Connecting to Heritage

by Tzvi Fievel Schnee


Shiur for Ki Savo 5780

“That thou shalt take of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which thou shalt bring in from thy land that the L-RD thy G-d giveth thee; and thou shalt put it in a basket and shalt go unto the place which the L-RD thy G-d shall choose to cause His name to dwell there.”

– Deuteronomy 26:2, JPS 1917 Tanach

The first fruits (bikurim) from each person’s harvest, were to be brought to “the place that H’Shem your G-d will choose” after B’nei Yisrael entered the Land. Upon giving the bikurim to a Kohein, one of G-d’s representatives, a proclamation was made, by the giver, declaring a brief historical background, encapsulating the identity of the Children of Israel from humble origins:

“And thou shalt speak and say before the L-RD thy G-d: ‘A wandering Aramean was my father, and he went down into Egypt, and sojourned there, few in number; and he became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous.”

– Deuteronomy 26:5 , JPS 1917 Tanach

“My father, i.e. Yaakov, who was for a while a wandering lost person without a home of his own, was not at the time able to establish a nation deserving or fit to inherit this land.” – Sforno

Jacob, the father of the twelve tribes of Israel, began his endeavors to establish a family, and vocation, as a wandering Aramean, having left home to find a wife. Yet, he went out into the world without anything of value, nor even any gifts for his wife-to-be. After twenty years of working for Laban, he set out to his home country. From there, he and the seventy members of his family were called to go down to Egypt. The Children of Israel were enslaved, eventually freed, and received the Torah at Mount Sinai. Entering the Promised Land would be the culmination of the Exodus.

Upon entering the land, the show of gratitude, a deep appreciation of H’Shem, and the origins of a national identity were acknowleged. Today, we need to reconnect with our origins as children of H’Shem. Once we are able to acknowledge our heritage, so that we may identify with our past as a people, we may also become aware of the Inheritance that awaits us. “Men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen” (Isaiah 64:3). Regarding this verse, Rashi explains that while the sages note that the prophets only spoke in regard to the Messianic era, they were not able to speak of Olam Haba (Berachos 34a). What awaits us in Olam Haba is beyond description, imagination, or our greatest expectations.

parashas Vayishlach 5780 – Diminished Merit — Inspired Torah

B”H Shiur for parashas Vayislach 5780 “Jacob sent messengers (malachim).” – Genesis 32:4 According to Sforno, Jacob sent messengers, in order to find out Esau’s state of mind concerning him (Sforno, Jacob had spent twenty years working for his Uncle Laban; now, Jacob was returning to his native land, as stated in Genesis 31:13. […]

parashas Vayishlach 5780 – Diminished Merit — Inspired Torah

Torah Highlight Vayishlach 5780


by Tzvi Schnee

“For he will give His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.”

– Psalm 91:11, JPS 1917 Tanach

G-d is faithful; he keeps his promises. “And, behold, I am with thee, and I will keep thee whithsoever thou goest, and will bring thee back into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of” (Genesis 28:15, JPS). Jacob was given G-d’s reassurance, at the beginning of his journey to Charan, where his Uncle Laban lived. Now, Jacob is returning with his family to the land of Canaan; however, he will encounter his brother, Esau on the final approach home.

Imediately, upon entering the land, he is met by a camp of angels sent by H’Shem to escort him: “And Jacob went on his way, and the angels of G-d met him” (Genesis 32:1, JPS). This exemplifies the continual protection that was promised to him by G-d. The company of angels sets the background for the encounter with Esau. It is only after the angels are mentioned, that the narrative concerning the apparently resentful Esau begins. For, Jacob’s messengers that he sent ahead to greet Esau report Esau is on his way with four hundred men” (32:6).

Jacob prays to H’Shem, rather than taking for granted the protection given to him. He divides the camp into two, so that if the first camp is attacked, the second will escape. Thirdly, Jacob sends gifts – droves of his herds and flocks – ahead of him to appease Esau. Even before Jacob meets and greets Esau, Jacob has an encounter with an angel, while he is alone. And the angel blesses him, after a struggle, wherein they wrestled with each other. “Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel; {That is, He who striveth with G-d.} for thou hast striven with G-d and with men, and hast prevailed” (Genesis 32:28, JPS 1917 Tanach).

The blessing that he receives, in the form of his new name that denotes uprightness is a vindication of his deceitfulness of the past, when he reappropriared Esau’s blessing that was due to him as the first born. Yet, the tides are turned, for Jacob now offers Esau a lavish gift taken from his livelihood: many sheep, goats, cows, bulls, and donkeys. The first Hebrew word that Jacob uses to refer to this gift is minchah, meaning gift or tribute. Yet, Jacob makes his intent even more clear to Esau in the same gesture, saying a second time, “take, I pray thee, my gift (berachah) that is brought to thee” (Genesis 33:11, JPS). Here, the word that he uses is berachah, meaning “blessing.” In this manner, Jacob, in effect, restores the blessing to Esau, therein bringing upon himself and Esau the means for reconciliation.

On the Road


parashas Vayeitzei highlight

by Tzvi Schnee

Did Jacob need a reminder in regard to his mission? His father, Isaac had given him a berachah (blessing), before he left Beer Sheba: “And G-d Almighty bless thee, and make thee fruitful, and multiply thee, that thou mayest be a congregation of peoples; and give thee the blessing of Abraham, to thee, and to thy seed with thee; that thou mayest inherit the land of thy sojournings, which G-d gave unto Abraham” (Genesis 28:3-4, JPS 1917 Tanach).

Yet, according to the midrash, H’Shem’s benevolence may be measured by the extraordinary means through which He endeavored to arrange for Jacob a means to an encounter with G-d at hamakom (the place). Regarding the words, “he lighted upon the place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set,” the midrash relates that H’Shem caused the sun to set early that evening, so that Jacob would rest at the very place that served as a gateway to Shomayim (Heaven).

And, Jacob encountered H’Shem at hamakom, while he dreamed. And, H’Shem spoke to him in a vision, reassuring him that his descendants would inherit the land. “And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee whithersoever thou goest, and will bring you back into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of” (Genesis 28:15, JPS).

Perhaps, the confirmation of his mission, as well as the reassurance of G-d’s protection is what compelled him to stay on the derech (path), outside of the Land, where there is less kedushah (holiness), as he journeyed to Haran to find the next matriarch(s). During the ordeal that ensued, over a twenty year period of time in Haran, when he was beset with tsoros (troubles), the vision must have served as inspiration, so that he was strengthened time and time again. This may serve as a reminder for us, during the current Galus (Exile).

“In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them; in His love and in His pity He redeemed them; and He bore them, and carried them all the days of old.” – Isaiah 63:9, JPS 1917 Tanach

Subdued Wrath


highlight from parashas Vayeitzei

by Tzvi Schnee

The parashas begins in an almost matter of fact manner, stating, “And Jacob went out from Beer-sheba, and went toward Haran (Genesis 28:10, JPS 1917 Tanach). Many commentators, both past and present, comment upon the prior events of Jacob’s life, as mentioned in the previous parashas. They often conclude that Jacob was fleeing for his life, because of the wrath of Esau. For Torah records Rebecca’s confidential words to her son, Jacob: “My son, hearken to my voice; and arise, flee thou to Laban my brother to Haran; and tarry there a few days, until thy brother’s fury turn away” (Genesis 27:43-44, JPS).

However, we do not see Esau in pursuit of Jacob, nor did Jacob make a hasty departure. Rather, after receiving a blessing from his father, Isaac (see Genesis 28:1-4), Jacob departs toward Haran. As for Esau, when he hears that his father Isaac sent his brother Jacob to find a wife that was specifically not from the “daughters of Canaan,” Esau, who had already married two daughters of Heth, a descendant of Canaan, realized that this must have been displeasing to his father. So, Esau regains his composure concerning his anger towards Jacob, “and went unto Ishmael, and took unto the wives that he had Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael Abraham’s son” (Genesis 28:9, JPS). In other words, Esau’s overiding concern at that moment in time was to please his father; thus his anger towards his sibling was suppressed by his filial devotion.

Interestingly, Or HaChaim suggests that “Esau’s anger חרונו, departed from him the moment Jacob departed from Beer Sheva. This is expressed by the words: וילך חרנה” (commentary on Genesis 28:10, Thus, Esau’s anger was set aside until twenty years later, when Jacob was on his return journey home, and Esau set out to greet him with four hundred armed men. Yet, at that time, Jacob appeased the smouldering resentment of Esau, giving him many animals from his flocks and herds. Additionally, Jacob’s decorum and humility may have elicited a change in Esau’s heart: “Jacob bowed himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother. And Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him; and they wept” (Genesis 33:3-4, JPS).

“Thou shalt not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself: I am the L-RD.”

– Leviticus 1 9:18, JPS 1917 Tanach

Character Suppression


November 28, 2019

30 Chesvan 5780

Rosh Chodesh Kislev

by Tzvi Schnee

An often neglected perspective, regarding the narrative wherein Jacob deceives his father, Isaac by pretending to be Esau, the first born, in order to reappropriate the blessing of the firstborn, is that as an ish tam (wholesome man), he needed to suppress his naturally inclined tendency towards truth, so he could procure the blessing that was rightly his.

Although, traditionally the blessing goes to the first born, Esau did not represent the character traits that would exemplify the positive qualities of Abraham, so, he was not qualified to receive the blessings of the patriarchal lineage, carrying, in effect, the chesed (kindness) and the gevurah (moral strength) of Isaac into the next generation.

“You will show truth (emes) to Jacob and kindness (chesed) to Abraham.” – Micah 7:20

Jacob inherited the qualities of chesed (kindness) from Abraham, and gevurah (strength) from Isaac, balancing the two within the framework of truth. For too much kindness can lead to indiscriminate permisiveness, and an excess of strength can lead to a level of severity that approaches harshness. Truth places both kindness and strength within the service of righteousness.

On the contrary, Esau represented the lower nature of man, subject to the natural instincts. Whereas Jacob was a wholesome man of the tents, Esau, who was a hunter, a man of the fields, was inclined to impulsivity and lack of restraint. Yet, Jacob’s conscience later suffered for his deception, as can be interpreted at one level when he wrestled with an angel; as one modern commentary claims, he was wrestling with his conscience. Only a man committed to inner truth will feel his conscience twinged when acting contrary to truth.

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).