Dvar Torah Parshat VaYera 5777 2016 – Being a Mentsch

Avraham was informed by the angels that came to his tent that Hashem was about to destroy the corrupt cities of Sodom and Amora. We are told that he did not accept this without a plea to save them. He pleads with Hashem and starts his appeal to save the city by pleading if there are only fifty righteous people there would Hashem destroy the city.

Hashem answers: אִם אֶמְצָא בִסְדֹם חֲמִשִּׁים צַדִּיקִם בְּתוֹךְ הָעִיר, “If I find in Sodom fifty righteous people in the midst of the city…” (Gen. 18.26) he would not destroy the city. It is noteworthy that Hashem emphasized that He wants to find fifty people “in the midst of the city”.
This can serve as a good example for a Jewish city. It may not be difficult to find righteous people in the synagogue or in the Bet Midrash. Hashem wants to find righteous people in the midst of the city. He wants to find them in their businesses and in their actions with other people, in their normal activities.

It is not too challenging to be moral and virtuous in the synagogue. It is in the daily mundane activities of interaction with people where one must also display his honest and upright dealings with others.

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Parshat Lech Lecha 5777 2016 – It’s Time To Come Home

When Hashem tells Avraham to leave his home and go to the Promised Land, He does not tell him where it is. He simply says he should go: אֶל הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר אַרְאֶךָּ, “…to the land that I will show you.” (Gen. 12,1) Why does He not tell him to which land He wants him to go?

One answer given to this question is that had he been told the name of the land his friends would have tried to discourage him from going. They would have told him it is a barren land; all desert, wild animals, wild people, bad weather and so on.

It is interesting that today when people say they are going to make Aliya and move to Israel people immediately try to discourage them.
When I notified a leader of a Zionist organization that I was making Aliya I got a strange response from him. He was working to help Israel, yet, his remark to me was, “Hishtagata”, “Are you crazy?”

Perhaps they feel guilty for not making Aliya themselves and as a protective justification they try to discourage others. Everyone who can, should do what Avraham did.

Dvar Torah Parshat Noah 5777 – Words Can Kill

Because Noach had saved the animals during the flood, Hashem gave permission for man to kill animals for human consumption. Simultaneously, a prohibition was given against spilling human blood. The Torah uses a strange phraseology in stating this prohibition. The Torah says: שֹׁפֵךְ דַּם הָאָדָם בָּאָדָם דָּמוֹ יִשָּׁפֵךְ, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed…’. (Gen. 9,6)

The Chafetz Chaim claims that this wording is the source for a certain Rabbinic statement. Chazal said: כל המלבין פני חבירו ברבים כאילו שופך דמים , “He who publically shames his neighbor is as if he shed blood.” (BM 58b) The Chafetz Chaim reads the verse thus: Whomever sheds the blood of man, בָּאָדָם, ‘in man’, it is as if he shed blood.

Before we speak publicly we must be extremely careful of what we say lest we hurt someone. At times we do not realize that our words embarrass somebody.

Dvar Torah Parshat Vayechi 5776 2015

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In last week’s Torah reading we learn that Pharaoh asked Yaakov how old he was and his answer was that he was one hundred and thirty years. He added another statement and said that “Few and bad have been the days of the years of my life…” (Gen. 47,9) This week’s reading starts with the words: וַיְחִי יַעֲקֹב בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם שְׁבַע עֶשְׂרֵה שָׁנָה, “Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years…”. (Gen. 47,28)

The Baal HaTurim (12-13 century) commentary written on the Torah and is printed in many editions of the Torah, makes an interesting observation in Gematria (using letters as numbers). The word וַיְחִי, “and he lived” adds up to 34. Half of 34 is 17. Seventeen is the age Yosef was when he was sold and taken from his father’s house. Seventeen is also the number of years he lived in Egypt where Yosef was. Together, the years that Yosef was with his father add up to 34.

Yaakov considered the years that Yosef was away from him as bad years in his life. The only meaningful years were those when Yosef was near him. This indicates that a person’s life cannot be judged by the number of years he lives but by what happened during those years. Some people can live a short life and it can be more meaningful than someone who lived a long but unhappy life.

Dvar Torah Parshat VaYigash 5776 2015

Our Chazal believed that Hashem operates on the principle of כל מדותיו של הקדוש ברוך הוא מדה כנגד מדה, “all acts of Hashem are measure for measure.” (San. 90a) They find evidence of this principle in the Tanach. Perhaps we can find this demonstrated in our Sidra as well. The brothers sold Yosef to traders who were going to Egypt, taking him into Galut. This led to the result that after a number of years all the brothers also ended up going down to Egypt, into Galut.

This belief holds true in all of history and even in our time. We find all forms of horrible terror are imposed on the Israeli population. The world keeps quiet and does not cry out against these atrocities. The end result is that the rest of the world eventually has to put up with the same brutalities and barbarisms. The violence is practiced on Israelis and then ends up on populations all over the world.

It may not be evident but in our personal lives the same is true. Often we mistreat friends or perhaps only acquaintances, and in time we ourselves suffer the same mistreatment. We may not associate what happens to us to what we ourselves did, but if you give it some thought you can soon see the similarity. Be careful with all your acts.

Dvar Torah on Parshat Toldot 5776 2015 – Are You For Real?

We are told:
וַיֶּאֱהַב יִצְחָק אֶת עֵשָׂו כִּי צַיִד בְּפִיו וְרִבְקָה אֹהֶבֶת אֶת יַעֲקֹב(Gen. 25, 28). Yitzhak was an honest individual and he could not imagine that anyone would lie. When Esav wanted to impress his father about his religiosity he would ask questions about Jewish law. Yitzhak believed he was sincere and he was able to love him. Rivka, on the other hand, had grown up in Lavan’s house and she knew what deception was. She thus saw through Esav’s fraud of his father and could not love him. She saw the honesty of Yaakov and loved him.

It takes a bit of wisdom to see through the charades of people. We must give everyone the benefit of the doubt but should not be so believing that we are easily deceived.

There are some people who can lie with a straight face and can, as the expression goes, sell you the Brooklyn Bridge. While we should not suspect people when we have no reason to but we should be careful with whom we deal. Just because we are honest does not mean that everyone is.

Dvar Torah Parshat Chaye-Sara 2015 5776 – Be Happy, Be Rich

Concerning the death of Avraham the Torah says he died at an old age: וְשָׂבֵעַ, “and content”. (Gen. 25,8) What does it mean by saying Avraham was content?

The Ramban gives a very enlightening explanation on this verse. He says that most people are not satisfied with what they have. He quotes the words of Kohelet: אֹהֵב כֶּסֶף לֹא יִשְׂבַּע כֶּסֶף, “he that has silver will not be satisfied with silver…”. (Kohelet 5,9) Or as the saying goes, “He who has one hundred, desires two hundred.” Avraham, on the other hand, was satisfied with what he had.

Ben Zoma tell us in the Mishnah: איזהו עשיר השמח בחלקו, “Who is rich? He who is happy with his lot”.(Avot 4,1)

Many Sages in the Talmud were very poor and yet they managed to continue with their studies and did not complain about their fate. They were happy with what they had.

This is an important message to teach us how a person should live. One should strive to do his best to earn whatever he wants. However, he must be satisfied with what he actually has. If he is not satisfied and does not appreciate what Hashem gives him, he will never be happy