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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).

The Deference of Jacob

“And Jacob sent messengers.”

– Genesis 32:4, JPS 1917 Tanach

“This parasha was written to show how H’Shem saved his servant from a stronger foe, and sent his angels to rescue him. In addition, it teaches us that he [Jacob] didn’t rely on his righteousness, and made every effort to save himself.” – Ramban, sefaria.org

Previously, the Torah speaks of two camps of angels, one that accompanied Jacob to the edge of the land of Canaan, and another camp that served to accompany him and his entourage once they entered Canaan, the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and their descendants (see Genesis 32: 2-3). Now, at the beginning of parashas Vayishlach, the Torah, seemingly so, alludes to these angels that were assigned for protective measures (Genesis 32:4).

“Jacob sent messengers [malachim] before him to Esau his brother unto the land of Seir, the field of Edom” (Genesis 32:4, JPS). The Hebrew word, malachim can mean messengers or angels. In the literal sense, Jacob sent messengers to Esau; yet, on another level, the angels granted to him for protection may have also gone ahead of Jacob’s entourage.

Regardless of the interpretation, if Jacob had the opportunity to seek divine protection from angels who would actually defend his entourage, he did not rely on this; rather, he made a three-fold preparation for an encounter with Esau: prayers, appeasement, and a defensive strategy. He prayed to H’ Shem for deliverance from the hands of Esau; sent gifts to Esau to appease his resentment; and he divided the camp, so that if one camp was attacked, the other would have the opportunity to escape. Although Jacob could have prevailed upon H’Shem to rescue him through an angelic force, he chose humility, by subjecting himself in all deference to his brother, Esau.

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

Immanent and Transcendent

parashas Vayeitzei (Genesis 28:10 – 32:3) 5782

Jacob journeys on foot to Haran, in order to take a wife from his own kindred. Along the way, he encounters the place (hamakom). He “spent the night there, for the sun had set” (Genesis 28:11). “And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of G-d were ascending and descending on it” (Genesis 28:12). This ascent and descent of the angels upon the ladder in Jacob’s dream may be understood as being symbolic of prayer (Sforno).

Consider that this place (hamakom) is described as “the House of G-d,” and ”the gate of heaven” (Genesis 28:17). So, a parallel may be drawn between this place (hamakom) on earth, and “the place (hamakom),” used to describe where the L-RD resides in Shomayim (Heaven): “Blessed be the glory of the L-RD from His place (makom)” (Ezekiel 3:12, JPS 1917 Tanach).

Additionally, both the first and second temples were built on this very same spot. When Solomon built the first Temple, he gave a speech, stating, “I have surely built Thee a house of habitation, a place for thee to dwell in for ever” (1 Kings 8:13, JPS 1917 Tanach). Contrast these words, spoken by King Solomon when he inaugurated the first Temple, with his words, later in his speech: “But will G-d in very truth dwell on the earth? behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain Thee; how much less this house that I have builded” (1 Kings 8:27, JPS).

This contrast points to the understanding found in the Talmud, that G-d may be both transcendent, in His place (hamakom) in Heaven, and immanent, for example, when His Presence, the Shechinah appeared at the Beis HaMikdash (Temple). “And it came to pass, when the priests were come out of the holy place, that the cloud filled the house of the L-RD, so that the priests could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud; for the glory [kavod] of the L-RD filled the house of the L-RD” (1 Kings 8:10-11, JPS).

The Talmud further notes that even though G-d resides in Shomayim (Heaven), He can still hear the whispered prayers of a penitent, standing near a column, during a prayer service at a synagogue. Perhaps, the column itself suggests a connection between heaven earth.

Nevertheless, for many people, G-d seems to be distant, far away from the mundane business and chatter of the world. This dilemma may be approached through finding the opportunity to speak to G-d, from the depths of the heart, preferably, during a quiet time set aside for this purpose. Although, even in the sanctuaries of prayer today, the service allows for an individual connection to G-d, when we resolve ourselves to tune out any distractions within or without.

The Foundation Stone

“And he lighted upon the place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set; and he took one of the stones of the place, and put it under his head, and lay down in that place to sleep.”

– Genesis 28:11, JPS 1917 Tanach

The word lighted, “and he lighted upon the place,” in Hebrew is vayifgah, from the shoresh (root word), paga. According to chazal, the word implies prayer; hence, the origin of the evening prayer being attributed to Jacob. Therefore, this event in Jacob’s life was the precedent for prayer, the third prayer of the day, that marks the transition from day to night.

What significance does this particular prayer serve? Within the context of the evening shema, the prayer draws emphasis to G-d’s faithfulness to Israel; we remind ourselves of His faithfulness to us, because darkness signifies the exile; yet, He is with us, as He was in the past: “In all their affliction He was afflicted” (Isaiah 63:9).

The stones that Jacob placed around his head, twelve stones, are said in the midrash to have been taken from the mizbeach (altar) made by Abraham. The next morning, Jacob “took the stone that he had put under his head, and set it up for a pillar” (Genesis 28:18). In other words, of the twelve stones that he originally placed under his head he took the stone, one specific stone. Although, according to the midrash, symbolically, the twelve stones became one, representing the unity of the twelve tribes of Israel.

According to Pirkei de Rabbi Eliezer, this stone was given the name evehn shetiyah (the foundation stone), many generations later. This stone symbolizes the center of the world, from where all the earth was created. Jacob poured oil on this stone, so that it could be used as a mizbeach (altar), later, when he would return from his journey to Haran. This location is where the first and second Temples stood, many generations after Jacob. It is also where the third Temple will be built in Jerusalem.

As mentioned above, the maariv (evening) prayer, recited after nightfall, is a reminder of H’Shem’s faithfulness to us, during this Galus, i.e., the current exile. With our hope focused on the time of the Final Redemption, we may look forward to the time when K’lal Yisrael (All of Israel) will be united. “And He will set up an ensign for the nations, and will assemble the dispersed of Israel, and gather together the scattered of Judah” (Isaiah 11:12, JPS 1917 Tanach).

“‘Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit, saith the L-RD of hosts. He shall bring forth the top stone with shoutings of Grace, grace upon it.’” – Zechariah 4:6-7

The Annointed Stone

parashas Vayeitzei 5782

“And he lighted upon the place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set; and he took one of the stones of the place, and put it under his head, and lay down in that place to sleep.”

– Genesis 28:11, JPS 1917 Tanach

On his journey to Charan, to find a wife, Jacob rested at hamakom (the place). He placed a stone underneath his head, went to sleep, and dreamt of a ladder spanning earth and heaven. Angels ascended and descended upon the ladder. When he awoke, he said “this is none other than the house of G-d, and this is the gate of heaven.’ And Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put under his head, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it” (Genesis 28:17-18, JPS).

According to the Talmud, it is here that the Foundation Stone was located, since the beginning of the earth’s creation; for it was from hamakom (the place) that the world itself was created (Yoma 54b). According to Pirkei de Rabbi Eliezer, this stone was given the name evehn shetiyah (foundation stone), many generations later.

This stone symbolizes the center of the world, from where all the earth was created. Jacob poured oil on this stone, so that it could be used as a mizbeach (altar), later, when he would return from his journey to Haran. This location is also where the first and second Temples stood, many generations after Jacob. Additionally, this is where the third Temple will be built in Jerusalem.

What is the significance of the foundation stone? “Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a costly corner-stone of sure foundation” (Isaiah 28:16, JPS). Actually, the original Hebrew verse is written in the prophetic past tense; Rashi comments, “a decree has been decreed before Me, and I have set up the King Messiah, who shall be in Zion as an אֶבֶן בּוֹחֵן, a fortress stone, an expression of a fortress and strength” (Complete Jewish Tanach with Rashi Commentary; chabad.org).

Prayer Ladder

parashas Vayeitzei 5782

“And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold the angels of G-d ascending and descending on it.”

– Genesis 28:12, JPS 1917 Tanach

Prayer is a means of communication, between man and G-d – a connection between earth and heaven. The gateway to G-d’s abode in Heaven was revealed to Jacob. “And, behold, the L-RD stood beside him, and said; ‘I am the L-RD, the G-d of Abraham thy father, and the G-d of Isaac. The land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed” (Genesis 28:13). In addition to this promise, H’Shem also reassured Jacob, that He would safeguard him, and bring him back into the land (Genesis 28:15).

The place of Jacob’s revelation was none other than the place, mentioned earlier in Torah, where Abraham brought up Isaac as an offering. Mt. Moriah, the place where Isaac was bound, is also where Jacob dreamt of a ladder reaching towards Shomayin (Heaven). When he awoke, he said, “this is none other than the house of G-d, and this is the gate of heaven” (Genesis 28:17, JPS 1917 Tanach).

Rashi comments, based upon Pirkei DeRabbi Eliezer, on the verse, and this is the gate of heaven, a place where prayers would ascend to heaven (sefaria.org). Jacob saw angels of G-d ascending and descending upon the ladder in his dream. The question may be asked, if these are angels of G-d, why are they first ascending and then descending? One response, according to Sforno, is that these angels ascending towards Heaven represent prayers, and the angels that are descending from heaven represent the answers to those prayers.

Additionally, the place where Jacob dreamt of the ladder, Mt. Moriah is also where the Beis HaMikdash (Temple; literally, House of the Sanctuary) was eventually built in Jerusalem. Genesis Rabbah comments that the Heavenly Temple is directly above the earthly Temple, therefore the temple in Jerusalem served as the gateway to the Heavenly Temple (Genesis Rabbah on Genesis 28:17).

Today, it is still acknowledged that all of our prayers ascend to Heaven from the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. R. Bachya notes that the word zeh (this), as in this must be the gate of heaven, occurs three times in the passage, an allusion to the three Temples. The first and second Temples were destroyed; yet, we await the rebuilding of the third Temple, and the era of peace that will be brought with the establishment of Malchus Elokim (the Kingdom of G-d).

Baruch shem k’vod malchuso l’olam va’ed.

Blessed be the name of His glorious kingdom forever.

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.

Wisdom of the Ages

shiur for parashas Toldos 5782

“Isaac dug anew the wells which had been dug in the days of his father Abraham and which the Philistines had stopped up after Abraham’s death; and he gave them the same names that his father had given them.” – Genesis 26:18, JPS 1985 Tanach

The passing on of traditions from generation to generation, ad infinitum, until Malchus Elokim (the Kingdom of G-d), takes a precedent in our lives, beyond compare, ushering in the Messianic Age. These are the wells of wisdom re-dug, figuratively speaking, in every generation, from where the living waters may be drawn every day, as a fresh supply of life-sustaining spiritual truths.

Each pious individual of the succeeding generations will – H’Shem willing – make an effort like Isaac “to return and dig to the aspect of ‘a well of living water’ through many types of intelligences and great and concealed counsels” (Me’or Einayim, sefaria.org). Thus, Isaac, who re-dug his father Abraham’s wells, that had been stopped up by the Philistines, serves as an example, on a symbolic level for us.