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Showing posts from December, 2015

Which is more Important: Studying Torah or Honoring one's Parents? - Parashat Vayigash 5776 - December 18, 2015

Which mitzvah is greater – Talmud Torah (learning and teaching Torah) or kibbud av v’em (honoring one’s parents)?

Our chachamim answer that Talmud Torah is greater and there is an indication of this idea in this week’s parasha
Paroh and Yaakov Avinu discuss Yaakov’s age. Yaakov tells Paroh that he is 130 years old. In reading through the Torah, the math doesn’t seem correct. We know (through some calculations involving Yishmael) that Yaakov was 63 when he received his father Yitzchak’s blessing. The Torah tells us that once Yaakov arrived to Lavan’s house, it was 14 years until Yosef was born. That would make Yaakov 77. Yosef was 30 when he stood before Paroh – at that time Yaakov would be 107. Subsequently, there were seven plentiful years and two years of scarcity. Yaakov would be 116. But Yaakov told Paroh that he was 130 years old! What happened to the missing 14 years?

Our chachamim teach us that between leaving his father’s house and arriving to Lavan, Yaakov spent 14 years stu…

Qualities of a Good Leader - Parashat Miketz 5776 - December 11, 2015

The last few parshiyot of Sefer Beresheit present us with two potential leaders of b'nei yisrael - Reuven and Yehuda. Reuven was the first born - the bechor - and could have merited both the double portion of inheritance and the kingship. However, both mantles of leadership were given to other brothers. The double portion went to Yosef and his two sons, Ephraim and Menashe. Yehuda merited the Jewish kingship. Reuven became another one of the tribes.

In this week’s parasha, Miketz, the Torah presents a pivotal moment in the development of Ya’akov’s opinion of his sons, Reuven and Yehuda. The moment is a bellwether for their future standing as respective leaders of k’lal yisrael. The brothers return to their father’s house from their search for food in Egypt. Yosef – still an anonymous viceroy in the eyes of the brothers – has demanded to keep Shimon as ransom until the brothers’ return with their youngest brother, Binyamin. Reuven initially asks his father Ya’akov to send Biny…

The Mitzvah of Chanukah Candles is Exceedingly Strict - Parashat Vayeshev-Chanukah 5776 - December 4, 2015

Morah Anat Kampf invited me to share words of Torah this week with the Junior High School. What an outstanding group of students! They certainly have excellent skills and were very attentive. What impressed me most was their thoughtfulness and depth in working through the material that I presented. My article this week, based on that class, is drawn primarily from a shiur that Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik – the Rav – taught regarding Chanukah.

Chanukah commemorates the miracles that Hashem did for the Jewish People in saving them from the hand of Antiochus. This miracle created the opportunity for them to subsequently rededicate the Beit HaMikdash. The Rabbis of that generation created the holiday of Chanukah to serve as a time dedicated to reflecting on those miracles and praising and thanking Hashem for His miracles. HaRambam, Maimonides, teaches, “the commandment of Chanukah candles is a very beloved and precious mitzvah. A person must be careful to publicize the miracle an…

Vows Compromise Our Free Will - Parshat Vayetze 5776 - November 20, 2015

At the opening of this week’s parasha, Vayetze, Ya’akov is leaving eretz Yisrael to find refuge in Charan from his brother, Esav. He arrives at HaMakom – The Place – to sleep for the night – the place of Ya’akov’s famous ladder dream. Morning comes. Yaakov takes the stone that he slept on, makes a monument to Hashem with it and anoints it with oil. He renames the place Beit E-l – House of Hashem.

The Torah then records that Ya’akov made a neder – a vow. “If the Lord will be with me and will guard me on this path that I am going and will give me bread to eat and clothes to wear and will return me in peace to the house of my father … then I will give one-tenth of all that I have to Hashem.”

At first glance, the fact that Ya’akov made a vow seems inappropriate. In general, the Torah looks down on vows. Our chachamim say noder nikra cho’te – one who makes a vow is treated like a sinner. What is wrong with making a vow? Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch explains that at worst a vow elevates trivial…