Vayishlach 5770

by David Helfand

December 5, 2009 / 18 Kislev 5770

Reuven, Shimon, Levi, Yehudah, Yisachar, Zevulun, Dan, Naftalii, Gad, Asher, Yosef, and Benyamin. These are the twelve sons of Jacob, the twelve tribes of the people of Israel. But where are the women in this group? We all know that Jacob had 12 sons. But did you know that he also had a daughter?

In this week’s Parasha Vayishlach, Dinah, the daughter of Jacob and Leah, goes out to visit the daughters of the land. Shechem the Hivite takes her and sleeps with her by force. He asks his father Hamor to arrange his marriage to Dinah. Meanwhile, Jacob waits until his sons come in from the field to tell them about what just happened to Dinah. Jacobs’s sons tell Hamor that it would be improper for their sister to marry anybody who is not circumcised. Hamor agrees that all the men of his community will be circumcised, the two communities will trade with one another, and they will marry into each other’s families. On the third day, as the Hivite men were recovering from their circumcision, Simeon and Levi took their swords and slew all the Hivites. Jacob criticizes his son’s actions, fearing an attack on him and his people. But the brothers respond harshly to their father by saying, “shall our sister be treated like a whore?”

The story of Dinah is violent and tragic. Who is the villain of this story? At first glance it appears to be Shechem, the son of Hamor, who took Dinah and forced her to sleep with him. He is considered to be a rapist who deserved a harsh punishment. Yet Dinah’s brothers exacted a punishment far beyond what we would consider fit for the crime when they killed the entire male Hivite population. But the story could also be read differently. It could be that Dinah went willingly to Shechem’s tent and was not really forced to sleep with him against her will. In that case, would Shechem really be the villain?

Just prior to the story of Dinah, Jacob brings all of his wives and his sons to greet his brother Esav. But once again Dinah is nowhere to be found. Rashi asks “But where was Dinah? Benjamin was not yet born, but Dinah should have been accounted for. Jacob put her into a chest and locked her in, so that Esau should not set eyes on her. Therefore, Jacob was punished for withholding her from his brother, because had Esav married Dinah perhaps she would cause him to improve his ways.” Jacob made a bad judgment call when it came to visiting his brother Esav. He decided what he thought would be in the best interest of his daughter Dinah. But God did not see it that way. Dinah was a good person and meant well. She just did not know the difference between right and wrong because she was never taught.

Jacob was not an ongoing presence in his daughter Dinah’s life. Could it be that the story of Dinah is a story about parenting, particularly the parenting of a daughter? Could it be that Jacob is the villain here? That Dinah went willingly to Shechem because she had not been taught by her father the difference between right and wrong? Parenting is of particular importance in the raising of children. If a child has the constant presence of a parent in her life, as an adult she will yearn for that same love and affection in a partnered relationship, and strive to provide the same commitment to others. Jacob needed to teach Dinah the fundamentals of life, but he didn’t because he wasn’t there for her. This all goes to show us the importance of a dugmah … a role model … in the life of a child. It is important for children to learn how to make choices in their lives … to know the difference between right and wrong, and to challenge their role models when they see their role models falter.

So how do we make sense out of all of this? How does all of this fit together? And what does it mean to us?

The story of Dinah tells us that each of us is responsible for his or her own actions. No matter how often someone tells you to do something or not to do something, in the end the decision lies in your own hands. At the same time it is important to remember that what we do, or don’t do, is influenced by our role models.

Think about the presence and influence you have in the lives of your family and friends – is it positive, negative, or non-existent? In every place you go, whether at school or USY, at home or just walking on the street, you can be a positive influence for others. Even without knowing it, you have the power to change someone’s life for the good. So always do your best and what you think is best, not only for you but for the benefit of others. Never give up on the opportunity to be a good dugmah. This is the lesson that Dinah’s story teaches us in her relationship, or lack of one, with her father. Dinah’s encounter with Shechem teaches Jacob about the importance of being a dugmah. And from that we learn that we also have an obligation to be a role model to others. May this Shabbat be the beginning our quest to become the future dugmaot of Am Yisrael, the people of Israel.

Shabbat Shalom.

Vayishlach 5763

by Jake Altholz, 2010-11 Hagalil USY Religion/Education Vice President, 5771

“Professor, I was in the library the other night, in the Restricted section, and I came across something rather odd, about a bit of rare magic, and I thought perhaps you could illuminate me. It’s called, as I understand it … a Horcrux.”

These words have been spoken identically by perhaps two of the greatest wizards of all time. To the first of these two wizards, the professor, Professor Slughorn issues this response.

“A horcrux is an object in which a person has concealed part of their soul. One splits one’s soul and hides part of it in an object. By doing so, you are protected should you be attacked and your body destroyed.”

In this week’s parsha, Vayishlach, our father, Yaakov, creates several horcruxes in preparation for his encounter with his brother and sworn enemy, Esav. He sends malachim to deal with Eisav before he will actually meet with him face to face. The word malachim has two different meanings. One is that it means agents, messengers, human beings who were sent on a particular mission to do Yaakov’s bidding. The other meaning is that the word malachim signifies angels, supernatural messengers of God who were sent to Yaakov to help him in his fateful encounter with his brother.

Rashi speaks of both possible interpretations in his commentary. When Rashi does so, he is teaching us that both interpretations are correct at differing levels of understanding the verse involved. The message here is that the encounter with Esav, in order to be successful from Yaakov’s vantage point and situation, has to have both human and supernatural help.

Yaakov has backup plans, or horcruxes, so that if one should fail, he will have a means to survive. He has created several lifelines through which his goal of survival can be attained, even if his encounter with his brother does not go well. Yaakov even went to the extent to divide his family into camps to ensure the survival of his family.

“He divided the people accompanying him into two camps, along with the sheep, cattle and camels. He said, ‘If Esau comes and attacks one camp, at least the other camp will survive.'” (Bereishit 32:8-9)

Just like Yaakov, we must place our souls in both humans, and God. If we do, we can never be harmed. Part of us will live on no matter what. So before I finish, I implore you, if you have not yet done so, put your soul into USY, and help others do the same. Make USY a horcrux through which your spirit will live on. If you do, your friends, and the people you impact during your time here, will never forget you.

To the second great wizard that asked him, Professor Horace Slughorn responded, “there can be no light without the dark. I myself strive for the light.”

So USY, strive for the light. Be like Jacob and make horcruxes to serve the forces of good. Gather your friends and things you love, put your soul into them, and they will always protect you. Just like Harry was protected by Lily Potter’s love, we are all protected by those around us and we together will always live in the light.

Vayetze 5763

by Hadar Schwartz

In Parashat Vayetze, Jacob falls in love with Rachel. He works seven long years to win the approval of her father and his uncle (weird Biblical family tree), Laban. Then, after all of that hard work, Jacob is tricked into marrying Rachel’s sister, Leah, whom he does not love. Only after working another seven years is Jacob finally given permission to marry Rachel.

Though I often choose to refute the lessons I learned about Bereshit as an elementary school student, this week, I am revisiting what I earlier learned about this narrative. Jacob works fourteen years for one woman (though our narrative doesn’t tell us the time frame of the story, Jacob probably spent less time being married to Rachel than working to marry her). Jacob’s passion and drive, though perhaps slightly pathetic at first glance, are admirable. Jacob works and works for one goal and when he finally achieves that goal, the narrative does not even attempt to capture his emotions.

As a high school senior, I seem to be connecting to Jacob even more than usual. I’m sure everyone else is as well. School work and life in general can be a lot of work and very tiring. The amount of work put in does not always seem to equal the result (no, I am not taking Physics). However, even if the goal seems unattainable and so far off, if you work hard enough and believe, perhaps it can come true. So, as I return to the many more hours of homework I have to complete, I am believing, as I’m sure everyone else is, that I will get a good pay off. I mean, Jacob had two wives in the end. Maybe, just maybe, the one ‘A’ that all of us will earn (hopefully) will actually be two ‘As.’ Hey, earlier in the narrative Jacob has a dream. Just thought I’d learn once again from Jacob’s actions.

Vayetze 5770

by Bekah Hakimian

November 28, 2009/11 Kislev 5770

Have you ever had a dream that seemed too real? Have you ever waken up from a dream believing that what you just dreamed actually happened? What if your dreams were real and could possibly change the rest of your life?

In this week’s parsha, Jacob dreams a dream while fleeing to Haran. Jacob rests one night and he has a dream. He sees angels ascending and descending a ladder. God comes to Jacob, repeats the blessings given to Abraham and Isaac and promises to protect him and return him to Canaan. Jacob vows that the Lord will be his God if God fulfills his promise.

Jacob arrives in Haran and is taken in by his uncle Laban. Laban has two daughters, Leah and Rachel. A bargain is struck. Jacob will work seven years and be given Rachel as a wife. Laban deceives Jacob on the wedding night and substitutes Leah for Rachel. To resolve Jacob’s anger at what has happened, Laban offers Rachel also in exchange for Jacob’s promise to work another seven years. From this trickery comes the tradition that happens at Jewish weddings. A bride is to wear a vale and then the groom is to check under the vale before the bride is given by her father to make sure the groom is receiving the right bride.

After fourteen years of labor, Jacob’s famous legacy of children begins. Leah bears Jacob four sons: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah. Rachel is barren, so she gives Jacob her maid Bilhah as a concubine. Bilhah bears two sons, Dan and Naphtali. Leah in turn gives Jacob Zilpah, her maid, as a concubine and Zilpah bears two sons, Gad and Asher. Leah has three more children: Issachar, Zebulun, and Dinah (the only girl). Finally, Rachel conceives and bears Joseph.

Jacob asks Laban to allow him to return to his home in Canaan. They agree that as his wages for 20 years of service, Jacob will build himself a flock from Laban’s herd. Jacob indeed builds himself a flock and unbeknownst to Laban, Jacob and his household flee. Prior to leaving, Rachel steals her father’s idols. Laban is angry at Jacob but is warned by God in a dream not to take revenge.

Why does the Torah tell us that angels were “ascending and descending?” One might think angels would descend first. Rashi explains: “Those angels who accompanied Jacob in the land of Israel were not permitted to leave the land; they ascended to heaven. And angels which were to minister to him outside the land descended to accompany him.” Does the idea of a guardian angel appeal to you? Is this in a sense what the angels were to Jacob?

The text states about Jacob, “Ba bamakom – He came upon a certain place.” (28:11) The Hebrew word for “place” (makom) became, in Rabbinical usage a name for God. Using this translation, the verse could then read, “He came upon God.” The Rabbis explained their use of HaMakom as a name for God by teaching that God is the place of the world, but the world is not God’s only place. During this holiday of thanks, we should remember to be thankful not only for our health, family, and friends but the small things in life we take for granted. We need to be thankful for everything because everything in this world belongs to God and is in a sense a part of God. This weekend is a great time to be thankful but we really can say thanks 365 days a year.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Thanksgiving!

Vayetze 5771

by Rachel Samuels

Throughout our years of school, we have all learned the key to success: commitment. Without all of our dedication to our classes, different clubs and extra-curriculars, and our home lives, we would not be the successful individuals we are today. Yet of course, all of our different commitments come with road blocks.

In this week’s parsha, Parshat Vayeitzei, Jacob falls in love with Rachel, the daughter of his uncle, Laban. He then makes a deal with Laban that he would work seven years and then be able to marry Rachel. Yet, after seven years, Laban gives Leah to Jacob instead of Rachel. This is because she was older than Rachel, and it was considered improper for the younger daughter to get married first. Jacob then decides to work another seven years for Laban in order to marry Rachel.

I have to give my props to Jacob. It must have been devastating to find out that his seven years of hard work did not give him what he wanted. Yet despite this roadblock, he worked another seven years in order to achieve his goal: to have Rachel as a wife.

We all need something to get us through the tough times, something to look forward to. In this case, it was Rachel that got Jacob through the fourteen years of hard labor. In my life, when I am having a rough time in school or things are crazy at home, I look forward to one thing: the next USY event. I love opening my planner and seeing that there is a convention or kinnus coming up. No matter how much homework I have, I am able to say to “gam zeh ya’avor,” meaning “this too shall pass.” With this thought in mind, I am able to reach success in school and look forward to an awesome USY event to come. Sometimes it’s hard to see, but commitment really does pay off in the end.

Toldot 5758

by Rachel Gutin

Okay. Let’s say there’s a guy who’s making a film. Now, for the sake of convenience, lets call this guy Joe Ordinary (yes, the same one who starred in my last D’var Torah…). Now, Joe’s movie happens to have three lead characters whom we’ll call, well, how about Abe, Izzy and Jake, again, just for the sake of convenience.

Anyway, Abe’s got a pretty meaty role, and so does Jake for that matter, but the guy playing Izzy might feel a bit cheated because, though he has a lead role, the part doesn’t seem too big. Joe even begins to wonder if he should just drop Izzy from the script, but no matter how little screen time the poor guy gets, this character is essential to the plot.

In Sefer Bereishit, we find a very similar scenario in relation to our three forefathers, Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov. Both Avraham and Yaakov have extensive and memorable stories attributed to them, but what about Yitzchak? Did he do anything memorable? Well, he was nearly sacrificed to God at one point, but in that story, his father Avraham had the leading role. There was also the scene where he blessed the wrong son, which happens to be in this week’s Parsha, but in that one he shared the spotlight with Yaakov. As a matter of fact, the only place where Yitzchak really gets a solo scene is in this week’s Parsha, Toldot, right in the middle of everything else we read about.

The Parsha begins with the verse, “Eileh Toldot Yitzchak bein Avraham, Avraham holid et Yitzchak.” which translates roughly to, “And these are the offspring of Yitzchak son of Avraham; Avraham begot Yitzchak” (translation taken from Stone Chumash). Now think about that for a moment. If you were listening closely, you might have noticed that the Passuk said the same thing twice. If Yitzchak is the son of Avraham, why must the Passuk note that Avraham is Yitzchak’s father? Can’t Yitzchak just be known for who he is, and not who his father was?

The answer to that question, however, seems to be no. One commentator explains that Yitzchak was known for the merit of his father Avraham. Still, it is important to note that Yitzchak did have his accomplishments. In the middle of the Parsha, after Yaakov and Eisav are born, we learn that Yitzchak fled to a place called Gerar to escape a famine, much as his father did in his time. We learn he called his wife his sister, much as his father had done, in order that no jealous man should kill him. We learn that he redug the wells the Philistines had stopped up, the wells his father originally dug. Notice a pattern here? The truth is, Yitzchak seems to deserve to be known by his father, as he did act in many of the same ways.

However, there was one way in which he was different. Avraham’s son followed his ways almost exactly. That was Yitzchak. Yitzchak’s sons, however, did things differently. Neither Yaakov nor Eisav followed as exactly in their father’s footsteps as Yitzchak did. Though Eisav became known as the bad guy, where would we be without Yaakov?

See, the same commentator that said sons are known by their fathers also noted that fathers can be known by their sons. Avraham was known for the righteousness of his son Yitzchak. Yitzchak is said to be “Bein Avraham”, the son of Avraham, as he is known for who his father is, but the first passuk in the Parsha also says “Avraham Holid et Yitzchak,” “Avraham begot Yitzchak,” which is something Avraham is known for, the righteousness of his son. Similarly, Yitzchak is the father of Yaakov, and that alone makes him important to our history.

It has been said that Yitzchak was just a bridge between Avraham and Yaakov, but that belittles his role. Yes, he was the bridge, and yes, he has much less time dedicated to him in the Torah, but the role he played in our history is just as important as the roles of Avraham and Yaakov. Not all of the important characters get a lot of screen time; sometimes, they get none at all, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t accomplish something great. Just like Izzy had to stay in Joe Ordinary’s movie, even if he only got a minute in front of the camera, Yitzchak, and all of the other behind-the-scenes people can not be forgotten. It’s not only who stands in the spotlight that matters, but also who stands behind them.

Toldot 5763

by Jennifer Krueger

Toldot is a parsha filled with many mysteries and wonders. I want to focus on the incident where Yaakov steals Esau’s blessing from Yitzchak. When Yaakov attempts to steal the blessing from Esav, he attempts to disguise himself as Esau. However because he is not as hairy and has a different voice than Esau, Yitzchak notices this and asks, “Who are you my son?” (Breishit 27: 18). Yaakov responds, “It is I Esau your first born,” (Breishit 27: 19). The commentaries ask how Yaakov can respond in such an untruthful manner to his father.

Rashi explains that Yaakov’s response means, “It is I who brings this to you”; Esau however is your first born. The Ibn Ezra explains Yaakov’s response a different way. He says that Yaakov said “I” underneath his breath and “Esau is your first born” loudly. So according to the explanations of the commentaries, Yaakov was not lying in his response but was simply avoiding the truth.

I would like to offer a different explanation. When Yaakov said “I am Esau, your first born,” he knows exactly what he is saying. He is able to lie because at this point in history, Yaakov did not know who he was. He thought he was his brother Esau. He had no way to distinguish his identity. This is proven by the fact that Yaakov sold his bowl of stew to Esau in return for Esau’s birthright. If Yaakov had known who he was, he would not have done this. Esau was favored by Yitzchak, Esau was the first born and Yaakov wanted to be Easu. So, when his father asked him who he was, he had no problem replying that he was Esau.

After Yaakov steals the blessing, Esau attempts to kill him. Yaakov is forced to run away. I see this as journey for Yaakov to find himself and to distinguish himself from his twin Esau. On this journey, Yaakov is given the wrong wife and is forced to work seven more years for the correct one. He has a vision of himself climbing a ladder, creates his own family, and finally wrestles with God. This wrestling marks the point in which Yaakov finally discovers who he is. He is told that a great nation will come from him and his name is changed to Yisrael-one who wrestles with God. Yaakov no longer sees himself as Esau but establishes his own identity. Because of this, he is finally able to return back to his family and to make ammends with his brother.

USYers, we often times find ourselves lost in this World. We don’t know who we are and where our life is leading. Just like Yaakov, it is not hard for us to say that we are someone else because we do not know who we are. Just like Yaakov had to wrestle with God to discover who he was, we too must wrestle with Hashem to discover who we are. We must question our faith and our beliefs and dig deep down to discover who we truly are as individuals. Only when we do this will we able to be ourselves and to succeed in life. Shabbat Shalom.

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