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.

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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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