Friday, December 8, 2017

Let's Talk

The Torah relates several events that shed light upon, or impact upon, the relationship between Josef and his brothers. A strained relationship that, as we know, reaches its climax in the sale of Josef by his brothers.

The perceived special love that Yaakov has for Yosef, including the gift of the כתנת פסים (the multi-colored coat), and Yosef’s two dreams, foreshadow his future authority over his brothers. Even before Yosef relates his dreams to his brothers, the Torah tells us of the brother’s feelings and attitude towards Yosef,

וישנאו אתו ולא יכלו דברו לשלום
(they hated him; and they were not able to speak to him peaceably).

At first glance, these two statements would seem to follow one another, “because they hated him they were unable to speak with him.” Rabbi Yonasan Eibshitz, however, offers a very different approach to understanding this verse.

Rabbi Eibshitz suggests that these two ideas do indeed follow one another, but in the reverse order. He explains as follows; it is human nature, that if one bears ill will against another, those feelings will build and grow stronger. If however, the situation is discussed openly, and feelings and perceptions are brought to light, then each party will have the opportunity to explain circumstances and impressions. Such open communication provides for the possibility of reconciliation, and the putting to rest of old, misunderstood or erroneous grudges.

Following this approach, the above pasuk would read as follows, “Because they would not take the time to speak with him, [and openly discuss the issues that caused such conflict between them]; [they were unable to resolve their negative feelings towards him and] they hated him.”

How often is it our own stubborn refusal to deal with an issue, rather than the issue itself, that is cause for so much heartache and pain?  For our own good, as well as the example we must set for our children, we must rise above this sentiment and strive for Shalom/Peace.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Don Pacht

Friday, December 1, 2017

All or Nothing

After years of separation, Yaakov and Eisav would meet again.  Yaakov, traveling home to see his parents after more than two decades apart, and Eisav, advancing with an army of four hundred men, hoping to exact revenge from his brother Yaakov.

With heartfelt prayer, clever maneuvering and a very significant bribe, Yaakov is successful in calming his brother’s wrath and for the first time since they were little children Yaakov and Eisav were at peace with one another.

After their initial reunion, the conversation turns to the issue of the valuable gifts that Yaakov had sent to Eisav to win his favor.  Yaakov is insistent that he is not lacking for material needs and therefore would like for Eisav to keep the gifts.  Eisav responds that he, too is not in need and that Yaakov should maintain ownership. 

Rabbi Yisroel Meir HaKohen Kagen, the Chofetz Chaim, points out the different phrases that each brother uses to convey what should be the identical message.  Eisav refers to his wealth and says,"יש לי רב", (I have much).  Yaakov uses a slightly different phrase, "יש לי כל", (I have everything). 

Borrowing from Rashi’s explanation, Rabbi Kagen explains “everything” meant that Yaakov felt he had all that he truly needed.  Eisav, on the other hand felt that although he had “much” he had not fully satisfied all of his desires.
All of the classic ethical texts speak of this paradoxical   concept.  “The  more  we  have, the more we want.”  Although it seems counter-intuitive, it has been proven out time and again.  It is this very weakness that is addressed in Pirkei Avot, “Who is rich?  He who is satisfied with his lot.” 

It is our challenge to combat our own nature, and appreciate what we have been given.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Don Pacht

Friday, November 24, 2017

A Helping Hand

Yaakov is forced to flee the wrath of his brother Eisav. On his way to Charan, he stops for the night and experiences the famous dream of the ladder extending heavenward.

The location of this episode, our sages teach, is none other than Har HaMoriah (Mount Moriah), the future site of the Beit HaMikdash (Holy Temple).

When the Torah describes Yaakov’s choice of location it uses a very interesting term, ויפגע במקום(and he encountered the place).
Rashi explains that this is an allusion to the fact that Yaakov chose this place for prayer.

However, the Torah did not use the regular term for prayer (ויתפלל), instead using this unique expression, to inform us of another point. Although Yaakov had passed this location on his way to Charan, it was not until later that he realized that he had passed-up the opportunity to pray at this special place. He therefore decided to retrace his steps and return to this holy site. When he set out to return, Hashem caused the land to contract thus reducing the time it took Yaakov to reach his destination.

This special miracle, known as k’fitzat haderech (shortening of the path), occurs several times in the Torah (most recently when Eliezer traveled to find a wife for Yitzchak). It is Hashem’s way of helping the righteous to achieve their goals.

Rabbi E.E. Dessler in the work Michtav M’Eliyahu, extrapolates a wonderful lesson from this account. Once Yaakov had made up his mind to return to this special place to pray, he was worthy of divine assistance.

We often assume that before one can truly be considered worthy, he must pass a number of trials to prove his mettle. Whereas, in fact, Rabbi Dessler concludes, Hashem is only too happy to assist us - if we will only give him the opportunity.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Don Pacht