Post Archive for November 2008

Parashas Toldos

This week’s parashah begins as follows (Bereishis 25:19): “These are the generations of Yitzchak son of Avraham – Avraham fathered Yitzchak.” The Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 63:1) links this statement with the following verses:
1. Mishlei 23:24: “The father of a righteous man shall surely jubilate, and one who fathers a wise man shall rejoice in him.”
2. Mishlei 23:15: “My child, if your heart becomes wise, my heart, too, shall rejoice.”
3. Mishlei 17:6: “The crown of elders is their offspring [literally, grandchildren], and the glory of children is their fathers.”
The Maggid, in turn, links the Midrash with the following passage (Tehillim 112:1-4):
Fortunate is the man who fears Hashem, who greatly desires His commandments. Mighty in the land shall be his offspring, a generation of upright ones who shall be blessed.
The Maggid explains the message as follows. If a person harbors negative tendencies and performs mitzvos only out of compulsion, he will pass on negative tendencies to his children. But if he serves Hashem gladly, he will pass on good values to his children, and they will become righteous. Hence, when a person fathers a righteous son, he rejoices not only over his son’s righteousness in its own right, but also over the fact that his son’s conduct reflects positively on him.
The Maggid goes on to note a link with a Gemara in Nedarim 81a that discusses why certain Torah scholars do not father Torah scholars. The Gemara gives a number of answers. One of them is because they do not recite a blessing before learning Torah. The Maggid explains that a person who does not recite a blessing over the Torah is showing that he is not happy with the Torah. He follows the Torah because he has to, but he would rather that the Torah not have been given in the first place. Hence he does not pass on Torah values to his children. In order to have children who are Torah scholars, one must be glad to have Torah.
This interpretation matches Rav Moshe Feinstein’s explanation of why the children of many observant American immigrants gave up Jewish observance. Rav Moshe noted that such immigrants, while they observed the Torah, conveyed the message that it is a burden, saying: “Schver tzu zain a Yid – It’s tough to be a Jew.” Hence they did not pass Torah commitment on to their children.
If we want to pass Torah values on to our children, we must show that we are happy with the Torah, by performing mitzvos with joy and not with reluctance. This is a critical element in raising children in the Torah path.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Chaiyei Sarah

In this week’s parashah, the Torah relates (Bereishis 24:1): “Now, Avraham was old, advanced in years [literally, had come to days], and Hashem blessed Avraham with everything.” The Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 59:6) remarks that Avraham had come to the days of which Shlomo HaMelech speaks in the following verse (Koheles 12:1): “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the bad days come, and the years arrive of which you will say, ‘I have no desire for them.’” The Maggid, in his commentary on Koheles 5:14-15, expounds on this Midrash. He notes that Koheles 12:1 can be re-rendered homiletically as follows: “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, so that the bad days will not come, and let the years arrive of which you will say, ‘I have no desire for them.’” The Maggid explains the idea as follows. For wicked pleasure-seekers, the final phase of life is a time of bad, for it is a time when they are unable to satisfy their desires. But for those who remember their Creator, the experience in the final phase of life is different. Hashem allows their physical faculties to remain completely intact in their old age. Yet they no longer have any desire for life in this world, for they have come to set all their sights on the next world.
In relation to this world, the Maggid says, the righteous are like worthy guests, while the wicked are like unworthy guests. A worthy guest is given lavish treatment by his host; he is served choice portions and urged to partake. But he refrains from indulging – he limits himself to just a very little. By contrast, the unworthy guest comes with a voracious appetite, but the host does not cater to him. Similarly, the wicked, as they reach their prime, are increasingly consumed with a wild passion for worldly vanities, but Hashem holds back from satisfying their desires. Instead, Hashem weakens their senses and drives bit by bit, until they are fit for the grave. With the righteous, however, it is just the opposite. Hashem maintains their physical faculties in excellent condition and provides them with plenty – they lack nothing. But they hold back on their own from material blessings, and yearn to depart from this world. Avraham is a case in point. As he reached old age, his intellect matured to the point where he felt utter disdain for worldly vanities. Hashem therefore treated him as a worthy guest, and blessed him with everything.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Vayeira

This week’s parashah begins with the angels coming to Avraham to announce the news that he and his wife Sarah would have a son in a year’s time. The Torah relates (Bereishis 18:12-14):
And Sarah laughed to herself, saying: “After I have withered am I again becoming flushed? And my husband is old!” The Hashem said to Avraham: “Why is it that Sarah laughed, saying, ‘Shall I really bear a child, although I have become old?’ Is anything beyond Hashem? At the appointed time I shall return to you, when it is time to rejuvenate you, and Sarah shall have a son.”
The Maggid explains this passage as follows. Sarah was not, far be it, expressing lack of faith in Hashem’s power to enable her to have a son. Rather, she was expressing astonishment over the fact that, although she was soon due to have a son, she was still in an aged state. She expected to be returned gradually to a youthful state. But instead, while still in an aged state, and with her husband still in an aged state as well, she suddenly saw a menstrual flow on the day that the angels came (Bereishis Rabbah 48:14). This wondrous occurence is what made Sarah laugh.  Hashem responded by saying that there was no cause for her to laugh: unlike mortal man, who can bring only gradual relief, He can bring deliverance in an instant. And upon arrival of the appointed time for Sarah to conceive a son through Avraham, He would instantly rejuvenate them both.
The Maggid notes that Hashem often brings sudden deliverance at the last moment, when the situation seems beyond all remedy. For example, when Moshe was taken out to be executed for killing the Egyptian, and the executioner’s sword reached his neck, Hashem suddenly turned his neck into a hard pillar of ivory (Shemos Rabbah 1:31). Thus, we should never give up hope in Hashem’s saving power, even when we see our situation growing ever bleaker, with no sign of improvement, and it looks like we have approached the point of no return. Hashem’s salvation is like the blink of an eye. And so, no matter how bleak our situation looks, we should continue praying to Hashem and awaiting His salvation.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Haftaras Lech-Lecha

This week’s haftarah concludes with the following passage (Yeshayah 41:14-16):
“Fear not, O worm-like Jacob, O hosts of Israel – I am your helper,” says Hashem, “and your redeemer, the Holy One of Israel. Behold, I have made you like a threshing sledge, with freshly-sharpened teeth – you shall thresh mountains and grind them down fine, and you shall turn hills into chaff. You shall cast them up, and a wind shall carry them, and a storm shall scatter them; and you shall jubilate in Hashem – in the Holy One of Israel you shall glory.”
Yalkut Shimoni Nach, para. 540, comments on this passage. The Midrash says that just as the worm’s source of strength is its mouth, so, too, the Jewish People’s source of power is their mouths – through prayer.
The Maggid, in his commentary on Eichah 3:39-41, discusses why Yeshayah compares us specifically to a worm, and not to one of the predatory creatures, whose strength also is the mouth. He explains that there is a key difference between the worm and other species, which points to an important idea. With other species, an individual animal has the power to accomplish its goal even when it is alone, with no fellow creature helping out. Not so with the worm: an individual worm can do nothing. The worm manifests its great strength only when mounds of worms gather together. When many worms work in concert, no mountain can stand up against them, and their strength is incalculable. This idea is reflected Tanchuma Nitzavim 1, which compares us to sticks. Like sticks, we are individually thin and weak. But when we are gathered into a single bundle, then we are strong.
But how can we gather ourselves together when we are scattered across all corners of the globe? The Maggid answers that the matter does not depend on physical proximity, but rather on kindredness of spirit. We must all set our sights on a single target, and focus our efforts on a common appeal that concerns all of us together. As Yirmiyah declares (verses 50:4-5): “‘In those days and in that time,’ says Hashem,’ the Children of Israel and the Children of Judah shall come together, going on their way with weeping, and they shall seek Hashem their God. They shall ask for Zion .…’” We can join forces even when we are scattered, some here and some there. Kindredness of spirit is our salvation.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Lech-Lecha

This week’s parashah begins with Hashem telling Avraham (Bereishis 12:1): “Go you forth from your land, your birthplace, and your father’s house, to the land that I shall show you.” The Midrash, which Rashi quotes, remarks (Bereishis Rabbah 39:9): “Why did He not reveal [the destination] to him? In order to endear it to him and to give him reward for each and every step.”
The Maggid notes that there are two reasons for traveling at an earnest pace: (1) to run away from someone or something and (2) to reach a desired destination. Thus, later on in the parashah, an angel meets up with Hagar on the road and asks her (Bereishis 16:8): “Where have you come from, and where are you going?” The angel was asking Hagar why she was rushing. She replied: “I am running away from my mistress Sarai.” Hagar’s journey had only one goal: to escape. Avraham’s journey, however, had two goals: to move away from his native environment, and to reach a certain destination – the Holy Land of Israel.
The Maggid explains that there is a basic difference between the two goals underlying Avraham’s journey. As regards traveling to the intended destination, the journey constituted just a single mitzvah. Moreover, the mitzvah was fulfilled only when he reached the destination; before then, he had essentially accomplished nothing. As regards moving away from his native environment, however, every step was a separate accomplishment, for every step made the distance one step greater. Thus, from this standpoint, every step counted as a separate mitzvah. Hence, Hashem initially told Avraham simply to set out on the road, without revealing his destination. Hashem wanted Avraham to focus on moving away from his native environment, so as to give him reward for every single step.
David Zucker, Site Administrator