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the Three Wells

parashas Toledos 3rd aliyah

(Genesis 26:13-22)

by Tzvi Schnee

November 26, 2019

28 Chesvan 5780

Isaac relocates from the land of the Philistines, after being subjected to their envy of him, for Isaac “had possessions of flocks, and possessions of herds, and a great household; and the Philistines envied him” (Genesis 26:14, JPS 1917 Tanach). Then, “Abimelech said unto Isaac: ‘Go from us; for thou art much mightier than we'” (Genesis 26:16, JPS).

So, Isaac travelled to the valley of Gerar. While there his servants found a “well of living water” while digging in the valley (Genesis 26:19, JPS). However, the local herdmen contended with the herdmen of Isaac. They claimed that the water was theirs; so, Isaac named the well Esek, meaning “contention” (26:20).

The second well dug by Isaac’s herdmen also garnered strife with the locals; so, that well was named Sitnah, meaning “enmity” (Genesis 26:22). A third well was found, wherein there were no complaints. This well was named Rehoboth, meaning “room” (Genesis 26:22), seemingly denoting the area of land where Isaac settled, free of previous complications. A place with room to breathe, and space to grow (spiritually).

According to commentary, the three wells represent the three Temples. The first Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians, who razed it to the ground (2 Chronicles 36:19). The second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 C.E. The Third Beis HaMikdash (Temple), will be built in Yerushalayim (Jerusalem; Ezekiel 40-48), when there will be peace (Ramban).

“And many peoples shall go and say: ‘Come ye, let us go up to the mountain of the L-RD, to the house of the G-d of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His path.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the L-RD from Jerusalem.” – Isaiah 2:3, JPS 1917 Tanach

Separate Paths


parashas Toldos highlight

by Tzvi Schnee
November 25, 2019

(17 Chesvan 5780)

“And the boys grew; and Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field; and Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents.”

– Genesis 25:27, JPS 1917 Tanach

With regard to the plain meaning of the pasuk (verse), Esau was an ambitious person, not content to settle down in one place for the days of his life; rather, he enjoyed the thrill of pursuit in the field, chasing game, showing his skillful prowess in hunting. On the contrary, Jacob is described as an ish tam (a simple or wholesome man). He lived in tents, inasmuch that he tended his nearby flocks, living a life characterized by faith, with many opportunities to reflect on G-d in the quietness of the day, provided by the solitary nature of the life of a shepherd.

According to the sages, Esau’s ambitious nature was fraught with wickedness. He is compared to Nimrod, who built Babel, and expanded his kingdom from there, subjugating men along the way, in the name of progress. Esau eventually became the forerunner of the Edomites, whose descendants were the Romans. Yet, Jacob, whose character reflected the traits best known to be in alignment with the moral integrity of Abraham, was the prime candidate to take on the position of the next Patriarch:

“Let peoples serve thee, And nations bow down to thee. Be lord over thy brethren, And let thy mother’s sons bow down to thee. Cursed be every one that curseth thee, And blessed be every one that blesseth thee.”

– Genesis 27:29, JPS 1917 Tanach

The Battle Within


The Battle Within, by Tzvi Schnee

“And the children struggled together within her; and she said: ‘If it be so, wherefore do I live?’ And she went to inquire of the L-RD. And the L-RD said unto her: Two nations are in thy womb, And two peoples shall be separated from thy bowels; And the one people shall be stronger than the other people; And the elder shall serve the younger.”

-Genesis 25:22-23, JPS 1917 Tanach

Even before their birth, Jacob and Esau contended against each other; “the children struggled together” within the womb of Rebekah; “and she said: ‘If it be so, wherefore do I live?’ And she went to inquire of the L-RD” (see above, Genesis 22:22). H’Shem (the L-RD; literally, the Name), responded to Rebekah’s inquiry as a concerned parent, and the next Matriarch of the Jewish people, “Two nations are in thy womb, and the two peoples shall be separated from thy bowels” (Genesis 22:23). These are the nations and peoples that would descend from Jacob and Esau. Jacob’s descendants would be the twelve tribes of Israel (the name given later to Jacob); and, Esau’s descendants would be the Edomites.

Although, on the literal level, the prophecy given to Rebekah refers to the enmity that would persist throughout the ages between the descendants of Jacob and Esau, on a metaphorical level, the struggle between Jacob and Esau in their mother’s womb indicates a battle between the forces of good and evil. This same struggle exists within every human being: the battle between the yetzer tov (good inclination), and the yetzer harah (evil inclination). When we become conscious of this inner conflict, we may realize that while we have the opportunity to good in any given moment, there is a part of us that resists our inclination to do what is right on the level of morality.

As the prophecy concludes, “the elder will serve the younger” (Genesis 22:23); in other words, the descendants of the wicked Esau will serve the righteous descendants of Jacob; so, we should also aspire to compel our evil inclination to be subservient to our good inclination. H’Shem has given mankind free will, so that we can choose what is right, despite the opposing inclination within us. As is written, “I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before thee life and death, the blessing and the curse; therefore choose life, that thou mayest live, thou and thy seed” (Deuteronomy 30:19, JPS 1917 Tanach).

soul connection

by Tzvi Schnee

Our very souls are connected to G-d. This is in accord with the teachings of chasidism, regarding the soul, whereby the highest level of the soul, the yechida, is directly attached to G-d. We are not entities, separated from G-d; except, when we sin: “Your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you” (Isaiah 59:2, JPS 1917 Tanach). Even so, by way of teshuvah (repentance), we have the opportunity to restore our relationship with G-d.

Victor Frankl wrote that man’s conscience is connected to something greater than himself. This implies, as in the Chasidic model of the soul, that there is an in-built, permanent connection to G-d. Yet, it is understood, in regard to the conscience, that over time through sinful behavior, man’s conscience becomes dulled. This is an effect of the separation that occurs as a result of sin; it is as if to say, that sin damages the soul, resulting in a felt distance between us and G-d.

It is mentioned by chazal (the sages), that teshuvah (repentance) is the remedy for this particular sickness of the soul. Indeed, as mentioned in the Talmud, teshuvah was created even before G-d created the world (Nedarim 9b). In other words, He created the remedy before the sickness appeared, with the sin of Adam and Chava (Eve). “Return unto Me, and I will return unto you, saith the L-RD of hosts” (Malachi 3:7, JPS 1917 Tanach).

Abraham’s Life


Chayei Sarah 6th aliyah
(Genesis 25:1-11)

November 22, 2019 (24 Chesvan 5780)
by Tzvi Schnee

“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, JPS 1917 Tanach

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, all of whom the righteous of the various generations who were like him in lifestyle” (Sforno, commentary on Genesis 25:8,

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,

The “bundle of life” (biz’ror hachayim) that he refers to is found in reference to a prayer expressing the intent of Abigail, David’s future wife, for the eternal well-being of David:

“Yet the soul of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of life with the L-RD thy G-d”

– Samuel 25:29, JPS 1917 Tanach

Isaac’s Meditation


Chayei Sarah 5th aliyah
(Genesis 24:53-67)

Isaac’s Meditation, by Tzvi Schnee
November 21, 2019 (23 Chesvan 5780)

“And Isaac came from the way of Beer-lahai-roi; for he dwelt in the land of the South. And Isaac went out to meditate in the field at the eventide; and he lifted up his eyes, and saw, and, behold, there were camels coming.

– Genesis 24:62-63, JPS 1917 Tanach

After the Akeidah (the Binding of Isaac), there is no mention of Isaac until the Torah mentions, “And Isaac came from the way of Beer-lahai-roi.” In English, “the Well of the Living One Who Appeared to Me.” This is where Hagar was banished to temporarily; she prayed there to H’Shem, Who answered her prayer. It is conjectured by chazal (the sages), that Isaac, during the long wait for Eliezer to find a wife for him, Isaac prayed at the location of that well, for Eliezer’s mission to be successful.

Afterwards, he apparently went to Hebron, where he “went out to meditate in the field.” It is commented upon that this is the field of Machpaleh, located in Hebron, where his mother Sarah was buried. Therefore, it could be understood that he was praying near his mother’s kever (grave), in hope of his beshert (soulmate), being found through H’Shem’s intervention (see Eliezer’s Prayer).

Because Isaac meditated (read prayed) in the field “at the eventide,” i. e., towards evening, the minchah (afternoon prayer) is credited to him. Additionally, the notion that he prayed at his mother’s kever, indicates how through her merit Isaac’s prayers ascended to H’Shem. Praying at the keverim (graves) of the tzaddikim (righteous persons) is a long-established tradition within Judaism.

Based on a d’var Torah for Chayei Sarah,

entitled, “So What was Yitzchak Doing?”

21 November 2019

by Chief Rabbi Mirvis,

(reposted from Clear Horizons)

Eliezer’s Gratitude


Chayei Sarah 4th aliyah (Genesis 24:27-52)

November 20, 2019 (22 Chesvan 5780)

by Tzvi Schnee

“And the man bowed his head, and prostrated himself before the L-RD. And he said: ‘Blessed be the L-RD, the G-d of my master Abraham, who hath not forsaken His mercy and His truth toward my master; as for me, the L-RD hath led me in the way to the house of my master’s brethren.’”

– Genesis 24:27, JPS 1917 Tanach

Eliezer, Abraham’s servant attributes the success of his mission – to find a wife for Isaac – to the providence of H’Shem. His guidance led Eliezer to the well, at the moment when Rebekah was going there with her pitcher for drawing water. This is in accord with Abraham’s original words to Eliezar, before sending him on the mission:

“The L-RD, the G-d of heaven, who took me from my father’s house, and from the land of my nativity, and who spoke unto me, and who swore unto me, saying: Unto thy seed will I give this land; He will send His angel before thee, and thou shalt take a wife for my son from thence.”

– Genesis 24:7, JPS 1917 Tanach

The nature of the mission was of the greatest importance, and in the forefront of Abraham’s mind, after his wife, Sarah passed away. The opportunity to find a wife for Isaac, a wife who would become the next matriarch, needed divine intervention. Abraham entrusted Eliezer with the practical concerns that would ensue on the journey; yet, the success of the mission was entrusted to H’Shem.

(reposted from Clear Horizons)

Eliezer’s Prayer

Chayei Sarah 3rd aliyah (Genesis 24:10-26)

November 19, 2019 (21 Chesvan 5780)

by Tzvi Schnee

“And the servant took ten camels, of the camels of his master, and departed; having all goodly things of his master’s in his hand.”

– Genesis 24:10, JPS 1917 Tanach

Eliezar, Abraham’s servant set off with ten camels, laden with the dowry that would be shown to the family of the woman who would marry Abraham’s son, Isaac. As of yet, who that woman would be was only known to G-d. It was Abraham’s will to find a wife for Isaac from amongst his own relatives, so that she would exemplify the character traits worthy of the next matriarch.

“And he made the camels to kneel down without the city by the well of the water at the time of evening, the time that women go out to draw water.”

– Genesis 24:11, JPS 1917 Tanach

Eliezar prayed, a prayer to H’Shem, designed to test the character of the woman who would respond: “Let it come to pass, that the damsel to whom I shall say: Let down thy pitcher, I pray thee, that I may drink; and she shall say: Drink, and I will give thy camels drink also; let the same be she that Thou hast appointed for thy servant, even for Isaac; and thereby shall I know that Thou hast shown kindness unto thy master” (Genesis 24:24:14).

It should be emphasized that Eliezar was not requesting a sign from G-d; rather, he wanted proof that Isaac’s wife-to-be would demonstrate kindness, consideration, and selflessness; in effect, that her character be one imbued with chesed. Thus requested, thus done; before he was finished with his request to H’Shem, his prayer had already been answered: “Rebekah came out, who was born to Bethuel the son of Milcah, the wife of Nachor, Abraham’s brother, with her pitcher upon her shoulder” (Genesis 24:15).

(reposted from Clear Horizons)

Spiritual Reward

(reposted from Clear Horizons)

Chayei Sarah, 2nd aliyah (Genesis 23:17 – 24:9)

November 18, 2019 (20 Chesvan 5780)

by Tzvi Schnee

“And Abraham was old, well stricken in age; and the L-RD had blessed Abraham in all things.”

– Genesis 24:1, JPS 1917 Tanach

According to the Talmud, where it is written that Abraham was blessed “in all things,” this includes “a taste of Olam Haba” (the World to Come), as mentioned in Bava Batra 17a ( Truly, a blessing only for the sake of this life, albeit a show of G-d’s providence, would only be a partial blessing, if it excluded a blessing in the next life.

This assertion may be substantiated by the Talmudic viewpoint on the subject of rewards for mitzvoth (good deeds). Tractate Shabbos explains, that the principle reward for certain mitzvoth is in Olam Haba (the World to Come), while there is still some reward in this world as well (Shabbat 127a).

Rambam asserts that, concerning the mitzvoth between G-d and man, the reward is in Olam Haba, while there is some reward for mitzvoth between man and man in this world (Olam HaZeh), where the tangible benefits may be received by others (Shabbat 127a, Steinsaltz edition).

Thus, we are given the opportunity to perform mitzvoth in this world, to live a life of righteousness; yet, it is clear that there is a strong expectation for a good place in Olam Haba (the World to Come). May we also be blessed like Abraham, by keeping in mind that our mitzvoth (good deeds) do carry the weight of eternal value.

Sarah’s Life

(reposted from Clear Horizons)

Chayei Sarah, 1st aliyah (Genesis 23:1-16)

November 17, 2019 (19 Chesvan 5780)

by Tzvi Schnee

The parashas begins with the death of Sarah, a seemingly disconnected beginning to a narrative entitled Chayei Sarah – the Life of Sarah. Yet, Torah is always pointing towards significant truths below the surface of the text. Like the ocean, Torah’s depths appear to be unfathomable; yet, let’s take a look at this particular mystery, concerning the apparent incongruity of title and narrative.

The first word of the parashas, vayechi, meaning “life,” according to R. Bachya implies “something that exists permanently,” thereby, it could be inferred that this hints toward the understanding that her soul would “take up permanent residence in the celestial regions” (R. Bachya, commentary on Genesis 23:1, Therefore, Sarah’s soul lives on, in Olam Haba (the World-to-Come).

In this respect, Chayei Sarah, the Life of Sarah may be understood as an implicit message or remez (hint), concerning Sarah’s continued existence in Olam Haba. Thus the title of the parashas points to the promise of an Afterlife, for the righteous in the World-to-Come.

“So He redeemeth his soul from going into the pit, and his life beholdeth the light.”

– Job 33:28 JPS 1917 Tanach