Friday, November 16, 2018

Ups and Downs

As Yaakov flees from his home in Be’er Sheva to escape the wrath and fury of his brother Esav, he stopped to spend the night. In his dream he sees a ladder extending heavenward and angels ascending and descending on it. As well, he heard the reassuring voice of Hashem reiterating to him the promises of protection from evil, an eternal homeland and the continuity of his progeny. 
Rabbi Yaakov ben Asher, in his commentary on the Torah, Ba’al Haturim, notes that the Gematria (numerical value) of the word סולם/sulam (ladder), is equal to the value of the word קול/kol (voice) 136
The inherent message, explains the Ba’al Haturim, is that when we raise our voices in proper prayer we create a ladder that connects us to the spirituality of the heavens. This ladder allows the angels to ascend and bring our requests before Hashem. Conversely, improper Tefillah hinders that access that we have to Hashem. 
Interestingly, the two Hebrew words that represent wealth ( ממון/mamon) and poverty (עוי/oni) also have a Gematria of 136. This apparent “coincidence” serves to inform us that the path towards true enrichment in our lives, in both the temporal as well as spiritual spheres is through prayer. 
As parents, we have a responsibility to set the proper example for our children in proper decorum and participation in meaningful prayer.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Don Pacht

Friday, November 9, 2018

To Each His Own

As Yitzchak grows old, the time comes for him to offer his blessings to his children. Eisav is sent to prepare a special meal for his father. Rivka recognizes this as the opportune time for Yaakov to claim the birthright that Eisav had sold to him so many years before. While Eisav was still out hunting game, Rivka prepares delicacies for Yitzchak and instructs Yaakov on what to do.

Yaakov however, is concerned that his smooth skin will reveal his true identity to Yitzchak: 

אולי ימושני אבי והייתי בעיניו כמתעתע, והבאתי עלי קללה ולא ברכה

(Perhaps my father will feel [my hands and recognize that I am not Eisav]...and I shall bring upon myself a curse instead of a blessing).

It seems strange to even consider the possibility that Yitzchak would curse his own son! Even if Yaakov were caught trying to trick him. He might withhold the blessing, but would he actually give him a curse?

Reb Yitzchak of Volozin answers this question through a novel explanation of the verse. Yaakov’s primary concern was that he might receive the blessing intended solelyfor Eisav. Although it is a blessing, to Yaakov it would have been a curse!

We are each unique individuals with different talents, abilities and destinies. What may be the optimal life for one, may spell unhappiness and disaster for another. Just as Yaakov was able to identify the special qualities that he was meant to pursue, so too we are challenged with maintaining and fostering that which will help each and every one of us reach our full potential.

As parents and educators, this presents a very real challenge. It is natural to see what ‘works’ for one child and apply that to our parenting (or classroom) style.  In truth, we must look beyond this short-sighted approach.  We have a responsibility to delve-in to the needs of each child as an individual and offer what he/she needs most.

In this way, we will truly  bestow a blessing.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Don Pacht

Friday, November 2, 2018

The True Measure

Eliezer, the trusted servant of our forefather Avraham, returns from the land of Aram Naharaim and brings with him Rivka, Yitzchak’s future wife.  It had certainly been an eventful journey, one that was marked with several miraculous events.  
Rashi tells us that Hashem allowed for Eliezer to travel great distances in a much shorter time than it would normally have taken.  As well, we are all familiar with the events that unfolded at the well, when no sooner had Eliezer finished devising a method by which Hashem could indicate who was to be Yitzchak’s bride, and then out came Rivka whose actions matched those described by Eliezer exactly.  There was even a plot against Eliezer’s life that was thwarted only through the intervention of an angel.
Upon his return Eliezer made sure to recount these details to his master Yitzchak.  No doubt that he would clearly see that Rivka was his intended. The Torah indeed tells us that after hearing of the account, Rivka becomes Yitzchak’s wife.  
Interestingly, the Targum Unkelos when explaining this verse adds one point-“and Yitzchak saw that her actions were like the actions of his mother Sarah”.  Reb Velvle Soloveitchik points out a startling message.  The true measure of an individual is not the number of miracles that may have been performed on his or her behalf but the propriety of their actions. Miracles are certainly very impressive but actions speak much louder.
We spend quite a bit of time in our study of Chumash focusing on the lives of our Matriarchs and Patriarchs.  While they certainly attained great levels of piety, righteousness and scholarship, ultimately though, when choosing the right wife to continue the legacy of Avraham, it was character that shone the brightest.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Don Pacht

Friday, October 26, 2018


Towards the end of this week’s Parsha, Avraham is faced with the last and most difficult of his ten trials, the Akeidat Yitzchok (the binding of Isaac).  Avraham is asked to take his beloved son, from whom he was promised offspring too numerous to count, and raise him as a sacrifice to Hashem.  


After a three day journey, Avraham, Yitzchok and the two youths (whom our sages tell us were Eliezer and Yishmael), who were accompanying them, reach the mountain that Hashem specified.  Avraham asks the youths to wait as he and Yitzchak proceed alone. With Yitzchok bound on the altar and the knife just inches from his neck…an angel of Hashem calls to Avraham telling him not to proceed as he has proven his faith beyond any doubt. 

The narrative concludes with Avraham sacrificing a ram, which had been caught in a thicket, in place of his son Isaac.  
The Torah then tells us,
"וישב אברהם אל נעריו, ויקמו וילכו יחדיו אל באר שבע"
(Avraham returned to his young men and they stood up and went together [to Be’er Sheva]).  
It is interesting to note that the word “יחדיו”, (together) is used twice before in this narrative.  In both instances Rashi explains the Torah to be explaining that Avraham and Yitzchok were both of the same mind as they traveled.  Avraham was prepared to sacrifice his son, and Yitzchok was prepared to be sacrificed as it was the will of Hashem.  How then are we to understand this  same  term  as applied to Eliezer and Yishmael who were unaware ofand uninvolved with this great Mitzvah?
The Brisker Rav explains that these two great Tzaddikim who had just reached the loftiest spiritual heights imaginable, were still content to travel “together” with these unspectacular individuals and they did not consider it to be beneath their dignity.  Such was the greatness of our forefathers, concludes the Brisker Rav, that they did not allow themselves prideful or haughty feelings even after having performed such a wonderful Mitzvah.
In fact, the Sefer Orchot Tzaddikim points out that the harmful effects of Gaiva (pride) can easily negate the positive aspect of the Mitzvah itself.  It is therefore incumbent upon us to follow the lead of Avraham and Yitzchok to ensure that our good deeds are not tainted in this way and that they remain only as experiences for growth.

Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Don Pacht

Friday, October 19, 2018

In Their Footsteps

Our forefather Avraham underwent ten trials (nisyonot) through which his faith in HaShem was tested.  The Midrash tells of how Avraham had to choose between denouncing his belief in a single, omnipotent G-d, or being cast into a fiery furnace by Nimrod, the evil despot.  Avraham refused to bend and was miraculously saved from the flames.

Other trials included his decades of childlessness, famine and, of course, being asked to sacrifice his son Yitzchok on the altar.  In every situation, Avraham fulfilled Hashem’s request without hesitation.

At the beginning of our parasha, Avraham is challenged with the trial of ‘Lech Lecha’:

לך לך מארצך וממולדתך ומבית אביך אל הארץ אשר אראך

“go for yourself from your land, your relatives, and from your father’s house 
to the land that I will show you.”

Without so much as a roadmap, Avraham is commanded to leave all that he has known and blaze a trail to a new land (Canaan), where he would have to rebuild all that he was forced to leave behind.  He did not know it at the time, but Avraham was the first Jew to make Aliyah from the diaspora to (what would later be known as), Israel.

Rabbi Chaim Volozhin makes an interesting observation about Avraham and the hardships that he endured.  We point to Avraham’s ability to endure in his faith despite these difficulties.  This is, in fact, what earns him his rightful place in our daily prayers.  Yet, we have seen throughout our history that there have been many individuals who have been placed in the same situation and have chosen the path of righteousness.  

We would, of course, not wish this upon anyone, but countless of our brethren were marched to their deaths because they refused to recant their belief in HaShem.  Similarly, Avraham is credited with leaving behind his comforts of home to settle the Land of Israel.  We ALL know people who have sacrificed the relative comforts of North America to stake their claim to our ancestral homeland (insert joke here about making a small fortune in Israel).

Rabbi Chaim therefore explains, that our ability to overcome these obstacles in our own lives is based on the strength of character that we have inherited form our progenitors.  As our Matriarchs and Patriarchs passed each of these tests, it fortified in them a spiritual DNA that is present in us thousands of years later.

This concept opens a window to an amazing opportunity that we as parents and teachers possess that allows us to inspire and empower future generations.

When our children see that we are ready to sacrifice certain comforts so that they can study Torah (dayschool tuition is no small matter), it gives them the strength to make their own sacrifices and to choose Jewish continuity over creature comforts.  The emotion that we invest in our prayers, imparts a clear message to our children.

In our every action and interaction, we have the opportunity to inspire our students and children to be better versions of themselves.  This, in turn, will be passed along to the next generation.  And on and on.

We are so fortunate to have had ancestors who have paved the way for us.  Individuals whose strong faith and sterling character have stood as shining examples of our loftiest goals.  We have benefitted from their guidance, leadership and spiritual merits.  Now, it is our turn to do the same for those who come after us.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Don Pacht

Friday, October 12, 2018

First Things First

The Torah describes Noach with three words; “איש-צדיק-תמים”, (a righteous and wholehearted man).  

At first glance the word “איש” (Man) might seem superfluous. Surely we would be able to gather such information from the context of the following verses.  

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein suggests that the Torah is alluding to a fundamental principle.  Before one can be a Tzaddik, before one can reach great spiritual heights or amass a wealth of Torah knowledge, one must first and foremost be a Mentch.  Sterling moral character, social and emotional sensitivities and a great deal of common sense all serve as the foundation.  First be a Mentch, concludes Rabbi Feinstein, only then can we consider other titles.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Don Pacht

Friday, October 5, 2018

A Perfect Match

In six days, Hashem creates our world and everything within it.  After, land, sea, vegetation, fish fowl and animal Hashem turns to the pinnacle of creation and brings forth Adam, the first man.  Hashem places Adam in Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden) and tells him to enjoy all its bounty (except for one tree, of course).  It is then that Hashem observes:

לא טוב היות האדם לבדו; אעשה לו עזר כנגדו
“It is not good that man be alone; I will make him an ezer kinegdo
(a helper corresponding to him(

While we would expect the very next verse to describe how Hashem takes Adam’s ‘rib’ and fashions
him a wife. Instead, the Torah transitions to what appears to be an unrelated report of how Hashem brought each animal before Adam, who gave each a name.  Adam offers names for every animal of the earth and every bird of the sky but, as the Torah reports, he did not find his ezer kinegdo, the corresponding helper, that he sought.  It is then that Hashem casts a deep sleep on Adam and fashions Chava (Eve) the first woman.

Rabbi Ovadia Seforno, in his commentary explains this puzzling sequence of verses.  Before He created Chava, Hashem wanted Adam to see every other product of creation to see that there was no match for him in existence and it would require a very special act of creation to find him his ezer(helper). Rabbi Akiva Grunblatt explains that, had Chava been brought to Adam before he experienced this process, Adam may very well have wondered “perhaps there is a better match for me out there.” Now that he had seen all of creation, he knew that he and Chava were (literally) made for each other.

All too often, we fail to appreciate what we have. Instead, we are always on the lookout for ‘something better’.  This unfortunate attitude keeps from appreciating and enjoying all that Hashem has given us (in fact…created justfor us).

We must remember that our Creator knows what we need and has created a world to provide it to us.  It is our responsibility to recognize that reality, appreciate what we have and use these tools to contribute to His world. 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Don Pacht