Monday, December 5, 2016

Rachel's Secret

Rav Lipman Podolsky z"l 

At the time of this writing [5761], Palestinian terrorists are brazenly attempting to capture Kever Rachel, Rachel's tomb. What relevance do they have to the tomb of our Bubby Rachel? How can we bring this nonsensical act into the realm of understanding?

"And it was, in the morning, that behold it was Leah (Breishis 29:25)!" Note the difficulty: Was she not Leah the evening before as well? Thus, explains Rashi, that in the evening, under the Chuppah, Yaakov actually thought Leah was Rachel. Yaakov and Rachel, in anticipation of Lavan's treachery, devised a secret sign to allow Yaakov to disclose the deception. However, when Rachel saw her father setting up Leah in her place, she had a change of heart. "My sister will be mortified!" Rachel, overwhelmed by sympathy, gave the secret sign to her sister.

A superficial reading makes Rachel's act sound very nice and altruistic. After all, she spared her sister shame. Surely, each of us would have done the same.

Taking a deeper, more accurate look, however, we will discover that concealed between the lines lies a superhuman self-sacrifice of unparalleled proportions.

Remember, Yaakov worked for Rachel for seven years. Their profound love made it seem like only a few days (v. 20). During all this time, Rachel anticipated the day she would finally marry her beloved.

At the last minute, Rachel realized that her unscrupulous father had deceived them, and was dressing Leah in the wedding gown. How would we have felt under such circumstances? She was losing her husband! She had no way of knowing that Yaakov would agree afterward to marry her as well. As far as she was concerned, she was relinquishing Yaakov forever.

All Rachel had to do was make a scene so that Yaakov would realize that she was not the bride. But Rachel kept quiet. Moreover, she gave her sister the secret sign, so that Yaakov would think he was actually marrying Rachel. Rachel did everything possible to spare her sister disgrace. All this, despite the permanent loss of her husband.

In addition, Yaakov was not just a husband. He was to become the third and culminating patriarch of the Jewish nation. Rachel had a one-time opportunity to mother the Shivtei Kah, the tribes of Hashem.

Furthermore, by failing to marry Yaakov, Rachel would surely be suggested as a shidduch for the wicked Esav. "Everyone was saying: Rivka has two sons, and Lavan has two daughters. The older daughter for the older son, and the younger daughter for the younger son (Rashi 29:17)." Leah had been the natural bashert (intended) for Esav. Now that Leah was marrying Yaakov, Rachel would obviously be expected to marry Esav. Moreover, Esav apparently had his eyes set on Rachel (See Rashi 30:22,33:7). Rachel was systematically forfeiting absolutely everything for her sister's sake!

But the greatest question of all: Why did Rachel do it? Why didn't she protest this grave injustice? And why did she provide Leah with the secret sign?

Says the Mishna: "One who humiliates his friend publicly... though he may have Torah and good deeds, he has no share in the World to Come (Avos 3:11)." A person can be a consummate Tzaddik, he can learn Torah 24/7, he can donate one fifth of his income to Tzedaka, he can dedicate his life to helping others, yet he will have no place in the Afterlife!

"All who descend to Gehinnom ascend except for three, who descend and never ascend... and a person who humiliates his friend publicly." What goes down, must come up. Except for this.

"A person should sooner throw himself into a fiery furnace, before he embarrasses his friend publicly (Kesuvos 67b)." According to some opinions, a person is obligated to give up his life before humiliating someone! (Tosfos, Sotah 10b; Shaarei Teshuva 3:139; Minchas Shlomo I:7)

Consequently, Rachel did not protest. Had she made a scene, what would she have gained? She may have married Yaakov, mothered the twelve tribes, and spared herself a life with Esav, but in the end she would have lost. Of what benefit are all these things if one has no place to enjoy it after all is said and done?

But from Rachel, we learn an additional lesson. To absolve herself from eternal condemnation, it would have been sufficient to keep quiet. Any shame Leah experienced would have been attributed to her father, Lavan. Yet Rachel did far more that simply keep quiet. She gave the secret code to Leah. Totally beyond anyone's expectations, Rachel went the extra mile to spare Leah pain.

What reward did Rachel receive for her unrivaled self-sacrifice? First of all, she lost nothing. Human logic dictates that a person is justified in cutting corners to receive what he feels is coming to him. Had Rachel cut corners, had she contributed even indirectly to her sister's humiliation, she would have ended up bankrupt. By doing what was right, Rachel lost nothing. She married Yaakov, became one of the matriarchs, and thus stayed out of the clutches of Esav.

Furthermore, let us not forget that Rachel was born barren; she was incapable of giving birth (Breishis 29:31). Had she protested, and subsequently married Yaakov in a straightforward manner, she may never have mothered a child. It was solely due to her willingness to forego her future that she attained motherhood (See Rashi 30:22).

But the greatest reward of all is evident from the Medrash (Introduction to Eichah Rabba). After the destruction of the Bais HaMikdash, various Tzaddikim arose to plead on behalf of the Jewish people. It was an all-star cast. Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Moshe, etc., all tried to rescind the tragic decree and to restore the Jewish people to their former glory. One by one, their prayers were rejected by Hashem; All their vast merits did not help them! Finally, one last voice made itself heard:

"At that moment, Rachel our mother jumped up and said to Hashem, 'Master of the universe, You well know that Your servant Yaakov loved me deeply, and he worked for my father for seven years. When those seven years were up and the time of my wedding to my husband arrived, my father schemed to substitute my sister for me, and this was terribly difficult for me. I informed my husband, and I gave him a sign so that he could distinguish between my sister and me, to thwart my father's scheme. Afterwards, I regretted what I had done, and I suppressed my yearning. I had mercy on my sister, so that she would feel no shame. In the evening, they gave my sister to my husband in my stead, and I gave my sister all of the signs that I had given to my husband, so that he would think she was Rachel... I was not jealous of her, and I did not humiliate her. If I, mere flesh and blood, dust and ashes, did not envy my competitor and did not humiliate her, You, the everlasting, merciful King, why did You envy idolatry which has no substance, and You exiled my children, and they were killed by the sword, and the enemies did with them as they pleased?'

"Immediately, Hashem's mercy was aroused and He said, 'For you, Rachel, will I return Yisrael to their place.' As it is written, 'Thus said Hashem, A voice is heard on high, wailing, bitter weeping, Rachel weeps for her children; she refuses to be consoled for her children, for they are gone. Thus said Hashem, Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears; for there is reward for your accomplishment and they will return from the enemy's land. There is hope for your future and your children will return to their border.'(Yirmiyah 31:14-16)"

The secret to our success and to our ultimate redemption was revealed by Rachel Imeinu. Follow in her footsteps, develop sensitivities to our fellow man, abstain from embarrassing others, and Hashem will rescue us posthaste. The Palestinians, hoping to break our spirit, focus their rage on a tomb. Unbeknownst to them, the real secret lies within us.

"There is hope for your future your children will return!"

For Heaven's Sake

Rav Lipman Podolsky z"l 

We are all familiar with the Medrash (quoted by Rashi) that relates how Yaakov gathered the stones and placed them around his head. The stones began quarreling with one another. "I want the tzaddik to place his head on me!" "No, I want him to rest his head on me!" In the end, Hashem performed a miracle and the many stones combined into one.

When we first learned the Medrash, it struck us as cute. We could picture the stones fighting and Hashem solving their argument in a most ingenious way. But as kindergarteners, we probably did not question the underlying message of the Medrash. Why did the stones argue? What difference did it make upon which stone Yaakov lay his head? Stones are inanimate creations that have no feelings and presumably no desires or aspirations!

Furthermore, why did Hashem reward the stones for arguing? Machlokes (divisiveness) is a very negative trait. Why did He grant them their wish?

The resolution involves one of the most fundamental Truths of existence. Every physical creation has a spiritual counterpart. Concealed deep within the subatomic particles of every molecule shines a spark of the infinite. When the physical object assists the tzaddik to ascend in Kedusha, the object as well is elevated (See Mesillas Yesharim chap. 1).

This is the concept of Korbanos (offerings; Korban implies getting close to Hashem). When an animal was sacrificed in the Bais HaMikdash, the animal itself attained a loftier spiritual degree. Indeed, when we eat in order to serve Hashem through health and heartiness, we elevate the food.

"In all your ways, know Him...(Mishlei 3:6)" Every Creation in time and space is intended to be exploited for the purpose of serving Hashem. "Said Rabi Yosi... all of your deeds should be for the sake of Heaven (Avos 2:12)." Every action can be transformed into a mitzvah.

But there are two conditions. The first is kavanna. Before we act, we must focus our intent on utilizing the act to achieve a greater intimacy with our Creator. The second condition is that the act itself must be performed in a manner that is conducive to spiritual growth.

Allow me to illustrate. The sources clearly state that sleeping can be considered a mitzvah (Tur, Shulchan Aruch O.H. 231). What a deal! But first we must intend to sleep so that the next day we will have strength and alertness to serve Hashem (e.g. davening, learning, etc.). Additionally, we should sleep only as much as we need. By staying in bed for an extra few hours we actually foil our attempt to ascend. Instead of enhancing our growth, the sleep inhibits it.

Yaakov, the man of perfection, the man of Torah, spent his entire life in the pursuit of the Divine Connection. Everything he did was for the sake of Heaven. As such, the stones stood to gain greatly by serving the tzaddik and offering him a comfortable place to rest his head. Their argument was a machlokes l'shem Shamayim, a disagreement for the sake of Heaven. They did not argue in vain. Each stone -- indeed each molecule -- desperately desired to ascend, to connect.

Seeing their sincerity, Hashem did not admonish them for their bickering. On the contrary, he helped each one fulfill its wish. The stones became one -- in this world and in the next.

Time is so precious. No one knows what the next moment will bring. Is it not worth our while to turn our every breathing second into a bridge to the World-to-Come? It is so relatively easy, yet all too rare. All it takes is a little thought, for Heaven's sake, just a little thought.

The Light of Life

Rav Lipman Podolsky z"l 

"Vayetze Yaakov" -- Yaakov departed (Breishis 29:10). What could have driven Yaakov to abandon the cherished land of Israel? His brother Esav had threatened to murder him in retaliation for the so-called stealing of the blessings (ibid. 27:41), and so, wisely, he fled.

If there was a contract out on my head, I know that I would flee with the utmost alacrity. Hence, we look with wonder upon Yaakov's incongruous behavior. For instead of running away, Yaakov took a slight detour within Eretz Yisrael -- a short, fourteen-year stint in the Yeshiva of Shem and Ever (Rashi, ibid. 28:11)! But why? His life was in peril!

Moreover, Yaakov was at this point sixty-three years old (ibid. 28:9). He was getting on in years. His father had commanded him to travel to his uncle's house for the purpose of getting married. How could he disobey a direct order? And what about establishing a family, the all-important mitzva of procreation!

To further exacerbate the problem, where had Yaakov been for the better part of his sixty-three years? He had wholly devoted himself to the study of Torah (ibid. 25:27). By this point, Yaakov was most certainly preeminent in his Torah scholarship. Why was it so imperative to dedicate an additional fourteen years for that very task?

The solution to our confusion lay in Yaakov's destination. Yaakov was heading for the house of his uncle Lavan, and he was scared stiff (Rashi v. 15 and v. 21). For Lavan was the exact antithesis of Yaakov. Yaakov was righteous; Lavan was evil. Yaakov was a man of truth (Micha 7:20); Lavan, a paradigm of deceit (Breishis Rabba 63:4). Yaakov was governed by his Yetzer Tov; Lavan by his Yetzer Hara. Yaakov was light; Lavan, darkness.

Not only was Lavan corrupt, he disguised himself in the veneer of a tzaddik. His name was Lavan, implying white, pure, clean. Switch around the letters and you have Navval, a vile and despicable human being. Lavan was the most menacing of criminals, for his true intent was camouflaged. He appeared as a friend, a relative, while in reality he was none other than the most perilous foe.

To look upon Lavan was to see unclearly. He blinded one's eyes from seeing the truth (See Rashi 29:13). Lavan, in this manner, acted as a devoted emissary of the Yetzer Hara. Our evil inclination virtually blinds us. He positions spiritual landmines in our path while placing his conniving hands over our eyes so that we stumble, never aware of any danger.

" 'You make darkness and it is night (Tehillim 104:20),' -- this is Olam Hazeh [the physical world] which is similar to night (Bava Metzia 83b)." What is the meaning of this enigmatic Gemara?

The darkness of night engenders two kinds of blindness to obscure our vision (See Mesillas Yesharim chap. 3). The first type completely obstructs our vision so that we cannot see at all. Thus, a person would boldly walk ahead, never cognizant of the bottomless pits directly ahead of him.

The second type is even more dangerous. It distorts our vision so that we misconstrue that which we see. A man may look like a post, while a post takes on the appearance of a man (shades of Mr. Magoo!).

So too, the darkness of the materialism and physical nature of this world -- the tools of the Yetzer Hara -- blinds our mind's eye. First it impairs our spiritual vision so that we are thoroughly oblivious to the hazards surrounding us. Thus one is caught unawares in the snares of existence, dive-bombing into spiritual bankruptcy without so much as a hint of imminent peril.

But a second, more frightening effect is the misinterpretation of that which we behold. We see good as evil, and evil as good. "Woe to those who speak of evil as good and of good as evil; who make darkness into light and light into darkness; they make bitter into sweet and sweet into bitter (Yeshaya 5:20)!" Because of this distortion, people don't even begin to consider improving their ways; their iniquitous behavior becomes reinforced, while they continue to skate carefree across the thin ice of life.

This is what scared Yaakov Avinu. He was worried lest Lavan succeed in blinding his razor sharp spiritual vision, causing him to veer from the path of Truth. For Lavan was the agent of the Yetzer Hara, and he propagated a dreadful darkness.

Now we can understand why Yaakov deemed it so vital to spend another fourteen years in yeshiva, at the risk of jeopardizing his physical safety. "For a mitzva is a candle, and Torah is light (Mishlei 6:23)." Only with the light of Torah would Yaakov be capable of dispersing the darkness of Lavan. "Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and Your Torah is truth (Tehillim 119:142)." Only with the Truth of Torah could Yaakov expose the deception of Lavan. "I created the Yetzer Hara, and I created Torah as its antidote (Kiddushin 30b)." Only by arming himself with the ammunition of Torah would Yaakov succeed in overcoming the relentless onslaught of the Yetzer Hara.

Yaakov knew clearly where he was bound, and he therefore insisted upon "charging his batteries" in advance. Thus, in defiance of Esav's death threat, Yaakov did not flee directly to the house of Lavan. For had Yaakov been delinquent in laying the proper groundwork for his upcoming challenge, he would have been inviting calamity; his entire spiritual inventory could easily have evaporated. Had he run to Lavan before the solidification of his spiritual foundation, there would have been nothing upon which to construct the edifice of his life. There likely would have been no Klal Yisrael, no future.

Thus, despite his firm grounding in Torah knowledge, Yaakov consecrated an additional fourteen years for the battle for Torah Truth. When playing with fire, one takes no chances.

* * * * *

Chanuka. Unique in all of our long, often stormy history, it was particularly at the time of Chanuka that we first encountered the scourge of assimilation. Vast numbers of our brothers and sisters forsook all that we had forever held as sacred in exchange for the sham of the permissive and hedonistic philosophies of the Greeks. What happened? How could so many otherwise cunning businessmen have been so easily swindled to abandon the fine gold of Torah Truth for the chrome-plated tinsel of Greece? Furthermore, what distinguished the Greeks from our other numerous enemies? Why was it specifically during their rule that we first succumbed to the inveiglement of assimilation?

The Medrash explains: "Darkness -- this is the kingdom of Greece who blinded the eyes of Yisrael... (Breishis Rabba 2:4). Just like Lavan and the Yetzer Hara, Greece caused a cataract in the eyes of our nation. The Jews simply couldn't see straight. Not only was their vision blocked, it became distorted, causing them to perceive good as evil and vice versa. They rejected the all-encompassing, life-imbuing Torah as inferior, while ascribing great importance to the finite philosophies and "new age" morality of Greece. The Torah became "old fashioned" and "out-dated", while the current fads became enamored as truth. This blindness caused the Hellenistic Jews to spiral ever-downward, eventually becoming consumed by the gentile host.

Consequently, in recognition of the immense self-sacrifice of those Jews who had remained loyal to the Torah at all costs, Hashem performed the miracle of the oil, a miracle of light. On Chanuka, we restore light to a world dimmed by deception. The Greeks have faded into ancient history; the Torah lives on. The secret to Jewish survival, to curbing the problem of assimilation, to bringing an end to the "Silent Holocaust": Turn on the Light of Torah, the Light of Life, the Light of Chanuka.

Turn off the Picture!

Rav Lipman Podolski z"l 

"Leah's eyes were tender, while Rachel was beautiful of form, and beautiful of appearance (Breishis 29:17)." It is difficult to fully appreciate why the Torah would criticize Leah's appearance, if not to convey some deeper message. Rashi explains, "For Leah thought that it was her fate to marry Esav, and she cried. For everyone was saying, 'Rivka has two sons, and Lavan has two daughters; the elder [son] for the elder [daughter], and the younger [son] for the younger [daughter]." Convinced that she would be forced to marry Esav, Leah wept constantly, her tears rendering her eyes permanently scarred. Thus, the Torah is not criticizing Leah; on the contrary, how many people would cry so extensively just to not have to marry a spiritually deficient -- albeit extremely materially successful -- spouse? Leah was indeed worthy of mothering the Jewish Nation.

But we may ask: What impelled Leah to feel that she would have to marry Esav? Should she refuse, no one would force her. "And they (Lavan and his mother) said, let us call the maiden (Rivka) and ask her decision (Breishis 24:57)," and Rashi comments: "From here we learn that it is forbidden to marry off a woman without her consent." Even the wicked Lavan would never have coerced his daughter to marry someone with whom she had no desire to live. So why was Leah worried? All she had to do was say "no".

A great man once lived in Eretz Yisrael. His name was Rabbi Avraham Baharan. An educator par-excellence, he taught many a wise thought. In his book, "Hachevra V'hashpa'asah -- The Society and its Influence", he posits a possible answer to our question. One must make a careful reading of the words of Rashi. The reason Leah cried was because everyone was in agreement that she would end up marrying Esav. Despite the fact that she had her heart dead set against it, nevertheless, society exerts an overwhelming influence. Leah wasn't worried that she would be forced into it -- she was worried that with the passage of time, she too would begin to cave in, to mouth and eventually embrace the words of all. She feared that she would ultimately actually desire to marry Esav.

"It is human nature for a person's traits and deeds to be influenced by his friends and acquaintances; he will act in the manner of the people of his region. Consequently, a person should bond with the righteous, and dwell constantly among the sages so that he learn from their deeds. And he should distance himself from the evil ones -- who walk in darkness [devoid of the light of Torah] -- so that he not learn from their deeds... (Rambam Hilchos Deyos 6:1)."

Inasmuch as Leah lived in a society where it was "plainly obvious" that she was destined for Esav, she knew that it was only a matter of time until she herself would inevitably succumb. She recognized that eventually she too would forget the Truth -- the vital need for Torah and spiritual life -- and would surrender to the mad passion for the pursuit (no promise of attainment) of material happiness. The only way for Leah to protect herself was to cry, incessantly. Through her tears, Leah prayed to Hashem to protect her, to insulate her in a cocoon of holiness, amidst a very hostile and puissant milieu.

Although the Greeks at first acted as our altruistic benefactors, Chazal revealed their true, hidden motives: Lehashkicham Torasecha -- To induce the Jews to forget Hashem's Torah. Thus, the Greeks enacted many decrees, all calculated to pierce through the Jewish armor of protection, and to inject a slow-acting venom, allowing the poison to gradually pervade the collective Jewish soul, culminating in total spiritual bankruptcy.

Of the Greek "Nuremberg Laws", one required the Jews to remove the doors to their homes (Otzar Midrashim). What was the intent of this strange law? What were the Greeks hoping to achieve?

The backbone of our nation is the Jewish Home. No matter what hostilities lurk outside, as long as a Jew has a home-base to which to return, a wellspring of strength and fortitude from which to drink, he is safeguarded. The Greeks understood this all too well. In a shameless plot to destroy the elemental unit of Judaism, the Greeks removed all barriers to the outside world. Now, endless episodes of immorality and amorality would penetrate the Jewish bastion, uncensored. No longer would the Jews be capable of shielding their virtuous, holy lifestyle from the bestial, unbridled ways of the Greeks. With no way of turning off the picture, the Jews became exposed to a lifestyle completely antithetical to the ways of Torah, to the ways of Truth. And the results were devastating.

With the unprecedented self-sacrifice of the Chashmonaim (four of Matisyahu's sons were killed in the battles to preserve the Torah), a new holiday was established, a holiday celebrating the glories of the Jewish home, the holiday of Chanuka. On these eight days we perform a unique mitzva, unique because it does not pertain so much to the individual as it does to the entire home. Ner Ish U'veiso -- One candle for each household, is the minimal requirement (Shabbos 21b). The Greeks attempted to destroy the Jewish home; we invigorate our homes with a new mitzva.

In our times, when there is so much confusion, so many lost Jewish souls, let us ponder the centrality of the Jewish home. Is our home a fortress of Torah and Yiras Shamayim? Does our home reflect the lifestyles and self-sacrifice of the Maccabees, Jews who gave their very lives so that we may continue in their sacred endeavor? Does our home resemble the flask of pure oil, the one flask that escaped the vulgar touch of those savage philosophers, remaining holy with the seal of the Kohen Gadol, amidst a sea of broken and contaminated flasks? These are very relevant questions for our times.

May Hashem give us strength to turn off the picture.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Toldot - Means And Ends - Luke Skywalker - A Higher Truth

A HUUUGEE mazel tov to R' Moti and Esti Yagelnik on their marriage. May they merit to build a beautiful bayis bi-yisrael!!! A special mazel tov to Esti's beloved parents Rav Yisrael Yaakov and Rebbetzin Ahava [whose wedding I remember like yesterday]. And of course to Mr. Fred and Suzan Ehrman on their granddaughter's simcha!!!

[As I go to more weddings of couples where I remember their parents weddings very vividly - I realize I am getting older and closer to death. So I better do teshuva or at least take vitamins and exercise!!!]

A HUUUUUGGEEE mazel tov to R' Moshe and Rivka Gold on their recent wedding. May they have only sweetness and joy in their lives!!!

This dvar Torah is dedicated li-zchus all of my skype chavrausas, and to R' Moshe Yehuda ben Pesha Dina, R' Yehuda Yaakov Ben Dina Chasha, R' Shmuel Binyamin ben Tishna Rochel Leah, R' Yosef Ezra ben Esther, R' Yisrael Tzadok ben Shulamit, R' Eytan ben Noach, R' Moshe Gavriel ben Yehudis, R' Ephraim Abba ben Miriam Shoshana, R' Doniel Yaakov ben Sara Leba, R' Daniel Simcha ben Chava Raizel, R' Shmuel Eliezer ben Shoshana Raizel, Leah Esther bas Frimet, Elana Simone bas Miriam and .... you!!!!:-)

And for a bracha of complete health for Mori Vi-rabi Shlita, R' Yehoshua Meir ben Rochel Sara, Rav Avraham Yosef ben R' Moshe Chaim, R' Noach ben Chaya Leba R' Yitzchak ben Bracha, Sara Leah bas Rivka, Chaya Reizal bas Dina

"Sometimes the ends justify the means. But when you build an argument on based on a whole series of such times you may have constructed an entire philosophy of evil."

Luke Skywalker

Do the means justify the ends? I wouldn't know because I am not a man of means. [ואין שום יאוש בעולם כלל as the band played at Esti's wedding this week!!! There is always hope. Anyway - who says that it is a good thing. Gahndi already said that golden shackles are worse than iron ones].

But we can attempt to answer this question. 

Here is the typical Jewish answer - yes and no. 

Usually - not!!! We don't steal in order to give tzedaka [unless we are like those who steal and give tzedaka. But we shouldn't be!!]. We are not allowed to kill one person to save another's life. We don't eat a Big Mac to give us the strength to learn a daf gemara. No matter how important the ends - we must make sure that the means are kosher. 

But there are exceptions. Sometimes the means DO justify the ends. When is that?

When we have SPECIAL permission from above. We have a halachic rule עשה דוחה לא תעשה - a positive commandment overrides a negative one. We can do what may seem like a sin in order to fulfill a mitzva. An example of this is wearing tzitizis that are shatnez. A bris must be done on Shabbos even though it involves chilul Shabbos. [There is actually an entire book dedicated to the topic of whether the end justifies the means - מטרה מקדשת האמצעים by Prof. Nachum Rakover].

Yaakov was a man of truth. תתן אמת ליעקב. If you read the story in the Torah it seems that he was less than honest. Yes, there was a greater good to be achieved, namely the brachos for Klal Yisrael for all generations. Since Rivka told him with prophecy [as Targum Onkelos explains] that he must take the brachos with guile - he had to do it [even though as the meforshim point out, he had reservations]. In this instance the ends justified the means. 

The absolute truth is that the brachos were his and that justified taking them in a sneaky way. It would have been false if Eisav had received the brachos. We see that even after Yitzchak realized that he had been deceived he didn't retract the brachos or express regret. He understood the higher truth.

The lesson is that things are not so simple. We have to scrutinize every situation and decide what is the expression of the higher, Divine truth. The Sfas Emes points out that our entire lives are sheker for the sake of truth - for this world is completely sheker and we have to discover the deeper hidden emes of Hashem. 

May we always make the correct decisions in life. 

Bi-ahava rabba and wishes for a blissful Shabbos,

Why Yaacov Had To Get Eisav's Bracha

The account of Jacob stealing blessings from his father raises many perplexing questions. How could Isaac not be aware of the true nature of his twin sons? Why did he insist on blessing his apparently wicked son Esau? And why was it necessary for Jacob to get the blessings that his father intended for his brother?

The Rights of the First-Born

We need to first analyze the concept of bechorah, the right of the first-born. Why should the family inheritance be determined by order of birth, without taking into account the relative merits of the heirs? The Talmud in Baba Batra 133b discusses this issue, advising against switching the inheritance, even if the first-born is wicked and his sibling is righteous. Why? The commentators explain that we should not make decisions based on the current situation; in the future, worthy children may come from the evil son.

Still, why not give preference to the son whom we know to be righteous and will use the inheritance for proper objectives? Why let the evil son utilize this wealth for corrupt purposes, just because of a possibility that he may have upright children?

Segulah Selection

Twelfth-century philosopher Rabbi Yehudah HaLevi explained the concept of segulah – how a particular people is chosen by God. The process of divine selection is beyond human understanding and occurs in a hidden manner. The kernel of light and good is concealed in an enveloping darkness, just as the spiritual greatness of Abraham could not be foreseen in the wickedness of his idolatrous father Terach. Only in the time of Jacob was the segulah nature of his children revealed to all. At that time it became apparent that his entire family was a “seed blessed by God.”

Why should this kernel of future good be concealed in evil and wicked people?

Even negative character traits have their place in the world. Ultimately, they too will serve the greater good. In order to perfect righteous traits and straight paths, these bad traits and convoluted ways must be uplifted. This occurs when the righteous are able to utilize them for their true purpose.

Isaac’s Love for Esau

The process of divine selection must be free to progress according to God’s design, without human intervention. Only God knows the path by which the pure will come forth out of the impure. Therefore, we should not disrupt the inheritance of the first-born according to what seems to us reasonable and logical.

Isaac felt that, despite Jacob’s obvious spiritual and moral superiority, it was not up to him to decide who will carry on Abraham’s spiritual legacy. Isaac assumed that the separating of the segulah was not yet complete. Perhaps from the cruel and brutal traits of Esau, his first-born son, would come an even greater heir, capable of utilizing and elevating those destructive traits.

Furthermore, Isaac knew that the world may be mended in different ways. It could be gently uplifted, as people stream from every corner of the earth to learn Israel’s teachings of kindness and truth. Or the world could be rectified through the complete destruction of those corrupt and violent elements from which no good will come (as we see in the obligation to destroy Amalek and the nations of Canaan). Jacob, the gentle scholar in the tents of Torah, did not possess the temperament necessary to wage wars and fight against cruel and vicious opponents. How could the segulah of Israel come from him? True, Jacob was righteous — but many righteous individuals lived before him whose progeny did not continue in their path.

Jacob appeared to totally lack these necessary traits of dominance and power. And Esau was anyway the firstborn, a sign that he was chosen by God. Isaac valued Esau’s potential to forcibly correct the entire world. The Torah thus explains Isaac’s love of his firstborn son: “Isaac loved Esau, for his hunt was in his mouth” (Gen. 25:28). Isaac appreciated Esau’s ability to hunt and dominate the beasts, the trait needed to dominate bestial peoples.

The Torah contrasts the different ways in which Isaac and Rebecca loved their sons. On the one hand, it says, “Isaac will love Esau” (with the conversive Vav switching it to the past tense). Isaac valued Esau’s future, his progeny, not his present state which even Isaac could see was savage and violent. But for Rebecca, the Torah uses the present tense: “Rebecca loves Jacob.” She loved and appreciated Jacob’s current state of righteousness.

Esau Under Jacob’s Hand

In fact, Jacob did have a connection to his brother’s traits of cruelty, but these traits were not an integral part of his soul. This is the significance of Jacob’s hand holding on to Esau’s heel when they were born. The heel represents instinctive nature (the Hebrew words for ‘foot’ and ‘habit,’ regel and hergel, share the same root), while the hand indicates willed and planned action. Jacob had a hold onto Esau’s heel, i.e., a connection to those savage traits that were an intrinsic part of Esau’s nature. For Jacob, however, these traits were not wild and undisciplined, but under the control of his hand and mind.

(We find a similar idea with regard to King David. The Midrash states that Samuel was reluctant to anoint David as king after he saw David’s ruddy complexion. Samuel feared this was a sign that David would spill blood like the reddish Esau. But God responded, “He has beautiful eyes.” Esau killed for his own pleasure, but David will kill according to the dictates of the Sanhedrin (the high court), which is called the “eyes of the people.”)

Jacob will be capable of performing the same brutal actions as Esau, albeit out of necessity and judicious choice. He will be distressed by the need to utilize his brother’s characteristics, but will recognize their usefulness in achieving the final goal.

Acquiring Esau’s Blessings

Now we understand why Isaac preferred Esau. But why did Jacob need to take his brother’s blessing?

Jacob realized that he was the true spiritual heir, and he needed the blessings of rule and sovereignty — “nations will serve you,” “you will be a like a lord over your brother.” But it was important that his father think that fierce Esau was the object of the blessing. These blessings require strength and leadership. They helped Jacob utilize Esau’s traits when necessary, even though they were not part of his inner nature. Therefore, his mother clothed him in Esau’s garments. For the sake of the blessings of stable rule and firm reign, Jacob’s outer appearance needed to be like that of ruthless Esau.

When Jacob announced to his father, “I am Esau your first-born,” he did not truly lie. Jacob had truly acquired his brother’s traits. He had become Esau, only in a better fashion. Most certainly, his father had spoken to him in the past about the need to acquire these negative traits for the sake of serving God. Jacob could now proudly report to his father, “I have done as you have requested,” And afterwards, Isaac was able to declare, “I have eaten of all.” All that I desired to taste, I have found in Jacob. “Yes, he shall be blessed.”

(Gold from the Land of Israel pp. 60-64. Adapted from Midbar Shur, pp. 265-272)

Thursday, December 1, 2016

One Dollar Reunion

Rav Tuvia Bolton 

The Garbovskis, Igor, Vladimir and their parents lived in Kiev in a modest home. They were typical Ukrainian Jews: proud they were Jews, as ignorant about Judaism as a Jew can be and had a strong desire immigrate to Israel.

But they had differing ideas about how to do it.

Vladimir, always the idealist, wanted to leave immediately. He figured that with his degree in engineering he would surely succeed in the land of the Jews. But Igor and his parents wanted to wait until they became more proficient in Hebrew and gathered sufficient funds, then they would all move together.

But Vladimir wouldn't hear of it. One day he announced that he had purchased his ticket, packed his bags, made arrangements and would go alone and before they knew it he was gone.

At first Vladimir phoned home once a week and was full of good news: He became a citizen and was living temporarily in one of the immigration centers. He was learning Hebrew and he had been promised a job as an engineer as soon as a position was available.

But a half a year later he didn't sound so enthusiastic: The engineering job never materialized, he was working 'temporarily' as a gardener, he had moved out of the Immigration Center and due to low funds was renting a dingy apartment in the city of Ramle.

His parents suggested that he return home and Igor not only seconded the idea but began pressuring him; come home and in a year or so we will all move together and help each other.

But Vladimir would have no part of it. In fact, it made him angry; bad enough that the Israeli Government wasn't helping him, now his family was against him?!

He began calling home less frequently and his conversations were tense and often ended in quarrels. Until he stopped calling altogether.

Igor tried to call him back, but with no luck; at first he didn’t answer but eventually he was told that Vladimir’s phone had been disconnected. In desperation he contacted the Israeli police and the immigration service but they were of no help.

He felt guilty; perhaps it was his fault; maybe he had been to forceful, to negative? Perhaps if he had been more friendly etc. etc. until finally he decided there was no other way to calm his conscience and his parents’ worries than to travel to Israel and locate Vladimir himself. With a heavy heart his parents agreed and he was off.

Igor, unlike his brother already knew Hebrew fairly well and in no time he settled in. He immediately found himself an apartment in Tel Aviv got a job as an apartment broker to Russian immigrants and just days after he arrived in Israel began looking for Vladimir.

But he discovered it wasn't so simple.

First he went to the immigration center but they had lost contact with him. Then he located the apartment in Romle only to discover that Vladimir had moved out several months ago and all the landlord and neighbors could say was that he looked depressed.
He went to the company for which his brother had worked as a gardener and they told him that he had been a good worker for the first month or so but then he began complaining and refused to work. He said it wasn't fair that an engineer should do such menial, low paying work so they had to fire him and since then, three months ago, they hadn't seen him.

Igor contacted the police again, got on the radio, spoke on the Russian stations, put ads in the Russian newspapers with his brother's picture and even printed advertisements and put them on telephone poles in the streets. But nothing worked. And he began to suspect the worst.

After a year of fruitless searching in Israel suddenly an idea popped into his mind, maybe his brother moved to America. After all a lot of Russians that didn't make it in Israel went there. And, although Igor realized the irrationality of his thinking; if he couldn't find Vladimir in little Israel he certainly wouldn't succeed in the U.S.A., nevertheless he bought tickets and flew to Los Angeles.  A lot of Russians live there.  
But as expected, despite a month of praiseworthy efforts he came up with nothing. So he decided to try in New York for a week or two and then if nothing turned up he would return to Israel.

But in New York he fared no better. He put ads in the Russian papers, even got his plea announced on a few Russian radio stations but with no results.

Then on Friday, three days before his return flight on Sunday night, he happened to strike up a conversation with some Russian speaker in the hotel lobby where he was staying and when he mentioned his missing brother his acquaintance replied,

"You can’t find your brother? Why, if I was you I would go to the Lubavitcher Rebbe and ask for a blessing."

Igor had no idea what the man was talking about. "Rebbe? Lubavitch?" he replied, "No, I'm sure that my brother would never go any Rebbe."

But his acquaintance explained how this Lubavitcher Rebbe was known to help people in the most miraculous ways, told a few stories to make his point and finished by saying the Rebbe gives out one dollar bills, blessings and advice every Sunday from his headquarters in Brooklyn and that he should go there.

Igor couldn't believe that this fellow was telling the truth. He had heard stories of Chassidic Rebbes doing miracles but he was sure they were just fables or fairy tales.

But then he thought to himself that he really had nothing to lose and was free Sunday morning. Not only that but according to his fellow the Rebbe was very friendly and spoke Russian.

So that Sunday morning Igor found himself standing in a huge line of several thousand people that wound around a large red brick building in Brooklyn and an hour later he was face to face with the Rebbe.

Just as the man in the hotel said; the Rebbe was very impressive but also seemed very warm and friendly. So Igor said in Russian, "I'm looking for my brother who has been lost for a year. Can you help me?"

The Rebbe smiled, gave him two dollars and said, "One is for you and the second give to charity and you will find your brother."

Igor took the dollars, said thank you and moments later was in the subway back to his hotel trying to understand what happened. He concluded that the dollars were probably some sort of good-luck magic charm and although he did not believe in such things he put them in his wallet, returned to his room, packed his bags, rested for a few hours, went to the airport and forgot the whole thing.

When he arrived in Israel he took directly from the airport a cab to Jerusalem where he already had a few meetings planned

Then, once in Jerusalem he got out of the cab and immediately at least five poor people surrounded him and asked for donations. Usually he would simply ignore them, but this time he suddenly remembered the Rebbe's words, dug his hand into his pocket and begrudgingly gave the Rebbe's dollar to one of them thinking to himself, 'At least I'll see if that Rebbe's blessing was real'.

But he didn't have to wait long. Although the bum that he gave the dollar to tried to avert his gaze there was something familiar about him. “Vladimir?” Igor asked in disbelief. The disheveled beggar lifted his head and their eyes met. He took a good look. It was none other than his brother!

Vladimir took his brother back, called his parents and when they were finally united and fully realized what a miracle they had experienced they all decided to learn more about and be more connected to Judaism

Reprinted from the Parshas Chaya Sarah 5777 email of Yeshivat Ohr Tmimim in Kfar Chabad, Israel.