fire was not taking such a great risk because he actually thought that he was going to be saved anyway.

However, Haran’s advantage was that, at the end of the day, Haran died Al Kiddush Hashem. That act was something that cannot be taken away from him.

However, Yehoshua Kohen Gadol’s advantage was that his thoughts were completely dedicated to Hashem. He would never entertain that thought of joining forces with the dark side of Nevuchadnetzar and live life as an idolater.

Yet, Yehoshua Kohen Gadol’s disadvantage was that he was missing the act of dying Al Kiddush Hashem because, at the end of the day, he did not die because Hashem had saved him.

We are going to see that when one person does a good deed (action) but is lacking in thought, and another person has good intentions but is lacking the action, Hashem joins this person’s deed with the other person’s thoughts so that a complete and total mitzva emerges.

This idea can be found in the Meseches Chulin (chap. 1, “Hakolk Shochtin”, pg. 7b) where Rebbi Pinchas ben Yair said to Rebbi Yehuda Hanasi that he does not want to receive any benefit from other people because, “The Jewish people are holy. There are some Jews who want to give, but they do not have the means to give. I certainly do not want to take from them because they do not have what to give. There are other Jews who have the means to give, but they do not want to give. I do not want to take from them either because they do not really want to share with others what they have.”

Tosafos (ibid, divrei hamaschil “V’Yeish”) asks why Rebbi Pinchas ben Yair called all Jews holy. We could understand why the Jew who does not have but wants to give is considered holy, but why should the Jew who has but does not want to give be called holy?

The Tosafists answer this question by saying that even the Jew who has but does not want to give is called holy because, at the end of the day, he gives anyway because he is embarrassed not to give. People know that he is well to do, and if he does not give, people will think that he is a miser. So, in order to save his reputation, he gives. Since in the end he does give, he is also called holy.

The Rebbe Reb Zusha of Anipoly (Ukraine, 1718-1800) elaborates on this Tosafos in the following way. In Pirkei Avos (4:11), Rebbi Eliezer ben Ya’akov teaches that when a person does a mitzvah, he creates an angel. Reb Zusha says that not only do people have a body and a soul, but angels also have a “body” (outer layer) and a “soul” (inner core).

Reb Zusha says that when a person does a ma’aseh mitzvah (a mitzvah act), he creates the body of the angel, and when a person concentrates on the mitzvah with his mind and invests thoughts (kavanos) into the mitzvah, it creates the soul of the angel.

Therefore, when a person has money to give tzedakah, but he does not want to give charity, but he gives anyway because he is embarrassed not to give, such a person’s good intentions are lacking, but he has a good action. This person’s action creates the body of an angel.

A different person truly wants to give charity but he does not have the means to do so. That person’s good thoughts created the soul of the angel. So, what does Hashem do out of His abundant compassion? He joins this person’s action to the other person’s thoughts, and as a result, a whole angel is created, complete with body and soul.

Reb Zusha’a brother, the Rebbe Reb Elimelech of Lizhensk (1717-1787, Poland), in his Noam Elimelech (Parshas Metzora) adds that this is the meaning of the Gemara in Kiddushin (chap. 1, “Ha-isha Niknis”, pg. 40a) which says that if a person had a thought to do a mitzvah, but circumstances which were out of his control prevented him from performing that mitzvah, Hashem is “metzarfa” (joins it) as an action.
The simplistic understanding of this passage is that Hashem still credits such a person with having done the mitzvah. But, if that were the case, the Gemara could have just said, “Machshava K’ma’aseh” (a thought is considered an action). Why did the Gemara have to say, “Machshava Mitzarfa L’ma’aseh” (a thought is joined to the action)?

Reb Elimelech explains that the word “Mitzarfa” comes to teach us that if you have a person who had a good thought to do a mitzvah, but he was withheld from doing that mitzvah due to circumstances beyond his control, then Hashem goes on the look-out for another person who did perform that very mitzvah, however, he may have done that mitzvah half-heartedly.

Hashem joins the action of the fellow who did not have good intentions to the thoughts of the fellow who did have good intentions, and thereby creates a complete and total mitzvah. This is why the Gemara used the word “Mitzarfa.” It is to teach us that Hashem connects the action of one Jew with the thoughts of another Jew to create and complete mitzvah.

The Noam Elimelech adds that this could be the deeper understanding of the Gemara in Pesachim (chap. 4, “Makom Shenahagu”, pg. 50b) which quotes Rav Yehuda in the name of Rav who says that a person should always engage in Torah study and mitzvah performance even though it is done Lo Lishma (not for the sake of Heaven; i.e., for ulterior motives), because from the Lo Lishma, Bo (will come) Lishma (for the sake of Heaven; altruistically).

The simplistic understanding of this Gemara is to keep on doing mitzvos even if they are done for ulterior motives, such as honor, money, or shidduch, because eventually, one will come to do those mitzvos altruistically, just because God said that we should do them.

However, a deeper read into this Gemara tells us that we should not say to ourselves, “What’s the point in doing such and such a mitzvah if I’m doing it for ulterior motives? That’s being selfish. Why should I do such a selfish mitzvah if it is not sincere?” We should not say such a thing because there is value to a mitzvah action, even though it may be filled with unhealthy motives. The benefit of the action is that Hashem takes that action and attaches it to the holy thoughts of a Tzaddik who was prevented from doing that very mitzvah. Then, we are credited in helping a Tzaddik perform a mitzvah in totality.

This explains why the Gemara used the words, “Lo Lishma will come to Lishma.” The words, “Will come” teach us that Hashem will bring (Bo; Yavi) the Lo Lishma action to a Tzaddik and combine it with the Tzaddik’s good intentions.

Not only will Hashem bring the Lo Lishma action of a regular person and join it with the Lishma thoughts of a Tzaddik, but Hashem will bring a Lo Lishma action we may have done in a previous gilgul and join it with our good intentions that we have today. Just as Hashem joined Haran’s good action with Yehoshua Kohen Gadol’s good intentions, He will do the same for us.

Additionally, Hashem will take a Lo Lishma action that we do today, and join it together with a good intention we may have in an upcoming gilgul. In this way, we will eventually benefit from the totality of the mitzvah.

At this point, we are going to add that not only did Haran become Yehoshua Kohen Gadol, but when Yehoshua Kohen Gadol eventually died, he came back down to this world again as somebody else. We will see who this mystery person is from the following Gemara.

In Meseches Berachos (chap. 4, “Tefillas Hashachar”, pgs. 27b-28a) it tells us about a story when Rabban Gamliel was the Nasi (spiritual leader of the Jewish people). Rabban Gamliel had gotten into a serious argument with Rebbi Yehoshua (who was Rebbi Yehoshua ben Chananya). Rabban Gamliel had humiliated Rebbi Yehoshua publicly. Afterwards, Rabban Gamliel went to Rebbi Yehoshua’s home to ask for forgiveness.

When Rabban Gamliel entered into Rebbi Yehoshua’s home, he (Rabban Gamliel) saw that the walls of the house were blackened. Rabban Gamliel said to Rebbi Yehoshua, “From the blackened walls of your home I can tell that you must be a person who makes charcoals, or you must be a blacksmith.” (See Rashi ibid).

In his Sefer Gilgulei Neshamos (chap. 61), the Rama m’Pano adds that not only were Rebbi Yehoshua’s walls blackened, but so was his face. After all, blacksmiths and charcoal makers often get black soot on their faces.

However, Kabbalistically speaking, Rebbi Yehoshua’s black face was meant to show us that Rebbi Yehoshua was a gilgul of Yehoshua Kohen Gadol. Since Yehoshua Kohen Gadol was thrown into Nevuchadnetzar’s fiery furnace, although he came out of there alive, his cloths were singed, and his face was blackened.

Hashem orchestrated that Rebbi Yehoshua should enter into the occupation of being a blacksmith or charcoal dealer so that his face would become blackened because Rebbi Yehoshua’s blackened face would point to the fact that he was a reincarnation of Yehoshua Kohen Gadol.

This chiddush will help us understand the meaning of a passage found in Avos d’Rebbi Nasan (chap. 14, Mishna 3) which says, “Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai had five students, and he called each one of them by different nicknames. The nickname that Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai gave to Rebbi Yehoshua was, “A three-ply cord is not easily severed” (Koheles, 4:12).

The commentaries grapple about how to explain Rebbi Yochanan ben Zakkai’s words. What does this verse from Koheles have to do with Rebbi Yehoshua? The Shvilei Pinchas suggests that Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai had tapped into something very deep concerning the soul of Rebbi Yehoshua. Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai realized that his disciple Rebbi Yehoshua was a gilgul from Yehoshua Kohen Gadol, and that Yehoshua Kohen Gadol was a gilgul from Haran.

Therefore, Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai applied this verse in Koheles about a “Three-ply cord” to Rebbi Yehoshua because it indicated that Rebbi Yehoshua had been born three times.

When he was Haran, he did a great deed. When he was Yehoshua Kohen Gadol, he had great thoughts. However, when he became Rebbi Yahoshua, he had both, good deeds and good thoughts. Where do we find that Rebbi Yehoshua had both good deeds and good thoughts? This will become evident from the rest of the story found in Meseches Berachos (pgs. 27b-28a).

After Rabban Gamliel publicly humiliated Rebbi Yehoshua, the other Sages decided to remove Rabban Gamliel from his position of leadership. Instead, they appointed Rebbi Elazar ben Azaria as the new Nasi.
Now, during the reign of Rabban Gamliel, not everybody was allowed to enter into the Beis Midrash to learn Torah. Only those who were “Tocho K’baro” were let in. Tocho K’baro means that the person’s inside (Tocho) had to match his outside (Baro).

In other words, if a person was completely committed to Hashem on the inside, he would have to dress religiously on the outside. He was not allowed to dress casually so as to give the impression that he was not so special, because Emes (truth) demands transparency.

Alternatively, if a person was not so committed to Hashem on the inside, he was not allowed to dress religiously on the outside. Rabban Gamliel did not tolerate phonies. As a result of this policy, only a small amount of people were permitted to enter the Beis Midrash to study Torah. Most people failed the Tocho K’baro test.

However, on the day that Rebbi Elazar ben Azaria was appointed to be the new spiritual leader, he abolished the law of Tocho K’baro. He removed the barricades from the doors of the Beis Midrash and everybody was allowed to come and learn Torah. On that day, there were four-hundred benches added to the Beis Midrash, and others say it was seven-hundred benches.

Although it was Rebbi Elazar ben Azaria who abolished the policy of Tocho K’baro, nevertheless, it was all because of Rebbi Yehoshua. It was Rebbi Yoshua’s humiliation which triggered all of those events to occur. Therefore, one could argue that it was because of Rebbi Yehoshua that all of these students, who were not Tocho K’baro people, entered into the Beis Midrash to learn Torah.

It turns out that some of those students were more of the Tocho type. This means that they were more into their inner thoughts. Other students, however, were more of the Baro type. This means that they were more into their outer actions. Yet, Hashem took the outer Baro actions and joined them together with the inner Tocho thoughts, and as a result, the complete totality of Torah and mitzvos were performed.
This is what it meant when we said above that Rebbi Yehoshua had both good deeds and good thoughts. Since all of this joining of Tocho to Baro transpired because of Rebbi Yehoshua, he was credited as having accomplished this union between actions and thoughts.

Perhaps we could add another advantage that Rebbi Yehoshu had over Yehoshua Kohen Gadol. Yehoshua Kohen Gadol’s children had married gentile women. Yet, because of Rebbi Yehoshua, more students were able to learn and practice Judaism. Since students are like children, Rebbi Yehoshua had many “children” who became even more committed to Hashem through Torah and Mitzvos. This served as a tikkun for the children of Yehoshua Kohen Gadol who had abandoned Hashem and His Torah.

One practical take-away lesson which emerges from this teaching is that although we may not always do mitzvos for the right reasons, we should just do them anyway. We must remind ourselves to just do the best that we can right now, because any little step in the right direction does not get wasted. Rather, Hashem collects our ma’aseh mitzvos and attaches them to the holy thoughts of great Tzaddikim.

Imagine that! Our ma’aseh mitzvos help facilitate some huge Tzaddik who has the greatest kavanos, but who is prevented from doing this very mitzvah that we are doing right now. Because of us, he gets credited with the mitzvah act. And we get credited with assisting a tzaddik.

Besides, our mitzvos today may very well be joined with our thoughts that we had in a previous life or in a future life. The point is, nothing gets wasted, because everything we do is important.

So, as we pass through the fiery challenges of Olam Hazeh, may we all be blessed with the frame of mind to do just the best that we can, because the chances are that we’ve been here before, and any effort in the right direction will be joined with our previous efforts, which will shape us into complete and holy angels of God, who will be deserving to witness the return of Hashem to the city of Yerushalayim, where we will rejoice together with all of our children.