Friday, December 31, 2010

"Do Not Harden Your Hearts"

In Parshat Va’era we read about the first seven miraculous plagues that struck the Egyptians before the Jews were redeemed. One of the most perplexing aspects of this week’s parsha is the concept of Hashem hardening lev Pharaoh – a concept that has elicited many questions and answers regarding how this term fits into the fundamental beliefs of Judaism. By looking closer at various uses of similar terminology both in our parsha and in other texts, we might gain insight into one possible explanation.

One oft-quoted interpretation is that offered by the Rambam, who suggests that repentance was withheld from Pharaoh given his level of wickedness. In trying to further understand the words of the Rambam, Yosef Ibn Caspi (a disciple of Rambam) suggests that it was not simply that Hashem removed his ability to choose differently, but that Pharaoh’s own prior actions had made him into such a person that he could not possibly see the truth. In his years as a tyrant ruler he had become someone with such little regard for human decency as he became so caught up in his drive for personal power that he could not possibly open his heart and mind to see a Divine presence that has authority over him.

This understanding of the concept of a hardened heart is further illustrated in this parsha. Before the seventh plague, the Egyptians were warned that a hail-storm would come this time tomorrow and destroy all that remained outside in the fields (9:18). In spite of this very explicit warning, many of the Egyptians did not bring their cattle indoors. The Torah describes this group of Egyptians as follows:

Veasher lo sam libo el devar Hashem vayezov et avdav ve’et mikenh basadeh
But he who
did not pay heed to his heart to the word of the Lord left his servants and his livestock in the field (9:20-21)

The Ohr Hachaim points out that these Egyptians must have had zero concern that the plague would actually happen – for if they did consider that it might come true, certainly they would have taken the necessary precautions to protect their property! It is most astonishing, then, that after the first six devastating plagues, so many still refused to accept even the possibility that there existed a God of the Jewish people who possessed great power.

The Torah is quite specific about word choice; the use of the word lev (heart) in the above verse comes to teach us an important lesson about the mindset and the mistake of the Egyptians. So often we consider people “close-minded” for not being open to others opinions or views; and yet, many times the person may cognitively and intellectually understand the opposing views, but in their hearts they cannot accept the reality. And so it was with the Egyptians that their emotions, their pride, and their desire to maintain the status quo as slave-owners, blinded them from seeing the the hand of a Higher Being that threatened to uproot their society.

Unfortunately, it was not only Pharaoh and the Egyptians whose impermeable hearts prevented them from seeing yad Hashem in their lives. We know that only 1/5 of the Jewish people actually left Egypt - how can we understand that the majority of Jewish people did not follow the lead of Moshe to escape the horrific life for a future of freedom? Like Pharaoh and so many of the Egyptians, many Jewish hearts were hardened – despite the miracles and wonders that they saw, it has been suggested that some were too caught up in their emotions of resentment towards Hashem after years of suffering that they could not recognize or trust Him as their Savior.

In the prayer that we say to welcome in the Shabbat we say the following words:

Al takshu levavchem kamriva, ke-yom masa bamidbar
Do not harden your heart, as at Meribah, as in the day of Massah in the wilderness
(Ps. 95:8)

Rabbi Raskin points out (based on insights of Rav Yaakov Emden) that in this Psalm, we are reminded that we should not be as the Jews of the generation that left Egypt whose hearts were hardened, as they did not have full faith in Hashem and the redemption. Instead, we must open our hearts to be able to see yah Hashem around us.

In this parsha, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks notes that we see that Pharaoh, who was born free, became enslaved to his self – to his ego, stubbornness, and drive for power prevented him from accepting the truth and acting in a rational manner throughout the series of plagues. Let us learn this invaluable lesson from the mistake of Pharaoh, the Egyptians, and perhaps most importantly from Jews of that generation – not to become enslaved to our views and perceptions, but to be open to expanding our hearts and minds. It is often easier to ignore certain truths - accepting the sovereignty of Hashem in this world may make us think about changes we may want to make in our lives or impact the way we make decisions – but we must not allow such feelings prevent us from letting the truth penetrate our hearts, effect our souls, and impact our lives.

Shabbat Shalom, Taly

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Reb Paroh

What a Rebbe Paroh is!!

We must learn from him. Makah after makah and he doesn't relent! He is resilient, stubborn, determined and nothing will stop him. Hashem even helps him by hardening his heart.

If Paroh exhibited such behavior for his evil goals, how much more so we must be for our holy goals. If Hashem helped him - how much more so He will help us. Nothing can stop us if we show enough determination.

[Based on the Heilige Sefer Pnei Menachem from the previous Gerrer Rebbe]

Love, blessings, a BLISSFUL SHABBOS and if you will forgive me - a shanah tova and a gut ge'benchta yor. I am celebrating with my family by having a traditional meal we call "Seudas Shabbos". :)
“Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising which tempt you to believe that your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires courage.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

SWEETEST FRIENDS. These words are GOLD. Keep them in mind when making decisions.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Show Some Teeth

Sometimes we are annoyed or hurt or bothered or [fill in the blank] by another person. Oh G-d, what do we do now?

G-d tells us!! "Lo tisna es achicha bilvavecha hocheach tochiach es amisecha" - Don't hate him, rebuke him. Tell him what's bothering you! Talk it out. Thus sayeth the Lord!

Some brave and courageous people do this. Blessed are they.

But others fall into the more cowardly position of blasting the other person behind his back. In Judaism we call this "slander". Loshon Hora lamed heh, go to a hot place the easy way. My life experience has taught me that this happens quite often. Has it ever happened to you?

Well, I will tell you that it happens to me. I am quite outspoken and passionate about what I believe to the point that a good friend recently told me "Face it, some people are just going to hate you".


What does the Torah say to do when being maligned?

This is BIG.

SMILE. It will atone for your sins and cleanse your soul of dross.

SMILE. It means that you must check your actions and take stock of your path in life. Introspect.

SMILE. Nobody can do anything to you if Hashem doesn't let, so it's really from your loving Tatte. This requires a great deal of Emunah.

SMILE. You get to work on your Emunah.

SMILE. You are in the same group as the "Baal Hamevakesh". Call him and tell him how you feel. He doesn't charge.

SMILE. This means that the maligner has serious problems so you can daven for him/her and thereby bring goodness to the world.

SMILE. Don't become bitter. That will benefit nobody.

Most of all - SMILE and find another yid/yiddenne whose day you can make more bright with a kind word or thoughtful gesture. It's ok to do it for a goy also. When you get to meet the Master Of All Being, He will say "AHHHHH there is my .... who made my world a brighter, more joyful place."

Two things about Jews. One great, one requires improvement.

Great: The snowstorm - There were numerous weddings which people expended great efforts to attend. Hours on the road in difficult driving conditions to gladden Chosson and Kallah. ASHREICHEM YISROEL! [And a special mazel tov to Baruch Avitan and Michal Jacob - two tzaddikim who got married despite the weather. May there lives "snowball" with many hatzlachos and much simcha!!]

You know what - I will leave the mussar for a different post....
Since tonight's shiur was on gratitude it is only right that I express gratitude to all those who came to Yeshivas Mevakesh Lev for the weekly women's shiur. A special thank you to the person who organizes it but is so modest she wouldn't want her name mentioned. And a thank you to the youngest student Chana Leiba E. who kept her father humble by falling asleep in the middle with a bottle in her mouth.

Yismach LEV MIVAKSHEI Hashem - Those who seek out Hashem are happy.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Snow and Tshuva.

Is Seeing Believing?

The "Oilam" says SEEING IS BELIEVING. The Rebbe Shlita says that if you see you don't have to believe! You see with your own two eyes, there is no need for belief. Believing is NOT seeing and still believing.

In addition, the Sfas Emes says the opposite. BELIEVING IS SEEING. If you believe strongly enough you will eventually start SEEING that it is true.

Ladies, Readers of Mevakesh! Emunah in Hashem is NOT time bound mitzva. You, too, must live it and of course pass it to the next generation. The men are [hopefully] in the Beis Medrash. We need YOU to pass the torch to our children and it starts with yourselves. Spend time thinking about and DAVENING for ever increased faith [and you can daven for Elchanan Ben Henna Miriam that he too should believe with all of his heart every second of every day].

Someone told me that Rav Shalom Aroush spends ONE HOUR A DAY davening for Emunah and Simcha. That is why he has so much.

MEN! Learn Shas! Well. Bi'iyun. At least get started. But remember that all of the learning must be in order to get closer to Hashem and not for the great sense of accomplishment we feel upon being successful. This is affectionately called "Li'shma." Start Shelo Lishma but never forget HASHEM!!

Happy But Sad

A lot of Yidden are coming to visit Yerushalayim during this "season to be jolly". If a person is so jolly maybe he/she should say the bracha of shehecheeyanu upon arriving at the City Of Our Dreams?

I was recently reading a Torah journal that was published periodically about 100 years ago in Europe called "Vayilakeit Yoseph". A Rav named Rav Yitzchak Weiss [Hashem Yinkom Damo] was asked why the Kohen Gadol doesn't say Shehecheeyanu upon entering the Holy Of Holies every year.

He answered as follows: Brachos were decreed during the second Beis Hamikdash. When the Kohen Gadol entered the Holy of Holies at that time he saw that the Aron was missing [it was only there during the time of the first Beis Hamikdash - Yoma 21, I think]. This was a cause of great distress. When feeling distress one doesn't make a shehecheeyanu.

Then I searched further and found that based on this responsum Rav Yitzchak Zilberstein ruled that we don't make a shehecheeyanu upon coming to Yerushalayim because of the distress we feel that the Beis Hamikdash Hashlishi is not yet built.


Sunday, December 26, 2010

Tzvi Moshe on Shemos - Knowledge Is Power.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Since I was asked...: For those daughters of Sarah, Rivka, Rochel and Leah who are visiting and would like to come to our weekly shiur - it is on Wednesday night at 7:15 bezras Hashem - Ohr Hachaim 5, right at the beginning of the Jewish Quarter.

Admission Fee: A smile.

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Brightness Within

This week we begin Sefer Shemot – the Book of Names. In Judaism the concept of a name symbolizes more than just an identity, it signifies the essence of an individual. This second Book of the Torah is also referred to as Sefer Hageula – the Book of Redemption. As we will see, one of the fundamental truths of Jewish faith is that the key to redemption lies not in the many and in the numbers, but in the power of the individual.

The Sefer begins by listing each the names of the sons of Yaakov after their death. Rashi here notes:

He again counted them at the time of their death, to express His love for them. For they are like the stars, which He takes out and brings in by number and name (Shemot 1:1)

In exploring the deeper symbolism of what it means to be likened to the stars, the Baal Shem Tov notes that from a distance, the stars appear to be tiny, indistinguishable, and insignificant particles in the distant sky. But, as one gets closer to the stars, one realizes that each star is a unique and insurmountable element that brightens the dark sky. So too, the Baal Shem Tov suggests, the Jew is not always aware of one’s own uniqueness, greatness, or ability to shine – but as we get to know ourselves, the more inner goodness and individual potential we recognize in ourselves.

Rabbi Moshe Tzvi Weinberg points to the insight of Rav Moshe Feinsteinan as alternative understanding of Rashi’s metaphor of the stars: He notes that just as the stars are dependable and consistent in fulfilling their role in the skies, so too the Jewish people should strive to be as consistent in fulfilling each of our own roles in this world. Perhaps, in the light of the words of the Baal Shem Tov, it is only when the individual is aware of his own unique potential that he is moved to work towards in seizing the opportunities to fulfill our missions, our unique roles.

Indeed it is in this week’s portion that we see Moshe Rabbeinu, one of the most integral figures in the history of Am Yisreal, discover and begin to actualize his own inner potential. In one of the most pivotal moments in the story we read this week, Moshe Rabbeinu transitions from the “prince of Egypt” to the man that he was destined to be:

He turned this way and that way, and he saw that there was no man; so he struck the Egyptian and hid him in the sand (2:12)

Midrash Rabbah explains that certainly there were other people in the field, but when Moshe looked around, he saw that there was nobody else willing to step up to defend the Jewish man – so Moshe became that man. All too often when others are not willing to take a stance, we become convinced that the cause is not worth fighting for. In a similar vain, we often think that if nobody else is acting, then just one individual act of mine alone will have no affect. In reading about the development of Moshe Rabbeinu we are reminded not only of the potential, but also the responsibility of each individual to take action – even when nobody else seems to be, perhaps especially when nobody else seems courageous enough to do so.

While the parsha is primarily about the transformation of Moshe into the leader and savior that he became, the parsha is also about the several important figures that played an indirect, but integral part of the redemption of the Jewish people.

The first of these characters were Shifra and Puah - the maidservants who risked their lives to save the Jewish people – defying Pharaoh’s decree to kill the children born to all Jewish women. Scores of Jewish people were saved because of their righteousness and virtue. The Midrash tells us that these two righteous women were Yocheved (Moshe’s mother) and Miriam (Moshe’s older sister).

These two women continued to change history in a less obvious, but equally notable way as Moshe. Firstly, Chazal explain that Miriam convinced her father with insightful and powerful words to have children in spite of the decree that Pharaoh made against Jewish boys. It was her wise words that were responsible for the birth of Moshe Rabbeinu – it was because she stood up for what she believed that the savior of the Jewish people was born. Subsequent to his birth, Yocheved risks her life to hide Moshe for 3 months and then does perhaps one of the most difficult act of giving up her beloved son - placing her son in the Nile as the only hope for his survival. It was her act of courage, faith, and sacrifice that Moshe did survive and grow up to the leader of Klal Yisrael.

A third figure who demonstrates the influence of the individual is the daughter of Pharaoh. In quite a surprising scene, the daughter of the evil king finds compassion for baby Moshe and decides to rescue him from the water. Though none of these figures could not have realized it at the time, the individual actions of Yoheved, Miriam, and Bat Pharaoh were essential in saving Moshe and ultimately an entire nation.

Like Moshe, his mother and sister and well as the daughter of Pharaoh could have easily taken more passive stances. The maidservants certainly were not obligated to risk their lives - as they could easily have accepted that they had no choice in the matter but to follow the demands of their ruler. Likewise, the daughter of Pharaoh could have easily allowed the young boy to carry on without following her impulse to save him. Though they each had an easy and even excusable way out, none of these individuals surrendered to the safe, passive choice – instead they changed the course of history with their actions. While they could not have known the extent to which they would influence generations to come, they did understand that on some level their choices were impacting and important and that living according to one's values is of utmost importance in all situations that we are in.

Interestingly, Rabbi Moshe Taragin notes that the name Moshe itself symbolizes the ability to step out of one’s comfort zone to fulfill their mission, and ultimately to achieve greatness. The Torah tells us that the name Moshe is derived from the words, min hamayim mishitiyhu. To be drawn from the water, Rav Taragin notes, is to be taken out of the natural and passive course of the life by which we are so often swept away- Moshe could have remained comfortable in the palace of Pharaoh, he could have overlooked the incident of the Egyptian hitting the Jew, and he could have ignored the plight of the entire Jewish people. But, along with the other remarkable individuals of this week’s parsha, Moshe chose to do what was right despite the challenges and even sacrifices it might bring. Again, Moshe was only motivated to make these sacrifices because he understood the potential he had to make an impact with the actions he would take! When we can appreciate that we are each given the potential, on our own level, to make an impact on our surroundings, then we too can be motivated to take actions that are not always easy, but are worthwhile and add meaning and purpose to our lives.

It is in light of this parsha that we can better appreciate the Jewish concept that one should not count a group of Jews by number. When a person is labeled by number, the individual is not only stripped of identity, but also of character, of mission. We must each recognize the potential that lies in each of us – it is important to look into ourselves to be able to recognize our strengths and potentials. Even when those inner strengths are not so obvious to us, we must trust that they are there; even when the impact we are making seems so trivial, we must trust that our choices and actions can and do have a far reaching impact on our own lives and the lives of people around us. Each star - which seems so insignificant and useless when amidst the hundred other identical dots up in the heavens - actually plays an essential role in the heavens. So too each member of Klal Yisrael has a unique and fundamental role to fill and we must be committed and motivated to discovering and fulfilling those roles.

As we will continue to see in Sefer Shemot and throughout Jewish history, the power of the Jewish people is not in number or size - our survival has always been in the hands of the few individuals willing to act on behalf of the greater Klal - these are the individual that recognize both their ability and responsibility to do so. So too on an individual level, greatness is not measured by number or by the amount that we do relative to others – rather, greatness is defined by the extent to which we make choices that are aligned with our values and virtues in every situation we find ourselves in. Let us all try to see ourselves with immeasurable potential that Hashem gives us and sees in us, and may we see the life circumstances that Hashem creates for us that lend us the opportunity to fulfill our unique roles. May Hashem continue to give each of us the ability to shine as brightly as we can as we continue to work towards discovering and actualizing our unique qualities and passions that will help us to live up to our greatest potentials!

Shabbat Shalom, Taly

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A New Look At The Opening Mishna In Bava Kamma

Every Yeshiva Bochur worth his salt knows that there are FOUR major categories of damage: Shor - Ox [Ox does damage], Bor - Pit [harm caused by ones pit] , Maveh - Tooth [animal consuming others produce], Hever -Fire.

Listen to the Heilige Ba'al Shem Tov in the Tzavaas Harivash: Four major damagers in Avodas Hashem.

Shor - From the word 'Ashur' which means to see. Looking at what is forbidden KILLS your Avodas Hashem.

Bor - A sdeh bor is an empty neglected field. This means batala - wasting time. That DESTROYS your soul.

Maveh - Tooth. When a person overeats - BAAAAAAD!!!

Hever - Fire. Anger. Anger is the most reliable servant of the Satan.

This weeks sicha - The Making Of A Gadol.

Also Rav Kook on Christianity as presented by .....

Part 2

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Kiss Your Children

I have a theory for which I have numerous proofs [but we will not enumerate them as we try to keep our posts short]: The Torah is designed to fulfill not only our spiritual needs but our emotional needs as well.

If that is true, then we have foud the secret to happiness! Rebbe Akiva said that the all encompassing principle of the Torah ["klal gadol batorah"] is to LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOU LOVE YOURSELF. This means that our DEEPEST emotional need is to love and be loved. The Torah requires it above all other commandments because that is what we need most.

I recently read a book by a female non-jewish psychologist who concluded from years of research that man's deepest need is for love. Many of our problems in life stem from a lack of love. My own impression from observing the world is the same. People might not admit it and might not even know it but that is what they need most.

To love and to be loved.

So, sweetest friends. Invest a little bit less in your careers, classwork and entertainment and focus on enhancing your relationships. With your parents [if you are fortunate enough to have them], your spouse [ditto], children, friends etc. etc.

Hashem considers it most important - shouldn't we?!

Learn what makes people you know feel loved and then show it. For a child it may well mean physical affection, for a spouse - dinner, for a parent - a visit or phone call. Everybody has certain things which make them feel loved and what does it for you won't do it for your spouse. [I couldn't understand why my wife wasn't THRILLED when I bought her a set of Shev Shmatsa with the comments of the Avnei Nezer for her birthday. I made that up but you get the point.]

Love and blessings!:)

PS - For nice goyishe material on the topic I highly recommend Leo Buscaglia's books. He devoted his life to spreading love and encouraging people to express it.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

It is virtually inconceivable that you have not deeply pondered the nature of Nerizus Shimshon at one point or another in your life. Here is some food for thought.


A belated mazel tov to 3 former chavrusas!!

Yaakov Dov HaKohen Slomnicki on the birth of his son who will be serving Hashem in the Third Beis Hamikdash! And to Rochel Miriam who is the אם הבנים שמחה!

Shmuel Simcha Kollander on his engagement. We learned Maseches Ksubos together. How appropriate! A Ksuba is a document which makes a Jewish man his wife's indentured servant until after his death. We read it under the Chuppah in aramaic so many people don't understand but that's what it means.

Chaim Berel Dolinger on his engagement. We learned Rav Kook's sefer together. How appropriate! Hopefully his wonderful kallah is a good 'cook'.

שמחות אצל כולם!!

"It Is Not Good For Man To Be Alone"


I often write about the importance of marriage and children! Well, although I am not a very talented shadchan [one shidduch to my credit - my own, and I didn't even set it up. Just got it moving with my awkward personality and weird sense of humor], I will give it a try for a BELOVED SWEET FRIEND!

He has a good job, is very personable and easygoing, true mentsch, honest, nice looking, gentle, sensitive and kind, wonderful super boy, 25 years old and based in New York. One more plus - he has a gorgeous healthy child! And he is SINGLE. So don't miss out! If you have any questions - - I can talk on the phone also.

Come on young ladies - he is AWESOME and only one girl will be the lucky one.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Listen to my FAVORITE chazzan and a special human being! My favorite part is that he keeps stressing not to repeat words in davening. See Aruch Hashulchan [338/8] for his negative opinion of repeating words, Igros Moshe [2/22] and more sources I can give you if you are interested.

Words Of Wisdom From Rav Aviner

Internet Q:
When I completely cease using the internet, after stumbling so many times, how can I attain atonement when, according to the Rambam, true atonement is attained through being in the same situation and overcoming one's evil inclination?

A: The ultimate atonement is that you completely ceased using it. Fortunate are you!

Great Opportunity

Sweetest friends, there is no person more despised, scorned and looked down upon than he who collects tzedaka. That is one of the many reasons why I try to avoid it. But I must overcome my feelings of discomfort this time because of my personal debt of gratitude.

My son's dedicated Rosh Yeshiva has a very large family and very little money. His life is devoted to spreading Torah and mitzvos. How he lives I don't know [I do know that the tuition I pay doesn't nearly cover what the Yeshiva needs]. Now he is making a wedding and I was enlisted to try to help raise some money.
The Address:
Rav Avraham Moshe Zilberman
American Friends of the Holy City Cheder
Rechov Bonei Hachoma 3

Tizku L'mitzvos!
You will get a receipt and it will hopefully be tax deductable. If you want to confirm that it is really me and not a scam feel free to call me.

PS - A nice thing about the Rosh Yeshiva: Unfortunately, many frum kids smoke. My son's Yeshiva has a strict no-smoking rule. If a kid is caught - he is fined.

May all of the evil go up in smoke - וכל הרשעה כולה כעשן תכלה כי תעביר ממשלת זדוווווון מן האאאארץ!!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Other Tzahal

A story I heard from a reliable source.

There was once a busload of both Yeshiva students and Israeli soldiers traveling together. The Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Netzach Yisrael, HaGaon Rav Yisrael Zev Gustman [author of Kuntresei Shiurim which is ridiculously awesome] , was in the front of the bus, heavily involved in a Tosphos in Yevamos. He heard that behind him a loud, acrimonious argument had broken out [apparently about the obligation of Yeshiva students to serve in the army].

He stood up and described in great detail how an army works. There are foot soldiers, commanders, officers, intelligence, weapons etc. etc.

"The Jewish people have an army also. Do you know what the weapons are? The Rashba, Rambam and Avnei Miluim. The soldiers are the Yeshiva students. And do you know who the Chief Of Staff is?"

It was about the only time the Rosh Yeshiva ever spoke about himself in this way...

"The Chief Of Staff .... is an old, holocaust survivor from Rechavia named Yisrael Zev Gustman."

An eyewitness related that the then Defense Minister Yitzchak Rabin who was on the bus, was so moved that he stood up and saluted the "Chief Of Staff".

Sweetest friends, last week we read that Yaakov tells Yosef that he captured Shechem "Bicharbi Ubi'kashti" with my sword and bow. Rashi doesn't leave any room for doubt - these weapons are none other than prayer.

Hakol kol Yaakov vihayadaim yidei Esav: Our power is in Torah and Tefillah. If we have those weapons we have a chance against our enemies, otherwise we are chas vi'shalom finished.

Of course we need an army but we have seen so many times when the army was defenseless. Examples: The Gulf War [I was here for the end]. Everybody huddling in sealed rooms with gas masks hoping they don't get hit. Sderot. Running for cover and hoping for the best as missles mercilessly fell and wreaked havoc. Bus bombings - we helplessly watched as bus after bus was blown up.

Am I saying we should have no gratitude towards Tzahal - Yes! If you want to misquote me. Of course we should have TREMENDOUS gratitude for those who put there life on the line to protect the Holy Nation in the Holy Land. If you see a Chayal - kiss him [if you are a guy...]! But we must not forget that our true power resides in the spirit. That is what makes us different from other nations.

We don't SEE how the Torah we learn protects us but we also don't see Hashem and he certainly exists and he assures us in Parshas Bechukosai that our true arsenal is LEARNING.

One more point: I spent 13 years in a Hesder Yeshiva and that is partially what created my ambivalent feelings towards the army. On one hand -big mitzva. On the other - a decline in observance amonst many of our finest, including many who completely "threw their yarmulkes". This post was actually inspired by someone with whom I am somewhat close, who grew up in a very religious home and recently abandoned observance in the army. Is this mitzva worth losing his olam haba?? Is it worth the risk with anybody who is not super duper religiously solid [i.e. many years of Yeshiva]?

Reach your own conclusions. I long ago reached my own.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Overcoming Envy and Exile

As we transition from the mournful day of Aseret Be’Tevet to the celebration of Shabbat, we get a little taste of what Zecharia describes will be in the future: and the fast of the tenth, shall be to the house of Judah joy and gladness (Zechaira 8:19). Let us try to understand the messages at the conclusion of Sefer Breishit that perhaps hint to us how we can make these prophetic words into a reality.

This week we conclude Sefer Breishit and the story of the Avot. As Yaakov Avinu approaches the end of his life, the Torah describes in great detail how the final patriarch blesses each of his children. While we see each of his twelve sons receives an individual blessing, the Torah records that the only two grandchildren to receive a blessing from Yaakov were the sons of Yosef – Ephraim and Menasheh.

In trying to understand why Ephraim and Menasheh were privileged to receive the blessing from their grandfather, we will also try to understand why Yaakov instructed that all sons of future generations should be blessed with the words -
May God make you like Ephraim and like Manasseh (48:29) – as is the custom of many parents to bless their sons every Shabbat.

As was true in previous generations, the blessing of the birthright was not given to the first-born son - in this case Menasheh. And yet, quite unlike the earlier generations, there was no bitterness when the switch was made. When Yaakov moves his hands so as to bless the younger son, Ephraim, with the birthright, Yosef reacts promptly, but Menasheh shows no reaction – no sign of disappointment, anger or envy.

Until this point, Sefer Breishit has been a story of brotherly strife. From the very beginning we find envy between Keyen and Hevel that ends tragically. As we then follow the ancestry of our Forefathers we read about the expulsion of Yishmael, the stolen birthright from Esav, and finally the bitter rivalry between the sons of Yaakov. While we began to see the turning point of this unfortunate cycle with the reconciliation of bnei Yaakov, the Mikdash Moredechai (as cited by Rabbi Yisroel Ciner) notes that Ephraim and Menasheh are the first brothers that we meet that do not experience dramatic rivalry, competition, or jealousy.

Also unlike the children of Yosef’s brothers, Ephraim and Menasheh were born in Egypt, in exile. When calling upon them to receive their special blessings Yaakov specifically refers to them as the two sons born in Egypt (48:5). Ironically, having grown up isolated from the rest of their family, Ephraim and Menasheh learned the importance of what it means to be part of the Jewish family. No matter how integrated they were into Egyptian society, they always remained somewhat distinct from their Egyptian neighbors – and so they relied on each other for camaraderie and companionship.

Interestingly, the Midrash actually describes the sons of Yosef as quite different in character. While Menasheh served as Yosef’s right hand man in the Egyptian courts, Ephraim spent most of his days studying Torah with Yaakov. Despite their differences (which clearly echo the divide between Yaakov and Esav), the two brothers were able to recognize that they were alike in their underlying values and respected each other’s different but equally important roles. Perhaps this is the power of exile - the necessity to respect the other and in many ways depend on the other for survival.

This lesson of dignity and dependency is highlighted in this parsha when Yaakov Avinu blesses his own sons. Especially given the fact that at times Yaakov was critical of his sons, why was it necessary for all the brothers to overhear the blessing of the other? Rabbi Moshe Taragin suggests that Yaakov wanted to show his children that the process of selection and rejection is complete – from now on, each member of Klal Yisrael is a part of the nation – and an essential part of the nation at that. Perhaps beyond this, Yaakov wanted each son to be aware of each other’s weaknesses and strengths so that together they can help each other to conquer those weaknesses and to utilize those strengths.

The Mishnah in Pirkei Avot tells us:
Jealousy, lusting, [pursuing] honor remove a man from the world (4:21). Indeed, it was the discord and conflict between Yosef and his brothers is what initially brought the brothers down to Egypt, where generations to come would be bitterly enslaved. In fact, it was the same envy and unchecked ego drive that landed Keyen, Yishmael, and Esav into exile each in their own time. Likewise, the Talmud tells us that baseless hatred is what brought down the last Temple – for which we still find ourselves in exile (Yonah 9a).

This erev Shabbat is a significant fast day in which we commemorate the siege of Jerusalem - the first steps towards the imminent destruction and exile. The Chatam Sofer notes that each year we mourn the loss of the Temple as if it was destroyed in our generation – because each year that Hashem does not build the Temple is another year that we have not merited its rebuilding. As we look back at Sefer Breishit as well as more recent Jewish history, it certainly seems the solution to bring about the redemption can only come when we are able to overcome the ego-driven desire for honor, and instead see the beauty of the fact that in reality we all play an equally vital role in this world.

Rabbi Akiva Tatz points out the month of Tevet is typically associated with the tribe of Dan (as each tribe is linked to one of the 12 months of the year). Shevet Dan is described in the Torah as one of the smallest and weakest of the tribes – as they were placed in the very back of the camp when the Jewish nation marched through the desert. At the same time, Shevet Dan had an exceptional ability they had to attract the stragglers along the way to prevent them from completely abandoning the Jewish people and the Jewish faith. We see that although regarded as the weaker amongst the tribes, Shevet Dan played a crucial role in sustaining the Jewish people during this time. One might even suggests that it was because of their lowlier position that they were able to successfully reach out and speak to the wayward souls. The tribe of Dan understood the importance of the individual. The month of Tevet, we see, is a time to fully appreciate that every Jew is an integral part of the nation.

Finally with this insight into this time of year, we can suggest perhaps one reason this day has been declared Yom Ha-Kaddish HaKlali, a memorial day for the victims of the Holocaust. First and foremost, it is a time to step back and remember every single Jewish soul that perished - remembering the importance of the individual with the proper honor that each one merits. On a similar note, Rav Milston points out that the commemoration of the Holocaust is a time to remind ourselves the importance of unity among Klal Yisrael – as no matter how comfortable we are in the lands that we live in across the globe – it is the unity of Klal Yisrael that we should always, always be able to depend on above all else.

As we conclude Sefer Breishit and we call out the words,
chazak chazak venitchazek – be storng, be strong, and may we be strengthened – let us remember that when each of us as individuals are strong, others are stronger, and likewise when other individuals are strong, we too are strengthened. May we all work to strengthen ourselves and each other – following the model of Menasheh and Ephraim model by rejoicing in each others successes - as this ability to overcome envy and baseless hatred will ultimately transform these days of exile and mourning to days of sasson ve’simcha!

Shabbat Shalom, Taly

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Big Bang

There I was at my friend Kenny's mansion sipping a cup of tea in his backyard and enjoying the view of his pool and beautiful grounds [approximately the size of Rhode Island].

"Man", I said, "who built this place? Two tennis courts, manicured lawns, parking lot for all of the cars, the Lexus, the Limo's, the minivans, full length football field [with a big aqua and orange dolphin in the end zone -he is a Dolphins fan - and yellow uprights] and gorgeous fruit trees everywhere. And the house - 26 rooms, paintings that go for an average of 1.5 mil, exquisite furniture, domed ceilings - and that's the not even the half of it!!"

"Nobody built it", explained Kenny, "one day a bunch of Mexicans were driving down this street with a truck full of dynamite and them BOOM! It blew up."

"And then?"

"And then this mansion slowly EVOLVED over time and the final result is what you see today. Including the paintings, the pool, including the water which suddenly EVOLVED out of thin air. Also the tennis court with the straight lines, the colors - green on the inside and red on the outside, the fruit trees with the delicious, juicy fruits which contain seeds to plant more such trees, the furniture which not only EVOLVED into what they are but EVOLVED in the exact place where they are needed. Also the fancy cars including the cd player and air conditioning."


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

We Need More Emuna - The Sequel

Imagine. Imagine a Jewish University ["JU"] would host a speaker whose topic is "The Holocaust - The Greatest Hoax In World History" we would be [hopefully] infuriated. What falsehood, what an INSULT to the memory of the six million!

Sweetest friends - We should be MORE sure that G-d exists than we are that the holocaust happened. That is the FIRST step in emunah. You are not there yet? Most people aren't either but that is what we are striving for. Somebody who publicly denies G-d or the veracity of Torah is not only distorting the truth but is INSULTING. We have died for the Torah and this person is saying that it is all for naught. If the Torah isn't from Hashem then the whole religion is silly and countless millions of Jews have suffered over the generations for a hoax. That hurts and there is therefore no place for the espousal of such views in a setting of traditional Jews.

My great-grandparents were killed by the Nazis. If the G-d of Israel is true then there is great meaning in their death and they are heroes. If not - too bad, they should have converted to "Gentilism" many generations before and saved their lives. We believe our belief system is a matter of life and death and see no value in placing G-d in the role of defendant and acting as judge and deciding if He is or He [chas v'shalom] isn't.

The traditional Jewish way is to STUDY. Tanach, Gemara, Medrash, Moreh Nevuchim, Sefer Ha'ikkrim, Kuzari, Maharal, Ramchal, Rav Kook, Chazon Ish, Sfas Emes, Rav Dessler etc. etc. That is how we build faith.

Get off Facebook, put away the blackberry, burn the TV and DVd's [you may cook dinner by the heat of the fire and there is no prohibition against benefitting from Avoda Zara], cancel the subscription to Sports Illustrated - and learn.



Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Here is the latest article [on the topic of the Nazir who was afflicted with tzaraas - a topic I know has been on the minds of many] to come out of Yeshivas Mevakesh Lev [of which I am not only the Rosh Yeshiva but also the only student, diaper changer, garbage remover, and many other responsibilities I share with the lady who is nice enough to let me have a Yeshiva in her house.]

We Need More Emunah

Recently I came across an article in a certain newspaper that comes out of a well known university. If I may paraphrase the article as I understand it: Why can't we be exposed to heresy? Why can't we listen to speakers who deny the Divinity of the Torah, the validity of our tradition, the greatness [or even existence] of G-d. It's not fair! We are Modern Orthodox and we should be allowed to hear words of Apikorsus! We must open our minds to other alternative viewpoints. Why does the university have a committee which screens potential speakers.

Now my response [not that I was asked, but what's a blog for?:)].

My sweet friend [never met her but everyone is my sweet friend!] - Heresy contaminates the mind and soul. It brings evil into the world. The views themselves are evil, the people spouting them are often evil [or sometimes just misguided] and according to our hallowed tradition such people are liable to the death penalty [which is no longer carried out today!!!].

Rav Kook in his Shmonah Kvatzim [Kovetz Aleph Page 321 which just today I came across due to Divine Providence] says that open-mindedness is "Ohr Olam" the light of the world. However, if taken too far it can bring about great destruction and one must be exceedingly careful not to cross the line.

The "line" is heresy. The Rambam rules [hil. avoda zara 2/2 if my memory seves me correctly] that is is FORBIDDEN to study, listen to, or even consider the validity of anti-Torah viewpoints. Does this sound pleasant to Modern-21st century-New York Times reading- internet surfing- free thinking-Pizza consuming-pleasure seeking man - NO! But we need not conform our eternal time-tested values to every passing fancy. If one is struggling with questions of faith then the right address is a Talmid Chochom - not an Apikorus with a PHd. ["Moshe Shtickman PHd in Kefirah from Yale" with a Masters in Avoda Zara].

Our generation needs more faith. People are so weak. They barely believe in G-d [I am talking about many of the students I have met in my 35 years in Orthodox schools]. They DON'T need more excuses to touch members of the other gender or eat unkosher. They need to know that G-d exists and that their lives have meaning.

People need RUCHNIYUS. Having enemies of our tradition for which we have been putting our lives on the line for the last 5000 years, publicly spout their words of disbelief, will not help anyone. This is true even if their last names conjure up images of delicious Shabbos food. [if you didn't get it - don't worry...]

And if a person wants to hear heresy - a religious university doesn't have to provide a forum. Heretics are ubiquitous [hoping of course that I am using the word correctly] and easy to find. The job of Jewish educators is to further and perpetuate Jewish belief - not to squash it and bequeath to our youth no lasting values.

A student of Rav Soloveitchick used to come to Israel for the Yomim Tovim. He asked Rav Soloveitchick what to do and he was told to refrain from doing forbidden labor on the second day of the holiday and also to lay tefillin [known as "a day and a half"]. Some time later he bought an apartment and asked Rav S. if the halacha is different for him. The answer was "Yes! Now you have to pay taxes in Israel. But as far as Yom Tov Sheni is concerned you must continue refraining from melacha on the second day as a ben chutz la'aretz does."

[Beis Yitzchak Page 32]

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Love Lost

"He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong."

Everybody wants to love and be loved. How do you make it last when it happens?

The cliche - hard work.

The cliche happens to be true. But what does it mean?

Hard work means being able to step outside yourself and experience what the other person is feeling. To listen actively to what the other person is saying. To commit to making the other person's happiness your first priority. To forego you own temporary comfort for the other person's sake. To think often about the other person, what his/her needs and dreams are and how you can help them be fulfilled. To understand what makes the other person feel loved - often different than your own needs.

If you are a guy I would compare it to a complicated sugya that you have to attack from many different angles and untangle the many complexities. Everytime you come back to the sugya, you reveal new depth. A person, a Tzelem Elokim, is no less complex.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Achdut Bnei Yisrael Le'dorot

Parshat Vayigash is a parsha of reunion and unification, as we read about the long-awaited revelation of Yosef to his brothers in Egypt. In reading the detailed description of the reconciliation between Yosef and his brothers, we learn a lesson about how to attain and maintain achdut (unity) among Bnei Yisrael for all generations.

The Torah depicts Yosef as unable to control his flooding emotions in the dramatic verses in which he finally divulges his identity. We might imagine that he would feel overwhelmed by anger or resentment after all these years. As we read and understand the parsha, however, it is apparent that it was not hatred or anger but deep love and compassion for his brothers that ultimately brought Yosef to break down in tears before his brothers.

Yosef’s love and concern for his brothers is displayed most remarkably in the moments just before his revelation. The Torah tells that Yosef could not bare the thought that the Egyptians were in the room witnessing this scene (Gen. 45:1). Rashi explains that Yosef did not want to cause his brother to be shamed before the Egyptians.This sensitivity displayed by sending away the Egyptians gives insight into the mindset of Yosef HaTzadik. Yosef was in an exalted position, his dreams had essentially come true, and he had the bothers in perfect place to shame and embarrass them in the public eye. And yet, Yosef did not seize this opportunity to cause his bothers pain, instead, he actually goes above and beyond to minimize their shame.

We see from this that the rebuke Yosef deliveed was clearly not for his own self-edification or God forbid, revenge against his brothers. Rather, his words of reproach were offered not as a means to avenge his brothers or to push them further away, but instead to bring them closer to him. The Torah describes:

And Joseph said to his brothers, "I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?" but his brothers could not answer him because they were startled by his presence.

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. Gen. 45:3-4)

Many commentators wonder why Yosef repeats a second time ani Yosef? Moreover, why does he add the word, achicha (your brother) in the second time? The Beis Halevi explains that the first time Yosef declared, I am Yosef, was mussar for their sin and for the pain they caused him and his father: Yehuda was trying to convince Yosef to release Binyamin with the claim that he wanted to protect his father from the pain of losing a beloved son (43:9). In response to this claim, Yosef calls out to them - I am Yosef – meaning, if you’re so worried now about all this, why didn’t you save me in order to protect my father 20 years ago? Why did you put me in harm’s way and cause my father so much distress?

The second statement was not one of rebuke, but of reconciliation. Immediately after Yosef delivers this subtle but taunting rebuke to his brothers, he shows them that he loves them still, he reminds them, I am your brother even after the pain you caused.

Love is not the denial or blindness to another’s wrongdoings; he truly loving parent or friend will reprimand the child when necessary. What differentiates rebuke that comes from a place of hate and vengeance from rebuke out of love and care for another individual lies in the intentions of the one reprimanding: is it for the advancement of one’s ego, or is it in the hopes of teaching a lesson and ultimately reconciling the relationship.

It is only rebuke that comes from the heart and that is delivered sensitivity that enables the restoration of harmony even after so many years of bitterness and pain. As we see in our parsha, after Yosef reproaches his brothers with his simple but meaningful and evocative words that he is able to get closer to them again (as he explicitly says, Please come closer to me and so they do).

We might ask, what was it that gave Yosef the ability to overcome his own personal, internal wounds and to express and display deep affection and care for his brothers? Yosef himself tells us the answer to this question with one word: achicha. With this word, Yosef tells the brothers – we are brothers – part of one family – and no disputes will sever those family ties.

Rav Nevenzhal points out that the first two letters of the word echad (one) make up the word ach (brother). Interestingly, it is the letter dalet, which typically denotes the name of Hashem, that is added to the word ach (brother) to form the word echad (one). Perhaps the deep message of these letter combinations is that what unites all of Bnei Yisrael (the sons of Israel) is the fact that we have one Father, one God.

Rav Nevenzhal cites an insight of Rav Moshe Kordevero to highlight this point: the word areiv means mixed-in or intertwined. And so, the famous verse, kol Yisrael areivim zeh bazeh (all Jews are responsible for each other) implies that all Klal Yisrael are inherently intertwined with one another. It is this inherent connection that makes us responsible for one another. It is this unbreakable bond that allows Yosef to forgive rather than avenge.

We learn this lesson of achdut and areivut from Yaakov Avinu in this parsha. The Midrash tells us that upon reuniting with his beleved son, Yosef, Yaakov neither fell on Yosef’s neck nor kissed him but rather he called out Shema Ysrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad upon reuniting with his beloved son, Yosef (Rashi, 46:29). Yaakov knew that indeed strife would continue to shatter the Jewish unity in future generations, but still, in the reunion of his family perhaps he realized that ultimately the bond of brotherhood would somehow keep the Jewish family in tact even through all the internal battles they might have to overcome. Perhaps in calling out these words Yaakov hoped to teach this to his sons by reminding them Hashem is our God, Hashem is one. All of you are inherently united in purpose – with the same goal of serving Hashem.

Finally, this is perhaps one way to understand Yosef’s comforting words to his brothers:

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 (Gen. 46:5).

With these words Yosef tells his brothers I am here to serve God and I have been here serving God all along just as you were in the house of our father! We are still united as one family bonded by greater goals of avdut Hashem.

Let us hear the words of Yaakov Avinu – reminding us the essential lesson of ahavat Yisrael, achdut, and areivut. When we see another individual doing something that seems contrary to this greater goal of serving Hashem, let us be motivated by our love and dedication and not by frustration or ego in the way we point out the mistakes they may have made. It is with this mindset that we will surely treat each other with sensitivity, dignity and honor that every son of the King merits. May we rejoice in knowing that the bond of Bnei Yisrael is timeless and let this awareness move us to see each other and treat each other with the unconditional love and sensitivity and devotion that we have for family.

Shabbat Shalom, Taly

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Modern Orthodox

Rav Schachter in a recent shiur was asked to explain what Modern Orthodoxy is. He explained that in the olden days people didn't wear ties. Today one is considered dressed up when he wears a tie. So to be Modern Orthodox means [among other things], to wear a tie for davening. In general, one always has to see how to serve Hashem best in our generation and in that way he is a true Modern Orthodox Jew.

Halevai that everyone would have the same definition.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


“You know you're in love when you can't fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams.”

Dr. Seuss

I always wonder what Dr. Seuss' speciality was. Internal medicine? Ear Nose and Throat?

Anyway, Sefer Bereishis is all about dreams. But not just dreams but dreams that became reality. Our job is to dream BIG - and then turn our dreams into reality.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


An "urgent" email I received from Rav Judah Mischel:

Apologies for having to reach out to you like this, I made a trip this past weekend to London, UK and had my bag stolen from me with my passport and credit cards in it. The embassy is willing to help by letting me fly without my passport, I just have to pay for a ticket and settle Hotel bills. Unfortunately for me, I can't have access to funds without my credit card, I've made contact with my bank but they need more time to come up with a new one. I was thinking of asking you to lend me some quick funds that I can give back as soon as I get in. I really need to be on the next available flight. I can forward you details on how you can get the funds to me. You can reach me via email or May field hotel's desk phone, the numbers are, +447024030610 or +447024030611.
I await your response...Judah

My response: judah - i'll send you 25,000 dollars immediately!!!! I know you will pay me back. I feel so badly for you!!! It must be terrible. I just have one question to ask you to see if this is really you - ain od ......? finish the sentence.....

Also what are you doing in England? Probably buying wholesale winter hats for your furrier hat business. [Meaning Shtriemels:) - thought that would be funny.]

Can't wait to see you back home.

Then I wanted to further entertain myself so I sent another email asking if 25,ooo dollars is enough.

SWEETEST FRIENDS - I just saw my dear friend Rav Judah in the Rova yesterday afternoon as I was running to shul. OF COURSE HE WAS HACKED. So I tell you all again - BEWARE OF GANOVIM.

Take A Licking And Keep On Ticking

“Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail.”

Ralph Waldo "Rafi" Emerson

In Al Hanissim we thank Hashem for all of the miracles, the salvation, the power and for all of the WARS. Why do we thank Hashem for the wars - the important thing is that we won?


It is also important that we fought. Life isn't about winning. It's about constantly battling the forces of evil and never giving up - even when we lose.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Einstein and Li'havdil Reb Simcha Zissel On Chanuka

“There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle.”

Albert Einstein

One of the answers to the famous question - The miracle was only seven days because they had enough oil for the first day, so why do we celebrate 8? The first day was also a miracle. THAT OIL BURNS IS A MIRACLE. That you can see is a miracle. That your digestive system knows exactly what to do with the food you eat is a miracle. That a drop of "yich" is transformed into the most comlex organism on the planet is a miracle. That your body has natural antibodies to fight illness is a miracle. All of the laws of "nature" [hateva gematria elokim] are miracles.

Yes sweetest friends the first day was also a miracle!:)

[Rav Simcha Zissel Mi'kelm]

An article on the din of "lachem" in neiros chanukah in memory of a great Sage who recently went to the yeshiva shel maleh.

Another article on the din of simcha on chanukah.

A frielichin!

Saturday, December 4, 2010


SWEETEST FRIENDS. I just heard my one millionth "I've been conned" story. Think ONE MILLION TIMES before giving a stranger money. The world is teeming with dishonest people. Save your cash for those really in need.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Jewish Spark

One of the motifs of the past few parshiot, including this week’s Parshat Mikeitz, is the recurring theme of dreams – first we hear about Yosef’s own dreams, then the dreams of the two officers in the jail, and finally Pharaoh’s dreams that only Yosef can interpret. In understanding how these dreams were actualized, we learn a poignant message about the partnership between Hashem and mankind in this world.

At first glance, it would seem that the dreams we hear about were prophetic in nature - that they were visions that were destined to be fulfilled. It seems Yosef believes this is true, as he says to Pharaoh: what God is about to do He has shown Pharaoh (42:28). And yet, just several verses after Yosef tells Pharaoh that the years of famine are imminently coming and are going to be so devastating to the point that the years of plenty will be forgotten, he proceeds to offer instruction as to prevent the completely ruinous effects of the famine that his dream foreshadowed.

How do we reconcile this seemingly contradictory behavior of Yosef – that on the one hand he believed the interpretation of the dream to be a vision of what will inevitably come, while at the same time he offers advice to change some aspect of this vision? It seems then that the vision of the seven years of plenty followed by years of famine were destined to come true; however, the way, or the degree to which the dreams would come true depended on human action. Yosef understood that Pharaoh had potential to mitigate the harsh consequences of the famine could be mitigated through human action.

A similar analysis of Yosef’s dreams will lead us to the same conclusion – that while Hashem has a Divine plan that is unchanging, there is a degree to which man controls his experiences. When the brothers come to Yosef in Egypt and bow down to him, the Torah writes:

And Joseph remembered the dreams which he dreamed of them (Gen. 42:9)

According to the Ramban’s interpretation of the above verse, Yosef realized that his dream had not yet come true, as only 10 brothers bowed down to him whereas his vision had all 11 brothers bowing down. For this reason he sent his brothers back to retrieve the last brother in order that his vision be complete. Based on this interaction, Rabbi Reuven Spolter points out that it is evident that Yosef does, in fact, play a hand in making his own dreams into reality and how and when it does. In some way the vision he had of the future is what motivated Yosef, as it gave him the foresight to act as he did.

The lesson we learn from the analysis of these dreams is fundamental to the Jewish concept: Divine Providence in this world does not preclude man from having some degree of control over his own life choices and experiences. The way in which the interpretations of the dreams came true demonstrates the partnership between God and man, which is an essential, perhaps even a defining principle of the Jewish faith.

Rabbi David Aaron writes that this is the profound lesson we learn from the Chanukah story, as well. While the ancient Greeks maintained that laws of nature are the ultimate force that keeps the world going, the most fundamental Jewish belief is that there is a Divine, supernatural force that lies behind the natural world we live in. Accordingly, the Greeks believed that the natural world was created already in a state of perfection. In contrast, the Jews believe that God created the world, still runs the world, and gives man the opportunity to be His partner in perfecting the world.

Chazal tell us that the Greeks decreed the death penalty for 3 Jewish customs. Rabbi Aaron elucidates how each one of these demonstrates the Greek rejection of the Jewish belief of both Divine providence and human agency in this world. At the time, a decree was made against Shabbas – which is essentially the commemoration of creation of the world as well as the celebration of mankind’s role in continuing to create this world. This duality is reflected in the word we recite in the Kiddush every Shabbat:

Ki vo shabat mikol m'lachto asher barah Elohim la-asot

He abstained from all His work that God created to do (Gen. 2:2).

On Shabbas we remember that Hashem created man, and that he created us in order to do – in order to become His partner in continuing to create the world.

The second decree was against the practice of the Brit Mila. The act of brit mila is the Jewish mark on the Jewish male that man has not only the ability but also the obligation to perfect himself during the course of his lifetime. This stood as a direct challenge to the Greek’s belief that man was created in perfect form.

The third decree was made against Kiddush HaChodesh - the sanctification of the new month in which witnesses declare that there is new moon and thereby sanctify the new month. Rabbi Kelemen points out that this custom is indicative of the Jewish belief that God created the world and its natural laws, but places at least some degree of control in the hands of mankind.

The Chashmonaim understood this profound truth and they accepted this responsibility to become partners with Hashem. Rabbi Akiva Tatz notes that although the Greek attack against the Jews was primarily spiritual in nature, the Chasmonaim took matters into their own hands by fighting back militarily. Evidently, the small group of pious individuals knew the prophecies of the Torah that the Jewish spark is everlasting, that the Jewish nation is eternal – and yet they did not allow the promise prevent them from acting – instead they used the hopeful visions to inspire them to act for the sake of making the visions into a reality and sustaining the Jewish spark and essentially the Jewish people.

As we celebrate the holiday of Chanukah and as we read this week’s parsha, let us be reminded that what has kept the Jewish flame flickering throughout the ages is the unwavering faith in Hashem partnered with man’s actions towards preserving Jewish values and Torah ideals in this world. May our own dreams and individual aspirations motivate us and give us the courage to at to make our dreams into reality, just as Yosef did. May the visions of a future in which Jewish truths are accepted worldwide give us courage to defend ourselves and to continue to spread the light of Torah, as the Chashmonaim did. May we remember always that man has the ability and the obligation to work towards perfecting ourselves and in so doing, bringing the world one step closer to the prophetic dream of perfection that we trust will become a reality in its time!

And yes, Mazal Tov to Yosef and Arielle for the best Chanukah present we could have hoped for!!!

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach, Taly