Jerusalem Post Dec 09 2005
TALMUD - Rabbi Berel Wein
In its simplest form of definition, the Talmud is the record of centuries of discussion expounding the Oral Law of Judaism as it took place in the great Torah academies of the Land of Israel and Babylonia long ago. The Mishna, which is the basis of all talmudic discussions, was completed and edited at the beginning of the third century CE be Rabi Yehuda HaNassi in Tzipori in the Galilee. The Talmud was developed in two separate works: Talmud Yerushalmi (the Talmud of the Land of Israel) and Talmud Bavli (the Talmud of Babylonia.) The Talmud Yerushalmi was completed c.350CE when the Jewish community in the Land of Israel began to suffer genocidal persecution from the newly empowered Byzantine Christians. The demise of a vibrant Jewish community in the Land of Israel forced many of the Torah scholars living there to flee to Babylonia where Christian dominance did not hold sway. The Babylonian Talmud was not completed until the middle/end of the sixth century CE and became the definitive Talmud. Even though the Babylonian Talmud describes itself as being created in “darkness (of exile)” it remains the definitive Talmud. Rabbi Yitzchak Alfasi, the great eleventh century codifier of Jewish law, explained that we follow the opinions of the Babylonian Talmud over those of the Talmud Yerushalmi because the Babylonian Talmud, which was edited two centuries later than the Talmud Yerushalmi, already took into consideration the opinions of the Talmud Yerushalmi when reaching its own stated halachic opinions and conclusions. Thus the Babylonian Talmud became and remains the main source for the definitive tradition of the Oral Law from Sinai.
Throughout Jewish history, the Jewish people in all of their lands of dispersion, basically lived a talmudic way of life, differing little from the way of the lives of their ancestors in Babylonia during the period of the compilation and editing of the Talmud. It was the Talmud, naturally based upon the sanctity and integrity of the Torah, the Written Law, that bound world Jewry together in spite of the enormous distances of space and society that exile imposed upon it. The names of the great men of the Talmud – Rabi Yochanan ben Zakai, Rabi Akiva, Rabi Yehuda HaNassi, Rav, Mar Shmuel, Rabah, Abayei, Ravah, Ravina, Rav Ashi, Mar bar Rav Ashi, etc. – were all household names and familiar “guests” in Jewish homes the world over. Even though the vast majority of Jews were hardly talmudic scholars – this field was pretty much reserved for the rabbis and judges of Israel – almost all Jews were aware of the Talmud, its values, messages, decisions and stories. It was the guiding book in their lives, not only in matters of ritual and law, but also in terms of personal behavior, societal goals and vision of the Jewish future. It was almost as through a process of osmosis that Jews absorbed within themselves an appreciation and respect for the Talmud. Eventually it could be said that the book referred to in the phrase “people of the book” was the Talmud.
It is no surprise therefore that the Talmud became the target and flash point of opposition to Judaism, its values and practices as well as its practitioners. The burning of the Talmud was a regular part of Christian persecution of Jews throughout Europe from the time of Louis IX in the thirteenth century to Nazi Germany in the twentieth century. Again, all those dissident Jews who rejected the traditions of the Oral Law and sought to create “new” forms of Jewish life also attacked the Talmud bitterly and discredited its ideas and formulations. From the Karaites in the seventh century to the Yevsektzia (the Jewish section of the Bolshevik party that Stalin would later purge) in the twentieth century, the Talmud was vilified and its pages torn and destroyed by Jews who were bitterly opposed to its teachings and who recognized that no “new” form of Judaism could ever take hold as long as the Talmud was still studied, respected and loved within the Jewish world. Nevertheless, the Talmud, like the Jewish people that it protects, has weathered all storms. It is the main text and topic of study in all yeshivot throughout the Jewish world. Competence in its study is the first requirement for all rabbis and teachers who maintain and defend the veracity of Jewish tradition from Sinai until our day. The Talmud is old but it remains fresh and vital. Its study is complex, challenging, but it is a labor of love. For understanding the Talmud is the way to understanding the Jewish soul – the Jew that is within us all – and thus is our true connection to our past and our destiny.
Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov all suffered from success-induced jealous reactions from the local populations where they lived. Avraham is recognized as the “prince of God in our midst” and yet is begrudged a grave plot to bury Sarah. Yitzchak is sent away from the kingdom of Avimelech because “you have grown too great from us.” And in this week’s parsha, Yaakov is told by Lavan that everything that Yaakov owns is really the property of Lavan. The blessings of God and the promise that He made to protect the patriarchs and matriarchs of Israel save them from their neighbors, relatives and enemies. However, this very success and achievements of this small family, as per God’s promise and against all odds and opposition, raises the hatred and jealousy of their neighbors. No matter that the neighbors themselves, such as Avimelech and Lavan benefit mightily from the achievements of Yitzchak and Yaakov. The rabbis of the Talmud taught us that “hatred destroys rational thought and behavior.” So, instead of gratitude and friendship, the accomplishments of the patriarchs and matriarchs only bring forth greed, jealousy, persecution and always the threat of violence hovers in the background. All efforts to maintain a low profile and to mollify Lavan result only in increased bigotry and hatred. It is not for naught that the Pesach hagada makes Lavan a greater enemy to the survival of the Jewish people than even the Pharaoh of Egypt. But almost all of the enemies of the Jews over the centuries suffer from the same basic moral faults regarding the Jews: ingratitude, jealousy and greed. These are all revealed to us in this week’s parsha.
Someone mentioned to me that perhaps if we maintained a lower profile in the world, didn’t receive so many Nobel prize awards, and were less influential in the fields of finance and the media, anti-Semitism would decrease. “What if” is a difficult field of thought to pursue intelligently. There is no question that the world and all humankind would be by far the poorer if the Jews purposely withheld their energy, creativity and intelligence from contributing to human civilization. And there certainly is no guarantee that the world would like us any more than it does now if we were less successful and prominent. The mere fact that God blessed the patriarchs with the blessings of success and influence indicates that this is His desire for us. The Torah specifically states that all of the nations and families of the earth will benefit and be blessed through us. So in our case less would not necessarily be more. Yet we were enjoined from flouting our success in the faces of those less fortunate than us. Modesty in behavior and deportment is an important partner to success. This is also a lesson that our father Yaakov intended to teach us. We are not allowed to rein in our talents and achievements. But we are certainly bidden to rein in our egos and bluster. That is also an important Jewish trait that should be a foundation in our lives.
TORAH WEEKLY—Parshat Vayeitzei
For the week ending 10 December 2005 / 9 Kislev 5766
from Ohr Somayach | www.ohr.edu
by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair
Fleeing from Esav, Yaakov leaves Be’er Sheva and sets out for Charan, the home of his mother’s family. After a 14-year stint in the Torah Academy of Shem and Ever, he resumes his journey and comes to Mount Moriah, the place where his father Yitzchak was brought as an offering, and the future site of the Beit Hamikdash. He sleeps there and dreams of angels going up and down a ladder between Heaven and earth. G-d promises him the Land of Israel, that he will found a great nation and that he will enjoy Divine protection. Yaakov wakes and vows to build an altar there and tithe all that he will receive. Then he travels to Charan and meets his cousin Rachel at the well. He arranges with her father, Lavan, to work seven years for her hand in marriage, but Lavan fools Yaakov, substituting Rachel’s older sister, Leah. Yaakov commits himself to work another seven years in order to also marry Rachel. Leah bears four sons: Reuven, Shimon, Levi and Yehuda, the first Tribes of Israel. Rachel is barren, and in an attempt to give Yaakov children, she gives her handmaiden Bilhah to Yaakov as a wife. Bilhah bears Dan and Naftali. Leah also gives Yaakov her handmaiden Zilpah, who bears Gad and Asher. Leah then bears Yissachar, Zevulun, and a daughter, Dina. Hashem finally blesses Rachel with a son, Yosef. Yaakov decides to leave Lavan, but Lavan, aware of the wealth Yaakov has made for him, is reluctant to let him go, and concludes a contract of employment with him. Lavan tries to swindle Yaakov, but Yaakov becomes extremely wealthy. Six years later, Yaakov, aware that Lavan has become dangerously resentful of his wealth, flees with his family. Lavan pursues them but is warned by Hashem not to harm them. Yaakov and Lavan agree to a covenant and Lavan returns home. Yaakov continues on his way to face his brother Esav.
Medicine for the Soul
“...and she said to Yaakov; Give me children, or else I die!” (30:1)
(Rashi explains that “Give me children” means “Pray for me!”)
I have a friend who returned to his Jewish roots via the Himalayas. For several years he was deeply involved in Buddhism. When he subsequently discovered the depth and beauty of his own heritage he was surprised at how quickly he felt comfortable living a Jewish life: The radiance of Shabbat captivated him. The discipline of the dietary laws resonated with his regard for self-control. There was, however, one aspect of his newfound faith that continued to be problematic for him.
“How can prayer be meaningful if everyone has to use the same words? How can that be a personal expression of connection to G-d?” he would ask. “How can prayer be fixed at certain times? Is my heart supposed to open on demand?”
In truth, at the root of his question was a basic misunderstanding of the Hebrew word tefilla, woefully and inadequately translated into English as ‘prayer’. The verb l’hitpalel - ‘to pray’ - is a reflexive verb. Obviously, ‘reflexive’ does not mean that we pray to ourselves, so why should the verb ‘to pray’ be reflexive?
The root of the word hitpalel is pillel, which means ‘to judge.’ To understand the connection between praying and judging, we must understand the deeper function of a judge. A judge takes conflicting evidence, disunion, and injects into this situation of confusion Divine Truth as revealed in the Torah. This Truth penetrates to the very heart of the opposing views, the quarrels and dissention, and creates a new unity on a higher level.
Similarly, when we pray, we inject into the maelstrom of our unquiet soul the Divine Truth which pierces through all the artifice, all the conflict and turmoil inside us. Prayer is reflexive because it brings us face to face with the great harmony at the core of our existence. In other words, tefilla is not an outflow of emotion: it is an influx of Divine energy, a prescription for the soul formulated by the greatest physicians of the soul - Chazal - the Jewish spiritual masters.
This is not to say that there is no place in Judaism for the outpouring of the soul. Quite the reverse. There are several other words to describe this process, such as siach and techina. Tefilla, however, is the prescription for the soul, and thus, like any medicine, it has to be taken at prescribed times and with exact repeatable doses, and very often, just as with medicine, when we desire it least we need it most.
Source: Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch on Bereishet 20:7; thanks to
Rabbi Mordechai Perlman
Peninim on the Torah by Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
And he became frightened and said, "How awesAme is this place! This is none other than the abode of G-d." (28:17)
When Yaakov Avinu first walked by (the place that would be) the Bais HaMikdash, G-d did not halt him there. Why? Rashi explains that since he did not take the initiative to pray in the place in which his ancestors before him had prayed, Heaven was not going to halt him. It was only when he traveled as far as Charan that he realized, "Is it possible that I passed by a place where my ancestors prayed, and I did not pray there?" He then set his mind to return and went as far as Beth-El, and at that point, the earth contracted for him and the Bais HaMikdash came toward him. Interestingly, it was only after Yaakov "set his mind" and began to return that he merited the miracle of kefitzas ha'derech, the earth contracted for him. Why did there have to be a miracle; he should have been halted at Har HaMoriah when he passed it by. Why did he have to "return" to it?
Horav Moshe Shapiro, Shlita, derives from here that although he was in the place most propitious for prayer, since he did not set his mind and heart on his own, Hashem was not going to assist him. It was only after he took the initiative, set his mind to return, and began the return trip, that Hashem caused a miracle. Siyata d'Shmaya, Divine assistance, is granted to us only after we have taken the first steps, after we have taken the initiative to go forward and undertake the endeavor.
We find support for this idea in Daniel 1: 8-15 when the wicked king decreed that in order to fatten up the Jewish youths, to make them appear healthy and strong, they should be fed unkosher meat and wine. The pasuk says, "Daniel set [the resolve] in his heart not to be defiled by the king's food." We find soon afterward that "G-d granted Daniel favor and mercy before the chief officer," until finally, "their appearance seemed better and they (Daniel, Chananyah, Michael, and Azaryah) were of healthier flesh than all the youths eating the king's food." At the moment that Daniel took the initiative and resolved in his heart not to be led astray, Hashem came to his assistance.
Likewise, the Rosh Yeshivah noted that bachurim in yeshivos become overwhelmed, or they are mistapek b'muat, satisfied with a little accomplishment. They do not shoot for the stars. When one sets his mind and resolves within his heart to become a great talmid chacham, Torah scholar, Hashem will grant him siyata d'Shmaya. If one does not try, he will never know if he could have achieved the goal.
Leah's eyes were tender, while Rachel was beautiful of form and beautiful of appearance. (29:17)
Rashi explains that Leah's eyes were tender from constant weeping in prayer. She feared that since she was the elder daughter, she would have to marry Eisav. What an incredible sacrifice! What an exalted spiritual position she must have reached. To cry so much that her physical appearance was actually transformed was truly an unprecedented achievement. Bearing this in mind, why did Rachel merit Yaakov as her husband? She did not cry for him, her sister Leah did. Yet, Rachel eventually became the akeres ha'bayis, the foundation and principle of the home.
Harav Tuviah Lisitzin, zl, a student of the Alter of Slabodka, and founder of Yeshivas Heichal HaTalmud, gives an insightful explanation. Leah cried so that she would not fall into Eisav's grip. The mere thought of falling into this evil man's grasp brought about a torrent of tears and supplication. Rachel, on the other hand, exhibited a tremendous inner peace and joy with the knowledge that she would marry Yaakov. The inherent joy of marrying this great tzaddik, righteous man, brought about a physical change, transforming her into a remarkably beautiful woman. Her external physical appearance was a manifestation of her inner joy. Rachel's transformation came about as a result of a positive desire to marry Yaakov, who is considered part of Hashem's Merkavah, Holy Chariot. Thus, in her outward appearance, one could perceive the aura of the Shechinah. A beauty that is the result of a desire for closeness to the Shechinah will undoubtedly reflect the Shechinah in its countenance.
We now have some idea of who were the Matriarchs that gave birth to the Shivtei Kah, Twelve Tribes of Hashem. One cried so much not to fall into Eisav's grasp that her facial appearance changed and her eyes became tender. The other Matriarch exhibited such inner joy in her desire to marry Yaakov, it was manifest in extraordinary physical beauty that glowed of the Shechinah. This is the power of a Jewish woman who, with holiness and purity, seeks to be wed to a talmid chacham and build a Jewish home that is loyal to the verities of Torah.
She (Leah) declared, "This time let me gratefully praise Hashem"; therefore she called his name Judah. (29:35)
The translation of the word, odeh, is to gratefully praise. Leah was especially grateful now, because as the mother of four sons she had been granted a privilege whereby she had a predominant share in building the twelve tribes which comprise Klal Yisrael. Gratitude is an inherent Jewish character trait. Indeed, the Chidushei HaRim posits that this is the reason the Jewish People are called Yehudim. We understand that we must always be grateful to the Almighty for granting us even more than we deserve.
The word todah, thanks/thank you, is the acknowledgment of gratitude and appreciation to the one who has performed a specific act. The word todah has another connotation. It is a derivative from the word modeh, to confess/concede. Todah is thus an act of admission and concession. Veritably, when one confesses to another, he is in fact conveying a message of agreement with the other party's opposing view.
Horav Yitzchak Hutner, zl, explains that the parallel between these two definitions-- todah as an expression of gratitude, or as an act of admission -- lies in the depths of man's natural instincts. By his innate nature, man seeks independence, aspiring and eager to demonstrate his ability to fend for himself without requiring the services of another individual. Thus, when one expresses his gratitude to his benefactor, he is actually acknowledging and conceding that he really does need the assistance of others. This conceptת which applies to every individual in his interpersonal relationships with others, manifests itself in one's attitude towards Hashem.
Ingrained in the human mind, as part of the human psyche, is the foolish notion that it is my strength and the power of my hand which has wrought this greatness. The ludicrous belief that man has his own power, without acknowledging Hashem as the Source of all power, has misled and been the ultimate downfall of many. Yehudim, by their very characterת should reflect and understand the futility of this belief. At every juncture one must acknowledge and give gratitude to his benefactor and to the One Who is the Source of all power. Hashem wants us to maintain this sense of appreciation and to always feel that we are in debt. In fact, He assists us in doing so, as evidenced in the following story.
I was recently at a wedding on the east coast and met someone who shared an incredible story with me. I have since spoken to, and verified the facts with, the primary source of the incident. It was 1984 and Rabbi Aaron Paperman, zl, the executive vice-president of Telshe Yeshiva, and later the director of Chinuch Atzmai, was the keynote speaker at Yeshiva Shaarei Torah's annual dinner. The Rosh HaYeshiva, Rabbi Berel Wein, sent one of the older bachurim, students, to meet Rabbi Paperman at the airport. The bachur who was selected, Yonasan Hirtz, is today Rabbi Yonasan Hirtz, a distinguished rav in Queens, New York.
When Rabbi Paperman arrived, Yonasan introduced himself as his chauffeur. Rabbi Paperman asked him, "Why were you sent?" Yonasan replied that his Rosh HaYeshivab had sent him. "But, why you - specifically?" Rabbi Paperman reiterated. "I have no idea," replied Yonasan, "I guess I was available, so Rabbi Wein asked me to go."
"Impossible," Rabbi Paperman countered. "There must be a reason that you were sent - and not someone else. Tell me about yourself. Perhaps I can figure out some reason why you were the one that was sent to fetch me."
Yonasan began to relate his background to Rabbi Paperman - who his parents and family members were, where he had studied in yeshiva. Suddenly, Rabbi Paperman's face broke into a large smile as he exclaimed, "I know why you were sent. It was to avail me the opportunity to finally show my appreciation and convey my gratitude to the man who is in a large part responsible for my Torah education. You are the great-grandson of Philip/Uri Shraga Gundersheimer of Baltimore. Do you know who this man was? He was a simple grocer who, despite the financial pressure of the times, refused to open his store on Shabbos. Even during the difficult years of the Depression, he observed Shabbos.
"There were three of us, three aspiring yeshivah bachurim who wanted to go to Europe to learn Torah. America had very little to offer us. Two of us were accepted in Telz and the third wanted to go to Slabodka. There was one major problem: money. Who could afford to go to Europe to learn Torah? Your great-grandfather undertook the responsibility to pay for our tuition. He covered all of our expenses. When I returned from Europe, I went to your great-grandfather's house to offer my profound gratitude. It was too late. He had passed away shortly before my return. I was devastated and during the last forty-three years it has troubled me greatly that I could not thank my benefactor. Today Hashem has finally availed me this opportunity. Thank you! Now you know why you were chosen to meet me at the airport. It was not by chance - it was by Heavenly design."
As a postscript, Rabbi Hirtz related to me that the other two bachurim became gedolei Yisrael, Torah leaders. In fact, one was my rebbe. Interestingly, similar episodes occurred with other members of Philip Gundersheimer's family, yehi zichro baruch.
She (Rachel) said to Yaakov, "Give me children…" He (Yaakov) said, "Am I instead of G-d?"…She said, "Here is my maid Bilhah, consort with her that she may bear upon my knees." (30:1-3)
Chazal teach us that there was a little more to their dialogue than what we read in the pesukim. Rachel asked Yaakov why he did not pray for her as his father had prayed for his mother? Yaakov replied that his father did not yet have children, while he already had children. Consequently, he was not certain that his prayer would be successful. She then said that his grandfather, Avraham, already had fathered Yishmael, yet, he still entreated Hashem on Sarah's behalf. Yaakov then queried Rachel, "Are you prepared to do what my grandmother did? Are you willing to take a co-wife into your tent as Sarah took in Hagar?" Rachel responded in the affirmative and instructed Yaakov to take Bilhah for a wife.
When we analyze the dialogue, we wonder what Yaakov wanted from Rachel. Undoubtedly, he had already poured out his heart supplicating Hashem in her behalf.
Apparently, she was destined to be barren. She needed a special zechus, merit, to alter the course of nature and bring about a change in her physical status. Prayer had until this juncture been to no avail. Yaakov then came up with an idea. Perhaps, Rachel would be willing to sacrifice as Sarah had done. Would she be inclined to take a co-wife? He was asking this of the woman who had once given up her rightful place as his wife, only so that her sister not be humiliated. Was not that act of selflessness sufficient to merit a child? This is a compelling question. What greater act of magnanimity is there than giving up her right to marriage - out of sensitivity to her sister?
The question was asked by Horav Avraham Yoffen, zl, in a shmuess, ethical discourse. What more could Yaakov have demanded of his fragile wife? The Novardoker Rosh HaYeshiva offered a penetrating insight into Yaakov's advice to his brokenhearted wife. The Patriarch saw that Rachel's chances to achieve motherhood were bleak. Prayer did not create an impact. The gates of tears seemed to be closed. Rachel was regrettably destined to be barren. There seemed to be no eitzah, strategy, left to bring about a change. But wait, there was something that could be done. Yaakov realized that he could implement the attribute of middah k'neged middah, measure for measure, by which Hashem administers the world. Chazal teach us that by the same measure that one conducts his own personal affairs and relationships, so, too, will Hashem conduct Himself with him. Therefore, Sarah, who was barren, took in Hagar as a co-wife and in this merit was blessed with her own child. Yaakov told Rachel, "We have tried everything. You have certainly gone beyond the call of duty with your prayers and outstanding chesed to your sister. I know of only one last resort which my grandmother employed. She gave her maidservant to my grandfather and, in that merit, she was blessed with a child. The Almighty responds to middah k'neged middah." The rest is history.
What a powerful lesson for us. We need parnassah, livelihood, pray for your friend to achieve parnassah. We need a shidduch, suitable match, for a child, pray for your friend. We need a refuah, cure, pray for someone else. When Hashem sees us acting on behalf of others - He will act on our behalf.