A handmade silver menorah is the first thing you see after you check in at Ben Gurion airport and before you head through security.
I think this is the perfect item to place in that spot. For thousands of years the menorah has been a symbol of jewish pride and integrity. Just as you’re about to leave the Jewish state, this menorah is standing there as a reminder of your identity. It whispers to you that even though you’re leaving Eretz Yisrael temporarily for the Diaspora, you’re Jewish. Don’t be seduced by the yavanim, you have your own culture and people that are waiting for you back at home.
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.
Ready to soak up some wisdom from the ex-chief!
בן ישראל שדר בחוצה לארץ דומה כמי שאין לו אלוה
A Jew that lives outside of Israel is like a person that doesn’t have a God
Abraham and Noah: A contrast
This week’s Parsha famously begins
אלה תולדות נח נח איש צדיק תמים היה בדורותיו את האלוקים התהלך בנוח
These are the generations of Noah, Noah was a righteous man he was perfect in his generations; Noah walked with God.
Rashi comments on the words “he was perfect in his generations” that
לפי דורו היה צדיק, ואלו היה בדורו של אברהם לא היה נחשב לכלום
Others interpret it derogatorily: In comparison with his generation he was righteous, but if he had been in Abraham’s generation, he would not have been considered of any importance. — [Sanh. 108a, Gen. Rabbah 30:9, Tan. Noach 5]:
The Baal Haturim explains the same idea through gematria. The words תמים היה have a gematria of 20. He contends that for the 20 generations between Adam and Abraham he was considered righteous but within Abraham’s generation, he would not be considered righteous.
Furthermore the Midrash explains
אמר ר’ אבא בר כהנא כי נחמתי כי עשיתים ונח מצא חן אתהמא אלא אפי’ נח שנשתייר מהם לא שהיה כדאי אלא שמצא חן
(בראשית רבה פכ”ח)
Noah really was not worthy of being saved from the flood. The only reason he was saved was because he found some sort of favour in God’s eyes. Essentially, this Midrash places a limit on Noah’s position as a righteous man in his generation.
Moreover, Rashi on the last word of the Parsha discusses the existence of a Nun Hafucha (a upside down nun) on the word חרן. (This nun is no longer seen in our versions of the text).
הנו”ן הפוכה, לומר לך עד אברם היה חרון אף של מקום בעולם:
The “nun” of חָרָן is inverted, to tell you that until Abram [appeared], the wrath of the Omnipresent was kindled (חֲרוֹן). [The inverted “nun” symbolizes the change from Divine anger to Divine mercy.] — [based on Sifrei, Ha’azinu 311]
This Rashi also invalidates Noah’s position as a righteous person as he was not able to help abate God’s anger. Furthermore, as only Abraham was able to do this it once again provides a contrast between the two of them. This one again demonstrates that Noah was not saved because of his value as a “righteous man”, rather just because of his חן.
The fundamental difference between Abraham and Noah is that Abraham was concerned for the welfare of the people in his generation and Noah was not. Throughout the entire story of the Ark, not once does Noah protest and pray for God to save the world. The text simply reads
ויעש נח בבל אשר צוה אתו אלוקים כן עשה
And Noah did everything God commanded him to do, so he did
ויעש נח כל אשר צוהו ה’
And Noah did everything God commaned him
In contrast to this, Abraham continued to pray to God to try and save the people of Sodom and Gomorrah.
ויגש אברהם ויאמר האף תספה צדיק עם רשע
Abraham came forward and said will You sweep away the innocent with the guilty?
This theme continues until the end of the chapter with Abraham bargaining with God to save the people of Sodom.
The Alshich and the Zohar quoted by Nechama Leibovitz explain that it is this difference in response that creates the chasm between Abraham and Noah, where Abraham is a righteous man and Noah is not. The response of Noah continues to be viewed as a negative thing throughout Tanakh. This is exemplified by a verse in this week’s Haftorah.
כי מי נח זאת לי אשר נשבעתי מעבור מי נח עוד על הארץ כן נשבעתי מקצף עליך ומגער בך
For this to Me is like the waters of Noah as I swore that the waters of Noah nevermore would flood the earth, so I swear that I will not be angry with you or rebuke you.
Rabbi Nebenzahl questions why the flood waters are called the waters of Noah. God is the one who decided to flood the world, why is Noah being blamed? The flood is called the waters of Noah because Noah did not even try to save the world and the people in his generation. As a result of this, it is as if the flood is his fault.
However, how can a human, even a righteous man like Abraham argue with God? Humans are finite, God is infinite, God has a master plan that humans cannot even begin to comprehend. What right does mere man have to debate God?
Rav Soloveitchik explains,
“The individual who frees himself from the rational principle and who casts off the yoke of objective thought will in the end turn destructive…’out of the depths I have called unto Thee O Lord’ (Psalms 130:1). Out of the straits of inner oppositions and incongruities, spiritual doubts and uncertainties, our of the depths of a psyche rent with antimonies and contradictions, out of the bottomless pit of a soul that struggles with its own torments I have called, I have called unto Thee O Lord”.
(Rav Soloveitchik Notes to P. 4 Halakhic Man)
Everyone has problems, doubts and conflicts within their religious experience. As humans, we cannot understand God’s plan, decisions and actions. However, there is no reason why we cannot discuss this with this God, call out to him and try to search for answer.
Ultimately, like Abraham we should protest respectfully when we think we see injustices in the world. It is this quality that makes Abraham the epitome of a Tzaddik and Noah’s silence that delegitimizes him. May we all have the courage to speak up when we see immorality and injustice and in our prayers receive clear answers from God.
Shabbat Shalom from Jerusalem
The current view from the Ezrat Nashim at the kotel. Millions of lulavim!
Hoshana Raba 5774 Vatikin davening
Birkat Kohanim at the Kotel this morning
The reading of Kohelet on Shabbat Chol HaMoed appears to be completely inappropriate. Sukkot is known as Zman Simchateinu - the season of our rejoicing and is a Chag infused with extra happiness. The emphasis of joy and celebration is seen through the the Simchat Beit HaShoeivah.
מי שלא ראה שמחת בית השואבה לא ראה שמחה מימיו
Whoever did not see the celebration of the place of water drawing never saw rejoicing in all his days.
Furthermore, this element of increased happiness is considered a Halacha and is an expression of Simchat Yom Tov.
אף על פי שכל המועדות מצוה לשמוח בהן. בחג הסוכות היתה במקדש יום שמחה יתירה שנאמר ושמחתם לפני ה’ אלהיכם שבעת ימים.
Even though it is a mitzvah to rejoice on all the festivals, there was an additional celebration in the Temple on the festival of Sukkot, as [Leviticus 23:40] commands: “And you shall rejoice before God, your Lord, for seven days.”
(Mishneh Torah Hilchot Lulav 8:12)
If one of the main themes of Sukkot is joy, why are we reading a brooding Megillah about the futility of everything?
The second sentence of the Megillah says
הבל הבלים אמר קהלת הבל הבלים הכל הבל
Vanity of vanities, said Kohelet; vanity of vanities, all is vanity.
While here the word הבל is translated as vanity, it is also commonly translated as transience, alluding to each individual’s fleeting mortality. This provides a slightly different interpretation to the first.
Fleeting transience, said Kohelet; all is fleeting.
In this understanding, Kohelet is not about an individual bemoaning the inherent meaninglessness of life; rather, a man tormented by the realisation of his own mortality. It is the Megillah about a man trying to find an everlasting meaning to life, a significance that would even survive his imminent death.
Our quest to find meaning in life is really the journey of Torah and Mitzvot. Our lives are short and our accumulation of material possessions is ultimately useless. Our money and our iPads don’t follow us into the grave, only our Mitzvot and Zechuyot have value in Olam Haba.
This is discussed in Kohelet
וישב העפר על הארץ כשהיה והרוח תשוב אל האלהים אשר נתנה. הבל הבלים אמר הקהלת הכל הבל
And the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God, Who gave it. Fleeting transience, said Kohelet; all is fleeting.
Our expressions of happiness and celebrations on Sukkot are through very physical actions. We eat great food, drink wine, sing and dance; however, we must remember that these physical actions are for a spiritual purpose. We are celebrating God’s protection, celebrating being signed into the Book of Life and a successful harvest season.
Furthermore, Kohelet provides a focus on our spirituality during a time of heightened physicality. While we may enjoy the food, wine, songs and dance, we remember it is our Torah and our Mitzvot that we will carry into the next world. Kohelet reminds us of our life’s brevity and guides our actions for the year ahead. May the coming year be full of Mitzvot and Limmud Torah which are the true goals of our fleeting existence.
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”
Yesterday was the most unique Yom Kippur I’ve ever experienced. For once, I wasn’t troubled by hunger pains or bothered by an itchy throat yearning for water. To be honest, I barely noticed the fast.
I davened at my Midrasha’s brother Yeshiva and while I was nervous about a Yeshiva davening that takes all day, it was definitely worth it! From what I could hear, there was about 100 men and about 80 women davening in the small Beit Midrash. No one was inhibited in their Tefillah. Everyone shouted with all their strength in the most incredible display of genuine passion. The service was deafening.
It was also the first time I’d ever truly felt Yom Kippur was a chag, and something to be celebrated as seen in the famous Mishnah in Taanit. (I’m too lazy to find the source and quote it correctly, I wrote it in my last Dvar Torah – look for it there!). Everyone sang with gusto and danced for such long periods of time despite the fast. Honestly, if I would have walked in and had no idea it was Yom Kippur, I would’ve thought it was Simchat Torah. Obviously, at the appropriate times the Tefillah was somber and serious but that’s not all Yom Kippur is about. Yom Kippur is a day to celebrate our relationship with Hashem and become closer to Him. It’s essentially a manifestation of our ultimate goal in life.
The seriousness of Yom Hadin and the happiness of Yom Kippur seem contradictory. And they are. According to Rav Soloveitchik the religious experience is not a simple one, to say so is a lie. Our religious experience is supposed to be contradictory, confusing and full of crises. We’re supposed to have a complex relationship with God, just like we have a complex relationship full of history with the people we’re closest with.
In the words of the Rav, “religion is not, at the outset, a refuge of grace and mercy for the despondent and desperate, an enchanted stream for crushed spirits, but a raging, clamorous torrent of man’s consciousness with all its crises, pangs and torments…For the path that eventually will lead to the ‘green pastures’ and to the ‘still waters’ is not the royal road, but a narrow, twisting footway that threads its course along the steep mountain slope, as the terrible abyss yawns at the traveler’s feet” (Notes to P.4 Halakhic Man).