Vayatze: Gd’s Promse to Stick it Out with Us

In Chapter 28, line 15 Gd says to Jacob: Behold I am with you, I will watch you where all you go and will return you to the land. ” It sounds like Gd is talking directly to Jacob and promising him and comforting him.

The holy Ishbitzer (which now has a great English translation by Rabbi Hershey Worsh which is very clear and worth purchasing) expands and makes the promise eternal. The Ishbitzer says interprets “return you ” to “restore you.” Restore in the sense of loss like returning a lost object. He famously quotes the Talmud in Gitten which seems to be the cornerstone of his philosophy: One must stumble (fail) in the Torah to truly uphold and it and understand. (Gitten page 43a). Restoration or return can only happen if one is lost or an object is lost.

The Ishbitzer is saying something very profound. To love something, to appreciate something one must sometimes exist without it.. to long for it… to search for it. Is the Ishbitzer saying we should intentionally violate a precept in order to return to it. I doubt that. But it seems the Isbitzer understands human nature- that sometimes we lose faith or the strength to uphold the Torah. That moment presents an opportunity for restoration and return. The fall or stumbling leads to strenghtening and upholding.

The promise to Jacob that he will return him to his land after the hiatus with Lavan is therefore analogous to our journey where sometimes, we lose direction. It is a promise that if we use our failures as springboards to repent and return, Gd will be with us- even in our failures.

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Pesachim3: Passover The Holiday of Speech

The Talmud Pesachim starts with a mishna that say on the “ohr” (light) of the 14th we do a search for chametz. The Talmud then spends two pages discussing is “ohr” refer to day or night. Finally after several attempts it finds a Braisa that says exactly what it wants: it refers to night. The Talmud seems to ask, why this whole thing about “ohr” -light instead of night. The answer: The Talmud and Torah prefers not to use coarse speech. Rashi says, night is not necessarily coarse, but is in not really uplifting or refined so Light is preferred. The Talmud goes on to show how refined speech is preferable.

How odd! Here we are discussing Passover-the holiday of Matza, no leaven products and the Talmud starts with speech. The answer is in the name of the holiday itself: “pe” or mouth and “sach”-speech. Pesach is “mouth speech.” Usually referring to speaking and discussing the Hagada.

The SD needs to confess that oftentimes (especially when imbibing) he has a pretty bad potty mouth. The potty mouth is one of the SD many faults that despite tremendous effort, has never been overcome.

Maybe this is the lesson of Passover. Before eating Matza (putting food in) We need to watch what comes out. The SD will now work on the potty mouth.

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Eruvin 100: What Type of Jew Are You

Eruvin 100 has a discussion about Shabbat and trees. It is prohibited to climb a tree on Shabbat. However, what happens if you forget and by accident climb a tree. Do you stay there until Shabbat ends or do you come down.

To answer this question the Talmud quotes a Mishna which frankly is quite complex and abstruse. However the two opinions are beautiful. Rabbi Joshua says when confronted with a problem, stay put, refrain from acting. Mitigate. Rabbi Eliezer says act. Rabbi Joshua says to Rabbi Eliezer: You potentially will violate the prohibition of “adding to a mitzva.” Rabbi Eliezer responds to Rabbi Joshua : You are potentially “detracting from a mitzva. ” So going back to the tree: Do you sit on the branch all day similar to Rabbi Joshua’s dictum to refrain, or do you climb down ?

The question lays out the fundamental question of life. Is it better to act conservatively. Play it safe; Do no harm ; dont take chances (R. Joshua) or is it better to go down swinging; possibly do harm.

This is the guts of learning. After 100 pages of Eruvin, endless diagrams, mind twisting and complex scenarios of eruvs, partitions, spatial relations, we finally get to the question of life: Do I climb off the tree or sit like tight and hope the branch does not break.

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Chaya Sara and Shidduchim

The SD is passionate about Shidduchim. There is no greater act of kindness and mercy in the world of trying to “make a shidduch.” It demonstrates to the person that they are not alone, they are not forgotten, that they are important and people are concerned. Ultimately, there is no greater mitzva than bringing joy to a person and their family.

In Chaya Sara we see Abraham decide it is time for Isaac to marry. Rather than pick and go look for a wife he sends his servant Eliezer. How strange. Abraham is constantly on the move, yet to find a wife he leaves it to a servant.

The SD would like to chime in. As a parent, there is no more pain in life than seeing a child unhappy, upset, no fulfilled. The pain is not limited to the single person but includes their parents. The SD often says that when he sees a single person, he really sees their parent, sitting around a kitchen table, drinking a cup of tea and tearing their hearts out that their child is alone-not married. So Why does Abraham not do it himself?

The answer is really simple. As a parent, we can do lots of things: pay tuition; send kids to camp, get them braces on teeth and tutors for geometry. The one thing we cannot do effectively is set up or beat the drum for our own child. It just does not work.

Here is where the chesed comes in. Shidduchim requires other people, friends, colleaguues, and even strangers. Shidduchim requires the kindness of strangers. Eliezer needs to do it. It is his chesed. He has a daughter, but he finds another for Isaac. That is heroic.

Shidduchim is both the easiest mitvza and the hardest. It does not require lots of money like charity. It does not require great Talmudic skills like learning. It is a mitzva everyone can do. Its the hardest because it requires sacrifice of time, effort, energy, disappointment. Lets make Shidduchim our project. Always be on the look out. Do something that even a parent cannot do for their child.

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Lech Lecha: Lies and Deceit in Egypt

Abraham and Sara are the quintessential wandering Jews. As soon as they get one place, they pull up stakes and move. They get to Canaan and then immediately go to Egypt.

While in Egypt Abraham gets nervous and asks Sara to “cover” for him. He tells her “Say you are my sister” This way they won’t kill me to get you. Pharoah finds out about Sara’s availability and beauty and she is taken to him. An angel is sent to strike Pharoah with a plague to stop him from being with Sara.

The Kli Yakar asks a great question: Where is Pharoah’s sin and Why is Pharaoh punished? Abraham and Sara are telling everyone they are not married. Sara is available according to them. Pharoah has good reason to believe she is his sister acccording to Kli Yakar’s question.

The Klii Yakar answer is that Sara tells Pharoah the truth privately after spreading a different story to everyone else. Pharoah thinks she is just playing coy. What a mess. Ultimately the plague is needed to keep Pharoah off of her. Therefore, a plague is needed and Pharoah is stricken.

The SD take on this is as follows: This is a hot mess because Abraham could have shown some belief that GD and know he and Sara would be protected. Abraham would not have started bad blood in Egypt if he just told the truth. The Kli Yakar’s question really highlights the lack of faith exhibited by Abraham. It almost-maybe makes Pharoah the victim. How can Pharoah know who is telling the truth.

The bottom line is that Faith in Hashem keeps everything straight,

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Genesis chapter 4: “End of Days”

In Chapter 4 we meet Kain and Hevel. We are told in a cryptic sentence 4:3 “and it was the end of days and Kain brought the fruits of the ground as a gift to gd.”

What does the “end of days” mean. The torah is just beginning and we are already at end of days? According to Rabbi Allen Schwartz of OZ who spoke today that “the end of days” refers to discussion between the brothers . They were discussing existential topics, such as meaning of life, purpose of existence, what is important etc. Pursuant to that discussion, Kain on his own brings a gift to gd and does not invite or have Hevel join him. Hevel in turn brings a gift, and does not bother to point out to Kain that his gift is sub par. He lets him go wrong on the gift.

Where did they collectively go wrong that leads to murder? The SD would like to chime in. After this deep and heavy conversation about the meaning of life, they both concluded to do a ritual-bring a gift. They did not think of brotherhood, charity, chesed or the real things that the world needs. They focused on the ritual, and on top of that excluded the other or let the other fail at it.

The simple truth is that ritual is only real or spiritual if it inspires better behavior. Once cannot do ritual in a vacuum. Prayer and bringing sacrifices only has meaning in the context of good deeds towards others. During this conversation the brothers clearly missed the point of what is important in life.

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Eruvin 67b:A Rock in the Ocean and a Memory

The Shikkerdovid is struggling with Eruvin. It is hard. It theoretical. The The Talmud is discussing moving and carrying from you domain to the next. In 67B, it brings up a scenario of a rock sitting in the middle of the ocean. If the rock is larger that 4 x 10 amos one cannot carry from the rock into the ocean. Frankly, the whole thing was beyond me.

But all of a sudden, it brought back a great memory. When the SD was 22 years , he went with 5 other “not too bright” friends down to the Bahamas-Nassau. The whole junket was 4 nights for $285.00. That included flight from Miami to Nassau, ground transporation to the hotel and three nights. Five guys in one room-the place was the ultimate flea bag. I think they also had hourly rates.

One day we were walking along the beach and a guy with a strong “island accent” and a old boat that smelled from oil and fish approached us. He told us he knew a spot in the middle of the ocean with great snorkling. He said we should give him $20 and he would take us out. Stupidly we gave him the money and he drove us about one mile off shore to a rock about 40 feet wide and and 10 feet long about 4 feet above the water line. He dumped us off and drove away.

After an hour of sitting on the rock and snorkling with our plastic masks and snorkels, it started to rain. it got cold We were all wet and started to wonder if they guy was ever coming back. Someone said, “Why did we pay him up front? He is never coming to get us.” The rock grew slippery and colder. How stupid was that.

Finally, the guy showed after another half hour smiling and asking us if we saw the coral and the stuff around the rock. He seemed nice and had no intention of leaving us on the rock, but stupid us for being so trusting and naive.

I had not thought about that rock for years. Until yesterday when the Talmud discussed the rock in the ocean and carrying into the sea. I owe the Talmud for digging up a beautiful memory.

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Zos Habracha: Chapter 33, verse 28: Perplexing Rashi

In the wind up of Moses’ long oration at the end of the Torah before his death there is a cryptic verse: “And Isreal Shall dwell in safety alone, blessings of Yakov, corn and oil,the heavens will drip dew.”

Why alone? Seforno says quoting the Book of Joshua that Israel will vanquish its enemies and there will be no more war. Ohr Hachaim says that Gd will direct Israel to destroy enemies and will leave them free and secure -alone without enemies.

Rashi has a whole radical different read. Rashi says each and every person shall be secure that he will be able to spread out and be alone by himself under a a vine and a date tree. and not necessary to gather to fight enemies. Where does Rashi get that this is talking about an individual? The Pasuk clearly refers to Israel. Furthermore, what is all this imagery of living alone under the vine and the date tree?

The SD has been racking his mind over this pasuk all day. How is alone good? Alone seems antithetical to everything Jewish. How can we feel secure alone? As we speak Jews in Crown Heights are defying the police to be in crowds to celebrate the holiday of Succos, or to go to a wedding, or to pray together. How is alone good?

Maybe there is a time for everything- including being alone. Alone is so hard. Alone is not what we have been taught. A person is rarely alone in Torah Judaism.

But why the vine and date tree? This simchas torah, there will be no dancing with a torah in a packed circle, no kiddush, no candy for the kids. We will be sitting under them, not sharing them.

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Eruvin 53: The Road: Frost meets Rabbi Joshua

Roads are a metaphor for progress through life or going through life.  Looking to  Robert Frost and his poem the  “road less traveled” and  on the heels of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur the daf gives some beautiful life lessons using “roads” as metaphors.  Rabbi Joshua tells us three short stories, two of which includes lessons from roads.  The most insightful is when Rabbi Joshua is crossing a field, a young girl tells  him that he is crossing a private field.  Rabbi Joshua corrects her and says, look there is path through it implying it is public.  The girl responds: the path was made by other “robbers.”  He took the musar and says  the girl bested him.

The insight:  we  often look at other people and say: “well they do ….so it must be okay. It must be acceptable. It is wrong, but everyone does it.  ” The lesson is that wrong is not acceptable.  No matter who does it and however many people do it.   The lesson after Rosh Hashana is that we should be strong in our beliefs, our convictions and our behavior that we don’t follow others;  we follow the right path. Whatever other people do is their business.  We should be strong enough in ourselves to do the right thing, despite thinking we have sanction from others.

Postscript to this thought. Robert Frost wrote another poem, that ends so beautifully and I think carries a deeper message for this time of year:

The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have miles to go before I sleep                                  Miles to  go before I sleep.

The message is that life is full of beautiful things and distractions, but we should never lose sight of  where we are heading, our destination, our mission.


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Shikkerdovid Alltime Favorite Pasuk in the Torah: Chapter 28, sent. 67

The Shikkerdovid’s all time favorite pasuk  is the taken from the Rebukes. (It should have been the name of a rock group in the early 60’s).  The pasuk says:  In the morning you shall say, give me the evening and the evening you shall say, give me the morning as the because of the fear in your heart.     I believe the expression “being happy in the moment” is an outgrowth of this pasuk.

Rashi says this refers to growing fear and distress which will make you wish for earlier times.  He quotes the Talmud  in Sota. The mishna  states “Rabbi Gamliel that says since the destruction of the Temple there is no day without a curse.” The Talmud interprets this to mean that every day will feel progressively worse.

The SD would like to weigh in.   There are people in the world that despite all the gifts, pleasures, and benefits they have are never happy.  Whatever they have, wherever they are, whatever they are doing.. they simply want something else. They cannot be happy “in them moment”.   As this pasuk infers, in the morning these people think they will be happier in the evening.

The curse is that despite all you have, you cannot appreciate it or enjoy it. Wherever you are, or whatever time it is, you long for something else. As Rabban Gamliel says in the Mishna, since the destruction of the Temple, there is no day without a curse means that without a spiritual center or nexus, we can never be fully satisfied, understand or appreciate the gifts gd gave us.

The ultimate curse to humanity is never being happy or satisifed “in the moment.”

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