Weekly Cycle

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Jerusalem in the Parasha, the Torah Portion of Vayetzei

This week's Torah portion begins with the description of Jacob's journey outside the Land of Israel. It also describes the tremendous revelation he had while on the way:

10. And Jacob left Beer Sheba, and he went to Haran.          
11. And he arrived at the place and lodged there because the sun had set, and he took some of the stones of the place and placed [them] at his head, and he lay down in that place.   
12. And he dreamed, and behold! a ladder set up on the ground and its top reached to heaven; and behold, angels of God were ascending and descending upon it.      
13. And behold, the Lord was standing over him, and He said, "I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father, and the God of Isaac; the land upon which you are lying to you I will give it and to your seed.  (...)
17. And he was frightened, and he said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven."
18. And Jacob arose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had placed at his head, and he set it up as a monument, and he poured oil on top of it.     
19. And he named the place Beth El, but Luz was originally the name of the city.

There are many many questions regarding these verses, and incredible interpretations and commentaries, particularly from Rashi. For example, why do the verses state that Jacob gathered "some stones" to place on his head, but then state that "he took the [single] stone that he had placed at his head?" What exactly do the angels represent, and why are they ascending and descending?

One question that seems to particularly intriguing is perhaps the most basic of them all: where did Jacob have the dream? Was it in a town known as Beth-El (a city in the area of the tribe of Benjamin)? Was it at Mount Moriah? Be'er Sheva itself? Opinions vary, with even one commentary stating that the place of the dream was actually Mount Sinai.

Furthermore, if the place of the dream is one of the above, why does Jacob give the place another name, "Beth El," the House of G-d, and why the Torah go through the trouble of telling us that the original name of this place is also none of the above, but is in fact "Luz?"

With so many questions, Rashi's commentary is probably the best starting point. He first states that "The Holy One, blessed be He, folded the entire Land of Israel under him.” He later brings a Midrash that explains that the bottom of the ladder stood in Be'er Sheva, while its top stood in Beth-El, the boundary between the territory of Benjamin and that of the "sons of Joseph." The middle of its incline was opposite the Temple, on the boundary between Judah and Benjamin.  

Rashi goes on to state that he believes that Mount Moriah was "uprooted from its place," and came to where Jacob was, in Luz.  Additionally, he brings a statement that Jacob went all the way to Haran, and then regretted not praying where his father and grandfather had prayed. He therefore went back in the direction of Jerusalem, and that it was on his way there that Mount Moriah, came to him, in Beth-El, which is close to Jerusalem. 

Rashi concludes with another statement from the Talmud (Pes.88a) [concerning the verse] (Micah 4:2):“ ‘Come, let us go up to the Mount of the Lord, to the House of God of Jacob.’ [It is] not [called] as did Abraham, who called it a mountain, and not as did Isaac, who called it a field, but as did Jacob, who called it the House of God.” 

The first of Rashi's comments above makes clear that Jacob's physical location is not as crucial as his spiritual one, because the entire land was "under his head" while he was dreaming. It was as if he was in the entire land at the same time. 

Rashi’s other sources seem to be related to the spiritual qualities of Jerusalem as much as its physical ones. The first Midrash brought by Rashi shows Jerusalem's role as a unifying force among the Tribes. The ladder goes from the lower boundary of Judah (Be'er Shevah) all the way to the upper boundary of Benjamin (Beth-El), just like Temple itself was built on the boundary between these two tribes. The ladder ties together the different dimensions of the Jewish people, the descendants of Leah (Judah) and those of Rachel (Joseph and Benjamin) 

Rashi's comment regarding the fact that Mount Moriah met Jacob on his way back to Jerusalem, points to the idea that as much as there is a physical Jerusalem, there is also the Jerusalem inside each one of us, and that a person is where his mind is. If a person's every desire is to be in Jerusalem, this is where he/she is. Where a person places their head, this is where the head of the ladder is as well. We can go by the physical Jerusalem and not feel it, but the spiritual one, we can feel even when we are not there physically.

Regarding the third part of Rashi's commentary, there is a clear progression (heard once from a rabbi at Yeshiva University). Abraham called the Temple Mount a mountain, Isaac called it a field, and Jacob called it a house. We go from a place of complete "wild" (mountain), to one in which nature is present in a more subdued form, tamed by mankind (field), to one that is completely "civilized" (home). By connecting back to previous generations, and by our own efforts, we make a greater and greater home for G-dliness in this world. And as stated in Midrash Tanchuma, and as often stated in Tanya and Chabad Chassidic philosophy, the whole purpose of this world is because G-d desired a dwelling in the lower realms.

We are told that Beit-El, the Home of G-d, was originally called Luz. Before we make a dwelling place for G-dliness, G-d's light is hidden. Hidden inside each one of us, and hidden inside each part of creation. 

The Talmud teaches that when Hashem created the world, for the first 36 hours of Adam’s life, he had clear vision in which he could see from one end of the world to the other end. This light, which was connected to the Sabbath, lasted from the time Adam was born (Friday at noon) until Saturday night. 36 in Hebrew is written Lamed Vav. The Sabbath, the 7th day, is connected to the 7th Hebrew letter Zayin. Lamed Vav Zayin spells Luz.

Because of Adam and Eve's mistake, the original 36-hour light had to be hidden, and death was introduced into the world. However, each of us has a Luz bone, an indestructible part of us from which we will be resurrected when Mashiach comes. This bone is nurtured solely from the food that we eat on Melaveh Malkah. Rav Dessler explains that because this bone did not derive any nurture from the forbidden fruit (eaten on Friday), it never tasted death, and that is why it is indestructible. 

With the coming of Mashiach, Luz, the little hidden bone will be built into an everlasting body, our own personal temple. The original city of Luz, the hidden Divine light of creation, will be built into an everlasting House of G-d.

All of this is connected to the month that has just begun, Kislev. Kislev stands for Kis (Hidden) Lamed Vav (36). This is the month of Chanukah, in which we light 36 candles, deeply connected to the original 36 hours of Divine light. Chanukah means dedication, literally, the dedication of the Temple in the times of the Maccabees. It is on this month that we dedicate ourselves to the idea of the Temple and Jerusalem. We also dedicate ourselves to purifying our minds and bodies of all impurity, so that the light can be fully revealed. 

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

David in the Parasha, the Torah Portion of Toldot

I once knew a lady that would always give very forceful advice to young girls that were trying to find a husband: "Don't marry potential," she would say. What that basically meant was, "Don't marry someone for what they can become. Marry them for what they are now." My father once also gave a similar kind of "pearl of wisdom": "When a couple gets married, the woman wants the man to change... and he doesn't. The man doesn't want the woman to change... and she does."

Are we able to change? If so, why not "marry potential?"

The Lubavitcher Rebbe has a very interesting explanation as to why Isaac seemed at first to love Esau more than Jacob. The Torah states that Isaac loved Esau because he was had "game/hunt in his mouth." Rashi states that he was able to "catch" Isaac with his mouth, pretending to be the utmost saint around him, to the extent that he would even ask Isaac how to tithe salt. Salt, by the way, does not need tithing according to Jewish law, but Esau wanted to show his father that he wished to go above and beyond the letter of the law.

The Rebbe explains that salt is symbolic of potential. By itself, it tastes bad and is basically inedible, but combined with other foods is can not only give taste, but even preserve them. (Remember, there were no refrigerators back then). Isaac saw Esau's tremendous potential. His soul was from even a higher source that Jacob's (Tohu versus Tikkun), and Isaac would love nothing more than to take all that vitality, all that fierceness and hunting prowess, and bring it to the side of holiness. Essentially, he wanted to elevate Esau.

Rebecca, on the other hand, knew that Jacob was the one that was to lead the Jewish people. She saw in her son Jacob, the tzadik, who embodied all that is true and holy and spent all his time in the tents of study, the power to be able to handle the physical challenges of the world as well, not just the spiritual. Ultimately, that is why in order to receive Isaac's blessings, Jacob had to be enclothed with the garments of Esau, and why Isaac himself, when he is about to bless Jacob, says "the voice is the voice of Jacob, and the hand is the hand of Esau."

That, in fact, appeared to be the ideal. To be able to have the knowledge and the spiritual sanctity of Jacob, along with the physical prowess and this-worldliness of Esau. Jacob would spend the rest of his life earning the blessing he receives from Isaac. When he wrestles the angel of Esau and wins, he then is so changed from his original stature, that he is given a new name, Israel.  The name Jacob was related to the "heel" and, as Esau himself points out, the fact that he was able to outwit Esau twice. The letters of the name Israel stand also for Yashar-El, "the straight one of G-d," as well as Li-Rosh, "to me is the head." Jacob received the blessing through machinations of someone that was at the heel. He now deserved them straight out, as someone that was at the head.

How come then, was Rebecca right in trusting Jacob's potential, yet Isaac so wrong in trusting Esau's? Perhaps the answer is as follows: it was something intrinsic to their nature. Our sages state that Esau was born "hairy," complete already, like a man. The Hebrew  name Eisav can be read as Assui, finished, complete. He was not interested in changing. He was already complete. The commentaries state that he didn't value the right of the firstborn, and was really to exchange it for a bowl of red soup, because deep inside he realized that he couldn't live up to its physical and spiritual demands, and that he wasn't going to change in order to make himself worthy.

Jacob, on the other hand, had smooth skin, he was like a child, still able to fulfill his potential. He was also willing to go along with his mother's request to dress like Esau and "deceive" his father, even though he was completely devoted to truth, and that seemed to go against his very nature. He was willing to change.

Perhaps that is all the difference. Willingness to change, to be young. That it what Rebbe Nachman of Breslov teaches. The evil inclination is called an "Old Fool," because it fools you into thinking that you are old, when in truth it is all in your mind. There is no such thing. Every day is a new day, and never be afraid to start again. Right now.

That is the secret of King David's success. As we mentioned last week, David was a "kosher" version of Esau. He had the "clothes of Esau" - the outward appearance, as he was red like Esau and had the same military prowess - yet he was completely righteous as well. More than that, he had inherited his forefather Yehudah's quality of being able to admit one's mistakes and repent. He never let himself stay down. He was always ready to start anew. Like his forefather Jacob, he was always willing to change. He therefore was the ideal, and so will be our future and last redeemer, Mashiach Ben David, the Messiah son of David.

When Rebecca takes the clothes of Esau and gives them to Jacob, they are described as Chamudot. The part of the verse reads: "Rebbeca took the clothes of Esau, her big son, the Chamudot (desired, plural).

Rashi explains that Esau desired (Chamad) the clothes and took them from Nimrod [after he killed him]. The Sifsei Chachamim further states that the clothes had originally been from Adam, who wore them in the Garden of Eden. Rebecca was now elevating the clothes back to their proper place.

The gematria of David ben Yishai is 14+52+320=396.
The gematria of the words, "the clothes of Esau," Bigdei Eisav, is 19+376 (+1 kollel) = 396.

The "great" son of David was Daniel, his direct descendant, who is called Ish Chamudot, the desired man. The Talmud in Sanhedrin states that if the Messiah comes from the dead, he will be like Daniel. The Messiah will bring the world back to its proper state, that of the Garden of Eden before the sin of the snake.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Four Exiles in the Parasha, the Torah Portion of Chayei Sarah

The Torah Portion for this week describes Avraham's test and struggle to bury his wife, Sarah, in the Land of Israel. This was a particularly difficult test of faith given that Hashem had promised him the Land from the very beginning, and here he is having to negotiate purchasing a burial plot for his wife while her body is still before him, with people of very questionable morality and motivations. 

Sarah is ultimately buried after a plot is purchased in Hebron, known also as Kiryat Arbah, which means the “City of Four.” The "Four" is a reference to the four couples buried in there: Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebeccah, Jacob and Leah. It is also a reference to the four giants that lived there: Sheshai, Achiman, Talmai, and their father. 

The four giants of Kiryat Arbah appear to be clear references to the four main exiles. The first is Sheshai, a reference to Babylonia. Sheshai is a “surname for Babylonia” and also spells the word Bavel (Hebrew for Babylonia) in the numerical transposition known as “Atbash” (Jastrow Dictionary). The Midrash states that this giant had this name because he was made of marble (Shaish in Hebrew) – this appears related to the Nebuchadnezzar, the emperor of Babylonia, who had statues made in his honor. 

The second giant, Achiman, appears to be a reference to Persia-Media. His name appears to be a contraction of the names Achashverosh and Haman, the main enemies of the Jewish people in the Purim story. It also appears to reference their action as "brothers" against us. This exile was also a dual one, as it is the combination of two empires, Persia and Media.

The third giant, Talmai is a clear reference to Greece, whose leader in the times of Greek exile was Talmai, Ptolomy in English. 

The fourth giant is not given a name. He is referenced simply as the father of the other three. This is the exile of Edom (Rome), the “father” of the exiles, the longest and harshest by far. This exile also has characteristics of all the previous ones.

The four giants/exiles also appear to parallel the four couples. Sheshai/Babylonia (Bavel), is reminiscent of the Tower of Babel, a generation which Avraham had to confront directly - particularly its leader, Nimrod. Avraham is also known for destroying the statues of his father.

Achiman/Persia is an exile and the Purim story are characterized by extreme self-sacrifice, a characteristic of Isaac and the Akeidah, as we saw last week. The Torah also makes references to how Isaac and Rebecca prayed together for a child, and how much of what happened to Isaac and future generations were actually determined by Rebecca's actions, such as the blessing of Jacob over Eisau.

Talmai/Greece was primarily about an affront to the Torah, its Divine origin, and its lifestyle. Torah is mainly a characteristic of Jacob. Jacob, Ish Tam (a wholesome, "simple/straightforward" man) stands in contrast to the godless (or pantheistic) "sophistication" of the Greeks.

The father of the giants/Rome, involves all of humanity. Pax Romana reached the entire world, and in many ways we are still under it today. Edom is Eisav, who was red, also symbolic of Mars and of his military prowess. Adam and Eve represent all of humanity, yet Adam is also an acronym of three people: Adam (himself), David, and Mashiach. David was also red. He was a "kosher" version of Eisav and of the potential that he so badly missed. Mashiach son of David, will come and redeem the entire world, fixing the curse of the snake, and bringing the world back to its fullness and potential, like that of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Uriel in the Parasha, the Torah Portion of Vayerah

I am sitting in the Beis Midrash of Young Israel of Tampa, Beis Menachem, http://www.jewishusf.com, after receiving tremendous Hachnassat Orchim (the commandment of hospitality) from Rabbi Uriel Rivkin and his family. By the way the address here is 52nd street. :)

The parallels with the Weekly Parasha are very powerful, and Hashem, out of His infinite mercy, enlightened me with an answer to a question I had earlier this week, before I had any idea I'd be coming here, or that the Rabbi's name is Uriel. The question is as follows:

We know that the three angels who visited Abraham and Sarah were Micha'el, Gavri'el and Refa'el. Each had a special mission to accomplish, as Rashi explains. However, we know there are not three, but four archangels. Why was Uri'el not present? Why did he not have a particular mission that would entitle him to be a guest as well?

The answer is simple. Uriel was there all along! Uriel, which means G-d is my light, could be found in Abraham and Sarah's tent, as we also know that Sarah's Shabat lights remained lit from week to week, just like the Eternal Light (the Ner Tamid) of the Temple.

Furthermore, Uriel is in fact mentioned in this week's Parasha, in the very first verse, in the very first words. The portion begins: "Vayera Elav Hashem... VeHu Yoshev Petach HaOhel." "Vayera El," spelled, Vav Yud Resh Alef Alef Lamed, has the same letters of "Uri'el." Where exactly is Uriel? "Hu Yoshe Petach Ha'Ohel," he was living at the entrance of the tent, with Avraham and Sarah. The portion states in different places that both Avraham and Sarah were "Petach Ha'Ohel." This actually explains why the Torah makes a point of stating right after the first verse that Avraham ran to meet the guests "MiPetach HaOhel," from the entrance of the tent. The first verse is referring to Uriel! Otherwise, if it were just referring to Abraham, it would have been superfluous.

The practical lesson is that by having guests, not only do you merit receiving angels for that particular meal or occasion, but also the light of Hashem resides with you contnuously. Your house embodies Hashem's archangel, whose job is to guide us, to give us light, to enlighten us: the angel Uriel.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Efraim and Menashe in the Parasha: Underpromising, Overdelivering and the Torah Portion of Lech Lechah

The opening verses of the Torah portion of Lech Lecha is loaded with meaning. Rashi's comments elucidate their depth, but also raise interesting questions. Much has been written about the first verse, therefore this post will focus on verses two and three:

1. And the Lord said to Abram, "Go forth from your land and from your birthplace and from your father's house, to the land that I will show you.
2. And I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will aggrandize your name, and [you shall] be a blessing.   

3. And I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse, and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you."

Below are a few of Rashi's comments:

And I will make you into a great nation: Since traveling (lit. "the way") causes three things: 1) it diminishes procreation, 2) it diminishes money, and 3) it diminishes fame (lit. name), therefore, he required these three blessings, namely that He blessed him concerning children, concerning money, and concerning fame. 

and [you shall] be a blessing: The blessings are entrusted into your hand. Until now, they were in My hand; I blessed Adam and Noah. From now on, you may bless whomever you wish. (Gen. Rabbah) (ad loc.). 
shall be blessed in you: There are many aggadoth, but this is its simple meaning: A man says to his son, May you be like Abraham. And so is every instance of [the words] “shall be blessed with you” in Scripture. And the following [text] proves this (below 48:20):“With you, Israel shall bless, saying: May God make you like Ephraim and like Manasseh.” - [from Sifrei, Naso 18]

There are a few obvious questions here: 

1) Rashi addresses three blessings that parallel three things that are diminished during travel. However, G-d gave four separate blessings, not three. Shouldn't Rashi list four concerns during travel as well, instead of three?

2) What is meant by G-d entrusting "the blessings" to Avraham? Which blessings? All blessings, or the particular ones mentioned in this verse? 

3) What is the advantage of stating, "and the one who curses you I will curse?" Wouldn't it be better if no one cursed Avraham to begin with? 

4) According to Rashi, G-d tells Avraham that "all the families of the earth" will say, "May you be like Avraham." Yet, we see that today we do not say, "May we you be like Avraham," but instead use the formula which Rashi uses in this very comment to prove his argument, "May G-d make you like Ephraim and like Menasheh." Based on this verse, people should also say, "May you be like Avraham!"

Perhaps we can arrive to an answer to these questions by examining a much later verse, found in the Torah portion of Ki Teitzei, in Chapter 23 of Devarim:

4. An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter the assembly of the Lord; even the tenth generation shall never enter the assembly of the Lord.     
5. Because they did not greet you with bread and water on the way, when you left Egypt, and because he [the people of Moab] hired Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor in Aram Naharaim against you, to curse you.    

RASHI - Because: Heb. עַל-דְּבַר [lit., “because of the word,” i.e.,] because of the [word of] advice they gave you (sic), to cause you to sin. — [Sifrei 23:114]
on the way: when you were in [a state of] extreme exhaustion. — [Sifrei 23:114]
6. But the Lord, your God, did not want to listen to Balaam. So the Lord, your God, transformed the curse into a blessing for you, because the Lord, your God, loves you.  

The people of Ammon and Moab demonstrated qualities diametrically opposed to that of Avraham. While Avraham was known for his hospitality and kindness, serving his guests food and providing them with shelter (both physical and spiritual), Moab was cold, heartless, and selfish. Such people could not join "the assembly of the Lord."

Similarly, as also previously noted in this blog (http://www.kabbalahoftime.com/2014/07/words-in-desert-horrible-bosses-and.html), Balaam represented the exact opposite of Avraham. About Balaam, Balak states, "whomever you bless is blessed and whomever you curse is cursed." (Bamidbar 22:6) As also noted before in this blog, the contrast between Avraham and Balaam is explored in Pirkei Avot (5:19): 

Whoever possesses the following three traits is of the disciples of our father Abraham; and whoever possesses the opposite three traits is of the disciples of the wicked Balaam. The disciples of our father Abraham have a good eye, a meek spirit and a humble soul. The disciples of the wicked Balaam have an evil eye, a haughty spirit and a gross soul.

What is the difference between the disciples of our father Abraham and the disciples of the wicked Balaam? The disciples of our father Abraham benefit in this world and inherit the World To Come, and as is stated, "To bequeath to those who love Me there is, and their treasures I shall fill" (Proverbs 8:21). The disciples of the wicked Balaam inherit purgatory and descent into the pit of destruction, as is stated, "And You, G-d, shall cast them into the pit of destruction; bloody and deceitful men, they shall not attain half their days. And I shall trust in you" (ibid., 55:24).

1) The above verses from Devarim do in fact point to a fourth danger of travelling (again, lit. "on the way"): the curse of an evil eye. A person becomes susceptible to it if he/she sins. One becomes particularly susceptible to sin if he/she is exhausted. 

2) Hashem's entrusting Avraham with the blessings points to the qualities instilled in him and his students/descendants that serve as a shield against Ammon and Moab in general, and Balaam in particular. A person's best defense against the evil eye is for the person him/herself not be envious or haughty, but instead have a "good eye, a meek spirit and a humble soul." Such qualities lead to the desire as well as the power to bless, to give.

3) G-d delivers much more than He promises. Not only would Hashem curse the one that wished to curse the Jewish people, but instead He did not even allow the curse to take place at all. 

4) Similarly, Hashem's blessing of having all the families of the earth say, "May you be like Avraham," will certainly one day be fulfilled as well on a literal sense, in an even greater measure. In fact, the blessing given today already hints to this greater level of fulfillment. "May G-d make you like Ephraim and like Menasheh," is a reference to the blessing given by Jacob that the children of Efraim and Menasheh (who are in fact an extension of Avraham), "will multiply like fish over the land," "Veyidgu LaRov BeKerev Ha'Aretz." 

The above blessing speaks to the growth and the numerous descendants promised to Avraham, yet also includes an additional blessing, possessed by fish and also by all the descendants of Joseph: protection against the evil eye (mentioned above).  The Talmud (Berachot 55b) states:  

"The fish in the waters are concealed by the water, and thus not susceptible to the Evil Eye. So too, the descendants of Joseph are not susceptible to the Evil Eye."

By blessing each Jewish child with a reference to Efraim and Menashe, we expand Yaakov's blessing to all the Jewish people, while at the same time more than fulfilling the original blessing with which Hashem blessed Avraham.

May we merit to see the fulfillment of all of the G-d's promises and blessings to the Jewish people (and much more), with the coming of Mashiach, speedily in our days!

We hereby complete a full cycle of comments on Torah portions. Baruch Hashem L'Olam, Amen veAmen.


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