Category: A Taste of Torah

A Taste Of Torah – Parshas Vaera

Written by: Rabbi Mordechai Raizman

In this week’s Parsha we come across the four words that represent different levels of redemption. The first one is vehotzasi, alleviating us from the burdens of Egypt, the second is vhitzalti saving us from the hard labor, the third is vgoalti, the actual leaving of Egypt, and the last is vlokachti, G-d saying that He will take us for His nation. What does it mean to be the nation of G-d? What responsibilities accompanies that relationship?

Chazal tell us that there are three qualities that define the Jewish people: being compassionate, having a sense of embarrassment, and bestowing acts of kindness to others. At a time when we are focused and living up to these values, we represent the nation of G-d. G-d took us out of Egypt for a purpose. It was not just for freedom from slavery, but freedom for living up to these values and changing the world around us.

I heard a beautiful story that took place at the recent Siyum Hashas in Met Life stadium. One of the volunteers inside was handed a ticket by a member of the crowd coming in. The volunteer was told that this was an extra ticket that he had and if the volunteer found someone who needed it, he should please give it to him. The volunteer didn’t think there would be a need for it, but he took the ticket just in case.

 A few minutes later an officer outside the gate called this volunteer outside to help him with a situation that was unfolding. There was a man crying, and the officer was trying to calm him down without much success. The man said that he had a ticket for the Siyum and had been looking forward to this special day. Unfortunately, when the ticket was scanned, it was discovered that it was not a valid ticket. However, the sad man was convinced that his ticket was authentic and somehow the scanner wasn’t working properly. Security had no choice and refused to let him in.

When the volunteer heard the story, he immediately pulled the ticket out of his pocket that minutes before he had just received and said, “Here, I have an extra ticket. Use this one.”

The officer was amazed exclaiming, “Wow! That is so nice. We usually don’t see things like that happen here.” The volunteer explained that he had just received the ticket a few minutes before from someone who didn’t need it and wanted to help a person if it proved necessary. The officer replied again, “Wow!  Your G-d is really unbelievable.” 

This is who we are as a people. When we act in the ways that G-d wants us to follow, we are a reflection of G-d in this world and are truly His nation.

A Taste Of Torah – Parshas Shemos

Written by: Rabbi Avrohom S. Moller

“וַיַּרְא וְהִנֵּה הַסְּנֶה בֹּעֵר בָּאֵשׁ – And he (Moshe Rabeinu) saw that the thorn burning in fire.” This posuk describes Moshe Rabeinu’s first encounter with Hashem. Hashem commands him to return to Egypt and to deliver the Jewish people from their slavery.

The Kli Yakar (R. Ephraim of Lonshitz, commentator on Chumash 1540-1609) takes note of the unusual syntax of this posuk. Since the fire did not consume the bush, it would seem to be more appropriate to say, “The fire was burning in the thorn bush.” Instead, it says the bush was burning in the fire. The Kli Yakar gives a homiletic answer to this problem.

 Moshe Rabeinu was troubled by the intensity and duration of the Jewish people’s suffering. Why wasn’t Hashem bringing an end to this terrible time? The answer was given to him by the vision of the sneh – thorn bush. The thorn bush represents callousness and hatred. The fire represents the wrath of Hashem which is sometimes directed at his people. The message was that although the fire of Hashem’s anger was being displayed against his people, there still was infighting and hatred amongst Jews as we see from the encounter that Moshe had with Dasan and Avirum earlier. This hatred is symbolized by the thorny bush. Our people’s troubles should bring us together, not create rancor and jealousy. This is why the thorn bush was burning in the fire.

When we read the parsha, we relive the great moments and lessons of our people’s history. We have begun the Sefer HaGeula – the Book of Redemption.  We too are in great need of redemption and resolution to our people’s troubles. The way to affect that redemption is to examine the rivalries and disrespect that we show our fellow Jews. When that is corrected, G-d’s promised redemption will surely follow.

A Taste of Torah – Parshas Vayechi

Long Lasting Effects

Written by: Rabbi Mordechai Raizman

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayechi, Yaakov tells Yosef that your sons who were born before I came down to Egypt, Ephraim and Menashe, are mine. Rashi understands the statement to mean that Yaakov has a greater connection with the sons born before he came down to Egypt than to Yosef’s future children that would be born while he would reside in Egypt. Rashi notes that this statement also has a practical application. Only these two sons born before Yaakov’s arrival are to be counted as part of the twelve tribes and receive an inheritance in the land of Israel. A question then arises. Wouldn’t it be natural to assume that the sons born while Yaakov is living in Egypt would have a greater connection with Yaakov being raised under his guidance as opposed to the sons who were already grown when their grandfather arrived?

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, zatzal, says this passuk illustrates a great lesson about chinuch – educating one’s children. Yaakov’s message to Yosef was simply defining successful parenting. He is saying to Yosef that the chinuch, I, Yaakov, gave you enabled you to raise your children true to the values of Torah even in a foreign land without my presence.

Educating one’s children to learn the values that are dear to us is a daunting task, and its true measure of success is recognized even more so when one’s children leave home and take those lessons with them. Therefore, a parent does not have to be close by watching every move his/her child makes.  Parents need to give their children the tools, life lessons, and values to make the right choices wherever they may be.

May we all follow in the footsteps of our forefather Yaakov and instill in our children a deep appreciation of who we are and for what we live.

A Taste of Torah – Parshas Vayigash

Written by: Rabbi Avrohom S. Moller

Yosef HaTzaddik is portrayed in the Torah as being the provider for his father, his family, his country, and indeed, the entire region around Egypt. During the seven years of famine, all of the neighboring countries had to come to Egypt to purchase food from Yosef’s stores. When his father and brothers came to Egypt, it was Yosef who provided them with all of their needs. Yosef showed a great deal of leadership and strength during this period as he negotiated with the Egyptians and relocated an entire population while managing this enormous distribution program.

One might picture Yosef as a highly disciplined, efficient, driven and very organized person and that is probably correct. Yosef HaTzaddik had been sold into slavery and had risen from rags to riches without anyone giving him a break. He had spurned the advances of Potiphar’s wife and endured imprisonment because of wicked accusations which should have left him very embittered. Yet, we also read about a compassionate and emotional person (Yosef is the Torah personality who is described as crying the most) which he must have been. He treated his brothers with tremendous sensitivity and kindness in spite of all that they had done to him.

It is typical for people who are overachievers to be very demanding of themselves and also of others. It is really rare that someone can be highly disciplined and demanding of one’s self, yet gentle and understanding of other people’s shortcomings and foibles. Yosef HaTzaddik is compared (Devarim 33:17) to the ox which is immensely powerful yet also very patient and gentle. This is because he was this synthesis of calm patience and inner strength.

The truth is that both of these attributes are really one. To be demanding of one’s self yet tolerant of others’ shortcomings are two sides of the same coin. When we withhold judgement and give others the benefit of the doubt, we are also showing strength as the passuk says, “The patient one is better than the champion and one who conquers his spirit is better than the conqueror of a city”(Mishlei 16:32). We should all aspire and work on developing our strength in both our self-control and our acceptance of others.

A Taste of Torah – Chanukah

Just a Moment

Written by: Rabbi Mordechai Raizman

During Chanukah, the special prayer, Al Hanisim, is added to our tefillos (prayers). This tefilla thanks Hashem for the miracles He performed for the small Jewish army during the battle against the more formidable Greek one. When one looks closely at this prayer, there seems to be a glaring omission. There is no mention during the prayer of the miracle of the small jug of oil that was found allowing the candles to remain lit for eight days. In fact, there is no mention of the candles until the last line which states, Afterwards (referring to the battle) they lit candles and this line seems almost an afterthought. However, if one understands the true focus of the prayer, this line becomes the most powerful one.

After the war, what was the first thing our ancestors did? They did not sit back and enjoy the moment or run a ticker-tape parade to celebrate. Instead, they immediately returned to the Bais Hamikdosh (Temple) to re-establish the Avodah (Daily Services) there. They were inspired by the miracles they witnessed during the war and acted on that inspiration right away. These actions, in turn, brought about the miracle of finding the jug of oil.

This series of events is what we need to keep in mind and to teach our children.  When moments of inspirations are acted upon at once, good things will follow. A famous quote states, “Moments can be momentary or momentous; it all depends on how you use it.” Remember, a moment of better concentration in tefillah or a moment of doing an act of kindness with more thought or a moment of thanking Hashem for all that He gives us can make a monumental change in our lives.

A Taste of Torah – Parshas VaYeshev

Written by: Rabbi Avrohom S. Moller

Parshas VaYeshev is the first of four parshiyos that discuss Yosef HaTzaddik’s travails when he was sold into slavery by his brothers and the repercussions it had on the family and indeed on the course of world history. The possuk seems to attribute the brothers’ resentment toward Yosef to Yaakov Avinu’s favoritism that he showed Yosef and also to Yosef’s own conduct toward his brothers, i.e., relating bad information to their father and telling them of his dreams of grandeur. Indeed, the Gemara (Shabbos 10b) says that a person should be careful not to show favoritism to one child over the other since “…for two selahs weight of fine wool which Yaakov gave Yosef more than his brothers, they were jealous and ultimately this led to our ancestors being enslaved in Egypt.”

This Gemara seems to blame Yaakov Avinu’s choice to favor as the catalyst for the entire Galus Mitzraim, the terrible suffering and enslavement in Egypt. The question is why did Yaakov overlook such a seemingly obvious dictum in raising children?

The Chassam Sofer (Rabbi Moshe Sofer of Pressburg, Slovakia 1762-1839) explains that Yaakov’s error was that he had a very different perspective of Yosef and of his position in the family. He saw Yosef as the scholar and Torah leader in the family. The Torah says that the reason Yaakov loved Yosef was because he was a “ben zekunim.” The Targum’s translation is that he was the wise son, the one to whom Yaakov transmitted all his lifetime learning. Since Yaakov saw Yosef this way, he thought that his other children saw this as well and that they recognized Yosef as a leader deserving of special status.

What Yaakov did not realize is that Yosef had a different relationship with his brothers. He acted like a “typical” brother even displaying an immaturity and perhaps a frivolity which did not make them feel that he was worthy of the leadership position to which he clearly aspired. The posssuk says he acted as a lad with the sons of Bilha and Zilpa. This created the rift between Yosef and his brothers since they believed that he wasn’t more worthy than they were of their father’s affection and attention.

As parents and as people of influence, we need to consider that other people may have a different perspective of an issue or of a person and that they may be very passionate about that perspective. If we are unaware or indifferent of this disparity, we might end up with a very damaging situation. We need to stay aware of feelings and attitudes of those whom we seek to influence, or we might be creating some very negative unforeseen consequences.