Thursday, November 26, 2009

Give Thanksgiving to G-d

 Hodu LaShem Ki Tov, Ki LeOlam Chasdo! 

Tehillim 118:1  Give thanks to HaShem for He is good, for His lovingkindness endures forever.

King David composed the present psalm in thanksgiving for the future acts of deliverance on behalf of the Jewish people.  Thus he both begins and ends it with "Give thanks to HaShem" (cf. v. 118:29). This conveys the importance of the present psalm and the things mentioned in it.

The psalm pertains to the Says of Mashiach, David prepared it for Jews in exile to chant in the future.

"For His loving kindness endures forever."  Unlike kindness of a human being, whose time span is limited, the loving kindness of the Almighty will never terminate.

What is the intention of "For His lovingkindness endures forever"  It is that the Holy One acts with lovingkindness towards Yisrael, not for one year, nor for two years, but "forever."

The Torah is called "lovingkindness," and it will never be taken away from Yisrael.  For G-d has given the Torah as "an inheritance of the assembly of Yaakov" (Devarim 33:4)

Therefore, "Let Yisrael say: 'For His lovingkindness endures forever!'

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Several times my daughter had telephoned to say, "Mother, you must come see the daffodils before they are over." I wanted to go, but it was a two-hour drive from Laguna to Lake Arrowhead.  "I will come next Tuesday" I promised, a little reluctantly, on her third call.

Next Tuesday dawned cold and rainy.  Still, I had promised, and so I drove there.

When I finally walked into Carolyn's house and hugged and greeted my grandchildren, I said, "Forget the daffodils, Carolyn!  The road is invisible in the clouds and fog, and there is nothing in the world except you and these children that I want to see bad enough to drive another inch!"  My daughter smiled calmly and said, "We drive in this all the time, Mother."

"Well, you won't get me back on the road until it clears, and then I'm heading for home!" I assured her.

"I was hoping you'd take me over to the garage to pick up my car."

"How far will we have to drive?"

"Just a few blocks," Carolyn said.  "I'll drive.  I'm used to this."

After several minutes, I had to ask, "Where are we going?  This isn't the way to the garage!"

"We're going to my garage the long way," Carolyn smiled, "by way of the daffodils."

"Carolyn," I said sternly, "please turn around."

"It's all right, Mother, I promise.  You will never forgive yourself if you miss this experience."

After about twenty minutes, we turned onto a small gravel road and I saw a hand- lettered sign that read, "Daffodil Garden." We got out of the car and each took a child's hand, and I followed Carolyn down the path.   Then, we turned a corner of the path, and I looked up and gasped.  Before me lay the most glorious sight.

It looked as though someone had taken a great vat of gold and poured it down over the mountain peak and slopes.  The flowers were planted in majestic, swirling patterns-great ribbons and swaths of deep orange, white, lemon yellow, salmon pink, saffron, and butter yellow.  Each different-colored variety was planted as a group so that it swirled and flowed like its own river with its own unique hue.  There were five acres of flowers.  "But who has done this?" I asked Carolyn.

"It's just one woman," Carolyn answered.  "She lives on the property.    That's her home." Carolyn pointed to a well-kept A-frame house that looked small and modest in the midst of all that glory.  We walked up to the house.

On the patio, we saw a poster.  "Answers to the Questions I Know You Are Asking" was the headline.
The first answer was a simple one."50,000 bulbs," it read.
The second answer was, "One at a time, by one woman.  Two hands, two feet, and very little brain."
The third answer was, "Began in 1958."

There it was.  The Daffodil Principle.  For me, that moment was a life-changing experience.  I thought of this woman whom I had never met, who, more than forty years before, had begun-one bulb at a time-to bring her vision of beauty and joy to an obscure mountain top.  Still, just planting one bulb at a time, year after year, had changed the world.

This unknown woman had forever changed the world in which she lived.
She had created something of ineffable (indescribable) magnificence, beauty,and inspiration.

The principle her daffodil garden taught is one of the greatest principles of celebration.  That is, learning to move toward our goals and desires one step at a time-often just one baby-step at a time-and learning to love the doing, learning to use the accumu- lation of time.  When we multiply tiny pieces of time with small increments of daily effort, we too will find we can accomplish magnificent things.  We can change the world.

"It makes me sad in a way," I admitted to Carolyn.  "What might I have accomplished if I had thought of a wonderful goal thirty-five or forty years ago and had worked away at it 'one bulb at a time' through all those years.
Just think what I might have been able to achieve!"

My daughter summed up the message of the day in her usual direct way.
"Start tomorrow," she said.

It's so pointless to think of the lost hours of yesterdays.  The way to make learning a lesson of celebration instead of a cause for regret is to only ask, "How can I put this to use today?" unknown........

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Parashat VaYetze - The Ladder

Parashat VaYetze
Bereishit 28:10 - 32:3
Haftarah Hoshea 12:13 - 14:10

The Ladder

Bereishit 28:10 Ya'akov left Be'er Sheva and went toward Charan.  11 He reached the place and spent the night there because the sun had set.  He took some of the stones of that place, and arranged them around his head, and lay down [to sleep] in that place.  12 He dreamed, and behold a ladder stood on earth and its head was in heaven; and behold angels of Elo-him were ascending and descending on it.

The ladder that Yaakov saw was also symbolic of Yisrael's future.  G-d thus disclosed to Yaakov the entire future of the Jewish nation.

The ladder symbolizes the Great Altar [that stood in the Holy Temple in Yerushalayim].  Although it "stood on the ground," its "head was in heaven."  The fragrance of the sacrifices would ascend on high, and G-d would cherish them very much.  The "angels of G-d were ascending and descending" allude to the kohen (priest) who would offer the sacrifices [climbing to the top of the altar, and going down again].  (Bereishit Rabbah; Zohar Chadash)

The ladder also symbolized the revelation at Sinai, and the fact that the Torah would be brought down from heaven there.  The numerical value of the Hebrew word for "ladder," sulam is 130 - the same as that for Sinai.  The "angels" allude to Moshe and Aharon, who "ascended" to heaven and "descended" with the Torah.  They are properly referred to as "angels of G-d" since prophets are also called angels.  [The Hebrew word for angel, malach also means messenger.] (Tanchuma, VaYishlach.  Cf. BaMidbar 20:16)

Also alluded to here is the exile of the Yisraelim (Israelites) and the destruction of the Holy Temple.  The Jews would suffer very much in the time of Nebuchadnezzar, who would make an idol sixty cubits high and six cubits wide (Dani'el 3:1).  [The letters of sulam, meaning "ladder" are the same as those of semel, meaning "statue" or "idol." ]  The "angels" were Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, who "descended" into the fiery furnace, and "ascended" unscathed. (Bereishit Rabbah)

Yaakov's vision also teaches that the world is like a ladder, where some people "ascend" while others "descend."  Some people become wealthy and attain status, while others become poor. (Ibid.)

G-d also showed Yaakov that although he was lying on the bare ground, without even a pillow for his head, in the end, his "head would reach to the heavens."

G-d also showed Yaakov the form of the Holy Temple as it was built by Melech Shlomo.  He then showed it destroyed, rebuilt, and destroyed again.  Finally, He showed Yaakov how it would be rebuilt in the Messianic age, and then last forever.

Yaakov was also shown all the guardian angels of the great empires.  The angel of the Babylonian Empire climbed up 70 rungs and then went down.  The angel of the Persian Empire climbed 52 rungs and descended.  The Greek Empire's angel climbed 180 rungs before it fell.  The angel was able to climb a rung for each year that its empire would endure; then it would descend to indicate that the empire would fall.

Yaakov then saw the angel of Edom (Rome, western civilization) climbing the ladder, and he could not count how many rungs it climbed.  He did not see it come down again.  Very startled, he said, "But that is terrible.  The civilization will last forever."  "Do not fear, Yaakov," replied G-d.  "Although Edom's angel will climb until he is near the Throne of Glory, I will cast him down too.  But you too will have to climb the ladder."  Ya'akov was terrified.  "What good is it to climb the ladder and to go down again like these angels?"  "I promise you," said G-d, "that you will ascend and never descend."  Still, Yaakov was insecure and he did not want to climb the ladder.  It was then decreed that his descendants would go into exile four times, one for each of the empires that he saw. (Pirkei rabbi Eliezer; Tanchuma; Ramban; Yalkut Shimoni)

In general, Yaakov saw the entire future in this dream.  He saw the angels of each nation "ascending" and "descending." (Bachya) 

This was Ya'akov's dream.


Yalkut MeAm Lo'ez, Rabbi Yaakov Culi, Vol. Bereishit 3a

Thanksgiving Recipe - Jewish Style!

Streusel-Topped Pumpkin Pie


1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1/4 tsp. salt
1 16 oz. can pumpkin
1 12 oz. can evaporated milk
2 eggs, slightly beaten


1 8oz carton frozen whipped topping, thawed
1 tsp. grated orange peel
9-inch pie crust

1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 Tbsp. flour
2 Tbsp. margarine, softened
1/2 cup black walnuts

Heat oven to 425 degrees.  In a large bowl, combine all filling ingredients; beat until well blended.  Pour into pie crust.  Bake for 15 minutes.

Reduce oven to 350 degrees and continue baking for 15 minutes.  In a small bowl, combine all streusel ingredients.  Sprinkle streusel over pumpkin filling.

Bake an additional 15 to 20 minutes or until knife inserted in center comes out clean.  Cool.

In a small bowl, gently fold whipped topping and orange peel together.  Serve over cooled pie.  Refrigerate any remaining pie.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Maimonides - Rambam

For He Shall Never Be Moved;
The righteous shall be held in everlasting remembrance
Tehillim 112:6

Rabbi Moses Ben Maimon

Also known as Maimonides and known by the acronym of Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, RaMBaM. Was one of the most influential figures in Jewish history.

He was born in Spain shortly before the fanatical Muslim Almohades came to power there. To avoid persecution by the Muslim sect, Maimonides fled with his family, first to Morocco, later to Israel, and finally to Egypt. He apparently hoped to continue his studies for several years more, but when his brother David, a jewelry merchant, perished in the Indian Ocean with much of the family's fortune, he had to begin earning money. He probably started practicing medicine at this time.

His Mishneh Torah and Guide to the Perplexed are seminal  works in the areas of Jewish law and philosphy respectively. The Mishneh Torah later served as the model for the Shulchan Aruch, the sixteenth century code of Jewish law that is still regarded as authoritative by Orthodox Jews. He was also a physician, astronomer, linguist, and talmudist.

When he died, Egyptian Jews observed three full days of mourning, and applied to his death the biblical verse "The ark of HaShem has been taken" (1Shmuel 4:11).  To this day, Maimonides and the French Jewish sage Rashi are the most widely studied Jewish scholars.

Yeshiva students generally focus on the Mishneh Torah, and his Book of Commandments (Sefer ha Mitzvot) a compilation of the Torah's 613 commandments. Maimonides also formulated a credo of Judaism expressed in Thirteen Articles of Faith, a popular reworking of which (the Yigdal prayer) appears in most Jewish prayerbooks. Among other things, this credo affirms belief in the oneness of G-d, the divine origins of the Torah, and the afterlife. Its twelfth statement of faith — “I believe with complete emunah (faith) in the coming of the Mashiach, and even though he may delay, nevertheless I anticipate every day that he will come!” — was often among the last words said by Jews being marched into Nazi gas chambers.

Maimonides was one of the few Jewish thinkers whose teachings also influenced the non Jewish world; much of his philosophical writings in the Guide were about G-d and other theological issues of general, not exclusively Jewish, interest.   “Maimonides is the most influential Jewish thinker of the Middle Ages, and quite possibly of all time” (Time magazine, December 23, 1985). 

As a popular Jewish expression of the Middle Ages declares: “From Moses [of the Torah] to Moses [Maimonides] there was none like Moses.”


- Jewish Literacy, Joseph Telushkin



Photograph by Photographer Kim Romain.
See her work at: Hinman Avenue Studios
(Listen to an audio clip re Havdalah - if you do not have RealPlayer, you can download it for free at )

Havdalah is the ritual using wine, multi-wick candle, and spices to mark the end of the Shabbat (and holidays) from the beginning of the rest of the week. It acknowledges the distinction between the holy and normative or the sacred and profane in time.

Havdalah consists of four benedictions: over wine, spices, light, and the distinction between the sacred and the profane, between light and darkness, between Yisrael and the nations, between the seventh day and the six workdays.

In Talmudic literature, great importance is attached to the Havdalah: future salvation as well as material blessings are promised to those who recite the Havdalah over the wine cup:

"He who resides in Yisrael, he who teaches his children Torah, and he who recites the Havdalah at the conclusion of the Shabbat will enter the Olam Habah (World to Come)" (Berachot 33a).

Birkat Havdalah:
Baruch atah Hashem Elo-heinu Melech ha-olam bore' peri ha-gafen
Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, Who creates the fruit of the vine.
Baruch atah Hashem Elo-heinu Melech ha-olam bore' minei vesamim
Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, Who creates species of fragrance.
Baruch atah Hashem Elo-heinu Melech ha-olam bore' m'orei ha-esh
Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, Who creates the illuminations of the fire.
Baruch atah Hashem Elo-heinu Melech ha-olam ha-mavdil bein kodesh lechol] bein or lechoshech bein Yisrael la-amim bein yom hashevi'i lesheshet yemei ha-ma'aseh Baruch atah Hashem ha-mavdil bein kodesh lechol
Blessed are You, Hashem our G-d, King of the universe, Who separates between holy and secular], between light and darkness, between Yisrael and the nations, between the seventh day and the six days of labor. Blessed are You, Hashem, Who separates between holy and secular.

The mnemonic device YaBNeH [Yayin-wine, Besamim-spices, Neir-light, Havdalah-separation/distinction) has been given for remembering the order for Havdalah of Shabbat to weekday (Berachot 52a; also OH, 296:1).  Between Shabbat and festival the mnemonic device is YaKNeHaZ (Yayin, Kiddush, Neir, Havdalah, and Zeman) and for Yom Kippur to weekday it is YeNaH (Yayin, Neir, and Havdalah) (Sefer Hamanhig, par. 76).

Each benediction, pronounced with a symbolic act, has specific significance:

Yayin:  Wine is used as a symbol of joy and celebration.  The Talmud comments, "A person in whose house wine is not poured like water has not attained the state of blessedness." (Eruv 65a)  It is customary to pour the wine into a cup so that it overflows, to depict Divine blessing... symbolic of the overflowing blessing expected in the coming week.  The wine is also used to douse the Havdalah candle, to indicate that the candle was lit to comply with the spedific precept of Havdalah.  The custom of dipping the finger in the wine of the Havdalah and passing it over the eyes alludes to Tehillim 19:9, where G-d's commands are described as "enlightening the eyes."  These usages are not applicable whenever the Havdalah is recited as part of the Kiddush for festivals.  In addition to the Havdalah over wine, there is another Havdalah inserted in the fourth benediction of the Shemoneh Esreh.  In the Sefardic tradition it is customary to put a drop of wine behind the ears, in back of the neck, or over the eyes, and in the pockets as a sign of good fortune for the coming week. (TSLC, pp. 228, 239)

Basamim.  According to Maimonides [Rambam], the symbolic use of fragrant spices is to cheer the soul which is saddened at the departure of the Shabbat.  We inhale the aroma of the spices because during the Shabbat man is given a neshama yeteirah ("an additional soul"). (Ta'an. 27b; Bez. 16a)  At the end of the Shabbat the neshama yeteirah, which is about to leave, grieves, and the smelling of the spices offers comfort to make up for the loss.  When a festival follows immediately after the Shabbat the spices are omitted, because the soul then rejoices with the incoming festival.  At the conclusion of any festival, spices are not used because the neshama yeteyrah comes on the Shabbat only.  Ashkenazim use a combination of cloves and bay leaves for besamim, as well as other pickling spices.  In the Syrian synagogue they may use rosewater.  In Moroccan communities a myrtle-branch (hadas), rosewater, or various spices are used.  Spices or lemon, and, during the summer months, myrtle twigs or mint are often used in Judeo-Spanish communities. (TSLC, pp. 228, 238, 245)   According to the Zohar one should use a myrtle twig when making the blessing for besamim. (Cf. Otz Hat, vol. 2, Seder Havdalah)  A sign for this practice is the two adjacent phrases in the verse in Sefer Yeshayahu:  "Every one that keeps the Shabbat and does not profane it" (Yeshayahu 56:6) and "Instead of the nettle shall the myrtle tree come up" (Yeshayahu 55:13).  Thus the blessing for besamim varies in the Sefardic rite:  if it comes from a tree, then the formula for the blessing is "Who creates the spice trees"; if it is a type of herb, then one says, "Who creates the herbs of spice"; and if it is neither from trees or herbs, or when in doubt, the formula is "Who creates diverse spices."

Ha-Esh [Neir].  A twisted candle of several wicks is used , because the phrase m'orei ha-esh (the illuminations of the fire) is in the plural.  Also, the plural form used when making the blessing over light refers to the different colors contained in the flame: red, white, bluish green. (Ber. 52b; also MB, 298:2)  The blessing of light is to commemorate Adam's awareness of being able to kindle a light.  He was born on the sixth day of Creation and darkness never descended on earth until the following night.  When he saw the sun go down for the first time on Saturday night, he was terrified.  G-d gave him the intelligence to take two stones and strike them together.  In this manner did man first discover fire.  When Adam saw the flame, he exclaimed with gratitude, "Blessed be He, the Creator of light!" (Kol Bo; also Pes. 54a and Bereishit Rabbah 11:2)  According to a Talmudic legend, fire was one of the things G-d had left uncreated when Shabbat set in; but after the close of the Shabbat, G-d endowed man with divine wisdom.  "Man then took two stones, and by rubbing them together produced fire..." (Pesachim 53b).  While pronouncing the benediction over the light it is customary to gaze at the fingernails or palms of the hand.  Looking at the nails, in their unceasing growth, is a symbol of the prosperity which, is hoped, the week will bring. (Kol Bo; also Tur in the name of Hai Gaon)  The palms of the hand are looked at because the lines of the hand signify something by which to be blessed. (MB, 298:8)  Also, the reflection of the light on the fingernails causes the shadow to appear on the palm of the hand, thus indicating the distinction "between light and darkness."

Customarily, Havdalah should be said while sitting, however, the practice is to stand (Otz Hat, vol. 2, p. 868; cf. Baer, Sidd Avod Yis. p. 311) as one accompanies the departure of the Shabbat, that is, to be compared to escorting a king when he departs. (MB, 296:27)

Women are obligated in Havdalah as they are obligated in Kiddush. (MB, 296:34)   Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz, known as the Sheloh from the initials of his chief work Sheni Luchot ha-Brit (The Two Tablets of the Covenant) (1), says that women do not drink of the wine of the Havdalah, in allusion to the guilt incurred by Chavah when she gave some of the forbidden fruit to Adam, which is said to have been the juice of grapes.

When making Kiddush in the synagogue on Friday night, it is customary to do so before Aleinu, whereas on Saturday night Havdalah is made after Aleinu.  The reason for this procedure is that we are hasty to usher in the Shabbat with Kiddush, but making Havdalah after Aleinu prolongs the Shabbat. (Sefer Matamim - Warsaw, 1889, Sabbath, par. 184)

The concept of Havdalah is ordained by the Torah as part of the general mitzvah to "Remember the Shabbat," the implication being that its differentiation from other days must be verbalized (Rambam - Hilchot Shabbat 29:1).

With the departure of the holy Shabbat and the onset of the work week, it is essential to be conscious of the differences between sanctity and secularity.  In explaining why the first mention of the separation is made in the Shemoneh Esreh blessing for wisdom, the Sages explain:  "If there is no wisdom, how can one differentiate?"  Clearly, then, to distinguish is a function of intelligent reasoning.  It is incumbent, therefore upon each Jew to be conscious of the sharp difference between the holiness he has just been experiencing and the sharply lower level of spirituality by which he is about to descend.

Havdalah is traditionally when three stars are visible in the sky, appoximately 20 minutes after nightfall.

Because they loath to lose their extra soul (neshama yeteirah), many Chasidim put off the Havdalah ceremony as long as possible, sometimes until long past midnight.  [There are even instances of those who extended the Shabbat until Wednesday, when they began preparing for the coming Shabbat!]  Some interpret this 'second soul' as identified with the Shabbat Queen, the Shechinah, who is welcomed every Shabbat.  Technically speaking, the arrival of the end of the Shabbat is defined by the ability to recognize three stars, as stated in Mishnah Brachot 1:1.  It is at this precise time that a Mitnaged would say Havdalah, but many Chasidim ignored the stars and continued to study Torah for several more hours, unwilling to let go of the spirit of the Shabbat that they so loved.

(1) The Sheloh, or Sheni Luchot ha-Brit, has been described as a profoundly ethical but unsystematic work of Kabbalistic tendencies on Jewish laws and customs.  Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz was born in Prague and died in Eretz Yisra'el (1565-1630).  He served as rabbi in various communities in Poland, Germany, and Bohemia.


Siddur - Nusach Ashkenazi, p. 618-621
Gabriel's Place - Jewish Mystical Tales, The Three Stars, p. 227, Howard Schwartz
Encyclopedia of Jewish Prayer - Havdalah, p. 169-171, Macy Nulman
Encyclopedia of Jewish Concepts - Havdalah, p. 153-154, Philip Birnbaum

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Mysterious Guest - Eliyahu HaNavi

Shabbat Shalom!

The Mysterious Guest

Wandering around the world, I heard of a man who had an unbelievable reputation for hospitality. (1)   I couldn't believe that his kindness had no bounds, no limits.  Investigating, I found out that he searched not only the immediate vicinity of his own shetetl for guests, but the entire surrounding area.  People said that when he found a traveler or a person in need of any kind of help whatsoever, he went out of his way to treat him as a member of his own family.  He never sat down to a weekday meal, let alone a Shabbos or holy day meal, without guests gracing his table.  I was so awed by what I heard that I decided to see if it were true.

I disguised myself as a beggar, making certain that my clothes were tattered and torn, that I appeared dirty and unkempt.  I placed myself in his shtetl of Gustinin, in the shul and sat on a corner of the bench, opposite the eastern wall, to rest and warm myself near the stove.

I dozed while I was waiting.  It did not take long for me to be awakened by a man tapping me on the shoulder.

"Please wake up," he said. "You can't spend Shabbos here alone.  You must come home with me where there is a delicious meal and a warm bed awaiting you."

He helped me to my feet, put his arm under mine to steady me and guided me the short distance to his home.

I entered a room that had truly been prepared to greet the Shabbos Queen.  Two tables covered with festive white cloths stood perpendicular to each other in the center of a large dining room.  Many pairs of candles sparkled in silver candlesticks; delicately embroidered cloths covered the golden twisted challot that were at the place of the head of each family.  I saw his children and grandchildren waiting around the Shabbos table for him.  When he entered the room, he greeted everyone with a warm "Good Shabbos," pointed to a chair on his right side, and motioned for me to sit down.  His wife sat on his left.  No one sitting at the table expressed surprise at my presence or at my appearance.

After singing "Shalom Aleichem," all rose to their feet.  My host lifted the wine bottle, poured some wine into his goblet, raised it, and chanted the kiddush.  He poured some wine into another goblet for his wife.  When he finished, each of his sons and his son-in-law chanted the Kiddush and passed their goblets to their wives and children.  Then my host turned to me and inquired gently, "Would you like to chant the Kiddush?"

"I'm not familiar with the words," I responded sheepishly.

"Then I will fetch you a siddur."  He walked over to the bookcase, removed a siddur from a shelf, and returned to the table.  Flipping through the pages, he located the Kiddush and placed it in front of me.

"I can't read the words," I muttered.

"Then I shall help you," he said.  He pronounced one world and I repeated it.  His family waited patiently while I stammered away at the words.

he didn't even ask me if I knew the blessing for ritual hand washing; he assumed that I needed help.  I permitted him to wash my hands for me, then I threw the towel t the floor.  I suspected that what I heard was true.  Not one family member acted dismayed at my uncouthness.  I realized that they were used to their father bringing home all kind of strangers.

Each family had two challot of their own.  My host placed a very large slice in front of me.  In an unmannerly fashion, I gobbled it down and motioned to him for another slice.  I alternated a piece of challah and a gulp of wine until I had finished the entire challah and had emptied the Kiddush goblet in front of me.  Unperturbed, my host went into the kitchen to fetch another challah, which I ate hungrily.  I was served two portions of fish and I proceeded to scatter the bones all around my plate on the white tablecloth.  I ate three portions of soup and four portions of pot roast, tzimmes, and kugel.  I burped loudly twice.

"Are you still hungry?" my host asked me lovingly.

"Yes, I could still eat more," I muttered.  He rose, went into the kitchen, removed the cholent pot from the stove and brought it into the dining room and set it in front of me.  I finished the whole thing with great gusto.  He never said one angry word either about my disgusting table manners or the amount of food I had consumed.

After the meal, my host asked me to hum along the Shabbos zemiros, but instead my head began to nod and I pretended to snore.  In the middle of the grace after meals, I suddenly pulled myself up from my chair and stumbled over to an ivory and gold colored brocaded sofa, throwing my full weight and my muddy shoes across it with a resounding thud.

I noticed that my host didn't blink an eyelid, although the womenfolk looked at each other nervously.  Thinking I might be cold, he covered me with three blankets as soon as he finished chanting the grace after meals.

While I pretended to sleep, the children and grandchildren returned to their own nearby homes, the tables were cleared, and the house became shrouded in deep darkness for the candles had burned down.  I folded the blankets neatly, replaced them in the cupboard and disappeared from sight, satisfied that what I had heard about this man who practiced exemplary hospitality was true.

I hid behind a thick-barked, lush-foliaged, broad-branched oak tree near the fence of his property to see his reaction when he discovered that I had disappeared.  He arose at daybreak.  When he discovered that I was not on the sofa, he shouted,

"Where are you?  Where are you?"

A few minutes later, he left and ran in the direction of the shul, apparently thinking that I had returned to my corner on the bench near the stove, but soon I saw him returning slowly, sadly, to his home without me.  Then I heard him call to his wife that he was going to search for me at the marketplace, I waited.  Again, I saw him run, again he returned without me.  I knew he was clearly puzzled, but I could not reveal my true identity to him.

Finally, I left my watching post behind the tree, knowing that I had never met such a gracious host (2) before.  I wondered if, in my future travels, I would meet anyone who would surpass his kindness.


1)  Eliyahu HaNevi.
2) The host was Rebbe Yechiel Mayer Lifshitz, the Yehude Hatov, the Good Jew of Gustinin (1817-1888) noted for his meticulous observance of the middah of hospitality.  He was also called the Tehillim Yid, the Psalm Jew.  During his lifetime, the Jewish people suffered terrible hardships at the hands of the tzarist government.  People came to him from the surrounding area, not only to sit at his Shabbos or holy day tish, but for advice on dealing with their problems, both with the government and the neighboring peasants.  he would inevitably advise, "Recite Tehillim."  He wrote down their problems, the numbers of the chapters of tehillim he had instructed them to recite, and he would recite them as well.  People said, "Even though King David composed Tehillim, Rebbe Yechiel Mayer recited them with more fervor..."  He went out of his way to guide his people in the ways of peaceful living, always mediating between antagonishts.  He wrote his ethical will eight years before he died.  In it, he instructed his children to, "Always distance yourselves from arrogance...and even if you should become very wealthy, know that money is a blessing from the Almighty...All mankind was created from the same mold, the people who suffer and the people who enjoy comfort...Know that my reprimands were only meant to direct you toward specific goals."  (Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Bromberg.  Hayehudi Hatov meGustinin, Jerusalem:  Bays Hillel Publishing.  Lichtenstein and Holder, 1982)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Toldot - And these are the offspring of Yitzchak

Parashat Toldot
Bereishit 25:19 - 28:9
Haftarah Malachi 1:1-2:27

Bereishit 25:18 "Over all his brothers he dwelt."

This is juxtaposed with ve'eleh toldot Yitzchak -  "And these are the offspring of Yitzchak" (25:19).

This teaches that when Yishmael's [descendants] fall in the End of Days, then [Mashiach,] the descendant of King David, of the offspring of Yitzchak, will flourish (Bereishit Rabbah 62:5)

Holid - Begot.  The gematria of this word (55) is equal to that of the word domeh - he is like, for Yitzchak's countenance was like that of Avraham (Bava Metzia 87a; Tanchuma 1).

Vatahar Rivkah ishto - "And his wife Rivkah conceived."

The gematria of ishto, his wife (707), is equal to that of kash va-esh, straw and fire, and refers to [Esav and Yaakov about whom it is written], vehayah beit Yaakov esh, And the house of Yaakov shall be a fire... uveit Esav lekash, and the house of Esav for straw (Ovadyah 1:18).

*With this the Baal HaTurim explains the superfluous Rivkah ishto, Rivkah his wife, an identification already made in the preceding verse.  He explains that the verse may be understood as vatahar Rivkah, Rivkah conceived, ishto, straw [Esav] and fire [Yaakov].

Admoni - Red.

This word appears twice in the Tanach: The first one emerged red (25:25); and And he was red, with fair eyes (1Shmuel 16:12), regarding David.  When [the prophet] Shmuel saw that David was red, he said, "Perhaps he is a shedder of blood like Esav!"  Therefore, that verse goes on to say, with fair eyes, i.e., whatever he does is with the agreement of the members of the Sanhedrin (High Court) who are called "eyes" - as it is said, If from the eyes of the assembly ... (BaMidbar 15:24).   Which can be understood as, he is with the fair of eyes.

Esav - The name Esav can be divided into yud (=70) and shav (=shave worthless).  G-d said, "This worthless one completed the number of seventy gentile nations; he is the worthless one that I have created in the world."

*Various passages in the Talmud and Midrash speak of the 70 nations of the world.  The Midrash HaGadol (a contemporary of the Baal HaTurim) reckons 68 nations before the birth of Esav and Yaakov, with their birth completed the total 70.  According to that view, the 70 nations include 69 gentile nations and Yisrael, a view that is not in accord with either the Talmud (Sukkah 55b) or the Midrash (Bereishit Rabbah 66:4). According to Pesikta Zutresa, the 71 descendants of Noach's three sons enumerated in Chapter 10, with the exception of Pelishtim (Philistines and alternatively, Nimrod), were the progenitors of 70 gentile nations.  The Baal HaTurim apparently omitted both Nimrod and Pelishtim from the 71 descendants of Noach's sons.  Thus Esav was the 70th nation (VeChur LaZahav)

Ve-acharei chen yatza achiv - After that his brother emerged.

The gematria of chen is 70, i.e., Yaakov emerged after chen (=70) nations whose number was completed with Esav's birth.  For there are seventy nations aside from [the descendants of] Yaakov.

*The Talmud teaches that the 70 bulls offered during the festival of Sukkot (BaMidbar 29:12-34) represent the 70 nations of the world; while the lone bull offered on Shemini Atzeret (BaMidbar 29:35-36) represents Yisrael (Sukkah 55b).  Clearly, Yisrael is not included in the count of 70.  Similarly, the Midrash (Bereishit Rabbah 66:4) interprets, "People will serve you" (27:29) as a reference to the 70 nations, thus excluding Yisrael from the count.  See also Rashi to BaMidbar 26:36 and 29:11.

Veyado - with his hand.

The masoretic note indicates that this word appears three times in the Tanach:

1) here, Veyado ochezet ba'akev Esav, with his hand grasping the heel of Esav
2) Veyado hanetuyah umi yeshivenah His hand is outstretched, and who can turn it back? (Yeshayahu 14:27)
3) Veyado chilkatah lahem - and his hand has distributed it for them (Yeshayahu 34:17) regarding the downfall of the gentile nations. (Refers to both verses from Yeshayahu).

For at the time of their birth, he intimated to him that the nations would fall into his hand.

*(Bereishit Rabbah 63:9)  The antecedents of the pronouns "he" and "him" in this last sentence are not clear, so the comment may be understood in a variety of ways: By having Yitzchak grasp Esav's heel, He [G-d] intimated to him [Yitzchak or Yaakov or Esav] that the nations would fall into Yaakov's hands; or by grasping Esav's heel, he [Yaakov] intimated to him [Yitzchak or Esav] that the nations would fall into Yaakov's hands.

Yaakov  - The gematria of this name (182) is equal to that of malach haElo-him - angel of G-d, and to that of haGan Eden - the Garden of Eden, and that of {lo yeasef - He will not be brought in, as reflected in the verse,} virechech lo yeasef - and your moon shall not be brought in (Yeshayahu 60:20).

*The three gematriaot of this comment refer to various aspects of Yaakov's life: He continually had angelic visions and visitations (28:12, 31:11, 32:2, 32:4 [with Rashi], 32:25-26 [ with Baal HaTurim to v26] and 48:16); the aroma of the Garden of Eden accompanied him; and Yaakov did not die (VeChur LaZahav).

Ish tam - A wholesome man.

The final letters of these two words spell the name Shem.  Implied is that Yaakov dwelt in the tents of Shem to learn [Torah from him]. (Peirush HaRokeach)

For tam (=440) years he [i.e., the nations descended from Yaakov] was dwelling; from the time the Yisraelim (Israelites) entered the Land of Yisrael until the Temple was built.  This is an allusion that after 440 years, he would dwell in the tents of the Divine Presence.

Yoshev ohalim - Dwelling in tents.

The gematria of yoshev ohalim is 410.  For 410 years, the Divine Presence dwelt in the Tent.

*The First Temple stood for 410 years.  Combining this comment with the previous one yields: tam yoshev ohalim, [After a period of] 440 [years, the Divine Presence will dwell for] 410 [years].

Ekev asher-shama Avraham - Because Avraham obeyed.

This verse contains 10 words, corresponding to the Ten Commandments, in which there are ekev (=172) words.  Corresponding to these Ten Commandments, Avraham was tested with 10 trials, and thus maintained the world that was created with 10 utterances.

*The Baal HaTurim refers to the first Luchot (Tablets) of the Ten Commandments (Shemot 20:2-14); the second Luchot contain 189 words (Devarim 5:6-18).

For ekev (=172) years Avraham obeyed My voice, for at the age of three he recognized his Creator, and all his years were 175. (Nedarim 32a)

Thus, too, the letter heh (=5) was added to Avraham's name, corresponding to [the 5 matters listed in this verse]:

1) bekoli - to My voice
2) mishmarti - My safeguard
3) mitzvotai - My commandments
4) chukotai - My decrees
5) vetorotai - and My Torahs


- Baal HaTurim

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Rabbi Yaakov Ben Asher - Baal HaTurim

For He Shall Never Be Moved;
The righteous shall be held in everlasting remembrance
Tehillim 112:6

Rabbi Yaakov Ben Asher

A major halachic authority, was known as the 'Baal ha-Turim' after his influential magnum opus, the Arab'a Turim ("Four Columns"), which is one of the earliest systematic compilations of Jewish law and custom.

Rabbi Yaakov was taught by his famous father, the ROSH - Rabbi Asher ben Yehiel.  Rabbi Yaakov was completely immersed in his studies. He had witnessed the cruelties of his non-Jewish neighbors and government officials, and only in the study of the Torah could he find comfort and peace.

Under the guidance of his father, Rabbi Yaakov became fully acquainted with the entire Talmud and commentaries, especially with the works of Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (Maimonides) who lived less than a hundred years before him. He studied the Talmud discussions and decisions of the great German, French and Spanish scholars, which he was later to harmonize into his major life work.

Wishing to make it easier for his brethren to acquire knowledge of Jewish law, so that they could regulate their daily life according to the Torah, Rabbi Yaakov ben Asher decided to create a uniform code for his people.

The Turim, is methodically arranged in four parts or rows (alluding to the four rows of precious stones mounted on the high priest's breastplate of judgement):

1) Orach Chayim (way of life) dealing with the duties of the Jew at home and in the synagogue, day by day, including Shabbat and Chagim.

2) Yoreh De'ah (teacher of knowledge), furnishing instruction in things forbidden and permitted, such as all phases of dietary laws.

3) Even ha-Ezer (stone of help) encompassing the laws of marriage and family matters

4) Choshen Mishpat (breastplate of judgment), describing civil law and administration.  The Biblical place name Even ha-Ezer is mentioned three times in the first book of Shmuel 4:1; 5:1; 7:12.  Ezer (help) alludes to marriage in Bereishit 2:18.  The name Choshen Mishpat is borrowed from Shemot 28:15.

Based on Maimonides' (RaMBaM) Mishneh Torah in both contents and language, the Tur, as the code is commonly called, became so popular that it was regarded as "the people's law book of the entire world" but unlike the RaMBaM, who simply gave a final decision without discussion, the Turim quote the views of many Poskim, (codifiers), and many customs which acquired the force of law.  Eventually, it became the basis of the Shulchan Aruch, consisting likewise of four parts bearing the same titles.  Designed to supply coordinated information for the average Jew, both law codes concern themselves only with laws practiced after the destruction of the Second Temple, omitting all precepts which presuppose the existence of the Temple.*

The Arab'a Turim are the standard reference books of rabbis and scholars to this very day. Their clear and simple style makes them highly popular and understandable.

Rabbi Yaakov ben Asher also wrote a commentary on the Torah, which shows his deep knowledge of the secrets of the Torah. His commentary, in abbreviated form, is generally printed together with most standard Chumashim, under the name of "Baal Haturim." It is a treasure chest of hidden meanings which he discovered in the letters and words of the holy text, through combinations, numerical additions, etc., showing the profound depth of the Torah.


-Encyclopedia of Jewish Concepts

Lashon HaRa

Lashon HaRa
Evil Tongue / Slanderous Talk

Lashon HaRa encompasses all forms of forbidden speech (gossip, slander, lying, etc.).

VaYikra 19:16 "You shall not go about spreading slander among your people..."

According to the Talmud, slander is a hideous capital crime; a slanderer is like one who denies G-d.  G-d says of the slanderer:  "He and I cannot live together in the world" (Arachin 15b)

The term slaner has been defined as the utterance or dissemination of false statements or reports concernikng a person, or malicious misrepresentation of his actions, in order to defame or injure him.  In Jewish tradition, the law in VaYikra 19:16 is understood to forbid the peddling of gossip, even if the report is true and told without malice (Yad, Deot 7:2)

Prayer to Resist Speaking Lashon HaRa

Master of the world, may it be Your will, gracious and Almighty, to grant me the merit today and every day to guard my mouth and my tongue not to be ensnared into forbidden speech, specifically the sins of lashon hara (slander) and rechilut (gossip);
...that I avoid speaking against an individual and surely against Yisrael as a whole - an extremely grave sin - and, even worse, complaining against the Holy One's treatment - which is the worse sin of all;
...that I avoid lying;
...that I avoid flattering - smoothing over someone's sin to his face;
...that I avoid scoffing and the company of scoffers;
...that I be careful not to pain anyone with words;
...that I be careful not to embarrass any person even while reproving him;
...that I be careful not to speak arrogantly;
...that I be careful not to spark strife;
...that I be careful not to spark anger.

Grant me the merit to speak only what is essential to my physical and spiritual well being, and that everything I do and say should be a credit to Your Name.



-Sefer Hatechinot Vatitpalel Chanah - Techinot for the Jewish woman
-Chafetz Chayim - Sefer Chafetz Chayim - The Laws of Esurei LaShon HaRa and Rechilut

Friday, November 13, 2009

Hadlakah - Lighting Shabbat Candles

Shabbat Shalom!

Bereishit 24:67 And Yitzchak brought her into the tent of Sarah his mother; he married Rivkah, she became his wife, and he loved her; and thus was Yitzchak consoled after his mother.

Rashi notes that as long as Sarah was alive a lamp was lit from one Shabbat eve to the next; the benediction was made over the dough (which she kneeded); and a cloud hovered over the tent.  When she died this all ceased, but when Rivkah came everything began once again.

And a fourth blessing Sarah brought to Avraham's house...their doors were always open wide since she always gave generous alms to the poor.

These three hallmarks of Sarah's tent correspond to the three main duties of the Jewish wife:  to light Shabbat lights (hadlakah), to separate challah from the dough, which assures a blessing from above (challah), and to observe the laws of purity of conjugal life (taharat hamishpacha).  They draw the presence and protection of the Divine Majesty which hovers invisibly over the home as in a column of "cloud over the tent."

Hadlakah (lighting; kindling)

The Sages set forth three reasons why we light Shabbat candles.  First, for peace and harmony in the home (shalom bayit); second, to honor Shabbat and third, to create pleasure.

Our sages tell us that the moments of Shabbat candle lighting are a time of teshuvah, of returning to our spiritual source.  With the flames in front of us, our hands covering our eyes and our focus turned inward, we reflect upon what went right or wrong in the past week and evaluate whether life is leading us in the proper direction.  We ask ourselves whether we are on a path lit by truth, or whether we are still in the dark.  Torah itself is compared to light, because it is the ultimate source of direction and clarity. Thus the Shabbat candles connect us intimately to Torah.  When a Jewish woman lights candles on Friday evening she aligns herself with Torah's eternal order and harmony.  From this place of profound connection, she gains the ability to bring the same clarity to her surroundings.

The candle (ner) symbolizes our neshamah (soul), our intellect, our personal shalom bayit (peace in the house).  Without this light we cannot see, there is no clarity, no relationship to other objects in the room, just as spiritually, without light (Torah), we don't have the clarity to know which path to take that leads to Hashem.  So, the Shabbat candle helps us to not only see physically but also represents a spiritual 'seeing' that is obtained through Torah out of sincere kavanah (feeling) towards learning and living as instructed.

Only then will we experiece true shalom bayit, as both our physical and neshamah will be pulling together to lead us in the same direction....towards the Torah's way..towards HaShem Elokeinu, Baruch Hu.

In the atmosphere created by our candles, we are free to meditate on our common goals as Jews and to experience the repose of peace and harmony that is uniquely Shabbat. By refraining from activities of the week and by bringing G-d into the picture, we acknowledge that we Jews share a belief and
a way of life according to Torah, which is the basis of our identity as a people.  We see others united by virtue of their business or hobbies, but this bond is based only on common interest, rather than timeless values.  The Jewish woman promotes the essential cohesiveness of the Jewish Nation each time she lights.

As bearers of light, women draw down from above the spiritual clarity of Shabbat, and then disseminate it throughout the week to come. The candle light of Shabbat expresses the inherent peace of the individual and collective Jewish soul.  It is no wonder then that candle lighting is a woman's obligation, since it is she who unifies and creates peace in her household.

On this day, at the behest of the Torah, we are to refrain from all productive activity. For this one day we relinquish our domination over the world and its resources. This is why the Hebrew name of this day is Shabbat, which does not mean "rest" but "cessation of activity." On this day we, so to speak, restore the world to G-d, and thus proclaim, to ourselves and to others, that our life in this world has higher, spiritual aims.

Preparation for lighting the Shabbat Candles

Place candles on the table where you plan to eat dinner, or in a prominent place where you can see them from the dinner table.

Single women may prepare either one or two candles.  A married woman generally prepares two candles.  She may add an additional candle for each of her children.  (Young girls of three or older, who are capable of
understanding the concept of Shabbat, can be provided with a candlestick and taught to kindle Shabbat lights.)

Some have a custom of putting a few coins in a charity box ("pushke") prior to lighting.

It is important to light your candles on time.  Candles are lit 18 minutes before sunset every Friday. Young girls should light just prior to this time.

Click the following link for candle lighting times in your area:

Procedure for lighting Shabbat candles

1)  Light the candles.  Next, spread your hands in a circular motion around the candles, drawing your hands inward towards yourself each time to indicate the acceptance of Shabbat.

2)  Cover your eyes and recite the following blessing:

Baruch atah HaShem Elo-heinu Melech Ha-olam asher kid'shanu b'mitzvotav v'tzivanu l'hadlik ner shel Shabbat.
Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments, and has commanded us to kindle the light of the Shabbat.

3)  Uncover your eyes and look at the Shabbat lights.  At this time, you may wish to add your own words of prayer or thanksgiving.

A woman should light the Shabbat lamp with joyous heart and with pleasure, for it is a supreme honor for her. It serves as a source of great merit for her to be blessed with holy sons who will be a source of light to the world in Torah knowledge and fear of G-d,and will bring more peace into the world. She also thereby causes her husband’s lifetime to be prolonged. For all of these reasons, she should be meticulous in the lighting of the Shabbat lamp. (Zohar: Bereishit).

Some people prepare two wicks [or candles] for the Shabbat lamp, one corresponding to the commandment “Remember the day of Shabbat,” and the other corresponding to the commandment “Observe the day of Shabbat.” 

The Tur states that the Beit Yosef and the Kolbo quote the Tanchuma on this matter which states,

“All the matters of the Shabbat come in pairs, e.g. two lambs are offered at the Holy Temple as an additional offering for the Sabbath, the Psalm of Shabbat uses the repetetive wording - “A song, A hymn for the Sabbath day” (Psalms 92), and a double portion of Mann descended for Shabbat. Therefore, we also light two lamps (Tur Orach Chaim 263).
Our sages, with their unique gift for epigram, expressed in the Passover Haggadah the fact that the Sabbath contains the sum and substance of Jewish life and thought in the words:

"If G-d had not brought us to Har Sinai and had only given us the Shabbat, it would have been enough."
It would indeed have been enough, for Shabbat epitomizes the whole of Judaism.


Source Commentaries:

Call Of The Torah - Chayei Sarah, Rabbi Munk
MeAm Lo'ez - Chayei Sarah - Rabbi Culi
Women in Judaism.  The Jewish Renaissance Center - .
The Sabbath: A Guide to its Understanding and Observance

Life of Sarah - Chayei Sarah

Parashat Chayei Sarah
Bereishit 23:1 - 25:18
Haftarah 1Melachim 1:1-31

Life of Sarah
(Picture is burial of Sarah)

Bereishit 23:2 Sarah died in Kiryat-arba which is Chevron in the land of Kena'an; and Avraham came to eulogize Sarah and to bewail her..

Kiryat-arba, the old name for Chevron.  Why does Torah give the original name since it immediately adds the name, Chevron, normally used?  Rashi explains that the word arba refers either to the four giants living there or to the four couples (Adam & Chavah, Avraham & Sarah, Yitzchak & Rivkah, Ya'akov and Leah) buired there.  The Zohar, however, sees in the name kiryat-arba a reference to the four letters of the Divine Name (i.e., the Tetragrammaton).  Just as Aharon, Miryam, and Moshe all expired by the Divine kiss, Sarah too died innocent and pure, in "the enclosure (kirat = city, surrounding wall) of the four" letters of the Ineffable Name.

The Torah stresses in verse 19 that Sarah died in the land of Kena'an and was buried there.  This detail can give us the explanation of why she died in Chevron.  She had lived in Be'er-sheva and no explanation is given for her moving from there.  However, one can see why her death and burial should have taken place in Kena'an and not in Be'er-sheva, which was located in Pelishti (Philistine) territory.  Indeed, it was essential for the future of the Jewish people that the tombs of the patriarchs be situated in the Promise Land.  Throughout the centuries of history, in all the lands of the dispersion, they represented the eternal symbol of the homeland and the rallying point for the whole nation.  And so, Sarah's move to Chevron, where she died, was an act of Providence.  Avraham would have had no valid reason for wanting to buy the cave of Machpelah from the sons of Chet had Sarah died in Be'er-sheva and not in Chevron.


Mishma Dumah Massa

Bereishit 25:12 These are the descendants of Yishma'el, Avraham's son, whom Hagar the Mitzrian, Sarah's maidservant, bore to Avraham.  13 These are the names of the sons of Yishma'el by their names, in order of their birth: Yishma'el's firstborn Nevayot, Kedar, Adbe'el, and Mivsam,  14 Mishma, and Dumah, and Massa,  15 Chadad and Tema, Yetur, Nafish, and Kedemah.  16 These are the sons of Yishma'el, and these are their names by their open cities and by their strongholds, twelve chieftains for their nations.  17 These were the years of Yishma'el's life: a hundred and thirty-seven years, when he expired and died, and was gathered to his people.  18 They dwelt from Chavilah to Shur - which is near Mitzrayim - toward Ashshur; over all his brothers he dwelt.

It is customary to read the verses containing the names of Yishma'el's sons each day as part of the Ma'amadot.

Each verse teaches us a lesson:

Mishma Dumah Massa

If one hears (mishma) people insult him but remains quit (dumah), all his sins will be lifted away (masa).  His reward will be Chadad Tema Yetur Nafish Kedmah - He will become very sharp (chadad) in his knowledge of the Torah, and he will be able to speak of its (tema) mysteries.  G-d will keep (yetur) him and make his name as great (nafish) as the sages of old (kedmah). (Imrey Noam)

Rambam speaks of the Moslem oppression of the Jews at the end of his Epistle to Yemen (Igeret Teyman).  He quotes this verse containing the names of Yishma'el's children and explains, "Our Sages enjoin us to bear the treachery of the Yishma'eli and their lies with indifference.  This they derived from the verse which names the children of Yishma'el.  The names mean shema dom vesa (listen, be quiet, and bear it)."

Yishma'el's sons were very famous; they founded great, fortified cities, and dominated the broad area between Chavilah and Shur, and Baghdad, in what was the land of Assyria.  Thus, G-d's promise to Avraham regarding Yishma'el (21:13) was fulfilled.

Because Yishma'el went to the trouble of coming from the desert to attend Avraham's funeral, he deserved the names of his sons to be written in the Torah. (Yafeh Toar p. 371)

Yishma'el died in the year 2171 (1590 b.c.e.).  According to Rashi, Yishma'el's lifespan is given in order to make a connection with the years which Ya'akov lived.  Ramban adds that our Sages gave other reasons as well (Rabbah 62), but that the essential motive is the fact that Yishma'el had repented and became tzaddik.  Consequently the Torah gives his lifespan just as it does for other tzaddik.

"Over all his brothers he dwelt"...literally, "he fell."  The next verse begins, "And these are the offspring of Yitzchak."  This teaches you that when Yishma'el falls at the end of days, only then will the history of Yitzchak commence, under the reign of the Mashiach (Baal HaTurim).


MeAm Lo'ez - Chayei Sarah - Rabbi Culi
Call Of The Torah - Chayei Sarah, Rabbi Munk
Baal HaTurim

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The One Whom G-d Loves

The One Whom G-d Loves

You may ask, is not a man often punished by G-d undeservedly?

The answer is that when suffering befalls a righteous man, it is on account of the love which G-d bears for him.  He crushes his body in order to give more power to his soul, so that He may draw him nearer in love. For it is needful that the body should be weak and the soul strong, so that a man may be beloved of G-d.

The Holy One inflicts suffering on the righteous in this world in order that they may merit the world to come.

But he who is weak of soul and strong of body is hated of G-d.

It is because G-d has no pleasure in him that He inflicts no pain upon him in this world, but permits his life to flow smoothly along with ease and comfort, in that for any virtuous act he may perform he receives his reward in this world, so that no portion should be left in the next world.

The righteous man, then, who is continually broken in body is the beloved of the Holy One, blessed be He.

Source:  Zohar

Friday, November 6, 2009

Shabbat Shalom

Shabbat Shalom!

Ki eshm'rah Shabbat E-l yishm'reni Ot hi l'olmei ad beino uveini
Just as I keep Shabbat, G-d will keep me. It is a symbol for all eternity between Him and me.

Parashat VaYera - And He Appeared

Bereishit 18:1 - 22:24
Haftarah 2Melachim 4:1-37

And He Appeared
Sedom's Sins

Bereishit 18:17 And HaShem said, "Shall I conceal from Avraham what I do, 
18 now that Avraham is surely to become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by him?  
19 For I haved loved him, because he commands his children and his household after him that they keep the way of HaShem, doing charity and justice, in order that HaShem might then bring upon Avraham that which He had spoken of him."   
20 So HaShem said, "Because the outcry of Sedom and 'Amorah has become great, and because their sin has been very grave, 
21 I will descend and see: If they act in accordance with its outcry which has come to Me - then destruction! and if not, I will know."

Sedom was a very wealthy city, exporting gold and precious stones. The area had so many resources that its populance had not financial worries. No other city was blessed like Sedom. (Pirkey Rabbi Eliezer) The people, however, were very wicked.  In general, Sedom was distinguished by four sins. (Sanhedrin, Chapter 10)

1) Sexual immorality. A 6-hour journey from Sedom, there was an oasis containing pleasant springs and beautiful fruit trees. Every July, the people of the five cities, Sedom, 'Amorah, Admah, Tzevoyim and Tzo'ar, would come together and have a carnival. For four days and four nights, there would be eating, drinking, and revelling. Men and women would go together without regard to marital status, or family relationship. Sins such as adultery, incest and homosexuality were the norm at such celebrations. (Sefer HaYashar)

2) Would not allow travelers to pass through their cities. An agreement had been made that no hospitality be given, and that any traveler would have to spend the night in the street. Even the trees around the city were cut down so that birds would not receive any hospitality. (Pirkey Rabbi Eliezer)

3) Crime and Corruption.

4) Murder. The warped system of justice in these cities caused many people to be killed unjustly.

The people of Sedom were so wicked and corrupt that they deserved to be utterly destroyed. Even if they had repented, they did not deserve to have been forgiven. Still, HaShem had mercy on them, and gave them every opportunity to change their ways.

These cities stood for 52 years. For 25 years before they were destroyed, G-d provided them with portents from heaven that they were destined for calamity. Great earthquakes shook the area, and after each earthquake, a rainbow was visible (Bereishit 9:16). Torrential rains fell also; and the priests read all these as signs of impending doom. Still, they did not change their ways. (Yafeh Toar)

Hospitality is one of the mitzvot of the Torah, but the Torah had not yet been given. One might wonder why this was considered a sin, since hospitality is not included among the 7 universal mitzvot. Hospitality is such a logical act of kindness that people should do it without being commanded. How can a person see a fellow human being dying of starvation without having pity? (Bachya)

In general, G-d takes revenge when a person is hard hearted toward the poor. The cry of the poor ascends to heaven. One must also be very careful not to give the poor reason to curse him.G-d hears their cries even when they are without reason. (Tosafot, Rosh Hashanah, Chapter 1).

For all these reasons Sedom deserved to be annihilated.

Before destroying Sedom, G-d informed Avraham of His plans.

There were 7 reasons for this:

1) Sedom and its neighbors were in the land of Kena'an. Since G-d had given Avraham the entire land of Kenaan, He saw fit to inform him before He destroyed a portion of it. (Rashi; Zohar, p. 105)

2) Avraham was destined to become a great nation; he would be renowned as a great saint and doer of good.  Hearing of the destruction of these cities, people might ask, "Since Avraham is beloved by G-d, why did He not reveal what He was about to do? And if Avraham was informed, why did he not pray for them?" G-d therefore saw that it would be best to inform him. (Ramban)

3) Avraham's nephew lived in Sedom. (Yafeh Toar, p. 284)

4) Avraham was called the "father of a horde of nations." (17:3) It would not be proper to destroy a nation without informing its "father." (Rashi; Bereyshit Rabbah)

5) In Parashat Lech Lecha was described how G-d showed Avraham the punishments of purgatory. Since people cannot see them, however, they do not believe in them. G-d therefore informed Avraham of the sins of Sedom as well as the punishment destined for them. People would then be able to see with their own eyes that Avraham's source of information was accurate, and they would also see an example of divine punishment. (Bereishit Rabbah)

6) Avraham knew all the mysteries of the Torah before it was given [to Yisrael]. He was therefore aware even of the judgments handed down by the tribunal on high. Since nothing was concealed from him, it was fitting that he be made aware of the destiny of Sedom. (Ibid.)

7) During the war between Nimrod and Sedom, when Lot was taken prisoner, Avraham had taken Sedom's side against Nimrod. When Avraham saw that the Sedomi had retreated rather than fight, he assumed that they were pacifists who would do anything rather than take a human life. He thus had a very good impression of them, and could not imagine them as sinners. If G-d had destroyed them without informing Avraham of the reason, he would have thought their destruction was for no reason. (Tanchuma)

For all these reasons, G-d waited in Avraham's house in order to inform him.

R' Judah b. Levi said:
This may be compared to a king who made a gift of an orchard to his friend. Some time later he found that he had to cut down five beams in it. Said he: Although it was mine, and it was I who gave it to my friend, it is not right for me to cut down anything in it without cousulting him. Similarly, when Avraham went up to Eretz Yisrael, the Holy One, Baruch Hu, told him: "Raise now your eyes and look out from where you are: northward, southward, eastward and westward. For all the land that you see, to you will I give it..." (Bereishit 13:14-15). Therefore when He desired to destroy these five cities, Sedom, 'Amorah, Admah, Tzevoyim and Lasha, which according to tradition, were also destroyed, He declared, "I cannot destroy them without Avraham's knoweldge." Hence when He was actually about to overthrow them He took counsel with him, as our text states.

R' Hiyya said:
The Almighty informs the tzaddikim in advance so that they may call the rashim to do teshuvah and thereby avert their decreed punishment. Also, to leave no loophole for any complaint that He punishes unjustly.

R' Eleazar said:
If the Holy One, whose acts are truth and whose ways are just, does not execute His intentions before revealing them to the tzaddikim, so that men may have no possiblity of censuring His acts; how much more mere mortals take care that their actions give no grounds for the spreading of evil reports about them. Thus it is written, "And you shall be clean before HaShem and before Yisrael" (BaMidbar 32:22). (Zohar 1, 104b)

Source commentaries sited:

MeAm Lo'ez - Vayera, Culi
Encyclopedia of Biblical Interpretation, Kasher

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Garden of Emuna

Book Recommendation

The Garden of Emuna (Faith)
A Practical Guide to Life
Author: Rabbi Shalom Arush
Translated by: Rabbi Lazer Brody

Emuna is the belief that there is none other than HaShem, whose Divine Providence is the root of all things and all events.

I believe with complete emuna that the Creator, blessed be His name, is the Creator and Ruler of all the creations, He alone did, does, and will do every single deed. (Thirteen Principles of Faith).
This book touches your heart and soul.  Comparing faith to a garden, this book leads the reader into the beautiful world of true emuna - an existence marked by its exquisite limitlessness and a manner of living that is harmonious with G-d's will.

The Garden of Emuna address life's age-old riddles in clear and simple form. Rabbi Shalom Arush masterfully brings the lofty teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslev - the greatest doctor of the soul that ever lived - to the contemporary reader's eye level. He gives the reader time-tested tools to deal effectively with life's most challenging situations.

The Garden of Emuna, having originally appeared in Hebrew as B'Gan Ha'Emuna, has been acclaimed by rabbinical leaders and lay readers from around the world.

Once you read this book, you won't know how you ever lived without it.  The following link is just one of many Judaic shops that The Garden of Emunah is available for purchase: