Archive for the 'Sefer Bereishit' Category

Anti-Assimilation

December 23rd, 2005 by Yaakov Ellis

While going through Parashat Vayishlach there was one theme that stood out to me: the efforts of non-Jews to cause Jews to assimilate and the hard stance of the Jewish people against these efforts:

  • Yaakov fights the “man” (Bereishit 32:25-31). Chazal in midrashim (Bereishit Rabba cited by Rashi) say that this was the sar of Eisav. Thus this battle between Yaakov and the ish represented the overall struggle between the stength of Eisav, of worldliness, against those of Yaakov – of Torah and spirituality.
  • Yaakov meets Eisav. Instead of attacking Yaakov, Esav offers a partnership:

    ויאמר, נסעה ונלכה, ואלכה לנגדך

    And (Esav) said: let us travel and go, and I will go along with you

    Bereishit 33:12

    Esav offers to Yaakov that they (and by extension their children and descendents) would share a common future, going through the journeys of this world together. In the next passuk Yaakov declines.

  • Yaakov comes to the city of Shechem. After his Dinah is raped, he is offered by Chamor the father of Sh’chem that the people of Shechem and the children of Yaakov should intermerry and live together. Yaakov’s reaction is definitely in the negative (Shimon and Levi took this a step farther by killing all of the men in the city)

Common theme: the efforts of the non-Jews to assimilate the Jewish people into their midst, and the response of the Jews: no thank you! Something to keep in mind for those in Chutz La’aretz as we approach the climax of the “holiday season”.

Don’t Embarass Your Sister

December 23rd, 2005 by Yaakov Ellis

ויבא יעקב מן השדה בערב, ותצא לאה לקראתו ותאמר אלי תבוא כי שכר שכרתיך בדודאי בני, וישכב עמה בלילה הוא

And Yaakov came from the field in the evening, and Leah went out to him and said ‘Come to me, for I have hired you with my sons duda’im‘, and he slept with her on that night

Bereishit 30:16

The gemara in Megilla 13b explains how Rachel told Leah about the signals that she had pre-arranged with Yaakov. Even though this is what allowed Leah to take her place under the chuppah, Rachel did this in order that Leah not be embarassed.

In the passuk above, Leah returns the favor. Leah had already negotiated with Rachel that in exchange for the duda’im that Reuven had found, Leah would be able to spend the night with Yaakov instead of Rachel. The Netziv explains that Leah went out to greet Yaakov as he was returning because she wished to avoid causing any embarassment to Rachel. If Yaakov had returned from the field and gone to Rachel’s tent as he had been planning, only to leave a few minutes later after being told that he was to be spending the night with Leah, everyone would see this, and Rachel would be embarassed. Instead, Leah went out to meet Yaakov and tell him. Even though this was not the ideal in terms of modesty, Leah felt that it would be better to do this if it would lessen the embarassment of her sister.

Carrying One’s Legs

December 11th, 2005 by Yaakov Ellis

וישא יעקב רגליו, וילך ארצה בני קדם

And Yaakov lifted his legs and walked to the land of the people of Kedem

Bereishit 29:1

We know from the context of this verse that Yaakov was travelling from the Land of Israel to Charan. If this is so, why doesn’t the verse simply say וילך יעקב חרנה – “And Yaakov went to Charan”? Why do we need to be told that Yaakov “lifted his legs” and that he went to “the land of the people of Kedem”.

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The Netziv explains this by way of analogy: If you were walking along a path with which you are very familiar, there would be no need for you to be watching every step you are taking. You could trust in your legs to do the walking. In other words, your legs are carrying you. However, if you are walking along an unfamiliar way, it would be dangerous for you not to pay attention to each and every step. In this case you are carrying your legs.

Yaakov was not only going to Charan. He was going to a place which presented spiritual challenges and dangers that were very different from the ones he faced while living in his father’s house in the Land of Israel. He was going to the land of the people of Kedem. Kedem has already been identified in the Torah as the destination of the Bnei Keturah (Bereishit 25:6) and the origin of Bil’am (Bamidbar 23:7). Kedem is not a place of idolatry like Canaan was in those days. Kedem was a place where people engaged in Kishuf and Nichush – sorcery, incantations and divinations. People sought to find out what was destined to occur in the future. This is a very serious spiritual offense (the Torah prohibits it explicitly).

Yaakov had so far lived his whole life in Canaan, in the house of Avraham. He had conditioned himself against temptation to idolatry and was able to carry on his day to day life without having to actively avoid idolatry. Thus, one could say that while in Canaan, Yaakov’s legs carried him.

However, when Yaakov was leaving the Land of Israel to a place on a lower spiritual level (as every place is compared to the Land of Israel) and a place where there were new spiritual temptations (exhibited by the people of Kedem) that could potentially entrap Yaakov during his sojourn in Chutz L’aretz Yaakov would need to start paying much closer attention to everything he did, every step he took. He would have to start carrying his legs.

Calling to Yaakov

December 6th, 2005 by Yaakov Ellis

ויגד לרבקה את דברי עשו בנה הגדל, ותשלח ותקרא ליעקב בנה הקטן, ותאמר אליו הנה עשו אחיך מתנחם לך להרגך

And Rivka was told the words of Esav, her older son, and she send and called to (ל) her younger son, and she said to him: behold, Esav your brother is intending to kill you

Bereishit 27:42

ויקרא יצחק אל יעקב, ויברך אתו; ויצוהו ויאמר לו: לא תקח אשה מבנות כנען

And Yitzchak called to (אל) Yaakov and commanded him and said to him: do not take a wife from the daughters fo Canaan

Bereishit 28:1

After Yaakov received the blessing from Yitzchak, both Yitzchak and Rivka both called to Yaakov in order to give him marriage advice. However, as it is recorded in the Torah, they each addressed him in a slightly different way. When Rivka called to Yaakov it is written ותקרא ליעקב – the letter ל is used to denote Yaakov as the object of Rivka’s calling. When Yitzchak called to Yaakov, it says ויקרא יצחק אל יעקב – here instead of a ל, the word אל is used.

The Netziv (here and at Shemot 8:21) explains that in the Torah there are two ways of calling:

  1. Two people are not near each other. One calls to the other to come closer. This way of calling is delineated with a ל.
  2. Two people are near each other. One person calls to the other by name in order to make clear to them their feelings, their countenance. This way of calling is delineated with the word אל.

After receiving the blessing from Yizchak, Yaakov fled the house of his father in order not risk an encounter with his brother Esav. Rivka called to Yaakov in the first manner of calling – she wanted him to come back close to her so that she could speak with him.

When Yitzchak called to Yaakov, Yaakov was not far away. However, Yaakov was avoiding his father because he was afraid that Yitzchak was mad at him because of how he had received the blessing. Yitzchak called out to Yaakov in the second way, in order to let him know that he harbored no ill will against Yaakov (which is immediately confirmed when he blesses Yaakov again).

The First FFB

November 30th, 2005 by Yaakov Ellis

ADDeRabbi protrays Yitzchak Avinu as the first Frum From Birth Jew.

He makes an interesting point about the difference between Yitzchak (FFB) and Rivka (comes from a non-Orthodox home). Chazal portray them as Tzaddik-ben-Tzaddik (Yitzchak, who was righteous was the son of Avraham who was also righteous) and Tzadik-bat-Rasha (Rivka, who was righteous was the daughter of the wicked Betu’el). It is for this reason that Yitzchak’s prayers are answered (and not Rivka’s). One might have thought that this is a pretty shvach reason for the prayers of one person to be “better” than the prayers of another. Don’t our prayers depend on who we are and our kavana, not on our yichus?

ADDeRabbi points out that “It’s no small matter for a person to become a ‘tzaddik ben tzaddik’.” This very process of becoming a tzaddik when one is expected to be one, and is always in the shadow of another tzaddik is very difficult.

…interior growth with no external manifestation is very, very, difficult to affect and engenders constant insecurity with one’s own religious state. The verb ‘to pray’, in Hebrew, is reflexive. Jewish tradition has understood prayer as a process of self-discovery and self-judgment. The prayer of a tzaddik ben tzaddik is indeed a potent prayer.

Thus, for Yitzchak to become an actual tzaddik was itself a journey of self-improvement, one that enabled him to end up on a higher level than his wife. It is not the mere fact that Yitzchak was a tzaddik-ben-tzaddik that enabled his prayers to be answered. It was what it had taken to reach that point.

Different Types of Twins

November 29th, 2005 by Yaakov Ellis

ויאמר ה’ לה, שני גוים בבטנך, ושני לאמים ממעיך יפרדו, ולאם מלאם יאמץ ורב יעבד צעיר. וימלאו ימיה ללדת, והנה תומם בבטנה

And God said to her: there are two nations in your womb, and two governments will separate from within you, one government will be stronger than the other and the greater one will serve the younger one. And the days of her pregnancy were completed, and behold there were twins in her womb

Bereishit 25:23-24

If Rivka had already received a prophecy (through Shem) that there were two nations growing within her womb, why does the Torah need to point out to us in the very next verse that “behold, there were twins in her womb”. Was this such a surprise?

Something else that is out of the ordinary here: in the second verse above (25:24), the word that is used for twins is תומם. Normally this is spelled תאומים. Why the change here?

Rashi explains that the word for twins is spelled differently here (without the alef) to signify that in this case one of the children was righteous and one wicked (in distinction to the case with Tamar a few weeks down the line, where both of her children were righteous and thus the normal spelling of תאומים is used). The spelling is changed because they were not twins in every way.

The Netziv takes this idea one step farther: he says that Rivka expected that her two children would be very different – this is obvious from the prophecy that she received (25:24). However what she did not expect was that this difference would be noticeable while her children were still in utero. The differences between her children were already developed and present at the time of their birth (see the next two verses, 25:25-26).

(Question: whatever happened to yir’at shamayim being in the hands of the person? Was Esav destined for wickedness?)

When She Doesn’t Want to Make Aliyah

November 23rd, 2005 by Yaakov Ellis

Pinchas cites the Torah’s recommendations on what to do if the girl you want to go out with doesn’t want to make aliyah

Pluperfect Verbs

November 22nd, 2005 by Yaakov Ellis

Josh explains how one verb (יֹשֵׁב) can take on different meanings based on context and conjugation

Eulogizing vs. Crying

November 22nd, 2005 by Yaakov Ellis

ותמת שרה בקרית ארבע הוא חברון בארץ כנען, ויבא אברהם, לספד לשרה ולבכתה

And Sarah died in Kiryat Arba – which is Chevron – in the land of Canaan, and Avraham came to eulogize for Sarah and to cry for her

Bereishit 23:2

The Torah here describes Avraham’s actions upon arriving in Chevron. First he eulogized his wife. Then he cried over her death. Why does the Torah emphasize these two actions? And why specifically in this order?

The Netziv explains that the primary purpose for a eulogy is to praise the person who had died, to speak of there greatness and of their accomplishments. On the converse, one cries for the dead in sorrow over one’s loss. Crying is a way of expressing one’s personal anguish and mourning.

When the loss of the person who has just been niftar is something that affects one in a very severe way, and one’s grief over one’s loss is more powerful than any praise that could be given for the decease, then it is appropriate to cry before reciting a eulogy. However, if the loss does not cause one’s world to be turned upside down, and the praise one can give for the dead person is the more powerful feeling, then one should first eulogize and then cry. The stronger emotion should lead one to action.

Although Sarah’s death was tragic, it did not turn Avraham’s world upside down. He already had a son, Yitzchak, through Sarah. His mission of spreading the word of God throughout the world was still active, and his next task was to marry off his son. Thus Avraham did not feel compelled to cry for Sarah immediately upon arriving at the scene of her death. The more powerful sentiment was to praise Sarah for who she was and what she had accomplished: a woman who in some ways had a closer connection to God then did Avraham (see Rashi on Bereishit 21:12), a woman who regained the beauty of her childhood just as she reached the climax of her life and who was as sinless as a youth on the day that she died.

There was much to praise about Sarah’s life and much to learn about the ways in which she conducted herself. Thus Avraham first eulogized his wife. Only afterwards did he cry for his loss.

Rashbam on the Akeida

November 20th, 2005 by Yaakov Ellis

ADDeRabbi posts a different take on the Akeida based on the commentary of the Rashbam.