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