Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Vayishlach - Appreciating Everything We Have

This blog is dedicated to two of my granddaughters, Hallel Nesyah and Shir Tehilla, who celebrated English birthdays this week. (Arye also had an English birthday this week, but he's a big boy now. :) )
At Shabbat lunch, my granddaughter Shiri, who I am certain will become a great Torah educator one day, BE"H, gave her first Shabbat table dvar Torah. She gave over thoughts that she heard from HaRav Reuven Rosenstark,  her dedicated and brilliant rav beit hasefer of Orot Etzion Banot.
Shir Tehilla said, Rav Reuven asked, "Who here has many dolls? Who has many toys? Who has many books?" Everyone, B"H, has many possessions. Our Patriarch Yaakov and has family had lots of possessions too. Between 11 boys and a girl, they had many toys and games. When Yaakov's family crosses the river, he found that they left some of their possessions behind. Rashi says they were "small earthenware pitchers." 
It doesn't much matter what they were. Yaakov Avinu appreciated every single possession he had. Hashem blessed him with so many things, and he was so grateful for everything he had, he didn't want to leave anything behind.
Shiri ended by saying that we should appreciate everything we have too, because everything we have is from Hashem.
As opposed to Yaakov attitude, in his parsha, we meet Esav, who is also very rich. He was the Donald Trump of Canaan. When Yaakov see him after more than three decades, Yaakov sends Esav scores of animals and flocks as a tribute.
Esav tells his twin brother, "I have plenty." I am loaded. Of course, I could always have more. 
Yaakov replies, "I have everything." Yaakov was very very wealthy. Of course, he had everything. Well, you know what? Even if he had been poor and had only the shirt on his back and a single lamb under his arm, he would also have felt, "I have everything," because a tzaddik is satisfied and grateful for anything and everything he has.
B"H, our lives are very blessed. Our homes may be large or small, but they are filled with whatever we need. And more than possessions, our homes are filled with people whom we love and who love us. B"H, all of us must thank Hashem for His kindness to us, and remember, we have everything.
Enjoy some culture. The painting above is "The Reunion of Jacob and Esau," by Italian painter Francesco Hayez, 1844 (Pinacoteca Tosio Martinengo, Brescia, Italy).

Ill-Fitting Farewells to Our Matriarchs

In Parshat Vayishlach, we read of the deaths and burials of two of our four Matriarchs - Rivka and Rachel. Each one is tragic in its own right - not the kinds of ends or burials we would have expected of our Matriarchs, who were in essence Queens of the Abrahamic Kingdoms of G-d.
Our Matriarch Rivka has passed away totally alone before her beloved son Yaakov and his family can reach her home in Chevron. How tragic!
(Sarah also passed away all alone. Avraham and Yitzchak had been in Har HaMoriah at the Akeida when she died. Moreover, after she died, she had no burial spot, and she had to lay unburied until Avraham could negotiate buying a piece of land for her grave. This is not what we expect the end of our Matriarchs to be.) 
Poor Rivka. What nachas she would have had if Yaakov and his wonderful family had reached her encampment and surrounded her with their love, excitement and action. Instead, she had sacrificed her relationship with her ailing husband Yitzchak and her elder son Esav in order to secure the bracha for Yaakov, who she knew truly deserved it. She had selflessly sent her son away to her brother's home to save his life. And then when her final day arrived, she died alone and was buried alone and even in secret.
The Stone Edition of the Artscroll Chumash says, "The Torah did not mention Rebecca's death explicitly because those who attended her decided to bury her secretly, at night, for if she had had the sort of burial she deserved, Esau would have come and people would have spoken disrespectfully of her as the one who gave birth to such a wicked person.Since they kept her death quiet, the Torah, too, only alluded to it (Rashi)...Ramban comments that her death was kept hidden, as it were, because she was buried in tragic circumstances: Isaac was blind and could not leave home to honor her properly, Jacob was absent, and Esau would not come because he hated her for securing the blessings for Jacob. Consequently, she h ad to be buried by her Hittite neighbors."
How heartbreaking is this story!!
The circumstances were different, but Rachel's end is also tragic! Finally she is to give birth to her second child, and at least put her on par with the two handmaids Bilha and Zilpa, and she dies in childbirth in the middle of nowhere. And then after giving her son a sad name that could have ruined his life, Ben Oni - son of my mourning - she dies. Rachel is B"H buried by her family, but she is buried along the roadside - not even by the next town of Bethlehem or Efrat, just on the road. (Of course, we know the Midrash that she had to be buried there so that her children would stop there to weep along their path to exile, but still...)
There along a lonely road stood the burial place of our Mother Rachel. Today Kever Rachel is just outside Jerusalem and just at the tip of Bethlehem. But then, it was nowheresville. Poor Rachel.
It seems that the only one of our Matriarchs who received the final honors and burial she deserved was Leah. She was buried by the entire family right into the family plot of Me'arat HaMachpela. She was buried next to Yaakov, the love of her life, and her partner in eternity.
Why our Matriarchs, who sacrificed so much for their children and their future children, should have had such unfortunate endings, I do not know. However, Leah's honorable end is surely a tribute to her lifelong prayers to become Yaakov's primary wife and a proof to all of us that Hashem sees into our hearts and answers our prayers.

Vayishlach - Memories of Old Angels

Parshat Vayishlach has a special warm fuzzy feeling in my heart.
No, not because we find within it the origins of Kever Rachel for which I volunteered for many years. Not because our patriarch Jacob, Yaakov, defeated Esav's angel - although that was very gratifying. 
And not because Yaakov was reunited with his aged father - although that was very beautiful, although much belated.
I have a special spot in my heart for Parshat Vayishlach because of the record 613 Torah Avenue.
When Micha was a baby, I bought the set of records 613 Torah Avenue. I played in ceaselessly for Micha, Moshie and Natah. I think I loved the songs as much as the boys did.
I will never forget Vayishlach. I can still sing the tune: 
"Vayishlach Yaakov Malochim L’fonov
And Yaakov sent messengers to Esav". 
It is something that will always be with me.
Just out of curiosity, I googled 613 Torah Avenue and have found the songs on a Chabad Website. So, here it is, a song from my children's youth and my not-so-old too. (In fact, I think I'm going to add in the 613 Torah Avenue song to each of my blogs. ...What a great idea! ...Thank you. :) )
Please share Savta's Torah thoughts with our next generation, and let them enjoy this Parsha song of old:

Monday, December 5, 2011

Vayeitzei - The Girl's in the Package

We had the privilege of enjoying the company of Arye Dobuler for Shabbat Parshat Vayeitzei. At lunch Arye repeated a fascinating insight that Shlomo Ben Tzvi noted in the synagogue.
Shlomo asked, "When Yaakov awoke and 'it was Leah', why didn't he say to Lavan, 'Take her back. I don't want her.'"
Shlomo said that Yaakov knew that Leah was destined to be his wife, so he did not try to return her to her father. He noted that when Yaakov gave Esav his red stew (in Parshat Toldot), Esav sold him his "bachora" (birthright), which also means eldest girl.
When Yitzchak had two sons and Lavan had two daughters, everyone said, "the bachora to the bachor" (the eldest daughter to the eldest son), and Leah was expected to marry Esav. But when Yaakov bought the bachora, the birthright, he also bought Leah as a wife.

Vayeitzei - We are Yehudim

The Jewish people are called Yehudim, after the tribe of Yehuda. The Stone Chumash from Artscroll tells us that in Parshat Vayeitzei Leah named her fourth son, Yehuda, from Hodaya (thankfulness and praise) because as the mother of one-third of the tribes, she had been given more sons than her share. Torah Treasury quotes the Talmud (Berachot 7a) in saying that since Creation, "no one offered gratitude to Hashem until Leah." While this is a little difficult to understand, what the sages mean is that Leah finally realized that the pain she had felt at being "unloved" was ultimately a positive thing, because to comfort her,  Hashem granted her the privilege to give birth to the majority (six) of the twelve tribes.
And it is a Jewish characteristic "always to be grateful to G-d with the attitude that He has given more than our rightful share."
But G-d did not grant Leah the most amount of children (between the four wives) simply because she was unloved.
When we meet Leah for the first time in the Torah (Vayeitzei 29:17), we are told "Leah's eyes were tender." Rashi says this is because she spent her life in tearful prayer that she not be forced to marry Esau, which everyone expected - "the elder daughter (of Lavan) will marry the elder son (of Yitzchak)".
Because of her untiring prayer, Hashem answered her not only by allowing her to marry Jacob first, but to become his "primary wife", who not only gave birth to six out of twelve of the tribes, but who was also buried by Yaakov's side in Me'arat HaMachpela.
The Stone Chumash quotes Michtav Me'Eliyahu in saying that Rachel was Jacob's intended mate in this world. Leah was the wife of Israel in a higher spiritual world.
Yehuda reflected Lea's recognition that Hashem's greatness has no limits. He can even make an unloved woman into the primary wife of a tzaddik and the mother of Am Yisrael. It is due to Leah's unceasing prayer, that we are all named after her son, Yehuda.
And why Yehuda, as opposed to Leah's other sons? Yehuda is the son whose birth reflected the first positivity of the family. Yes, later on, there was Gad (good luck has come to me) and Asher (good fortune has come). But Yehuda's birth was the essence of thanks to Hashem. And that is the purpose of every Jew, understanding that everything comes from Hashem, and understanding, as well, that everything G-d does for us and to us is ultimately for the best. Therefore, the kindship of the Jewish people descends from Yehuda.
A king is the highest mortal on Earth. There is no mortal above him. As we have seen throughout history with Alexander the Great, Caesar, Pharoah, Stalin, etc., a king can believe that he is totally "all powerful", and act as such in a destructive or overbearing manner.
A Jewish king comes from the line of Yehuda, whose very birth is proof that Hashem guides the world. We must praise Him. We must appreciate Him. We must follow in His ways.
Please share Savta's Torah thoughts with our next generation, and let them enjoy this Parsha song of old:

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Toldot - History Repeats Itself

Gaza History repeats itself. In Parshat Toldot after kicking Yitzchak out of Gaza, Avimelech and his general Phicol come to Yitzchak and demand a treaty.
Yitzchak's first gut reaction is best and most correct, "Why have you come to me? You hate me and drove me away from you." (Bereishit 26:27)
Avimelech at least is a truthful adversary. "We have seen that Hashem is with you." ibis. 26:28)
And Avimelech pushes Yitzchak to a one-sided oath.
When Yitzchak left Gaza the wells dried up and the trees bore no fruit. The same thing happened thousands of years later when Yitzchak's descendants were kicked out of Gaxa. Bug free fruits and vegetables failed to grow in the same hot houses in which they had grown for decades.
And then again and again the Arabs try to force on the Jews one-way agreements to the benefit of the Palestinian Authority and its Arabs.
Maasei Avot siman lebanim. What happens to our ancestors is a signpost for their descendants. We are supposed to study the lives and events of our Patriarchs and learn from them - wrong or right.

This parsha thought is dedicated to Zeev Natah Katz and his entire family, with whom we had the pleasure to share Shabbat.
Please share Savta's Torah thoughts with our next generation, and let them enjoy this Parsha song of old:

Toldot - Dig Your OWN Well

In Parshat Toldot Hashem speaks to Yitzchak for the first time after he and Rivka go to Gerar. G-d blesses Yitzchak, "I will be with you and bless you; for to you and your offspring will I give all these lands, and establish the oath that I swore to Avraham your father. I will increase your offspring like the stars of the heavens; and will give to your offspring all these lands; and all the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by your offspring. Because Abraham obeyed My voice, and observed My safeguards, My commandments, My decrees, and My Torahs." (Bereishit 26:3-6)
On the one hand, G-d clearly is continuing His promise to Yitzchak in the merit of Yitzchak's father Avraham. On the other hand, Yitzchak is so special he merits Hashem talking to him.
Children of a super special and possibly super famous parent can have two reactions - either they don't really comprehend how special their parent is (they're Just Mom or Dad) or they think their parent is so great they feel inferior. They feel they can never measure up.
Hashem addresses both possibilities.
First Hashem explains that He is receiving this blessing in the merit of Avraham who kept Hashem's entire Torah.
Next just in case Yitzchak worried if he'd ever measure up to his father, Hashem confirms the blessings of the Abrahamic family.
Ramban explains that "G-d recognized Isaac's own merit by reiterating His oath to Avraham and giving it the status of a new oath to Isaac, for each of the Patriarchs in his own right was worthy of the promise." (Artscroll Stone Chumash)
A lesson to all children of every kind of parent. While people or even G-d might cut you some slack, show you extra kindnesses in the merit of your parents, it's up to you to honor your parent's path and then make your own mark, blaze your own trails, dig your own wells, deserve your own blessing.
And may Hashem bless you all

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Chayei Sarah - Family Matters

Parshat Chayei Sarah is often cited as the Shiddach Parsha (matchmaking Torah chapter). It is the first time we find a parent searching for the perfect match for his child. It also shows us many of the qualities that any perspective chattan or kallah should look for in his spouse. In addition to all the desirable qualities we should search for in a perspective spouse, we must also look for the same qualities in his/her family.
While a young person may declare, "I'm not marrying his/her family,"…umm….yes you are.
In this week's parsha Avraham sends his trusted servant Eliezer to find a shiddach for son Yitzchak. He doesn't want a girl from the neighborhood. They are idol worshippers and a cursed nation. Instead he sends Eliezer back to Charan to get a bride from his old hometown.
But the folks in Charan are idol worshippers too.
Still, there are two positive aspects about getting a bride in Charan. Since Avraham is from Charan and inside his soul is all goodness, all chesed, all caring for others, somewhere in the souls of even the idol worshippers who are his extended family, there must be these traits. Avraham discovered G-d in the world, but his personality traits came from somewhere- his father, his mother, perhaps one if his grandparents. He could not hsve been the last in his family to possess these characteristics. Perhaps there was yet another. Eliezer was to dig through the sand of Charan to find the diamond hidden there - the one who possessed those Avrahamic traits.
And so with G-d's help Eliezer does indeed uncover the hidden gem - Rivka - right by a well of water - the water of mayim chaim - the living waters of Hashem's Torah.
Further, while a person surely can be different from his/her family, there are many traits that can pop up any time in life - an expression, an outlook – that's straight out of his/her family. Our parents' thoughts, mannerisms, genes are in all of us - for the good or bad and whether we like it or not. In addition whether we believe it or not, we are influenced by our family a great degree. If our family is peopled with tzaddikim, wholy holy, that enriches our spiritual life and spiritual outlook. If our family is peopled with businessmen, that enriches our life in other ways. 
However if, G-d forbid, our family is made up of idol worshippers and cheats, even if we are today totally different from them, their negative lifestyle can influence at different points throughout our lives.
Avraham, Prince of G-d and Lover of Man, sought a daughter-in-law for his "perfect" son that would bring more of the qualities of chesed and worthiness to the family. He sought a daughter-in-law who could interact with the world and continue the path that he himself, Avraham walked. He needed someone who could help and encourage Yitzchak to keep "the family business" of spreading awareness of G-d going. It was especially important to find a wife for Yitzchak that could do that, since Avraham understood that as a result of the Akeida, Yitzchak had risen somewhat to level of un-worldliness or above-worldliness, and could easily have become totally separated from real life and people.
But just as much as Avraham needed those qualities, he had to make sure that girl would be physically separated from her family so that any negative influences would not be constantly near her.
So, even though Avraham's family in Charan were idol worshippers and even though perhaps there was a wonderful girl (like Eliezer's own daughter) nearby in Canaan, Avraham needed a girl that would have the right ingredients for co-president of the Avrahamic Enterprise - chesed and distance. He needed her to totally absorb the goodness, holiness and positive traits of the Avrahamic family without her mother saying, "Yes, he's smart, but why doesn't he go out and hunt and earn a living for you." or "How can you stand that family full of freiers?"
A person does marry his spouse's family. So s/he'd better be sure that his/her potential spouse's family has the good traits that bring blessing. An added benefit, s/he can even live near the in-laws and have a fabulous warm relationship always.
In the time of Avraham, the negatives could be distanced by distance. But in a world of cellphones, email and Skype no distance is distant. Better to choose a wonderful partner with a wonderful family.

Chayei Sarah - Opposites Attract?

When we talk about husbands and wives, especially from the creation of Adam and Eve, the first husband and wife, we speak of "Ezer knegdo", a helper who is opposite him.
How can a helper be opposite her spouse? 
Does this actually give legitimacy to the adage, opposites attract? Maybe the phrase should be, opposites complete one another.
Avraham was a lover of all man, open and accepting of everyone without exception. To complete himself, our patriarch Avraham truly needed Sarah (who was proclaimed as a greater prophet than he), to see more clearly and understand that while in the big picture perhaps everyone can be loved, but not everyone can be allowed into the inner circles of one's life because of the negative influence they might cause.
Sight does not only mean the physical ability for one to see with his eyes. Sight can also be the ability to perceive meaning. When someone says, "I see," they can either mean, "I physically see this/that/you/him," or it can mean, "I understand."
In Parshat Chayei Sarah, Yitzchak, the perfect man, was the pure person who was flawless enough without a single inner or outer blemish to be offered up to the altar of Hashem. Then after the Akeida (his near sacrifice), he became an even holier man, actually elevated. Yitzchak lived on a different plane than everyone else. Not only did he lose his physical sight, perhaps his sheltered life away from the world caused him to lose his perceptive sight when it came to not-straight people. He needed someone like Rivka who saw the reality of life and people, who was raised with Laban and therefore could recognize a Laban, could understand the true nature of people. She was his ideal "ezer knegdo," an opposite who completed Yitzchak and with her traits, made him whole, for as he lived a secluded life of holiness, unable to see some of less perfect realities of the world, Rivka understood the truth about the situation and people around them and guided her husband with her eyes.
Please share Savta's Torah thoughts with our next generation, and let them enjoy this Parsha song of old:

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Vayeira - Standing Up for What's Ours!!

In this week's parsha of Vayeira, Avimelech the king of Gerar brought his mighty general Phicol to force/intimidate our Patriarch Avraham into a one-sided agreement. 
Avimelech said, "G-d is with you in all that you do. Now swear to me here by G-d that you will not deal falsely with me nor with my child nor with my grandchild..." (Bereishit 21:23)
Avimelech didn't say, "Let's make a pact. Let's live in peace forever. I'll never hurt you and your family. You never hurt me or my family." It was a one sided agreement that Avraham would never take any actions against Avimelech or his family. That sort of sounds like the agreements of today, re: the State of Israel and its enemies. Israel has to undertake confidence building measures for the Arab enemy, but they don't have to do anything. Israel is pushed to give of its G-d given land, Eretz Yisrael to our enemies but receives nothing in return.
Rabbi David Marcus, who gives a weekly shiur in "Horim v'Yeladim" (Parent and Child Learning) which I am privileged to attend with Shir Tehilla, quoted chazal and said, "How do we know that this treaty with Avimelech was wrong on Avraham's part?" Because right after the story of Avimelech, the Torah tells us that Hashem commanded Avraham to bring his own son Yitzchak up to Har HaMoriah (Mount Moriah) to be prepared as an olah (sacrifice).
Hashem promised Avraham the entire land of Israel, and then Avraham makes a treaty that prevents him from liberating it.
Rabbi Marcus told a story about the city of Yevus (ancient Jerusalem). Outside the city there was a statue of a blind man and a staff of an injured man. Those were symbols of our Patriarchs Yitzchak (the blind man) and Yaakov (who was injured in his thigh by an angel), and they were warnings to the Jewish people not to attack the city of Avimelech's descendants. For generations, even during the conquest of the Land of Israel by Yehoshua, Yevus was never captured.
It took many generations until David HaMelech came and said, "The agreement between our forefathers has long expired. Besides that, your great-great-grandfather broke the agreement almost immediately - destroying Avraham's wells as soon as he left Gerar."
So, B"H, King David conquered the city of Yevus, ruled there for 33 years and there declared it the eternal capital of the Jewish people.
Rabbi Marcus said that Avraham had no right to make an agreement with Avimelech. That leads into question who were the rightful owners of the Land. Avraham should have said, "G-d gave me the entire Land of Israel. I don't need to make an agreement for my own land."
And that is the problem today. We know "Maasei Avot Siman Le'Banim", the actions of our forefathers are a sign for their descendants. So too, today when world leaders try to force Israel into making agreements about the Land of Israel with our enemy, we should say, "The Land of Israel is ours. G-d gave us the entire Land, and I don't have to make agreements on it. The Jewish people own all of it."
But history repeats itself again and again, and because we do not learn from our mistakes of the past, we are doomed to repeat them.
The Three Places That are Most Challenged
Next week, IY"H, we will read Parshat Chayei Sara. In that parsha Avraham buys a lot of land in Chevron from Efron. Now, Avraham made all these agreements and also purchased the land because he wanted to show his love of Shalom, peace' with all man. But Avraham was given all the Land by Hashem. His purchase of what was rightfully his has caused an eternal denial of the Jewish people's right to Chevron and the entire Land of Israel.
The same goes for the other two places that the Jewish people bought for cash money - Kever Yosef and Har HaMoriah (the place of the Holy Temple). Although some may say, "These three places are unequivocally Jewish, because we bought them with cash money, the nations say, "No, your purchase of these areas is proof that you did not own these three spots, neither did you own any of Eretz Yisrael. If you had owned them, you would not have needed to purchase them." And the nations are right.
Sometimes we are so afraid of others, so desirous to make others love us, so eager to look well in the eyes of the "world" that we bend over backwards to be super-moral, super-right. These actions do not make us look good to anyone. They make us look like freiers (patsies).
And because of these purchases and agreements on our own lands, the Jewish people have been paying a terrible price for thousands of years.
Avraham was a man of kindness, chesed, peace, love of mankind. But he was also the Ivri (the man from the other side). While the entire world thought one thing, he thought another. While the entire world acted one way, he acted another. He lived always one man against the world, with Hashem on his side. I can't imagine he was afraid what others would have said or done.
O' would that our father Abraham could have stood up and said aloud, "All the Land of Israel belongs to me." That could have changed history. The whole word looked at him as a "prince of G-d". I think they would have respected his words.
Still, his actions and their repercussions should be a lesson to us today. The Jewish people must stand up for what is ours. We do not have to buy or make deals on what is ours. Eretz Yisrael is our G-d given inheritance. Eretz Yisrael is ours.
Please share Savta's Torah thoughts with our next generation, and let them enjoy this Parsha song of old:

Monday, November 7, 2011

Lech Lecha - Sharing G-d

In Parshat Lech Lecha, as Avram's mission in life changes from Father of Aram (who taught G-d's existence to the people of his native land, Aram) to Father of a Multitude of Nations, Hashem changes his name to Avraham. Hashem takes a "HEI" from His own Name and adds it to the name of Avram.
Then he changes the name of Avraham's wife as well. "As for Sarai your wife - do not call her name Sarai, for Sarah is her name." (Bereishit 17:15) 
Why did Hashem change Sarai's name? She already had a "YUD" from G-d's Name incorporated into her own name.
And that is precisely the point. Hashem created a balanced world. In fact, we even learn that on Rosh Hashana, we are to think, "The scales are exactly even and I must do yet another good deed to tip the scales to the positive."
The world is balance. There was prophecy on one side of the scale and avoda zara (idol worship) on the other side. There was Israel on one side and Rome on the other. 
Hashem built the world like a mathematics equation that is perfectly balanced.
So, G-d took a "hei" (equivalent in gematria to 5) and added it to Avram's name. Yes, it is a letter of G-d's Name, but the letter wasn't taken from there, because the "hei" still is found in G-d's Name. Where did He get the "hei" from?
From Sarai's name!!! - a name already containing a "yud", a letter from G-d's name. Sin, Raish, Yud. The letter "yud" is equivalent to 10 in gematria.
Hashem took the "yud" - 10 in Sarai's name and split it in half, sharing it between husband and wife.  "Hei", five for Avraham and now five for Sarah. 
But nothing has changed. The ten still exists, because the "yud" of G-d's Name is now shared between Avraham and Sarah (husband and wife). And we know that  ishto k'gufo, one's wife is like one's own self. (Tosfot, Gittin 45a). So, the ten has stayed with Avraham/Sarah - a perfect equation for a perfect couple.

This parsha thought is dedicated in honor of Harav Moshe Eliahu Katz upon his bar mitzvah anniversary. B"H we had the opportunity to enjoy this parsha's Shabbat together with Moshie and his family.

Lech Lecha - The Jewish People Get Their Super Powers

In this week’s parsha of Lech Lecha, the Jewish people acquire their super powers. Stronger than X-Men, the Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Batman or Superman himself. The Jewish nation – each and every individual – is endowed with a power that does not diminish with kryptonite or any other vulnerability. Sometimes it lays dormant in individuals that have not yet discovered the power, but it is a power that grows and strengthens with use.
It is the power to bless.
Hashem tells Avraham, “And I will make of you a great nation; I will bless you, and make your name great, and you shall be a blessing.” (Bereishit: 12:2)
Avraham was the first to be granted the power of blessing. And it was inherited by his heir Yitzchak, then Yaakov and all their children and progeny thereafter. Part of our spiritual genes as Jews is the power to bless.
Everyone who has ever had a Bubby or a Zaydie has witnessed this power first-hand with every utterance of his grandparents’ “Gebentscht zulst ir zine” (you should be blessed). And life was always better for the recipient of this blessing.
I told my children and grandchildren that they too have the power. They can bless their family, their friends, and no matter how many blessings they bestow, their storehouse of good wishes will never diminish.
I told them to use their power generously. “May you and your spouse have a life of peace and happiness.” “May you have nachas from your children.” “May you succeed in school.” “May you become a great tzaddik.” “May you make a good parnasa to support your family.” “May you have good health always.”
Bless, bless, bless.
The more we bless others, the more bracha (blessing) good luck, optimism, achievement, prosperity, health and Torah will be in the world. And like waves upon the lake, the power of blessing will grow and grow, benefiting more people with every utterance.
A world filled with blessing can reach great heights. It can help us reach the purpose of Creation, imbuing the world with goodness and the light of G-d.
Thank you for reading this blog. May G-d bless you and yours always.

For our next generation, please share Savta's Torah memories:

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Noah - What's in a Name?

Boy, Parshat Noah is packed with names. Well, there were ten generations of folks born from Noah to Abraham. And there were 70 nations worth of people within those ten generations. So, there are a lot of names! And almost all (except for two) of the names were quite unique.
In fact, Me'am Lo'ez says that "In those times, people used to give their children original names, rather than naming them after their grandparents as people do today." (That may be changing too, but that's another story.)
In the past several generations, parents often named their children after their grandparents or great-grandparents to continue the family line, and keep those names alive. During the time of Noah, their great great grandparents were still alive, because their centuries-long life spans.
Me'am Lo'ez added that people in early generations were guided by divine inspiration (Ruach HaKodesh). They could therefore taken into account future events when naming their children.
It is quite possible that parents are still blessed with Ruach HaKodesh while naming their child. The Aish HaTorah website explains: A tradition that traces back to the Ari, the great Kabbalist and medieval sage, presents a startling theory about people's names. We are accustomed to think that a name is merely an arbitrary tag that we attach to a person for the purpose of identification. Every person could theoretically bear any name as there is no inherent connection between an individual and his or her label. But the Ari taught that Jewish parents are imbued with Ruach Hakodesh, a spark of the "Holy Spirit," when they name their children. The name they select is invariably the true description of the neshama, or spiritual essence of their child.
The Talmud expresses this same concept in terms of character (Yuma, 83b); a Jew's name accurately reflects his or her essential character. The clear implication; when parents name their child, they are given a prophetic glimpse of their child's neshama, or "spiritual essence".
Because in G-d's world, the past, present and future intertwine, I also believe that the name a parent gives a child not only reflects his character (does a parent really know a child's character at a week old), but the name creates his character and influences both his character and the events of his life.
Take the name Noah - Nun Chet, which means rest or comfort, in Hebrew. In Bereishit 5:29, Noah's father Lamech names him "Noah" and says, "This one will bring us rest from our work and from the toil of our hands, from the ground which Hashem had cursed."
Artscroll's Torah Treasury also states, "The Zohar teaches that the name Noah alludes to the Sabbath, which is a day of Menucha (spiritual rest). Just as Noah was the one who saved the world from being totally destroyed by the Flood, so the Sabbath saves a Jew from being overwhelmed by the mundane spirit that accompanies his weekday pursuits."
Yes, Noah's name was right on target. His birth did bring blessing to the ground, but perhaps he himself was influenced to live a righteous life because of his name.
Noah's great-grandson Ever had two sons, Peleg (divide) and Yaktan (small). In the year that Peleg died, the world was divided (after the tower of Bavel). Was Peleg's name a prophecy or did it somehow influence the events?
Yaktan was a very humble person. Did Ever see humility in the new baby that he named, or did the name Yaktan influence him to be humble.
Yaktan had a son name Chatzarmavet (which ...shudder shudder .. means courtyard of death). His descendants were a sect of men who "went about naked like Dervishes, and were interested only in death." Did Yaktan prophecy these morbid descendants, or did the name he gave his son influence him to act in that manner? If Yaktan called his son Chaim, would the child and his descendants be dedicated to life!?
Later in Parshat Noah, Avram is born. Rashi tell us that creation truly began anew with Avram's birth. Artscroll explains, "It was Abraham who would bear the burden of holiness in the world. His name signified this. At first he was Avram, a contraction of Av Aram (teacher of Aram) for he began as a leader of only his own nation, but ultimately he became a father of the whole world. Did Terach see Avraham's role in the future, or did the young Avram carry his name with pride and do all he could to fulfill his destiny?
Lastly, we meet our matriarch Sara, whom  we know is also called Yiscka. Me'am Lo'ez says, "This was because she was so beautiful that everyone would gaze (Sacha in Hebrew) at her beauty." Well, all babies are beautiful, delicious, adorable. Did Yiscka (Sara) become so magnificently beautiful because with a name like Yiscka, she felt beautiful, held herself regally and tried to deserve her name?
Me'am Lo'ez also says there was another reason for Yiscka's name. "She was a prophetess, and with Divine Inspiration, could gaze (Sacha) into the future."
Did Yiska's father Haran look at his newborn baby and know she would be a prophetess, or did her name cause her to develop Divine Inspiration?
Let's think about it together.
When Yosef was in prison, he listened to the dreams of the butler and the baker. The Torah tells us that "He restored the Chamberlain of the Cupbearers to his cupbearing and ...the Chamberlain of the Bakers he hung..." Who did this? The Sforno (as quoted in the Artscroll Chumash) states that "the fates of the chamberlains were not because justice dictated them, but because events followed Joseph's interpretations."
Jewish tradition holds that "dreams follow the interpretation", meaning the way we interpret a dream is the way its meaning comes to a fruition. That is why we are always encouraged to put a positive spin on a dream that someone tells us. Because the way we interpret the dream, that is the way it will conclude!
I believe it is the same as a name. The name a person gives a child doesn't only reflect the character (of the week old baby), but determines the character of the child and even his future.
May we always bless our children with names of beauty, holiness and faith in a positive future.

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Saturday, October 22, 2011

Bereishit - The Utopia That We Must Regain

We learn in the beginning of Parshat Bereishit that the "spirit of Hashem hovered over the surface of the waters". (Bereishit 1:2)
The Artscroll Torah Treasury wrote that the Midrash Rabba said that the spirit of G-d was the spirit of Meshiach. "G-d created the world exactly as it was meant to be when the Meshiach comes. The entire Messianic dream is nothing more and nothing less than the world that G-d originally envisioned and created."
It is a goal of mankind, and especially the Jewish people, to go forward to rediscover the past glory that we once knew.
While bentsching (saying the blessing after a meal) tonight, my husband mentioned that the words of the birkat hamazon are so magnificent.
"Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, Who nourishes the entire world, in His goodness - with grace, with kindness and with mercy. He gives nourishment to all flesh, for His kindness is eternal. And through His great goodness, we have never lacked, and may we never lack, nourishment for all eternity. For the sake of His Great Name, because He is G-d Who nourishes and sustains all, and benefits all, and He prepares food for all of His creatures which He has created. Blessed are You, Hashem, Who nourishes all." (Translation from the Artscroll Women's Siddur)
"Isn't that amazing?" my husband said. "Hashem provides food for every single person and every single creature. There is no person or creature for which Hashem doesn't provide what he needs."
"Reallly," I said. "So why are there so many poverty stricken people in Israel and the rest of the world? Why are Chinese or African workers forced to labor for $1 a month? Why are tens of thousands of Jews in Israel standing on line for food every day? Why are there no more beasts in Israel? I'm happy that there are no lions or bears to attack people, but why aren't they left in the wilderness? What happened to the leopardess of Ein Gedi and are there any deer left in the wadis of Gush Etzion? If Hashem provides for all of His creatures, where are they?"
I answered my own question. The parsha says that the "Spirit of Hashem hovered over the deep", and this is the Utopia we once knew and for which we much strive again. This is the way Hashem created the world, and the way He wished it would continue.
In His perfect world, there is food for every person and creature - great and small. In the world that Hashem planned and designed, there is no lack, there is kindness and sustenance for all. But in our world, this is not so.
My husband said, "Maybe Hashem made some people poor so that others could act toward them with chesed (loving kindness) and help them."
I told him that that was a good thought, and that I also had another.
G-d's world was perfect until Man messed it up. He messed it up back then, and he has done the same generation after generation. G-d created a perfect world, but man exploits his fellow man. He hunts and exterminates species after species of G-d's creatures. In his greed, man does not pay enough to his workers to live sustainable lives.
Yes, Hashem's Spirit once hovered over the deep, and wishes to do so again. But man, and particularly the Jewish people, must help make this possible by following G-d's original blue print, by living lives of chesed (loving kindness) and Torah. Man should not just live and let live. He should live and enable others to live - whether human or creature. By providing for our fellow human beings and the world's creatures, we are helping Hashem "nourish the world" and we are bringing Hashem's Spirit one step closer to where it belongs.

Bereishit - For the Sake of Israel

We learn in the very first word of the first chapter of the Torah, Bereishit, that the world (and everything in it) was created B' Reishit, for the sake of Reishit (the first). Reishit, the first is the Land of Israel, and the Torah and the Jewish people. 
While reading the Artscroll Torah Treasury today, I came upon a marvelous comment.
"When the train tracks from St. Petersurg, Russia to Berlin were built, R' Chaim Soloveitchik commented, 'This train line was built for the yeshivah students so that traveling to Volozhin be made easier. Everything in t he world is for Torah and those who learn it.'
His son, the Brisker Rav, continued with his father's perspective. 'Over a period of decades, the cruel czars of Russia had the peasants lay the Trans-Siberian railway. Fantastic amounts of money and a great many lives were invested in order to run the railway through the most inhospitable parts of Siberia all the way to the port at Vladivostok which faces toward Japan and the Far East. At the time, the project seemed to make no sense and many wondered exactly why it was done. Only years later, when the students of the Mirrer Yeshivah escaped the European inferno and arrived in Shanghai, China, by way of Siberia and the Trans-Siberian railway did the whole thing become clear. The railway, and all the funds and labor that went into it,w ere justified for it was for the sake of Torah and the Jews that G-d created the world and its history.

All this made me think of Jerusalem's Light Rail System. Launched in 1995, the Light Rail was to debut many times over the years, but was delayed again and again. The signs are still up in places proclaiming the scheduled completion of the Light Rail in 2008. Meanwhile after 16 years and 3.8 billion NIS the Light Rail is finally running and will go all the way to the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem.
I guess the time was not yet right to start the train to the Old City over the past few years, but it's right now. Meshiach is very close, BE"H, and so is the rebuilding of Our Holy Temple. When the Temple is rebuilt and the Jewish people begin their visits to Bet HaMikdash by the hundreds of thousands and even millions, surely traffic will be bumper-to-bumper-impossible in Jerusalem. We will need the Light Rail, IY"H, to bring us quickly and comfortably to the Holy Temple.
Perhaps those who planned the Jerusalem Light Rail thought it would be provide faster, less polluting transportation to the Holy City. But when the time comes, IY"H, may it be soon, everyone will understand that the Light Rail was created to make transportation to the rebuilt Third Temple more accessible.
Everything was created for the sake of Hashem's "first" - Am Yisrael, Torat Yisrael, Eretz Yisrael.
May the Temple be rebuilt speedily in our day.

New Year, New Beginning

Just about every Jewish person looks at the Jewish New Year, and particularly Parshat Bereshit, as a new beginning. Why should I be different?
In our home I am privileged, B"H, to hear many divrei Torah (Torah thoughts) around our table. Sometimes I'm lucky enough to have a thought worth repeating myself. But if you asked me what Torah thoughts I've had over the past many years, I probably wouldn't remember many or any.
So, I decided to try to write down the thoughts I shared on Shabbat.
B"H the Jewish people are blesed with many brilliant women scholars. Unfortunately I'm not one of them. I'm not a Torah scholar. I'm a mother. I'm a writer. I'm a performer. I'm a videographer.
But I love learning Torah and I love sharing anything I learn.
I hope this blog will be a meaningful one.

Shema Beni Musar Avicha v'Al Titosh Toras Imecha

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