Ya’ gotta put in effort into life — THEN G-d helps!

Our weekly Torah portion begins with the word Vayishlach – and he sent.  Yaakov sends messengers to Eisav.  Verse 5:  Yaakov instructs his messengers to tell Eisav “im lavan Gartee” I lived with Lavan.  What was the point of saying this?  Rashi – Garti unscrambled reads Taryag – he was saying, “im Lavan Gartee, V’taryag Mitzvot Shamartee” I lived with the evil Lavan, but kept all the Mitzvos anyway.  He was letting Esau know there was no swaying him to evil.

  Yaakov’s message then goes on to explain how he has accumulated a livelihood for himself, the results of his own hard work (according to the commentary of Rabbeinu Bachya). 

The weird thing to note is that usually when the Torah mentions or a righteous man mentions the various animals he possesses, it is usual for the sheep to be listed first.  Here the Ox is the first thing mentioned.  The reason why, according to the Midrash is that Yaakov was informing Esav that Yosef was in the world already.  Yosef’s symbol is the ox and from him ultimately will be the counter-force, Moshiach ben Yosef, who will finally be able to stand up to and defeat the evil of Esav.

The Messengers came back to tell Yaakov that Eisav was headed his way to harm him with four hundred men.  Seems like the message of peace is only heard by those who want to have peace.  Those who are intent upon war don’t back down, no matter what the negotiations might be.

There are three ways to deal with danger: try to bribe prepare for battle, pray and try to bribe.

Yaakov prepared by dividing up his family so that just in case some get killed, there will be  (verse 9) a “plaitah” survivors.  Keeping in mind that “ma’aseh Avos siman la’banim – the actions of our forefathers were harbingers/signs for the children” we realize Yaakov was not just doing this for the immediate moment, but was setting up a precedent that would play itself out again and again in history.  This is why throughout our exile – even as we were being persecuted in one land, there was always another place where there was a “plaitah” a surviving community of Jews.

Rabbeinu Bachya points out that from this strategy we also learn a person should never put all his eggs, so to speak, in one basket financially.

Quoting:  “Our Sages have said, Always a person should divide his money in three – one-third should be invested in real estate, one third in merchandise and one third in his hand [cash]”

Lore has it that Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, ZT”L, was once told of a wealthy man who had been wiped out financially and the response had been that the man had been negligent for he had put all his resources into one investment, rather than diversifying as our sages had instructed us to do.

Now, you might ask, as men of faith, why the need for all the planning.  Why not just “rely on G-d” blindly.  I read in the wonderful book penned by Y. Besser entitled “The Life and Legacy of Rabbi Shlomo Freifeld” that Rabbi Friefeld felt it is the curse of our generation, how we throw up our hands in despair and pretend to be helpless creatures, hiding behind “ayn unoo al mee lee’heesha’ayn – we have no one to rely on but on G-d” when really G-d expects us to give it our all before doing that reliance-on-G-d routine.

Here in the narrative of how Yaakov handled challenges you see that lesson clearly.  Yaakov doesn’t only rely on prayer and miracles.  He prepares carefully, strategically, resourcefully.  G-d expects man to put in his efforts.

May we all merit to have the wisdom to put in the right efforts and have those efforts blessed with success from G-d.


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Jacob’s Ladder – Parshas Vayeitzay – a bridge from earth to heaven

In this week’s upcoming Parshas Vayaytzah, we are taught of the dream of Yaakov, the dream of a ladder that had its feet on the ground and its head reached into heavens.  There are many different messages being told by this ladder.

One of them is that our job is to bridge between physical and spiritual (the ladder had its feet on the ground and stretched to heaven because of that).   In fact, the word Soolam/ladder and Mamon/money have the same Gematriah [numerical value in Hebrew] – our job is to use money and physical gifts as a ladder to higher places, to connecting to Hashem.  If we do that right, angels go up and down, we affect what the angels do.  You see, based on reward and punishment in the world,  the blessings or curses come to the world.  And since the angels are those who carry out the meting out of blessings or curses, our actions are the “ladder” that causes them to come down or go away from our world.

In my life’s journeys I’ve met many kinds of people.  So there are those who keep their ladder laying flat on the ground, both feet and head right in the mud.  They never strive for spirituality, never get away from their earthy desires to do something bigger than self-gratification and never opening their view to see the spiritual.  Not good.  That was not the dream of Yaakov, not the mission of man, to stay with our heads stuck in mud.

However, I also met what I call the helium balloon people, those people who get so enamored in spirituality that they don’t keep themselves grounded.  They don’t engage in being responsible.  And that is a danger, for helium balloons wafting into stratosphere pop.  That also was not the dream of Yaakov, not the mission of man, to completely disconnect from what we have to do down here on earth.  We have to pay our rents, pull our own weights, clothe our kids, be able to engage in life responsibly.

Grounded, two feet on the ground, but aiming with that grounding to be able to bridge the vast distance to Heavens.  That is the dream, that is the goal.

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Pasuk by Pasuk, understanding how and why Yaakov got the Bracha

Perek Chuf-Zayin of Parshas Toldos

 First thing we must understand is why Yitzhok sent Eisav out to hunt for something – Yitzchok realized Eisav was good with physicality, and he wanted to train Eisav how to learn to use the physicality we are able to “capture” or “earn” and utilize it for Mitzvos.  So, Passuk Daled:   Make me a good-tasting food like I like it and bring it to me and I will eat it so that my soul will bless you before I die.

 First obvious question:  why is Yitzchok asking for tasty food that he likes?!

A mitzvah has to be done in the best way.  Yitzchok is not asking for “juicy steak” dripping with barbecue sauce because he wants the taste of food.  He wants Eisav to be  busy with Chesed and Kibbud Av.  How is that done properly?  Not by trying to do the minimum, but by putting in effort.  What does my mother really like?  How do I present food to Orchim [guests] in a really nice way?  There was someone named Rebbetzin Newhouse who got a set of bone china, which is really expensive dishes, not because she wanted it for herself, but because she felt that when she had to host guests she wanted to do it regally, like a queen.  So, one day, while having a painter paint her home, she realized he’d been working so many hours he must be hungry.  She cooked her house painter a gourmet lunch, put a tablecloth down, and served him, on her fine bone china.  She put the effort and thoughts and did the Mitzva FULLY beautifully.  That is what Yitzchok was trying to train Eisav to do – look at how he’s instructing him so we can learn how to do Chesed right – make sure the Chesed you are doing is one that the person will appreciate (food they will like), make sure you deliver it to the person you are doing it (bring it to them).

Next question we should be asking in this passuk is what is this about his soul doing the blessing?  Yitzchok wants to give a Bracha, give a Bracha.   Why does he need all these preparations?  If I want to bless you, all I have to do is open my mouth and say, “may you all merit to build beautiful fully Jewish homes”.  There, I blessed you.  Why did Yitzchok have to do all this in order to bless Eisav?  The answer, according to Rabbeinu Bachya, can be found in the word my soul – Yitzchok wants to have Ruach HaKodesh [Divine Inspiration] while giving the Bracha – he doesn’t want to just bless, he wants Heavens to agree to the blessing.

Ayn Hashchina Shruya Elah Meetoch Simcha – there is no Ruach HaKodesh unless a person is in a state of happiness (just an interesting point, you also cannot have Ruach HaKodesh while you are being lazy, but that is just a non-relevant interesting point that Rabbinu Bachya also notes).  We know the Nevi’im often listened to music to get to a point of Simcha so they could access Ruach HaKodesh.  Why didn’t Yitzchok use music to try to get into that mode of happiness that would bring Ruach HaKodesh, and instead asks for food to do it?  Music can be a very spiritual thing.  Eisav wants a physical bracha.  He doesn’t want to inherit Nevu’ah – he wants to inherit Eretz Yisroel, the land, and wants a bracha to be a rich person.  So Yitzchok decides to try to use physical gifts (tasty food) rather than spiritual ones (like music) to get into a good frame of mind.

Passuk Hay:  “And Rivka heard while Yitzchok was speaking to Eisav his son and Eisav went to the field to trap animals to bring”

Why does the passuk say “to bring”.  Rashi – Eisav decided he was going to do whatever it takes to get the bracha – so he went out to try to trap an animal, with the thought, that if he were not successful, he would just steal – but somehow he would bring an animal home.

 Passuk Vav:  And Rivka said to Yaakov her son saying, behold I heard your father talking to Eisav your brother saying.  Passuk Zayin:  Bring back an animal for me and make me tasty food and I will eat it and I will bless you in front of Hashem before I die.

Rivka repeats what she had overheard.  See something interesting in these Passukim – Rivka overheard Yitzchok speaking to Eisav HIS son and she speaks to Yaakov HER son.  They were both of their sons!!  Where you are putting your efforts belongs to you – you love what you put the most effort into and identify with it.

Rashi:  why was it important to say the “in front of Hashem” bit when repeating the story to Yaakov?  So that Yaakov should feel better that all will be done with Ruach haKodesh, which means if the bracha goes through for him, it means Hashem agrees it is the right thing.

Passuk Ches:  And now my son, listen to my voice to what I command you

Yitzchok asks Eisav to do his bidding – Rivka COMMANDS Yaakov.  Why did she have to command him?   Because the only way Yaakov ends up doing the deception is because he feels he has no choice as his mother is demanding it, not requesting it, that she is insistent  he must do it.

 Passuk Tes: Please go to the sheep and take for me from there two young good kids and I will make them into tasty food for your father like he likes it.

Rashi:  For me take the goats – it was not stealing – her kesuba gave her two kids per day.  Why did Rivka want to use two goats — did Yitzchok have such a big appetite?  It was Pesach and one was going to be used for a Korban Pesach

Passuk Yud:  You will bring it to your father and he will eat in order that he will bless you before he dies.  Passuk Yud Alef:  And Yaakov said to Rivka his mother, Eisav is a hairy person and I am a smooth-skinned person.  Passuk Yud Bays:  Maybe my father will touch me and I will be in his eyes like a pretender and he will bring upon me a curse and not blessing.

 If you look closely, the passuk recounts how Yaakov says that he will be “K’misahtayah” like a pretender.  He isn’t saying, I am a pretender and might be found out.  He is saying I might be viewed like one.   Yaakov is not arguing that he doesn’t deserve the Bracha.  He thinks he should get it.  He just is arguing his father might not want to give it to him and will think he is wrong.  Yaakov had bought the Bechorah , the rights of the firstborn, but he never told that to anyone.  So he knew he deserved the Bracha.  He just did not want to shame Eisav by telling his parents how Eisav sold those rights for a mere bowl of soup.

Passuk Yud Gimmel:  And his mother said to him, upon me will come your curse, my son, just listen to my voice and go and take them for me.

Meforshim wonder how she could say this. Rashbam said she could say it because she knew there would be no curse because of the Nevuah she had before the twins were born.  Even Ezra says that she did say it and mean it because women sometimes talk this way, but he quotes another Meforash who says that she is not saying she will take the curse but is saying she will take off the curse – -that he shouldn’t worry, she has sufficient power to remove any curse.  Seforno, on the other hand, says this is the literal meaning – she is willing to take upon her own self any curse that might happen from this, just like Shlomo HaMelech once accepted upon himself someone else’s curse (Yoav’s).

Passuk Yud-Daled:  And he went and he took and he brought to his mother and his mother made tasty food that his father loved.

Remember, Rivka had asked for two goats – one was a korban pesach.  We are talking about infusing the food with Kedusha – that is the way to serve food for a Tzaddik.  When cooking food for Shabbos it is a big thing to say “L’Kovod Shabbos Kodesh”, to put into the food spiritual energy. [I find it fascinating something else in this account – -that Rivka was a special wife, knowing precisely what kind of food and cooking her husband would appreciate most!]

 Passuk Tes-Vav:  And Rivka took the garments of Eisav her big son that were precious and were with her in the house and she dressed her younger son Yaakov

Rashi has two questions – which garment is this and what was it doing by Rivka?  This was the Beged that Eisav got by way of murder of Nimrod.  The cloak was originally Adam HaRishons.  It was in Rivka’s safekeeping because Eisav married wicked women, and he knew that – and he didn’t trust them with his most precious things, giving them to his mother instead.

Ramban points out in this Passuk both sons are called “her son” with descriptive words of which was older and younger.  This is to show us the greatness of Rivka, that she was doing the right thing, even though both were “her sons” and that many people favor older children over younger children – yet Rivka did what was right.

Passuk Tes-Zayin:  And the skin of the goats she put on his hands and on part of his neck

Remember Eisav was very hairy, so she is doing this in case Yitzchok should feel the person serving him food and think something is off if the person is not hairy.

 Passuk Yud-Tes:  And Yaakov said to his father I. Eisav your first born. I did what you told to me.  Get up please, lean and eat from my food in order your soul should bless me.

Rashi:  he spaced the words so it could be misunderstood rather than an outright lie.  He said, “I.  Eisav.  Your first born.”

Passuk Chaf:  And Yitzchok said to his son, what is this that you hurried to find, my son, and he said, because Hashem happened it in front to me.  Passuk Chaf-Alef:  And Yitzchok said to Yaakov, come close and I will touch you my son, to see if you are my son Eisav or not”

RASHI:  What did Yaakov say that tipped off Yitzchok he might not be Eisav?  Yaakov talked about Shem Hashem, saying  Hashem helped get him the food.  He gave credit to a Higher Authority.

Sifsei Chachamin – so you could ask how could Yitzchok think Eisav was good if he knew without a shred of doubt that Eisav would not speak like this.  He made excuses for Eisav not speaking B’Shem Hashem  – he thought Eisav couldn’t use that language cause he was outside of “ohalim” and could not use G-d’s name in places he was forced to be.

Passuk Chaf-Bays:  And Yaakov came close to Yitzchok his father, and he touched him and he said, the voice is the voice of Yaakov and the hands are the hands of Eisav.

RASHI:  Because Yitzchok heard the refinement of Yaakov in the words “please get up” “hineni” and that wasn’t the way Eisav speaks (you’ll see later that Eisav says things like GET UP.  BLESS ME.  No please.  No soft way of speaking.)

The Midrash says:  Yaakov (the Jews) have power through their voice, Eisav through his hands.  If the voice of Yaakov is Kal (see that the words in the Passuk is Hakol Kal – one word Kol is missing the Vav so it can be read Kal), if we neglect our davening and Torah learning, only then can the hands of Eisav be active against us.

Passuk Chaf-Gimmel:  And he did not recognize him because his hands were like the hands of Eisav his brother, hairy, and he blessed him

Seforno:  What blessing is this in this passuk?  It is not the blessing to be given later, so what is going on with this blessing.  We learn that if we ever suspect a fellow Jew of wrong-doing and find out we misjudged them (Choshed B’Kshayrim) we have to give them a blessing.  So Yitzchok gives now a blessing for having suspected this guy was dressed up as someone else now that he had tapped his hands and found it to be like Eisav.

Passuk Chaf-Daled:  And he said, is it you my son Eisav? And he said I.

Rashi:  Note Yaakov did not say yes.  Did not say I am Eisav.  He said I am I.

 Passuk Chaf-Hay:  And he said, come close to me and I will eat from the food of my son so that my soul will bless you and he came and he ate, and he brought him wine and he drank.   Passuk Chaf-Vav:  And Yitzchok his father said to him, come close and kiss me, my son.  Passuk Chaf-Zayin: And he came close and he kissed him and he smelled the smell of his garmets and he blessed him and he said, “see, my son’s smell is like the smell of the field that Hashem has blessed”

RASHI:  there are few smells worse than goat skin smell – what smell is Yitzchok talking about?!  Yitzchok smelled Gan Eden, the scent of paradise emanated from Yaakov.  Why does Yitzchok phrase it to say it is the smell like the field – Gan Eden smells like  “Sdei Tapuchim” – which most people translate to mean apple orchard, but the gemora says  actually means an esrog orchard.

Passuk Chaf-Ches [begins the bracha] And Hashem should give you from the dew of heaven and from the fatness of the land and much grain and wine

Rashi:  either Vayiten (why the Vav) – and he should keep giving you.  He should give and give and give you blessings OR the Vav is Vav HaMechubar because it links to the previous passuk, where Yitzchok says, just as Hashem gave you this wonderful smell so too should He give you other wonderful things.

RASHI:  Weird that Yitzchok uses the word Elokim in a blessing.  Elokim is middas HaDin.  This is like Shlomo who davened that non-Jews when they pray should get answered.  Yaakov’s descendants have more of an understanding of spirituality and they have more faith.  They realize if Hashem is withholding good from them ,  maybe it is because they don’t deserve it.  They understand Hashem Hu Ha’Elokim.  But other folks most times don’t get that and if they don’t get a response when they pray, often they leave behind their faith.

Ramban:  from the dew of heaven and fatness of land – dew falls anyway, why is this such an amazing bracha – Ramban says this bracha is benefit from the all the dew of heaven and all the best of all the land –meaning from the whole world – that eventually Yaakov’s descendants will receive the blessings of living royally off the best of all the world (in the times of Moshiach).

Passuk ChafTes:  Nations will serve you and nations will bow down to you – be stronger to your brothers and your mother’s sons will bow to you.  Those who curse you are cursed and those who bless you are blessed.”

RASHI points out that the wordings of this passuk is similar to what Bilam said, but when Bilam says it, he flips it around and begins with the blessing and then talks about the curse.  Rashi explains such is the life difference between a good person and a bad one.  Tzadikim start with hardship and then end up with blessings.  Rasha’im start with “life’s a party” and then end up with suffering.  [That might be why Shlomo says, happy is the person who had a burden as a kid – that starting out with suffering is way better.]

Seforno struggles with this passuk – if Yitzchok really thought he was blessing Eisav, why would he want Eisav to be “stronger” than Yaakov?!  If you notice, Yitzchok doesn’t give the blessing of having Eretz Yisroel here – that he knows is shayach only to Yaakov, Yosheiv Ohalim – that the limud Torah of Yaakov is what Eretz Yisroel is all about.  So he never dreams of giving this to Eisav.  But he is scared of Yaakov having to disturb his learning, so he blessed Eisav to be stronger – thinking Eisav will support Yaakov and Yaakov won’t have to work for a living (like Yisacher and Zevulun).

Passuk Lamed:  And it was when Yitzchok finished blessing Yaakov and it was just as Yaakov left from in front of his father and Eisav his brother came from his trapping.

Rashbam:  why do we have to know the exactness of the timing, that just as Yaakov left, Eisav came in – to show us the miracle which happened for Yaakov to make him successful – if he had spent one extra minute having to do any preparations or if Eisav would have had one minute less of preparations, the whole thing would have been stopped before Yaakov got the Bracha.  The exactness of the timing shows Siyata D’Shmaya to ensure the Bracha was given before Eisav returned.

 Passuk Lamed Alef:  He also made a delicious food and brought it to his father and he said to his father “my father should get up and eat from the trapping of his son so your soul should bless me.”

Contrast to this how Yaakov had spoken to his father.  If you look back, Yaakov had started by announcing he was coming into the room not to startle his father (see passuk yud zayin, where Yaakov just says “my father” as he walks into the room).  Eisav has no such finesse.  He barges in and begins right away with his own needs.  Get up.  Eat.  So you can bless me.  Direct.  Not respectful.  (see Passuk Yud Tes where Yaakov says “nah.Please get up” and compare it to Eisav – who says “get up”)

Passuk Lamed-Bais:  And Yitzchok his father said to him, who are you and he said I am your son, your first born Eisav

Now, first thing you should note, is Yitzchok did not know Eisav sold the Bechora, but Eisav knew.  So by claiming the Bechorah here, he is lying, just as Yaakov was not lying when he said he was the Bechor.  Eisav should be the one held accountable for the lying.  He could have said I am your son Eisav, but as soon as he claims the Bechorah knowing he sold it, he was lying.

Passuk Lamed-Gimmel:  And Yitzchok trembled a great trembling very much and he said who and where is he who trapped the animal and brought it to me and I ate all of it before you came and I blessed him and also he shall be blessed.

Rashi:  quoting the Midrash – Yitzchok saw Gehinnom opening under Eisav.  This is the first time  he knows Eisav is truly wicked and will not do Teshuva

Rashi:  I ate all of it?!  Is Yitzchok that kinda person to gobble it all down?  He is saying something else – he is saying that the food was like the manna – he ate “all” tastes in that one food.

Rashi:  also he should be blessed – Yitzchok is being clear that no matter what, even if Eisav claims the brachos were gotten by trickery, it is right that Yaakov has the bracha and it is with Yitzchok’s full knowledge at this point.

Seforno – why does it seem that Yitzchok is now saying Amen to the Bracha by saying “also he shall be blessed” – there is a Klal (which we find by Rabbi Chanina) that Tzadikim  can tell as they daven and give Brachos if that Bracha will come true.  If the words flow, they know the Bracha is pleasing to Hashem and will get a response.  So Yitzchok here was saying that the way the Bracha flowed out of his lips onto Yaakov, he knows that “he shall be blessed” that the Bracha was  a true one that will come true.

Passuk Lamed-Daled:  When Eisav heard the words of his father and he cried a very great and bitter cry and he said to his father, ‘Bless me, also me, my father.’

Challenge:  anyone know where else in the Torah it says that someone cried a cry that was “Gedolah U’Mara” the same language used in this Passuk?  It is in Megillas Esther, Perek Daled, Passuk Alef – when Mordechai hear Haman’s decree that all Jews be killed he went into the city and cried a very great and bitter call to Teshuva.  What is the connection between these two Pesukim  – that Eisav’s grief at not being given the Gashmius Brachos is considered a legitimate grief if we Jews are not keeping Torah (remember Hakol Kal Yaakov- – when Torah learning is weak, then Hayadayim Yedei Esiav, then Eisav gets power over us).  So when Mordechai heard Haman was being successful in his plans to wipe out the Jews, Mordechai knew Eisav’s descendant was being given power because of this long-ago cry of Eisav AND because the Jews were messing up in that generation – so he cried out, “Jews, let’s do Teshuva”.  It worked.  The cry of Eisav is only legitimately held against us when we mess up as Torah adherents.

Passuk Lamed-Hay:  And he said, your brother came with clever cunning and took your Bracha

(Rashi knows Mirma here means with cleverness because Onkelos translated Mirma here as Chachma). What Bracha is the one being referred to as “your” bracha – Seforno – the Bracha for Gashmiyus.

Passuk Lamed-Vav:  And he said, isn’t that why his name is called Yaakov, because he has ambushed me twice, he took my first-born status and behold now he took my blessing and he said, did you not set aside for me a blessing?

RASHI:  explains how this Passuk played out.  Once Eisav said Yaakov tripped him up twice, Yitzchok said, what did Yaakov do to you.  So then Eisav explained how Yaakov had bought the rights of the first-born, at which point Yitzchok realized the Bracha had gone exactly where it should have gone – Yaakov deserved the blessing because he had bought the Bechora

SEFORNO:  Eisav realized even if he was supposed to get the huger Bracha, there would have been some Bracha given to Yaakov, so he now asks for that “set aside” Bracha.

Passuk Lamed-Zayin:  And Yitzchok answered and he said to Eisav, see I have made him master over you and I have given him all his brethren as slaves, grain and wine I have placed for him and for you from where, what, can I do my son.

RASHI:  why does Yitzchok start with telling Eisav that part of Yaakov’s Bracha was that he be master – because he is trying to explain a Bracha would not help Eisav because a slave and all he owns belongs to the master.  So even if Eisav gets a Bracha, that Bracha just means more Bracha for Yaakov.

There is a famous story in the times of the Gemorah about Ovaid the slave (Rabbi Marcus Lehman wrote it in novel form in a book called Itamar).  There was a guy named Itamar from a wealthy family who was put into slavery.  The father was old and he had one slave named Ovaid.  The father was dying and did not know what to do about his wealth – how to make sure Ovaid did not destroy all before the son got back home.  So he got advice from the Tannaim and was told to let Ovaid inherit everything with the stipulation that when his son Itamar came home he would be given the choice of owning any one thing his father had owned.  Itamar came home and did not know what his father meant, but after meeting with the Tannaim, he knew what he had to do.  He told Ovaid he was going to go along with the will and choose one thing.  The one thing he chose to “own” was Ovaid, which meant that all his father’s possessions came back into his power.

Passuk Lamed-Ches:  And Eisav said to his father, only one bracha is there to you my father, bless me, also me, my father and he lifted his voice and cried.   Passuk Lamed-Tes:  And Yitzchok his father answered and he said to him, Behold from the fat of the land will be your dwelling and from the dews of heavens above

Rabbeinu Bachya:  Notice there is no mention of Hashem in Eisav’s Bracha (by Yaakov it says, Hashem should give you and here it says, you should have).  Here we learn that Eisav’s fate is stuck within laws of nature, while Yaakov’s descendants are treated beyond nature.  Miracles can happen for us.  The other thing we learn from this is that Eisav’s bracha is limited to this world.  He will not merit the next world and not the Yemos HaMashiach.  He is bound to only physical pleasure (for that is what he devotes himself to and worships) which is why there is no mention of Hashem in his Bracha.

Passuk Mem:  and by your sword will you live and your brother you will serve and it will be when you Tarid and you will throw off his yoke from on your neck

RASHI:  Tarid means to be pained – that Eisav will be legitimately allowed his “pain” of not having the brachos when Yaakov’s children do not keep the Torah and are not entitled to the Bracha and then Eisav can rise

RAMBAN:  by your sword shall you live, doesn’t mean you will have to be supported through murder, but means you will survive every battle, but Yitzchok follows that will “your brother you will serve” to let Eisav know clearly that he will not succeed in winning one battle – the one against his brother.

Passuk Mem-Alef:  And Eisav hated Yaakov because of the Bracha that his father blessed him and Eisav said “B’leebo” in his heart, the days of my father’s mourning are coming close and I will kill Yaakov my brother.

Rabbeinu Bachya:  someone who thinks “Bleebo” is a Rasha – because what it means is that he is governed by his emotions—whatever his heart says, that is the way he plans his life.  However, a Tzaddik rules his emotions and when they say something to themselves the wording is “El leebo” or “Al Leeba” – they talk to their hearts and tell their hearts to curb themselves.  They reason things out and don’t act emotionally, but have their emotions follow what is right.  Eisav was a Rasha and said “in his heart” – I hate, therefore I’ll act upon these emotions that are in my heart.  We must always remember we must rule our emotions and not let our emotions rule us.

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Plant (even in a terrible economy), Undig Wells (even stopped up ones)

In Parshas Toldos (26:12), we are taught that “Yitzchok planted in that land and he found that year, hundred times and Hashem blessed him.”

Why does it say that land and that year?  That land was arid, not suitable for planting – and that year was an especially hard agricultural year.  But with all that going against him, Yitzchok planted and Hashem made his crops grow 100 times the amount it should have grown.[1]

Okay, a message of hope, even in our hard economy time.  Plant, and, so long as we are doing the right things and focused on G-d, G-d can bless us even in this terrible economy.

The Parsha then goes on and relates the issue of wells, of how Yitzchok would dig them and his enemies would stop them up.  Here too, he doesn’t despair, but each time begins digging anew, uncovering the stopped up wells.

The Chofetz Chaim teaches us that the digging of wells teaches us the importance of perseverance, of not giving up.  Yitzchok dug, got it taken away, moved on and dug again.  So too, if you aren’t having success in learning, don’t give up, keep trying.  The same works in business and in anything.  And most especially it works in spirituality.  Nu, so things got cloudy and you messed up.  Get your handy shovel out and start digging.  Uncover your wells of clarity.

[1] Rashi and other meforshim:  why do we care the amount of times it grew?  Because of the  calculations of Ma’aser (tithing).   The Avos did the Mitzva of Ma’aser and therefore there had to be calculations of what they reaped.  Seforno then point out that after it talks about the amount that had to be ma’asered (meah shearim), then the verse says Hashem blessed him – because giving Ma’aser brings the blessings of wealth.

 To read more about the laws of Maaser, you can go to this site: http://www.torah.org/advanced/weekly-halacha/5763/mishpatim.html

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Hagar, Yishmael, Challenges and Solutions (among other things)

Jumping to CHAPTER 21 in this week’s Pasha:

Sara became pregnant and gave birth. The son born is given the name Yitzchok – we often think the laughter being referred to is just the laughter of Sara when she heard she’d give birth and the laughter of folks when they saw an old lady give birth. But the term Yitzchok is future tense — when we read the ayshes chayil, there is a verse there that says that a righteous woman “va’titzchak l’yom acharon” she laughs for the end of days. Will come a time, when our whole nation will be one of “yitzchok” we will laugh – all we went through in history will turn to laughter when we get to the Messianic age.

Yitzchok is the first to have Bris Milah on proper day – on the 8th day. Why 8th day? Seven is the count of the physical world – 7 days of week, 7 colors in color spectrum, 7 notes in music —   7 is the physical world only. 8th is beyond. 8th is the next world already. We are told there will be an 8th note in music when Moshiach comes. 8th is miraculous and beyond our world. So, the concept of Bris is improving upon the physical world and going beyond it. After a full week of the baby’s existence, we introduce the new Jewish baby to the concept of 8, of striving to be more than just a physical being.

The lad grew and got weaned at 2 years old. Avraham throws a party when Yitzchok is weaned.

[verse 9] Sara sees Hagar’s son “metzachayk” laughing. But his was not healthy laughter. He was mocking and making fun of Avraham’s values. RASHI: he did idol worship, murder and adultery.

Sara tells Avraham to get rid of Hagar and Yishmael. A woman has to protect her children – she saw that the influence would not be good for Yitzchok. RASHI points out that even his very life was in danger – Yishmael wanted to inherit what Avraham had and he would “pretend” shoot arrows in Yitzchok’s direction hoping to “accidentally” kill him and get rid of him.

[verse 11] Avraham did not like this thought – this was his son too and it pained Avraham that his son went off the derech.  In fact, the Mideast tells us that Abraham maintained a relationship with Yishmael, even trying to visit him sometime after his marriage and that by the time Abraham dies, Yishmael has repented and become a beloved son again.  How much more so does it behoove parents in our day and age to never cut the ties to their kids, no matter what kind of messes they might be making of their lives.  If Abraham never gave up on Yishmael, maintained a relationship with him, visited him in his home, despite the fact that his son did all three cardinal sins, what excuse does a parent have to cut off a kid who hasn’t done that great of crimes.  Back to the hard choice where Abraham is told he has to evict his son from his home.  He is torn…

[verse 12] But Hashem tells Avraham the right thing is to listen to Sara because Yitzchok is the kid who is to be the continuation of Avraham’s mission in the world.

Once Avraham knew it was the right thing to do, he didn’t hesitate anymore. He got up and gave food and drink to Hagar and sent Hagar and Yishmael off.

[verse 14] and she went and she got lost… RASHI she returned to doing idol worship.

Huh? Because she got lost, we know she was doing idol worship? A Jew has to know that there is no such thing as “getting lost”. G-d guides the footsteps of man to places where man has to have influence and do a mission. So if I set off for a trip to Albany and a wrong turn takes me to Montreal, there is a reason for that. It was meant to be. When Hagar feels “lost” we know she has lost that sense of direction and purpose- – she is not tuned into the fact that G-d put her into situations and places where she had to do her mission in this world. If she felt lost, it is clear she was no long G-d centered.

Yishmael is sick and they run out of water. Hagar dumps Yishmael in one place and walks off into the distance –she doesn’t want to see him suffering so she walks away from his suffering. And she starts crying.  Note she is more worried about her emotional state than his.  She’d rather leave him alone to his suffering, rather than suffer while watching his suffering.  Real giving and loving is to be able to be discomfited and put the suffering person’s needs first.

Yishmael, too, is crying. He is not just crying out of pain and despair.  He is actually repenting. He knows he deserves what he is getting. [verse 17] “and G-d heard the voice of the lad” Hashem hears Yishmael’s regret and accepts his repentance.

An angel tells Hagar that she has nothing to fear because “shema Elokim el kol hana’ar be’asher hoo sham” G-d heard the voice of the lad where he is at. Even though the descendants of Yishmael will eventually cause grief to the Jewish people, even though in the past Yishmael had sinned, “be’asher hoo sham” where he was at in the moment was at a point of self-reflection and self-improvement –and, therefore, his life gets spared.

[verse 19} “va’yifkach Elokim es ayneha, va’tayrah be’ayr mayim” and G-d opened Hagar’s eyes and she saw a well of water. The well of water was there, but in her despair she saw nothing but self-pity. Now that she has the reassurance all would be well, Hashem helped her see the water that would be life-giving. Many of the solutions to our problems exist right there in front of us and we don’t see it. We sometimes have to have faith and reassurance, and the blessing of G-d opening our eyes to see the tools that are there right in front of us, plain as day, that we just didn’t see before.  Despair clouds our vision.  Open up the eyes and the solutions are there, quite close at hand!


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Judaism is About Action — (and listening to Command Station)

Rabbeinu Bachya on this week’s Torah Portion, when he gets to verse 19, explains all about why G-d decided to let Avraham know that Sodom would be destroyed because, as the verse says, “l’ma’an asher yetzeva es banav – for he will command his children…”  Rabbeinu Bachya quotes Rabbeinu Chananel as explaining that the beauty of Jews is the oral transmission, “the words of the fathers were accepted without the writing of the Torah.”  And he concludes that this oral transmission is exactly matched in importance and obligation as the written law – “they all are equal”.

What is amazing about this verse in the Torah is that it doesn’t say that G-d valued Avraham because he will “teach” his son, but rather that he will “command” his son.  Our rabbis told us “ayn hamikrah ha’eekar, elah ha’ma’aseh – the learning is not the main point, the execution of it is.”  Learning, in and of itself, is valuable, necessary, but not the focal point of Judaism.  Actions, going ahead and doing, is what matters.

That might be the beauty of what the Jews said when they were offered the Torah.  They said, “Na’aseh v’Nishmah- we will do and we will listen.”  Their commitment to action came first, then a nod to learning. 

My father drilled into us again and again, Judaism is not a religion, it is a way of life.  It tells you how to wake in the morning, how to dress, how to eat, how to walk and talk.  It is not just knowledge.  It is action.

A commitment to learning is not enough to make a committed Jew.  Learning is just another one of the Mitzvos.  A commitment to keep the commandments of G-d and “command our children” to do the same, that is what makes for a committed Jew. 

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Ohm might be relaxing… but Judaism isn’t about meditation…ACTIONS NEEDED!

CHAPTER 18 [verse 1] “And G-d appeared…” RASHI: Le’vaker es hacholeh – to visit the sick.

We have a commandment to stick to G-d and go in His ways. In figuring out how to fulfill that commandment, the commentators point out we are to emulate G-d. He gives Chesed (provides food for the world, for example), so, too, should, we provide food for others. Here, we learn from G-d the mitzvah of Bikur Cholim –to visit the sick. The timing of G-d’s visit is on the third day from when Avraham did his Bris Milah.

The verse continues to tell us that Avraham was sitting “pesach ha’ohel” at the opening of the tent. The pshat is that Avraham was sitting at the entrance hoping for guests – k’chom hayom – G-d made the day very hot so that no one should travel and that Avraham would not have to exert himself for guests while he wasn’t feeling well. But Avraham did not like not having guests, so Hashem sent the angels. The Ba’al HaTurim tells us that “sitting at the opening of the tent” is telling us something else. That from the time when Avraham had the bris, he was given a power to keep his descendants out of Gehinnom. That his soul is able to “sit” at the opening of Gehinnom and, if he sees a descendant who kept Bris Milah the way he should being hauled to hell, Avraham has the power to insist that soul not go to “Chom HaYom” to the heat of hell.

At this point, Hashem sends three angels on a mission to earth. Stephen Hawking is desperate to discover that which we don’t see in this world – he thinks he will find aliens. However, he has no clue the depth of the universe and that there are angels all about, which we just don’t see. Angels reside beyond our world in the Heavenly realms. When they must come to earth, they have to travel – and there are different travel spans they have to go through – some have to do many stops, some can come direct, etc. When sent to earth, angels are only one-track minded. They can do only one type of mission during each trip – so one angel can never do both healing and punishment. However, when an angel comes to heal, he can heal more than one person. The three angels assignments were: Micho’el is the one to tell the prophecy that Sara will have a child within the year; Gavree’el is the one to turn over Sodom and its suburbs; and Rafael to heal Avraham – and since Rafael is sent to do a saving/healing mission, on this trip to earth he can go from healing Avraham to saving Lot since both are saving missions.

They take on the guise of men so Avraham should have guests because Avraham is so distressed about not having guests on this day.

Now I want you to note something important. Judaism is different than many religions in that it is a religion which believes in action, not just thoughts. The height of spirituality in many other religions is a retreat from actions and experiences.  The opposite is true with Judaism – you want to have a Shabbat or a holiday, you gotta have guests, foods, wines, nice clothing. You need to experience. In this week’s prasha we see meditation is not the end goal. Avraham is having the peak of spiritual ecstasy – right? – he is talking to G-d! Guests arrive…and what does Avraham do – he says, [verse 3] “wait here, G-d, I have actions to do – I have to get busy cooking and serving to do mitzvah of Hachnasas Orchim.” The more important thing, the height of spirituality in Judaism, is the interaction with the world to serve G-d. You think it more important to sit and learn an esoteric piece of Kabbalah and feel all holy – but that isn’t the Torah version of holiness – holiness is to prepare food for guests, to visit the sick, to take care of the babies G-d will send you. Yes, you come back to the esoteric (Avraham tells G-d he will come back to have the conversation (meditation) with Him)…but for now, his priority was grabbing the opportunity to help someone.

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