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Posted December 10, 2019 - 3:40pm
Parashat Vayishlach (Genesis 32:3-36:43)

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).

At first, this doesn’t seem reasonable. It seems clear from a plain reading of the text that Dinah was being held against her wishes. A quick examination of the Hebrew, however, helps shed light on this. In Hebrew, the phrase, “[he] spoke tenderly to her,” in verse three is more literally translated, “he spoke to the heart of the young woman” (vayidaber al lev hana’ara). It seems that Shechem was what we call a “smooth talker.” Whether their relationship began with this smooth talk or not, it seems clear that Dinah’s emotions were being played upon at some point along the way and kept her from leaving him. In today’s terminology, we would call situations like this codependency. In a codependent situation, a woman will continually return to her husband after being abused because she believes his love for her is sincere, despite his abusive behavior. This isn’t rational behavior.

Posted December 4, 2019 - 2:02pm
Parashat Vayeitze (Genesis 28:10-32:2)

Our parashah begins, “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:

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, nothing was lacking. Maybe they didn’t necessarily recognize the benefit of his presence while he was with them and noticed the void only when he departed. Nevertheless, once he had left, his absence was palpable. The departure of a righteous person should be obvious.

Posted November 21, 2019 - 5:31am

When Yeshua was walking this earth, he was continually teaching his disciples his interpretations of Torah. He continually emphasized repentance and loving both our Heavenly Father and our neighbor through our actions and not merely our feelings. This naturally leads us to Shammai’s teaching in Pirkei Avot. Shammai taught his disciples, “Say little and do much” (Avot 1:15). According to the Talmud the wicked say much and do little, but the righteous say little and do much. An example is given of Abraham and how his deeds exceeded his words: 

It is written: “And I will fetch a morsel of bread, and satisfy your heart” (Genesis 18:5), and it is written: “And Abraham ran to the herd, and fetched a calf tender and good” (Genesis 18:7). Rabbi Elazar said: From here we learn that the righteous say little and do much, whereas the wicked say much and do not do even a little. (Bava Metzia 87a)

In this Talmudic passage, Rabbi Elazar contrasts what Abraham said to what he actually did. Abraham said that he would bring them “a morsel of bread,” something insignificant to stave off their hunger. But in reality, however, he had Sarah make them a feast made from three seahs of flour (nearly five gallons of flour!) and had a calf slaughtered for them. In other words, the wicked boast about everything they are going to do, but yet they do very little. And while the righteous don’t make great claims about what they will do, they simply work hard to produce pleasant and unexpected results. 

Posted November 19, 2019 - 2:10pm
Parashat Chayei Sarah (Genesis 23:1-25:18)

This week’s Torah portion begins by giving us the lifespan of Sarah.

And these were the life of Sarah: one hundred years, twenty years and seven years; the years of the life of Sarah. (Genesis 23:1)

Since this portion is titled Chayei Sarah, “The Life of Sarah,” we would expect to read more about the life of Sarah. But the very next words we read are, “And Sarah died.” It’s not quite what we expect of our Torah portion.

Despite the fact that we begin our portion reading about the death of Sarah, we can still learn something about her life. Although our translations render the first verse so that it reads better in English, in Hebrew this verse contains an unusual repetition. The same phrase, chayei Sarah, is used two different times: first at the beginning of the verse, and again at the end. This seems redundant. Our sages teach us, however, that the Torah does not waste even a single letter, much less entire words. Therefore, the seemingly redundant expression, “the life of Sarah,” must offer us some insight into a deeper meaning of the text. But what is the Torah wanting to teach us through this?

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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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