Monday, December 09, 2019

dont wait for the pitchforks

1) My wife made the following observation:  Yaakov is the model of the Jew in galus.  The Torah tells us that when Yaakov heard Lavan’s sons murmuring accusations against him, he realized that it was time to leave.  He didn’t wait for them to sharpen the pitchforks and come after him.

Listen to the rhetoric of the Labour party.  Listen to the rhetoric of the Democrat party.  Listen to the reports of what is already happening in France, in Belgium, in other parts of Europe.  Don’t wait for the pitchforks.

2) “V’atah haloch halacha ki nichsof nishsafta l’beis avicha lamah ganavta…” (31:30)

Chasam Sofer asks mah inyan the reisha of the pasuk to the seifa of the pasuk.  What does Yaakov wanting to return to his father’s house have to do with the theft of the terafim?  One surely does not excuse the other or explain the other.

He gives a pilpulistic answer, but the Rishonim are already bothered by this question and explain al pi peshat that Lavan was saying that he understood that Yaakov ran out not because he was a thief, but because he was so anxious to get back to this father’s house.  Nonetheless, the terafim were missing and Yaakov or someone in his family must have taken them.

Rav Drook quoted a nice explanation of the pasuk b’shem R’ Shimon Shkop, but the idea is already found in the Malbim.  Imagine a kollel guy who spends pesach with his in-laws and when it's time to return home he packs up their large screen TV along with his own luggage.  When the shverr runs after him to ask what's going on, it’s not the theft per se which is so troubling -– the shverr can afford another large screen TV.  What bothers him more is what someone who ostensibly is immersed in Torah would need a large screen TV for.  Here too, Lavan was saying to Yaakov Avninu, “You claim to be so anxious to leave here and return to your holy father’s house.  Avodah zarah is an anathema to your father!  So why did you walk out with my idols in your trunk?”  It’s the hypocrisy which stings and stinks more than theft itself.

You don't have to actually walk out with the TV to be guilty of theft.  Sometimes it's the deyos and ideas of the outside world that we steal and bring into our world even though they are completely incongruous with what our lifestyle should be.

Thursday, December 05, 2019

persuasion, not coercion

I know at least I am starting off with a good question when I find myself following in the footsteps as R' Eliezer Eisenberg, who was also bothered by the problem that troubled me when I was going over the parsha:
After Yaakov had a dream where he received nevuas Elokim that told him to leave Lavan, why did he seek Rachel and Leah's advice and consent about leaving?
Please see his post.  While he brings achronei ha'meforshim that address this, I turned back to some of the rishonim:

Ralbag writes that the whole point of the Torah telling us this story is to teach us that one should not impose one’s will on one’s household through coercion, but rather one should try to explain and persuade so that others willingly follow.  (Sounds like a good lesson for kiruv, or for dealing with not-yet-religious members of our community -- persuade, encourage, but don't knock people over the head with a rolling pin.)  It was only after he first explained why he wanted to leave that Yaakov then added, by-the-way, that a malach also told me to leave.  Yaakov did not want that to be the primary reason for Rachel and Leah to listen to him, but he also did not want to omit it entirely because he wanted his wives to also get credit for obeying the dvar Hashem. 

(This last point is very interesting as it implies that had Rachel and Leah just agreed to go for logical reasons without knowing the nevuah, it would not have been enough -- they also had to act with deliberate intent to fulfill ratzon Hashem.  Tzarich more iyun into this.)

A clue to another possible answer can be found in a Seforno at the end of this episode.  Rachel and Leah say to Yaakov, “Kol asher amar Elokim eilecha aseh,” (31:16) whatever G-d wants you to do, go ahead and do it.  Seforno comments: “Kol asher amar Elokim – bilvad aseh.  N’hag v’leiuch v’al titol reshus.”  Meaning, G-d told you to leave, so do exactly and just what G-d said –- leave.  Don’t make a goodbye party, don’t ask for permission, just follow the instructions and walk out the door.

I hopefully am not reading too much in, but it sounds to me like Yaakov’s discussion with Rachel and Leah was not about whether they should leave – the answer to that was dictated by the malach -- but rather the discussion was about how they should make their departure.  Imagine an angel came and told you to quit your job.  Does that mean walk out the door same day, or does that mean give two weeks notice?  There is wiggle room to interpret it either way.  So Yaakov, being a good husband, especially in this case where the issue revolves around the in-laws, does what any good husband would do – they ask their wife for advice.

Lastly, Abarbanel has a hard to digest comment that he makes not in direct response to this question, but which touches on it anyway.  He writes in connection with Yaakov’s discussion with Rachel and Leah that “lo haya lo koach la’leches im lo b’ratzon nashav v’cheftzeihen v’da’atan” – he would not have had the strength to leave if not for his wives’ consent and it being in accord with their wishes.  Hard to fathom what he means – Yaakov would not have obeyed the nevuah had Rachel and Leah protested? I don’t see how you can say that about Yaakov Avinu, but that's what Abarbanel writes. 

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

reputational risk

The parsha relates that when Yaakov’s flocks increased dramatically in size because of all the spotted and speckled sheep being born, the children of Lavan began to complain that Yaakov’s riches were earned off Lavan’s back and Yaakov had taken his wealth from their father.  No matter that Yaakov had separated off Lavan’s sheep to make sure there was no mixing between the flocks, they still grumbled.

The parsha then continues that Yaakov noticed that Lavan himself now looked askance at Yaakov (31:2).  Yaakov then knew, and was told by Hashem, that it was time to leave.

What changed?  Despite being tricked into marrying Leah, despite being forced to work for years to even earn the right to marry Rachel and Leah, despite being constantly cheated and having the terms of his employment constantly changed (31:41), for 20 years Yaakov tolerated it and did not just walk out the door.  What now suddenly made things worse, made things unbearable?

An amazing Seforno: “Va’yar Yaakov es pnei Lavan – ra’ah she’kibel es ha’lashon ha’ra.” 
A crook, a cheat, a ganav, someone who doesn’t play fair –- that Yaakov can live with.  A ba’al lashon ha’ra -– now all bets are off.  That’s too much.

You could turn this into a mussar vort on the chomer ha’issur of lashon ha’ra vs other issurim, but maybe the pshat is simpler than that.  In business there is something called reputational risk.  A potential loss of $ is bad, but even worse than that is a potential loss of trustworthiness or credibility.  You can always make more $, but it’s not so easy to recover one’s good name once it is lost.  Yaakov could tolerate to some degree losing money, wages, etc.  However, once Lavan’s children began to attack his reputation, his trustworthiness, that he could not abide.  “Titein emes l’Yaakov” -– to Yaakov, his credibility was the most precious commodity and one he refused to put it at risk.

for those who said tein tal u'bracha tonight (dec 4)

See Yabi'a Omer  vol 5 siman 15: since in Eretz Yisrael they have already been saying tein tal u'matar from 7 Cheshvan, if you make a mistake in chu"l and add it in when you weren't supposed to you don't have to go back and repeat.

(I would not have figured this out from reading O.C. 117:3.)

Thursday, November 28, 2019

the smell of gan eden

When Yitzchak smelled the clothes of Yaakov, now dressed as Eisav, he called out , “R’ei reiach bni k’reich sadeh asher beiracho Hashem.” The simple pshat I think is, like Ibn Ezra writes, that Eisav’s clothes had absorbed the smell of the outdoors -– not outdoors like the smog of NY City, but outdoors like the fragrant smell of country fields.  But that’s not how Rashi explains the pasuk.  Rashi writes that there is no more repulsive odor than that of the hairy hides that Eisav wore.  The sweet fragrance that Yitzchak smelled was not Eisav’s clothes, but rather was the odor of gan Eden that entered with Yaakov.

Sefas Emes (5647) asks: but the pasuk says that it was Eisav’s smelly clothes -– “bigadav” --  which Yitzchak sniffed, not some holy smell of gan eden.  How can Rashi ignore what the text says and substitute something else in its place? 

The Sefas Emes suggests an approach that puts together two ideas we've learned in the past.  Lets start with a gemara in Shabbos 152 that we spoke about a few years ago:

The rabbis taught: "Return the soul to the Lord as clean as He gave it to thee." This is illustrated by a parable of a king who once gave to his attendants suits of clothes. The wise among them took care of them, kept them clean and folded, and used them on special occasions only. The fools put them on and performed their work in them. Naturally, the clothes became dirty. All at once, the king demanded the clothes back again. The wise men returned them clean and whole, but the fools returned them in a dirty and dilapidated condition. The king was well pleased with the wise men, and told them to depart in peace, and had their clothes stored; but the clothes of the fools he ordered to be sent to the washers, and the fools were sent to prison.

Chazal are not interested in when or how we do laundry.  What Chazal are speaking of is how we treat our neshoma.  Sefas Emes quotes from the Zohar that when a person learns Torah his neshoma is dressed in the garb of the ruach of gan eden; when a person does mitzvos he dresses his neshoma in the levush of the nefesh of gan eden; when a person has holy thoughts and aspirations, he merits a suit of the neshoma of gan eden.  A person can also dress the neshoma in the shmutz of olam ha’zeh and make it filthy.   What kind of levush will the neshoma have on it when it comes time for it to return it its maker?

We learn from  “v’kibadito…” that one’s dress on Shabbos has to be different than the way one dresses during the week.  (In certain locales that seems to mean that you wear a suit and tie to work during the week in order to look professional, but come to shul Shabbos morning in Dockers and a casual shirt because it’s the weekend. I don't think that's what Chazal meant...)  Chazal here too are speaking about the neshoma: if you want to absorb the me’ein olam ha’ba of Shabbos then the neshoma needs the appropriate levush. 

In contrast, Rav Ben Tzion Mutzafi writes in his derashos that it was only because Yaakov put on the garments of his brother Eisav that he  was able to utter the words “Anochi Eisav bechorecha.”  Even if, as Rashi explains, this was not a direct lie (Anochi = I am who am I, and “Eisav bichorecha” = Eisav is the bechor), Yaakov would still not have done it if not for his having slipped on the levushim of Eisav.

Anyone who has heard the Carlebach story “Shvartze Wolf” knows that a person’s neshoma can have an exalted levush in the next world, but in this world we don’t see it and don’t sense it.  Someone who is one of the 36 tzadikim can look like just a simple woodchopper or beggar.  It’s hard for a levush that is so holy to make an appearance down here in olam ha’zeh. 

To again borrow from an idea in an old post, when you walk in the door late Friday afternoon and you smell the cholent on the stove, you smell the fresh challah, the kugel, etc. it’s like it’s Shabbos already even though the candles have not been lit -– the whiff of what’s coming makes the Shabbos a reality.  When Shabbos departs we comfort ourselves with besamim –- we want to keep a whiff of Shabbos, of aliya, with us, even though the day itself is gone.  So too, even though the levush of a great person may not really visible in this world, we are still able to pick up a whiff that there is something special there. 

Va’yarach es rei’ach begadav” –- Yitzchak did smell the scent of the hides, the smell of Eisav, a foul smelling odor, exactly as the words say.  This was the levush of a man of the fields, not a yosheiv ohalim.  This is the pshat, the surface meaning of what happened.  But along with that, Yitzchak got a whiff of something else, of gan eden.   Yitzchak detected that there was something more here, something below the surface, something that is beyond pshat, beyond the olam ha'zeh appearance of things.   Therefore, he gave his bracha. 

korban pesach and the bracha of the Avos

1) My wife pointed out that it's only natural that Yitzchak, about whom we read last week "Vayeitzei Yitzchak la'suach ba'sadeh," should have an affinity for Eisav, the "ish sadeh."  See her post here for (among other things) another interesting diyuk: Eisav is an "ish sadeh," but Yaakov is not called an "ish ohalim" -- he is an "ish tam," which also connects with Yitzchak, but you have to read her post for more on that.

2) Rashi writes that the two sheep which Rivka prepared for Yaakov to serve to Yitzchak  were the korban pesach and korban chagigah.  Malbi”m explains that Pesach is the time when we reach l’ma’alah min ha’teva.  There is no way barring supernatural intervention that Klal Yisrael could have escaped the bondage of Mitzrayim and there was no way based purely on merit that we deserved to escape.  “Halalu ovzei avodah zarah v’halalu ovdei avodah zarah.”  Pesach means destiny trumps zechuyus/chiyuvim.  The bracha of the Avos that Yitzchak was going to pass on was a bracha that transcended any and all obstacles. 

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Avraham the CEO?

1) Many meforshim see the pasuk “v’Avraham zakein… v’Hashem beirach es Avhraham ba’kol,” (24:1) which prefaces the parsha of Eliezer’s quest to find a bride for Yitzchak, as a justification of Avraham’s actions.   Why did Avraham Avraham send Eliezer and not take charge of things himself?  Why the need to administer an oath to Eliezer?  And why send him far away to find a bride for Yitzchak –- was there no local girl who wanted to marry Yitzchak? 

Avraham was blessed “ba’kol” – he had it all.  Surely a rich and powerful man, a CEO, cannot ignore managing his enterprise in order to personally make a long journey that can be delegated to others (Netziv).  And surely someone rich and powerful needs to take precautions lest his delegate be pressured, bribed, coerced –- hence the oath administered to Eliezer to not succumb to any impediments (Seforno).  And surely anyone would gladly marry into such a powerful family. Sending Elizer to look elsewhere was not for want of shidduch offers, but was Avraham’s deliberate choice (Rashbam).

All this would be true of any rich and powerful man.  But truthfully, it's hard to think of Avraham in those terms.  Sefas Emes writes that what motivated Avraham was not really protecting his wealth and power.  The focus of the pasuk is not WHAT Avraham had -– fame, riches, etc. -- but rather HOW Avraham got all that: “HASHEM beirach es Avraham ba'kol"  Avraham is not merely a powerful CEO -– Avraham is G-d’s CEO.  It's not his personal business that Avraham is out to protect, but rather G-d's business -- the mission of bringing kvod shamayim into the world.  Therefore, it was critical for Eliezer to find the right girl.

No one can really argue with a straight face that since "Hashem beirach" therefore they will only date a girl who wears size 2 or less.  That's not an argument of an Avraham Avinu.  If you really think "Hashem beirach" and gave you whatever talent, whatever mission you have, and you need a mate to match those she'ifos, then dress size is not on the list of what you are looking for.  "Hashem beirach" means it's not about me -- I'm just a kli for some higher purpose.  That's the hakdamah to Eliezer's mission and the hakdamah to what to look for in a shidduch. 
2) Simple pshat in (25:5) “vayitein Avraham es KOL asher lo l’Yitzchak” is that Avraham gave everything in his possession to Yitzchak.  However, the very next pasuk  (25:6) tells us that he gave gifts to the bnei ha’pilagshim as well.  So what does it mean when it says “KOL asher lo?”

Instead of emphasizing the first word, Sefas Emes puts the emphasis on the last: “kol asher LO.”  What really belongs to a person?  What does a person really want to give over -- what can a person really give over -- to their kids?  It’s not the bank account, or the house, or the new car.  Hashem told Avraham at the start his journey: “Lech LECHA…  el ha’aretz asher ar’eka.”  This mission is “LECHA” –- it belongs to you Avraham; you own it.  When it comes time to leave the world, that's what Avraham passes on to Yitzchak, and that mission is what has been continuously passed on through the generations until it has reached us.   

Thursday, November 14, 2019

blind to the truth

1. “Ain ha’Shechina shurah elah m’toch simcha” -– simcha is a prerequisite to receiving nevuah.  Shem m'Shmuel (last piece in 5671) points out that since Avraham received a revelation of a malach who told him to stop what he was doing even as he had the knife in his hand ready to shecht Yitzchak, it must mean that he was b'simcha to fulfill the dvar Hashem even at that moment!
The nisayon of the akeidah was not whether Avraham would do what Hashem asked or not.  Disobeying a direct tzivuy from Hashem was not an option.  The nisayon was whether he would obey b’zerizus and b’simcha or not.  We all want to do mitzvos.  But how are we doing them?  Are they a burden, or are they something we approach b'simcha, even when it is hard?

2. Last week I circled back to a question from an old post: once the sons-in-law of Lot saw the angels smite the people of Sdom with blindness, why did they laugh when Lot told them that these same angels would destroy the city?  They just saw an open miracle –- wouldn’t they at least want to hedge their bets and run?

Kli Yakar answers that when Lot spoke to his sons-in-law he told them that Hashem -– the name associated with midas ha’rachamim -– is going to destroy the city.  This they thought impossible.  Surely the midas ha’rachamim could not be used for an act of destruction.

To me this answer seems overly technical.  If you hear that the city is going to be wiped out, is it really the time to quibble over whether the right shem Hashem was used in the announcement? 

Shem m’Shmuel (5680) here too says something insightful: The sons-in-law of Lot may not have suffered physical blindness like those who attacked Lot’s home, but they nonetheless were afflicted with spiritual blindness.  A person who wants to shut out the dvar Hashem can literally see miracles, but due to their own stubbornness, or their lack of mindfulness to the message, it will make no impression.  Seeing requires not just open eyes, but an open heart and mind as well.

yashrus of the Avos

Chazal call sefer Braishes “Sefer haYesharim,” the Book of the Just.  A “yashar” is someone who doesn’t cheat, doesn’t steal, doesn’t act with malice – a straight shooter, a mentch.  While I would take it as a compliment if someone described me as a yashar, when we are speaking about the Avos, points out the Netziv, it’s a bit of an understatement.  Why don’t Chazal call it the Book of Tzadikim?  The Book of Avos? 

There is a collection of talks given by R’ Eli Sadan after the Rabin assassination in which he repeatedly quotes the answer of the Netziv: the Avos lived surrounded by idolaters and evil doers whose lifestyle and beliefs were diametrically opposed to everything the Avos stood for.  The lifestyle of Sdom was an anathema to Avraham.  Nonetheless, the Avos never lashed out with hatred and/or violence.  To the contrary, we find Avraham praying for G-d to spare Sdom, Avraham extending hospitality to wandering idol worshippers, Avraham making a treaty with Avimelech, etc.  They Avos treated everyone they came in contact with -- even those with whom they had profound disagreements -- with respect and dignity, with yashrus.  That's an even harder challenge than having tzidkus in avodah. 

When Bilam saw Klal Yisrael camped in the desert, he exclaimed, “Tamos nafshi mos yesharim” –- I want to be able to go to the grave like the yesharim of that nation.  Bilam was “s’sum ha’ayin,” he certainly knew that he was not a real navi and did not have even a small percentage of the tzidkus of the Avos.  He did not even have a hava amina that he could be like them in that way.  But he thought al kol panim that at least he is a yashar, a mentch – he has derech eretz.  However, when he saw Klal Yisrael and the mesorah of the Avos,  he realized that even in this regard he was wrong.  His conception of derech eretz was no match for the true yashrus that the Avos embodied. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

you don't have to be orthodox to appreciate shabbos

In light of this week being the Shabbos Project I wanted to mention two books I recently read, neither of which is by someone who identifies as Orthodox, but both of which have something to say about Shabbos.  Braided – A Journey of a Thousand Challahs by Dr. Beth Ricanati is not really about challah, but rather is about time.  In today’s world the demands of one’s job can easily prove overwhelming and crowd out the important things in life.  Faced with the problem, Dr Ricanati has for years now made a point of taking time out every Friday to bake her own challah.  This simple weekly ritual helped her reconnect with her values, with her children, with herself, not to mention that it made Friday night dinner with her family more delicious and nutritious.
24/6 The Power of Unplugging One Day a Week by Tiffany Shane, the creator of the “webby awards,” talks about the need to disconnect.  She and her family do a “tech Shabbos” every week.  They shut off their iphones and devices and keep the world at bay for a day.  She is not shomer Shabbos in the way we think of it, but she recognizes the need for a day of quiet to escape.

You don’t have to be Orthodox to recognize that in our day and age Shabbos is more important than ever.

Avos == there have to be tolados

Ayei ha’seh l’olah?” Yitzchak asks Avraham Avinu.  Where is the sheep for the offering?  The Alshich quotes a Midrash Rabbah (ch 96) that Yaakov did not want to be buried in Mitzrayim because Yisrael is called a “seh,” a sheep –- “seh pezurah Yisrael” (Yirmiyahu 50) –- and Egyptians worship the seh.   What Yitzchak was asking is if he is schechted, then how will there ever be a Yaakov Avinu, the seh?  How will the mesorah of the Avos continue?

Forget how will there be a Yaakov Avinu – if Yitzchak is shechted, how will there be a Yitzchak Avinu?!

What makes the Avos into Avos is that there is no concern for self.  The concern is always for the future, for the continuity of Klal Yisrael.  “Avos – m’chlal d’ika tolados.”