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Blog - Torah Insights

Healing From Within - תזריע

 

Healing From Within 


Of all the forms of ritual impurity discussed in the Torah, the ritual impurity of the Tzaarat {skin discoloration}, is, in some ways, the most severe. The Torah states: 


All the days the lesion is upon him, he shall remain unclean. He is unclean; he shall dwell isolated; his dwelling shall be outside the camp. (Leviticus 13:46)


Rashi clarifies that not only must the Metzora {person afflicted with Tzaraat} be separated from people who are ritually pure, but he must also dwell in complete isolation, separate even from other people who are ritually impure: 


He shall dwell isolated: [meaning] that other ritually impure people shall not abide with him.


Our sages taught that the Tzaarat affliction was a result of Lashin hara {negative speech, gossip}, based on that Rashi continuous to explain why the Metzora must dwell alone:


Our Sages said: "Why is he different from other ritually impure people, that he must remain isolated? Since, with his slander, he caused a separation {a rift} between man and wife or between man and his fellow, he too, shall be separated {from society}".


From a deeper perspective, we can suggest that dwelling in isolation is not merely a consequence of the negative speech, but rather it is an important step to healing the Metzora. The sages identify two causes for the Tzaarat: (1) gossip and (2) arrogance. While they seem to be two unrelated deficiencies, the reality is that they both stem from the same cause: a person's lack of self-esteem and his inability to be in touch with his internal core, which is the source of his own infinite value. When a person does not feel his inherent value, he will constantly need validation and affirmation from others. The person will then be inclined to be haughty and arrogant in order to receive recognition from others and will engage in negative speech in order to tear down those whom he perceives will outshine and outperform him. 


The cure to both gossip and arrogance is for a person to turn inward. Not to outsource their sense of value and make it dependent on recognition from others but rather to find an internal anchor within his own spiritual core. The healing, therefore, is to be alone, to realize that one must rely on one's own self for physical survival, and, just as importantly, for mental and emotional survival, allowing a person to tap into his infinite value stemming from the spark of G-d within each of us, only then can a person reintegrate with family and friends and create healthy lasting relationships. 



Sons of Aaron Vs. Rabbi Akiva - שמיני

 

Sons of Aaron Vs. Rabbi Akiva 


It was one of the happiest days in Jewish history. After many months of construction and seven days of inauguration, the cloud rested on the tabernacle on the eighth day, symbolizing the Divine presence resting amidst the Jewish people.


It was also a day when tragedy struck. As the Torah relates: 


And Aaron's sons, Nadab and Abihu, each took his pan, put fire in them, and placed incense upon it, and they brought before the Lord foreign fire, which He had not commanded them. And fire went forth from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. (Leviticus 10:1-2)


Drawing too close to G-d, what the kabbalah calls "running", can be dangerous. 

The Talmud relates that four great Talmudic sages "entered the orchard", a metaphor for delving into the most mystical secrets of the Torah, only one of them emerged safely:  


Four entered the orchard: Ben Azzai peeked and was hurt… Ben Zoma peeked and died… Aḥer peeked and cut saplings {became a heretic}… Rabbi Akiva entered in peace and left in peace. (Jerusalem Talmud, Chagigah 2b)


What was Rabbi Akiva's secret to not only "run", to experience the intense desire and yearning to cleave to G-d, but also to "return", to turn back to earth to sanctify the mundane experiences of life? 


Regarding the other rabbis, the Talmud tells us only how they emerged from the "orchard"; yet regarding Rabbi Akiva, the Talmud adds a detail that sheds light on how Rabbi Akiva succeeded where the others failed. Rabbi Akiva not only "emerged in peace" but also "entered in peace". Rabbi Akiva's attitude and motivation to "running" was not his own personal desire to connect, which would make it difficult to "return" to a healthy life, but rather it was motivated by a devotion to the will of G-d, which is to create "peace" and bridge the gap between heaven and earth. 


It would be a mistake to assume that the lesson of the story of the sons of Aaron is that we should not seek to "run" - that we should not cultivate the yearning and desire to transcend and escape the mundane. Instead, the message is that" running" must not be motivated by one's personal desire, for then the person can become self-centered and disconnected from family, friends, and the task of impacting the world. Instead, the story of the sons of Aaron teaches us that the yearning for transcendence must be for the sake of fulfilling the will of G-d. The yearning must be predicated upon, and therefore consistent with, the Divine desire that we "run" and "return", that we enter the orchard in peace in order to emerge in peace. 


Would You Donate Some Wood? - ויקרא

 

Would You Donate Some Wood? 


The entire first portion of the third book of the Torah, Vayikra, is dedicated to the laws of the various offerings in the temple: elevation offerings, meal offerings, peace offerings, and sin and guilt offerings. There is one offering that, while not mentioned explicitly in the Torah, was the cause for a great holiday for various Jewish families. 


The Talmud explains that in a time of shortage, some families donated wood for the fire on the Altar. The times of those donations became holidays for those families who would then donate wood on those days in subsequent years:  


When the people of the exile ascended to Jerusalem in the beginning of the Second Temple period, they did not find enough wood in the Temple chamber for the needs of the altar. And these families arose and donated from their own wood to the Temple. And the prophets among them stipulated as follows, that even if the entire chamber were full of wood, the descendants of these families would donate wood from their own property on these specific days, as it is stated: “And we cast lots, the priests, the Levites and the people, for the wood offering, to bring it into the house of our God, according to our fathers’ houses, at appointed times year by year, to burn upon the altar of the Lord our God, as it is written in the Torah” (Nehemiah 10:35). Although these donations were not always necessary, it was established that all generations would observe these days. (Talmud, Taanit 28a)


While the wood offerings were not mentioned explicitly in the Torah, they caused a great holiday because, in some ways, they were even more profound than the offerings mentioned explicitly in the Torah. Every offering represents the effort to draw one specific aspect, dimension, or experience of self closer to G-d. Yet the wood, to fuel the fire of the Altar, present in all offerings, represents the general longing and desire to transcend and connect to G-d, expressed by abandoning the orientation toward self and focusing entirely on what is needed. Thus, the person donates not a specific offering, which is a Mitzvah, giving him the satisfaction that he is the one performing the will of G-d, but rather he donates the wood which is merely an accessory, allowing others to bring their offerings. 


Joy is a by-product of transcending self. Therefore, the holidays were established specifically to celebrate the wood, where the emphasis was not on an individual’s own spiritual growth, but rather on his enabling others to reconnect and reunite with G-d.


Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Likkutei Sichos 22 Vayikra 2

 




The Sanctuary of Testimony - פקודי

The Sanctuary of Testimony 

For the first time since the introduction of the Mishkan, the temple that the Jewish people constructed in the desert, the Torah presents the term "Mishkan of testimony". In the opening verse of the final portion of the book of Exodus, we read:  

These are the numbers of the Mishkan, the Mishkan of the Testimony, which were counted at Moses' command; [this was] the work of the Levites under the direction of Ithamar, the son of Aaron the Kohen. 

Rashi addresses the word "testimony" and explains: 

the Mishkan of the Testimony: [The Mishkan] was testimony for Israel that the Holy One, blessed is He, forgave them for the incident of the calf, for He caused His Shechinah to rest among them [in the Mishkan].

The construction of the Mishkan `was more than just a story of building a place of worship. The Torah devotes so much attention to every detail of the temple because it expresses the triumph of the marriage between G-d and the Jewish people, which survived the terrible betrayal of the golden calf. Underlying every detail of the home is a story of love and forgiveness; the building of the home is testimony that, indeed, G-d and the Jewish people are reunited. 

Idolatry at its core is the notion of dichotomy, that there is a space devoid of the Divine presence. Idolatry argues that G-d is far too great to be concerned with the physical world, leaving a vacuum where the forces of nature are in control. The Mishkan was a testimony "that the Holy One, blessed is He, forgave them for the incident of the calf" because the Mishkan is an antidote to the sin of idolatry, the Mishkan is a testimony that the infinite G-d is present within a physical home constructed by mundane worldly materials. 

We, too, are engaged in creating a metaphorical Mishkan for G-d. We bridge the superficial dichotomy between the physical and spiritual by using the physical blessings of our lives as a conduit and vessel to bring the Divine presence into our own life and environment, ultimately transforming the entire world into a home of the Divine. 

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Likkutei Sichos 1 Pekudei 

 

Why are the Goblets Upside Down? - ויקהל

Why are the Goblets Upside Down? Menorah.jpeg

 

In his drawing of the Menorah, Maimonides drew the "cups" that were on the base and branches of the Menorah as upside-down cups (Maimonides writes that the goblets "had wide mouths and narrow bases"; in the drawing, the wide end of the goblets face downward). This detail seems, at first glance, inconsistent with the principle explained in the Talmud that when performing a Mitzvah with an object, it must be held or placed in its natural position: 

 

Ḥizkiya said that Rabbi Yirmeya said in the name of Rabbi Shimon ben Yoḥai: With regard to all objects used in performance of each and every one of the mitzvot, a person fulfills his obligation only when the objects are positioned in the manner of their growth. One must take the lulav with the bottom of the branch facing down, as it is stated with regard to the beams of the Tabernacle : "Acacia wood, standing" (Exodus 26:15), indicating that the beams stood in the manner of their growth.

 

Why then were the cups of the menorah upside down?

 

The answer must be that, at least in the context of the Menorah, the cup's natural position was not to receive and contain but rather to pour and share. The purpose of the temple in general, and the Menorah in particular, was not to create a sanctuary of light and inspiration for the temple itself, but rather to "pour", shine, and influence the rest of the world. 

 

Perhaps we can apply this lesson to our own lives. There is a built-in tension regarding our metaphorical "goblet," our defined personality, talents, and skills. Are we a goblet that "receives" or one that "pours"? 

 

Within each of us, there are two opposing drives. On the one hand, we want to self-actualize, to achieve and enjoy a degree of success, recognition, meaning, and significance. On the other hand, deep within our souls is the desire to transcend itself, to submerge within something greater than ourselves. As the Tanya explains, the Torah refers to the soul as a candle because just as the fire surges upward as if to escape the wick, so too does the soul seek to escape the confines of its independent existence and "unite with its origin and source in G‑d, blessed be He, who is the fountainhead of all life. Though thereby it would become null and naught, and its identity would there—in its source—be completely nullified, with nothing at all remaining of its original essence and self, this is its will and desire by its nature."

 

Perhaps the Menorah's lesson is that we need to create a goblet which receives and contains our success. Yet, the ultimate purpose of creating a vessel which "contains", why it matters to us to accomplish and to feel significant, is in order for us to "pour", to share the blessing with others. In the final analysis, our desire to be significant is itself part of the greater transcendence because the reason we crave to be a goblet that "contains" is in order for our goblet to "pour" and "share".  

 

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos 21 Terumah 3

 

 

 

A Fiery Coin - כי תשא

A Fiery Coin

Can money buy atonement? 

Moses was told to command the people of Israel that they each offer a half-shekel coin for atonement:  

"When you take the sum of the children of Israel according to their numbers, let each one give to the Lord an atonement for his soul when they are counted; then there will be no plague among them when they are counted.

This they shall give, everyone who goes through the counting: half a shekel according to the holy shekel. Twenty gerahs equal one shekel; half of [such] a shekel shall be an offering to the Lord.

Moses was bewildered: how could a coin create atonement? 

The Midrash, quoted by Rashi explains: 

This they shall give: He [G-d] showed him [Moses] a sort of coin of fire weighing half a shekel, and He said to him, "Like this one they shall give."

How does an image of a fiery coin explain Moses' bewilderment?

The common interpretation is that, indeed, a coin cannot offer atonement, for a coin is physical and mundane, whereas atonement relates to the spiritual soul. The insight that G-d offered Moses was that when the coin is "a fiery coin", when the act of giving is imbued with emotion, heart, and feeling, then the coin can create atonement.

According to this interpretation, it is not the coin that creates atonement but rather the fire, the emotion, and the heart invested in it. There is, however, a deeper Chassidic insight that suggests the opposite: G-d was indeed showing Moses that the coin itself offers the atonement. 

When one uses a physical object for a Mitzvah, its Divine source, the fire, the spiritual spark within it is revealed and expressed, the actual "coin", mined from the depths of the earth, becomes a coin of "fire", which surges upward seeking to escape the grasp of the wick. By showing Moses the fiery coin, G-d demonstrated that to confine the presence of G-d to the spiritual realm is to impose a limitation upon his infinite light. True infinity is the ability to be in the physical just as in the spiritual. 

By doing a Mitzvah, we reveal that what seemed to be a physical object or experience is, in truth, a spark of fire, an entity that, deep down at the core of its existence and consciousness, is a fire that allows us to raise ourselves upward, uniting us with G-d. 

What seemed to be a mere coin, is, in fact, a coin of fire.

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos 26 Ki Tisa 1 

 

 

A Journey Through a Talmudic Tractate - משפטים

 

A Journey Through a Talmudic Tractate 


A majority of the Torah's civil law, based on the principles laid out in this week's Parsha, appears in the Talmud in three tractates: Baba Kamma, "the first gate", describes the laws of torts; Baba Metziah, "the middle gate" discourses laws of ownership, and Baba Batra "the final gate", which discusses laws of neighbors, and real estate.  


The Torah contains both "body", the practical law, and "soul", the deeper spiritual meaning within the teaching. Therefore, every aspect of the Torah, including the order of the laws, contains a lesson for each of us. 


The final section of the Baba Batra, the final gate, discusses a dispute between Rabbi Yishmael and Ben Nanas regarding the legal obligation of a guarantor who committed to secure the loan for his friend, not at the issuing of the loan but after the loan is due. Ben Nanas argues that the guarantor is not liable since the creditor did not rely on the guarantor when he made the loan. Rabbi Yishamel argues that, under certain circumstances, the guarantor's commitment is binding since the guarantor benefits from making his commitment. The benefit he receives is that - due to his commitment - the creditor stops the collection process against the borrower. In the words of the Mishnah: 


In the case of a guarantor whose commitment emerged after the signing of the promissory note…


An incident occurred where such a case came before Rabbi Yishmael, and he said: The creditor can collect the sum from unsold property of the guarantor, but not from liened property that he has sold to others.  Ben Nannas said to Rabbi Yishmael: The creditor cannot collect the sum from the guarantor at all, not from liened property that has been sold, nor from unsold property.


Rabbi Yishmael said to him: Why not? Ben Nannas said to him: If one was strangling someone in the marketplace, demanding repayment of a loan, and another person found him doing so and said to the attacker: Leave him alone and I will give you the money he owes, the person who intervened is exempt from paying, as the creditor did not loan the money in the first place based on his trust of the one who intervened. 


The significance of the conclusion of all the laws of torts with the discussion about the guarantor can be appreciated when comparing the end of the tractate Baba Batra to its beginning. The first Mishnah in the tractate discusses the laws of how partners may dissolve a partnership and divide the land they once shared.


Partners who wished to make a partition [meḥitza] in a jointly owned courtyard build the wall for the partition in the middle of the courtyard. What is this wall fashioned from? In a place where it is customary to build such a wall with non-chiseled stone [gevil], or chiseled stone [gazit], or small bricks [kefisin], or large bricks [leveinim], they must build the wall with that material. Everything is in accordance with the regional custom.


In the figurative sense, partners dissolving a partnership represents the beginning of all torts, when people see themselves as separate from others and, therefore, are not concerned with the wellbeing of the other. After studying the entire tractate, we develop spiritually to the point where we recognize that our souls are all part of the same essence and are interconnected. This recognition motivates us to be concerned for the well-being of others to the extent that we commit to be their "guarantor", to take personal responsibility for their well-being. 


Spiritual development and redemption occur when we move from "Partners who wished to make a partition" to a "guarantor" who sees his friend being "strangled" by the creditor and he intervenes and says, "Leave him alone and I will give you {the money he owes}". 


Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Likutei Sichos 26 Mishpatim 1


“This is My - Personal - G-d” - בשלח

 

“This is My - Personal - G-d”

In the song of the sea, which the Jewish people sang after the splitting of the sea, they refer to G-d as both the G-d of their fathers as well as their own G-d. They exclaim: 

This is my God, and I will make Him a habitation, the God of my father, and I will ascribe to Him exaltation (Exodus 15:2).

Although chronologically G-d is “the G-d of my father” before he is “my G-d”, nevertheless the order of the verse teaches us that a person must first thank G-d for the kindness he himself experiences, creating a personal relationship with G-d, before thanking G-d for the kindness to  his ancestors. Indeed, in the opening blessing of the Amidah prayer, recited three times every day of the year, the sages instituted that we say “our G-d and the G-d of our fathers”, following the same pattern as the Jewish people’s song at the sea; we begin with our own personal relationship with G-d.

The Shallah, the great 17th century Kabbalist, explains the deeper meaning of this verse. “The G-d of my father” refers to faith which is transmitted from parent to child. The parent conveys the history and teachings of our people thus educating the child about G-d. As the child develops however, he expands his knowledge, he studies and understands the greatness of G-d. At that point G-d is not only the “G-d of my father”, the G-d transmitted to him and which he accepts on faith, but rather “my G-d” for now a personal relationship has been born. 

The verse states “my G-d,  and I will make him a habitation” the Hebrew word for habitation , Veanveihu, is comprised of two words Ani Vahu, “I” and “He”. For only through study can the mind comprehend and internalize the relationship with G-d, creating an abode where “I” and “He” unite in oneness.

 

Invite Your Neighbor - בא

 

Invite Your Neighbor 


The Pesach offering, which the Jewish people offered on the day before the exodus from Egypt, was unique in that each household had to offer their own animal, which had to be consumed before midnight. What if there were not enough people in the household to eat the entire animal? The Torah tells us that in that case, they would invite a neighboring family to join them in offering and eating the Paschal lamb:  


Speak to the entire community of Israel, saying, "On the tenth of this month, let each one take a lamb for each parental home, a lamb for each household.

But if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his neighbor who is nearest to his house shall take [one] according to the number of people, each one according to one's ability to eat, shall you be counted for the lamb. (Exodus 11:3-4)


In general, societies understand that within every community, there are people who are fortunate, successful, and resourceful, while others are less fortunate. Societies understand that there is an obligation for the people with resources to share their blessings with those less fortunate. For the Jewish people, however, the opposite is true. The model of sharing expressed at the Paschal offering, at the very birth of our nation, is a model that is motivated not by the need of a less fortunate neighbor but by the abundance of the blessing the person has. In other words, the calling to share is in response to the need of the giver, who can't possibly eat the entire offering on their own.  


Inviting someone else to partake in our blessing is the way we transcend our limited human existence and connect to our spiritual core that is interconnected with all other souls. Spiritual freedom is the ability to escape the inner Pharaoh, the inner ego, and experience reality beyond the confines of self. Like in the original Passover celebration in Egypt, we begin our Passover Seder by inviting the poor to our table, "Whoever is hungry, let him come and eat. Whoever is in need, let him come and join in celebrating the Pesach Festival", because we recognize that true freedom is the ability to feel the need and perspective of another. 


We share our blessings, time, and empathy not merely for the benefit of another person but because of our own deep need for transcendence. Allowing us to experience spiritual freedom by transcending our finite self and tapping into our soul, is a part of the infinite reality of G-d. 


Adapted from Rabbi SR Hirsh



Is Freedom Bland or Flavorful? - וארא

 

Is Freedom Bland or Flavorful?


The sages instituted that we drink four cups of wine at the Passover Seder representing the four expressions of redemption at the beginning of our Torah portion: 


Therefore, say to the children of Israel, 'I am the Lord, and (1) I will take you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and (2) I will save you from their labor, (3) and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. And (4) I will take you to Me as a people, and I will be a God to you, and you will know that I am the Lord your God, Who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. (Exodus 6:6-7)


But if the number four is related to redemption, why do we use three Matzot and not four? 


Both Matzah and wine represent redemption, yet they are very different and even opposite from one another: while Matzah is bland, wine is full of taste and causes great joy and pleasure. 


Redemption is not always enjoyable. In fact breaking free of negative habits and patterns of behavior is often very difficult and, in the short term, can cause deep hurt and pain. Attaining freedom, escaping the inner Egypt, requires a great deal of self-control; ignoring and turning away from the comfort of destructive indulgence. Only after much work, acquiring new habits and developing a taste for positive forms of pleasure, music, knowledge, positive relationships, spirituality, and connection to G-d, can a person internalize freedom and enjoy its blessings. 


When the Jewish people left Egypt, they were still steeped in the negativity of Egypt. G-d hastened to redeem them so that they would not be completely swallowed up by the unholiness of Egypt. Initially, the Exodus was gifted to them from above and not internalized within their personalities. That's why we eat three Matzot, called "bread of poverty", because Matzot have no taste and bring no pleasure, referring to the first three expressions of redemption which refer to the moment of the Exodus brought about by G-d. 


The fourth expression of redemption, "And I will take you to Me as a people", refers to the events at Mount Sinai, when the Jewish people became G-d's people. We, therefore, drink four cups of wine to symbolize that, after weeks of preparation and self-refinement, the people internalized the state of redemption and appreciated the joy and pleasure of their relationship with G-d.  


Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos 26 Vaera 1 



Why? - שמות

Why?

The story of the terrible slavery in Egypt, the subject of this week's portion, raises the resounding question, why? Why was all the suffering necessary? Moses himself, toward the conclusion of the portion, when his initial attempt to persuade Pharaoh to free the Jews failed, asked the question:    

So Moses returned to the Lord and said, "O Lord! Why have You harmed this people? Why have You sent me?

Since I have come to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has harmed this people, and You have not saved Your people."

Chassidic teachings explain that everything comprises "light" and "essence". Light is the revealed state of the phenomenon, which can be perceived, measured, and understood. Whereas the "essence" is the core that transcends definition, explanation, and interpretation. For example, the soul possesses "light", the faculties of intelligence and emotion that can be explained and felt, whereas the "essence", the core of the soul, defies description and analysis. 

To survive the state of exile, a person is forced to tap into their deepest core. In the time of exile, when the presence of G-d is neither felt nor perceived, the commitment to G-d requires a degree of self-sacrifice that transcends logic and emerges from the core of the soul, and therefore, touches the essence of G-d. 

Divine light, the expression and revelation of G-d's presence, can be experienced by the soul in the spiritual worlds. Yet, the intimate bond with the essence of G-d occurs not when it basks in the spiritual light but rather when engaging in a Mitzvah commandment, a physical act that radiates no spiritual light, but within it, G-d invests his essence. 

The exile, therefore, is a necessary preparation for the giving of the Torah. The exile is the arena in which the essence of the Jew is revealed within the darkest space, which in turn allows for the giving of the Torah, where the essence of G-d is invested, not in the enlightened soul, but rather by physical action. 

In the Rebbe's own words:   

This is the concept of the exile of Egypt (and exile in general). It is through exile that a Jew's essential bond with Hashem comes to be expressed. This also prepared the Jewish people for the Giving of the Torah. The Torah's purpose is also to draw G-dliness down into physical entities that comprise the lower realm and to make a dwelling for Hashem through Torah and mitzvot. The essence of the Torah is evinced specifically in this way.  

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos 16, Shmos-24 Teves 

The Blessing of the Unexpected - ויחי

 

The Blessing of the Unexpected 


In the final pages of the book of Genesis, we read about the episode when Jacob placed his right hand (which represents the greater blessing), upon the head of Ephraim, Joseph's younger son, bypassing the elder brother Menashe, echoing a recurring theme of the book of Genesis: throughout the book, the younger son was chosen as the blessed and superior one. 


Regarding all the other instances, we can argue that there was a reason that the younger one was chosen, it was because of a negative choice or characteristic of the older one; regarding Menashe and Ephraim, by contrast, it is clear that Menashe was a righteous and virtuous person. The selection of Ephraim points to a general preference of the second over the first. 


The book of Genesis begins with the story of the creation of the natural order with all its beauty, precision, and consistency — the laws of nature are precise, consistent, and predictable. Very quickly, however, the book shifts its focus to the stories of individual people who, with the power of their free choice, defy their natural instincts and do the unexpected. It is unnatural to stand alone as Abraham and Sarah did, serve water to ten camels as Rebbeca did, or forgive your brothers as Joseph did. And that is also the reason why the first is consistently passed over. 


The first represents the natural impulse. The second represents the ability to offer another perspective, to deliberate, to choose. The lesson the Torah conveys is that true blessing comes from the ability to overcome instinct and do the unexpected. 


When we begin to read the scene of Jacob blessing Joseph's children, we think we know where the story is headed. Joseph sets up the science so that his firstborn Menashe will receive the superior blessing symbolized by the right hand: 


And Joseph took them both, Ephraim at his right, from Israel's left, and Manasseh at his left, from Israel's right, and he brought [them] near to him. 


But then the unexpected happens: 


But Israel stretched out his right hand and placed [it] on Ephraim's head, although he was the younger, and his left hand [he placed] on Manasseh's head. He guided his hands deliberately, for Manasseh was the firstborn.


The second one is chosen, because the second one represents the ability to do the unexpected. To defy the natural desire and express the gift and blessing of free choice. 



You Did Not Send Me Here - ויגש

You Did Not Send Me Here 

The brothers were startled. It turned out that the all-powerful viceroy of Egypt, who they were standing before, was their brother Joseph, who they sold as a slave to Egypt twenty-two years earlier. After many months of hiding his identity, Joseph could not hold back anymore and declared: "I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?" Understandably, "his brothers could not answer him because they were startled by his presence."

Joseph then sought to reassure them, as the Torah describes: 

Then Joseph said to his brothers, "Please come closer to me," and they drew closer. And he said, "I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. (Genesis 45:4)

But now do not be sad, and let it not trouble you that you sold me here, for it was to preserve life that God sent me before you. (45:5)

And now, you did not send me here, but God, and He made me a father to Pharaoh, a lord over all his household, and a ruler over the entire land of Egypt. (45:8)

In each of these verses, Joseph says something different. In the first verse, Joseph tells them that they sold him into Egypt ("I am Your brother Joseph whom you sold into Egypt"). In the second verse, Joseph reiterates that they sold him; he, however, requests that they should not be sad or troubled because something good has emerged from his sale ("let it not trouble you that you sold me here, for it was to preserve life that God sent me"). The thirst verse, however, is the most surprising: Joseph tells them, "You did not send me here, but God". How could Joseph possibly say that they did not send him, which contradicts the facts of the story, as well as his very own statements earlier when he tells them that they sold him to Egypt?  

The word for "sent" implies that there is a purpose, intention, and reason. The Hebrew word "shalach", "sent", is the same word for "mission" or "emissary". Joseph told his brothers that, indeed, they sold him into Egypt, which is a factual statement, yet they did not "send" him to Egypt. They did not define the reason and the meaning of his stay in Egypt. "Only G-d sent me here", he tells them. The reason I am here is to fulfill the Divine plan to save the family as well as save and impact all of Egypt. 

Joseph's words are a lesson to each of us. There is meaning and purpose In any circumstance we find ourselves in. We have a Divine mission to infuse holiness and positivity wherever we may be. Yes, various people and experiences may have caused us to be in a specific space, yet that does not define the meaning of our experience. We were "sent" by G-d with a mission and purpose to bring life and spiritual sustenance to ourselves and our surroundings. 

 

How to Fulfill Your Dreams - מקץ

 How to Fulfill Your Dreams

One lesson from the story of Joseph is: if you want your dreams and hopes to be fulfilled, help the people around you achieve their hopes and dreams. If you want to achieve success, focus on helping the people you interact with be successful. 

 

Joseph dreamt that he would achieve leadership. We read in last week's Torah portion: 

 

And he said to them, "Listen now to this dream, which I have dreamed: Behold, we were binding sheaves in the midst of the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and also stood upright, and behold, your sheaves encircled [it] and prostrated themselves to my sheaf." (Genesis 37:6-7)

 

Those dreams ultimately did materialize, but only after Joseph helped those around him interpret and fulfill the meaning of their own dreams. Last week it was the dreams of Pharaoh’s baker and chief butler which Joseph interpreted. In this week's portion, Joseph interprets Pharaoh's dream saving the entire Egypt from ruin and destruction and, in the process, amassing tremendous power and wealth for Pharaoh. 

 

Joseph is the only person in the five Books of Moses referred to as a successful person. When he was a servant in his master's home, the Torah states: 

 

The Lord was with Joseph, and he was a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master. 

And his master saw that the Lord was with him, and whatever he did the Lord made successful in his hand. (Genesis 39:2-3)

 

While the conventional understanding of these verses is that the Egyptian master saw that G-d was with Joseph and that "he" - meaning Joseph - was a successful man, the Kli Yakar offers an alternative reading. Joseph's success spilled over to the master and the household. The first verse states that G-d was with Joseph, and Joseph was a successful man. The second verse, however, refers to the Egyptian master: "And the Master saw that the Lord was with him", "him" referring to the master, "and whatever he did", "he" referring to the master, "the Lord made successful in his hand. 

 

Joseph knew the secret to success, and we should learn from him. If you want to be successful, help the people around you succeed. 

 

 

Chanukah: to "Light" or to "Place"?

 

Chanukah: to "Light" or to "Place"?


When discussing the Mitzvah to kindle the Chanukah lights, the Talmud seeks to define the precise definition of the commandment. The first opinion is: "lighting accomplishes the Mitzvah", meaning that the definition of the Mitzvah is the act of lighting. The second opinion is: "placing accomplishes the Mitzvah", meaning that the act of placing the candles in their proper place for the required amount of time (half an hour after sunset) is what defines Mitzva.


Multiple ramifications emerge from the query; here are two of them: 


(1) If the Chanukah candles were extinguished (before the required amount of time has passed), is a person required to relight them? If the commandment requires one to "place the candles", then he would have to relight the candles so the candles would be "placed" throughout the required time. If, however, the commandment is the act of lighting, it would not be necessary to relight the candles, for the essence of the Mitzvah, the act of lighting, has already been fulfilled. 


(2) if someone lit the candles in the incorrect place (not next to the door or window), and then moved the burning candles to the proper place, would he have to relight the candles? If the commandment is defined as "placing the candles", he would have fulfilled the commandment. If, however, the commandment is defined as "lighting the candles”, he would have to relight the candles in the correct place because the commandment, the igniting, must occur in the ordained place. 


After some discussion, the Talmud concludes that the defining point of the commandment is the act of lighting: 


From the fact that we recite the following blessing over the mitzvah of kindling the Chanukah light: Who has made us holy through His commandments and has commanded us to light the Chanukah light, the Gemara suggests: Conclude from this that lighting accomplishes the mitzvah, as it is over lighting that one recites the blessing. The Gemara concludes: Indeed, conclude from this.


On Chanukah, we celebrate the triumph of light over darkness. We celebrate the courage of the Jewish people who stood up to battle darkness. The Maccabees, who fought for religious freedom against the mighty Greek army, could not have known they would be victorious. The priests in the temple who lit the jug of oil on the first night could not have known that the miraculous would occur and the oil would burn for eight days. In a time of darkness, we don't necessarily see how our efforts will succeed in the face of the odds.


Nevertheless, the message of Chanukah is that regardless of the darkness of the night, we must do our part to ignite at least one candle. We must focus on illuminating our environment. We may or may not believe we have the power to achieve lasting transformation, yet we focus on what we can do. We focus on increasing light. 

After all, the defining point of the Mitzvah is not that the candle be "placed" - that we succeed in illuminating the darkness for the desired time. The Mitzvah is to light, to do our part. Doing so will, G-d willing, trigger and elicit miraculous blessing and success.    


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