Monday, May 7, 2012

Tazria Metzora - A Curse Becomes a Blessing

This week we read a double parsha, Tazria Metzora. Folks, I can learn any dvar Torah about these parshiyot (weekly portions) and hear any inspirational word, but for my entire life, IY"H, there is one memory of these parshiyot that will stand out above any other.
For many years my youngest two children (sometimes with the aid of their older siblings) used to put on a skit for us about the parsha every Friday night. They split the sea. They climbed an angel's ladder. They saved Lot. They were heroes and villains and even inanimate objects.
When the Friday night of Tazria Metzora came about, my little girl was a leper who was brought to the Kohen (the priest) in order to look at the affliction on her skin. He took one look at her arm, and said with great joy, "Mazel tov, you have tzaraat." (Congratulations, you have leprousy!!) 
Never before or after has our family burst into such spontaneous and hysterical laughter.
That said, I'd like to repeat part of a dvar Torah given at the table this week by my son HaRav Moshe Eliahu Katz.Any mistakes or omissions are totally mine. So excuse me in advance.
Moshe Eliahu explained that one of the reasons that a person's house becomes afflicted with  leprosy is because the homeowner was a selfish miserly person. If someone had asked him to borrow anything, he would have said, "No." He might have said that he did not have the item, or couldn't find it.
As a punishment, his home was afflicted and he was forced to take everything out of it. All the neighbors who were denied anything from him would soon see that he indeed had all those items, but wouldn't share them.
Moshe Eliahu also noted that sometimes when afflicted homes were torn down, the owners found gold (hidden by the previous Canaanite inhabitants) in the walls or underneath the foundations.
Moshe Eliahu asked, "Why would G-d grant such a treasure to a person who had been stingy and selfish?"
He explained that the stingy man is punished, sent out of his house (if he reenters, he becomes impure and must be separated from others and purified), his home is scraped or taken apart brick by brick. The man has suffered humiliation and isolation for his selfishness. He has learned a powerful lesson. Moshe Eliahu asked, "Now, what man would be more worthy or do better deeds with new-found gold?!" 
Of course, he told it better. But he was totally right.
Sometimes in life, bad things happen. But if we learn our lessons from those bad things, sometimes if we are very determined to understand our errors and right our wrongs, a bad thing can become a blessing.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Parshat Shemini - Learning and Teaching

This parsha brought a very exciting moment to the Jewish world. In the middle of Parshat Shemini in pasuk 10:16, we find the expression, "Moshe inquired insistently about the he-goat of the sin-offering..." In Hebrew the wording is "V'et s'ir ha'chatat darosh darash..." The words darosh and darash are spelled the same. They are also the exact center of the Torah, the half-way point.
We have now officially completed more than half of the Torah.
On the side of the first half is the word darosh, which means to ask or investigate. In other words, to delve and learn Torah. On the other side is the second word darash, which means to give over (a sermon) or to teach.
Just as the center of the Torah is darosh and then darash - learning the Torah and then teaching it - so the center of our lives as well must be learning and studying and understanding the Torah, and then giving it over to others.

Parshat Shemini - Just Do It

Pesach is over, sniff. We went right from our last day of Pesach to Shabbat. Today was Abba's birthday, ad 120. So this blog is dedicated to Abba - Yisrael ben Meir Chaim HaKohen.

"Moshe said, 'This is the thing that Hashem commanded you to do; then the glory of Hashem will appear to you." (Vayikra, 9:6)
The Torah is talking about all the different offerings that the Kohen must bring to Hashem. The book of Vayikra (Leviticus) carefully discusses all the kinds of sacrifices and offerings. If we follow Hashem's instructions carefully His glory will appear to us, BE"H.
The Torah Treasury suggests yet another interpretation, if you change the punctuation of the sentence in Hebrew. "Vayomer Moshe (and Moshe said), zeh hadvar asher tziva Hashem (this is the thing that Hashem commanded), t'asu (Do!!), v'yeira aleichem Kavod Hashem (and the glory will appear to you)."
If we want to see G-d's glory, we must do! We must live a life of action, of making good things happen, of doing something to try to make a difference, of doing and engaging in positive pursuits. It is incumbent on each person to try to make the world better than when he found it. A person must do/act to help others. If we do (even if we don't complete the task, even if we don't succeed), then we have the potential of seeing Hashem's glory.
Any act done with good motivations behind it (whether it succeeds or not) is worthy. In this case, Nike is right. "Just do it."


Monday, April 2, 2012

Parshat Tzav - There are No Small Parts, Only Small Actors

Through "show business", we learn many lessons in life. One of them is, as the title of this post says, "There are no small parts, only small actors." An actor can be assigned a small role, and yet, he can make it something special and memorable through a wholehearted stand out performance.
We learned in this week's Parshat Tzav that the Kohanim in Bet HaMikdash have many different roles. One of them was even taking out the ashes.
That doesn't sound like such a glamorous task. It's not as exciting as sacrificing a bull or a goat. It's not as moving as bringing the ketoret spices.
So, why does the kohen have to do these "menial" tasks? 
This reminds me of a parable I heard long ago. A king told his gardeners that he wanted each to create the most special garden possible, and he would pay them according to the flowers he liked best.
Each created beautiful different types of gardens filled with every type of flower. Those gardens were awash with color, symphonies of flowers. At the end, the king paid more for the roses. "Why didn't you tell us the roses would bring the most money?" the gardeners asked. "I didn't want gardens only filled with roses."
Hashem has given us 613 commandments, and He wants us to immerse ourselves with dedicated to each one of them big and small. Just as the kohen who might shecht (sacrifice) a bull and also clear out the ashes does each with full dedication, so must we do each mitzvah in our lives with dedication and devotion.
We don't know the value of mitzvot. I guess Hashem will tell us that after 120, IY"H. But I know that just as Hashem wants us to learn Torah, keep Shabbat, eat kosher, He also wants us to stand up for the elderly, speak with courtesy, refrain from saying lashon hara, and be kind to others.
None of those are small mitzvot. Only if we look down upon one instead of another, we, G-d forbid, are showing ourselves to be small people

Tzav - Come Home, There's Room

This post in dedicated to our chattan Mati (Matityahu Ehud) and his dear kallah Shaindel (Shaindel Perela) upon their engagement this week.

Shaindel joined our family for Shabbat - Shabbat HaGadol - and it really was a big Shabbat!! B"H, I looked around the Shabbat table, and it was full, bli ayin hara, with our children and grandchildren. In fact, the entire house was overflowing with Katzes. B"H!!! Thank you, G-d. Bli ayin hara!! 
You'd think we couldn't fit one more person around the table, or have room for one more person to sleep. But B"H we can and IY"H we will.
In this week's Parshat Tzav, Hashem tells Moshe, "Gather the entire assembly to the entrance of the Tent of the Meeting." (Vayikra, 8:3) But how is that possible?? There were millions of Jews at that time, B"H. Even if there were only 600,000 men, can you imagine putting 600,000 men at the entrance to the Tent of the Meeting. That would be totally impossible.
But from here we learn a magnificent lesson. Rabbis Yisrael and Osher Jungreis in Table Torah tells us that where there is love and unity among the Jewish people, there is no space too small. Unfortunately where there is dissension and bad feelings among Jews, there is no place big enough. But when there is love and unity and good feelings, where there is brotherhood and caring about one another, no place is too small.
I mentioned this to Rabbi Sholom Eisman, Mashgiach for Meshech Chochma, and Shaindel's Rabbi. He agreed and told me a beautiful story from the gemara. There was a story in the gemara of six people covering themselves with one tallit. That might seem impossible, but where the six care for one another, and they care enough to make sure the other is covered with the tallit, then all six will surely be covered.
I told my children, "Never be hesitant about coming home for Shabbat, a holiday or for any reason. Never feel that there's no room. BE"H no matter how many you are (and you're welcome to be more and more and more, IY"H :) ), when there is love a brotherhood (sisterhood), there will always be room.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Shabbat Parshat Vayikra - Rosh Chodesh Nissan

Three sifrei Torah were brought out today in Shul - one for Parshat Vayikra, one for Rosh Chodesh, and one for Parshat HaChodesh. We read in the third sefer Torah from Parshat Bo, "Hashem said to Moshe and Aharon in the land of Egypt, saying, 'This month shall be for you the beginning of the months, it shall be for you the first of the months of the year.'" (Shemot 12:1)
My granddaughter Shir Tehilla and I learned in Horim v'Yeladim (this week with Rabbi Reuven Rosenstark) on Thursday night that there are two first months. Rosh Chodesh Tishrei is the first month of the creation of the world. Rosh Chodesh Nissan is the first months of the creation of the Jewish people. And since we know that the world was created for the Jewish people, the two months are very intertwined.
Rabbi Avraham Arieh Trugman, Orchard of Delights, says that when G-d created the world (Tishrei), He did so with ten utterances. When ten rituals were performed on the first day when the Tabernacle was erected (Nissan), they corresponded to the ten utterances at the start of the world. And that Hashem had promised the Jewish nation that He would make them "a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation. (Shemot 19:6) Well, in Vayikra/Nissan it was finally happening!!
I wanted to mention something very beautiful that I read in the Artscroll's explanation of Parshat HaChodesh. It is long, but I know you will be moved by it. Please read:
"The first day of Nissan was and always remains a historic day for the Jewish nation. It was the day when the people received their first commandment as a nation: Sanctify the New Moon. This ritual has a profound spiritual and historic significance. It is noteworthy that it was one of three commandments that the Syrian-Greeks, in the time before the Chanukah miracle, attempted to nullify by force. The other two were Shabbat observance and circumcision. Clearly, therefore, Israel's enemies understood that the sanctification of the New Moon was basic to the existence of Israel as a nation of Torah."
"Commentators explain that, by virtue of this commandment, G-d gave the Jewish people mastery over time. From that moment onward, the calendar with its cycle of festivals could exist only when the Sages of Israel declared the new month. This signifies more than control over the reckoning of time, the dating of legal documents, and all the banalities to which man is subject in his everyday life. It represents the potential for renewal. The Jewish people is symbolized by the moon because, although the moon wanes, it waxes as well. It stands for hope, for the confidence that there is a future as well as a past. This vibrancy assures that any conquest of the Jewish people can never be more than temporary. Israel may seem to disappear from the panorama of history - but so does the moon. The moon returns - and Israel, by means of the power vested in it by the Torah, sanctifies the new month. So too, the nation constantly renews its vigor, constantly defies the laws of history that insist it should have long since become extinct, constantly demonstrates its ability to make itself the vehicle for the prophecies of redemption and a great spiritual world."
I wanted to add to this something that I have heard many times from Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis. If anyone looked at the Jewish people on the day the Holy Temple was destroyed, and he saw the Temple in flames, Jews lying dead all over Jerusalem, others screaming in fear, etc., they would have thought the Jewish people were at their end. But then like the moon, they reappeared.
If people had seen the Jews hung on the cross in Spain during the Inquisition,  they would have thought the Jewish people were at their end. But then like the moon, they reappeared.
If people had seen Chelminicki ride into a Jewish shtetl and murder every Jew in site,  they would have thought the Jewish people were at their end. But then like the moon, they reappeared.
If people would have witnessed the Jews murdered in concentration camp, or at the edge of a mass grave, or on a death march,  they would have thought the Jewish people were at their end. But then like the moon, they reappeared.
G-d created the Jewish people to be like the moon. Our strength may fade and our very existence may seem to vanish, but B"H, like the moon we rise again. B"H. Am Yisrael chai.

Vayikra - Gearing Up for the Big Moment

At the end of the book of Shemot, we learned how to build the Mishkan, what clothing to sew for the Kohanim, how to create the vessels needed in the Tabernacle. After all the instruction, all the wise-hearted of the nation followed Hashem's instructions, and Moshe actually put all the pieces together to create a place worthy within which Hashem's Schechina could rest.
Now in Parshat Vayikra, we're ready to learn about the korbanot (sacrifices) that are to be brought to the Mishkan. 
Hashem tells Moshe to explain the laws of sacrifices to the Jewish people, "When a man among you brings an offering to Hashem: from animals..." (Vayikra: 1:2)
Here G-d calls man, an "Adam", just like Adam, the first human being. The Artscroll Chumash quotes Rashi, who tell us that this is to "imply that just as Adam did not bring stolen animals as offerings, since the whole world was his, so too no one may serve G-d with anything acquired dishonestly."
I read, I think in Rav Tzvi Leshem's sefer, Remptions, that there was a disagreement between the Rambam and the Ramban on the reason for the korbanot. (I hope I didn't make a mistake about this - I'll check, or you check. :) )
I think Rambam felt that Hashem gave the Jewish people the korbanot as a way to wean them away from idol worship and sacrifices to false gods. But the Ramban disagreed. He felt that Hashem truly "enjoyed" the sacrifices of the Jewish people. And he cited Adam, who lived in a world without idol worship, without bad influences, without ulterior motives, and he brought a sacrifice to Hashem.
Yes, Adam had the entire world to himself. He can command over all the animals. He had a direct connection to Hashem, his Father in Heaven. And he brought a korban, inspired by pure love, devotion and gratitude to Hashem.
We read in different places in Tanach where Hashem is angry at the Jewish people, and chastises them. "I don't want your empty sacrifices. I want your obedience."
For Hashem, the purpose of the sacrifices in the Tabernacle and later in the Holy Temple is not so that a sheep or goat or bull can be slaughtered. It is that the Jewish people should follow Hashem's ways and truly become closer to Him. Korban has the same root as the word karov or lekarev, come closer. Hashem wants us to come closer to Him, and He wants us to bring korbanot with pure intentions, just like Adam.
Today, as of this writing, we still do not have the Temple, and the korbanot have not been restored. Instead we have our prayers to temporarily take the place of the korbanot. Just as G-d wants us to bring the sacrifices with a pure heart and pure intentions, so He wants us to lekarev (come closer) to Him in our prayer as well.
When you pick up your siddur (prayer book), approach G-d with a pure heart. Don't just shzzsh  shzzhsh through your tefillah. Pray with your heart, and Hashem will listen.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Pekudei - In Unity There is G-d

In Parshat Vayakhel the Jewish people rushed to give their valuables for the sake of building the Tabernacle. They were so enthusiastic, they had to be told to stop. Have you ever heard of any Jewish organization tell its supporters, "Please don't donate."?
The Jewish people gave super-generously, and the craftsmen worked on each item whole-heartedly.
In Parshat Pekudei we read again and again that everything was made exactly as G-d detailed. Each item was made with enthusiasm and love with materials given with enthusiasm and love. 
In response, the Torah Treasury states, "G-d showed the Jews an intense love that embraced every element of the Tabernacle, filling it with His Presence." The parsha says, "and the glory of Hashem filled the Tabernacle." (Shemot 38:35)
Hashem wants to fill our homes, our synagogues, our yeshivot and our hearts with His Presence. All He needs is a feeling of love toward Him, and our true desire to follow in His Path. All He hopes for is for the Jewish people to unify for a good positive reason. If they can do this one day, IY"H, they will find the great benefit that in unity, there is G-d.

Vayakhel - Where There's a Will, There's a Way

Having learned in the past few parshiyot about what the clothing of the Kohanim (High Priests) had to look like, and how the different vessels and altars of the Tabernacle/Holy Temple had to be made, this week in Parshat Vayakhel, the process actually begins.
Guiding their fellow Jews are the dynamic duo of Betzalel ben Uri ben Hur of the tribe of Yehudah and Ohaliav ben Achisamach of the tribe of Dan. Today young people who are artistically inclined can attend the Betzalel School (named after the Betzalel, above), but there were no art schools for the Jewish slaves in Egypt. There were no crafts' shops in the desert. So, how did Betzalel, Ohaliav and all those who worked on the weaving and the carpentry and the gold/silver/copper know what to do? Where did Betzalel find so many artisans in a desert full of former slaves?
The Artscroll Torah Treasury asked the same question. The answer can be found in Shemot 35:21, "Every man whose heart inspired him came."
The Torah Treasury states, "The Jews had never been trained as artisans in the fine arts necessary to manufacture the various items for the Tabernacle. Nevertheless, their hearts lifted them, i.e., they had the courage to step forward and volunteer, confident that G-d would help them use their natural, raw talent to successfully produce the vessels He desired."
The men and women who volunteered to create the items needed for the Mishkan (Tabernacle) wanted so whole-heartedly to participate and succeed that they forged ahead, and Hashem helped them.
There are so many things in life that each of us wishes we could achieve. Sometimes a task or goal seems too daunting. We don't even know where to begin. Well, there's a secret to success. If your purpose is true, if your heart is in the right place, if your goal is a positive one, go forward. Hashem will help you. He'll either help "expand your natural abilities" or he'll send you friends/advisors who can help you on your path.
Nothing should ever stand in the way of your doing a good deed or working toward a sincere goal. Where there's a will, there's a way.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Ki Tisa - Again Clothes Make the Man

My son HaRav Moshe Eliahu Katz spoke at the Shabbat table about the conversation between Moshe Rabbeinu and his brother Aharon the High Priest, after Moshe discovered that Aharon had created a golden calf.
In Parshat Ki Tisa, Moshe asked Aharon, "What did this people do to you that you brought a grievous sin upon it [by creating the golden calf]?" (Shemot 32:21)
What was Aharon's response? "You know that the people is disposed toward evil...So I said to them, 'Who has gold?'" That's an odd kind of response. The people are disposed toward evil, so I asked them to remove their gold.
Moshe Eliahu explained that the Jewish nation had been entrenched for so many generations in the evil of Egypt, in Egyptian idolatry and "disgraceful behavior" (as Artscroll puts it). One of the negatives of Egypt was the physical pleasures and excesses of gold and vain finery. When the Jews called on Aharon to fashion an idol, when they began renewing their bad old habits, the first thing he thought was, "If I could have them remove the outward look of Egypt with all its gold and jewelry, perhaps they will snap back to their senses."
Unfortunately they were too far gone to bounce back without something more drastic, but Aharon knew something we learned in Parshat Tetzaveh (when we learned about the clothing of the Kohanim), "Clothes make the man."

(Just to remind anyone reading my blogs are written on Motzei Shabbat in Israel.)

Ki Tisa - Masks after Purim

Parshat Ki Tisa is usually read around Purim. This year, it follows directly after the holiday of Purim.  And how appropriate, because both Purim and this week's Parsha involve masks.
On the holiday of Purim, young and old wear costumes and very often masks of all sorts as part of their celebrations. Masks of evil and masks of good. Masks that hide the true person and masks that represent someone's hopes and dreams. Jews masquerade as anything and everything, and turn regular folks into Esther and Mordechai, Achashverosh and Haman, nurses and policemen, strawberries and bananas, presidents and prisoners, and all sorts of characters. They let their imaginations run wild as they party to celebrate the salvation of the Jewish people, after a threat of annihilation by the wicked Haman.
In this week's parsha there were two major masquerades. The first occurred when the Jewish people turned a mound of gold into a molten calf (egel masecha - masked cow), and pretended it was a god. "This is your god, O Israel, which brought you up from the land of Egypt." (Shemot 32:8) 
Then they celebrated and reveled around the calf, drinking and partying for all the wrong reasons.
Rav Avraham Trugman in his fascinating sefer, Orchard of Delights, noted that both Purim and Ki Tisa talk about using gold for the wrong reasons - the Jews in Shushan attended Achashverosh's wild party, danced the night away, and drank from the captured golden vessels of the Holy Temple. The Jews of the desert created the golden calf, and made their own wild party (engaging in the three cardinal sins of idolatry, licentiousness and murder).
After the Jews of Shushan attended Achashverosh's party and watched silently as the holy vessels were dishonored, Hashem sent Haman, who was bent on destroying the Jewish people.
After the episode of the golden calf, Hashem told Moshe that He had decided that He would destroy this stiff-necked nation and begin again with a nation descended from Moshe alone.
In both instances only prayer and repentance saved the Jewish people.
In the end of the parsha, when Moshe descended from Har Sinai with the newly created Tablets of Testimony, the "skin of his face had become radiant" (Shemot 34:29).
He would teach the Jewish people what Hashem told him, and then the parsha continues, "Moshe finished speaking with them and placed a mask on his face." (ibid. 34:33)
When Moshe spoke to Hashem, he removed the mask and showed his true self. When he taught the people Torah he would not wear a mask, but then when he was done, he put on the mask, according to Be'er Moshe (Artscroll Chumash), "to spare the people the embarrassment of seeing how they had so deprived themselves of closeness to G-d that they could not even look at his prophet."
In our lives we sometimes feel it is necessary to "wear a mask". Sometimes we wear a mask of courage, when something, chas v'shalom, bad happens and we don't want others to see how frightened or sad we are. 
There are no end to the types of masks we may wear. But ultimately we become like the mask. The Jewish people became debased through the "masked cow." Moshe became even more humble through his masveh (mask).
Throughout the years in the future, your children will want to dress up as all kinds of things on Purim. Guide them toward positive images. You might think it's silly not to allow your child to "express himself". So what if he wants to be a punk rocker, a bad guy, a negative-whatever. There is something wrong with it. A person is influenced by his Purim costume, by his mask.
I want to leave you with a mask story that I heard from Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis. There was once a British Lord who fell in love with a beautiful young lady. He was the most evil, the most horrible looking and the most wicked man in England, but he was very wealthy. He had a mask made for himself that portrayed him as handsome and good.
To fool the lass even more, whenever he was with her, he'd give charity to the poor and do all sorts of good deeds. The young lady fell for the ruse, and married the evil masked lord.
One day years later, the lord's enemy found out about the trick, and came to the palace to expose the terrible lord for what he was. He entered the palace, and ripped the mask off the lord's face to reveal what was underneath.
And what was it?
It was the same handsome and good face as the mask. He had worn the mask for so long and acted with kindness (to impress his young wife) for so long, that he actually became what the mask said he was.
We are (or we become) our masks.
This dvar Torah is in honor of Noam Ariel Dobuler's birthday.


coming soon - on my phone


coming soon - on my phone


coming soon - on my phone

Thursday, February 9, 2012


At the start of Parshat Beshallach, we read, "The Children of Israel were armed when they went up from Egypt." (Exodus 13:18) The Hebrew term for armed is "chamushim". We learn many reasons for this particular word. Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky said they were armed with the "chamishei chumshei Torah" (the five books of the Torah. Rashi tells us that the word "chamushim" comes from the word for five, and that only one-fifth of the Jewish people left Egypt. The others were too assimilated to give up their Egyptian lives, and so as they demanded to live like Egyptians, they also died like Egyptians.
All these interpretations of "chamushim" are great, but what about the plain text...?
The children of Israel were armed, and right afterwards it says (Exodus 17:19), "Moses took the bones of Joseph with him."
Yosef, the only one in the Tanach that is called hatzaddik (the righteous one); Yosef who with the help of G-d interpreted dreams; Yosef who with the help of G-d saved the world from starvation. Moshe took this incredible Yosef's bones and don't you think that that alone was enough to safeguard the people?
Don't you think that the vow that the Jewish people made to take Yosef's bones with them and bury them in Eretz Yisrael was enough to safeguard Am Yisrael?
I do.


(Coming soon. On my phone memo...)


(Coming soon. On my phone memo...)

Va'eira - The Statements We Stand By

In honor of my granddaughter Hallel Nesyah, who just turned four (ad 120).
We have a rule in our family that in gan we speak Hebrew, but at home, we speak English. Halleli was in gan and learned about the ten plagues. When she came home, she tried to explain to her Ema and Abba what the ganenet said, and she translated it into English.
"Today we learned about froggie boo boos."

In Parshat Va'eira we learn the fundamental difference between the meaning of life for the Jewish people, and that of our enemies. These statements have shaped our lives for the past 3500 years. (Exodus: 6:6-8)
** I am Hashem, and I shall take you out from under the burdens of Egypt;
** I shall rescue you from their service;
** I shall redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments;
** I shall take you to Me for a people and I shall be a G-d to you...
** I shall bring you to the land ...and I shall give it to you as a heritage.
Five positive statements that would mold a nation, and remain as pillars in the identity of the Jewish people forever.
And what are the statements that mold our enemy.
Let us look forward to Parshat Beshallach (Exodus 15:9):
** I will pursue;
** I will overtake;
** I will divide plunder;
** I will satisfy my lust with them;
** I will unsheathe my sword, my hand will impoverish them.
The Jewish people's statements - freedom, faith in G-d, devotion to the Land of Israel.
Our enemy's statements - destruction, perversion and murder.
Thank you, Hashem, for allowing us to be among your nation.


(Coming soon. On my phone memo...)


(Coming soon. On my phone memo...)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Vayigash - Living for Nachas

Parshat Vayigash is my favorite parsha in the Torah. I wait from year to year to read the emotional reunion of Yaakov and his son Yosef. Few things are as sad as the separation of parents and children. So, what could be happier than their reunion?
First we face the moment Yaakov is told that Yosef is still alive. Jacob's sons tell him, "'Joseph is still alive,' also that he is ruler over all the land of Egypt." But his heart rejected this news, until he was shown the wagons (agalot) to bring him to Egypt, and he realized their symbolism. The Eglah arufah was the last topic that Joseph and Jacob studied together before Yosef was sold.
And what happens right after that? HaRav Sholom Gold says, Jacob turned into Israel. He was revitalized, because he discovered that not only is Joseph alive, his son Joseph, who believed in the Torah and was G-d fearing, was still alive..."then the spirit of their father Jacob was revived...And Israel said."
The Yiddishe Nachas that Yaakov gained because of his children, rejuvenated him to the point that he could even have a vision of Hashem - something that hadn't happened since he left Charan.
I know that I live for the opportunity to be together with my children and grandchildren. And when we are together, I do feel younger, more alive and much happier. I know the same goes for my dearest Mother ad 120. 
If you are ever faced with a situation of "Should I" or "Shouldn't I", think of how the right decision will bring nachas to your parents and grandparents. That will actually give them a renewal of physical and spiritual strength. And isn't that worth a good thought.

Mikeitz - Think Before You Speak

One of the most difficult habits to teach ourselves is to think before we speak, watch what we say. Words are not ping pong balls to be batted around without thinking. The world was created with words. Words are alive and meaningful. 
That is why Yaakov's curse came true, even though he had unknowingly cursed his beloved wife, "With whomever you find your gods, he shall not live." (Bereishit: 31:32)
This is why Joseph's interpretations of the baker's and the wine steward's dreams were fulfilled just as Joseph said.
B"H, Joseph knew this. And B"H he was wise enough to learn from the past and correct the failures of our ancestors, and to teach his sons how to incorporate these teachings into their lives as well.
After Joseph "discovers" that his chalice is missing, he sends his officers to chase his brothers and arrest them. Yehuda says foolishly, "Anyone among your servants with whom it is found shall die, and we also will become slaves to my lord." (Bereishit 44:9)
Yosef is wiser than his brother. He above all others has learned the lesson of his father's rash words. They cost Joseph the loss of his mother Rachel.
So, even his officer (his son Menashe) understands the lesson. He corrects Yehuda's rash words "What you say now is also correct. The one with whom it is found shall be my slave..." (Bereishit: 44:10)
There is a lesson to be learned here. Never utter rash words. Think before you speak. And if someone says something foolish to you, reword it to something more positive and less hurtful.
We are all granted a finite amount of words in our lives. Use them carefully.

Parshat Mikeitz - Meet Pharoah

My dvar Torah for parshat Mikeitz is dedicated to the women of the Efrat/Gush Etzion Raise Your Spirits Summer Stock Company, a performance company that I had the zechut to found exactly ten years ago.
Ten years ago Israel was plagued by what it called "The Second Intifada". Arabs were bombing restaurants, buses, city streets and just random places. They were shooting people in their cars, in their homes, wherever. It was a frightening time and one where we all asked ourselves seriously, who shall live and who shall die.
Everyone I knew was broken hearted and it seemed our communities would never heal. I thought that perhaps if we had something happy, exciting, positive to think about and work towards then I would be able to give people the will to go on.
I founded a women's community theater company in June 2001, and I planned a show for September, so that there'd be something to do all summer and something to look forward to that would take everyone's mind off the Arab violence and murder all around us.
Our show was to be JOSEPH and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat - the story of Yosef HaTzaddik and his brothers, Yosef's rise and greatness in Egypt, and the fulfillment of his dreams.
I produced the show and played Pharoah.

In this week's Parsha, Mikeitz, we meet Pharoah, the ruler of Egypt, the most powerful man in the world. While I might have played him comically, Pharoah was wise enough to admit that he himself couldn't solve the mystery of his troubling dream. And once its meaning was revealed, he was wise enough to know that there was one wiser than he, who could and should handle the challenge of the upcoming plenty and famine. And he accepted him on his merits, even though he was a youth, even though he was a Jew, even though he was an ex-prisoner. He was wise enough to do what was best for Egypt, and not what was best for his own ego, or "what will the other countries think..."
“Can there be another person who has G‑d’s spirit in him as this man does?” Pharaoh asks his advisors. “There is none as understanding and wise as you,” he says to Joseph. “You shall be over my house, and according to your word shall all my people be ruled; only by the throne will I outrank you.” (Bereishit 41:38-40)
If you weren't sure that Pharoah is very brilliant, take a look at the upcoming dialogue in next week's parsha, Vayigash, when the king of the physical world meets the king of the spiritual world. It is fascinating, and you will surely agree that Pharoah deserved his kingship.
A last note about this Pharoah. Unlike Moshe's Pharoah who said, "Who is Hashem that I should heed His voice to send out Israel? I do not know Hashem, nor will I send out Israel!", Joseph's Pharoah acknowledges Hashem. When Pharoah summons Joseph to interpret his dream, Yosef says, "This is beyond me; it is G-d Who will respond with Pharoah's welfare."
Pharoah never says, "G-d!! What are you kidding!!!?? Who is your G-d? I've never heard of Him." In fact, when speaking to his courtiers, Pharoah recognizes Hashem, when he says the quote above, “Can there be another person who has G‑d’s spirit in him....?"
That was Pharoah's strength. He was not afraid to recognize the wisdom and abilities of others, or acknowledge the power of G-d. 

Vayeishev - Hands Across Time

The hand of Gd is in everything that happens in the world. Sometimes it is as visible as it was during the Plagues and the Exodus from Egypt.
Sometimes the Hand of G-d is hidden, but still working through the hand of man. Other times perhaps Hashem sits back, so to speak, and watches as His children use their hands for good, or chas v'shalom for evil.
The way we use our hands has positive or negative effects on ourselves, those around us, and even the entire nation.
At the Shabbat table at Seudah Shlishit, my husband gave an fascinating Parshat Vayeishev dvar Torah about hands.
When the brothers wanted to kill Yosef, it says, "Reuven heard and he rescued him from their hand...Reuven said to them, 'Shed no blood!...lay no hand on him!" (Bereishit 37:21,22)
Judah unfortunately had a different idea. "Come let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, but let our hand not be upon him." (Bereishit 37:27)
When Judah's sons Peretz and Zerach were born, the parsha states, "And it happened that as she gave birth, one put out a hand. The midwife took out a crimson thread and tied it on his hand, saying, 'This one emerged first'. And it was as he drew back his hand...afterwards his brother on whose hand was the crimson thread came out; and he called his name Zerach..." (Bereishit 38:27-30)
Fast Forward:
The Jewish nation has just entered the land of Israel. It will have to fight its way through the country in order to conquer it. But B"H until now Hashem has always been on their side. Unfortunately, after the battle of Jericho, a descendant of Zerach also put forth his hand, and he reached for forbidden booty. This sin caused Hashem to become angered with the entire people, and allow Jewish soldiers to be defeated for the first time.
"Achan the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took of the consecrated thing; and the anger of the Lord was kindled against the children of Israel." (Yehoshua 7:1)
Zerach caused the Jewish people to lose a battle - the first battle they ever lost - the battle of Ai. And that is because he put his hands on the spoils.
While Peretz had an ancestor who fought the battles of G-d and the Jewish people. "A Psalm of David. Blessed be the LORD, my rock, Who trains my hands for war, And my fingers for battle;" (Psalm 144:1)

PS - There are more examples, like all those where Yosef is given the responsibility of everything of his master's in his hand. And because he had everything in his hands, and dealt honestly and truthfully, Hashem made Yosef second to the king.

Look at the responsibility of every single thing that is placed in your hands. Your can reach for forbidden things, G-d forbid; you can push ahead of others; you can chas v'shalom harm someone with your hands; you can help others and reach out with your hands. 
Honor your hands, and choose to do good. Not only will you help yourself and others, and perhaps the nation, you will influence your descendants for generations to come.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Vayeishev - Separate and Not Equal

After the fiasco in Parshat Vayeishev that occurred to Joseph and his brothers because of that striped coat, you're probably thinking that I'm going to write about not showing favoritism among children, or perhaps about the need to treat all one's children exactly alike.
I'm not.
We learned from Yitzchak Avinu that we cannot treat each child the same. Perhaps if our Patriarch Yitzchak had given Esav a more appropriate education, sending him to archery school in the morning and then learning a little in the afternoon, all of human history would have been different. All children are different. They have to be educated differently, spoken to differently and simply raised differently. Even though children are raised in the same house, a parent is and must be a different person to each child, according to his needs.
This is something that I have learned from my Dearest Mother, ad 120. And she always says that she's heard the same from her long-time friend Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis.
I learned from my mother to treat each child as the most special, but to give to each what he particularly needs, and not necessarily the same thing as his brother. This is a parent's challenge, and it doesn't end when a child grows. It continues in even more complex ways. Combine this with the fact that one day IY"H if we are blessed, there are grandchildren who must also be treated uniquely and differently, and you see the role of a grandparent is even more complicated than that of a parent.
Forgetting the deeper meanings that we know come from the coat (i.e. each letter of Pasim stands for a terrible event in Joseph's life - Potifar, Socharim [merchants], Ishmaelim and Midianites), do I think that Yaakov should have given Yosef the striped coat? I don't know, but I'm willing to learn more about it.

Vayeishev - Forever Young

This blog is in honor of the good health of our Dearest Mother/Bubby/Great-Grandmother who is always "upbeat" and just got a pacemaker. May she live and be well until 120.
In last week's parsha we met Yosef, little Joseph, who stood up before his mother Rachel to shield her from the eyes of his uncle Esav. This week in Parshat Vayeishev, we meet him once again.
This time we are told that he was 17 years old, "but he was a youth".
The Artscroll Torah Treasury tells us that Reb Aharon (II) of Karlin "suggests that youth is a state of mind, not a chronological period." In fact, the Treasury explains that while King David says in Psalms 37:25, "I have been a youth and also aged," he means that he remained youthful in spirit.
The Treasury adds that the Jewish people are compared to the moon because the moon has found the secret of the "fountain of youth" as it renews itself every month.
It continues with a story about Rabbi Yisrael Shimon Kostelanitz, who when in his mid-80s traveled from Jerusalem to New York for his granddaughter's wedding. "On the same place was Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner, who asked him how he found the strength to make such an arduous journey at his age." The Rav explained in a fascinating way. He quoted the portion of the Akeida when Avraham took with him "his two youths." The Hebrew words are "Shnei Ne'arav". Rav Kostelanitz said that Chassidim translate this, not as his two youths, but as "his younger years." Avraham took with him his younger years.
B"H every Pesach and usually on Chanukah, if not even more often, my Dearest Mother/my children's Bubby/my grandchildren's great-grandmother takes the plane from New York to Jerusalem. The trip is very strenuous. Truthfully, very often, she doesn't feel well for a few days after the trip. Unfortunately sometimes she doesn't feel well on the flight itself, but B"H bli ayin hara, Bubby has done everything she could to come for the holidays and BE"H never to miss a simcha. And we always pray that Hashem should bless her, watch over her and help her feel well enough to make the trip.
People ask, "Bli ayin hara, how does your mother made this difficult trip twice a year?" And now I understand the answer. As a member of the Matmid Club and the King David Club or whatever the names of her special traveler clubs are, Bubby is entitled to bring extra things to Israel. And what does she bring in addition to her suitcases? She brings her "shnai na'arav", her young years.
May Hashem bless Bubby in every way, and keep her young and well, until 120.