Saturday, December 20, 2014

Vayigash 5775

The Torah Portion of Vayigash 


Excerpted and Translated from the the Teachings of Rabbi Gershon Steinberg ztz"l
L'ilui Neshamat HaGaon HaTzaddik R' Gershon Avigdor Ben Chaim ztz"l

"And Yehudah approached him and said, 'please...' " (Bereisheet 44:18)


The Alshich HaKodesh asks, what was Yehudah's complaint?  Didn't he himself say that all of them would be slaves to Pharoah, so why did he change his mind and complain?  All the moreso, Yosef had made it easier for them and said that only Binyamin would be taken as a slave.  And the Alshich HaKodesh explains, that in the beginning Yehudah thought that they deserved all the suffering because of the selling of Yosef, but since he saw that the man only wanted to take Binyamin, he therefore decided that this was probably a false charge since Binyamin wasn't involved in the sale, and because of that he came to Yosef with complaints.

"For how can I go up to my father and the youth is not with me..." (Bereisheet 44:34)


There are those that explain this according to Mussar (Ethical Teachings), "how can I go up" after 120 years to Our Father in Heaven to give a judgment and accounting "and the youth is not with me", that is, the days of my youth have not been rectified and I damaged them?  And it is necessary to learn from this to be concerned about guarding the days of youth when one is still young and able to correct everything easily.

"And it will happen that when he sees that the youth is gone, he will die..." (Bereisheet 44:31)


The Bait HaLevi explains that Yehudah said this, because he was concerned that Yosef would claim that if Yaakov was a Tzaddik (Righteous Man) in accord with what they had said, behold, when he would hear that his son Binyamin was a thief, his love for him would end and he would agree that it was appropriate to punish him so that he would be a permanent slave.  Therefore, Yehudah hastened to say that immediately upon their return home when Yaakov would see that Binyamin was gone he would die immediately, and they wouldn't have sufficient time to tell him about what that Binyamin had done, and that is what it means by saying "when he sees that the youth is gone, he will die" -- immediately.

"...I am Yosef..."  (Bereisheet 45:3)


The Chafetz Chaim says that the brothers had many questions about the difficult behavior of Yosef towards them and about the imprisonments, but when he said "I am Yosef" they immediately understood everything that had happened previously.  So it will be in the future to come when the Glory of Heaven will be revealed, and the Holy One Blessed Be He will say "I am Hashem", then all of the hardships and sufferings that happened to the people of Israel during all the generations will be immediately understood.

"...I am Yosef..."  (Bereisheet 45:3)


There are those Meforshim (expositors of the Scriptures) who ask, why didn't he reveal to them that he was Yosef immediately when they arrived?  And they explain, that it was necessary to fulfill the dream that they would bow to him, and if he had revealed himself to them before that, they would have great embarrassment that they had to come to him and bow to him.  And because they didn't recognize him they had less embarrassment from that.

"...I am Yosef.  Is my father still alive?..."  (Bereisheet 45:3)


It is written in the Midrash Saichel Tov, "Abba Kohen Bardela said 'Woe is us on the Day of Judgment, Woe is us on the Day of Reproof.  If in the case of Yosef who was younger than the other brothers, his brothers were not able to answer him; in the future to come when Hashem judges every individual according to his deeds, all the moreso.' "  It has been asked, what is the meaning of the words (in the preceding Midrash) "according to his deeds"?  The explanation is that when a man will be asked in the Heavenly Court why he didn't give charity, and he will answer that he didn't have enough money, it will be said to him "Behold, for other things and even for inconsequential things you had money to waste, and only for charity not."  Or if he will be asked in the Heavenly Court why he didn't learn Torah as much as he should have, and he will answer that he didn't have enough time because he was busy with his work, it will be said to him "Behold, on Shabbos and Yom Tov you had enough free time so why didn't you learn then?"  And this is the explanation of "according to his deeds" -- for each and every individual it will be according to his situation and his level.  And this is the meaning of the reproof that Yosef said to them "I am Yosef.  Is my father still alive?"  Behold, they were speaking all the time about their father, so doesn't it seem a strange question to ask them if his father were still alive?  The explanation is that Yosef was rebuking them, as if to say, "If you are so worried about Father's welfare, why didn't you worry about him when you sold me, for behold you knew that Father loves me very much?  And only now you are worried about him."  And there are those that give another explanation, that Yosef thought that it was possible that in truth Yaakov had died, and they only wanted to arouse his mercy on them so that he would release Binyamin, and therefore they told him to release Binyamin because of the suffering of their father.  Therefore he said to them, "I am Yosef, now tell me the truth, Is my father still alive?"

"And now, do not be distressed...because as a supporter of life G-d sent me ahead of you."  (Bereisheet 45:5)


This presents a difficulty, for what sort of comfort for them was it that he said "as a supporter of life G-d sent me..."?  Behold, they didn't have an intention for the good (when they sold him), and  the Sages say (in Nazir 23a) that someone that intended to pick up a piece of pig (to eat) and ended up picking up a piece of lamb, needs atonement.  The explanation is thus: the Sages said (Kiddushin 29b) that a thought doesn't cancel out a deed, but does cancel out a thought; and spoken words cancel out spoken words.  And  if so, when a person transgresses and does an intentional sin, and the damage was in deed as well as in thought because he performed the sin intentionally, the regret that he has in his thoughts as well as the speech when he repents and confesses are effective to uproot the thought which was connected with the sin, but the deed of the sin is not uprooted.  But here, when the brothers regretted selling him and said "but we are guilty about our brother...therefore there has come upon us this distress", the bad thoughts were uprooted by means of the regret and also the confession that they said "but we are guilty about our brother".  But even so, the brothers were worried that behold, the deed still remained.  Therefore, Yosef said to them, "and now, do not be distressed", because also the deed is canceled, for behold, the deed was for the good "because as a support of life G-d sent me ahead of you".  And also, Yosef himself was comforted from his suffering, because it was due to that suffering that he was made a ruler in all of the land of Mitzrayim (Egypt),  (from R' Tzaddok HaKohen from Lublin)

"...and he appeared to him, and fell on his neck, and wept on his neck a lot." (Bereisheet 46:29)


Rashi explains, "but Yaakov did not fall on Yosef's neck and did not kiss him...because he was reciting the Shema prayer".  And the Meforshim (expositors of the Torah) ask, why wasn't Yosef reciting the Shema prayer if it was the time for reciting the Shema, for behold, there is one time for everyone to do it, and those who are alacritrous hurry to do it as soon as possible?  And in addition, from where do we know that he (Yaakov) was reciting the Shema prayer, perhaps he was saying a different prayer?  And the Maharal explains that it was not the time for reciting the Shema prayer, but when Yaakov saw Yosef his son ruling like a king after the great sorrow that he experienced over him,  there came into his heart the love and fear of Hashem who had done this for him, and how His traits are good and perfect and He pays a good reward to those who fear Him, and he accepted His kingship and the love of Him and the fear of Him, and that is what is expressed in the recitation of the Shema prayer, in which is mentioned the unity of Hashem's heavenly kinghsip and the love of Hashem.  And that is the character trait of those who are devoted to Hashem, when something good happens to them, they attach themselves to the Holy One Blessed Be He because of the goodness and truth that He did with them. And there are those who say, in the name of HaGri"z, that it's possible to say that it was the time for the recital of the Shema prayer, and that Yosef did not recite the Shema, because he was occupied with the Mitzvah of honoriing his father, and someone who is occupied with one Mitzvah is exempted from doing another Mitzvah.

"With whomsoever you find your gods, he shall not live..." (Bereisheet 31:32)


The Chafetz Chaim says that Yaakov said to Lavan "WIth whomsoever you find your gods, he shall not live", and because of that Rachel was punished and died on the way.  And behold, we see that when Yosef's brothers came from Mitzrayim (Egypt) and told their father that the ruler of the land thought that they were spies and in addition commanded them to bring Binyamin, at that time Yaakov Avinu did not curse the ruler.  On the contrary, he commanded to bring him presents, a little bit of honey, etc.  And he prayed for them that they would find favor in the eyes of the man. And if Yaakov had brought out from his mouth words of cursing against the man that had spoken to them harshly, he would have killed his son Yosef whom he loved more than all his other sons.  From this we see how we need to be careful not to express words of cursing from our mouths.

"And Yaakov said to Pharoah, 'The days of the years of my sojourning have been 130 years, few and bad have been the days of the years of my life...' (Bereisheet 47:9)


There are those that explain that because Yaakov came to Mitzrayim (Egypt) there was a blessing on the Nile River and the famine ceased.  And Pharoah saw that Yaakov appeared to be a very old man and worried that he was going to die and the blessing would end, and therefore Pharoah asked Yaakov how many were the days of years of his life.  And on this Yaakov answered him that the fact that he appeared old was only because of suffering, but with the help of Hashem he would live more years which would be good, and so it was that he lived another 17 years.  [Translator's note:  Note that the Gematria of Hebrew word for "good" (that is, "Tov")  is 17.]

THE FAST OF THE TENTH OF TEVET


On the eighth day of Tevet, Talmei the king of Yavan (Greece) forced the Sanhedrin to write the Torah in the Greek language and the world was darkened for three days.  The ninth of Tevet is the Yahrzheit of Ezra and Nechemia.  On the tenth of Tevet the king of Bavel (Babylonia) besieged the city.  It is written in the Abudaraham that if the tenth of Tevet fell on the day of Shabbat, they used to fast also on Shabbat, since it it written "specifically on that day".    In the Chatam Sofer it is written that every year on the Tenth of Tevet it is judged in Heaven whether the exile will continue or whether the final redemption will come.

The Torah Portion of Vayigash has 106 verses.Haftora: "Vayehi D'var Hashem" (Yechezkel 37).


We say Borchi Nafshi.  


May you all have a  light-filled and happy Shabbat.  
Shabbat Shalom.

L'ilui Neshamat HaGaon HaTzaddik R' Gershon Avigdor Ben R' Chaim ztz"l, Nilkach L'Bait Olamo Yud Gimmel Tishrei 5772

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Mikeitz 5775

The Torah Portion of Mikeitz  


SHABBAT CHANUKAH and SHABBAT MEVORCHIM

Excerpted and Translated from the the Teachings of Rabbi Gershon Steinberg ztz"l
L'ilui Neshamat HaGaon HaTzaddik R' Gershon Avigdor Ben Chaim ztz"l

"And it happened at the end of two years of days..." (Bereisheet 41:1)


The Sages say that in every place where it says "Vayehi" (in English: "And it happened")  it is a language of suffering, with only a few exceptions.  The reason it uses this language of suffering here is to tell us that if G-d forbid we find ourselves in a time of suffering, then we are advised to fulfill Tz'om (fasting), K'ol (voice), and M'amon (money), since these three words have the Roshei Teivot (initial letters) of Tzadi, Kuf, and Mem, which spell the word "Mikeitz" (the name of this week's Torah Portion, which in English means "at the end of").  Tzom (fasting) refers to Teshuvah (repentance); Kol (voice) refers to Tefillah (prayer); Mamon (money) refers to Tzedakah (charity).  And (as it says in the prayers of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) by means Repentance, Prayer, and Charity, the evil decree is removed.  And in will be that "at the end of two years of days", in the end, the days will be changed for the good.  Mikeitz ("At the end") is a language referring to the endpoint, and "two years" is a language which refers to changing (since the word for two years in Hebrew is similar to the Hebrew word for changing).

"And the thin ears of corn swallowed up...."  (Bereisheet 41:7)


The Da'at Zekeinim asks, behold, the Sages say that we aren't shown in a dream something that can't possibly occur.  For example, we aren't shown in a dream that an elephant will enter into the hole of a needle.  So how is it possible that Pharoah saw in his dream something so weird, that the thin ears of corn swallowed up the healthy ears of corn?  But the explanation is that the meaning of the word "swallowed" is that the thin ears of corn covered the healthy ears of corn, such as was written in the Torah Portion of Bamidbar (Chapter 4, verse 20) "and they shall not go in to see the holy things as they are begin swallowed", where the word "swallowed" clearly means "covered".  And the Da'at Zekeinim adds, that this explanation is a Midrashic type of interpretation, but on the level of P'shat, the simple level, this is actually a language of swallowing.  And that is what it means when it says in the end that "Pharoah woke up and behold it was a dream (Bereisheet 41:7).  For Pharoah said, that cows are eating each other is possible to be, but that ears of corn are swallowing each other, that certainly must be a dream.

"And they rushed him from the pit..." (Bereisheet 41:14)


Why is it written that "they rushed him from the pit" and not written that they raised him from the pit?  The reason is that when the time arrives for a man to be saved, they rush him quickly without any time delays, for Hashem doesn't give unnecessary suffering.  And so it was also in the redemption from Mitzrayim (Egypt), about which it is written  "and Mitzrayim (Egypt) urged the people to hurry to send them out..." (Shemot 12:33), since the time for the redemption had already arrived. 

"...there shall be 7 years of famine."  (Bereisheet 41:27)


The Daat Zekainim explains on the words "there shall be 7 years of famine", that this is a language expressing a prayer -- that Yosef prayed that there would be only 7 years.  For in truth there needed to be 42 years of famine: 7 years for the ears of corn, 7 years for the cows, and the fact that Pharoah told about it added another 14 years, and the fact that Yosef interpreted it to Pharoah added another 14, and the sum of all that is 42.  Yosef prayed that there would be only 7 years, and Yaakov prayed that there would be only 2 years, therefore we find that there were 40 years of famine that were removed.  And in truth these 40 years of famine returned afterwards upon Mitzrayim (Egypt) as is written in Yechezkel Chapter 25 verse 12: "And I will make the Land of Mitzrayim (Egypt) ... desolate 40 years..."  

"And now let Pharoah seek out a discerning and wise man..."  (Bereisheet 41:33)


The Meforshim ask, why did Yosef give advice to Pharoah?  Didn't Pharoah just ask for an interpretation and not for advice on the matter?  The explanation is that, behold, on Passover the world is judged about crops and it seems inappropriate that there would be a dream about crops on Rosh Hashanah.  And therefore Yosef said to him, since you dreamed on Rosh Hashanah about crops, apparently some person needs to rise up to a high position because of this, since on Rosh Hashanah men are judged as to who will be lowered and who will be elevated.  And that is why Yosef said "and now" -- why did you dream now precisely on Rosh Hashanah, to show that it is necessary to appoint a qualified man for this.  And this is what is also hinted at by the words "...and Pharoah woke up" (Bereisheet 41:4), that Pharoah saw in his dream that he himself woke up.  And this is what Yosef told him, the fact that you dreamt that you woke up in your dream, that is a sign that you need to be concerned and be alert to appoint some man upon Mitzrayim (Egypt), and therefore the advice was relevant to the dream.

"And now let Pharoah seek out a discerning and wise man..." (Bereisheet 41:33)


It is written in the Holy Books that this is not just an instruction to Pharoah on how to prepare himself before the coming of the famine in Mitzrayim (Egypt), but it is a teaching for every man when he is still healthy, Baruch Hashem, and able to open a Gemara and learn and pray, that he needs to be wise and discerning, and to know that today he is in the years of plenty.  But also there will arrive for him G-d forbid the years of famine, which are the days of old age.  Therefore, he needs to fill for himself treasurehouses by struggling to learn the Torah and doing good deeds now.  For the wise man has his eyes in his head to fix this matter at the very beginning.  Who is wise?  The one who sees the outcome.

"...has given you a hidden treasure...And he brought Shimon out to them."  (Bereisheet 43:23)


There is a hint in this verse that Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai will reveal a hidden treasure, and this is the Holy Zohar which are the secrets of the Torah.  

"And Reuven said to his father , 'You may slay my two sons...' "  (Bereisheet 42:37)


The Midrash says that because of these words, Datan and Aviram, who were the descendents of Reuven, died. And from this we see how much we need to be careful about every word that comes out of our mouths.

CHANUKAH


At the end of every Torah Portion, we record the sum of the number of verses that are present in the Torah Portion.  But for the Torah Portion of Mikeitz, we also record the sum of the number of words, which are two thousand and twenty-five (2025). The Gr"a explains that this is because the Torah Portion of Mikeitz usually falls during Chanukah, and during Chanukah we light candles for 8 days.  The Gematria (numerical value) of the word for candle in Hebrew (Nair) is 250.  8 multiplied by 250 comes out 2000.  And the explanation for "25" is that we begin on the 25th of Kislev.  So that is why we record the count of the 2025 words (in the Torah Portion of Mikeitz).

"Zot Chanukat HaMizbeiyach"  (in English:  "This is the dedication of the Altar") (Bamidbar 7:84)


The eighth day of Chanukah is called "Zot Chanukah" (in English: "this is Chanukah").  And even though this is not mentioned by the Rishonim (early Torah scholars), in any event, since it is called that by the majority of Israel, there is certainly a source for that in the words of the Torah.  And even moreso, we find that it is mentioned in the Gemora, that is to say, that men spoke about it and there are words of Torah about it in the Shas.  And the source of the name is because we read on it the section of Torah which contains the words "Zot Chanukat HaMizbeiyach" (In English: "This is the dedication of the Altar").  And most likely this has a connection to the Holiness of the day.  (from R' Tzadok HaCohen of Lublin)

"You push man down until the crushing point..." (Tehillim 90:3)


It is written in Holy Books that Chanukah is the conclusion of Elul and the Days of Awe.  And that is hinted at in the verse: "You push man down until the crushing point..." (Tehillim 90:3).  The word "Daka" (in English: "the crushing point") has the Gematria (numerical value) of 25.  This is a hint to the 25th of Kislev, and the real end is on  "Zot Chanukah" which is the conclusion of Chanukah.  [Translator's note: "Zot Chanukah" literally means "This is Chanukah".  This refers to the last day of Chanukah, on which the Torah Portion containing the phrase "Zot Chanukat Hamizbeiyach" is read.] And a hint to this is the verse  "With this Aharon will enter into the Holy Place" (Vayikra 16:3) [Translator's note: that particular verse is a reference to the Kohen Gadol coming into the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur, and it also contains the Hebrew word "Bazot" which is grammatically related to the Hebrew word "Zot".]

It was often said by our early Rabbis that on Chanukah there is an opportunity to awaken mercy on those who are childless (i.e., to have them blessed with children), similar to Rosh Hashanah. The main matter, the main Segulah (propitious opportunity) is on the last day which is called "Zot Chanukah".  (from B'nei Yissachar) 

The happiness of Zot Chanukah (the last day of Chanukah) is like that of a Siyum (party made on the completion of a body of learning), the happiness of completing a Mitzvah.
   

The Torah Portion of Mikeitz has 146 verses, and it has 2025 words.Two Torah Scrolls are taken out, in one we read the Torah Portion of the week, and in the second we read for the Maftir in the Torah Portion of Naso, "Bayom Harevi'i". Haftora: "Rani V'Simchi" (Zecharia 2).

This is Shabbat Mevorchim, and we bless the month of Tevet.  
Rosh Chodesh Tevet is on Yom Shaini and Yom Sh'lishi (Monday and Tuesday).  
The Molad is Lail Bait at 10:31.

We say Borchi Nafshi.  


May you all have a  light-filled and happy Shabbat and Chanuka.  
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Chanukah.

L'ilui Neshamat HaGaon HaTzaddik R' Gershon Avigdor Ben R' Chaim ztz"l, Nilkach L'Bait Olamo Yud Gimmel Tishrei 5772

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Vayeishev 5775

The Torah Portion of Vayeishev 


Excerpted and Translated from the the Teachings of Rabbi Gershon Steinberg ztz"l
L'ilui Neshamat HaGaon HaTzaddik R' Gershon Avigdor Ben Chaim ztz"l

"And Yaakov dwelt in the land of his father's sojournings, in the land of Canaan.  These are the generations of Yaakov, Yoseph..."  (Bereisheet 37:1-2)


The Alshich says that in the land of his fathers sojournings, with all of the chiefs (of Eisav) and also with Eisav, Yaakov was able to manage, and he was in a situation of dwelling with a feeling of being settled and tranquil.  But when his sons were not in unison that made him suffer more than anything else, and that began a new situation as described by: "These are the generations of Yaakov, Yoseph."

"..and the pit was empty, there was no water in it."  (Bereisheet 37:24)


Rashi says "but there were snakes and scorpions in it".  This can be seen by means Roshei Teivot.  The Hebrew letters of the words "Ain Bo" (in English: "was not in it")  which appear in this verse, are Aleph Yud Nun Beit Vuv.  These form the first letters (Roshei Teivot) of the Hebrew words "A'val Y'eish B'o N'achashim  V'Akravim" (in English:"but there were snakes and scorpions in it").  The Masters of Mussar (Ethics) explain that water is likened to Torah.   And this is the meaning of "there was no water in it": if there is no Torah within a person but he is empty of it, then immediately come the bad Middot (character traits) which are likened to snakes and scorpions.  And apparently this presents a difficulty, for if there are snakes and scorpions in the pit, then it is not empty.  However, the Gaon HaRav Povorski ztz"l said that the whole purpose of the pit is that it should have water in it, and all the time that it doesn't have water it is thought of as empty even though it has other things in it.  And in this way he explained the verse (from Shir HaShirim), "like a slice of pomegranate is your forehead", even the empty ones among you are filled with Mitzvot like a pomegranate.   And apparently, if they are full of Mitzvot why are they empty?  But the explanation is that it is not sufficient for a man to do Mitzvot, but the Mitzvot need to be his purpose and the main point of his aspirations, so that this can be seen in all his ways and deeds.  And if this is not the case, he is called empty even though he is full of Mitzvot.  

"...and behold, a caravan of Yishmaelim was coming from Gilead and their camels were carrying spices, etc...." (Bereisheet 37:25)


Rashi says that the Yishmaelim always carried petroleum and similar things (which have a bad odor), and only for the sake of Yosef HaTzaddik (the Righteous one), so that he wouldn't have to smell a bad odor, this time they were carrying spices.  Rabbeinu HaRav Chaim Shmuelevitz ztz"l raises a question about this: behold, Yosef was going to Mitzrayim (Egypt) and he didn't know what the next day would bring, and he was in such a state of suffering.  What was the difference to him at a time like that, whether they were carrying petroleum or spices?  The answer is that we see from this situation, that when a punishment has been decreed from Heaven, then the punishment is exact with great precision.  Therefore, even though he was sold and they were taking him to Mitzrayim, since he didn't deserve to have to smell the bad smell of petroleum, therefore the Yishmaelim needed to be carrying this time an item that they weren't accustomed to carry, in order not to add suffering to Yosef that he didn't deserve.

"And Yehuda said to his brothers: 'what profit....' " (Bereisheet 37:26)


There are those who explain that the word Hebrew word for "profit" is "Betza", which is spelled with the Hebrew letters Beit, Tzadi, Ayin.  These three letters are the Roshei Teivot (initial letters) of the three Hebrew words: 
"Boker" (in English: "Morning"), 
"Tzaharaym (in English: "Afternoon"), 
"Erev" (in English: "Evening").
Yehudah argued with them saying, what purpose would there be to the three prayers that we pray daily (in the morning, afternoon, and evening) if we kill our brother?

"And he refused and he said..." (Bereisheet :39:8)


Masters of Mussar (Ethics) say that if a person has a test and a temptation to do a sin comes before him, first of all he needs to "refuse" and flee from the sin, and only afterwards to explain and to "say" why he is fleeing.

A Midrash on why Yosef merited to get out of prison


It is written in the Midrash that in the merit that Yosef served Potiphar, he merited to get out of  prison.  And it is necessary to understand, what was so great about this merit?  And the Sefat Emet explains that Yosef's merit was that he would say about everything when he was in the house of his master, that everything was from the Holy One Blessed Be He, and that when Potiphar told him to serve him Yosef knew that the Holy One Blessed Be He had told him to do so, and likewise regarding everything single thing, that he believed that everything was from Hashem;  therefore he merited to get out of prison.

CHANUKAH


It is written in the Rambam that the Mitzvah of Chanukah is a very beloved Mitzvah, and this language is found only regarding Chanukah.

"What is Chanukah?"


The Rav Chaim Yehudah Yakovzon ztz"l explains what that the Gemara asks "Mai Chanukah?" (What is Chanukah?)  Rashi's interpreration of "Mai Chanukah" is that the Gemara is asking, on what miracle was Chanukah based?  And it is difficult to understand this interpretation -- "on what miracle", because there were several miracles.  And Rav Yakovzon ztz"l explains, that during the time of the Second Temple there were additional holidays in commemoration of victories in wars that Israel had during that time period, and after that those holidays were canceled because they canceled Megillat Taanit.  And that is what the Gemara is asking in the question "Mai Chanukah", that if the holiday of Chanukah is because of the war and the victory against the kingdom of Yavan (the ancient Greek kingdom), isn't it the case that Megillat Taanit was canceled?  But the Gemara's answer is that the main reason for Chanukah is because of the miracle of the cruse of oil, and the victory in the war is in addition to that.

Why do we light eight days, since on the first day there wasn't a miracle?


The Chatam Sofer addresses the question of the Beit Yosef: "Why do we light eight days, since behold on the first day there wasn't a miracle?"  His answer is that "they lit candles in Your Holy Courtyards".  When the Chashmonayim came to the Temple, since the Inner Sanctuary had been defiled, they therefore lit the Menorah outside.  And it's a known fact that outside a candle draws up more oil because of the wind and therefore the flame is larger.  And the amount that was sufficient to provide one candle's worth of oil was only in order to light it inside in an enclosed place, but outdoors one needs more oil.  If so, also the first day was a miracle.

"And when he tortured it (the people of Israel) so it would increase and so it would spread..." (Shemot 1:12)


The Yavanim (ancient Greeks) wanted to cancel out, in principle, three Mitzvot: the Chodesh (Month), the Shabbat, and Brit Milah (Circumcision).  And in Chanukah we find all three of these things, for in Chanukah we have Rosh Chodesh Teivet (the beginning of the Month of Teivet) which is during the days of Chanukah, Shabbat, and the 8 days needed to fulfill the Mitzvah of Circumcision for a boy who is born on the first day of Chanukah.

"There are Yavanim (ancient Greeks) and there are Chashmonayim."


A famous head of a Yeshiva said once at a Chanukah party for students at a Talmud Torah, that in every generation "there are Yavanim and there are Chashmonayim".  Those who interfere with the learning of the Torah are the Yavanim in our generation, and you, the young students who are learning Torah, are the Chashmonayim in our generation.  You need to strengthen yourselves in the Torah and overcome the evil.

Why do we give thanks on the wars within the prayer "Al HaNisim" (in English: "On the miracles")?


The Masters of Mussar (Ethics) ask, why do we say within  the "Al HaNisim" prayer of thanks, "and on the wars"?  What kind of thankfulness is there in connection with wars?  Are wars something good?  The explanation is, that if there are no wars against evil, then there is no purpose to serving Hashem.  But if there are wars and victories, then there is spiritual enjoyment.

The Three Mitzvot D'Rabanan (Commandments instituted by the Rabbis) that women are obligated in


There are Three Mitzvot D'Rabanan (Commandments instituted by the Rabbis) that women are obligated in, because also they participated in the miracles.  The Roshei Teivot (initial letters in Hebrew ) of those three Mitzvot are "Aleph" - "Mem" - "Nun" (which spells the word "Amen"):  
1. "Aleph" is the first letter of "Arbah Kosot", the four cups of wine that we drink at Passover.  
2. "Mem" is the first letter of "Megillah", the Megillat Esther that we read at Purim.  
3. "Nun" is the first letter of "Neir Chanukah", the Chanukah candle.   
Altogether there are Seven Mitzvot D'Rabanan (Commandments instituted by the Rabbis), and they are hinted at by  the Roshei Teivot (initial  letters) "Shin", "Mem", "Ayin", "Beit", "Nun", "Yud" which spell the words "Sh'ma B'ni" (in English: "Hear my son"):
1. "Shin" stands for "Shevach", praise, which refers to the saying of the Hallel.  
2. "Mem" stands for "Megillah", referring to the Megillat Esther.  
3. "Ayin" stands for Eruv.  
4. "Beit" stands for "Brachot" - the blessings said on enjoyment, for praise, and and for Mitzvot.  
5 and 6.  "Nun" stands for "Neirot" - candles;  the candles of Shabbat & Yom Tov, and the candles of Chanukah  (those are two separate Mitzvot)
7. "Yud" stand for "Yadayim" - the Mitzvah of Netilat Yadayim (ritual handwashing).

The Torah Portion of Vayeishev has 112 verses. Haftora: "Ko Amar Hashem" (Amos 2).


We say Borchi Nafshi.  


May you all have a  light-filled and happy Shabbat.  
Shabbat Shalom.


L'ilui Neshamat HaGaon HaTzaddik R' Gershon Avigdor Ben R' Chaim ztz"l, Nilkach L'Bait Olamo Yud Gimmel Tishrei 5772

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Vayishlach 5775

The Torah Portion of Vayishlach 


Excerpted and Translated from the the Teachings of Rabbi Gershon Steinberg ztz"l
L'ilui Neshamat HaGaon HaTzaddik R' Gershon Avigdor Ben Chaim ztz"l

"...I have sojourned with Lavan..."  (Bereisheet 32:5)


Rashi explains this to mean that "I kept the 613 commandments...", since the Gematria of the Hebrew word "Garti" (in English: "I have sojourned") is 613.  This presents a difficulty, since there are many Mitzvot such as the laws relating to a Kohen and the laws related to Leprosy, etc., that Yaakov did not fulflll, so how was it possible for him to say that he observed the 613 Mitzvot? In answer to this, it has been explained in Kiryat Sefer (in the Introduction, Chapter 7), that it is possible for every person to fulfill all the 613 Mitzvot, by means of reading and learning about each and every Mitzvah in the Torah, for learning about the Mitzvot is equivalent to performance of the Mitzvot.  This is similar to what is written by the Sifrei (on the Torah Portion of Shalach) about the verse "and you will remember and do all the Mitzvot of Hashem"; from this verse we see that remembrance of the Mitzvah is similar to performing the Mitzvah.  That is to say, that by reading about them and accepting upon himself that if he had been commanded  to do them he would fulfill them, it's thought of as if he did perform them.

"And Yaakov was very frightened and he was distressed..."  (Bereisheet 32:8)


Rashi says that he was frightened  that perhaps he would be killed, and he was distressed that perhaps he would kill others.  The Sages say that Rebbe Meir is referred to as "others".  Since Rebbe Meir came from the Caesar Niron, who was a descendent of Eisav, Yaakov was afraid that he would kill Eisav and Rebbe Meir would not come out from Eisav.

"And Yaakov was very frightened..."  (Bereisheet 32:8)


The Targum Yonatan explains that he was frightened because he didn't perform the Mitzvah of honoring his father for 20 years.  And also regarding the verse "Deliver me, please, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Eisav, for I fear him" (Bereisheet 32:12), the Targum Yonatan explains, that "for I fear him" means that Yaakov was afraid of Eisav because Eisav performed the Mitzvah of honoring their father.

"And Yaakov was very frightened and he was distressed..." (Bereisheet 32:8)


There are those that explain, that the reason that he was distressed was because he was afraid at all, since Hashem had promised him to guard over him.

"He prepared himself for three things, for a gift, for prayer, and for war (Rashi on Bereisheet 32:10)


There are those that ask, if he prepared himself for prayer, why does he also need to give a gift and to prepare himself for war?  The answer is that we need to do things by natural means and to give gifts, etc., but  also we need to pray that the gifts will help and also that we will succeed in war.  

"Deliver me, I pray Thee, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Eisav..."  (Bereisheet 32:12)


It is written in the Zohar that someone who prays needs to explicitly specify the matter he is praying about, and the proof is that Yaakov specified "from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Eisav".  Even though the Holy One Blessed Be He knows everything, it is still necessary to be explicit. 

"...and his eleven children..."  (Bereisheet 32:23)


Rashi explains that Deena was in a box.  And the Gr"a ztz"l asks, from where did Rashi know that it was Deena that was in the box, perhaps it was a different child?  And the explanation is related to what the Sages say: that the Temple was built in the portion of Binyamin, because he didn't bow down to Eisav.  Therefore, if it had been one of the sons who was in the box, it would have been necessary to build the Temple in that son's portion for also he wouldn't have bowed down, if he had been placed inside the box.  But rather, it is necessary to say that all of the sons bowed down except for Binyamin who had not yet been born.  Therefore it must be that only Deena was inside the box.   And there are those that add that "Mordechai didn't kneel and didn't bow" (Megillat Esther 3:2), for he was from the seed of Binyamin and Haman was from the seed of Eisav.  Therefore Mordechai didn't bow down just like Binyamin.

"...and a man wrestled with him..." (Bereisheet 32:25)


Rashi says that this was the guardian angel of Eisav.  The Chafetz Chaim explains why we don't find that the guardian angel of Eisav came to fight with Avraham or Yitzchak as he did with Yaakov.  The reason is that Avraham represents  the quality of Chesed (kindness), and the evil inclination doesn't strongly oppose the doing of kind acts.  And Yitzchak represents the quality of service, that is to say, Gevurah (strength), and also on that the evil inclination is willing to give in if necessary.  But about Yaakov it is stated "Give truth to Yaakov ..." (Micah 7:20), and the truth is the Torah -- "the voice is the voice of Yaakov"  (Bereisheet 27:22); on this it fights with all its might.  The evil inclination puts all of its strength into fighting against the learning of Torah and is not willing to give in at all.

"and a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn."  (Bereisheet 32:25)


Dawn break is a hint to the Geula (the final redemption).  This hints that there will be a war against evil until the final redemption, just as we see that there are always bad events and suffering, may Hashem have mercy.

"And he bought the parcel of ground..."  (Bereisheet 33:19)


The Gaon HaRav Yechezkel Avramski ztzk"l told that when he came to settle in Israel, he bought a small portion of ground in the Galil because of the holy words of the Ibn Ezra in this Torah Portion about the verse "And he bought the parcel of ground...":  "A parcel of ground means part of a field of ground, and the verse mentions this in order to let us know that there is a great quality to the Land of Israel, and someone who has within it a portion, it is thought of as if he has a portion in the Next World", until here is the language of the Ibn Ezra.  And the Gaon HaRav Yechezkel Avramski ztzk"l said that he was never there even one time and never saw the parcel of ground, and the only reason he bought it was because of the words of the Ibn Ezra.  (from Mishmar HaLevi Al HaTorah)

The Torah Portion of Vayishlach has 145 verses. Haftora: "Chazon Ovadiah" (Ovadiah 1:1 in Trei Eser). 

We say Borchi Nafshi.

May you all have a  light-filled and happy Shabbat.  Shabbat Shalom.
L'ilui Neshamat HaGaon HaTzaddik R' Gershon Avigdor Ben R' Chaim ztz"l, Nilkach L'Bait Olamo Yud Gimmel Tishrei 5772

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Vayeitzei 5775

Torah Portion of Vayeitzei 


Excerpted and Translated from the the Teachings of Rabbi Gershon Steinberg ztz"l
L'ilui Neshamat HaGaon HaTzaddik R' Gershon Avigdor Ben Chaim ztz"l

The Torah Portion of Vayeitzei begins as a "Parsha Stuma" (in English: "a closed Torah Portion")


[Note: When the end of a Torah Portion is marked by three Hebrew letters of Samech, and the new Torah Portion begins on the same line, this is known as a "Parsha Stuma".] The reason the Torah Portion of Vayeitzei begins as a "Parsha Stuma" ("a closed Torah Portion") is because Yaakov fled from Lavan in a closed, hidden way.  And also all the existence of the congregation of Israel is closed and hidden; that is to say, how it can be that after so many years of exile they are still living and existing -- and the reason for this is only because the Holy One Blessed Be He saves us from the hands of those who wish to destroy us.

"And Yaakov went out..." (Bereisheet 28:10)


Rashi explains "its brilliance went away, its splendor went away, its majesty went away".  And it can be asked, why is it not written with regards to Avraham and Yitzchak when they went away that "its brilliance went away..."? The answer is that Avraham and Yitzchak were very wealthy and they had servants, and certainly when they left, everyone felt the effects of their departure immediately.  But regarding Yaakov who was sitting inside tents (to learn Torah), apparently it should not have been recognizable when he left.  Nonetheless, the brilliance and majesty of the place went away, and his departure from the place made a great impression.

"...and he took from the stones of the place..."  (Bereisheet 28:11)


It is written in the beginning that "he took from the stones of the place", in the plural, and afterwards it is written "..and he took the stone.."  (Bereisheet 28:18) in the singular.  The reason for this is that the stones began to argue with one another; one said "on me the Tzaddik (Righteous Man) will lay his head", and another one said "on me he will lay it".  Immediately the Holy One Blessed Be He made them all into one stone.  And the difficulty with this explanation is that also now the head of the Tzaddik would be resting on only one place, and if so, what is the benefit if they are all made into one stone?  But the answer is, that if they are united together and there are no arguments, then there will not be any complaints from anyone at all.


"And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set down on the earth and the top of it reaching to Heaven..." (Bereisheet 28:12) 


The Hebrew word "Sulam" ("ladder") has the same Gematria (numerical values of the letters) as the Hebrew word "Mamon" ("financial wealth").  Thus we see that there is some equivalence between a Sulam and Mamon based on the Gematria.  If one merits, the top of it (i.e., the financial wealth) reaches to Heaven, when one does with it Tzedakah (charity) and Chesed (kindness).  And if one doesn't give Tzedakah (charity), its feet are set down on the earth and the money goes down to get lost in the depths, G-d forbid.

"And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set down on the earth and the top of it reaching to Heaven..." (Bereisheet 28:12) 


Only when a ladder is bent at an angle is it possible to use it.  Thus, someone who wants to go up in the heights of the Torah and fear of Hashem needs to be submissive and bend himself down like a ladder.

"And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set down on the earth and the top of it reaching to Heaven..." (Bereisheet 28:12) 


The three letters of the word "Sulam" are Samech, Lamed, Mem, and these are the Roshei Teivot (in English: "initial letters") of the "Seudah Livui Malka" (in English: "Meal of Escorting the Queen", that is to say, the meal we eat after Shabbat ends, which is commonly known as a "Melaveh Malka").  Its feet are set down on the earth, and there are people who are careless about it (that is, about the Melaveh Malka meal), but the top of it reaches to Heaven.  It is told about the wife of the Gr"a ztz"l that one time she wanted to fast a whole week from Shabbat to Shabbat.  After Havdalah (the blessing at the end of Shabbat said over wine, spices and candle) the Gr"a asked where his wife was, and they told him that she already went to sleep.  He commanded to wake her, and told her that if she would miss the meal of Melaveh Malka her fasting for the entire week wouldn't be worth anything.  It is told that one time the Gr"a was sick on Motzei Shabbat (the nighttime after Shabbat is over), and before the beginning of daybreak he requested from his family to put into his mouth a Kazayit Pat(Halachic minimal amount of bread for a meal) in oder to fulfill the Mitzvah of Melaveh Malka.

The Melaveh Malka Meal


Its written in Seforim (Holy Books) that the three meals of Shabbat are connected to the three Avot (the Fathers Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov), and the Melaveh Malka meal is connected to David HaMelech o"h.  And why did David merit to be the fourth foot of the Throne of Glory?  It was because when he fled from Avshalom, Shimi ben Geira cursed him on the way with a very severe cursing and Avishai ben Tzruya therefore wanted to kill Shimi. But David didn't give him permission to do so and he said that Hashem told Shimi to curse and that everything was from Heaven.  Therefore David merited to be the fourth foot of the Chariot.  And generally during all the three meals of Shabbat people sit in a manner which is honorable and nice, but at the meal of the Melaveh Malka there are those who are careless about it.  And it is written in the Shulchan Aruch that are man should always arrange his table on Motzei Shabbat, even if he doesn't need to eat more than one Kazayit (Halachic minimal amount of bread for a meal).  And behold, it is written in Tehillim Chapter 39 verse 13:  "For a stranger I am with you, a sojourner like all my fathers".  In Hebrew, this verse begins "Ki Ger Anochi".  "Ki Ger" (which means "for a stranger" in English), has the same Gematria (numerical value of the letters) as "Regel" (in English: "Foot").  "Anochi" (which means "I am" in English) hs the same Gematria as "Kisa" (in Englsih: "Throne").  The hint here in this Tehillima is that David is complaining that "I am the fourth foot", and why don't people sit down at my meal "like all my fathers", like at all the meals of Shabbat that are intended to be connected to the Fathers (Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov).

"...and He will guard me on this way..."  (Bereisheet 28:20)


The Sages say that Yaakov requested from the Holy One Blessed Be He that he should not stumble in the sin of Lashon Hara (forbidden speech).  And see the Introduction to the book "Chafetz Chaim", that by sinning in Lashon Hara it is possible to transgress 17 negative commandments, 14 positive commandments, and 3 curses. 

"...and she said 'This time I will give thanks to Hashem'; therefore she called his name Yehudah..." (Bereisheet 29:35)


The Sages say that from the Creation of the World there wasn't anyone who thanked Hashem like Leah.  And it has been asked, weren't there many Tzaddikim (Righteous People) before her, and certainly they gave thanks to Hashem?  The explanation is that Leah wanted to give thanks constantly, and therefore called her son Yehudah, which can be explained as thankfulness without interruption.  (Translator's note:  The name Yehudah is related to the word for thankfulness in Hebrew.)  When she saw Yehudah she immediately began to thank Hashem, and at every time that Yehudah would come and go, and eat and sleep, she would always give thanks.

"...therefore she called his name Yehudah, and she stopped giving birth."  (Bereisheet 29:35)


It has been asked, isn't thankfulness a good thing, yet in this verse the meaning seems to be that because she gave thanks to Hashem, she ceased to give birth?  The explanation is that everyone needs to give thanks about the past and to pray about the future.  Therefore when a man is asked "How are you?", he answers "Baruch Hashem V'yeracham Hashem"  (Bless Hashem and may Hashem have mercy).   But Leah only gave thanks about the past and didn't request on the future, and therefore she stopped giving birth.  

What did Yaakov do in the house of Lavan for 20 years?


The Sages ask, what did Yaakov do in the house of Lavan for 20 years?  One says that he said all the entire book of Tehillim (Psalms), and another says that he said all the Shir HaMaalot (15 chapters of Tehillim from chapters 120 through 134).  We see from this the great elevation of saying Tehillim. (from Midrash Vayeitzei)

WORDS OF CHIZUK (Words of Strengthening and Encouragement)


"One who removes his ears from hearing Torah, also his Prayer is repugnant." (Mishlei 28:9)


It is written in Mishlei (Proverbs) Chapter 28 Verse 9: "One who removes his ears from hearing Torah, also his Prayer is repugnant".  Why isn't it written "from learning Torah"?  The simple explanation is that when someone tells someone a Dvar Torah (a lesson from the Torah) and he says "I already heard", then the Holy One Blessed Be He says to him, also "I already heard" the prayer that you said yesterday, and why are you requesting another time?  (from Masters of Mussar)

"How beautiful are your steps in shoes..." (Shir Hashirim 7:2)


In the Sefer Razin D'oraita it is brought that it is written in the "Midrash P'liah", that Israel doesn't know the reward that they receive for cleaning their shoes on Erev Shabbat (on the day before the Sabbath), as it is stated in Shir HaShirim (Song of Songs):  "How beautiful are your steps in shoes...".  This verse is connected to the verse (in Yeshayahu 22:12): "On that day there will be crying and mourning and tearing of hair and wearing of sackcloth".  The Rav HaKodesh M'Apta explains, that when a man will come after his passing to the Heavenly Courts and he doesn't have any Mitzvot in his hand except for the small Mitzvah that he cleaned his shoes in honor of the Sabbath, and he sees how he is getting so much reward for that, then in bitterness his soul will weep because he neglected the rest of the Mitzvot, both big ones and small ones, and missed out on receiving a reward for them.  And that is the intention of the Midrash,  "How beautiful are your steps in shoes" -- when they see the reward for that, then "On that day there will be crying and mourning and tearing of hair and wearing of sackcloth." 


The Torah Portion of Vayeitzei has 148 verses. Haftora: "Vayivrach Yaakov" (Hoshea 12).


We say Borchi Nafshi.


May you all have a  light-filled and happy Shabbat.  Shabbat Shalom.
L'ilui Neshamat HaGaon HaTzaddik R' Gershon Avigdor Ben R' Chaim ztz"l, Nilkach L'Bait Olamo Yud Gimmel Tishrei 5772

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Toldot 5775

The Torah Portion of Toldot 


Excerpted and Translated from the the Teachings of Rabbi Gershon Steinberg ztz"l
L'ilui Neshamat HaGaon HaTzaddik R' Gershon Avigdor Ben Chaim ztz"l

"And these are the generations of Yitzchak, Avraham's son  -- Avraham begot Yitzchak."  (Bereisheet 25:19)


Why is it necessary to say "Avraham begot Yitzchak", since it was already stated that "these are the generations of Yitzchak, Avraham's son"?  Rashi explains that Yitzchak was similar to Avraham in his facial features.  And the Abarbanel explains that everything that happened to Avraham happened also to Yitzchak.  Both of them took a wife from within their families.  Avraham and Yitzchak both suffered with problems of infertility.  They both had two children, one of whom was righteous and one of whom was wicked.  In both of their times there was a famine, as a result of which Yitzchak went in exile to Gerar and Avraham went in exile to Mitzrayim (Egypt).  Both of them said about their wives "she is my sister".  Both of them were blessed with many cattle.  Both of them dug wells which the Philishtim plugged up.

"And Yitzchak entreated Hashem...and Hashem let himself be entreated by him"  (Bereisheet 25:21)


Why is it written "entreated" and not "prayed"?  Rashi writes that he "engaged much and urgently in prayer".  And when it says "...and Hashem let himself be entreated by him", Rashi writes that "He let himself be urged, conciliated, and persuaded by him".  Why was it necessary for him to pray with so much effort?  The Meforshim (those who expound the Torah) explain that if Eisav would have been born before that, Avraham would have had to die sooner.  For behold, when Eisav was 15 years old, Avraham died so that he would not see Eisav going out to do uncivilized, evil acts.  Therefore Yitzchak needed to pray a lot because it was a decree from Heaven to delay the birth of Eisav, so that Avraham would not need to die many years before his time.  And the Gaon R' Yosef Chaim Zonenfeld ztz"l adds that the Gematria (numerical value of the Hebrew letters) for "and Hashem let himself be entreated by him" (in Hebrew: V'yei'ater Lo Hashem), which is 748, is equal to the Gematria for "five years" (in Hebrew: "Chameish Shanim"), since Avraham needed to live for 180 years like Yitzchak, and died 5 years before his time. 

"And the children struggled together within her and she said 'If so, why is it that I am?'..."  (Bereisheet 25:22)


Rashi explains that when she would pass by the entrances of places of Torah study, Yaakov would struggle to come out, and when she would pass by the entrances of places of idol worship, Eisav would struggle to come out.   And the Meforshim (those who expound the Torah) ask, perhaps in the case of Eisav it is understandable that he wanted to go out to idol worship and not to learn with the angel (which teaches Torah to the baby before birth), but why did Yaakov want to go out, for behold, he was learning with the angel before he was born?  And the explanation is that it was better for him to go out to the world, even if he needed to give up on the possibility of learning with the angel, than to be together with Eisav in one place.

"...And they called his name Eisav."  (Bereisheet 25:25)


The Baal HaTurim says that the name "Eisav" has the same Gematria (numerical values of the Hebrew letters) as the word "Shalom" (in English: "Peace").  [Translator's note: the numerical values of the Hebrew letters of "Eisav" are Ayin = 70,  Shin = 300, and  Vuv = 6, which adds up to a total of 376.  The numerical values of the Hebrew letters of "Shalom" are Shin = 300, Lamed = 30, Vuv = 6, and Mem = 40, which also adds up to a total of 376.]  If his Gematria had not been "Shalom" ("Peace") he would have destroyed the whole world.

"...and he called his name Yaakov..." (Bereisheet 25:26)


The letters of Yaakov's name are Yud, Ayin, Kuf, and Beit.  The Daat Zekainim says that the letters of Yaakov's name are hints, as follows:  Yud, which has a Gematria (numerical value) of 10, hints at the 10 Commandments. Ayin, which has a Gematria of 70, hints at the 70 Elders (who assisted Moshe Rabbeinu in leading the Jewish people in the desert.)  Kuf, which has a Gematria of 100, hints at the  Beit HaMikdash (the Temple) which stood at a height of 100 Amot.  Beit, which has a Gematria of Two, hints at the Two Tablets of the Covenant (upon which were written the 10 Commandments.)

"...And Yaakov was a man of simplicity (or wholesomeness)..." ( Bereisheet 25:27)  


Rashi says that someone who doesn't know how to deceive is called simple (or wholesome).  (Translator's note: the word in Hebrew "Tam" can be translated as either simple or wholesome.)  Apparently, however, we see that when he was with Lavan, Yaakov knew how to deceive.  Rather, Rashi's intention is that someone who doesn't know how to deceive is called simple.  In contrast, Yaakov was not "simple", but rather, a man of simplicity (or wholesomeness), who ruled over his simplicity and knew when to be straightforward and when not to.  The Masters of Mussar (Ethics) say that Yaakov represents the aspect of Truthfulness, as it is said "Give Truth to Yaakov..." (Micah 7:20), yet we see that several times he acted in a cunning manner: 1)  he took the birthright of the firstborn son,  2)  he took the blessings, and 3) with Lavan, he used the sticks (to increase his flocks).  For we don't know what is "Truthfulness", but the Tzaddik (Righteous Man) knows when to act in a straightforward manner and when to act cunningly.


"And Yitzchak loved Eisav..." (Bereisheet 25:28)


The Gaon R' Yosef Chaim Zonenfeld ztz"l explains why Yaakov is called the "select one of the Patriarchs", in connection to the verse "and Yitzchak loved Eisav".  If the Torah writes this verse, that means that the love of Yitzchak for Eisav was a true and recognizable love.  In spite of that, when Yaakov and Eisav were going out in the morning, each one went on his path; Yaakov went to serve Hashem by making an effort in Torah and prayer while Eisav went to do evil deeds.  In the evening when they returned Yitzchak showed love to Eisav and didn't pay any attention at all to Yaakov, and so it was for the duration of a long period of time.  And because of this, Yaakov of necessity would have thought that certainly since Yitzchak was the greatest person of the generation and he gave emotional support only to Eisav, perhaps his (Yaakov's) way of serving Hashem wasn't appropriate.  But in any event, he didn't pay attention to that and stayed with strength and persistency on his path, even though he saw that Yitzchak related only to Eisav.   Therefore he is called "the select one of the Patriarchs", since he was in a constant state of living with a very difficult challenge, and in spite of it all, he remained steadfast in his wholesomeness.

"..and in that year he reaped a hundredfold, and Hashem blessed him." (Bereisheet 26:12)


What is the meaning of the ending of this verse, "and Hashem blessed him"?  Wasn't it already written  that he reaped "a hundredfold" before that?  The Seforno explains that even though a lot of produce grew and it would have been appropriate for the produce to be sold cheaply because of the increased output, in any event he was able to still sell it for a high price, and that is what it meant by "and Hashem blessed him".

"And Yitzchak returned and he dug the wells of water which they had dug in the days of Avraham his faher...and he called them by the same names that his father had called them."  (Bereisheet 26:18)


Rabbeinu Bachya explains that from here we see a proof that one shouldn't change from the ways of his fathers, and that is the explanation of "the same names that his father had called them", that one should act according to the traditions of his fathers.

"And the servants of Yitzchak dug...and he called the name of the well Eisek ...Then they dug another well...and he called its name Sitnah...and he dug another well...and he called the name of it Rehovot and he said 'For now Hashem has made room for us and we shall be fruitful in the land'." (Bereisheet 26:19-22)


Three wells were dug by the servants of Yitzchak.  The first well is symbolic of the First Temple and it was destroyed, and therefore it was called "Eisek" (a name which means "contention").  The second well is symbolic of the Second  Temple, and it was therefore called "Sitnah" (a name which means "enmity").  The third well is symbolic of the Third Temple, and it is therefore called "Rehovot (a name which means "expansiveness"),  and regarding that well it is written,"and we shall be fruitful in the land".  (from the Ramban)

"And the servants of Yitzchak dug...and he called the name of the well Eisek ...Then they dug another well...and he called its name Sitnah...and he dug another well...and he called the name of it Rehovot and he said 'For now Hashem has made room for us and we shall be fruitful in the land'." (Bereisheet 26:19-22)


In the case of the first two wells, it is written "And the servants of Yitzchak dug...", and regarding the third well, it is written "and he dug", meaning that only Yitzchak dug.  And the reason for this is that in the beginning Yitzchak's servants dug and there was no blessing from that, and therefore afterwards Yitzchak dug by himself and then they saw blessing. 

"And the servants of Yitzchak dug...and he called the name of the well Eisek ...Then they dug another well...and he called its name Sitnah...and he dug another well...and he called the name of it Rehovot and he said 'For now Hashem has made room for us and we shall be fruitful in the land'." (Bereisheet 26:19-22)


The Chafetz Chaim says that from the wells one can learn the way to serve Hashem, for in the beginning they dug and didn't succeed and the its name was called "Eisek" ("contention").  And the second time they also didn't succeed and its name was called  "Sitnah" ("enmity").  Only after that they dug and then it was called "Rechovot" ("expansiveness") and it was stated, "we shall be fruitful in the land".  Similarly, regarding a student who comes to learn Torah and even though in the beginning he doesn't see any success, he should never despair, and then in the end he will truly succeed.

"...I am sick of my life on account of the daughers of Chait, if Yaakov takes a wife from the daughters of Chait like these, from the daughters of the land, why do I need life?"  (Bereisheet 27:46)


Why didn't she say to Yitzchak that Eisav wants to kill Yaakov, like she said to Yaakov?  The Ohr HaChaim HaKodesh says that because of the prohibition of Rechilut (Gossip)  she gave another reason to Yitzchak, but by revealing it to Yaakov, she fulfilled a Mitzvah (from Vayikra 19:16) of "do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor".

"...mother of Yaakov and Eisav."  (Bereisheet 28:5)


Rashi says, "I don't know what this teaches us".  There are early commentators who explain that it was necessary to write this so that one wouldn't wonder how an evil person like Eisav would come out from two Tzaddikim (righteous people) like Yitzchak and Rivkah.  Therefore it states "...to Lavan the son of Betuel the Aramean, the brother of Rivkah, mother of Yaakov and Eisav" (Bereisheet 28:5), to tell you that since most of the sons are similar to the brothers of the mother, therefore Eisav was similar to Lavan the Aramean.  

"...to Lavan the son of Betuel the Aramean, the brother of Rivkah, mother of Yaakov and Eisav" (Bereisheet 28:5)


According to Rabbenu Bacchya, this verse comes to explain to us how it could be that Yaakov went to seek a marriage partnership which would connect him with an evil person who was the son of an evil person, that is to say with "Lavan the son of Betuel the Aramean".  The explanation is that he (Lavan) was "the brother of Rivkah".  He was the brother of a righteous woman (Rivkah) and it was likely that his daughters would be similar to his sister.  Afterwards, the verse continues with a praise of Rivkah, that she was the "mother of Yaakov and Eisav", and it would have been expected for her to love both of them equally since she was the mother of both of them, and if anything we would expect her to love Eisav more than Yaakov, for it is the nature of mothers is to love their firstborn son.   And nevertheless, Rivkah's love was directed mainly toward Yaakov, because she saw the beauty of his character traits.

"And Yaakov listened to his father and to his mother..." (Bereisheet 28:7)


It is necessary to understand, what is the meaning of "to his father and to his mother"?  The explanation is, that there were two different commands.  His father told him to take a wife from Charan, and Rivkah told him to get up and flee from Eisav to Charan.  And that is why it is written that "Yaakov listened to his father", regarding taking a wife, "and to his mother", to flee to Charan.


The Torah Portion of Toldot has 106 verses. Haftora: Machar Chodesh" (Shmuel Aleph, 20:18-42).

This is Shabbat Mevorchim for the Month of Kislev.
Rosh Chodesh Kislev is on Sunday.
The Molad is on Yom Shabbat Kosesh (Shabbat in the daytime)  at 9:46 with 17 Chalakim.
 We say Borchi Nafshi.

May you all have a  light-filled and happy Shabbat.  Shabbat Shalom.
L'ilui Neshamat HaGaon HaTzaddik R' Gershon Avigdor Ben R' Chaim ztz"l, Nilkach L'Bait Olamo Yud Gimmel Tishrei 5772

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Chayei Sarah 5775

The Torah Portion of Chayei Sarah 


Excerpted and Translated from the the Teachings of Rabbi Gershon Steinberg ztz"l
L'ilui Neshamat HaGaon HaTzaddik R' Gershon Avigdor Ben Chaim ztz"l

"And it was that the lifetime of Sarah..." (In Hebrew: "Vayihu'yu Chayei Sarah..."-- Bereisheet 23:1) 


The first word of this verse in Hebrew is "Vayih'yu".  The word Vayih'yu is a palindrome; that is it is spelled the same way backwards and forwards, with the Hebrew letters Vuv Yud Hey Yud Vuv.  So "Vayih'yu" when it is read backwards also is "Vayih'yu".  This comes to hint that if a man does Mitzvot and good deeds, the day that has passed isn't thought of to be in the past, for even though the day has already gone by, the Mitzvot that he did continue to exist and stand before him always.  And that is why it says "Vayih'yu Chayei Sarah", with the word "Vayih'yu" which is read backwards also "Vayih'yu", to tell us that because she was a righteous woman,  even when looking backwards, that is at the days which have already passed, these days are still thought of as the lifetime of Sarah (i.e., as if she is still alive) because of the good deeds which she did.

"And it was that the lifetime of Sarah..." (In Hebrew: "Vayihu'yu Chayei Sarah..."-- Bereisheet 23:1)


The first word of this verse in Hebrew, "Vayih'yu", has the Gematria (numerical value of its letters) of 37.  (Note: The Hebrew letters of Vayh'yu are Vuv Yud Hey Yud Vuv. The numerical value of Vuv = 6, Yud = 10, Hey = 5, Yud = 10, and Vuv = 5.  The sum of 6 + 10 + 5 + 10 + 6 = 37.)  This is a hint that 37 years were the most important, best years of Sarah Imenu's life, because from the time that Yitzchak was born until Sarah passed away there were 37 years.

"when she was 100 years old she was like 20 years old" (Rashi on Bereisheet 23:1)


There are those that explain that thus are the ways of man, in the days of his youth he is connected in his nature to the desires of this world but on the other hand he is strong in the trait of being alacritous (to do Mitzvot), but an elderly man is the oppposite way -- he is weak in the trait of alacrity but on the other hand he is not as connected to the desires of this world as he was during his youth.  And this verse comes to tell us that Sarah had both of these good traits together.  All her days she was like a 20 year old regarding the matter of being alacritous to do Mitzvot, and also she was like a 100 year old, distant from the desires of this world all of her days.

"when she was 100 years old she was like 20 years old" (Rashi on Bereisheet 23:1)


Tehillim Chapter 100 is "Mizmor L'Todah" (in English: "A Psalm of thanksgiving") , and Tehillim Chapter 20 is "Ya'ancha Hashem B'yom Tzarah" (in English: "May Hashem answer you on the day of distress").  In all situations one needs to thank Hashem, also on a day of distress.  In addition, the custom is to say the Tehillim "Ya''ancha Hashem" aloud and slowly (that is, with deliberation and enunciation of each word), and also the Tehillim "Mizmor L'Todah" needs to be said that way.  In the Shulchan Aruch  Orach Chaim (Siman 51) it's written that "Mizmor L'Todah" needs to said with a melody.

"...the years of Sarah's life."  (Bereisheet 23:1)


Rashi explains that "they were all equal in goodness".  And behold, in truth Sarah had much anguish and suffering in her life.  Until the aged of 90 she didn't have children, and she was also taken into the house of Pharoah and the house of Avimelech, and she also suffered from famine.  And in spite of all that, she accepted everything with love, and that is the explanation of what Rashi said that "they were all equal in goodness".  Even the difficult days were thought of in her eyes as good.

"...to eulogize Sarah and to weep for her." (Bereisheet 23:2)


Why is it written first "to eulogize" and afterwards "to weep"?  This is not the usual way of mourners, who at the beginning weep and afterwards eulogize, as it is written in the Gemara (Moed Katan 27b): three days for weeping and seven days for eulogizing.  And the Rishonim explain that when Avraham came he found the people in his household eulogizing her because three days had already elapsed from the time of her passing, so Avraham made eulogies with them, and afterwards he wept for her.  And the Kli Yakar explains that in general, for everyone who passes away the mourning gradually decreases, because with the passage of time everything is forgotten.  But in the case of this righteous woman, on each and every day the people of her generation increasingly felt her absence, because of the absence of her Torah and good deeds, which were lost from her generation.  Therefore, the eulogizing came before the weeping.

"... and to weep for her."  (in Hebrew: "V'livkotah", Bereisheet 23:2)


The Hebrew word "V'livkotah", which means "and to weep for her", is spelled Vuv Lamed Vait Kaf Tav Heh, and the letter Kaf is written smaller than the other letters. Why is the letter Kaf smaller? The Baal HaTurim says that he wept only a little bit because she was already old.  There is another explanation, that Avraham only wept a little bit so that people wouldn't say that he regretted the Akeida (binding of Yitzchak), because Sarah passed away as a result of being told about the Akeida.  And there is another explanation, that it appears as if the word is written "and for her daughter" (in Hebrew: "V'l'bitah" ,without the Kaf since it written smaller than the other letters), because at the same time the daughter of Avraham also passed away.

"...Chayei Sarah..." (Bereisheet 23:1) and "Vayechi..." (Bereisheet 47:28)


There are two Torah Portions in which matters of death are discussed and yet, the names of the Torah Portions are based linguistically on the word for life in Hebrew, "Chaim" ("Chayei" in this week's Torah Portion, and "Vayechi" in the Torah Portion of Vayechi).  In the Torah Portion of Chayei Sarah, the deaths of Sarah and Avraham are discussed, and in the Torah Portion of Vayechi, the deaths of Yaakov and Yosef are discussed and yet it begins with the words  "Vayechi Yaakov" (in English: "And Yaakov lived").  The reason for this is that Tzaddikim (Righteous People) are also called "Chaim" (alive) even when they have died. 

"And Avraham was old, coming with days..."  (Bereisheet 24:1)


The commentators on the Torah say that he filled all the days of his life  with Torah and with Mitzvot, and that Avraham came to the Next World with all the days (of his life), for there was no defect in any of them.

"...and Hashem had blessed Avraham with everything." (Bereisheet 24:1)


Rashi explains that the Hebrew word for "with everything", "BaKol", has the same Gematria (numerical value) as the Hebrew word  for "son" (in Hebrew: "Ben").  (Note: The letters of the Hebrew word "BaKol" are Beit, Kaf, and Lamed. The numerical value of Beit = 2, Kaf = 20, and Lamed = 30. The sum of 2 + 20 + 30  is equal to 52.  The Hebrew letters of the word "Ben" are Beit and Nun.  The numerical value of Beit = 2, and Nun = 50.  The sum of 2 + 50 also is equal to 52.  So the Gematria of "BaKol" is the same as the Gematria of "Ben".)  And there are those that say that he had a daughter and her name was "BaKol".

"BaKol" (in English "with everything") has the same Gematria as "Ben" (in English: "son")


There are those that ask, why did this need to be stated indirectly, by means of Gematria?  Why couldn't it just be written in the verse "and Hashem had blessed Avraham with a son"?   And the explanation is that someone who has a righteous son like Yitzchak Avinu already has everything, and that is the explanation of "BaKol" (in English: "with everything").

"...and Hashem had blessed Avraham with everything."  (Bereisheet 24:1)


What is the blessing to Avraham "with everything"?  If it's good for everyone and not just for himself, that was regarded as a blessing by him. (from Mayana Shel Torah)

"And he said, Hashem, G-d of my master Avraham.."  (Bereisheet 24:12)


The cantillation mark that is written for  the Hebrew word "Vayomar" in this verse (in English: "And he said") is a Shalshelet.  The Masters of Mussar (Ethics) explain that the way of the Evil Inclination is that it doesn't come in the beginning with enormous transgressions, such as telling you to go serve idols and the like, but rather it starts with small things.  And therefore it is written regarding Lot, "And he delayed" (Bereisheet 19:16), with a Shalshelet, for the Evil Inclination made him lazy and weak with regard to fulling a Mitzvah (to leave Sodom) and he delayed and didn't hurry.  And after that, the Shalshelet appears in the current verse (Bereisheet 24:12)  on the Hebrew word for "And he said";  the Evil Inclination enters into a conversation with him and entices him.  And after that, it's already written "And he refused" (Bereisheet 39:8) with a Shalshelet, because he already doesn't want to learn Torah, and after that it's written in the Torah Portion of Tzav "And he slaughtered" (Vayikra 8:23) with a  Shalshelet, for the Evil Inclination has already conquered him entirely.  And there are those who explain this sequence of verses containing a Shalshelet with a good ending, that "And he refused" (Bereisheet 39:8) means that he doesn't want to listen to the Evil Inclination, and that "And he slaughtered" (Vayikra 8:23) means that he conquered the Evil Inclination.

The Sages say that three asked inappropriately.


Eliezer said "the girl...who says drink and I will also give water to your camels..." (Bereisheet 24:14), and this was inappropriate, for perhaps a crippled girl would come out.  Shaul HaMelech said that whoever would kill Goliath, he would give him his daughter.  And that was not appropriate, because perhaps the person who would succeed in that goal would have a defect.  But Yiftach asked inappropriately and didn't succeed, because he was forced to offer up his daughter as an offering.  And all three of these are hinted at by the cantillation mark of the Shalshelet on the word "Vayomer" (Bereisheet 24:12 -- in English: "And he said"), because the Shalshelet contains three "waves" of musical notes of rising and falling pitch.

"And the servant ran...and she hastened...and she ran" (Bereisheet 24:17 - 20)


It's necessary to understand why it is mentioned here several times the concept of alacrity and swiftness.  On a simple level, it's possible to say that this is to teach us that all the deeds of righteous people are done with alacrity.  And the Gaon HaRav Yitzchak Zev  HaLevi Soloveitchek of Brisk ztzvk"l explained that Eliezer said "may it happen before me today" (Bereisheet 24:12), that is, that the sign was that it would happen on that very day, and since it was approaching evening, therefore everything needed to occur quickly in order for all of it to happen before the sunset, so that all of it would be on that very day.

"...drink and I will also give water to your camels..."  (Bereisheet 24:14)


The commentators on the Torah ask, what was so special about that?  Behold, also today we see that the daughters of Israel do much kindness similar to that.  The explanation is that Eliezer arrived with many servants and Rivkah could have thought to herself that kindness is something that one should do only if it's needed, but in this instance Eleazer, who was very wealthy and also had a lot of servants, why should he bother a small girl of three years old?  And even so, Rivkah didn't make any calculations like that and immediately acted kindly.  And this is called an act of kindness without any excuses or calculations, because if an opportunity to perform a Mitzvah comes to your hands you shouldn't miss the opportunity because of various answers and excuses.  And this is similar to someone who sees a diamond on the ground, that he shouldn't tell someone else to pick it up.

"And she finished giving him to drink,  and she said" (Bereisheet 24:19)


The Seforno explains that Rivkah waited to speak until he finished drinking, just as the Sages say (Taanit 5b) "One shouldn't speak at the time of eating and drinking lest something goes down into the trachea (tube in the throat for breathing) instead of the esophagus (tube in the throat for swallowing) and the person's life can become endangered".

"And he (Eliezer) said 'I will not eat until I have spoken my words', and he (Lavan) said 'speak'. And he (Eliezer) said 'I am a servant of Avraham'..." (Bereisheet 24:33-34)


The Baalei HaTurim says that Eliezer told them, I need to say beforehand the blessing on washing the hands, and the blessing on the bread.  And when Lavan said "speak', he meant, so say it already, and his intention was that he should say the blessings quickly without enunciating the words carefully and slowly.  And when Eliezer said "I am a servant of Avraham", his intention was to say, that since I am a servant of Avraham, I don't do that in a rush.  I pray and say blessings with intention and slowly, with careful enunciation of the words. And because of that Eliezer was saved from the death (by poisoning of the food) that they were plotting against him. 

"And they blessed Rivkah and said to her, 'Our sister, may you come to be thousands of myriads...'  "  (Bereisheet 24:60)


The Sages say that because of this blessing, Rivkah was infertile, so that people wouldn't say that Rivkah had been blessed by this blessing.  It can be asked, haven't the Sages said "Don't let the blessing of an ordinary person be a light manner in your eyes, and even the blessing of a gentile", such as the blessings of Aravna and Darius?  And the explanation is that they (Aravna and Darius) blessed in the name of Hashem.  Aravna said to David HaMelech, "Hashem Elokim should be pleased with you" (Shmuel Beit 24:23).  Darius said to Daniel "May your G-d, Whom you serve regularly, save you" (Daniel 6:17).  But Lavan and his mother blessed Rivkah without mentioning Hashem, and therefore this is not considered to fall into the category of a blessing by an ordinary person.  

Why did Avraham command Eliezer to take a bride for Yitzchak from his family?


It has been asked by the Meforshim (those who explain the Torah), why did Avraham command Eliezer to take a bride for Yitzchak from his family, who were idol worshippers? The explanation is that even though they (his family) had corrupt opinions, in any event the Canaanites had corrupt character traits and that was worse, because character traits can be passed on through inheritance but opinions are possible to change.  (from Drashot HaRan, Avnei Nezer)

The Torah Portion of Chayei Sarah has 105 verses. Haftora: "V'hamelech David" (Melachim 1:1).

We say Borchi Nafshi.

May you all have a  light-filled and happy Shabbat.  Shabbat Shalom.
L'ilui Neshamat HaGaon HaTzaddik R' Gershon Avigdor Ben R' Chaim ztz"l, Nilkach L'Bait Olamo Yud Gimmel Tishrei 5772