Joseph’s tikkun hanefesh

motzei Shabbos: parashas Vayeishev 5782

 “The L-RD was with Joseph, and showed kindness unto him, and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison.” – Genesis 39:21, JPS 1917 Tanach

Joseph was wrongly accused of an indiscretion, that he did not, nor could have committed, not only because of his values; rather, also, because were he to disgrace himself (G-d forbid), he would no longer be worthy to carry on the heritage of his father Jacob, as an exemplar of the Jewish people. Yet, his potential legacy, at the time of his near undoing, was sustained by a vision of his father, at the very moment when he almost gave in to temptation. For this show of resistance, he was wrongly accused by his master’s wife, who had attempted to seduce him.

Having been sent to prison, for upholding the integrity he had acquired, as the son of Jacob, he was favored by H’Shem, who made everything that he did prosper (Genesis 39:23). Thus, he flourished, even in prison, serving as the warden’s right-hand man, taking charge of the prison ward on behalf of the warden. “Joseph was sold as a servant; his feet ached in fetters, his person was laid in iron; until the time that his word came to pass, the word of the L-RD tested him” (Psalms 105:17-19, JPS). Inasmuch as H’Shem tested him, this served as a refinement of his character, otherwise comparable to a tikkun hanefesh (literally, repair of the soul).

Eventually, an event occurred that served as the means to begin his release from prison; two of Pharaoh’s courtiers, who had each offended him, were deposed; thus, they were both placed in prison. One day, Joseph saw that they looked particularly downcast: so, he inquired after their apparent dejectedness. They explained that each of them had dreamt a dream; however, neither of them could interpret their own dreams.

Consequently, Joseph interpreted their dreams, revealing that one of them would be restored to his position, yet, the other courtier would be executed for his offense. Joseph’s interpretation proved to be accurate; and, the wine bearer was restored to his former position. Joseph had asked him to put in a good word for him (see Genesis 40:14-15); yet, it wasn’t until two years later, that the wine bearer conveniently remembered.

motzei Shabbos: Chevlei Moshiach

motzei Shabbos: parashas Vayishlach 5782 – Chevlei Moshiach (Birthpangs of Messiah)

“She called his name Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin.”

 – Genesis 35:18, JPS 1917 Tanach

On the way from Beth-el to Eprath, Rachel went into labor with great hardship. The midwife assured her, that she would indeed have a son. As Rachel’s soul was expiring, she named her son, Ben-oni, meaning, “son of my sorrow.” However, Jacob named him Benjamin, meaning “son of my right hand.” The intent of Jacob, in emphasizing the positive side of the birth, was to reaffirm the sanctity of life. May our eyes be opened to this truth. Despite the tragic circumstances of the birth of Benjamin, the positive was emphasized, without diminishing the loss.

Even so, Jacob was distressed by the passing of Rachel, who died while giving birth to Benjamin. The prophet Jeremiah, speaking about the Keitz (the End of Days) alludes to Jacob’s distress, whereas he says, “And it is a time of trouble unto Jacob, but out of it shall he be saved” (Jeremiah 30:4-7). The sages explain that this prophecy refers to the chevlei Mashiach (birthpangs of Messiah). As mentioned in the Talmud, the time that precedes the reign of the Messiah from Jerusalem will be a period of diminished light, immorality, and lack of social cohesion (as mentioned in Sanhedrin 97a).

Yet, K’lal Yisrael, when standing within the light of H’Shem will prevail. “Therefore fear thou not, O Jacob My servant, saith the L-RD; neither be dismayed, O Israel; for, lo, I will save thee from afar, and thy seed from the land of their captivity; and Jacob shall again be quiet and at ease, and none shall make him afraid. For I am with thee, saith the L-RD, to save thee” (Jeremiah 30:10-11, JPS).

Jacob and Esau

motzei Shabbos shiur for parashas Vayishlach 5782

Jacob and Esau. Their encounter. Their embrace; and, yet, there will always be enmity between Jacob and Esau (through their descendants).

Camping with the Angels

motzei Shabbos: parashas Vayeitzei 5782

“And Jacob went on his way, and the angels of G-d met him. “And Jacob said when he saw them: ‘This is G-d’s camp.’ And he called the name of that place Mahanaim.” – Genesis  32:2-3, JPS

An impasse was reached in the life of Jacob after his encounter with Laban at Mitzpah. This might also be thought of as a brief moment of respite, between the danger that had passed, regarding the threat of Laban, and the impending encounter between Jacob and Esau. After making a covenant with Laban to guard against future infringements against either of their sense of autonomy (Genesis 31:52), Laban departs, returning to his place, after having pursued Jacob, who, himself is on his way back to his father Isaac, bringing along with him, his wives and children. The Torah records, immediately following his treaty with Laban, that angels of Elokim (G-d) met him; so, he ascribes the name mahanaim to that place.

Literally, mahanaim means two camps; commentators note that this implies that two camps of angels met with Jacob. The first camp of angels were those that had accompanied him along the way from Laban’s land, where he had lived for twenty years; the second camp of angels are said to be those who will now accompany him into Eretz Canaan. Another rendering may be made as follows: that in the plain sense, perhaps, the name mahanaim refers to the two camps that met immediately preceding the appearance of the angels. That is the camp of Jacob and his family, who had set out to return home; and, the camp of Laban and his men, who pursued Jacob when he learned that he fled.

Where they actually met, and made a covenant after the confrontation, is referred to as Mitzpah, meaning “watchtower.” This place is mentioned later in kitvei kodesh (holy scripture) and seems to have continued to be a type of boundary marker between two peoples, the Israelites and the Ammonites. Thus the presence of the angels may concern the peace that is hoped to ensue after narrowly averting a potential conflict. Either way, in a more general sense, another implication may be the reassurance from G-d, that he watches over us in times of trouble, as he watched over Jacob. “For He will give His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways” (Psalm 91:11, JPS).

“This heap is witness between me and thee this day. Therefore was the name of it called Galeed; and Mizpah, for he said: ‘The L-RD watch between me and thee, when we are absent one from another.”

– Genesis 31:48-49, JPS 1917 Tanach

Turn of Events

motzei Shabbos: parashas Toldos 5782

Overall, Isaac must have recognized that he who received the blessing of the firstborn, was meant to receive that blessing, when he said, “he shall be blessed,” referring to Jacob, who used deceit to obtain the blessing. The gist of the meaning of Isaac’s words is “he shall remain blessed.” Did Isaac have an epiphany at that moment, that compelled him to acknowledge that Jacob was the one who was divinely meant to receive the blessing? Consider that the midrash says that when Jacob, who was wearing goat pelts, drew near to Isaac to receive the blessing, Isaac smelled the perfume of Gan Eden ((Garden of Eden).

The midrash further explains that when Esau entered Isaac’s tent, shortly after Jacob who received the blessing left, “Isaac trembled very exceedingly,” because he “saw” Gehenna opened up beneath Esau. In the plain sense of the verse, Isaac trembled, when he realized, he had already given the blessing away to Jacob. Yet, the drift of the midrash may be understood to imply that in an instant, Isaac realized that Esau was not worthy of receiving the blessings because his character did not reflect the values deemed appropriate for the next patriarch of the family.

The Ramban (Nachmanides) concedes that Isaac knew through the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) that indeed the blessing rested upon Jacob when given to him. So, briefly put, “it was meant to be.” Therefore, Isaac accepted the turn of events as hasgacha peratis (divine guidance). For, unbenownst to Isaac, Rebecca had previously recevied a prophecy from H’Shem, that “the older would serve the younger” (Genesis ). In other words, that Esau would serve Jacob. And, so, she felt it necessary to make sure this outcome would take effect, by insisting that Jacob listen to her words, when she told him to pretend to be Esau, in order to obtain the blessing of the firstborn.

motzei Shabbos: Chayei Olam

Introduction:

“If those who never lived, now live, surely those who have lived, will live again!”

– Geviha ben Pesisa; found in R’Nissan Dovid Dubov’s To Live and Live Again

In this commentary, the miraculous nature of the Tehillas HaMeism (Resurrection of the Dead) is compared to the miracle of life itself. Do we ever stop to think about this? Judaism teaches that before a soul is fused with the newborn, that soul is waiting in the treasury of souls, to enter this world, upon being assigned a mission. This journey, and the subsequent placing of the soul in a body – if we consider for a moment this amazing feat – is astounding beyond compare; for, where there was no life, there is now a life brought into the world. How much more so should we be able to wonder at the ability of G-d to restore the soul to the body, after the body has been resurrected? And, yet, in reflecting on this, one may begin to ponder even more, whether life itself or life after death is more miraculous.

parashas Chayei Sarah

selected passages: Genesis 23:1-20, 25:7-10

In parashas Chayei Sarah, meaning, the “Life of Sarah,” there appears to be an immediate incongruous passage, at the beginning of the parashas. While the first pasuk (verse) notes how many years made up Sarah’s life, the very next verse mentions that she passed away. The following passage continues with a narrative concerning Abraham’s mourning for her, and subsequent challenge in obtaining a proper burial place for her. Yet, hidden within the very first Hebrew word of the parashas, is a remez (hint) towards the naming of the parashas having to do with the life of Sarah: vayihyu, meaning “life,” according to R’ Bachya implies “something that exists permanently,” thereby, it could be inferred that this hints towards the understanding that her soul would “take up permanent residence in the celestial regions” (R. Bachya, commentary on Genesis 23:1, sefaria.org). Thus, the title of the parashas, Chayei Sarah (the Life of Sarah) points toward the reward of chayei olam – eternal life – for the righteous.

This perspective on the hidden meaning of the parashas, is further exemplified by a reference to chayei olam (eternal life), in regard to the life of Abraham: “And Abraham expired, and died in a good old age, an old man, and full of years; and was gathered to his people” (Genesis 25:8). This phrase, “gathered to his people” (vayei’asef el amayv) is likened by Sforno to the bundle of life: “the bundle of souls who are part of the life after death” (Sforno, sefaria.org). Sforno continues, “there are all kinds of different spiritual levels among the righteous souls; not all attained the same level of righteousness while on earth, although all of them share the experience of enjoying eternal life” (Sforno, commentary on Genesis 25:8, sefaria.org).

Abraham, the Hebrew – Part Two

motzei Shabbos: parashas Vayeira 5782

There is an added dimension of Judaism that can be learned from the example of Abraham, when he is not cast in the light as being the first Jew. Words have connotations that can sometimes be misleading when the word is applied in a more general manner than its normal usage. Case in point, in regard to Abraham, who led an exemplary life, about four hundred years, before the Torah was given. How was he able to live in a manner that exceeded the level of morality of that generation? One answer is found in the phrase, derech eretz (literally, “way of the land”), that connotes being a mentch (good person), inclusive of basic ethics, a sense of responsibility, and consideration of others. In fact, this is considered to be a prerequisite for the observance of mitzvoth (commandments, as per found in the Torah). So, the lives of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob serve as examples of derech eretz, whereof we can learn the basic positive character traits that G-d would expect of us, before we even place ourselves, figuratively speaking, of course, at the base of Mount Sinai, where the Torah was given.

Yet, if Abraham is cast in the framework of being the first Jew, as if being Jewish were synonymous with the observance of the mitzvoth, then we will totally miss the point of what the moral legacy of Abraham has to offer us. Furthermore, above all else, Abraham exemplified emunah in the form of his faithfulness towards H’Shem, as demonstrated by his obedience to H’Shem’s directive, when tested ten times throughout his life. Torah specifically states, about Abraham, “And he believed in the L-RD; and He counted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). Therefore, let us not forget the primacy of emunah (faith) in our lives, when considering our own relationship to H’Shem. Is this faith also a prerequisite to the observance of Torah? If we consider the nature of the first commandment, then faith is primary, as stated, “I am the L-RD your G-d,” a declarative statement that according to commentary implies that the first commandment is the directive to believe in G-d; only then, to receive the mitzvoth based upon the authority of the One who  gave us the commandments at Sinai.

Abraham, the Hebrew

motzei Shabbos: parashas Lech Lecha 5782

“Abram the Hebrew – now he dwelt by the terebinths of Mamre.”

– Genesis 14:13, JPS 1917 Tanach

I would like to give a brief shpiel, in regard to the designation of Abraham as an Ivri. This word, denoting his ethnicity, as it were, is transliterated as “Hebrew.” And, in fact, if somebody speaks Ivrit, that means he speaks the Hebrew language. While for all intended purposes, on behalf of those who would like to instill a sense of continuity into Judaism, by claiming that Abraham was the first Jew, this is not actually the case, according to the most basic chronology in regard to the use of the word, Jew, as referring to a specific population or adherent of the religion referred to as Judaism. It would be more to say that Abraham was the first monotheist, as will be shown later in the discussion on the actual meaning of the word, Ivri.

The term Jew is derived from Judah, who was one of the twelve sons of Jacob. Each of the twelve tribes of Jacob consisted of persons who were referred to as members of their particular tribes, such Benjamites, Ephraimites, and Danites. So, a Judahite would have specifically been a member of the tribe of Judah. Not until sometime after the destruction of the first temple, and the seventy year exile, did the term Judahite become a more general designation. Why? Because, primarily, only members of the tribe of Judah and Benjamin returned to Israel after the seventy year exile – the Judahites, being the more populous tribe.

So, what is the significance of pointing out the difference between the words, ivri and Jew, inclusive of their actual use in history, as opposed to placing meanings upon them, derived from a perspective that recasts, specifically, the word “Ivri” in a quasi-religious light? One benefit is clear, in regard to being able to draw out the actual implications of the word Ivri (Hebrew), that referred to Abraham, and his descendants, who also became known as Israelites. For example, the word Ivri is said to mean “the other side;” thus, Abraham was from the other side of the Euphrates River (Rashi; Genesis Rabbah 42:8). From a symbolic perspective, commentary notes that Abraham was on the other side, in regard to his newfound monotheistic faith, while the rest of the world was steeped in idolatry.

Another point of significance is to make clear that the word Jew, eventually designated the same people known as Hebrews and Israelites, only many generations later, while living in the land of Israel, during the second Temple period. Yet, even to think of Abraham’s descendants living in Israel at that time as Jews, in the same sense that we think of ourselves today, would not be exactly correct either. Namely, because there was no religion, per se, in and of itself, called Judaism at that time. What we think of as the Jewish religion today, was simply the national way of life at the time, mostly centered around Temple worship, as well as synagogues that had been established around the country. The Judaism that we practice today is the result and consequence of our expulsion from Israel after the second Temple was destroyed in 70  C.E. At that time, a center of learning was established in a city called Yavneh, where the sages learned, and from where the Mishnah was eventually codified. Centuries later, Judaism continued to flourish, because of the continuity provided for by way of the Talmud, the observance of the mitzvoth (commandments), and the traditions.

motzei Shabbos: Noach 5782

 “And the L-RD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”

– Genesis 6:5, JPS 1917 Tanach

“Ten generations from Adam to Noah, in order to make known what long-suffering is His; for all those generations kept on provoking Him, until He brought upon them the waters of the flood.”

– Pirkei Avos 5:2, sefaria.org

“In G-d’s long-suffering we can learn a lesson of patience and forgiveness. Even though in the end G-d did decide to destroy the world, He did not do so immediately, but gave the world a chance to repent“ (English Explanation of Mishnah; sefaria.org). Therefore, we can see that G-d is not only just; he is also merciful. It is only fair to give others a second chance in life, as G-d did with the generation of the Flood. On a personal level, although we do not know what the person being forgiven will do in the future, it is up to us to attempt to amend the situation. And, moreover, to caution others against aveiros (sins), and expound upon the importance of teshuvah (repentance), is humane. We can not foresee whether others will do teshuvah or not; yet, we must give others the opportunity to mend their ways.

motzei Shabbos: Bereishis 5782

parashas Bereishis 5782

parashas Bereishis, plus a brief introduction to Noach.

G-d’s Divine Attributes, Imitatio Dei, mankind’s raison d’etre.

Middos (character traits); both negative and positive examples,

as exemplified within the narrative of the Book of Genesis.