Wisdom Like Water

parashas Toldos 5781

“And Isaac digged again the wells of water, which they had digged in the days of Abraham.”

– Genesis 26:18, JPS 1917 Tanach

Meor Eynayim explains, that these wells are symbolic of G-d’s wisdom that flowed during the lifetime of Abraham; yet, after his death, his wells were stopped up by the Philistines, representative of the powers of darkness and ignorance, inasmuch that they also impeded the spread of this wisdom (Meor Einayim, Toldos 19; sefaria.org). Symbolically, when Isaac redug the wells of his father, Abraham, he also reopened the flow of divine wisdom into the world.

The wellsprings of wisdom, must be dug within ourselves, until we reach the place where the source of the wisdom flows. This is the essence of the teaching from Meor Einayim. In reference to the verse, “they have forsaken me, the source of living waters (Jeremiah 2:13), he explains that “Blessed G-d is the source from whom comes the flow of life-force to all living things in all manners” (Meor Einayim, Toldos 18; sefaria.org).

Thus, the source of life continually flows from G-d; yet, as the result of sin, we cause a blockage of that source, and are likened to “broken cisterns.” Consequently, we are unable to connect to our “upper root,” the source above us that nourishes our soul. Additionally, our own ignorance compels us to search elsewhere in this world for the truth; yet, here is much spiritual malaise as the result of sin in this world. Our own path should be to turn from the the darkness, towards the light, so that our souls may be renewed with G-d’s wisdom.

Tradition teaches that preceding the time of Moshiach (Messiah), there will be a decline in spiritual understanding, as a result of sinking to “the fiftieth level of impurity.” However, at the beginning of his reign, “it shall come to pass in that day, that living waters shall go out from Jerusalem” (Zechariah 14:8). Pirkei deRabbi Eliezer, explains that in the future, within Jerusalem, a newfound well that will arise of its own accord, will water all of the surroundings. “The earth shall be full of the knowledge of the L-RD, as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9, JPS 1917 Tanach).

Chayei Sarah 5781

“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

“Therefore, I know that He will send His angel to make Your way prosper, to fulfill His promise to me.”

– Rashbam, sefaria.org

When the time arrived for Abraham to find a wife for his son, Isaac, Abraham sent his trusted servant Eliezar on the mission, back to the land where Abraham had lived. Abraham explained to Eliezer that H’Shem would “send his angel” before him on the journey. When Eliezer arrived, he prayed, “‘O L-RD, the G-d of my master Abraham, send me, I pray Thee, good speed this day, and show kindness unto my master Abraham” (Genesis 24:12, JPS 1917 Tanach). In this manner, he prayed in the merit of Abraham, as per the tradition even today, regarding the prayers of the chassidim, in the merit of their Rebbes.


What is fascinating to note, is that within this parashas, there is another mentioning of prayer in the merit of a righteous person. Preceding Eliezer’s return, “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 24:63, JPS 1917 Tanach). Tradition infers that the field where Isaac meditated, i.e., “prayed,” was the field of the cave of Machpaleh, where Sarah was buried. Therefore, commentary speaks of him, praying in the merit of his mother (the matriarch of the Jewish people) for Eliezer’s mission to be successful.


“The angel of the L-RD encampeth round about them that fear Him, and delivereth them.”

– Psalm 34:8, JPS 1917 Tanach

Vayeira: Commitment

parashas Vayeira 5781

“And He said, “Take your son, your favored one, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the heights that I will point out to you.”

– Genesis 22:2, JPS 1985 Tanach

The epitome of the Akeidah, the Binding of Isaac was the resolve necessary on the part of Abraham, to follow through with G-d’s commandment to bring his son, Isaac as an offering to the mountain shown to him. This was the tenth and final test of his faithfulness towards G-d, as proved by his obedience to carry out His will. Previously, Abraham trusted in G-d, to follow His directives, despite all of the prevailing challenges, ramifications, and risks involved. Now, he acceded to the command to give up Isaac, his only son, who was destined to carry on the legacy, mission, and message of the One True G-d. Yet, Abraham trusted in H’Shem; perhaps, knowing that He would be able to resurrect Isaac, as implied by the Zohar, whereof the beracha, “Blessed is He who quickens the dead,” is attributed to Abraham, right before he was about to offer up Isaac.

The tension point between Abraham and Isaac occurs when Isaac asks his father, Behold the fire and the wood; but where is the lamb for a [olah] burnt-offering?” Abraham responds, “‘G-d will provide Himself the lamb for a burnt-offering, my son.'” Then, the narrative conveys the resolution to Isaac’s concern: “So they went both of them together” (Genesis 22:7-8, JPS 1917 Tanach). The challenge of Isaac was to be in one accord with G-d’s will. As the sages explain, “it was at this moment that Isaac realised that he was to be the offering; even so, he was one within the intentions of his father. They went together to the mizbeach (altar), prepared on Mount Moriah. Rashi comments, “with equal intentions to fulfil the will of the Creator” (sefaria.org). Therefore, let not Isaac’s commitment be diminished, for he willingly went with his father Abraham, up the mountain. “He carried the wood on his back, like a man bearing his cross” (Genesis Rabbah 56).

Lech Lecha 5781

Abraham was the first monotheist. According to the midrash, he arrived at the realisation of G-d’s oneness after a thorough intellectual inquiry. In considering the sun that rules during the day, and the moon at night, he realised neither ruled completely; hence, they must have a Creator who created them. Through this reflection, he raised himself up above the idolatrous beliefs of his countrymen. His newfound belief could only be nurtured, by removing himself from his environmental milieu, so that he would not continue to be influenced by idolatry. So that when G-d called him to lech lecha (literally, go forth to yourself), he was ready to go.

Yet, not until he departed with Sarah, Lot (his nephew), and his entourage of souls (converts) that they had acquired, did H’Shem appear to him in Shechem. The question is asked, why did H’Shem first speak (vayomer) to Abraham, when he was first called (Genesis 12:1), then appeared (vayeira) and spoke to Abraham in Shechem (Genesis 12:7)? Why is there a differentiation noted in these passages? A direct answer is not given. Yet, accompanying the vision, Abraham was granted greater insight into the nature of H’Shem. For this reason, out of gratitude towards H’Shem, Abraham built the mizbeach (altar) there (Zohar; Sheini Luchot HaBerit). I would add that there is a progressive revelation given to Abraham, beginning with his intellectual realisation. Next, he is called directly by H’Shem, then, after he takes that first step on the journey “to a land that I will show you,” H’Shem appears to him.

Abraham’s initial call, “Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and thy father’s house” (Genesis 12:1), compelled him to separate from his familiar environs. He became known as an “ivri,” mraning, “other side,” because he was from the other side of the Euphrates River. In terms of his belief, he was on one side of the moral sphere, and the world was on the other side. Incidentally, the transliteration of the word, ivri is Hebrew. Abraham was the first Hebrew, thus becoming the progenitor of the Hebrew people, whom later became known as the Israelites. Yet, the blessings given to Abraham would also include all the families of the earth being blessed through him (Genesis 12:2).

Noach 5781

parashas Noach 5781

“And it came to pass at the end of seven days, that the word of the L-RD came unto me, saying: Son of man, I have appointed thee a watchman.”

– Ezekiel 3:17, JPS 1917 Tanach

At the end of seven days, the final seven days, before the door to the ark was closed, the first part of Noah’s mission was completed; the judgment was at hand, for the earth would be consumed by the Mabul (Flood). As mentioned in the Zohar, Noah had warned his generation of the impending doom; all the inhabitants of the earth were given the opportunity for teshuvah. This is also denoted by the Targum, wherein it is written, “if they will be converted, it shall be forgiven them” (Genesis 7:14, Targum Yonaton).

Noah’s role to warn mankind, was given to him at the receiving of the commandment from G-d to build an Ark. Up until that time, as the tzaddik (righteous person) of his generation, he must have been disconsolate, witnessing the vast amount of errant ways upon the earth. He was chosen for a mission that would encompass simultaneously warning others, while building the ark that would become a place of refuge for his family, as well as G-d’s creatures from the animal kingdom, in order to be spared by the Flood.

Ostensibly, anyone who was compelled to take his message to heart would have been forgiven. Yet, the question remains, if that was the case, would forgiveness include being physically spared from the Mabul (Flood)? G-d’s forgiveness pertains to the soul – our condition as humans within the realm of creation, is that our soul is spiritual. Therefore, ultimate forgiveness from G-d’s viewpoint, has to do with the part of us that lives beyond our physical selves. The unrepentant on earth became the rephaim (shades) who descended into gehinnom after perishing in the Flood. “The shades [rephaim] tremble beneath the waters” (Job 26:1). If any of them had repented, would their souls not have descended into gehinnon, even though their bodies perished?

Bereishis 5781

B”H


“And the L-rd G-d took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.”

– Genesis 2:15, JPS 1917 Tanach

G-d had the foresight to provide a remedy before the ailment that still plagues man today. The first act of disobedience, on the part of Adam and Chava (Eve). Adam, whose Hebrew name means man, and is similar the word adamah (earth), is synonymous with the first man, created from the various elements of the earth, with one exception, his soul as mentioned in Torah. “Then the L-RD G-d formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Genesis 2:7, JPS 1917 Tanach).

Eve, whose name means life, yet, as a result of her and her husband’s disobedience, brought death into the world. “‘Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it; for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die’” (Genesis 2:16-17, JPS). Even so, Adam decided to focus on his wife’s role in regard to all of humanity. “And the man called his wife’s name Eve; because she was the mother of all living” (Genesis 3:20, JPS).

Many questions may be asked in regard to the cryptic language of Torah; for example, what is the nature of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil? The Targum, a complete rendering of the Five Books as a paraphrase of the original explains well: “But of the tree of whose fruit they who eat (become) wise to know between good and evil, thou shalt not eat” (Sefaria.org).

Sforno notes, that the Tree of Knowledge was placed in close proximity to the Tree of Life in Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden). Sforno relates these trees to the choice given to mankind: “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).

Simchat Torah 5781

the Fiery Torah

“At His right hand was a fiery law unto them.”

– Deuteronomy 33:2, JPS 1917 Tanach

On Simchas Torah, the entire portion of V’zot HaBeracha is read; this is the last parashas of the Torah. Afterwards, the first part of Bereishis, the first parashas of the Torah is read, in order to make the statement that we begin anew, immediately following an ending. This reminds of the saying, when one door closes, another door opens, meaning that when one endeavor is brought to its conclusion, another opportunity will prevail. The seasons of nature, as well as the seasons of our lives reflect this theme.

Within the framework of the parashas, B’nei Yisrael is poised to enter Eretz Cannan; Moshe is intent on imparting a beracha (blessing) to them. This blessing parallels the blessing that Jacob gave to his twelve sons; inasmuch that Moshe has been the king and prophet over B’nei Yisrael, he is giving a blessing to the twelve tribes.

Moshe begins, “The L-RD came from Sinai,” therefore, emphasizing H’Shem’s presence, of Whom “at His right hand was a fiery law unto them” (Deuteronomy 33:2, JPS). “The voice of the L-RD heweth out flames of fire” (Psalm 29:7, JPS). H’Shem’s voice appeared as fire that engraved the commandments into the two stone tablets. On Simchat Torah, we rejoice knowing that H’Shem will also eventually engrave these words on our heart in due time:

“This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the L-RD, I will put My law in their inward parts, and in their heart will I write it; and I will be their G-d, and they shall be My people.”

– Jeremiah 31:33, JPS 1917 Tanach

Finding the Good

parashas Nitzavim Vayelech 5780

B”H

Shiur for parashas Nitzavim Vayelech 5780

“For I know their imagination how they do even now.”

– Deuteronomy 31:21, JPS 1917 Tanach

“For their evil disposition to which they are yielding today, even before I bring you into the promised land, is known to Me.”

– Targum Yonaton, sefaria.org

G-d knows our proclivity towards aveiros (transgressions). In regard to B’nei Yisrael, He knew that the imagination, i.e., yetzer (inclination) of the people was inclined towards evil. Sforno explains, that the people were about to be brought into the promised land, in order to focus on H’Shem, serving Him through the mitzvot (as mentioned in Psalms 105:44-45); yet, “instead they look forward to gratify their own cravings” (Sforno, on Deuteronomy 31:21, sefaria.org) which will lead to an excessive focus on material pleasures, gained from the wealth that H’Shem provides. In other words, B’nei Yisrael will end up misusing their material goods. By neglecting to focus on H’Shem, after entering the Land, the priorities that were established, “that they might keep His statutes, and observe His laws,” were forgotten (Psalm 105:45).

Although many would like to believe that our natural tendency is to do good, this goes against the grain of understanding. Upon further reflection, we may find that we are inclined to enjoy ourselves, and be entertained by the world, while our efforts to do good are hindered. We may neglect to be kind, considerate, and selfless, unless we seriously strive to do so at all times. As soon as we take our eyes off of H’Shem, especially in this modern world, we might become further distracted, engrossed, and captured by our yetzer hara. Zechirus (vigilance) is of the upmost importance, in order to maintain our sense of deveykus (attachment) to G-d. If we expect to enter into the Promised Land of Olam Haba (the World to Come) with a good place reserved for us there, then, we must keep these points in mind: 1). sur meira, asei tov (eschew evil, do good); 2). show zechirus (vigilance) through constant awareness; and, 3). deveykus (stay connected) to G-d Above, who watches over us from Shomayim (Heaven).

Connecting to Heritage

by Tzvi Fievel Schnee

B”H

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.

A Singular Effort

B”H

Shiur for parashas Ki Seitzei 5780

“Thou shalt not wear a mingled stuff, wool and linen together.”

  • Deuteronomy 22:11, JPS 1917 Tanach

“Seeing that the first two human beings who were born on earth were of different species, (Kayin and Hevel), one being the result of the evil genes of the serpent, the other that of Adam’s divinely inspired spirit, and we are commanded to keep our distance from the spirit of impurity, mixing the species has been forbidden for us as we have learned the fatal consequences which this could have.”

  • R. Bachya, commentary on Leviticus 19:19, sefaria.org

The fundamental differences between Kayin (Cain) and Hevel (Abel) are reflected in the nature of the offerings that each brought to H’Shem. “Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the L-RD. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the L-RD had respect unto Abel and to his offering; but unto Cain and to his offering He had not respect” (Genesis 4:3-5 JPS). A qualitative difference between Abel and Cain’s offerieng is inferred. Cain’s offering was linseed (Midrash Tanchuma, Bereishis 9), whereas Abel brought the choicest of his flock.

If Abel brought from his sheep, then this could correspond to the wool, mentioned in the previous commandment, while Cain’s offering would be represented by linen. The commandment forbids “wool and linen together.” This rendering would reinforce the underlying differences between Cain and Abel. If we are to be more like Abel, giving the best of ourselves as an offering to H’Shem through our good deeds, then, we should not compromise our standing with H’Shem by following the poor example of Cain at all. Rather, we should maintain excellency in all of our endeavors, both towards G-d and man.