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.

Toldot 5770

by Tyler Dratch

November 21, 2009/4 Kislev 5770

As I started thinking about the torah portion this week, I realized that life is full of choices. Sometimes our choices will affect the rest of our lives, while others have no meaning whatsoever after the choice is made. Regardless, it is clear that choices should be made with care. Judaism teaches us to live in moderation and to think carefully before making an extreme choice.

This week’s Torah portion, Toldot, deals with the idea of making choices. Rebecca was blessed with the birth of twins, Jacob and Esau. The twins are very different, and the midrash says that even before they were born they were fighting. The climax of the parasha comes with Jacob, the second born, steals Esau’s birthright given by their father Issac to the first born son. Early in the portion Esau is very hungry and “trades” the birthright for some soup Jacob had been preparing. This instance brings up an important lesson about choices.

We live in a society full of instant gratification. Everything in our society is meant to be as fast as possible. Highways offer EZPass at toll booths, restaurants offer fast food, and cell phones with the internet allow us access whatever we want whenever we want at very fast speeds. Sometimes we do not have time to slow down and make the right choices. As Jews we learn from Esau’s mistake. Esau expected the instant gratification of eating the soup over the long-term gratification of the birthright. We learn not only that choices are important, but also how easy it can be to make the right choice if one is conscious about it.

As USYers we make important decisions every day. Post bar and bat mitzvah age we are now responsible for our own actions. How will you behave? Will you go for the instant gratification, or will you wait for the right choice? How will you choose?

Seventh-Day Stretch:
#8: The Talmud requires us to eat three meals on Shabbat: one Friday night, one after prayers in the morning, and one in the afternoon. Shabbat in the Book of Isaiah is called oneg (literally “delight”), and therefore not only do we refrain from fasting, but we also bring our meals up a notch by serving a menu that is not typical during the week. People also set their tables to look nicer than would normally be during the week. Shabbat meals are made holier through singing zemirot and talking about the parasha and general words of Torah. We begin the first two of our Shabbat meals with Kiddush. We are commanded twice in the Torah to sanctify the Shabbat, and we do so using wine (or grape juice). The two reasons for doing so go back to Shamor v’Zakhor in the Ten Commandments that I talked about at the very beginning, where we commemorate the Exodus in the former and Creation in the latter.

There is no doubt that Shabbat meals are quintessential to observing the holy day. It is our easiest time to sit down with family and friends and to not be in a rush to eat and return to daily activity. Much emphasis has been placed on observance in the home, and the Shabbat table is the place to sanctify Shabbat.

#9: I recently read a quote in A Treasury of Shabbat Inspiration by Rabbi Sidney Greenberg about the pertinence of using the word “Shabbat” in describing the day. In Summary, when one calls this day Saturday, it is easy to forget about the primary nature of Shabbat and overlook it as just any day to do something. When we call it Yom Ha-Shabbat, however, we emphasize that Shabbat is a holy day for the Jewish people, and we do not engage in our secular activities. Even if one were to go to the mall on Shabbat, one would be reminded that it is a special day when one says Shabbat than “I’m going to the mall on Saturday.”

Rather, we go to synagogue on Shabbat. Because we’re not under the pressures of the normal week, we add more psalms, increase our singing, have Divrei Torah, and read more of the parasha than we do during the week. Of course, this can get very long, so I’d like to suggest a couple of things to make your Shabbat morning worthwhile:

  • Times that you don’t find engaging in the service, study a Jewish text – even Pirkei Avot in the back of the siddur.
  • Read the commentary of the Etz Hayim Humash during the Torah reading – you’ll learn a lot more.
  • Look out for special references to Shabbatin the Shabbat liturgy and think about how you relate to them throughout Shabbat.
  • Less is more – it’s often better to say less prayers and concentrate and connect to them more than to rush through and feel the rote nature of prayers.

Toldot 5771

by Charlene Thrope

Although I won’t always admit it, I love my family. And although we are all very different individuals, from our religious observance to our academic interests, we are extremely close. In fact, I think our diversity is what allows us to be so close. Because I went to a different high school than my brother and sisters, I never had to deal with a teacher liking me more – or less – than an older sibling. Because my sisters are much older than I am, we never fought over clothes. Because we are all so different, it is almost impossible for my parents to compare us.

Likewise, Jacob and Esau are very different: Esau is red and hairy, and Jacob is not; Esau loves the outdoors, and Esau prefers to stay inside. Jacob and Esau have different appearances, professions, and priorities. Instead of embracing their differences, these brothers are in constant conflict. Their fighting is encourages by their parents, who clearly play favorites. Rebekah helps Jacob trick Isaac into giving him Esau’s blessing, and Esau chooses an additional wife that he knows he parents will approve of. Jacob and Esau are seriously lacking in brotherly love.

Before they are even born, God tells Rebekah, “Two nations are in your womb, two separate peoples shall issue from your body; one people shall be mightier than the other, and the older shall serve the younger” (Genesis 25:23). Rebekah knew her children would be different, and she chooses to favor the younger son. God never predicts that Esau and Jacob will become rivals and their descendants will form rival nations. The nations of Esau and Jacob could have become brother nations – separate, yet still friendly. Instead, they fight for years and are not reunited for many years.

We, like Rebekah, often assume that differences – between siblings, friends, or fellow board members – will result in conflict. But if we embrace this diversity, we can use it to strengthen our relationships and create a society that values tolerance, understanding, and pluralism.

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