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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.

Posted October 26, 2018 - 2:53pm

Unlocking The Secret To Immortality

Parashat Vayeira (Genesis 18:1-22:24)

Followers of Yeshua generally understand the concept of life-after-death. Our eternal hope is in the resurrection of the dead and the life we will enjoy in our immortal bodies. Yeshua speaks of this eternal life in Matthew 25. Paul explains this reality by saying, “For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality” (1 Corinthians 15:53). Our eternal resurrection will be the defeat of the ultimate enemy: death. This is the understanding many have of immortality and how we enter into it. However, there may be another aspect of immortality and a way we can achieve it now, even while we live in this world. Let’s turn to our parashah to help us understand this concept.

In Parashat Vayeira Abraham and Sarah are visited by three men who turn out to be angelic messengers. They have come for at least two specific purposes. The first is to deliver the good news to Abraham and Sarah that Isaac will be born to them the following year. But they have also come to bring judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah and their neighboring towns. At first it appears that they will forego letting Abraham in on their plans. However, as they begin to set out toward Sodom, the LORD says, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him?” (Genesis 18:17–18). He chooses to reveal His plans to Abraham.

But in the very next verse, Hashem gives the reason He has chosen Abraham to occupy a special place in His mission among all mankind:

For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him. (Genesis 18:19)

Posted October 19, 2018 - 9:58am

Changing The Future

Parashat Lech Lecha (Genesis 12:1-17:27)

At the beginning of our parashah we learn about the calling of a man named Abram. The LORD would eventually change his name to Abraham, but while he was still called Abram, the Creator of the Universe summoned him out from among his people and into His service. He immediately left a city named Haran and headed toward Canaan, the land God would eventually give to him and his descendants. When he reach Canaan, however, the Torah details Abram’s encampments, naming them individually beginning with Shechem, as it says, “Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh” (Genesis 12:6). Ramban (Nachmanides) takes note of this and asks why the Torah records these encampments. He answers his own question by saying the Torah is teaching us a valuable lesson. It is a principle of the Torah which states, ma’asei avot siman l’banim, “The deeds of the fathers are portents / signs for the children.”

Abraham—the father of the Israelite nation and the father of faith to all who believe—set the pattern for those who would come after him. His actions set in motion this spiritual principle. Everything he did became a blueprint for both his natural children and his spiritual children. We can see this principle being played out in the lives of Abraham’s children and grandchildren. Both Isaac and Jacob often retrace the steps of Abraham and imitate his actions. For instance, when Abraham settles in the land of the Philistines, he tells Abimelech that Sarah is his sister and the king takes her for himself. When Isaac journeys to the same area he repeats this same ruse with Rebecca with the same results.

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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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