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Chanukah: The True Heroes

December 9, 2017 – 11:09 pm | 52 views

The Women
The miracle of Chanukah has true heroes, and though we usually think of the Maccabees and the priests who kindled the miraculous lamps in the Temple, Chanukah’s true heroes are the women and children.
The Talmud tells us that although positive commandments bound by particular times, are usually non-binding on …

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Vayeshev: Prosperity

December 2, 2017 – 11:20 pm |

After Jacob returned from Haran, where he contended with the avarice and deceit of his uncle Laban, he was forced to face his long-standing nemesis and brother Esau. Once that was done, Jacob sought to settle down and raise his family in relative peace and comfort. He hoped to enjoy the prosperity that he had accumulated in Haran and luxuriate in a little tranquility.

Yet, before he had a chance to catch his breath, a new problem arose. His children began to bicker; an annoyance that grew into a conflagration when the brothers sold Joseph into slavery. Jacob must have been distraught as history repeated itself. First his own brother wanted to kill him, and then his sons wanted to kill their brother. Was there no end to suffering?

Our sages made the following observation: “When Jacob sought to dwell in tranquility, the troubles of Joseph sprang upon him. The righteous seek to dwell in tranquility. Said the Holy One, blessed be He, “What is prepared for the righteous in the world to come is not sufficient for them, but they seek [also] to dwell in tranquility in this world?”[1]

Our sages make it sound like Jacob was wrong to seek tranquility. But why is that wrong? Didn’t Jacob deserve some peace, luxury, comfort, security, and prosperity as he entered the sunset of his life?

Our sages say that it is unfair to expect tranquility in this world and reward in the world to come. But why must it be so? Over the course of history, there have been many wealthy sages who enjoyed tranquility and prosperity in this world and reward in the world to come. In fact, we don’t need to dig deep to find such examples. Jacob’s grandfather Abraham, his father Isaac, and his son Joseph, all enjoyed prosperity and tranquility in this world and reward in the next. Why is Jacob different?

A Trial
When the righteous seek tranquility and prosperity, it is not for their sake. It is for the sake of heaven. When a wealthy person, who occupies a prestigious position in the community, observes Shabbat, studies Torah, deals honestly, and is charitable, it has a huge impact on the community. People marvel when someone in that position is humble and giving, observant, learned, and pious. Others want to emulate such behavior and it sanctifies the name of G-d. This is prosperity for the sake of heaven. Not for the sake of lining our own pockets.

However, wealth carries its own risks. As the saying goes, there is no trial like the trial of wealth. The poor are constantly thinking of G-d, talking to G-d, praying to G-d, and railing against G-d. The poor and G-d are in a relationship. The wealthy are tempted to forget G-d because life is tranquil.

Another problem is this: When one is poor and unknown, it is easy to remain humble and pious. No one pays them much attention and they go unnoticed. However, once one grows wealthy, the world starts paying attention and homage. They hobnob with the rich and famous and it becomes difficult to turn down invitations because they observe Shabbat or Kosher. It is difficult to remain humble when one is powerful. The trials of wealth are not negligible. They are significant.

This is why we pray daily, “lead us not into temptation.” If G-d bestows tranquility and prosperity, it is a sign that we can handle the trial and overcome the temptation. But it is extremely inappropriate to ask for such trials.[2]

Jacob’s Wish
Jacob was deserving of tranquility in his senior years. The problem was not that he was undeserving. The problem was that he sought it: “Jacob sought to dwell in tranquility.” He asked for it. Asking for tranquility, asking to live in fame, and prosperity, is wrong because it is a path that leads to temptation.

We can understand why Jacob asked. When he was a child, his father, Isaac, preferred Esau to Jacob. Our sages taught that this was because Esau would always ask Isaac questions about how to live piously. Many wondered about this. If Isaac knew anything about his sons, he would have known that Jacob was even more pious than Esau. If he was impressed by Esau’s questions he should have been even more impressed with Jacob’s behavior.

Some have explained that Isaac was more impressed with Esau because of the company Esau kept. Esau lived among hunters and thieves and yet remained (In Isaac’s estimation) honest and upright. Jacob’s piety was not as impressive because he lived in the tents of Torah. Piety was pretty much expected of him.

Shortly after receiving the blessings from his father, Jacob departed for Haran, where, for the very first time, he was forced to keep company with degenerate, self-absorbed, deviants and scoundrels. Yet, Jacob returned with his piety intact, having never compromised any of the Torah’s commandments. Jacob discovered that he was indeed capable of withstanding temptation and of remaining upright even in the company of scoundrels. He therefore felt comfortable asking for the next temptation–tranquility and prosperity. He wanted to use his prosperity, tranquility, and fame, for the sake of heaven and was not concerned about the risks – knowing that he could overcome them.

G-d agreed that it was time to demonstrate fidelity to G-d in circumstances of wealth, power, and fame. But this role would not fall to Jacob, who had asked for it. It would fall to Joseph, who did not. Shortly thereafter Joseph had two dreams. In one he saw himself as the recipient of great wealth, in the other he saw himself as the recipient of power and prestige. His brothers envied him, but his father awaited the outcome of the dreams. His father understood that Joseph would be given the chance that his father had sought.

Indeed, Joseph went to Egypt, where he became powerful, famous, and wealthy, yet he remained humble, pious and faithful. Joseph passed the test that his father had so desperately sought.[3] We learn from this that prosperity is not an easy life of smooth sailing. It is a challenge not easily undertaken. Yet, if we are granted this gift, it is because G-d trusts us to overcome its trials.[4]

[1] See Rashi on genesis 37:2.

[2] Our sages taught that King David begged G-d to tempt him, so he could demonstrate his powers of discipline, but he ultimately failed and rued the day he had invited temptation.

[3] See Rashi to Exodus 1:5.

[4] This essay is based on commentary from Nesivos Shmuel by Rabbi Shmuel Kushelevitz.

Vayishlach: Family Feud

November 26, 2017 – 1:02 am |

The worst kind of feud is a family feud. When we feel betrayed by those we love, the pain runs deep, and it is difficult to forgive. Some people won’t attend their grand nephew’s wedding because of a family feud from decades back. Deep pain tends to be lasting and …

Vayetze: Fusing Stones

November 18, 2017 – 8:20 pm |

Jacob went to bed on a mountain and placed his head on twelve stones. In the morning, when he awoke, the twelve stones had fused into one. Our sages taught that during the night the angels in charge of these stones began to argue because each wanted to serve as …

Toldot: Hunting is not a Jewish Sport

November 12, 2017 – 8:17 am |

Although hunting is not as common as it used to be, it remains a popular sport around the world. This essay explores why hunting has never been considered a Jewish sport.
A Jew once asked Rabbi Yechezkel Landau, the 18th century chief rabbi of Cracow, whether hunting is permissible. Rabbi Landau …

Chayei Sarah: Why We Bury

November 4, 2017 – 10:34 pm | One Comment | 

After the binding of Isaac, Abraham discovered that his wife Sarah had passed, and he hurried from Jerusalem to Hebron to eulogise, mourn and bury her.  This is the first description of a burial in the Torah, which gives us an opportunity to discuss the question of why we bury.
Many …

Vayera: All About Me

October 29, 2017 – 12:44 am |

News was made last week, when a ninety-year-old Jew in Ukraine elected to be circumcised.[1] Of course, this was hardly the first time something like this occurred. The first time, was when our forefather Abraham did it at the age of ninety-nine.
Beyond the removal of the foreskin, what is the …

Lech Lecha: Israel is Home

October 21, 2017 – 10:17 pm |

When my daughter messaged me that she landed in Israel, I replied welcome home. Later, on the phone, she told me that this was the first time she had landed somewhere and did not feel homesick. My message explained why. Israel is home.
It’s not just me. In honor of Israel’s …

Noach: Inner Peace

October 14, 2017 – 10:11 pm |

How does one achieve inner peace?
To answer this question we must first ask, what factors deprive us of inner peace? There are all kinds of answers to the second question. Inner peace can be hampered by money stresses, family stresses, insecurity issues and many others. But I submit that the …

Sukkot: G-d’s Holiday

October 1, 2017 – 12:46 am |

Why and When
Sukkot, the festival of Tabernacles, is celebrated on the fifteenth day of the Hebrew month Tishrei. It celebrates the clouds of glory that G-d provided for our ancestors in the desert. For forty years, they were sheltered from the desert’s elements by the clouds that G-d dispatched to …