Sorry this is last week’s Dvar Torah. My internet wasn’t working last week so I couldn’t put it up then and I didn’t have the time to work on one this week. I’m sorry.
After years of hiding from the wrath of his twin brother, Jacob finally feels safe to begin his journey home. Interestingly enough, this idea is juxtaposed with the birth of his first son from his favourite wife Rachel, Joseph.
ויהי כאשר ילדה רחל את יוסף ויאמר יעקב אל לבן שלחני ואלכה אל מקומי ולארצי
After Rachel had borne Joseph, Jacob said to Laban, “Give me leave to go back to my own homeland”
Rashi comments on this verse and explains
משנולד שטנו של עשו שנאמר והיה בית יעקב אש ובית יוסף להבה ובית עשו לקש אש בלא להבה אינו שולט למרחוק משנולד יוסף בטח יעקב בהקב’ה ורצה לשוב
Quoting the Midrash (Bereishit Rabbah 73:7) Rashi explains that Joseph is the inherent rival of Esau and it was only after his birth, that Jacob felt secure enough to return to his homeland. Furthermore, the House of Jacob is compared to a fire, the House of Joseph to a flame and the House of Esau to straw.
והיה בית יעקב אש ובית יוסף להבה ובית עשו לקש ודלקו בהם ואכלום ולא יהיה שריד לבית עשו כי ה’ דבר
The House of Jacob shall be fire, and the House of Joseph flame, and the House of Esau shall be straw; they shall burn it and devour it and so survivor shall be left of the House of Esau – for the Lord has spoken
Malbim discusses the difference between a flame and a fire.
ואז יהיה בית יעקב לאש הבוער מקרוב ובית יוסף יהיה כלהבה הבוער מרחוק יותר מן האש
The House of Jacob will be like a fire that burns close and the House of Joseph will be like a flame that burns from afar even more than fire
(Malbim on Obadiah 1:18)
Fire without a flame has no effect when it’s far away; implying fire needs a flame in order to destroy. The flame is the concentrated essence of the fire. The flame can focus on specific targets while the fire cannot. Radak expands on this idea and contends the House of Jacob is dependent on the House of Joseph to destroy the House of Esau.
ורז’ל דרשו כל זכר יוסף לפי שאין זרעו של עשו נופל אלא ביד יוסף או ביד זרעו של יוסף
The Rabbis (OB’M) teach that Joseph is mentioned because Esau will only fall through Joseph or through Joseph’s descendants
(Radak on Obadiah 1:18)
The Da’at Mikra on Obadiah defines the House of Jacob as Judah and the House of Joseph as Joseph. Judah and Joseph are emblematic of two opposing worldviews; Judah represents a path of insulation and isolation in order to protect his own way of life, while Joseph symbolizes integration into surrounding society in order to influence society for the better.
Judah’s isolation is illustrated in the aftermath of Joseph’s Sale, when he removes himself from his brothers’ community and decides to live by himself.
ויהי בעת ההיא וירד יהודה מאת אחיו ויט עד איש עדלמי ושמו חירה
About that time Judah left his brothers and camped near a certain Adullamite whose name was Hirah
This is also seen when Judah breaks his promise and refuses to give his youngest son to Tamar as a husband. He follows his worldview of isolation, rather than keeping his word.
ותסר בגדי אלמנותה מעליה ותכס בצעיף ותתעלף ותשב פתח עינים אשר על דרך תמנתה כי ראתה כי גדל שלה והוא לו נתנה לו לאשה
So she took off her widow’s garb, covered her face with a veil, and, wrapping herself up, sat down at the entrance to Einaim which on the road to Timnah for she saw that Shelah was grown up, yet she had not been given to him as wife
In contrast to this Joseph integrates into Egyptian society and even becomes the ruler of the entire country under Pharaoh’s supervision. Despite his success in a foreign society amongst pagan ideals completely opposed to Judaism, Joseph maintains his relationship with God. Joseph’s worldview is demonstrated in a number of sources in Genesis.
ויהי ה’ את יוסף ויהי איש מצליח ויהי בבית אדוניו המצרי
The Lord was with Joseph, and he was a successful man; and he stayed in the house of his Egyptian master
ויאמר פרעה אל יוסף ראה נתתי אתך על כל ארץ מצרים
Pharaoh further said to Joseph, “See, I put you in charge of all the land of Egypt”
It is this difference between Judah and Joseph that explains why only a descendant of Joseph could destroy the House of Esau. In my opinion, when Obadiah refers to completely obliterating the House of Esau it can be understood metaphorically; destroying all ideologies and beliefs that contradict God and His Torah. Judah cannot destroy Esau alone as he does not interact with him at all, he lives in his own isolated Torah bubble. However, Joseph who does not cut himself off completely from Esau’s society can be a ‘light unto the nations’ and destroy Esau’s heretical beliefs by being a positive influence.
The contrast between fire and a flame is also seen in the Book of Isaiah.
והיה אור ישראל לאש וקדושו ללהבה
The Light of Israel will be a fire and its Holy One a flame
Midrashei Chazal explain
דבר אחר והיה אור ישראל לאש זה מרדכי וקדושו ללהבה זו אסתר
Alternatively, the Light of Israel will be a fire refers to Mordechai and its Holy One a flame refers to Esther
(Midrashei Chazal on Isaiah 10:17)
Mordechai and Esther follow the same pattern in the comparison between fire and flame. Morderchai , like the fire and Judah, remained outside the palace for the most of Purim narrative, fasting and focusing on the Jewish community. In contrast to this, Esther was married to Ahasuereus and tried to change the decree against the Jews from the inside. She was part of the upper echelons of Persian society, Morderchai was outside of it.
These sources demonstrate the need for the flame to exist. Without the flame, the fire is useless. Esau will not be defeated by fire alone. Ahasuereus’ and Haman’s decree weren’t nullified by Mordechai, Esther is the heroine of the Purim story. Joseph’s weapon, the flame – God and His Torah will eradicate all theological falsehoods in this world. Joseph, unlike Judah has the ability to spread the word of God, the flame of Torah throughout the world. Joseph will be a light unto the nations and destroy the House of Esau.
We like Joseph and Esther should have the strength to withstand the values that our superficial society bombards us with on a daily basis. We should strive to emulate Joseph and be a light unto the nations, a positive influence, and through the flame of Torah influence society for the better. We should reveal more Godliness into the world, help people discover the Ultimate Truth and hasten the arrival of Mashiach.
Succah seen at the light rail station across the street from the tachana merkazit.
A rough interpretation (ie not exact translation) would be “to passengers on the light rail: Happy holiday and have a safe journey”
Had the honor of eating lunch at the tayelet today in talpiot. From the lookout you can see the old city and most if Jerusalem. Apparently, at this spot, Gd showed Avraham where his descendants would build their holy city.
Seen on a bus in Jerusalem
I miss the way I feel like I belong and do no stick out.
I miss the way you make me feel like I’ve come home.
I miss the way I feel like everyone is family.
I miss the way Jews surround me every place I go.
I miss the extra enthusiasm I have for religion.
I miss passing ancient sites every…
Less than 10 days to go!
Well, now that Yom Ha’atzmaut is truly over here, I suppose it’s time to reflect.
Last night I went to a special tefillah at my shule and then to a concert sponsored by the community. The concert was a fun, self deprecating exhibition of Israeli culture. It included quite a few speeches, short comedy performances, a video message from the Shnat kids in Israel and two songs (accompanied by dances) from each decade of Israel’s existence. The song that the concert ended on was מי שמאמין לא מפחד.
To me, this perfectly summarises what I believe Yom Ha’atzmaut is all about. It’s about recognising the miracles of Israel’s existence and giving thanks to God. It’s about realising that Israel’s independence is not just historically or politically important to the Jewish people and the world, but has a great religious significance.
The creation of the Jewish state is the fulfilment of a 2,000 year old dream and even though we have not reached the Geulah Shleimah, Israel is ראשית צמיחת גאולתנו.
That’s why to me, celebrating Yom Ha’atzmaut with a special Tefillah and Hallel is so important. Essentially, it’s a Chag and we should treat it with the respect that it deserves, rather than just eating Felafel and wearing blue and white.
When an official body like the local and federal Zionist council (by no means Orthodox organisations) decide to end the evening’s festivities with a song recognising Hashem, it proves to me that we’re really in אתחלתא דגאולה and will merit to see the גאולה שלמה במהרה בימינו אמן.
Chag Atzmaut Sameach!
Today at university something happened to me that resulted me in thinking about my Jewish identity.
I made a new friend in my Arabic class and she asked me “where are you from?”
Every new person I’ve met at university has asked me this question. I suppose in a multicultural society like Australia, where everybody is originally an immigrant people are interested in knowing your roots. So far, most people have thought I’m either Greek or Egyptian. In case you didn’t know, I’m neither. I always answer, “I”m Jewish” and just continue on with the conversation.
However today, my new friend responded “But where are you from originally?”
I responded “My grandparents were from Germany and Poland”.
"So you’re mixed European?" my friend asked.
"Uhhh, I guess?" I said awkwardly and continued practicing reading Arabic words as if I was a six year old student.
To me, my Jewish identity is as much a nationality - after all I am part of Am Yisrael - as my religious beliefs. And most people I’ve met at university seem to see that too. But this girl was different and the more I think about it, the more I regret not explaining that part of my Jewish identity. I in no way identify as German and Polish - my grandparents were refugees because Jewish people were being systematically exterminated. Germany and Poland are drenched in Jewish blood. I could never identify with those countries.
Next time someone asks me this question, I’ll know what to answer. I won’t be afraid to say that Judaism is my national identity as well as my religious one. I shouldn’t be “awkwarded out” by that. It’s the truth.
A list of my direct ancestors who were murdered during the Holocaust. All of these people had relatives, siblings and parents who were also killed, just because they were Jewish.
- מינה בת יוסף - Mina the daughter of Joseph. She was killed in a concentration camp in France, although lived in…
This is a Dvar Torah that originally appeared a booklet full of Divrei Torah that my friend collated. She sends out a weekly Parsha Dvar Torah as well. If you’re interested in joining the email list, let me know.
The themes that stand out in this chapter are power and ambition and the Megillah guides us as to how we should act when wanting to increase and accept power.
Haman approaches King Achashverosh in the middle of the night to talk to him about the gallows he had made for Mordechai. However, Achashverosh asks him
, מַה-לַּעֲשׂוֹת בָּאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר הַמֶּלֶךְ חָפֵץ בִּיקָרוֹ;
What should be done to the man who the king wishes to honour
According to the Malbim, Achashversosh is intentionally vague and merely says “the man”, guessing that Haman would assume the King was referring to him. Achashverosh’s instinct was correct as the verse continues with Haman’s inner thoughts
וַיֹּאמֶר הָמָן, בְּלִבּוֹ, לְמִי יַחְפֹּץ הַמֶּלֶךְ לַעֲשׂוֹת יְקָר, יוֹתֵר מִמֶּנִּי
Now Haman said in his heart: ‘Whom would the king delight to honour besides myself?’—
Haman proceeds to divulge his deepest aspirations and desires. He wishes to wear the king’s clothing, ride the king’s horse, be paraded through the streets and even wear the King’s crown. According to the Targum Sheini, Haman’s proposal proves that Haman hoped that in the future he would become the king and as a result of that, Achashverosh decided to cut him down to size by making him organise Mordechai’s parade of honour.
After Mordeachai’s parade of honour, we are assured that the status quo is now just and fair. Mordechai is honoured and Haman is disgraced. The hero is recognised and the villain discredited.
וַיָּשָׁב מָרְדֳּכַי, אֶל-שַׁעַר הַמֶּלֶךְ; וְהָמָן נִדְחַף אֶל-בֵּיתוֹ, אָבֵל וַחֲפוּי רֹאשׁ
And Mordecai returned to the king’s gate. But Haman hurried to his house, mourning and having his head covered.
Malbim explains that Mordechai not only returned to the king’s gate, but to the position of honour he deserved, whereas Haman went home in disgrace. Haman’s disgrace is iterated by his wife Zeresh and his advisors who claim
וַיֹּאמְרוּ לוֹ חֲכָמָיו וְזֶרֶשׁ אִשְׁתּוֹ, אִם מִזֶּרַע הַיְּהוּדִים מָרְדֳּכַי אֲשֶׁר הַחִלּוֹתָ לִנְפֹּל לְפָנָיו לֹא-תוּכַל לוֹ—כִּי-נָפוֹל תִּפּוֹל, לְפָנָיו.
‘Since Mordechai is of Jewish descent, once you’re begun to fall before him, you’ll never over come him; but continue falling before him’
Haman’s downfall was not caused just because Mordechai was of Jewish descent, Haman’s pride and arrogant behaviour also contributed his downfall. The idea of arrogance causing destruction is found in Mishlei.
לִפְנֵי שֶׁבֶר גָּאוֹן וְלִפְנֵי כִשָּׁלוֹן גֹּבַהּ רוּחַ,:
Before destruction comes pride, and before stumbling [comes] a haughty spirit.
It was Haman’s haughtiness that caused him to hate the Jews and Mordechai, eventually leading to his own death. Haman could not simply accept that the Jews and Mordechai did not bow to him like all the other people in Shushan did. He could not accept the fact that the Jews looked to God as the ultimate authority, rather than man. Haman was not able to swallow his pride and accept beliefs different to his own. Rather, he was consumed by his hatred and became obsessed with plotting Mordechai’s death and the genocide of the Jews. It must be remembered that Haman was already second in command in Perisa, he had achieved greatness and accumulated power, but it was not enough for him. He wanted more. It was this attitude that led to his downfall.
In contrast to Haman is Mordechai, who is simply described as “Mordechai the Jew”. Not much is said about him in the text, but it appears that his aim in his life is to follow the word God. He does good where he can, saving the King from Bigtan and Teresh’s assassination plot and does not complain that he was not honoured or recognised for his efforts. When he is honoured he does not ask for more or reject it, he simply accepts it. It is Mordechai that eventually becomes the viceroy when Haman is hanged. He accepts the position and performs the job to the best of his ability, advocating his people along the way. In the closing of the Megillah we read
כִּי מָרְדֳּכַי הַיְּהוּדִי, מִשְׁנֶה לַמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ, וְגָדוֹל לַיְּהוּדִים, וְרָצוּי לְרֹב אֶחָיו—דֹּרֵשׁ טוֹב לְעַמּוֹ, וְדֹבֵר שָׁלוֹם לְכָל-זַרְעוֹ.
For Mordecai the Jew was next unto king Ahasuerus, and great among the Jews, and accepted of the multitude of his brethren; seeking the good of his people and speaking peace to all his seed.
Mordechai continues to be addressed by the same title “Mordechai the Jew” throughout the entire Megillah. While Mordechai’s position may have changed, he remained the same person. He did not become arrogant as a result of his promotion and he continued to seek and speak peace.
Ambition is not bad. It is important to be motivated and to try and achieve a goal. However, we must ensure that we do not allow ourselves to be consumed by our pride and become arrogant along our path. Furthermore, when we are presented with opportunities we should not reject them, rather accept them with humility and grace. Like Shakespeare wrote in the Twelfth Night “be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ‘em”. Mordechai proves that power is not an inherently corruptive force or something to be afraid of, we must try to emulate him and remain the same person we always were, accept our greatness and do not expect more.