Vayetze

Vayetze

CREATING HOLINESS When Jacob wakes up, after dreaming of a stairway to heaven with angels ascending and descending, he exclaims: “How awesome is this place. This is none other than the House of G-d and this is the Gateway to Heaven.” [Bereishit 28:17] Jacob realized that the place he had chosen for his sleep was already a holy site. Actually, it was the same site where his father, before him had rested his head when he was bound on the altar. Jacob could foresee that this site would be the place of the future Temple. The Temple location was intrinsically...

Toldot

Toldot

DON’T BE A PHILISTINE To call someone a philistine is to label them as indifferent to culture and the arts. [The usage seems to have originated from a conflict between the cultured university students and the townspeople in 17th century Jenna, Germany. In a sermon on the conflict, a preacher invoked the passage, “the Philistines are upon you” (Judges 16), which led to an association with the townspeople and those hostile to culture.] The original Philistines are referred to in this week’s parsha. We encounter them stopping up the wells that Abraham had dug. Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz makes the observation...

Chayei Sarah

Chayei Sarah

LIVING THE GOOD LIFE The first verse of our parsha seems unnecessarily repetitive in its use of the word, ‎‎‎‘years.’: “And Sarah’s lifetime was one hundred years, twenty years and seven years, the years of Sarah’s lifetime.”(Bereishit 23:1) Our major commentator, Rashi (d. 1105) makes an observation that, at first glance, strains credulity. He says: The repetition of “the years of Sarah’s lifetime” teaches us that all were equally good. How can Rashi say this? Surely, by any standard, Sarah lived a very difficult ow  How life. At age sixty-five, she was uprooted from her birthplace to travel to a...

Vayera

Vayera

THE UPRIGHT WAY Abraham is the pioneer of Judaism. He challenged a world of idolatry, proclaiming the belief in one G-d. According to the midrash, he was thrown into a fiery furnace for his beliefs and was miraculously saved. Yet, for all of Abraham’s repudiation of idolatry, it doesn’t make him less sensitive to idolaters as human beings. In last week’s portion, when he heard that his nephew, Lot had been captured, he undertook a mission to rescue not only his nephew but the others, such as the king of Sodom and his people. Abraham knew what they were like....

Lech Lecha

Lech Lecha

ABRAHAM AND HIS DISCIPLES When Abram and Sarai come to the land of Canaan, they didn’t come by themselves. They arrived with Lot, Abram’s nephew. They arrived with all their possessions. And then the verse adds: “and with the souls they had made in Charan.” (Bereishit 12:25.) Rashi (in his second explanation) observes that the plain meaning of this phrase, is that it refers to the retinue of servants that they had acquired. But Rashi’s first explanation is that “souls” refers to converts Abram and Sarai had made whilst in Charan. The role models they had displayed of faith, trust...

Noach

Noach

AVERTING THE FLOOD What lead to the decay of society that brought about the flood in the time of Noah? The rabbis of the midrash identified what seems to be a tiny defect. Yet, it had catastrophic consequences. “And the world was full of chamas from before them.” (Bereishit 6:13) What is chamas? Said Rabbi Chanina, chamas is the theft of an item worth less than a perutah (a small coin.) A person would set up his stall of beans in the market. Someone would come by and run off with a bean. The amount was too small to be...

Bereishit

Bereishit

WHAT’S IN A NAME? The names that Adam and Eve give to their first children are powerfully symbolic of contrasting approaches to a person’s role in this world. Their elder child is called Kayin (Cain) which means “acquisition.” His very nature seemed to indicate a preoccupation with possessiveness. When he came to sacrifice to G-d, he offered meagre fruits of the ground. He was reluctant to dedicate a significant offering to G-d. His was a grudging gift. His younger brother, who offers a choice sacrifice to G-d, is called Hevel (Abel). This word is familiar to us from Kohelet, (Ecclesiastes)...

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