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Posted December 14, 2018 - 3:34pm

The Power of Hope

Genesis 44:18-47:27

Is this week’s Torah portion we learn about the reunion of Joseph and his family. How appropriate for the name of the portion to be called Vayigash, which means, “and he came near.” After a long period of being apart from his family, Joseph was able to come near his family. Not only did Joseph reveal himself to his brothers after the long wait for his plan to succeed, but he was also reunited with his father who had given up hope of Joseph’s survival years beforehand. 

After revealing himself to his brothers, he instructed them to go back and get their father and all of their possessions and move down to Egypt where he would provide for them. Once they got back home to their father, however, Jacob did not initially believe the news about Joseph:

And they told him, “Joseph is still alive, and he is ruler over all the land of Egypt.” And his heart became numb, for he did not believe them. But when they told him all the words of Joseph, which he had said to them, and when he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of their father Jacob revived. (Genesis 45:26–27)

In this translation we read that Jacob’s heart “became numb.” However, the Hebrew is more evocative. It says that his heart “fainted.” He simply could not believe Joseph could be alive after all these years. His pessimism was based on his challenging life. Jacob was 130 years old and had lived through many difficult circumstances. When he ended up moving down to Egypt and met Pharaoh, he explained:

The days of the years of my sojourning are 130 years. Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not attained to the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their sojourning. (Genesis 47:9)

Posted November 30, 2018 - 12:29pm

The Grand Illusion

Parashat Vayeishev (Genesis 37:1-40:23)

Everyone enjoys a good magician. They appear to do what seems completely impossible. But although they can entertain people for hours on end, the craft of a magician is based on illusion and misdirection. They draw our attention to one thing in order to distract us from another. If they want us to watch what one hand is doing, then the other hand is doing the real “magic.” If they point at an object, it’s generally misdirection. But we don’t mind this. In fact, we pay money to be misguided and have our point of view mislead.

The Scriptures are continually focused on altering our perspective of reality. We can choose to view things from the perspective of Hashem or from the perspective of Hasatan, the adversary. What we see all depends on what we are focused on. Are we focused on the good or the bad, the blessings or the difficulties? This week’s parashah is filled with many instances that can be interpreted based on one’s perspective of the situation. For instance, Joseph’s entire ordeal would have been horrible to most people and would certainly be cause for distress and complaining. But Joseph kept the proper perspective and saw everything as God’s plan being fulfilled in his life.

Posted November 23, 2018 - 8:26am

Wrestling for a Blessing

Parashat Vayishlach (Genesis 32:3-36:43)

When Jacob and his family were leaving Laban in Paddan-aram and heading back to Canaan, Jacob began preparing for the inevitable. He would undoubtedly have a run-in with his brother Esau once they got nearer to home. Although twenty years had passed since he left with Esau’s birthright, Jacob was preparing his family for their encounter with his brother. He prayed to the Almighty, “Please deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him, that he may come and attack me, the mothers with the children” (Genesis 32:11). He knew that, although time and distance were between them, there was no guarantee that Esau would allow bygones to be bygones. He seriously believed that Esau might attempt to exterminate his entire family, so he devised a plan for the survival of at least some of them. They traveled in small caravans with distance in between each group so that if Esau attacked one, then the others would have time to flee. Needless to say, Jacob was not looking forward to a reunion with his brother.

After sending the last of his family off, Jacob remained behind alone, evidently to spend the night before heading out himself the next morning. The Torah tells us that during the night, however, “a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day” (Genesis 32:24). Much has been written to explain what exactly took place that night. Who was this mysterious figure that wrestled Jacob throughout the night? Was it an angel? Was it a demon? Was it Esau or someone representing him? 

Posted November 16, 2018 - 3:15pm

Stairway To Heaven

Parashat Vayeitze (Genesis 28:10-32:2)

This week’s Torah portion begins with one of the most mysterious and little-understood events recorded in the Torah. When Jacob spent the night in what he later calls Beit-El he had a curious dream charged with spiritual import:

And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! (Genesis 28:11–12)

In Jacob’s dream he sees a ladder stretching from heaven to earth and on it angels were ascending and descending. Although he is puzzled by this imagery, Jacob realizes that is holds spiritual significance and determines that he has come to a place of holiness:

Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.” And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” (Genesis 28:16–17)

Because of what he had seen in his dream Jacob calls the place Beth-El, or the “House of God.” He declares that not only is it the House of God, but that it is some sort of portal between heaven and earth where angels are able to come and go from one realm to the other. From this we can see the importance of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. While it stood it, the “House of God” functioned as the “gate of heaven” connecting heaven and earth.

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Latest Book Review

The Magerman Edition

Author: Daniel Rose & Jay Goldmintz
Publisher: Koren Publishers
Year: 2014

The Koren Ani Tefilla Siddur is one of the latest in Koren’s growing collection of siddurim (prayer books) geared towards a specific demographic. Koren describes Ani Tefilla as “an engaging and thought-provoking siddur for the inquiring high school student and thoughtful adult.” Koren says that Ani Tefillah has been developed in order “to help the user create their own meaning and connection during the Tefilla [prayer] experience.” The name of the siddur is connected with its objective. Ani Tefilla means “I pray.” 

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