Showing posts from 2015

Shmos: the cause of oppression

After Moshe chastises the two Israelites that the Midrash identifies as the dyamic duo of trouble, Dathan and Aviram, by asking why would one hit his fellow, he gets a response that he finds disconcerting and declares, "Achen nodah hadavar [so the matter is known]" The simple meaning is that the two know about his killing the Egyptian who beat the Israelite. But there is also a deeper meaning that Rashi quotes, "umidrasho noda li hadavar shehayiti tema alav, ma cheto Yisrael mikol shivim umos, lihiyros nirdim beavodas perach, aval roeh ani shehem reuyim lekach." According to the Midrash what is known is the matter that had puzzled Moshe, what was the sin of Yisrael that made it the most culpable among the 70 nations to be punished in backbreaking work. But now [from the behavior of Dathan and Aviram] he sees that they did deserve it.

My grandfather asks the following: Didn't Moshe know that the enslavement was decreed upon them at Brith beyn habetharim? Also wa…

Did Yosef forgive his brothers?

That's a bit of a trick question. In the shiur that Michal Horowitz gave today, she mentioned that Rav Moshe Feinstein said that Yosef never explicitly forgave his brothers, never saying so outright, and that kept the debt hanging over klal Yisrael that was collected in the form of the asara harugey malchus.  She said it to make the point that one should be sure to clearly say that they forgive so that there will not be a price to pay for the person or the person's descendants.

During the shiur someone asked if the brothers actually asked forgiveness. She said she wasn't certain that they did. It's true that they did not do so directly; however, in Vayechi, this week's parsha they do so indirectly after their father's death when they tell him that Yaakov said he should forgive them: "Ana sa na pesha achicha vechatatham ki raa gamlucha veata sa na lepesha avdey Elokey avicha. [Please forgive the transgrssion of your brothers and their sin, for they treatedf…

The 10th of Teves

While the world may still be celebrating the holiday season, the holiday of Chanukah came to an end at the beginning of last week. This week is another significant date in the Jewish calendar, but it is a sad rather than a joyous occasion. On Tuesday, it is the 10th of Teves [sometimes spelled Tevet].
On this date, 2449 years ago, Nebuchadnetzar, King of Babylon, laid siege on  Jerusalem.. That is what marked the beginning of the loss of the first Temple, which occurred nearly 3 years later on the 9th of Av. Like, the 9th of Av, the 17th of Tammuz, and Tzom Gedalia, thisfast is, therefore, concerned with the loss of the Temple and Jewish sovereignty.
Some sources describe this as one of the "low" fasts, though that gives a false impression. The fast of Teves has very high priority in Jewish tradition. It shares the distinction of Yom Kippur of being observed as fast even if it falls out on the Sabbath. Practically speaking, it never falls out that way because of the calendar…

Yaakov's relief

After Yaakov is reunited with Yosef, he exclaims, "amuta hapa'am" that he will die this time (46:30). Rashi quotes the midrashic interpretation that before he had seen him, Yaakov was certain that he would suffer two deaths: one in this world and one in the next, for the shechina  had departed from him. Thinking that Yosef had died, he though that it was required (and that the loss of one of his children signified Yaakov's own loss of his share in the next world). However, now that he saw Yosef alive, he knew he would only die in this world.

My grandfather raises a question on Yaakov's assumption that he would lose his share in the next world. After all,  he has credit for so many good deeds.  He suggests that the loss of even just a small part of his portion in the next world would be tantamount to death, as is the connotation of "mitchayev benafsho" that Chazal speak of.

Yaakov thought that Yosef would not have died if his father were free of sin and,…

Pharaoh's praise of Yosef

After Yosef interprets Pharaoh's dream and advises him what to do, the king exclaims on Yosef's having ruach Elokim and possessing unusal understanding and wisdom The two terms navon vechacham refer to different forms of intelligence. According to the Ramban navon refers to yosef's understanding of how to manage the inahbitants of Egyts with respect to allocating bread according to the household numbers, to supply them with sufficient amounts to sustain them and to sell the surplus to other land in order to acquire wealth for Pharaoh. The term chachamrefers to his wisdom in knowing how to kee the crops from rotting, whtat to mix with each type in order to preserve it.

My grandfather adds that Yosef was unusal in that he not only had the spiritual connection to G-d but that he also was street smart about managing daily life in earthly matters. Pharaoh recognized this combined ability in Yosef's identifying the solution to the problem when giving the interpretation of th…

8 great things about Chanukah

Chanukah begins Sunday night.
Those who really know me may be surprised at the title on this post because I have expressioned aversion for numbers in titles as a gimmick to grab attention. However, 8 is not only a number associated with Chanukah but a sign of what the holiday is about. The number 8 represents the level that rises above nature -- represented by the number 7 to correspond to the days of the week. (See ) It was a miracle that the Jews won over a foe that vastly outnumbered them, and it was a miracle that they found the oil which allowed them to light the menorah in a state of purity -- to set the tone for the start as aiming for the highest possible level rather than settling for the bedieved [expedient, though far from ideal, course of action].
But the title promises a list, and here it is:
1. Like Purim, the holiday of Chanukah owes quite a bit to a female heroine. Yehudith, who was as brave as she was beaut…

Reuven's motivation

In the event that culminated in the sale of Yosef, his brothers first determine that he should be executed.. Reuven is the one who thwarts that plan by suggesting that he be thrown into a pit. The text attests to his intention to save his brother's life and to return him to their father in 37:22. Rashi explains that those words, lema'an hitzil oto miyadam lehashivo el aviv are the expresion of ruach hakodesh that reveals what he really intended when he made that suggestion. His thinking was that as the bechor, and the biggest of the brothers, he would bear the brunt of the blame.

My grandfather points out that the source for this is Midrash Rabbah 84: 15 in which Rav Nechamya offers that explanation for Reuven's concern. The supercommentary on Rashi, Sifsei Chachamim, quotes the Maharshal's question on this: Why bring up that reason? Why not just say that Reuven was righteous and didn't want to spill blood?

The answer can be found in the revelation of the Reuven…

Boundless chesed

In Parshas Vayishlach Yaakov declares "katonti mikol hachasadim" [I'm diminished from all the kindness] and then requests that Hashem save him from Esav.
My grandfather asks, if Yaakov pointed out that his merit is already diminished, how does that help build his case to get Divine help for salvation?  If he is relating in terms of din there are no grounds for requesting anymore. However, as the relationship is one of chesed, there is no set cap, and he can ask for more chesed.

Along the same lines, we say in the prayer of Nishmas, "ad hena azarunu rachamecha velo azavunu chasadecha, veal titeshenu Hashem Elokim lanetzcah" [until now your mercy has helped us and your kindness has not left us, and don't leave us Hashem, our G-d forever] for there are no boundaries to what flows from chesed. 

Related posts:

Leah's Thanksgiving

Here's a connection between this week's parsha and the upcoming event next Thursday. What is a Jewish Thanksgiving? We learn that from Leah.

Leah named her first three sons for how she perceived her relationship with her husband, Yaakov. But when it came to her fourth son, she named him Yehudah, expalining, "hapa'am odeh es Hashem" this time I will thank G-d. This is considered a tremendous thing by Chazal. In Brachos 7b it record that R' Yochanan said in the name of Rav Shimon bar Yochai that from the day that Hakodesh Baruch Hu created his world there was not a single person who thanked Him until Leah did with "hapa'am odeh es Hashem."

My granfather points out that on the same page of the Gemara Rav shimon ben Yochai is quoted as saying that from the day that that Hakodesh Baruch Hu created his world there was not a single person that called Him that Hakodesh Baruch Hu created his world there was not a single person[master] until Avraham came …

Toldos: Torah reveals motivations

The Torah records that Yitzchak loved Esav kitzayid bepiv  because the product of the hunt was in his mouth. He extra affection born of gratitude to the son who supplied him with food.

My grandfather comments as follows: Without a doubt, Yitzchak our father had many lofty and spiritual reasons to explain his preference for Esav over Yaakov. But the Torah text states that, ultimately, this was the what motivated him, in spite of all the reasons he could provide. That is the proof to hashochad yaver eyney chachamim [bribes will blind the eyes of wise men]. Likely Yitzchak would be most disconcerted by reading in the Torah that his love for Esav was kitzayid bepiv.

The footnote on this refers to the Midrash about 3 people in TaNaCh who might have acted differently if they had realized their actions were recorded:
R’ Yitzchak said: When a person does a mitzvah, he should do it with all his heart… Had Reuven known that Hashem would record [in the Torah] that he had saved Yosef from his bro…

In retrospect: Chaye Sarah

When Eliezer recounts his experience in discovering Rivka, he provides her family with the full background of his mission. In telling the story, he says when Avraham charged him to find a wife for Yitzchak, he warned him that under no circumstances was he to be taken out of Eretz Yisroel. Eliezer raised the question of the bride-to-be not wanting to leave her home, and put in terms of "oolay lo telech haisha acharay" [perhaps the woman would refuse to follow me]. The word for perhaps there is written with a missing vav so that it may be read elay [to me], Rashi explains that Eliezer had a daughter of his own that he hoped Yitzchak would marry, and that's what is signfied by the Freudian slip of elay. Understanding that personal motivation, Avraham assured him that his son with his blessed status would not be marrying his servant's daughter whose status is the opposite of his, for ayn arur medavel bevaruch.

Here's the thing: the text doesn't show Eliezer sayin…

Sarah's internal laughter

If Sarah laughed, why did she deny it?
The qusestion was brought up in a number of places on Divrei Chaim, including:

Now we'll take a different perspective that my grandfather presents. His interepretations of Vatisachek Sarah bekirba [Sarah laughed within herself] signifed that Sarah was herself unaware of the laughter that arose within. It was not just inaudible but unconscious.

It was only in the depths of her soul that there arose some glimmer of doubt about the truth of what the angels said because acharey baloti hayta li adena [after I've grown old/worn I've become rejuvenated]. In this interpretation, leymor [saying] does not signify a quote but the reason. Sarah would not have said  say those word…

Lech Lecah: a different type of nisayon

As Chazal tell us, Avraham avinu was tested with 10 nisyonos. That number includes the opening commandments in this week's parsha, "Lech lecha."  As Rashi explains, the lecha means letovatcha, for your own good. My grandfather raised the question, if so why is this called a nisayon? Being told to do something for your own benefit hardly seems to be a test of faith.

His answer is that the test here is the challenge to do the action because of the command in spite  of the tangible benefit it will bring. In that way, it is like the command to eat on the 9th of Tishrei, which is said to be as great as fasting on Yom Kippur. It is so when one's motivations are pure -- fulfilling the command even when there is personal pleasure involved.

Related posts

What's so bad about chamas?

As I said in last week's post, Dvar Yehudah: parsha points from my grandfather, I'll try to select something from the sefer for each parsha. On Noach, he makes a point about what doomed the generation of the Flood. The text say, "vatimaleh ha'aretz chamas" the land was filled with chamas, wich is sometimes translated as robbery. Why then is the usual term of gezel not used? This was a particular type of robbery, a form of shoplifting that was below the legal bar for criminal prosecution, as it was taking something of very little monetary value -- what would cost less than a pruta, according to the Midrash Rabbah. 

Consequently, the person who was stealing considered it permissable and had no regrets for wrongdoing. And there's the rub,the feeling that one did nothing wrong when one has. That's what we see in the contrast between the first king of Israel, Shaul, and the next king who was chosen for the royal dynasty, David. When Shaul was chastized by Shmu…

Dvar Yehudah: parsha points from my grandfather

Torah: it's not the same old thing

My uncle, Ezra Schochet, compiled some of the notes my grandfather, R' Dov Yehudah Schochet Z"L wrote into a sefer called Dvar Yehuda. I'll try to share some. The following piece is particularly appropriate for the beginning, as it reflects on the constant renewal we have in accepting Torah each day.

The 31st verse of the first chapter of Bereishis refers to "yom hashishi" [the sixth day]. My grandfather cites the Chazal (Footnote citation identifies the source as both Avoda Zara 3a and Midrash Tanchumah) that says, im Yisrael mekablim, if Yisrael accept [the Torha, the world will endure]. He points out that it does not use the future tense, to say "if Yisrael will accept" but the present tense. That indicates that the acceptance of Torah has to be constant., as it says (Midrash Lekach Tov Devarim 6, 7) "that they should be each and every day new in your eyes as if you received them that very day from Mount …

The blood moon over the sukkah

An unusal addition to benching occurs solely on the holiday of Sukkoth. We add in "Harachaman hu yakim lanu eth sukkath David hanofales" Why do we refer to the sukkah of David to indicate a return to the kingdom rather than beis [the house of] David? In the shiurim prior to the holiday, Rav Goldwicht explained that when a house is taken down, it is a ruin and is not rebuilt so much as a replaced. The house that is built on the site of the previous house is a new house, not the same one. In contrast, a sukkahis always called a sukkah. It is still called that even when it is down and folded. When it is put back up, it is not a new structure but the same sukkah.

It's the same concept we see in the renewal of the moon, which is why we say, "David melech Yisroel chai vekayam" during kiddush levana.   It's always the same moon, though sometimes it is in a waning state, or even in an eclipsed state as it was on the first night of Sukkoth this year. But it is stil…

Scaling the mountain: thoughts on Yom Kippur

This is something I posted a few years ago. 
I though of the Gemara about the difference in perspective on one's evil inclination, and by extensions, one's deeds.  I mentioned it to me my son, and he said it was the subject of ashmooze [talk] at his yeshiva (in Queens), and his menahel [principal] actually interpreted it the same way I did  while thinking  about it.  Consider, who has a bigger inclination for evil -- a good person or a bad person?  One would think it is obvious that a bad person has a greater inclination for bad.  But here the Gemara surprises us with the revelation of the future.   The source is  Sukkah 52a.  It says: "In the future, G-d will slaughter the yetzer hara [desire for evil] bring it before the righteous and the wicked. To the righteous, the yetzer hara will appear as a mountain and they will say, 'How did we conquer that great mountain?' To the wicked, the yetzer hara will appear as a hair and they will say, 'How did we fail to co…

Kreplach recipe

In addition to the mitzvah of fasting on the day of Yom Kippur, there is a mitzvah to eat on Erev [the eve of] Yom Kippur, and a festive meal called seduas hamafsekes is eaten in the late afternoon. A traditional menu for that meal consists of chicken -- not too spicy so that one would not become thirsty later -- and accompaniments. Chicken soup typically precedes the main course. Instead of matzoh balls or noods, the soup accompaniement for this occasion is kreplach -- a type of wonton. Part of the reason for this custom is the similarity of name of the food: kreplach has the same letters as Kippur. It is a bit of a patchken to make from scratch because you have to make a dough and roll it out, so if you are short on time, you can buy it ready or in frozen form. But homemade is usally best. Here's the recipe I make. Kreplach Dough 1 lb. flour 1 extra large egg 8-12 oz. warm water Filling 1 lb. ground beef 1 small onion diced small salt and pepper to taste 2-3 tablespoons oil (if you…

Baking and cooking with honey

You don't have to just dip your challah in honey; you can put honey directly into the dough. Honey is also a great ingredient to have on hand for glazing chicken. Here are some recipes:  Challah with a touch of honey The following is a favorite challah recipe of mine. It eliminates the extra step of dissolving the yeast  and also doesn’t require an excessive amount of time for kneading. You do have to some kneading, but the dough hook attachment takes the work out of that step. The entire batch fits into a standard Kitchen-Aid bowl. The honey enhances the texture, though you could substitute sugar for the sweetness. As dough rises more rapidly at higher temperatures, you cut down the rising time on a warm day. Also if you place the challahs in the oven without preheating, the challahs will have more time to rise in the warmth of the oven before they start to actually bake. If you need to slow the rising process, say if you want to make the challah dough in the morning and only bake…

A sweet,new beginning

During aseres yemei teshuva, first days of the new year, which begin with Rosh Hashan and culminate with Yom Kippur, it is customary to take on extra chumros  [stringencies]. People take on practices that are beyond the strict letter of the law even if they do not keep up such practices during the rest of the year.   It is not a matter of pretense.  G-d is not taken in by a temporary act.  Rather, it is a matter of trying to focus on improvement during these days that should be a time of introspection and spiritual growth. 
Browning said, "A man's reach must exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for."  The antithesis to growth is a sense of complacency.  We break out of out standard routine during these days to remind ourselves that we should not settle in as beynonim -- people who are in between good and bad -- content with mediocrity.  Based on the principle ofhadam nifal kefi peulathav [a person is shaped by his actions] we take action to heighten our spiritual s…

New Beginnings and Yom HaZikaron

The following is an extract from a post I put up last year.  Anyone who suggest that "forget and forgive" is what the month of Ellul is about completely distorts the way things work. 

 The spiritual work of attaining forgiveness calls for a person to remember and then to forgive. We have to remember what we've done, not call upon others to forget it to feel exonerated. This is clear from the prayer service.  There is a special prayer to be said on the eve of Yom Kippur in which a person declares s/he forgives everyone. However, those who think they can relax because the person harmed will make this blanket statement are specifically excluded, as are those who still owe the individual a debt. One of the names of Rosh Hashan is Yom Hazicharon, the day of remembering.  The prayer services are divided into sections devoted to kingship, shofar, and remembering.  We try to focus on remembering the good things, but we know that we can't simply forget about the past that was no…

Hiding at your wedding

So someone actually wrote some advice for introverts getting married under the title,
Can I hide at my wedding? It includes this paragraph:
Wherever you decide to have the wedding, there’s nothing wrong with scoping out a place in the venue where you can escape for a breather when you need to (the bathroom may or may not work, depending on the likelihood of running into doting friends or relatives in there). Halfway through their wedding, one couple I spoke to for Introverts in Love slipped off to the kitchen for a break while the catering staff, too busy to pay them any mind, bustled around them. (I assume they weren’t in anyone’s way. Or maybe they were, but it was their wedding, so that’s the way it goes.) It struck me as very amusing, for Jewish weddings actually fit the couple hiding away into the ritual.

The Ashkenazic custom is for the couple to enter into a private room by themselves for yichud [seclusion] right after the chuppah. It is not merely to give them a few (usually 10…

What is Shabbos Nachamu?

Today is the Tu B'Av. As it falls out in this year's calendar, it is immediately followed by Shabbos Nachamu. Even those who know it by name don't always understand what it is really about. What is Shabbos Nachamu? A teacher at a post high school Jewish study program for young women related the answer one girl wrote to that question on an entrance exam: "It's the Shabbos when everyone goes to the country." Obviously, this student was a New Yorker. While some New Yorkers seem to consider it a mitzvah to spend the whole summer in the country, there are those who have jobs or other obligations in their hometowns and cannot get away that long, though they do like to go up to the mountains for weekends, particularly this weekend. The reason this student associated this particular weekend so strongly with going away is that it is the first one after the the 9th of Av. Some people curtail their travels during the 3 Week and 9 Days period, so this would be their fir…

This year's thoughts on Tu B'Av

This year's thoughts on Tu B'Av. In the space of a less than a week -- 6 days to be exact _- we go from the day of deepest mourning to one of the most joyous days of the year. It really is a 180 degree shift. What's interesting is also the emotions that underlie the polar opposites of the 9 of Av and the 15th of the same month. 
On the 9th we mourn the continued state of destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, which reflects the state of a loss that we feel in our relationship with G-d. While the first Beis Hamikdash was destroyed for cardinal sins, the second was destroyed and remains so because of sinas chinam, baseless hatred (see suggest that the remedy for that is ahavas chinam, baseless love.The more precise term for love that demands nothing in return was already set by Chazal in Pirkei Avothas ahava she'eyna tluya badavarlove that does not depend on anything.
With that in mind, it's possible to…