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September 16, 2014 / 21 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Jacob’

The Rare Torah Oracle

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

Rebecca, hitherto infertile, became pregnant. Suffering acute pain, she went to inquire of the Lord – “vateilech lidrosh et Hashem” (Bereishit 25:22). The explanation she received was that she was carrying twins who were contending in her womb. They were destined to do so long into the future:

Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger – “v’rav ya’avod tzair” (Bereishit 25:23).

Eventually the twins are born – first Esau, then (his hand grasping his brother’s heel) Jacob. Mindful of the prophecy she has received, Rebecca favors the younger son, Jacob. Years later, she persuades him to dress in Esau’s clothes and take the blessing Isaac intended to give his elder son. One verse of that blessing was “May nations serve you and peoples bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may the sons of your mother bow down to you” (Bereishit 26:29). The prediction has been fulfilled. Isaac’s blessing can surely mean nothing less than what was disclosed to Rebecca before either child was born, namely that, “the older will serve the younger.” The story has apparently reached closure – or so, at this stage, it seems.

But biblical narrative is not what it seems. Two events follow that subvert all that we had been led to expect. The first happens when Esau arrives and discovers that Jacob has cheated him out of his blessing. Moved by his anguish, Isaac gives him a benediction, one of whose clauses is: “You will live by your sword and you will serve your brother. But when you grow restless, you will throw his yoke from off your neck” (Bereishit 27:40).

This is not what we had anticipated. The older will not serve the younger in perpetuity.

The second scene, many years later, occurs when the brothers meet after a long estrangement. Jacob is terrified of the encounter. He had fled from home years earlier because Esau had vowed to kill him. Only after a long series of preparations and a lonely wrestling match at night is he able to face Esau with some composure. He bows down to him seven times. Seven times he calls him “my lord.” Five times he refers to himself as “your servant.” The roles have been reversed. Esau does not become the servant of Jacob; instead, Jacob speaks of himself as the servant of Esau. But this cannot be. The words heard by Rebecca when “she went to inquire of the Lord” suggested precisely the opposite, that “the older will serve the younger.” We are faced with cognitive dissonance.

More precisely, we have here an example of one of the most remarkable of all of Torah’s narrative devices: the power of the future to transform our understanding of the past. This is the essence of midrash. New situations retrospectively disclose new meanings in the text (see the essay “The Midrashic Imagination” by Michael Fishbane). The present is never fully determined by the present. Sometimes it is only later that we understand the now.

This is the significance of the great revelation of G-d to Moses in Shemot 33:33, where G-d says that only His back may be seen – meaning, His presence can be seen only when we look back at the past; it can never be known or predicted in advance. The indeterminacy of meaning at any given moment is what gives the biblical text its openness to ongoing interpretation.

We now see that this was not an idea invented by the Sages. It already exists in the Torah itself. The words Rebecca heard – as will now become clear – seemed to mean one thing at the time. It later transpires that they meant something else.

The words, “v’rav ya’avod tzair,” seem simple: “the older will serve the younger.” Returning to them in the light of subsequent events, though, we discover that they are anything but clear. They contain multiple ambiguities.

The first (noted by Radak and Rabbi Yosef ibn Kaspi) is that the word “et,” signaling the object of the verb, is missing. Normally – but not always – in biblical Hebrew the subject precedes, and the object follows, the verb. In Job 14:19, for example, the words “avanim shachaku mayim” mean “water wears away stones,” not “stones wear away water.” Thus the phrase might mean “the older shall serve the younger.” But it might also mean “the younger shall serve the older.” To be sure, the latter would be poetic Hebrew rather than conventional prose style, but that is what this utterance is: a poem.

Sandy’s Wrath Spurs Comprehensive Jewish Community Response

Wednesday, November 7th, 2012

NEW YORK—Hurricane Sandy stormed into New York and New Jersey with unmitigated force, carrying death and destruction, disrupting lives, and devastating neighborhoods in America’s most densely populated regions – which happen to be home to some of the country’s largest Jewish populations.

In response, the Jewish community banded together to meet immediate needs and plan for a long-term revival.

Cheryl Fishbein, chair of the Emergency Committee of the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), told JNS.org Sunday that the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York (JCRC-NY) is working on insurance – or lack thereof – issues.

“We’re pulling together, recognizing that people have really been demolished,” Fishbein said.

“The entire community – religious, not religious, left to right, Chabad and secular, synagogues, organizations – everybody is under the tent, a tent that stretches as big as it can possibly be,” she said. “People need to know we’re out there, checking on one another, making sure everyone is safe.”

Carol Goldstein, president of the Marks Jewish Community House in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn, detailed the work being done by volunteers and staff. “I’m so proud to be part of an agency that exemplifies the Jewish belief we are responsible one to another,” she said.

Marks Jewish Community House Executive Director Alex Budnitsky, together with staff and volunteers, climbed innumerable flights of stairs, carrying meals and water to those trapped in high-rise apartments without electricity. Brooklyn’s Neptune Avenue, he said, “truly looked like a war zone.”

“I applaud the efforts of the volunteers of the community,” he said. “The response is unprecedented. People of all ages from all over Brooklyn have given their time, energy, knowledge, language skills and more to make sure care is taken of everybody from seniors to kids.”

Several Jewish communal organizations joined together to create the The Emergency Sandy Chesed. The fund will be managed by Chevra Hatzalah with the support of local Hatzolah groups, Shomrim, Misaskim, Chaveirim, Met Council on Jewish Poverty, Yad Ephraim and neighborhood Jewish community councils.

Volunteers from synagogues and Entwine, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) young leadership program that usually works in eastern European Jewish communities, were on the ground in Brooklyn, according to Goldstein. The director of a clinic in Kharkov, Ukraine, asked how he could help Russian-speaking Jews in Brooklyn. Teens whose classes were canceled visited the elderly and calls were made to Holocaust survivors, she said.

Sigal Greenfeld Middelman arrived in New York just days before the storm. She is chaperon of the Israeli contingent of the America Israel Friendship League’s YASE (Young Ambassadors Student Exchange) program. Sandy, she said, created “a really awful situation.”

“I had to keep the kids calm and assure their safety – especially without electricity,” she told JNS.org. “Parents were worried – there was no phone service for days.” E-mail and Skype helped Middelman keep parents 6,000 miles away as calm as possible.

U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), who represents several of the devastated Brooklyn neighborhoods, said Sandy should lead to a “massive reordering of priorities.” His district includes Sea Gate, a historic “gated community” that suffered massive wind and water damage. Many homes were entirely washed away. Rabbi Chaim Brikman of Chabad by the Ocean, which serves Sea Gate and Coney Island, said that Sandy “hit with about 10 feet of water.”

“Everything was destroyed – offices, classrooms, the library,” Rabbi Brikman said. “Somehow I had the intuition to bring all the Torahs to the upper floor – some are over 100 years old.”

Rivkah Brikman, the rabbi’s wife, stressed that the storm did not stop Shabbat. “Homemade food came from Crown Heights,” she said. “We gathered in one of only three undamaged homes. Even without heat, the warm feelings made it the most beautiful Shabbat ever.”

“This is a very loving community,” she added. “Everyone is helping one another – Jews and non-Jews: reaching out to one another. No hurricane will stop us.”

In Manhattan Beach, Congregation Shaarey Torah had 25 people in the shul, usually known as the Shtieble, on Shabbat morning braving the lack of lights and heat. In fact, Manhattan Beach, of all places, actually hosted refugees, as those without electricity were hosted in homes that were not affected by the storm.

The Hays Family Of Westchester County

Thursday, November 1st, 2012

(Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes are from The Hebrews in America: A Series of Historical and Biographical Sketches by Isaac Markens, published by the author, New York, 1888.)

Early American Jewish history is unfortunately replete with examples of observant families who came to America and, within a relatively short period of time, not only abandoned much of their commitment to religious observance but even had the sad experience of having some of their children intermarrying and assimilating. One family that did not follow this trend was the Hays family.

Michael Jechiel Hays (originally de Haas), who died in August 1740, emigrated with his wife, six sons and daughter from Holland during the first quarter of the 18th century.

An extract from the obituary of Benjamin Etting Hays [a great grandson of Michael Jechiel], written in 1858 by Jacob da Silva Solis-Cohen, said that “his forefathers immigrated from Holland with the first settlers. They came in their own vessel with their own cattle and agricultural implements to till the soil as had been their occupation at home.” The extract continued, “Settling near New Rochelle, they remained plain, unassuming farmers adhering rigorously to the Jewish laws, highly esteemed for their wealth, industry and integrity, as well as for the assistance given their adopted country even before called upon.”

Michael Jechiel Hays, who is believed by some family members to have married twice, had six sons: Jacob, Solomon, Isaac, Judah, Abraham and David. Jacob Hays is the first member of the family of whom there is any record, the family papers say, and in 1721, with Titus Beekman of New York, he leased 40 acres in Rye “to work mines thereon” – referring to iron deposits.[i]

Jacob Hays, who was naturalized in about 1723 and died in 1760, was among those active in the erection in 1730 of the first building of New York City’s Congregation Shearith Israel.

Jacob’s children were Michael, David, Benjamin, Moses, Charity and Abigail. Michael was a farmer in North Castle, Benjamin ran a tavern in Bedford, and David ran a general store across the common from the tavern. David’s wife, Esther [Etting], is recalled by family members in heroic terms.[ii]

Patriotic Fervor

Jacob’s children were strong supporters of the colonists during the American Revolution, despite the fact that there was considerable Tory support in Westchester County where they resided.

While David was serving with the American forces on Long Island in the Revolutionary War, the British burned the Hays home in Bedford, and then burned the entire village. In bed with a newborn infant, Esther Hays had refused to disclose the whereabouts of a party of patriots attempting to drive a herd of cattle through the British lines to the American camp at White Plains.

Servants removed Esther and her infant and hid them in the woods until they could be rescued. Among the young boys engaged in moving the cattle through enemy lines was a son, Jacob, then 7 years old. Jacob later became New York City’s High Constable, or chief of police, for nearly a half-century.[iii]

* * * * *

High Constable Jacob Hays was one of the unique characters of New York many years ago. Born at Bedford, Westchester County, N. Y., in 1772, he came to the metropolis [New York City] in 1798, and was appointed by Mayor Varick as one of the marshals of the city. Four years afterwards he was appointed by Mayor Livingston High Constable of the city, corresponding to the present office of Chief of Police. So faithfully were his duties performed that he occupied the position up to the time of his death in 1850, discharging for some years also the duties of Sergeant-at-Arms of the Board of Aldermen and Crier of the Court of Sessions.

New York never had a more vigilant, industrious or efficient head of police. During his long public career of forty-eight years he slept, on an average, not more than six hours out of twenty-four. The cry of “Set old Hays on them!” always sufficed to quickly disperse the unruly element. In hunting down and bringing criminals to justice he had no equal. The first on hand at all signs of disturbance, the “Terror of Evil Doers” promptly restored order out of chaos by the magic of his presence. His fame as a detective was known all over the world.

The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

Over the Rosh Hashana table, I shared a story with my parents that my husband had told me long ago. Even as I was telling the story, I thought that I should share it here on the blog. My mother agreed and so here it is…

In 1973, when the Egyptians went to war against Israel on Yom Kippur, a young Egyptian soldier was sent into Sinai. He was a Coptic Christian in a unit of Muslims. His mother sent him to war with a Bible and in it, she wrote, “May the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob protect you.”

Not long after they arrived and before they could confront the Israeli army in battle, other soldiers found the inscription and reported him. He was taken back to Cairo, suspected of being a spy for Israel.

He explained that he was a loyal Egyptian soldier, had no contact with Israel, and his mother had written that because they are Christians.

He was cleared, as there was no evidence against him to support his having had any contact with Israel and yet, by the time he was able to return to his unit – it had been entirely wiped out by the Israeli army and so, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of Israel, had indeed protected him.

I’ve always loved that story…and so I share it with you. The lesson is that there are things happening everywhere, all part of God’s plan. Whatever is meant to happen, will happen. The best thing we can do is simply have faith.

Visit the blog, “A Soldier’s Mother.”

The Perfect Formula

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

Over the past several weeks I have featured tragic stories of family disintegration. Some of you might protest that “tragic” is a rather extreme word and that “sad” or “painful” would be more appropriate, but once again I emphasize tragic.

To other nations, splintered families are sad, but to us they are of tragic – of catastrophic dimensions.

Other nations were created through conquest and an amalgamation of peoples. We, the Jewish people, were born in the cradle of family – Abraham and Sarah, our Patriarch and Matriarch, created our very first home. They entrusted their son, Isaac, with preserving it and Isaac passed the responsibility on to his son Jacob. It was Jacob, Rachel and Leah who brought the family to its zenith. They were the parents of the twelve sons who became the Tribal Patriarchs of our people. It was Jacob who struggled with the evil of this world and triumphed, thus earning the title Yisrael. And we B’nei Yisrael, sons of Jacob, were launched on our journey to be a light of Torah, truth, compassion, justice, and blessing to all of mankind

Family continued and continues to shape our lives. Just consider the Pesach Seder, the holy Sabbath, and much, much more, all celebrated within the confines of our homes. The Jewish home is sacrosanct – a mikdash m’at, a sanctuary in miniature. We are a nation of families entrusted with a mission to live by G-d’s Word and impart its teachings to the world. It is through our example that the words of the prophets, the language of prayer and the soul-lifting Psalms have become available to mankind.

If our families crumble and disintegrate, it is more than just individuals who suffer – it is the very foundation of our nation that is jeopardized.

How can we protect ourselves and reverse the tide?

Even as vaccines for dangerous, life-threatening diseases must be given during a child’s infancy, so we must discover a perfect formula to immunize and protect our sons and daughters from our 21st century cultural disease. To be sure, this disease is relentless and does not recognize any boundaries. It strikes mercilessly and destroys everything in its wake.

The name of this deadly virus is “Me! Me! Me!” This virus has become so common, so widespread, that most people regard it as the norm and see no reason to be alarmed by it. We, the Jewish people, must immunize ourselves and our children from its poisonous sting. But do we have a vaccine that can shield us from its poisonous sting?

We certainly do. The formula is here, free and available to all of us. We need only seize it. When applied, it is so potent that it protects not only us but future generations as well.

The name of this perfect vaccine should be obvious. It’s our perfect Torah.

Psychologists tell us a child’s education should begin from the time a baby is born. Our Torah formula is different. It requires that this process begin even prior to conception. If it forgotten or neglected, the formula remains potent, and whenever and wherever it is applied it miraculously reverses the disease. The second-stage application is the ba’al teshuvah vaccine and remains as powerful as ever,

In contrast to medications that have expiration dates, the Torah formula remains forever fresh. It does not require refrigeration. On the contrary, it must be kept out and exposed to human contact. The more it is used, the more healing is its effect – specifically the commandment of Kibbud Av V’Em – honoring one’s father and mother.

This vaccine is most powerful when the child is given the infusion from his or her infancy on. For the vaccine to be most effective it should be administered in the proper environment. When children see parents living harmoniously and serving as role models of respect, love, and commitment, they are fortified and remain immune to the many seductive forces of their environment. It was that which enabled Joseph to survive the degeneracy, idolatry and barbaric cruelty of ancient Egypt. In every crisis, in every painful moment, in every struggle, the image of his saintly father was there to protect him. It was powerfully engraved on his heart. This image of Jacob, Isaac and Abraham is so great that even in the absence of role-model parents it cannot be erased.

Shul Party

Friday, June 22nd, 2012

A celebration circa 1951 at either Emanuel Cohen center or the basement of Tifereth B’nai Jacob for Tifereth congregants.

Tifereth B’nai Jacob was an Orthodox Shul that was also referred to as the “Elwood Shul.” The congregation merged with Mikro Kodesh during the migration to the western suburbs, ultimately merging again with members of the Minneapolis south-side Shul, B’nai Abraham, to create B’nai Emet in St. Louis Park. The woman at the front of the procession is Lena Burdman.

From the Steinfeldt Photography Collection of the Jewish Historical Society of the Upper Midwest.

June Bride, 1951

Friday, June 15th, 2012

From “Jews in Minnesota,” by Hyman Berman‏ and Linda Mack Schlof:

“The wedding of Clarice Sherman and Mel Zuckman at Tifereth B’nai Jacob in North Minneapolis, 1951.

“At a Jewish wedding, the bride and groom stand under a chupah or wedding canopy symbolizing their future home.

“As long as Jews remained in the compact geographical areas where they were a dominant majority, they continued to attend Orthodox synagogues while moving away from the strict requirements as individuals. American secular life increasingly challenged the rigid traditionalism of Orthodox Judaism.”

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/photos/june-bride-1951/2012/06/15/

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