Comfort-Nechama and Parsha Zachor

Yesterday we read parsha Zachor and the Haftora of Samuel chapter 15.The haftorah is actually more revealing. Hashem tell Samuel to tell King Saul to kill all of Amalek. Kill them all, including children. Saul does not kill the king or the animals. Gd is angy In pasuk 10-11 of chapter 15, Gd uses the word “nechamtie” for regret. ” I regret that I put you as king.”   Why the word “nechamtie” which usually refers to nechama- or comfort.  How is this the translation of “regret.”

Rabbi Besser pointed out that the word necham or comfort is also used as a regret in another key place. Gd said all the way back in Genesis, that I regret the creation of man. He says this just before the flood. Gd uses the same word.

Is regret and comfort or console somehow connected.  Does Gd really “regret” doing things like creating man or appointing Saul?  Does Gd make mistakes. No. Gd does not make mistakes.

The SD would like to suggest the word “nechama” is used when Gd  recognizes that things are not perfect, but they must proceed anyway.  Had Saul killed the king, there would be no purim story. Maybe more importantly, there would be no template of evil to continue to exist in the world. Maybe we need to have evil to juxtapose what is good. We need to constantly fight evil to recognize good.   The consolation or comfort is that the world is made up of imperfection and the regret is that it needs to exist.  The same way Saul needed to be king to bring around King David and the same way evil needed to exist to display or strive for good.


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Chullin 91 and the Wrestling Jacob

In chullin 91, we are learing about the “Gid Hanesha” or sciatic nerve in the rear of the animal which cannot be  eaten.  The prohibition stems from the story in parsha  Vayishlach.   The story is Jacob finds himself alone and encounters an angel who he wrestles with until dawn.

The SD always felt (and I am sure other qualified bible scholars and commenataors says the same thing) that this is some internal crisis of Jacob.  It is some psyschological conflict which manifests after 20 years of Lavan and the imminient confrontation with his brother. To the SD, the angel is some part of jacob’s psche or ego or self that he is wrestling with on some level.

The self wrestling idea has some basis in this daf.  We are told that according to one opinion when Jacob sees the angel he appears to him as idol worshipper.  Another opinion disagrees and says that the angel appeared to him as a Torah scholar.  What a classic internal crisis of identity!  What are we? Are you  bad (idol worshippers) are we good (Torah scholars)  Who are we?

The SD would like to give a modest answer.  We all wrestle this .   We want to be good. We want our “better angels” to win out.  The simple fact is that all of us are  a little of both. We all wrestle with this. We have our good moments and our bad.  We have our evil inclinations and our great moments of charity, piety and faith.

It is a good crisis.  Keep wrestling with yourself.

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Parsha Vayechi: What’s in a Name? Jacob or Israel

This SD just started reading the Ohr Hachaim. It is one of the commentaries in the Chumash. (Don’t be impressed, there is an English Translation which I read when I don’t quite understand the Hebrew.)

The Ohr Hachaim starts by anaylzying the first sentence : And Jacob lived in Egypt. His qustion: Why the name Jacob and not Israel?  He broadens the question: when does the Torah use the name Jacob and when Israel.

He answer: When Jacob is on a high spiritual level the Torah refers to him as Israel. When it is not so high a spiritual plane he is Jacob.

Implicit in this idea of the name being pegged to the spiritual level is that even Jacob has his ups and downs spiritually. He is not always in spiritual bliss. Jacob is interesting because he had a hard life. He had challenges. He had conflict.  It makes sense that he always wasnt singing and dancing.  If Jacob was challenged spiritually, it should give us comfort that spirituality is a process. Spirituality is a work in progress.


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Woody Allen:Why do we Eat Doughnuts on Chanuka?

Woody Allen in Annie Hall (or maybe Manhattan) asks in a sing-song Talmudic voice “Why do we at Matzo on Pesach?” The same can be asked of doughnuts on Chanuka.

On Tuesday nite the SD went to a class given by Rabbi Prager of the West Side Kollel. He explained why we eat donuts on chanuka.  According to Jewish law we are required to increase our food or eating on Chanuka. We are not necessarily commanded to eat a Seuda like on Purim, rather just eat more goodies. Eating snacks requires Al Hamichya-blessing after snacks.

Interestingly, in the prayer after eating a snack”Al hamichya”, the prayer mentions the Mizbeach (altar)   We know according to Rabbi Prager that on Chanuka the Temple and Mizbaeach (Altar) were rededicated after the Greeks desecrated the Temple.  In order to rededicate the altar, they poured OIL over it.  Therfore, for rededication of the altar and the oil, we remember the Mizbeach in Al Hamichya… and eat dougnuts.  We eat the doughnuts, filled with oil and say the Al Hamichya and re-dedicate the temple.

What could be better than doughnuts. What a mitzva. We eat doughnuts and remember the rededication of the temple and then thank Hashem for the great food.

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Chullin 4: Accounting for Weaknesses

The daf yomi just started learning the tractate Chullin.  The first Mishna states that all people who are eligible to slaughter an animal for food consumption, except a deaf person, a mentally challenged person and a minor.  The Talmud then questions other classes of people such as Cutheans and what is known as a “Momar” or renegade Jew.

The Talmud determines this is Momar acts out of weakness rather than dogma. We can eat the meat he slaughtered. He believes in the Torah, yet he transgresses due to voracious appetite. For example, he would eat kosher if the option presented, but absent kosher meat he will eat non-kosher. It is not doctrinal with him, rather he cannot control his appetite.

At the bottom of page 4A, the Talmud quotes a source  that states one can even eat the chometz after Passover of a Renegade Jew.  Rashi states, that he did not destroy his chometz because he did not want to incur a financial loss.

The interesting part of all this to the SD is the sensitivity and laxity the Talmud has for weakness and temptation toward the Renegade Jew.   He eats non kosher of out weakness, he does not destroys his chometz so as not to lose money, yet we can still rely upon his slaughtering.  It is interesting to note what foibles the Talmud will accept and what weakness can be forgiven.

What is the lesson: The take-away is that if the Talmud and Hashem can be forgiving of flaws, weaknesses or imperfections in peoples, so much more so, we should not judge and accept people for all their good and their weaknesses.

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Parsha Vayashev: Inspire More Order Less

In Parsha Vayashev we are told that Joseph is with Bilha and Zilpa (handmaidens) boys. Joseph  “hung out ” with Bilha and Zilpa sons.

We all know the story: Joseph goes out into the field to  find  his brothers on the instruction of his father and the brothers conspire to kill Joseph. However, they throw him in a pit and sell him.

The Ramban asks a great question: If Bilha and Zilpa’s boys used to hang out with Joseph, why did  they not help him? Why did they not have his back?

If the SD understands the answer (and the SD gets it wrong alot because the Hebrew is hard) it sounds like Jacob made the boys take care of him or watch. It does not sound like it was done of their on volition.  The command vs. the inspiration kind of issue.

The answer: when talking to your kids about kindness, caring and charity  dont make them or order them. Inspire them. You do it and show them how meaningful it can be. Somehow Jakob missed an oppportunity to show the boys that caring for a young man like Joseph who does not have a mother and needs a friend warrants a kindness.

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Menachos 103: Speech

In Menachos page 103 there is a Mishna that ostensibly seems rather dry. If somoene says,  I take on myself to bring a mincha (wheat  offering) of barely, what do we do? The mishna assumes the reader knows that a Mincha is wheat. Do we reform the words? According to Rabbi Shimon   we vitiate the whole statement.

The Talmud asks what do we do if somoene says I will bring a mincha of beans.  According to the Talmud this is too far afield.  Barely to wheat is possible according to the main reading of the Mishna… beans is too far. The Talmud goes through an analysis of parsing words or interpreting words that would make Justice Scalia smile.  The big question is what do our words mean when we dont speak precisely. Rashi gives a little insight. He says “nobody expresses words that has no meaning.” He uses the expressesion “Butal” or void.

The Shikkerdovid would like to chime in.  The  Shikkerdovid has  a terrible habit of saying stupid, silly and sometimes hurtful things.  It just comes out. Especially at the Thanksgiving table, surrounded by family and having had too many drinks.      The Mishna and Talmud’s lesson should resonate,  words have meaning. Words influence the world. Nothing is batul.

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