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Posted December 30, 2016 - 5:03am

Akavya ben Mahalalel said: Reflect upon three things and you will not come into the hands sin. Know from where you came and where you are going and before whom you are destined to give account and reckoning. (m.Avot 3:1)

Know from where you came

In our mishnah, Akavya ben Mahalalel seems to be telling us something similar to what we have already studied. He says, “Reflect upon three things and you will not come into the hands sin.” This seems to be a repeat of what Rabbi (Yehudah HaNasi) has already told us in the previous chapter (Avot 2:1). They both begin identically: “Reflect on three things and you will not come into the hands of sin.” However, the list that follows is different in each case. Akavya’s list says, “Know from where you came and where you are going and before whom you are destined to give account and reckoning.” Rabbi’s list says, “Know what is above you—a seeing eye, a hearing ear, and all your deeds recorded in a book.” What’s the difference? We need to read the second part of the mishnah in order to understand how Akavya’s point differs from that of Rabbi:

From where have you come?—from a putrid drop. Where are you going?—to the place of dust, worm, and maggot. Before whom are you destined to give account and reckoning?—before the supreme King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be he.

Posted December 23, 2016 - 7:03am

And they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it. (Genesis 37:24)

Parashat Vayeishev begins the story of Joseph. When we first encounter him, he is a seventeen year old young man. We learn that his father, Jacob, had a special love for him above all of his eleven brothers. He was loved so much so that his father had given him a special, and highly recognizable garment that distinguished him from among his brothers. It was this disproportionate love that stirred up jealousy from his brothers and fostered their resentment toward him. That resentment eventually turned to a genuine hatred of Joseph and caused his brothers to eventually plot to do away with him.

As the story goes, one day Jacob tells Joseph to go out to the land of Shechem where his older brothers were watching over the flock. He was to check in on them and see how they were doing and then report back to his father. His father knew he would give him the scoop on what his other sons were really doing while they were away from home with the flock. His brothers probably called him the Little Snitch. And being his father’s spy didn’t earn him any brownie points with his brothers. It only stirred up more hatred toward him.

Posted December 16, 2016 - 8:40am

This week’s parashah covers a lot of territory. We begin reading about Jacob preparing to meet his brother Esau after his departure from the house of Laban. From there we read about him wrestling through the night with what appears to be an angel of God. Jacob then encounters Esau and things go much better than expected. Esau is cordial and Jacob doesn’t get killed, so he skirts around his brother’s territory and heads over to Succoth. But after this we read of a sad incident in which his daughter, Dinah, is seduced and defiled by a man named Shechem. It is this incident that we will examine a little more closely.

When Shechem first saw Dinah he immediately desired her. He knew he needed to do whatever it took to get her. Our English translations make it appear that he simply found her alone and had his way with her. It says, “he seized her and lay with her and humiliated [or ‘violated’] her” (Genesis 34:2). The next verse, however, seems to indicate that Shechem had a genuine love for Dinah. It says, “And his soul was drawn to Dinah the daughter of Jacob. He loved the young woman and spoke tenderly to her” (Genesis 34:3). Even more confusing is the midrash’s account of how Dinah was rescued from Shechem. Commenting on the Torah’s account that they “took Dinah out of Shechem's house,” Rabbi Judah says, “They dragged her out [against her will] and departed” (Midrash Rabbah 80:11 commenting on Genesis 34:26).

Posted December 9, 2016 - 8:54am

Our parashah begins by telling us, “Jacob left Beersheba and went toward Haran” (Genesis 28:10). Rashi makes a keen observation on this verse. He asks a question that should be obvious to us: “Why does the Torah mention Jacob’s departure from Beersheba?” If we’ve been paying attention we should remember that the Torah had just mentioned this fact a few verses prior. Verse seven says, “Jacob had obeyed his father and his mother and gone to Paddan-aram.” Haran is located within the region of Paddan-aram. Therefore, we’ve been told twice within a few sentences that Jacob went toward Haran. If the Torah doesn’t waste words, then why does it repeat itself in this case? Rashi says that we are supposed to learn an important lesson through this repetition. He quotes the midrash by saying:

This tells us that the departure of a righteous man from a place makes an impression, for while the righteous man is in the city, he is its beauty, he is its splendor, he is its majesty. When he departs from there, its beauty has departed, its splendor has departed, its majesty has departed. (Rashi’s reference to and quotation of Genesis Rabbah 68:6)

According to Rashi, the repetition of Jacob’s departure is to teach us “that the departure of a righteous man from a place makes an impression.” When Jacob left Beersheba, his absence was felt. The people in that region missed him terribly and realized that his presence made a difference in their lives. When he was with them there was nothing lacking. Maybe they didn’t necessarily recognize the benefit of his presence while he was with them and only noticed the void when he departed. Nevertheless, once he had left, his absence was palpably felt. The departure of a righteous person should be obviously noticeable.

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Latest Book Review

The Magerman Edition

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

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