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Posted November 24, 2017 - 12:52pm

Make Me Like Dust

Our parashah begins with Jacob leaving Beersheba and setting out toward Paddan-aram in order to search for a bride from among Abraham’s family. On the way, however, he spends the night in Luz, a city he ends up calling “Bethel,” which means, “House of God.” During the night Hashem appears to Jacob in a dream. He sees angels ascending and descending on a ladder extending into heaven. In this dream the LORD appears to Jacob and makes him a promise. As part of that promise He tells Jacob:

Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. (Genesis 28:14)

The first phrase of this passage says, “Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth.” Without the additional context it doesn’t sound too appealing. Who wants to be like dust? Isn’t dust the lowest, most debased thing on earth? Isn’t our return to dust an inevitable future for all living creatures? Echoing Genesis 3:19, Ecclesiastes 3:20 tells us, “All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return.” Within the context, however, we find that being like dust is truly a blessing, since dust symbolizes an incalculable multiplication of Jacob’s offspring.

Posted November 17, 2017 - 11:01am

The Prayer of the Righteous

Parashat Toldot is essentially the story explaining how Jacob ended up receiving the birthright in place of his brother, Esau. At the very beginning of the story, however, Isaac and Rebecca have no children. Like, her mother-in-law, Sarah, Rebecca is barren. Just a few chapters over we also see that Rachel, the favored wife of Jacob, is also barren. All three of the matriarchs struggle with fertility, but yet all three eventually are able to conceive. Why is it that all three of these godly families struggled in this way? The Talmud proposes that it was because the LORD desired their prayers:

R. Isaac stated: Why were our ancestors barren? Because the Holy One, blessed be He, longs to hear the prayer of the righteous. (Yevamot 64a)

Is this truly the case? In Genesis 25:21 we read, “And Isaac prayed to the LORD for his wife, because she was barren. And the LORD granted his prayer, and Rebekah his wife conceived.” In Hebrew, the words “prayed” and “granted his prayer” use two different forms of the same root word (atar) that has the general meaning of pleading or supplicating. The way it is used in the second part of this passage, however, seems to be less passive than our English translations generally render it. Rashi suggests that it should read, “and he prevailed on the LORD,” commenting, “He (God) allowed Himself to be entreated and placated and swayed by him.”

The midrash suggests that Isaac’s entreatment “dug through” to Hashem and compelled Him to act on his behalf. It uses a play on words to compare the entreatment of Isaac to a prince digging a tunnel to his father. From this perspective, Isaac’s prayers were not only answered by Hashem, but they were also aided by Him:

Posted November 10, 2017 - 7:11am

Identity In Anonymity

In this week’s Torah portion we read about death and life. Although Parashat Chayei Sarah is deeply saddening in that we learn about the deaths of both Abraham and Sarah, it’s chapters are also filled with the romantic story of Isaac’s betrothal and marriage to Rebecca. Let’s turn to this latter event to understand more about our role as a disciple of Yeshua.

In regard to Isaac’s marriage to Rebecca the Torah explains, “So Isaac was comforted after his mother's death” (Genesis 24:67). Isaac’s marriage was a source of comfort and joy to not only Isaac, but to Abraham as well. As soon as Abraham had laid Sarah to rest in the cave of Machpelah, he began working to procure a wife for his son. One of the more unique factors about the engagement of Isaac to Rebecca, however, is that it took place in a manner that is foreign to most people today, especially those of us entrenched in Western culture. Rather than Isaac meeting a beautiful young lady at a social event and asking her out on a date, Isaac and Rebecca’s relationship was pre-arranged by their parents. In Judaism, this is called a shidduch, a pre-arranged marriage. In a world of independence, self-reliance, distrust, and cynicism, this practice seems oppressive to our modern senses. However, in Abraham’s day when a relationship was established between the heads of two families it was understood to be in the best interests of the children. 

Posted November 3, 2017 - 9:23am

Cloning from Abraham’s DNA

One of the most well-known and riveting stories in the Torah is the binding of Isaac, found at the end of this week’s Torah portion. In Hebrew, it is referred to as the Akeidah, or the Binding. It is considered the final (and most difficult) of ten trials through which God tested Abraham. There are many lessons we can learn from this single event. We will attempt to bring out a few important aspects here.

At the very beginning of this passage, the Torah tells us, “After these things God tested Abraham” (Genesis 22:1). Why did God need to test Abraham? Doesn’t He know everything about every person on earth? Many times we tend to view the hardships of life as attacks from the adversary. However, just as Abraham, the father of our faith, was tested, we—the spiritual children of Abraham—should also expect testing. And we should not only expect testing, but we should embrace it. The fact is that tests are not for God, but for man. When we pass our test it demonstrates our faith in God to the world. And sometimes passing that test lets us know that we are capable of even more than we realize.

When Hashem told Abraham to bring his beloved son to Mount Moriah to offer him up as an olah, a burnt offering, Abraham’s response was to rise early in the morning and make all of the preparations for the mission he had been given. Abraham demonstrated a character trait known in Hebrew as zerizut, or alacrity. When he had a job to do, even one as difficult as this, he did not delay, but took to it immediately with fervor. Whereas anyone with lesser faith would have hesitated or even delayed obeying Hashem’s instructions due to their severity, Abraham was eager to carry them out as quickly as possible.


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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