Friday, December 5, 2014

"Dancing" with the Devil - Yakov's Struggle with the Angel

In a vague, yet important incident, Yakov Avinu "fought" another character. Some say it was the angel of Esav, others suggest a different type of angel, and yet others believe it was simply Yakov's own yetzer ha'rah. All interpretations seem to agree that the exchange was meaningful and provides insight for our own lives, particularly when encountering non-Jews as epitomized by Esav.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Slaughtered Like Sheep - Lessons from a Lamb after the Har Nof Massacre

It is unusual to feel the cold winter on the outside and the feelings of Tisha B'Av on the inside. The pain of this week's events is still raw and the wounds are still fresh. Shabbos cannot come soon enough as we beseech G-d "'v'hareinu Hashem Elokeinu b'nechemas Tzion irecha." Until then, we look to the only place we know for comfort: the Torah. Not surprisingly, a subtle point in this week's parsha can provide us with some divrei nechama, words of consolation, and divrei chizuk, words of inspiration.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

What's the Big Steal? - Why Money Matters Matter

Reading through Midrashim, one gets a very clear sense that the people of Noach's generation were extremely wicked. The sins they committed according to our Sages included idolatry, adultery, and murder. Yet, Rashi cites a Medrash that of all their sins, theft caused their fate to be sealed. The pasuk indicates the severity of robbery when, after describing the world's becoming corrupt ("va'tishaches ha'aretz"), the only explicit sin the Torah mentions is "va'timaleh ha'aretz chamas," the land was filled with robbery.

More subtly, when Sedom, Amorah, and their neighboring cities engaged in spiritually corrupt ways, Rashi again cites a Medrash (without explicit reference in the Torah) that assumes interpersonal finances were the "final straw" of G-d's judgment. In this case, it was the lack of charity and the brutal murder of a philanthropist that triggered their ultimate destruction.

Of all the egregious violations these two generations committed, what is unique about theft and charity that brought about their destruction?

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

He Made Me Do It - Why Were the Mitzrim Punished?

One of the most famous philosophical debates among great Jewish thinkers was inspired by just a few pesukim, known as the Bris Bein Ha'Besarim. In it (Bereishis 15:7-18), Hashem promises Avrohom that he will have children and they will inherit the land of Israel. During the narrative, Hashem also informs Avrohom that his children will be exiled for 400 years in a foreign land, but that the nation who enslaves them will be judged, and ultimately Avrohom's children will leave with great wealth. Retrospectively, we know that this promise referred to the Jews becoming slaves in Egypt, G-d performing the ten plagues, and the Jews leaving with the Egyptians' money. But if G-d had promised that these events would transpire, how could the Egyptians be punished? Seemingly, the Egyptians could have claimed that they were simply carrying out a Divine decree.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Making Kabbalos that Last

As we near Yom Kippur, people may be considering formal kabbalos to accept for the upcoming year.
Looking back to the previous year's kabbalos (if one still remembers them) can be depressing as more often than not, they were not properly fulfilled. What are some guidelines to making proper kabbalos that are both important and manageable for the upcoming year?

Rav Dessler, in a collection of his writings on the topic, outlines several guidelines in properly accepting kabbalos for the upcoming year, many of which have been supported from the recent psychology literature. For this year, allow us to explore one key idea Rav Dessler offers.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Eroding Entitlement - The Key to Favorable Judgment

In one of the most powerful and well-known pesukim in the Torah, the person separates ma'aser (tithes), performs viduy ma'aser (confession of the tithes) and concludes with a prayer: "hashkifa mim'on kadshecha min ha'Shamayim u'varech es amcha es Yisrael," beseeching G-d to gaze down from the Heavens and bless His people.

Perhaps contributing to the pasuk's fame, Rashi in Bereishis (18:16) quotes a Medrash which notes that the root of the word "hashkifa," shin-kuf-peh, almost always connotes negativity, as G-d "gazed" upon the people of Mitzrayim and Sedom before judging and destroying them. The only exception is in our parsha, in which the act of giving charity transforms G-d's gaze from harsh judgment to kindness. Rav Shmuel Yakov Bornstein points out that the Medrash serving as Rashi's source actually mentions two weapons to transform Hashem's strict midas ha'din--charity for the poor and tithes for Levi'im--yet Rashi only chooses the former example in his commentary.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Know Thy Enemy - A Heart Filled with Hate

When recounting the battle between the Emorites and the Jews, Moshe compares the Emori attack to an attack of bees, and then describes how the Emorites chased the Jews all the way to Charmah. The aggressive chasing implies a forceful attack; yet Rashi, explaining the comparison to bees, says that the Emori died in the act of murdering Jews, just as bees die with their sting. Rashi's comparison seems to indicate that the Emori were overmatched and attempted to "sting" the Jews with their final breaths. Were the Emori so overpowered that they were left fighting like bees, or were they invested in a proactive attack against the Jews?