Category: 1- Bereishis

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You Lifted Us from Amongst all the Languages

In the Amidah for Yom Tov, we credit Hashem as the one who “lifted us from among the languages”. Importance is given not just to our nationhood (“You chose us from among the nations”) but also to our bond of common language. George Orwell made our generation very aware of how language shapes thought by having the fascist state further...

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Parashas Lekh-Lekha 5756

Most young Yeshiva children come home sometime around Shavuos with the story of how Hashem offered the Torah to all the nations of the world, but only the Jews accepted it. The medrash, as told in the Yalqut Shim’oni, tells how first Hashem went to Edom and offered them the Torah. They asked, “What is written in it?” Hashem replied,...

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Of Arks and Rainbows

There are two events in the Torah that can be identified as yeshu’os, by which I mean events where Hashem saved someone even though they didn’t really merit it. The more obvious is Yetzi’as Mitzrayim, the Exodus. Hashem saved us just as we were slipping from the “49th level of impurity” into being hopelessly corrupt. And in the introduction before...

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Miqeitz: Time and Process

The parashah opens “Vayhi mikeitz sh’nasayim yamim — and it was at the end of a pair of years of days”. After Yosef spent two years in prison, Par’oh’s dream leads the wine steward to remember Yosef and eventually leads to his redemption. But why does the pasuk say “sh’nasayim yamim”, rather than just “shenasayim”? [1] Second, why is the...

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Ki Arumim Heim

“And the snake was [more] arum than all the animals of the field…” (Bereishis 3:1)In this pasuq, “arum” is variously translated. JPS has “subtle”. Others have “sly”, “cunning”, and the like. In Iyov (5:12), Elifaz describes Hashem as One Who “annuls the thoughts of arumim”. In these contexts, it would appear that being an “arum” is no compliment. But in...

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The power of speech

I had an epiphany during leining this past Shabbos (parashas Bereishis). Such things are notoriously difficult to convey, but I’ll try anyway.Usually, shmuessin on the subject of shemiras halashon revolve around showing how much power is in speech, how speach is a real “thing”, and has a challos (impact) the world.I realized something, though: It’s the exact reverse! It’s not...

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But the name of the city was “Luz” originally

And he [Ya’aqov] called the name of that place Beis-el, but the name of the city was Luz originally. – Bereishis 28:19 Luz, the original name for Beis-el, is apparently the name of a kind of tree, usually translated “chestnut”. It’s one of the kinds of wood from which Ya’aqov avinu made sticks for the sheep and goats to look...

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Parshas Vayeitzei: Mountain, Field, House

The Gemara (Pesachim 88a) discusses the future return to the Beis Hamikdash in terms of a quote from this week’s parashah. And R. Elazar said: What is it when it says (Yeshaiah 2) “And many nations will go and say ‘Let us go and go up to the mountain of Hashem, to the house of the G-d of Yaacov!’”? [Does...

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Chayei Sarah – Kibbush and Chizuq

1. Buying Ma’aras haMachpeilah It is interesting to note that Judaism’s holiest sites were not conquered but bought. Parashas Chayei Sarah opens with Avraham purchasing the Ma’aras haMakhpeilah and the fields around it. Later, Yaakov buys the city of Shechem from Canaanite princes, the sons of Chamor (Bereishis 33:19). Similarly, Shemuel II concludes with David haMelekh purchasing the Temple Mount...

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Noach and the Use of Wine

We were discussing on Avodah the origins of the idea of Qiddush. I argued that the notion of celebrating or thanking G-d with wine would seem to be one people would stumble upon naturally, arguing from Noach’s instinct to plant a vineyard. Rn Toby Katz noted that I was making an unsupported assumption: “Celebrating”? as Noach celebrating the “human condition”...

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Shemittah

( You will notice that this entry is pretty much straight lomdus rather than my usual fare. When I wrote Rafi’s bar mitzvah speech, I ran overly long. Here is an even longer earlier edition, but one that is more complete in covering my thoughts on the subject. -mi) In parashas Behar (25:18), it says: “Vesapharta lekha sheva` shabasos shanim...

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Yisrael, Yaaqov and Beis Yaaqov

Someone asked on soc.culture.jewish: Today in my Women In Hebrew Bible class we talked about how Yaakov (Jacob) was renamed Yisrael (Israel). This was a way of redeeming him of all his past trickery. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Yaakov. He is, after all, my favorite Patriarch. But he was...

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Angry at G-d

A friend of mine wrote this morning about his three experiences with cancer in his immediate family. He was equipped to handle his wife’s bout, abut by the time he had to deal with it for the third time, he tells me that all he felt was anger, anger at G-d. His tefillos that Rosh haShanah he describes as mechanically...

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Small Jugs

In the beginning, or a few days later, Hashem created the sun and the moon. In Bereishis (1:16) the Torah says: “And G-d made the two large luminaries – the large luminary to rule the day and the small luminary to rule the night – and the stars.” A famous gemara (Chullin 60b), quoted by Rashi, points out an inconsistency...

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Special Souls

The following speech was given by my son Izzy (ישראל זרחיה) at the party we made to celebrate his becoming a bar mitzvah: It says in this morning’s parashah [Toledos], “וַיְהִי֙ כִּֽי־זָקֵ֣ן יִצְחָ֔ק וַתִּכְהֶ֥יןָ עֵינָ֖יו מֵרְאֹ֑ת – and it was when Yitzchak got old, and his eyes weakened so that he could not see…” There is a famous medrash about how Yitzchak became blind. Bereishis...

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YAPITA

Yet Another Peshat in the Aqeidah One thing highlighted by the vast rabbinic discussion of the aqeidah — we can’t expect simple, clear-cut, answers to these questions. Much like the numerous opinions in the gemara as to what led to the destruction of the Beis haMiqdash or the many explanations of Nadav and Avihu’s sin. There is an earlier pasuq...

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The Avos Kept the Torah

There is a 3 way dispute on Yuma 28b about whether the avos kept all of halakhah, or just those mitzvos already given: Rav: The avos kept the entire Torah R’ Ashi: … even the rabbinic enactments! R Shimi bar Chiya: Avraham only kept the 7 mitzvos benei Noach and beris Milah. (If we’re talking all three avos, presumably the...

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Torah im Small Jugs

What is the role of the laws of business listed in Choshein Mishpat (the quarter of the Tur and Shulchan Aruch on financial matters)? One approach could be that working for income is a necessary evil. It’s Hashem’s punishment to Adam for eating the forbidden fruit — “with the sweat of the brow shall you eat bread” (Bereishis 3:19). However,...

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Temimus and Deveiqus

The mitzvah of Beris Milah is introduced with the words, “אֲנִי קֵל שַׁקַּי, הִתְהַלֵּךְ לְפָנַי וֶהְיֵה תָמִים — I am Kel Shakai, walk yourself before Me, and be whole.” To me, this pasuk addresses the focus of the most basic open question in Jewish philosophy. Clearly the attention of Yahadus is on keeping mitzvos. But what is the goal of...

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Tzadiq ben Rasha

וַיֶּעְתַּר יִצְחָק לַה לְנֹכַח אִשְׁתּוֹ כִּי עֲקָרָה הִוא וַיֵּעָתֶר לוֹ ה וַתַּהַר רִבְקָה אִשְׁתּוֹ And Yitzchaq pleaded with Hashem opposite his wife, for she was sterile, and Hashem responded to his pleas, and Rivqa became pregnant. –Bereishis 25:21 “לנכח אשתו” – זה עומד בזוית זו ומתפלל וזו עומדת בזוית זו ומתפללת (יבמות סד.) “ויעתר לו” – לו ולא לה שאין דומה...