As Rachel and Leah produce the twelve tribes, either directly or through their respective servants, they name each tribe with a brief explanation of the etymology of the name they chose. The one exception to this phenomenon seems to be Yosef, whose birth inspired two separate statements by his mother relating to his name. Immediately when he is born, Rachel declares "asaf Elokim es cherpasi," G-d has removed my disgrace, and she later calls him Yosef saying "yosef Hashem li ben acher," G-d should add another child to her matriarchical resume.
Thursday, November 28, 2013
Friday, November 15, 2013
Many calendars and calculators have been used tirelessly over the last several weeks and months as people attempted to figure out the last time Thanksgiving dinner was eaten with the Chanukah candles lit in the window. Some suggestions include a hundred years ago, even earlier, never, one hundred years from now, never, and so on as the debates have raged on. I even had one non-Jewish professor ask "isn't this the last time it's happening for 75,000 years?" which may indeed be correct. Regardless of the exact history and future of this calendar anomaly, one point that seems to have surprisingly gone unnoticed is the striking similarity between the two holidays' essence.
Friday, October 18, 2013
As Avrohom is recuperating from his painful circumcision, he sits in the company of the Shechinah (Divine presence) in an area known as Elonei Mamre. Rashi comments that Mamre, a friend of Avrohom, deserves mention at this junction of the story since of Avrohom's three friends, Mamre was the only one to advise Avrohom to go through with the circumcision. The full Medrash (Tanchuma #3) states that when Hashem commanded Avrohom to give himself a bris milah, he was not sure what to do, so he consulted with his three friends, Aner, Eshkol, and Mamre. Aner said that Avrohom should not circumcise himself so as not to become vulnerable to military attack. Eshkol thought the surgery itself would be too dangerous for a man of Avrohom's age. Mamre reminded Avrohom how Hashem had saved him from the fires of Ur Kasdim and the powers of the four kings and could protect him again through the difficult bris milah.
Although Mamre's advice certainly seems meritorious, why would Avrohom seek any opinions after Hashem had "offered" His? Avrohom Avinu had already abandoned his entire past upon the word of G-d and would later offer his beloved child upon that very same word. Why with regard to the commandment of bris milah did Avrohom Avinu suddenly require counsel?
Thursday, October 17, 2013
When Avrohom Avinu heard that his nephew Lot was captured, he waged war to free him, even though he jeopardized his own safety in the process. Many commentaries are bothered by Avrohom's decision to risk his own life to save another, despite the halacha suggesting otherwise.
Tuesday, October 8, 2013
I have always found Noach's prominent role in the Rosh Ha'shana liturgy to be perplexing. A perfunctory glance at the 30 verses of malchiyos, zichronos, and shofros, which comprise our climactic mussaf prayer, reveal many famous pesukim about our "favorite" Biblical characters and many well-known pesukim, if only because they found favor in the eyes of contemporary Jewish singers. Yet, after reciting the verses of "Hashem yimloch l'olam va'ed," "Ki la'Shem ha'melucha," "Si'u she'arim rasheichem," and "Shema Yisrael," one cannot help but be surprised when the ten pesukim of zichronos begin "Va'yizkor Elokim es Noach," G-d remembered Noach (and ended the flood). The two pesukim which follow seem more fitting, in which Hashem "recalls" the covenant made with our forefathers, Avrohom, Yitzchok, and Yakov, three likelier candidates to appear in the prayers of this holy day.
Friday, September 13, 2013
This story/idea was sent via e-mail. It is being posted below in the hope that its powerful message may reach a larger audience.
A Holocaust survivor asked Rav Itzikel zt"l from Antwerp the following question: We say in Avinu Malkeinu "harugim al sheim kodshecha," those who were killed in Your Name, and then "t'vuchim al yichudecha," slaughtered for Your Oneness. Why do we say two distinct phrases, sheim kodshecha and yichudecha? Rav Itzikel had no answer. The Holocaust survivor replied that he would like to share his own thought. He explained that when the Nazis ym"s marched into a town, they assembled 100 men and lined them up in front of a river. The Nazi with a machine gun started shooting from the right side of the line and moved his gun towards the left until he killed all of the men. When the shooting began, all of the men started reciting the Shema together. The people on the right were killed as they said "Hashem Elokeinu;" they did not manage to finish the passuk. Those people were harugim al sheim kodshecha (they died saying G-d's name). The people further left managed to stay alive for long enough to say "Hashem echod;" they died al yichudecha (for His Oneness). Rav Itzikel zt"l could not stop crying after hearing this p'shat.
Thursday, September 12, 2013
In his timeless Hilchos Teshuva (2:2) the Rambam enumerates three indispensable components of teshuva: "yis'nachem al she'avar" - regretting the past, "lo yashuv l'zeh ha'cheit l'olam," - committing to never sinning again, and "l'hisvados bisfasav," - confessing in the present each sin by name.
Many commentaries raise two difficulties with the Rambam's phases of teshuva, particularly the eternal promise to never sin again: First, why do we not mention this commitment, or even our regret over the past, when we say our text of viduy? [Our viduy includes little beyond a general admitting of our errors ("aval anachnu va'avoseinu chatanu") as well as a lengthy list of each sin.] Second, and perhaps more obvious, how can an honest person pledge to never sin again? We stand bent over striking our chests every year fully aware of how this procedure resembles last year's when we made the identical promises and evidently failed to keep them. Can we stand in front of G-d this year and tell Him that we will never speak lashon ha'ra (gossip), pray without focus, or waste time from studying Torah?