Vayigash

Vayigash

REVERED OR REVILED The blurb on Niall Ferguson’s biography of Henry Kissinger (Volume I: The Idealist, 1923-1968) reads: “No American statesman has been as revered or as reviled as Henry Kissinger. “Once hailed as ‘Super K – the indispensable man’ whose advice has been sought by every president from Kennedy to Obama – he has also been hounded by conspiracy theorists…” Despite having arrived in the USA in 1938, Henry Kissinger, to this day, sounds like an outsider. His Jewish-German origins are unmistakeable, both to his credit and potential misfortune. In the portions of the Torah we are currently reading, Pharaoh...

Miketz

Miketz

CHANUKAH POWER The festival of Chanukah recalls the military victory of the Maccabees over the vastly superior Greek army as well as the miracle of the jug of oil in the Temple, with the seal of the High Priest, which miraculously lasted for eight days, instead of just one. The great Chassidic leader, Rabbi Levi Yitchak of Berditchev (1740-1810) poses a fundamental question. Why did our Sages institute a holiday to recall these miracles and not to recall other miracles? In the Bible we read of a number of inspiring miracles. For example, there is the account in the fourth...

Vayeshev

Vayeshev

PLAN B Our parsha this week begins with the words, Veyeshev Yakov Be’eretz Megurei Aviv, Be’eretz Keba’an. “Jacob dwelt in the land of the sojournings of his father, in the land of Canaan.” The word Vayeshev “he dwelt” has the connotation of wanting to settle down permanently. As Rashi explains, Jacob thought he could now live in peace. He had resolved the conflict with his brother, Esau. He had raised twelve sons. Unlike his father who ‘sojourned’ in the land, which implies a lack of rootedness, Jacob thought he was entitled to live as a proper resident. But why? On...

THE MEANING OF YISRAEL

THE MEANING OF YISRAEL

THE MEANING OF YISRAEL When Jacob wrestles with the angel, his name became changed from Jacob to Israel ki sarita im elokim va’anishim vatuchal – “because you strove with G-d and man and you prevailed.” Significantly, the word used is not nilchamta, ‘you fought’ but sarita, ‘you strove’. Rav Ahron Soloveichik (1917-2001 – brother of the more famous Rabbi Joseph B Soloveitchik) explains that there is a clear distinction between these terms. Nilchamta implies a conflict that entails physical force with the aim of crushing and subduing an opponent. The loser has become vanquished in the conflict. On the other...

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 by Rabbi Mendel

Toldot by Rabbi Mendel

Where are you most comfortable being yourself? Who is the real you? At home? Or at work? Reading the newspaper? Or the Torah? Today we read how Jacob disguises as Esau to receive Isaac’s blessing of material goodness. There were specific reasons why the blessing had to come in this way. Indeed, for us, it is a reminder we must wear a facade and have a duplicity. Yes, we need to work and engage in material pursuits, but we are disguising as Esau, like hungry hunters. Our true selves underneath, the mystery’s of a Spiritual seeking Jacob. Parsha thought from Rabbi...

TOLDOT

TOLDOT

THE PERFUME OF PARADISE When Jacob came before his father to receive the blessing, he brought the goat meat that his mother had specially prepared to resemble venison. He also brought some wine. He dressed in the special clothes that Esau always wore when he waited on his father. Following his mother’s instructions, he also wrapped goat hide around his arms and neck so that the texture would make him more similar to his hairy brother. He announced himself to his father, inviting him to partake of the food. Isaac asks to feel him first, commenting that: “The voice is...

Sefer Hayashar, the other name to the book of Genesis

Sefer Hayashar, the other name to the book of Genesis

Sefer Hayashar, the other name to the book of Genesis Having just got up from Shiva for my beloved father, of blessed memory, the one thing that sticks in my mind is the way in which he invariably led by example. He was a role model through and through, though he never forced Judaism upon us. He just lived Judaism in a manner that meant my siblings and I learning almost by osmosis and recognising its inherent beauty through his transparent ways. We can recognise similar role models in the portions of the Torah we are currently reading. We are...

Chayei Sara

Chayei Sara

PARSHA PALINDROME Rashi comments at the beginning of the sidra that Sarah’s age on death, expressed as one hundred years and twenty years and seven years (instead of one-hundred-and-twenty-seven years), is to indicate that when she was twenty years of age, she was as beautiful as a seven year-old, and when she was one hundred, she was as free of sin as she was at twenty. Other Midrashim make a similar point but comparing beauty at one hundred and sin at seven. Rav Joseph Baer Soloveitchik and others explain that this indicates Sarah’s capacity to live on different levels throughout...

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