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August 27, 2014 / 1 Elul, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Yaakov’

For Better or for Worse

Wednesday, September 18th, 2013

It’s time to move out of our homes and into our holy humble sukkahs. Now is the time when we renew our relationship with God, who has chosen us to form an inseparable eternal union – a marriage between the children of Yisrael and the Master of the Universe.

The Torah portion of Nitzavim, which is read just before the New Year, reveals to us that Hashem is our personal “husband,” for better or for worse. Rashi explains (Devarim 29:12) that we were presented with a covenant and a curse: “Since we are forever bound together, let Me teach you how to make Me happy.”

Nitzavim goes on to prophesize everything that has transpired during these thousands of years. This is highlighted by non-Jews gasping and stating, “Why has God caused this land to become desolate? Because they have forsaken God’s covenant.” Thus, on Rosh Hashanah we think of our past year’s sins. The sound of the shofar awakens our emotions. Then ten days of introspection and repentance bring on the great and awesome day of Kippur, of Atonement.

Consider: our God is perfect, and we are anything but. We may have been envious or lustful, or worshipped money, status or a host of other vices. Now we humbly return home to our Love. If we repent out of fear, our sins are forgiven. But if we repent because we truly love our Maker, he gives us an amazing reward – our sins become mitzvahs!

Hashem simply goes beyond the letter of the law in His love for us.

The Holy Ben Ish Chai points out that if you go beyond the four letters of the Hebrew word hadin (the judgment), you get to the Hebrew word sukkah. (The four Hebrew letters that come after the letters in hadin are the letters in the word sukkah). The sukkah is where we arrive after Yom Kippur, free of sins, under the wings of God’s Holy Presence.

Note that the first time sukkah is mentioned in the Torah, it is referring to the stalls our forefather Yaakov built for his animals. Why? Because when Yaakov arrived in Shechem with his family, he built a beis medrash for himself for Torah learning, but for his animals, his “wealth,” he built simple huts.

Yaakov took his children to the window and said, “Look at how I treat my wealth, dear children. Wealth is temporary; like the sukkah, it doesn’t go with you to the next world. But here in this house of Torah, we accumulate the mitzvahs that stay with us – which are eternal.”

We have now received our “new heads” for the coming year, as implied by the words Rosh Hashanah, head for the year, and Yom Hazikaron, a day of resetting our memory apparatus. We are cleansed of our sins on Yom Kippur, after which we enter, with our entire body, into our sukkah. We enter this mitzvah where we achieve oneness with our Lover – Hashem, Blessed be He.

What is it about the Nation of Israel that attracts the love of the One God Who rules the universe?

I came upon an answer on Rosh Chodesh Elul as I prayed the silent benedictions. We bless the day in the following way: “Mikadesh Yisrael v’roshei chodoshim – He sanctifies Israel and the first day of all months.” But it can literally mean “He sanctifies Yisrael and “brand new heads.”

Our nation is forever ready to admit our mistakes and begin all over. With the coming of each new moon, we are aware that we may start afresh.

This is also evident in our morning declaration of Modeh Ani, the origin of which is in the book of Eichah (3:23) which states, “Hashems kindness is new every morning – great is Your belief [in us, to improve in the coming day]. One of the reasons Hashem loves His people is that they are always willing to start over.

Two small examples that are actually big were related to me by Rabbi Mordechai Goldstein, shlita, head of the Diaspora Yeshiva on Mount Zion in Jerusalem, where I am currently studying.

The first: A man survived hell in a concentration camp only to discover that his entire family had perished – parents, siblings, wife and children. Everyone.

Kerry’s Dream and Abbas’ Nightmare Meet in Biblical Beit El

Thursday, May 9th, 2013

The Israeli government has announced a new step in plans to build 300 new homes in Beit El, in  northern Samaria, just as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is trying to convince Mahmoud Abbas to return to talks if Israel slaps a freeze on building for Jews in Judea and Samaria.

Reports from Israeli sources earlier this week stated that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has buckled under pressure from Kerry, and probably President Barack Obama, to freeze construction to bring Abbas back to the so-called negotiating table.

“Negotiations” in Arab Doublespeak means that Israel must accept Palestinian Authority territorial and political demands or they will be forced down its throat, either by the United Nations or by “resistance,” another Doublespeak word, which means terror.

No government  official has denied the reports of a “de facto” building freeze, and Prime Minister Netanyahu is conveniently in China.

Kerry hosted the government’s unofficial Minister for the Peace Process, Tzipi Livni, in Washington last week and continued discussions with her in Rome this week, where he said he will return to Israel in two weeks.

Journalists covering the State Department asked why he is returning after having been here last month, but the reports of the unofficial freeze provide the obvious answer.

But smack in the middle of Kerry’s Big Momentum – run as fast as you can with the ball so that everyone is too dazzled to see that the ball is a bomb – the government announced the next step for building 296 more homes in Beit El.

The town is not just another community in Samaria. More than 6.000 national religious Jews live there. Beit El is a symbol of the national religious movement in Judea and Samaria. A yeshiva bearing the town’s Biblical name has wide influence across the country. It is home to two of the most prominent national religious rabbis in Israel, Rabbi Zalman Melamed, head of Yeshiva Beit El, and Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, who is widely respected and consulted by many Jews who are not part of the “club.”

After the announcement of the preliminary approval of the homes, the Palestinian Authority immediately said everyone can forget about trying to dig up the bones of the peace process.

As with almost every announcement of building new homes, the one in Beit El refers only to one of several bureaucratic steps before the bulldozers can start digging, not less than a year from now.

Israel has been through this time after time, the most famous incident being the announcement of another bureaucratic stage having been completed for building homes in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood in eastern Jerusalem, claimed by the Palestinian Authority.

The news broke just as Vice President Joe Biden was landing in Israel, causing high tension between Jerusalem and Washington for a long time.

Coincidental or not with Kerry’s dream for resumed direct talks between Netanyahu and Abbas, the Beit El housing project proves that Israel is trying to “sabotage” Kerry’s efforts, according to senior PA negotiator Saeb Erekat.

“We condemn this new decision which is proof that the Israeli government wants to sabotage and ruin the US administration’s efforts to revive the peace process,” he said. “This is a message to the American administration and a blow to the peace process. This aims to drag the region into violence instead of peace and stability.”

Violence.

Erekat did not even have the diplomacy to say “resistance.”

It is out-and-out violence, and obviously Kerry would blame Israel if the Arabs kill more Jews. Otherwise he would have to go back on his statement earlier this year that the proof that Abbas is such a great peace partner can be found in the fact that not even one Jew was murdered by Palestinian Authority terrorists in 2012.

What about 2011? Well, that is history. Let’s look at the present and not the past and talk peace.

And what about the present the year 2013? Uh, yeah, well, sure, a Palestinian Authority terrorist stabbed to death a father of five, but that was an isolated incident, and after all, the murderer was not a member of a known terrorist gang.

Kerry does not have to defend himself. He has Livni to do that for him. Both of them desperately need a peace agreement, Kerry because he wants to be president and Livni because she needs something to justify her being politically alive. The latest polls shows that her party would win zero seats in if elections were held today.

Asking For Advice

Thursday, December 6th, 2012

“These are the chronicles of Yaakov: Yosef was seventeen years old, and he watched his brothers.” – Bereishis 37:2

At the age of seventeen, Yosef was wise in the ways of the Torah and in the ways of the world. He was called a “ben zikunim” because even at such a young age he showed the brilliance of an elder scholar. He had already absorbed all the Torah Yaakov had learned in the many years he had spent in the yeshiva of Shem.

For that reason Yaakov chose him to be the leader of the family. The Sforno explains that the coat Yaakov made for Yosef was to be a sign that he was in charge. The brothers were to listen to him in matters of the household. They were to follow his direction in of business. His was to be the final word. Clearly, Yosef was brilliant.

Yet the Sforno points out that despite his brilliance, Yosef did something quite foolish. Whenever he found his brothers doing something wrong, he would immediately report it to his father. Because he was young, he didn’t focus on what his brother’s reaction to him would be, and this caused them to resent him. This, explains Sforno, is why we don’t seek advice from those who are young.

This Sforno is difficult to understand. If Yosef was so brilliant, how is it possible he overlooked something as elementary as thinking about what his conduct would lead to? Didn’t he recognize his actions would cause his brothers to hate him?

The answer to this can be best understood with an observation about maturity.

Understanding the Child

In the past hundred years, psychologists have come to understand that children aren’t simply grown-ups with short bodies. A child’s way of thinking, his frame of mind, and his entire emotional operating system are unlike those of an adult’s.

One of the manifestations of an adult’s viewpoint is the ability to see consequences. What will this lead to? How will I feel about this five years from now? How about ten years from now? The more immature the person, the more he lives in the immediate present. To a kid, there is nothing more valuable than that shiny red fire truck with the working siren and whistle.

Ask a five year old, “Would you rather have a thousand dollars or the fire truck?” It’s not even a contest! Many a well-intending grandparent has met with disappointment at his grandchild’s reaction when the child found out that this year’s Chanukah present was an investment in a mutual fund. The child doesn’t care, because he isn’t thinking about the future. He lives completely, totally, now. Tomorrow is too late, next week will never come, and the summer might as well be a million years away.

As a person matures, he is able to see more into the future. He can see himself in other settings and in different roles. He begins to understand that the very same person who sits here now will one day be responsible for making ends meet. That sense of seeing the future as if it were here now and recognizing emotionally that it really is going to happen is a function of maturity.

Maturity isn’t dependent on intelligence or education. A child prodigy might have a very high IQ and be capable of performing brilliant mental feats yet still behave like a kid. Maturation is a process, which occurs over time. Like a fine wine that ferments, the human mind acquires a certain ripening with age – a widening of scope. With maturity often comes wisdom.

One of measures of wisdom is how far into the future a person can see – not in a clairvoyant, supernatural manner, but as a consequence of insight. If you do this, it will lead to that, which will lead to this, which will lead to that…

The Brisker Rav, Rav Yosef Ber Soloveitchik, was once lamenting the loss of his father, Rav Chaim “The world doesn’t know what it has lost. My father could see fifty years into the future, and me, I can barely see ten years forward.”

This seems to be the answer to the question on the Sforno. At seventeen Yosef was brilliant. But it was the brilliance of youth. The wisdom that comes with age wasn’t yet there. As a result, he did things that lacked foresight. He acted in a manner that was unwise because he wasn’t focused on “what this will lead to.” On an intellectual level he might have been gifted, but he lacked the vision to see the consequences of his ways.

In Memory Of My Abba, Dr. Ivan Mauer

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

Recently I went to a shiur on Yitzchak Avinu and found that it applied in many ways to my own father whose name was Yitzchak.

Yitzchak, the most ambiguous of the forefathers, is hard to describe. Avraham is closely associated with hachnasat orchim and chesed, and Yaakov is the father of our nation, B’nei Yisrael. Yitzchak is often described as serious, exacting, din, and yet his name is Yitzchak, to laugh, which seems to be a contradiction in terms.

How do we resolve this dichotomy?

Yitzchak was the paradigm of one who sees his existence as miraculous, as something that shouldn’t have been, someone who came into this world against all odds. Besides his parents having been too old to have a child, midrashim state that Sara didn’t have a womb. The laughter comes from the unexpected fact that he even exists. This keen sense of existence is balanced with an ability to laugh at the pure intensity of life. Yitzchak teaches us to laugh at ourselves, not to take ourselves too seriously, since life is almost too serious to comprehend. Yitzchak achieved the balance of knowing that the world was created for him yet we are all but dust of the earth.

Yitzchak came to teach us how to temper Avraham’s unlimited kindness, chesed. He introduced gemilut chasadim – limiting kindness. He was the first one in Tanach to be weaned, gemila, which teaches us in many aspects of our lives (relationship with our spouse, parenting, etc.) how we can wean ourselves from too much. Too much kindness, and too much giving which in many cases leads to being overwhelmed, frustrated and burnout.

And lastly, Yitzchak shows us the true meaning of laughter, a confident, mature laughter that comes from knowing that what you’re doing is right and that you’re on the right path. If someone chides you, be it on an individual level or on a national level, it is just that, a lighthearted, ignorant laughter.

As I focused on the healing powers of Yitzchak, I thought of my own Abba, Yitzchak ben Tzvi and Leah.

As a doctor, he was well aware of the fragility of life and yet cherished every moment and was able to “laugh” at the absolute miracle of living in this precarious world.

He taught me to enjoy each moment that is given to me and taught me through his example to persevere no matter what, since it’s G-d who gives life. And my father knew what was right even if it wasn’t popular or wasn’t the thing to do, like moving to a settlement in Israel. How proud he was of that. He would say don’t worry what other people say, “You’re doing the right thing.” Let them laugh. It’s not true laughter.

And like Yitzchak our forefather you were always filled with hakarat hatov.

I miss you terribly, every day. But like Yitzchak Avinu, your legacy lives on in your children and grandchildren who love you and continue to draw strength and laughter from you.

The Sensitivity Of A Tzaddik

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

When Yaakov met Rachel at the well, he experienced conflicting emotions. He felt tremendous joy at having finally met his bashert, yet he raised his voice and cried. Rashi explains that he cried because he came empty-handed. He said, “My father’s servant came with ten camels laden with gifts and finery, and I come with empty hands.”

Rashi goes on to explain why Yaakov didn’t bring a gift for Rachel. When Yaakov found out that Eisav was plotting to kill him, he fled from his father’s home. Eisav sent his son Alifaz to chase down Yaakov. Alifaz was a tzaddik, and when he approached Yaakov he said, “I can’t kill you because you are an innocent man. On the other hand, what will be with the command of my father?” Yaakov said to him, “A poor man has the halachic status of a dead man. Take my money, and it will be considered as if you killed me, so on some level you will have fulfilled your father’s words.”

As a result, Yaakov came to the well empty-handed. When it was time to propose to Rachel, he didn’t have the gifts that would be expected, and so he raised his voice and cried.

This Rashi becomes difficult to understand when we focus on who these people were. The Avos may have walked the same planet as do you and I, but they lived in a very different orbit. Their every waking moment was occupied by thoughts of Hashem. They lived and breathed to attain closeness to Hashem. That was the focus of their lives and existence. It was the only thing that mattered to them.

For many years, Rachel knew she was to marry Yaakov and be a matriarch of the Jewish people. You have to assume that when she finally met her bashert, she was overcome with joy. Here was the man she had waited for. Here in front of her was this great tzaddik, the man of her dreams, offering to marry her so she could fulfill her destiny. Her very life’s ambitions and desires were now coming to fulfillment. It is hard to imagine that at that moment she was concerned about glitter and trinkets.

Yet Yaakov cried because he didn’t have a diamond ring to give her. The question is – why? All that Rachel really wanted was being delivered to her. If so, why did Yaakov cry?

It seems the answer is that the lack of gifts may not have bothered Rachel much but the bottom line is that it wasn’t respectful to her. When you come to your kallah, you bring her a gift. That is the way dignified people act. That is the way of the world, and it isn’t proper to come without a gift. On some level, it is treating her without the kavod due to her, and that caused Yaakov pain – so much pain that he raised his voice and cried.

Everyone Hungers for Recognition

This is a tremendous lesson to us because the people among whom we live aren’t on the level of Rachel. A slight to their honor causes them real pain. People will go to great lengths to protect their reputation and dignity because these things are very important to them. And for that reason we need to develop a real sensitivity to other people’s dignity and honor.

But this concept goes much further. The reality is that there are few people who get enough recognition and respect. We humans have many needs. We need food and drink, shelter and protection, friends and companionship – and most of those needs are met. The one need that that is almost never met is the need to be appreciated. It is something we hunger for, something basic to our success and vitality. Yet there is no store in which it can be bought, no marketplace in which it can be acquired. And a person often can go around with a deep hunger, not even realizing what is amiss.

One of the greatest acts of kindness I can do for another person is to treat him with honor. If I find your currency and can acknowledge you in that vein, I can give you that which you deeply crave – and it costs me nothing.

Letter to Our Son After Shabbat

Sunday, November 18th, 2012

Dear Son,

I hope you had a Torah scroll with your platoon for Shabbat, and that you heard the Torah reading. The Parsha of Toldot begins, “These are the generations of Yitzhak, Avraham gave birth to Yitzhak.” Now this is very strange. When the Torah says, “These are the generations of Yitzhak,” we are ready to hear about the offspring of Yitzhak – Yaakov and Esav – yet the verse continues, “Avraham gave birth to Yitzhak.” Why talk about Avraham? He’s the father not a son! From this, we learn that the father is in the son. The father is passed down to his son and grandchildren from generation to generation. That’s how I feel, right now, as if I am with you on the outskirts of Gaza, waiting for the orders to wipe out Hamas and the other hornets’ nests of terror based in schools, mosques, hospitals, homes, and underground tunnels under the city, where they are hiding like cockroaches in the dark.

Over Shabbat, I remembered back to the Gulf War. Just before the missiles started falling on Tel Aviv, I had been called to milluim and was doing reserve military duty in the all Arab city of Tulkarim. You were maybe nine months old at the time. When the first missiles were launched, soldiers with beards received an order to shave, so that gas masks would fit better in case the missiles were armed with chemical heads. So I shaved. I didn’t tell your mother, thinking I would surprise her when I came home on leave, and sure enough, when I knocked on the front door several days later, the second she saw me, she gasped and retreated back into the living room, startled, as if some strange frightening caller was standing at the door. But the minute you saw me, you called out, “Ba!” and came crawling like a rocket, recognizing me immediately, even though I didn’t have a beard. When I picked you up, you were as happy as could be. “These are the generations of Yitzhak, Avraham gave birth to Yitzhak.” Father and son. Son and father. We’re the same.

So know that I am with you. So is your mother. The whole Shabbat, she waited for the moment she could turn on the radio to learn what was happening. Of course, when the warning siren suddenly sounded in Yerushalayim on Shabbat evening, and a distant boom shattered the tranquility, that brought the war even closer for your mother. More reservists were called up during Shabbat, and we heard rumors that troops would be sent to the north as well, but wherever you are, and whatever you end up doing, know that ever role is vital, whether it be that of a pilot, or the soldier that loads the bomb on the plane, the controller in the computer room, or the “jobnik” who folds the emergency parachute. King David made sure that everyone in the army of Israel received the same share of the booty, the soldiers that fought in the front, and those who stayed behind to guard over the camp.  “All for one, and one for all.”

Because I am in you, like Avraham was in Yitzhak, I know many of the things you are feeling. Even though you have received the finest training, going into battle is not an easy thing. You have a sensitive and caring soul, and even though you are as big and strong as Samson, in civilian life you wouldn’t hurt a fly. But as we learn in this week’s Torah portion, sometimes Yaakov has to dress in the clothes of Esav to bring blessing to the world. At his mother’s urging, to receive his father’s blessing, Yaakov puts goat skins on his arms, so that when his blind father embraces him, he will think it is indeed his eldest son, the hairy hunter Esav.

Rabbi Kook explains the story represents the victory of the forces of good over the forces of evil. Yet to triumph over the wicked Esav, the holy and righteous Yaakov is forced to resort to cruelty and deception.  Though it goes against his inner nature, Yaakov takes up the characteristics of Esav, the hunter, murderer, schemer, and warrior, to insure that the blessing of Avraham comes to the world through its proper channel.  Like today, when the Nation of Israel is forced to adopt Esav weapons of killing and war, it goes into battle not for the sake of destruction, but to bring an end to all killing and wars. Not out of a beastly passion for killing and war, like that of our enemies in Gaza, but out of the knowledge that this is the only way to make the world a better place. The arms and armies are like the arms and armies of Esav, but the voice is the voice of Yaakov. We fight when we have to, not for the sake of killing, but to put an end to all killing and bloodshed.

When we have to, we take up the rifles of Esav, but we are still Yaakov inside, guided by the light of the Torah. We have no other choice. In a world that lives by the sword, we have to take up the sword too. We cannot merely sit and pray for miracles. One of the commandments of the Torah is “Milchemet Mitzvah,” the mitzvah to go to war to defend Jewish life and to conquer the Land of Israel and keep it under out own Jewish sovereignty. You, my dear son, are engaged in a “Milchemet Mitzvah” twice over – defending the lives of the million Jew under rocket fire, and fighting enemies whose goal is to conquer our Land.

Not only am I and you mother with you. Our whole nation is with you. The Torah is with you. Avraham and Yitzhak and Yaakov are with you. The G-d of Israel is with you. Uproot the evil, my son. Go with a clean heart and a clear conscience. For G-d’s honor. For the honor of Israel. For the sake of the world.

Hazak V’Amatz,

Abba

The Power Of Prayer

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

Once again I must postpone the continuation of my Oct. 5 column, “Technology, Yom Kippur, Ahmadinejad,” this time due to the heavy reader response to last week’s column.

As you recall, I shared my latest journey. It all started on Pesach in San Diego where I suffered four hip fractures and underwent major surgery, and now I was once again scheduled for yet another procedure on the day after Simchas Torah, Oct. 10.

I underwent my pre-op tests and was ready to go. But with every fiber of my being I believe in the miraculous power of prayer, especially when that prayer emanates from the heart of Am Yisrael , so I asked for one more Cat Scan, knowing full well that the odds of the results being different from the previous one were slim if not nil.

My surgeon studied the Cat Scan. “Rebbetzin,” he said, “the healing process has commenced. You don’t have to come for surgery next week.”

To be sure, my journey is not yet over. In a month I will have to be re-evaluated, but my heart overflows with profound gratitude. I am trying to keep the commitment I made to Hashem that if I would have the merit of healing without human intervention (surgery), I would publicly declare that through the power of prayer, the heavenly gates of healing can be opened and lives changed.

This past Shabbos I gave my usual shiur and taught Torah in the shul where I daven – the Agudah of Lawrence-Far Rockaway. It was Shabbos Bereishis, when once again we began the cycle of Torah readings from the very beginning. In that very first parshah the Torah describes the creation of the world and the creation of man, the very crown of creation. We learn that though the seeds of all vegetation were in place, it was only after man prayed for rain that the seeds blossomed and bloomed.

This prerequisite of prayer is evident throughout our Torah and history. My grandson spoke about it at our Shabbos seudah in his d’var Torah. Our mothers – Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel, Leah, Chana and many others – were granted the berachah of children only after they prayed with all their hearts and souls.

This prerequisite of prayer holds true not only with regard to children but in every aspect of our lives. It was only after Moshe Rabbeinu, the greatest man ever to walk the face of the earth, turned to Hashem with intense, genuine prayer that Hashem forgave the nation of Israel.

G-d’s response was comprised of just two words, but those two words had and continue to have more power than the most deadly weapons mankind can devise. We are all familiar with those two little words. They are engraved on our hearts and souls; they are the pillars of Yom Kippur: “selachti kidvarecha” – “I [G-d] have forgiven even as you requested.”

Yes, prayer is the foundation, the ultimate defense weapon of our people. Our father Yaakov was endowed with this gift by his own father, Yitzchak, who proclaimed those words that identified us for all time: “Hakol kol Yaakov” – “The voice is the voice of Yaakov.” That voice is the voice of prayer. It is so powerful that it can pierce the bolted heavenly gates and ascend to the very Throne of G-d.

Throughout the long centuries of our persecution, torture, and slaughter, this voice of Jacob has enabled us to triumph. It was prayer that enabled us to survive Hitler’s hell. I know – I was there. I heard it.

In our “enlightened” world, however, this voice has become muted; prayer has come to be regarded as something only a naïve, unschooled person can take seriously. We, the citizens of the 21st century, know the age of miracles has long passed.

And there are still other factors that impede prayer. Ours is a culture that has an

addiction to “instant gratification.” From computers to iPhones, fast food to microwaves, it must all be fast, fast, fast! So if our prayers are not immediately granted, we cut the line and lose connection with our G-d; we stop praying, sit in solitude, and our loneliness consumes us.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/rebbetzins-viewpointrebbetzin-jungreis/the-power-of-prayer/2012/10/17/

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