Archive for December 2015

A deal is a deal no turning back

This article was constructed with the help of either writings, lectures or shiurim of Rabbi’s  Yissachar Frand,, Yonnatan Zweig Yossi Bilius and Dr. Abba Goldman

Some troubling questions on the parsha:
* In the morning, when Yaakov realized that the woman with him was Leah and not Rachel, he asked her, “Why have you tricked me into believing that you were Rachel?” Leah responded, “It is from you that I learned to do so. Did you not pose as your brother in order to receive the blessings?” How do Yaakov’s actions validate Leah’s?
* Rachel asks Leah to give her the Dudaim, a plant she received which is good for fertility, to which Leah retorts, “Is it not enough that you took my husband, now the gift that my son has given me?  How can our matriarch Leah have the audacity to treat Rachel in this manner? If it wasn’t for Rachel, you, Leah, would not be married to Yaakov! She gave up the man she loved so you shouldn’t be embarrassed when caught!!
* Why does Yaakov have two names, Yaakov and Yisrael?
* Does one ever wonder, “Why are there four Matriarchs and only three Patriarchs?”
“If G-d will be with me, and He will guard me on this way that I am going; and He will give me bread to eat and clothes to wear, and I will return in peace to my father’s house, and Hashem will be a G-d to me – then this stone which I have set as a pillar shall become a house of G-d, and whatever You will give me, I shall surely tithe to You.” [Bereshis 28:20-22]
In effect, Yaakov makes a deal here with the Master of the Universe. This has been a time-honored tradition in the Jewish nation that people have in effect made deals with the Almighty and has triggered deals made between nobles and commoners, between businessmen.
Covenants in biblical times were often sealed by severing an animal, with the implication that the party who breaks the covenant will suffer a similar fate. In Hebrew, the verb meaning “to seal a covenant” translates literally as “to cut”. It is presumed by Jewish scholars that one of the reasons of the removal of the foreskin symbolically represents such a sealing of the covenant. After an agreement was made between G-d and the parties involved an animal was sacrificed and the two parties passed between the two halves. Perhaps, that is where the expression “cut the cards” originated. There you go: a biblical source for gambling.
In today’s society, on 47th street, the heart of the jewelry industry, one would consummate a deal on a hand shake and proclaim “MAZAL U’BRACHA”. Millions of dollars would be decided on a handshake. Interestingly, by saying “mazal u’bracha” the two parties are wishing each other hatzlacha and bracha, a well wished blessing. “From the deal we made together you should have success”.
Negotiations, agreements, let’s make a deal, handshake, marriage vows, pow wows, YOM KIPPUR promises (!!!) are ingrained in us since birth. Well, come to think of it, a few years after birth.
What is the difference between a terrorist and a two year old?
One can negotiate with the terrorist.
Making deals is a fundamental necessity in a functional society. An individual lives by them; countries honor them.  Avraham and Avimelech make a treaty, a deal, after Yitzchak was born. As long as the descendants of Avimelech dwell on the land, no descendants of Avraham will wage war against them. This covenant was the reason later why Israel couldn’t capture Eastern part of Jerusalem. Avraham called the western part Yeru- to see G-d (holy place). Shalem, the eastern part was originally inherited by Noach’s son – Shem. The name “Shalem” comes from Shem. In Yehoshua’s time the Philishtim lived in the Shalem, the eastern part. Although Yehoshua, the leader of the Israelites, conquered the western part, in honor of the treaty the Israelites refrained from entering the Eastern part. It wasn’t until the last descendant of Avimelech died after the time of Yehoshua did the children of Judeah took it.
Please listen to this story about making good on a deal. I’m sure we all at one point made a deal with G-d.  Rabbi Yissachar Frand heard in the name of Reb Chatzkel Besser. He personally heard this story from the Sadegerer Rebbe in Tel Aviv.
So much of life is being in the right place at the right time or being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The Sadegerer Rebbe had to be in Vienna on Shabbat Parshas Zachor, March 12, 1938. Interestingly, it was before Purim; he too had to deal with Amalek, the Jewish nation’s worst enemy. On Friday leading into Shabbat, the brown shirted Nazis marched into Vienna and ransacked Jewish homes. Subsequently, the Nazis invaded Vienna and that was the beginning of the end for Viennese Jewry.
Ironically, the famous Reichman Family was also in Vienna in 1938. That Shabbat was supposed to be the Bar Mitzvah of the eldest brother Edward Reichman. Unfortunately – or at least what they thought was unfortunate at the time – Mrs. Reichman’s father who still lived in Hungary (in Beled) had a stroke. They wanted very much that the grandfather should be at the Bar Mitzvah, but he was in no condition to travel to Vienna. So the week before the Bar Mitzvah the Reichman family with three of their children left Vienna to celebrate the Bar Mitzvah in Hungary. Samuel Reichman (the father) never stepped foot in Vienna again. That is how he was able to make it out of Europe.
The Sadegerer Rebbe had no such luck. The brown shirted Nazis zeroed in on every prominent Jew they could find. They grabbed Jews out of cabs, out of shuls, out of every place they could find them. They captured the Sadegerer Rebbe.
Years later, Rabbi Chatzkel Besser visited Tel Aviv. Early one morning, he was walking into the synagogue of the Sadegerer Rebbe. He noticed the Jewish street cleaner sweeping the street and the sidewalk on the block of the small shul. When the street cleaner reached the sidewalk immediately in front of the small shul, he stopped sweeping, walked past the shul, and then resumed his cleaning operation on the next block.
The tension between chareidi and chiloni – observant Jews and non-observant Jews was high, to say the least. Israelis have a tendency to do things in an extreme fashion. Religion and secularism is no exception. Rabbi Chatzkel Besser sensed anti-religious discrimination here and went over to the street cleaner and objected. “What’s wrong with this piece of sidewalk?” The street cleaner responded “HaRebbe lo noten reshut” (“The Rebbe does not allow me to sweep there.”) Reb Chatzkel Besser did not believe him and repeated his question to which the street cleaner repeated the same answer.
He thought the street cleaner was making up the story or just being lazy. He went into the Rebbe and asked him directly “Why won’t the street cleaner sweep in front of your shul?” The Rebbe put him off and did not give him a straight answer. This was Friday morning. He kept badgering the Rebbe Friday night, Shabbat morning, Shabbat afternoon: “What does it mean ‘HaRebbe lo noten reshut’?”
At the end of Shabbat, the Rebbe relented and explained the true story to his guest. When he was in Vienna that Shabbat in March 1938, the Nazis took him and dressed him up in one of the uniforms of the street cleaners of Vienna and they gave him a tiny little broom. They placed him by the steps of the Vienna Opera House and ordered him to clean every step.
Of course, this was a humiliating experience for the Rebbe. He was wearing one of those little street cleaner’s caps and essentially holding a tooth brush, cleaning the massive steps of the Vienna landmark. He related that at that moment he made a “deal” with G-d. He said, “Master of the Universe, if You help me escape from here, I promise You: I will sweep the streets of Eretz Yisrael.”
He made it out and he kept his promise. When he arrived in Eretz Yisrael and set up a shul there, he accepted upon himself that he would not let anyone sweep outside his Bet Haknesset – he would do it himself. Every day, he would sweep the sidewalk in front of his shul because of the deal he made with the Almighty, in the tradition of Yaakov Avinu.
What more of a deal can be said of the one made between two brothers, two twins, Yaakov and Eisav. Interestingly, it was made over a cup of soup. We begin [25, 29], last week’s parsha, the story of the twins where Eisav and Yaakov make a deal. Eisav comes from the field tired and hungry and asks “What do you have to eat”.  Yaakov ends up with the first born title in return Eisav receives a bowl of soup.
This arrangement happened to be of great significance in our history for it put in place the future of Israel. The bracha was the catalyst in placing the Jewish people as ambassadors to the Almighty and putting us in the driver’s seat. We are in control of our own destiny. If we succeed in our ability to follow G-d, the world then will be our subornments. If, however, we do not follow the commandments then Eisav will prevail as world leader, dominate us and cause us great distress.  Unfortunately, it was also the beginning of a deep seated hatred that Eisav and his descendants had towards our people. Let’s see what transpired because of the arrangement of the bracha and the soup.
“And it was in the morning, and behold, it was Leah!” (29:25)
According to the Talmud, Yaakov gave Rachel a secret message that would identify her on their marriage night. He did this in order to prevent Lavan from substituting Leah for Rachel. When Rachel realized that Leah would be publicly humiliated if she could not give Yaakov the message, Rachel revealed the secret words to her. In the morning, when Yaakov realized that the woman with him was Leah and not Rachel, he asked her, “Why have you tricked me into believing that you were Rachel?” Leah responded, “It is from you that I learned to do so. Did you not pose as your brother in order to receive the blessings?”
 How do Yaakov’s actions validate Leah’s? Later in the Parsha, Reuvein, Leah’s eldest son, brings her Dudaim, a plant that, according to some commentaries increases the chances of conception. Rachel asks Leah to give her the Dudaim, to which Leah retorts, “Is it not enough that you took my husband? Now you want to take my son’s Dudaim?”
How could Leah make such a statement when the only reason that she was married to Yaakov was because of Rachel’s kindness toward her?  Rachel gave the signs over to her sister for she should not be embarrassed in case she’s caught. She gave up the man she loved, at least for the immediate time being, and this is how she is treated? Where is the gratefulness towards Rachel?
To begin answering the aforementioned questions, we must first answer another question: Why are there four Matriarchs and only three Patriarchs? The answer is that there were supposed to be four Patriarchs. Eisav had the potential for becoming an Av. It is only due to his making the wrong choices that he lost this right. Yaakov filled the void created by Eisav and functioned as two Avot. He was therefore given a second name, Yisrael.
 Rashi teaches that originally Leah was destined to marry Eisav, and Rachel, Yaakov.
 When Leah saw that Yaakov took over the mantle of Eisav, Leah realized that Yaakov became her soul mate. This is what she alluded to when she told Yaakov, “It is from you I learned. Since you substituted for Eisav, taking his blessings and birthright, you have become my soul mate.” Her argument to Rachel was that it was not due to Rachel’s kindness that Leah married Yaakov; it was Leah’s right once he assumed Eisav’s role. Leah therefore felt justified in criticizing Rachel for having taken away her husband. It is interesting to note that the children who issued forth from Leah had many of Eisav’s characteristics and propensities. Dovid Hamelech, a descendant of Leah’s son Yehuda, is described as “Admoni”, – “of ruddy complexion”.
 This is the same description the Torah gives for Eisav.
 Shimon and Levi were involved in shedding blood, and were admonished by Yaakov for having used Eisav’s craft.
 Leah praised Reuvein for perfecting character flaws which his uncle Eisav displayed.
 A perusal of the verses with Rashi’s commentary shows many examples of this nature. The reason for this phenomenon is as follows: Leah was initially Eisav’s soul mate. Therefore she had many of the same propensities found within Eisav. Whereas Eisav was not able to channel these propensities correctly, it was left up to Leah’s offspring to do so.  The Ramchal who says that Yaakov connects to Rachel and Yisrael to Leah.
When one says “mazal u’bracha” on a deal, it unites the parties. If I sell something to someone, I want him to like it for I want him to come back for more. It sprouts up a caring attitude for one’s fellow business associate.  Making “deals” make one be more responsible; it matures a person; it changes them.
 Now we see the repercussions of a deal, an agreement, made between the two brothers. It incredibly changed the entire landscape, the hierarchy of the Jewish people.
When Eisav made the deal furthermore, it also places us in a dangerous, if we don’t follow the Torah, predicament. The deep seeded hatred stems from that illustrious arrangement.


Is it possible to dance at two weddings?

This article was constructed with the help of either writings, lectures or shiurim of Rabbi’s Noach Isaac Oelbaum, Yissachar Frand, Asher Hurtzberg, Yossi Bilius

There is an expression in Hebrew, ‘You can’t dance at two weddings.’ I`m assuming it’s referring to the fact that you can’t be in two places at the same time or wear two different hats, two different faces; be yourself. Well I think that might be contrary to an interesting concept in our Torah, as it might be a necessity to make crucial adjustments in our personality to succeed in life.

The innocent, wet behind the ears yeshiva boy tricks his father into getting the bracha. In this week’s parsha we have one of the most bizarre twists in our holy Torah. Yitzchak, the elderly blind patriarch, expects to give the blessing to his eldest son Eisav. However, Yaacov intervenes, enters his father’s quarters, leads Yitchak to believe he is Eisav and steals the bracha. Perhaps, we presumably can learn that when opportunity knocks on our door, it requires us, at times, to conquer it at any cost? The goal is to be winners in the game of life. We have to be ruthless and stop at nothing to get what we want!! Life is not so easy. Much of the time, climbing the ladder of success seems like an uphill battle so we have to resort to desperate measures. Is that what we learn?

Strangely, Yaacov is perceived as a man of EMET-truth. Boy, it seems like the Torah has a different set of rules then…..Hey wait a minute!! The Torah is the prime source. It is the rule book. The measuring stick of all. Yaacov’s transformation in using trickery seems alarmingly out of character. What else does he have up his sleeve, besides a furry animal hide to make his Eisav costume look authentic? Actually, we notice, he is quite uncomfortable in the role. Why does he have to go through the agony? Why does he have to go through the mascaraed? What is the lesson that the Torah is trying to teach us?

One may notice that there is a pattern in our holy Torah, where we find a temporary transformation of character. Time after time, story after story, many of our heroes are transformed. It’s repeated to teach us a lesson. It’s a vital lesson in life, for we too are often confronted with having to play an undesirable role, a different part and therefore we must know how to survive.

Let us examine a number of our holy ancestors and perhaps we can make sense of how and why the Torah presented the incident of Yaacov in the manner it did.

King Shaul was the first king our nation had. Unfortunately, he was perceived as a tragic figure for he failed to make an important adjustment while Yaacov and Avraham succeeded in dealing with changes that had to be made. This cost him the kingdom.

At the time of the exodus from Egypt, Amalek traveled hundreds of miles to ambush the newly freed nation in the hope of destroying them. We, as a nation, did not pose any threat to their sovereignty. They lived to the east of Canaan and were not among the Seven Nations occupying Eretz Yisroel. Nevertheless, their irrational hatred against G-d and us compelled them to attack a harmless and seemingly defenseless nation. In the aftermath of their attack we were commanded to always remember the evil that is Amalek.
In the year 2883 – 878 b.c.e., King Shaul was sent by G-d to destroy the nation of Amalek. Agag was their king, and it was a singular moment in history when every member of Amalek was in one place at the same time. A window of opportunity had arrived. The king had a mission. Shaul, as per Shmuel Hanavi’s instructions, was successful in destroying Amalek. However, Shaul had mercy and allowed the king, Agag, to remain alive, as well as the captured cattle. The commentaries state that in the interim, Agag was able to impregnate a maidservant, from which the nation of Amalek would survive. G-d told Shmuel that Shaul’s neglect of His command to totally destroy Amalek must result in Shaul losing the right to be king. Despite Shmuel’s prayers for mercy, Hashem didn’t relent, and Shmuel went to tell Shaul of G-d’s punishment.
This grave sin of Shaul came back to haunt our people. The connection to Purim is well documented. Haman, the second in command of the Persian Empire, is called, “the Agagi”. He was a direct descendent of Agag. Haman wanted to annihilate Israel.

In accepting G-d’s mercy and justice, we are forced to acknowledge our limited understanding. The notion of killing men, women and children is thankfully foreign and cruel to us. Nevertheless, Shaul was commanded to wipe out the entire nation.

When Shaul finally realized his sin, Shaul explains that the reason he spared the Amalek animals is because that is what the people wanted. Shmuel responds harshly to Shaul, “Even if you are small in your own eyes, you are the leader of the Tribes of Israel.” This is not the time or place for modesty. True, that is your natural inclination and normally it is a good inclination, but your particular mission in life at this time is to rise above that. This mission was something Shaul failed to accomplish and as a result he was stripped of the monarchy.

‘Shaul was compassionate to the enemy and he was cruel to his own people.’ This is in reference to the eighty kohanim he killed who gave David shelter.
On the other hand, at the end of the chapter, Shmuel asks that the Agag, King of Amalek be brought before him. Agag, when brought before Shmuel, proclaimed, “Truly the bitterness of death has passed.” (Achen sar mar hamaves) [Pasuk 32]

Most commentaries interpret Agag’s ambiguous remark to be a resignation to the fact that his time was now up. He no longer has to fear the bitterness of death because death was now upon him. However, the Ralbag interprets differently. The Ralbag says that Agag was saying the reverse. When he saw the Shmuel HaNavi, he proclaimed: “Now, I am spared. This is my lucky day. I am not going to be killed!”

The Ralbag explains that in encountering Shmuel’s countenance, Agag was impressed with his great compassion and mercy. He said to himself, “This man is the epitome of gentleness and kindness. Such a person will never kill me.”

But Shmuel looked straight at Agag and proclaimed, “Just as your sword made women childless, so shall your mother be childless among the women.” “And Shmuel split (vayeshasef) Agag before Hashem in Gilgal.” [Pasuk 33] The verb vayeshasef means he cut up Agag in four pieces. This gentle and frail prophet first cut Agag in half with a sword and then cut him again down the middle into four pieces.

What happened to Shmuel’s gentleness? What happened to his compassion? This was the occasion in his life when his mission called for him to overcome his natural inclination. He had to act in a way that was different than he would normally be inclined to act. He had to go beyond who he was to satisfy G-d’s Will.

Our purpose in this world is to do what we need to do, despite who we are. Shmuel met his challenge to do that. Shaul did not.

The message of having to be forced to use the opposite character trait to perform mitzvoth is found clearly with the patriarch we call Mr. Chessed (kindness), Avraham. In the beginning of Parshat Vayera we find Avraham, in the piercing heat, waiting for guests despite just being circumcised. Hachnasat orchim- receiving guests was his trademark. His compassion for his fellow human being was unprecedented. Interestingly at the end of the very same parsha we find Avraham doing what many would consider cruel savagery as he was prepared to slaughter his son. Avraham at that very moment turned off his Ahava-love of G-d and turned on his fear of G-d. The ability to transform from his natural instinct and natural character is quite commendable.

G-d tells Avraham, “Now I know that you are G-d fearing.”(22,12.) Avraham was a tzadic before. What is G-d referring to when he mentions, “Now I know”? The Vilna Goan teaches us that Man is not complete until he performs two opposite character traits for good. If he only performs one he is not considered a tzadic.

It’s easy to perform kindness when your natural instincts are compassion. The same applies to Yaacov, whose honesty is second nature, and would find lying appalling and nauseating.

The Torah does not provide specific reward for its commandments with the exception of two: Honor your father and your mother, and Shiluach Haken – to send away the mother bird first when one wants to take the chicks or the eggs. Regarding both mitzvoth the Torah says he will enjoy long life.

There is not a mitzvah of more chessed then taking care of parents, especially old and cranky parents. What is the old expression? One parent can take care of ten kids; however, ten children can’t take care of one parent? The chessed is enormous; it’s performed daily. However, there is no crueler commandment then Sheluach hakan. This is the ultimate cruelty. Imagine, shooing the mother bird and taking her chicks! The Torah, though, links the two commandments. They are polar opposites but share the same reward. The Torah teaches us one can do a mitzvah with two traits quite the opposite of each other and get the same reward. There is no such thing as a bad trait, whether it be anger, jealousy, or even murder. Every trait can be used for either good or evil.

Yaacov used his tools to the utmost. When the situation demanded, when he was dealing with a Lavan, he told Lavan, “I am your match in trickery. You cannot pull a fast one on me.”

Yitchak loved Eisav, whose job it was to take care of his younger brother. Eisav was outgoing; he was street smart; no one could pull the wool under his eyes. Yaacov, on the other hand, was learning in Yeshiva presumably for the rest of his life. This is perfectly acceptable for the world needs goodness in the highest level. Rivka knew better. She knew Eisav not only wouldn’t be able to take care of Yaacov but he wouldn’t be able to manage himself. His evil inclination was dominating him. Yitchak, shockingly, realized after Yaacov tricked him, “How in the world did he pull that one off? I didn’t know he had it in him, that he had the qualification to be great and lead the world.” Yaacov used trickery – the polar opposite of EMET – to get the bracha. In order to grow in the world one has to go against his nature even though it’s very difficult. If one believes in something he must get it done any which way possible using all his tools in the tool box. One has to learn to dance at two weddings.

Every one of us has a connection to the land of Israel. When we do go to the holy land, it’s pretty much a given – a visit to Jerusalem is expected. One feels spiritually uplifted, especially when visiting the KOTEL.
This week, Yaakov, our forefather has the “famous dream”. He camps out in this PLACE. The famous place is where the Temple mount stands, today. Yaakov takes twelve little stones and surrounds them around himself as he’s about to go to sleep. When he gets up the next morning, the twelve stones have become one. According to the Zohar this stone became the foundation where the world stands and it runs deep inside the earth under the Temple mount.
Our TORAH HAKEDOSHA can be understood on many levels. One level is using “the same word” method. There were evil people in the time of Avraham, who build a tower, so they can climb way up and destroy G-d. Although their intentions were bad, the fact that they were united – they were not destroyed! However, even though G-d loves unity, it was for the wrong reasons and any unity for the wrong reasons doesn’t last!
The scripture describes the tower in Parshat Noach by stating: ” VE ROSHO BA SHAMAYIM- its head is in the sky”. In this week’s parsha when Yaakov dreams, he dreams of a ladder and its head reaches the sky – VE ROSHO (there’s that word again) MAGIYA SHAMAYMA.
The Sages learn from it that there are two unities: one ROSHO – for evil and one ROSHO – for G-d. This spot, where the Temple mount is located and where the first and second stood, and where the future third Temple will stand. As long as the Jews are united for the right reasons, the Temple will be built. The twelve stones represent the twelve tribes of Israel united, fused together by one central being, G-d. This place -MAKOM – the temple is a representation of unity and peace. There was never any metal allowed to enter into the Temple because metal represents war. Our Shabbat table in many ways represents an altar that was an important vehicle in the temple. Many communities have the tradition to take the metal knives off the table when the grace after meal is recited. We do this to show a sign of peace, a sign of unity.
The united city doesn’t mean being united with other countries. It’s a place where all the Jews are supposed to be united. When we are unified then we will be allowed to build the Temple and live there in peace! May we see the rebuilding of the Third Temple in our times very soon!