web analytics
October 28, 2016 / 26 Tishri, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘Jacob’

Yori’s News Picks from All Over, Tue. 2/28/12

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

So, what have the children of Jacob and the people who hate them been up to over the past 24 hours? What can I say, it’s a violent planet. But even in a violent blue-green ball like ours, some stories still get our goat. Like this one:


The NY Post reports on a $10.5 million federal suit that says staffers at Eagle Avenue Middle School in West Hempstead stood by as schoolmates abused Gedaliah Hoffman, calling him a “f–king Jew” for wearing a yarmulke.

Staffers caused “the bullying to become escalated by punishing only Gedaliah, although Gedaliah was the victim of the attacks,” says the lawsuit, filed last week by the boy and his mother, Lori Hoffman.

Oh, we want t see that one through. And give ’em hell, Gedaliah Hoffman!

OK, we can’t do just nasty stuff, where’s the ray of hope thing? Well, there it is, in Borough Park!


Like this group of Brooklyn Jewish women who are starting their own ladies-only ambulance service.The NY Daily News reports that Borough Park lawyer Rachel Freier, 46, held the first recruitment drive Sunday for Ezras Nashim — Hebrew for “assisting women’ (but also a great pun on the Hebrew name for the ladies section in shul) — in her dining room. The News says Hatzolah leaders shot down Freier’s request last fall to let women into its 1,300 all-male corps, the city’s largest volunteer ambulance crew, which answers more than 50,000 calls a year.

Ezras Nashim member Hadassah Strauss, 26, retorts: “Women have been delivering babies for thousands of years.” Sharp lady. I strongly advise against getting into an argument with her…


And what religious Jewish person’s heart won’t be gladdened by this NY Times headline: In Texas, the Sabbath Trumps the Semifinals. Well, good for the Sabbath! And good for the Robert M. Beren Academy, an Orthodox Jewish day school in Houston, which won its regional championship to advance to the boys basketball state semifinals last weekend in Dallas. But the team will not make the trip. Because the Beren Academy players observe the Sabbath and do not play from sundown on Fridays to sundown on Saturdays. Their semifinal game was scheduled for 9 p.m. Friday.

Hey, I say, wasn’t any super meikel rabbi out there to give the lads an opening? A halachic three-point throw? Nobody?

According to the Times, several of Beren Academy’s opponents this season agreed to change the time of their games to avoid conflicts with the Sabbath. See? All a Jew needs to make it in America is a few nice goyim…


Dozens of students gathered in the Hughes-Trigg commons to hear from religious leaders of Islam, Judaism and Christianity, and balance and moderation was the main topic of the Islamic Awareness Week’s interfaith discussion panel Monday night – reports the Southern Methodist University Daily Campus.

So we scroll two-three paragraphs down and we get what we just knew had to be in there somewhere, the Jewish guy condemning intolerant Jews. Because, let’s face it. while hoards of Muslim tolerant folks have been storming the public squares of the Third World, with tolerant soldiers and police shooting tolerantly – and with moderation! – into the crowds, them extremists Jews really drowned out that peacefulness with their extremist going on living in their homes.

“Each religious leader discussed how the essential truths of their religions stress the importance of balance and moderation. However, they all spoke of extremists within their religions whose actions go against the core values of their faiths.”

Now, wait for it… wait for it… and – who’s the first panelist to take a crack at the condemn-thine-own-extremist challenge?

“Balance and moderation is a challenge,” Rabbi David Gruber said, describing extremist behavior he witnessed by some Jewish people in Israel.

First one, and ONLY one, folks. Honor murders, decapitations, mass killings, suicide bombing – not event a footnote. Horrible Israelis? Oh yeah, baby, we know all about them.

Even the Christian guy got away with it without mentioning firebombing abortion clinics and murdering abortion doctors, f’rinstance. So now we’re clear: The leasson from Islamic Interfaith Awareness Week at SMU is – we must do something about the Jews.

Good to know.


And speaking of goyim, nice or otherwise, Salt Lake City’s Deseret News reports that LDS Church has been added to Hungarian government’s recognition list, along with five Buddhist groups, Methodists, J Witnesses and two Islamic communities. Well, welcome to the club, guys, and remember: keep the weird stuff to a minimum…


This would have been funny enough for a dream scene from a Woody Allen movie (the earlier, funny ones): FOX40 News reports that Neo-Nazis and Occupy Groups clashed at Capitol Monday, man what a story. Except two officers were hurt in the clash, and made the story distinctly unfunny.

Yori Yanover

MK Hatovely Addresses Miami Beach Audience

Thursday, December 29th, 2011

MK Tzipi Hatovely addressed a Chabad “Lunch and Learn” event on December 14 in Miami Beach.

Hatovely, who sits on the Knesset’s Security and Defense Committee, referenced her recent trip to Belgium where she had attended a meeting of NATO members. “I couldn’t sleep from fear, realizing that Israel and the U.S. are the only countries in the world that recognize the existential threat of a nuclear Iran,” she said.

On the subject of right of the Jewish people to the land of Israel, she declared, “We must make it abundantly clear to the world that Israel is ours because of the biblical mandate we received. Our land belongs to us because it was promised by G-d to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”

Carol Flato, Florida chairperson of Americans For a Safe Israel (AFSI), sponsor of the event, introduced Hatovely and expressed thanks to the Israel Independence Fund for sponsoring Hatovely’s speaking tour of the U.S.

Taking questions from the audience, Hatovely addressed concerns over the continued incarceration of Jonathan Pollard and said she had attempted to visit Pollard at the federal prison in North Carolina but was denied visitation on the grounds he “cannot have visitors due to his poor health.”

Fern Sidman

Chanukah – Stepping Up To The Plate

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

As Jewish festivals go, Chanukah is one of our favorites – it is quite “user-friendly.” We get a rare green light to travel and cook with no restrictions. We can drive back and forth (no need for our hosts to find sleeping accommodations) and feast with family and friends as we gleefully celebrate the miracle of a rag-tag band of heroes beating the odds. We rejoice over the improbable reality that a few overcame the many; of a bit of burning oil lasting way beyond its “shelf-life.”

But there is another, timeless lesson ensconced in this Festival of Light that we should be aware of and internalize on a daily basis. It’s about seeing a need – and instead of waiting for someone more “qualified” or more experienced or more powerful or more “in the know” – we stand up, ignoring the deep pit of fear and doubt gnawing at our hearts; rolling up our sleeves, and “stepping up to the plate” (and I don’t mean the one containing the latkes).

The male members of the Maccabee family were kohanim, priests, spiritual leaders. They were not soldiers. The family’s patriarch, Matityahu could have easily rationalized that someone more trained in warfare and combat should take on the occupying Assyrian Greeks who had imposed their pagan culture onto the Jewish people and restricted their freedom of religion. Matityahu could have shrugged off the idea of physically engaging the enemy. Hey, not him, not his sons. The risks were too great, the challenge so formidable that it would be an exercise in futility. Why make what very likely would be a failed attempt to “fix what was broken,” to make the supreme sacrifice for nothing. Good intentions do not necessarily lead to a good outcome. All their blood, sweat and tears would be for naught – so why even bother?

But we all know that Matityahu, his sons and his not so merry band of men, forged ahead, despite the odds, despite their likely cluelessness of how to fight – and that made all the difference in the world. If not for this ordinary family’s willingness to take on an extraordinary challenge, Dovid would not exist, only Demetrius would.

I was reminded of the Maccabees and the message of Chanukah at a recent event celebrating 30 years of Aish Hatorah in Toronto. Four women, who I describe as female, 21st century Maccabees were the guests of honor – a fifth, was the guest speaker. Each had an incredible story of seeing a need, a tikun, and despite their very likely misgivings regarding the success of their endeavors, decided to swallow their doubts and “take the bull by the horns.”

Ellen Schwartz, a day school teacher, looked forward to the birth of her first child and envisioned re-discovering life and all its wonders anew through her baby’s eyes. But Jacob was born with Canavan’s, a rare, genetic neuro-degenerative disease. A gene found in the Ashkenazi Jewish population, if both parents are carriers, there is a one in four chance their child will have Canavan’s. Jacob is blind, cannot speak, eat or walk – and currently, there is no cure.

No one would have faulted Ellen and her husband Jeff from wallowing in self-pity and railing against the script the Heavenly Writer had written for them. However, instead of letting what seemed like a huge lemon “sour” their lives, Ellen and Jeff saw beyond their son’s severe disabilities and turned his life into a soul enriching lemonade. To that end, in 1998, Ellen co-founded Jacob’s Ladder, (the Canadian Foundation for Control of Neuro-degenerative Disease) an organization that raises awareness of, and funds research into finding cures for neur-odegenerative diseases. Now in its 10th year, Jacob’s Ladder has raised over $2 million.

Ellen also founded Project Give Back, a project in which children are encouraged to pick a charity or cause, research it, make contact, fundraise and share their knowledge with their class. In one instance related to Ellen, a student who spoke about his autistic sibling inspired a couple of classmates to reach out to an autistic neighbor whom they had previously ignored.

(L-R): Pamela Bielak, Rebecca Lambert, Nancy Weisbrod, Ellen Schwartz

Ellen has ensured that Jacob’s life would enhance others lives – that through her special child, people, especially children, would grow as human beings and learn invaluable life lessons of coping, of appreciating what they take for granted; and learning compassion and patience and acceptance of those different from them. Jacob himself is a symbol, like the legendary oil of Chanukah that was supposed to last one day, but burned for seven days longer, beyond physical expectations. Not expected to reach his forth birthday, Jacob was bar-mitzvahed last year.

Cheryl Kupfer

It’s All in Your Head

Sunday, December 11th, 2011

“And the messengers returned to Jacob and said: We have come to your brother, to Esau and he is also coming to meet you and four hundred men are with him. And Jacob was very frightened and he was distressed and he divided the people that were with him and the sheep and the cattle and the camels to two camps.” (From this week’s Torah portion, Vayishlach, Genesis 32:7-8)


“And he was very frightened and he was distressed.” Why write the same thing twice? We understand that Jacob was frightened, we understand that he was feeling pressured. Why re-emphasize this as two separate issues?


There are many answers given to this question. But one Chassidic commentary captured my eye. “And he was distressed -” because he was frightened. Jacob naturally reacted toward Esau with fear. But immediately afterwards, he felt great sorrow for having felt fear.


When we moved to the Shomron, the Arab uprising was in its first year. To protect their car windows from being smashed by rocks, many of our neighbors attached metal “cages” to their windshields. Their cars resembled a sorry version of a zoo on wheels.


I took a different tack. I began driving on the roads slowly, with my windows open and an Israeli flag flying proudly from my car. I was the victim of far fewer rock attacks than my neighbors, who would fearfully speed through the Arab villages. When the flag got torn and had to be removed from our car, my wife was afraid to drive!


Much water has flowed since then under the bridges of Judea and Samaria. An Israeli flag no longer conveys pride and ownership – it may possibly even convey the opposite. But the lesson remains the same. A person is where his thoughts are. If you feel that you belong in Israel and that this Land is yours, then you are not afraid. Your internal world projects to your surroundings, reflecting as a world that is, indeed, not dangerous.


Israelis today do not feel that they belong in their land. They are encased in state-of-the-art protective defense systems, but are suffering from the worst case of existential doubt they have ever had. Their internal perceptions create the external threat. That is why the solution has to be – first and foremost – to change Israel’s mentality and consciousness.


It all begins and ends in the world we create inside our heads and hearts.

Moshe Feiglin

Was Jacob Really An Ish Tam?

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

What kind of man was Jacob? This is the question that cries out to us in episode after episode of his life.

The first time we hear a description of him he is called ish tam – a simple, quiet, plain, straightforward man. But that is exactly what he seems not to be.

We see him taking Esau’s birthright in exchange for a bowl of soup. We see him taking Esau’s blessing, in borrowed clothes, taking advantage of their father’s blindness.

These are troubling episodes. We can read them midrashically. The Midrash makes Jacob all-good and Esau all-bad. It rereads the biblical text to make it consistent with the highest standards of the moral life. There is much to be said for this approach.

Alternatively we could say that in these cases the end justifies the means. In the case of the birthright, Jacob might have been testing Esau to see it he really cared about it. Since he gave it away so readily, Jacob might be right in concluding that it should go to one who valued it.

In the case of the blessing, Jacob was obeying his mother, who had received a Divine oracle, saying that, “the older shall serve the younger.”

Yet the text remains disturbing. Isaac says to Esau, “Your brother came deceitfully and took your blessing.” Esau says, “Isn’t he rightly named Jacob [supplanter]? He has supplanted me these two times: He took my birthright, and now he’s taken my blessing!” Such accusations are not leveled against any other biblical hero.

Nor does the story end there. In this week’s parshah a similar deceit is practiced on him. After his wedding night, he discovers that he has married Leah, not, as he thought, his beloved Rachel. He complains to Laban.

“What is this you have done to me? Was it not for Rachel that I served you? Why then have you deceived me?” (Genesis 29:25)

Laban replies: “It is not done in our place to give the younger before the firstborn” (Genesis 29:26).

It’s hard not to see this as precise measure-for-measure retribution. The younger Jacob pretended to be the older Esau. Now the elder Leah has been disguised as the younger Rachel. A fundamental principle of biblical morality is at work here: As you do, so shall you be done to.

Yet the web of deception continues. After Rachel has given birth to Joseph, Jacob wants to return home. He has been with Laban long enough. Laban urges him to stay and tells him to name his price.

Jacob then embarks on an extraordinary course of action. He tells Laban he wants no wages at all. Let Laban remove every spotted or streaked lamb from the flock, and every streaked or spotted goat. Jacob will then keep, as his hire, any newborn spotted or streaked animals.

It is an offer that speaks simultaneously to Laban’s greed and his ignorance. He seems to be getting Jacob’s labor for almost nothing. He is demanding no wages. And the chance of unspotted animals giving birth to spotted offspring seems remote.

Jacob knows better. In charge of the flocks, he goes through an elaborate procedure involving peeled branches of poplar, almond and plane trees, which he places with their drinking water. The result is that they do in fact produce streaked and spotted offspring.

How this happened has intrigued not only the commentators – who mostly assume that it was a miracle, G-d’s way of assuring Jacob’s welfare ­– but also scientists. Some argue that Jacob must have had an understanding of genetics. Two unspotted sheep can produce spotted offspring. Jacob had doubtless noticed this in his many years of tending Laban’s flocks.

Joshua Backon has suggested that prenatal nutrition can have an epigenetic effect – that is, it can cause a certain gene to be expressed that might not have been otherwise. Had the peeled branches of poplar, almond and plane trees been added to the water the sheep drank, they might have affected the Agouti gene that determines the color of fur in sheep and mice.

However it happened, the result was dramatic. Jacob became rich: “In this way the man grew exceedingly prosperous and came to own large flocks, and maidservants and menservants, and camels and donkeys” (Genesis 30:43).

Inevitably, Laban and his sons felt cheated. Jacob sensed their displeasure, and – having taken counsel with his wives and being advised to leave by G-d himself – departs while Laban is away sheep-shearing. Laban eventually discovers that Jacob has left, and pursues him for seven days, catching up with him in the mountains of Gilead.

The text is fraught with accusation and counteraccusation. Laban and Jacob both feel cheated. They both believe that the flocks and herds are rightfully theirs. They both regard themselves as the victim of the other’s deceitfulness. The end result is that Jacob finds himself forced to run away from Laban as he was earlier forced to run away from Esau, in both cases in fear of his life.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

An Honorable Failure

Thursday, November 24th, 2011

Even before they were born, Jacob and Esau struggled in the womb. They were destined, it seems, to be eternal adversaries. Not only were they different in character and appearance, they also held different places in their parents’ affections: “The boys grew up, and Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was a quiet man, staying among the tents. Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebecca loved Jacob” (Genesis 25:27-28).

We know why Rebecca loved Jacob. Before the twins were born, the pains Rebecca felt were so great that “she went to inquire of the Lord.” This is what she was told: “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” (Genesis 25:23).

It seemed as if G-d were saying that the younger would prevail and carry forward the burden of history, so it was the younger, Jacob, whom she loved.

But why, in that case, did Isaac love Esau? Did he not know about Rebecca’s oracle? Had she not told him about it? Besides, did he not know that Esau was wild and impetuous? Can we really take literally the proposition that Isaac loved Esau because “he had a taste for wild game,” as if his affections were determined by his stomach, by the fact that his elder son brought him food he loved? Surely not, when the very future of the covenant was at stake.

The classic answer, given by Rashi, listens closely to the literal text. Esau, says the Torah, “knew how to trap [yodeia tzayid].” Isaac loved him “because entrapment was in his mouth [ki tzayid befiv].” Esau, says Rashi, trapped Isaac by his mouth. Here is Rashi’s comment on the phrase “knew how to trap”: “He knew how to trap and deceive his father with his mouth. He would ask him, “Father, how should one tithe salt and straw?” Consequently his father believed him to be strict in observing the commands” (Rashi to 25:27).

Esau knew full well that salt and straw do not require tithes, but he asked so as to give the impression that he was strictly religious. And here it is Rashi’s comment on the phrase that Isaac loved him “because entrapment was in his mouth”: “The midrashic explanation is that there was entrapment in the mouth of Esau, who trapped his father and deceived him by his words” (Rashi to 25: 28).

The Maggid of Dubnow adds a perceptive comment as to why Isaac, but not Rebecca, was deceived. Rebecca grew up with the wily Laban. She knew deception when she saw it. Isaac, by contrast, had grown up with Abraham and Sarah. He only knew total honesty and was thus easily deceived. (Bertrand Russell once commented on the philosopher G. E. Moore, that he only once heard Moore tell a lie, when he asked Moore if he had ever told a lie, and Moore replied, “Yes”).

So the classic answer is that Isaac loved Esau because he simply did not know who or what Esau was. But there is another possible answer: that Isaac loved Esau precisely because he did know what Esau was.

In the early 20th century someone brought to the great Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Kook, first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of pre-state Israel, the following dilemma: He had given his son a good Jewish education. He had always kept the commands at home. Now, however, the son had drifted far from Judaism. He no longer kept the commandments. He did not even identify as a Jew. What should the father do?

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

Shapiro’s Midrash

Saturday, November 12th, 2011

Paintings from Midrash by Brian Shapir0

Chassidic Art Institute

November 6 – December 8

375 Kingston Avenue, Brooklyn (718) 774-9149

Noon – 7pm; Sunday – Thursday


The midrashic world is a dangerous place to inhabit.  It delves into our sacred texts to fathom their deeper meanings, solve vexing textual and conceptual problems and, finally, make sense of the holy words in contemporary terms.  Midrash is passionate and deeply creative, like the current midrashic paintings of Brian Shapiro.

Sea of Reeds (2010), oil on canvas, 12x12 by Brian Shapiro.

Shapiro is no stranger to Jewish themes; his enormous canvas, Generations, a tour-de-force of Jewish history, was reviewed in this column in August 2010.  Since then, the artist has become increasingly mesmerized by biblical subjects seen through a midrashic lens.  The lure of midrashic interpretation satisfies the need to know the details and specifics of many biblical narratives, i.e. the precise textures of how and why events unfolded in the devastatingly spare Torah text.  For a figurative artist like Shapiro, the multitude of midrashic exposition is a reassuring link with a tangible reality to anchor the text in this world.

Jacob and the Angel purports to depict the epic struggle between Jacob and a mysterious being who is either an emissary of God or the protecting angel of Jacob’s dangerous brother, Esav.  Based on a midrash in Beraishes Rabbah the artist shows the angel holding Jacob’s hand over a roaring fire.  While the midrash expounds that the angel stuck his hand into the earth and a volcano of flames erupted threatening Jacob, the painting doesn’t simply illustrate that event.  Rather, if we observe closely, both figures are indeed struggling not only between themselves, but are significantly repulsed by some unseen force off the left edge of the painting.  In fact, both angel and Jacob are aghast at what they perceive.  Indeed it is the mutual recognition that this primeval sibling struggle will reverberate throughout the millennia.   It seals the fate of soon to be named Yisrael and the nation who will descend from him with a terrible and bloody future.

The theme of sibling rivalry and conflict is of course central to many Biblical narratives, most especially that of Joseph and his brothers.  Shapiro’s Joseph and Brothersis terrifyingly on target.  The brothers, all turbaned except one, appear to be engaged in what in contemporary Israel would be called a “lynch.”   Most of the eleven have staffs that are used to threaten, push and drive the helpless half-naked Joseph off the edge of a precipice.   What is extraordinary is the ferocious compact energy of brotherly hatred revealed in bright daytime clarity.   A lone bareheaded brother is at the extreme left, looking away in concern as he holds Joseph’s many-colored cloak.  In this one bald figure is all the cunning and unacknowledged guilt of fratricide.  This figure represents none other than Reuven who pleaded with the rest not to murder Joseph and yet finally fashioned the vicious lie to his father with Joseph’s bloodied coat.  Here the artist has, by thinking midrashically, actually summoned the literal biblical text most evocatively.

Moses and the Rock (2010), oil on canvas, 24x30 by Brian Shapiro.

While much ancient midrash traditionally has the textual authority of the oral tradition transmitted by the Sages, it also must be seen in the dual contexts of the original textual “problem” and actual date the collections were finally redacted.  Nonetheless, regardless of date, all Torah commentary remains a vibrant source of contemporary understanding of sacred text.  Even a contemporary artist, passionate about the complexities of Torah narrative, can offer unique insights into the stories our tradition celebrates.   Sea of Reeds is an example of Shapiro’s contribution to midrashic exposition.  Significantly, in this exhibition the artist has explicitly offered his midrashic sources and explanations for each of the paintings.

Richard McBee

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/arts/shapiro%e2%80%99s-midrash/2011/11/12/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: