About Me

Rabbi Chaim Coffman
Rabbi Coffman has helped people from all across the spectrum to prepare themselves properly for Orthodox Conversion to Judaism. His students admire his vast knowledge and appreciate his warm, personal attention and endearing sense of humor.
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Welcome to Rabbi Chaim Coffman's Blog!

I would like to thank you for visiting my blog, Beyond Orthodox Conversion to Judaism.

The conversion process can be a lengthy and daunting one to say the least and I want you to know that I am here to help you through it.

I have been teaching newcomers to Judaism for over a decade and over the last few years I have seen that conversion candidates really lack the support and knowledge they need to navigate the conversion process and successfully integrate into the Orthodox Jewish community.

I created my mentorship program in order to help make this whole experience as smooth and as painless as possible! (Can't do much about the growing pains, though ;)

Feel free to get to know me a little through the posts on my blog and visit the mentorship and syllabus page if you are interested in possible joining us.

I sincerely wish you all the best in your search for truth and spiritual growth.

Looking forward to meeting you,
Chaim Coffman

My Rebbe, Rav Moshe Sternbuch

In case you were wondering why I have all of these articles written by Rav Moshe Sternbuch, he is my Rebbe, and one of the gedolei hador (greatest Rabbis of our generation).

Rav Sternbuch fully endorses me and supports my mentorship program.

He is the address for all of my halachic or hashkafic (practical and philosophical) questions that I or my students may have.

The articles are based on his weekly talks on the Torah portion that the Rav gives in Jerusalem in his kollel. As a member of the kollel I get first dibbs on the photocopies and I type them up for my blog so you can all benefit from the Rav's erudition and insight.
Friday, December 31, 2010

A Recipe for Salvation

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

We are in the midst of the period referred to as “Shovevim Tat”, the parshiyos of Shemos through Tetzaveh. During these weeks, we relive the redemption of Yetzias Mitzrayim (the coming out of Egypt). The Arizal (Rav Isaac Luria) explains that this is a special time for teshuvah and experiencing national and personal salvations.

Retaining Separation

At the beginning of Sefer Shemos, the Torah tells us that a new king arose in Mitzrayim (Shemos 1:8). Chazal explain that it was the same Paro, but he renewed his original decree. What was the essence of this original decree and how did he renew it now?
When Yaakov and his family originally came to Egypt, Paroh decreed that they should live amongst them and integrate into the comfortable life in Mitzrayim. Yaakov recognized that living among the Mitzrayim would eventually lead to assimilating into their culture. He refused Paroh’s offer and successfully got around this original decree.
After Yaakov and the shevatim (tribes) died, Paroh renewed his offer, and without the leadership of Yaakov Avinu, the Jewish people followed Paroh’s instructions. They began to integrate into Egyptian culture and slowly drifted away from the Torah. This aroused Divine wrath and caused the Jewish enslavement by the Egyptians.
Living amongst non-Jewish cultures, we face the same challenges today that Klal Yisrael had in Mitzrayim. If we choose to disregard their enticements and cling to the ways of the Torah, then we will find favor in Hashem’s eyes and be spared from harsh punishment. However, if we are drawn after the ways of the non-Jews, we, too, will evoke Hashem’s anger.

Fearing Hashem

The Torah stresses that Yocheved and Miriam feared Hashem and saved the Jewish people. Seemingly, this was not the greatest aspect of their actions. By refusing to listen to Paroh’s orders to kill Jewish babies, they single-handedly saved the entire Jewish people and should have been given more credit for their actions.
The Torah comes to tell us that they did not save the Jewish people merely because of emotional pain of killing infants. They recognized the chillul Hashem involved in killing so many Jews. Because they acted out of concern for Hashem’s honor, they were rewarded with Botei Kehunah and Botei Leviah, to be the progenitors of Kohanim and Leviim.
One of the primary requirements to see salvation is fear of Hashem. We should follow in the ways of Yocheved and Miriam, who acted purely out of fear of the Almighty, if we live with fear of the Almighty, we will constantly see His Hand.


One would think that the harsh decrees against the Jewish people in Mitrayim would stop them from marrying. Yet, despite the law to kill all newborn babies, the Jewish people continued to wed. In this way, the perpetuated Klal Yisrael and paved the way for the redemption.
Rav Yechiel Weinber, the Sridei Aish, related that during the Holocaust in the Warsaw Ghetto, two rabbonim remained. Even though they were all slated to be exterminated, they decided that they would marry off as many of their children as they could beforehand. Parents could at least feel that they had done everything they could for their children’s future.
Every day, the rabbonim performed many weddings. Even though conditions in the ghetto were cramped and there was no food, they did not let this break their spirit. The rabbonim once remarked, “The Germans can take away this world from us, but they cannot take away the next”.
In our day, conditions are much easier, and we do not have to give up our lives to fulfill mitzvos. We must, nonetheless, learn from the strong will of those who went through the Holocaust. If we put all of our energy into fulfilling the mitzvos, Hashem will respond tour efforts and bring about the redemption.

Hoping vs. Waiting

Miriam placed her brother Moshe in a small reed basket and into the waters of the Nile, then waited to see what would happen to him. Chazal tell us that because Miriam waited to see what would happen to her brother, she received great reward when the Jewish people later waited for her for seven days while she recovered from tzoraas in the desert.
Seemingly, Miriam’s act was not excessively praiseworthy. Anyone would have waited out of care and curiosity to see whether her sibling would live and what would transpire. Why was she deserving of such reward for this?
Some people hope for Divine salvation, and others wait for it. The difference between the two is that waiting implies complete clarity that the redemption will come, while hoping suggests some level of doubt regarding this issue. The greatness of Miriam’s act was that she waited for her brother’s salvation and had complete trust in Hashem that it would take place.
Rav Sternbuch relates that during World War II, his mother was convinced that after such atrocious killings had taken place, Moshiach would soon arrive. She decided that she would save her best dress and all of her jewelry for the day that Moshiach arrived. Even after the war ended and Moshiach did not come, she continued to set aside her best dress and jewelry for the day that he would come.

Avoiding Theft

Prayer is a major catalyst for salvation, and theft and dishonesty are reasons why one’s prayers are not accepted. Although G-d hears the cries of all who turn to Him, He is only close to those who live lives of truth. Rabbeinu Bechaya (Kad hakemach, “Emunah”) explains that only those who maintain a life of honesty and integrity can hope to have their prayers answered.
Generally, it is impossible for any shepherd to prevent his animals from grazing in pastures that belong to others, unless he takes the necessary precautions. For this reason, herdsmen are generally labeled as thieves and Chazal call them “rasha, wicked” (Bava Metzia 5b). This label disqualifies them from serving as witnesses, as the Torah says, “Do not join forces with a wicked person to be a corrupt witness” (Shemos 23:1).
Moshe Rabbeinu was meticulous about grazing his sheep only on uninhabited desert lands where none of the pasture area was privately owned. This practice demonstrated his trait of absolute integrity, which is a fundamental necessity for someone in a leadership role. The Medrash (Yalkur Shemoni, Shemos 169) says that it was because of the honesty that Moshe Rabbeinu displayed while tending his flock that he eventually merited to become the leader of the Jewish people.

Oratory Skills

The Torah tells us that Moshe Rabbeinu has speech problems (kevad peh) and language problems (kevad lashon). The Ran (Drashos) explains that Hashem did not want the Jewish people to think that it was because of the powerful oratory skills of Moshe Rabbeinu that we were freed from Mitzrayim. Rather, it was only because of the Almighty’s grace.
During World War II, Winston Churchill valiantly led the English people through the war. Even in their darkest hour, he would exclaim, “We can take it!” and boosted the morale of his people. As long as he was leading the country, the English felt that they were invincible.
The Jewish people have a different set of standards. We know that one of the conditions for personal and national redemption is recognition that salvation can only come through Hashem and that thinking that our own wisdom or that of our leaders plays a part only hinders this process. We must realize with complete clarity that “ein od milvado”, everything come from His Hand alone.

Riding Donkeys

Chazal tell us that the donkey that Moshe Rabbeinu rode on was the very same one that Avroham Avinu traveled on to the Akeidah (the binding of Isaac). This is also the same donkey that Moshiach will arrive on. What is the connection between these three events and why must they all ride on a donkey?
A donkey is the archetype animal representing a beast that lacks all intelligence and is completely reliant on its master, going only where he directs it. Jews are meant to learn from the donkey vis-à-vis our relationship with the Almighty. At times, we are meant to nullify all understanding and follow Hashem’s will without second thought.
First, Hashem told Avroham Avinu that Yitzchok would be the heir to his life-long work of bringing recognition of Hashem into the world. Afterward, the Almighty seemed to contradict His original promise by commanding Avrohom to offer Yitzchok as a sacrifice. Without a second thought, Avrohom Avinu boarded his donkey and hurried to fulfill the Divine order.
Hashem told Moshe Rabbeinu to return to Mitzrayim to spearhead the redemption of Klal Yisrael. Even though some of Moshe Rabbeinu’s enemies had died, he still had many enemies remaining there. Nonetheless, Moshe Rabbeinu and his family got on a donkey and traveled to Mitzrayim.
In our time, we face a similar paradox. If we think logically about our present situation, there is no reason why the redemption should come. Previous generations were more righteous than we are and yet he did not come during their days. Why should Moshiach come now?
Although it may not seem logical, Hashem has promised us that whether we are worthy or not, the final redemption will come. In this respect, we must make ourselves like donkeys and disregard all arguments to the contrary, just as Avrohom Avinu and Moshe Rabbeinu put all reasoning to the side to fulfill the Almighty’s will. If we follow their example, we will merit to witness the coming Moshiach very soon.
Thursday, December 23, 2010

Ephraim and Menashe

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

Subliminal Messages

Why, Chazal ask, is Parshaas Vayechi a parsha stumah, a closed parsha? They answer that the way the parsha is written parallels what happened to the Jewish people after Yaakov’s petirah (death). As soon as he passed away, the eyes and heart of the Jewish people were closed as a result of the subjugation that started at that time.
Chazal’s words are difficult to comprehend. Mitzrayim only enslaved the Jewish people after all of the shevatim (tribes) died. Why, then, do they date the start of the enslavement right after the passing of Yaakov?
From the words of Chazal, we see a critical life principle. Enslavement is not limited to physical subjugation and torture. A nation can be mentally enslaved by the culture it is surrounded by as well.
As long as the Jewish people were under the guidance of Yaakov Avinu, they were able to overcome the powerful influences of Mitrayim pulling them away from Torah. With Yaakov’s passing, they no longer had the constant direction to help avoid spiritual harm. As a result, they were pulled into an immediate mental subjugation by the culture around them.

Israel at War

The dangers we experienced in Mitzrayim are no less pertinent today. Internet, newspapers, advertising, and the myriad other media messages that bombard us shape our way of thinking and acting. Only a strong connection to Torah and Gedolim (Great Rabbis) can sensitize us to guard ourselves from these dangers. We must be careful to do whatever we can to protect our families and ourselves from being subtly pulled in by anti-Torah messages that they relay.
Rav Sternbuch was once traveling with one of the top Israeli army officers. The officer commented to the rov, “I understand that you need about three thousand yeshiva students to be exempt from the army. We need teachers and rabbis for the next generation. But why do you possibly need tens of thousands of exemptions?
Rav sternbuch replied, “In times of peace, the army drafts every seventeen-year-old. After three years, most of them leave and are periodically called up on reserve. Only a small percentage of the best soldiers stay full-time in the army.
“In times of war, the roles are different. Every able-bodied person must join the army in order to properly defend the country. There is no room to differentiate between soldiers.
“However, today, the world has been contaminated with false ideologies. Youth are told to follow their hearts’ desires, and to do whatever they want. The Torah world is fighting a war, and therefore, as many students as possible must remain in yeshiva so they can learn how to defend themselves against these attacks”.
“Apparently, the officer did not get the message. He replied to Rav Sternbuch that in order for Israel to be victorious in their military operations, they need every able-bodied soldier. If so many students are in yeshiva, how would Israel be able to win wars?
Rav Sternbuch replied that a Jewish army is meant to rely on the Almighty. All of the rules of the army must be guided solely by the dictates of Torah and not by the whims of the generals. Sinners were told to go home and only the righteous soldiers were permitted to fight.
Rav Sternbuch concluded that he was convinced that the miraculous victories of the Israeli army were not due to the fighting ability of the soldiers, but rather the merit of thousands of students learning Torah influenced the victories taking place. IF the army tries to reduce the number of talmidim (students) learning Torah, they will no longer see such miraculous outcomes.

Educational Priorities

When blessing Ephraim and Menashe, Yaakov put Ephraim, the younger son of Yosef, before Menashe. The Torah emphasizes this switch, implying that all future generations should learn from this. What is the deeper message of this story?
Ephraim and Menashe were both tzaddikim as we can see from the fact that they received the status of shevatim. Ephraim was completely immersed in Torah, while Menashe helped his father, Yosef, with governmental affairs. Both fulfilled their respective jobs flawlessly.
Shlomo Hamelech teaches us that “each child must be educated according to his way”. While certain strengths push one toward being an Ephraim, others tend more to being a Menashe. Parents must know their children inside and out and try to help each one decide which path of life he should follow.
But blessing Ephraim before Menashe, Yaakov taught us a critical lesson for all generations. When it comes to educating our children, first priority should be to try to direct them to becoming Ephraims. This way, the Jewish people will have Torah leaders who can direct them in future generations.
The Targum of Yonason ben Uziel writes that the blessing to be like Ephraim starts from the time of bris milah (circumcision). We fulfill his words when we say, “Just as the child came to his bris, he should come to Torah, chupah and maasim tovim” (good deeds). At the tender age of eight days, we already express that our first priority is to direct our children to Torah.
If we see that a child’s strengths do not tend themselves to becoming an Ephraim, then a different course should be followed. We should do everything we can to make sure that he will be righteous as Menashe. If we follow this route of chinuch (education), we will see true Jewish nachas from our children.
The Lubliner Rov had a yeshiva of 400 bochurim (students). He once commented, “the goal of my yeshiva is to produce one talmid who will be a gaon in Torah,and 399 others who will know what a gaon is. If he understands what torah is, he will always actively learn and support Torah”.
Whether a person chooses the route of Ephraim or Menashe, true success in life depends on recognizing that one’s life should be guided by the light of Torah. Let us do everything in our power to guide our children in this direction.
Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Blaming Torah

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

Who’s to Blame?

Last week, Israel experienced the worst fire in the history of the country. The blaze took numerous lives, caused an enormous amount of damage, and left many Jews homeless. As in any such situation, it could be expected that the government would try to point the finger of blame at someone in order to absolve themselves.
Someone directly involved with the job of extinguishing fires would be the most likely choice to be the scapegoat. It took a number of days until the blaze was put out, and seemingly, a competent fire-fighting system should have been able to deal with the situation quicker. But this was not the target here. Who, then, did the government choose to pin the blame on for this tragedy?
In a discussion in the Israeli Knesset, some of the representatives came to the following decision: Last year, the government allocated money to help yeshivos, and had this funding been used to purchase fire-extinguishing equipment, the blaze would have been put out much earlier. Therefore, they concluded that the blame for the fire rests on the shoulders of the yeshiva students.
As absurd and illogical as this argument sounds, there are many people in Israel who share this sentiment. As soon as some crisis takes place in the country, the finger of responsibility is pointed at those learning Torah. How can we understand this deep-rooted hatred some have of their own religion?
Torah is the mainstay of Klal Yisrael, and it is what elevates us above every other nation of the world. Those who keep Torah are able to sanctify every aspect of their existence and live a life of holiness. When the Jewish people live according to the elevated standards that the Torah lays down, we become a light unto the nations.
Jews who forsake the Torah understand that those who learn and keep the Torah are a threat to their way of life. They try whatever they can to uproot Torah from the Jewish people, and will even go so far as to blame the catastrophe of last week’s fire on those learning Torah in yeshivos. Let us try to gain a deeper understanding of Torah’s central role in the existence of the Jewish people and what we can do to strengthen it in our times.

Small Talk

After Yosef revealed himself as their brother, the shevatim went from Mitzrayim back to Canaan to bring their father, Yaakov, to Mitzrayim. Certainly, there was plenty for them to discuss regarding the sale of Yosef and all that had transpired since then. There was no reason to believe that they would have trouble finding what to talk about during the journey home.
Yet, as they left, Yosef warned them, “Al tirgezu baderech – Don’t get into fights on the way”. Yosef was not referring to physical brawls. Rather, he instructed them not to get into deep, intricate halachic discussions, for that could cause them harm on the road. They should choose lighter topics so that they would not run into danger.
The Brisker Rav pointed out that Yosef did not think for a second that they would involve themselves with small talk. The issue was only what topics in Torah they should discuss. Torah is meant to be discussed at all times, whether one is at home or traveling.
IN order for Torah to have a full impact on us, we must involve ourselves with Torah as much as possible. Especially when a person is traveling and has “free time”, he should make sure that has a sefer to learn from or a shiur to listen to. Using all of our available time to study Torah is the secret to constant growth in Torah learning.

Temporary Resident

Yaakov realized that he must go down to Mitzrayim to fulfill the decree of Hashem and to see Yosef before leaving this world. However, even when he came to Mitrayim, Yaakov did not settle down. He only dwelled their temporarily during his final years.
Throughout Yaakov Avinu’s life, he never settled down. Yaakov always felt that he was merely traveling through this world. The only thing that mattered to him was his growth in Torah learning and Divine service.
Every Jew who is involved with Torah learning is meant to share Yaakov Avinu’s attitude. We can gain deeper insight about this way of life from a story involving a wealthy individual from overseas who visited the house of the Chofetz Chaim in Poland. The guest asked his host why his home was so bare of furniture and comforts.
The Chofetz Chaim replied by asking his guest where all of his furniture was. The traveler answered that he was just passing through and, naturally, had left most of his belongings at home. The Chofetz Chaim responded, “I am also just passing through this world on the way back to my real home, and I also do not want to overburden myself with belongings on my travels”.

Wagon Wheels

When Yaakov initially heard that Yosef was still alive, he did not believe the story. Even after the shevatim described in detail what transpired, he was still doubtful. Only when Yaakov saw the wagon wheels, which Yosef has sent as a sign that he remembered that they had studied the halachos of eglah arufah together before he departed did Yaakov accept their story.
Egypt was the center of moral degradation in the ancient world. It is understandable that when Yaakov realized that his own son Yosef had been in Mitzrayim, he would start to worry. Yosef Hatzaddik who left him may have become corrupted after spending so many years in such a morally decrepit environment.
The sign that Yosef sent gave Yaakov double relief. In addition to verifying that he was alive, it showed Yaakov that he was still actively involved in Torah. For Yaakov Avinu, this was the sign that despite the religiously antagonistic environment around him, Yosef was truly still alive.

Opening Yeshivos

How could Yaakov make sure that his family had a chance of surviving the licentious lifestyle of Egypt? Before sending his family down to Mitzrayim, Yaakov Avinu sent Yehudah ahead to open a yeshiva. In doing so, Yehudah paved the way for Klal Yisrael to come down to Egypt.
The Jewish people are unlike any other nation of the world, for our existence is directly connected to the level at which we learn and keep the Torah. If we cling to the pleasant ways of Torah, then we will flourish and see success like no other nation has ever experienced. Abandoning the Torah causes the exact opposite results.
When the Jewish people experience crises such as the fire that took place here so recently, we must first analyze our level of learning and observing the Torah. Strengthening ourselves in these areas will improve our relationship with Hashem and cause tribulations such as this to disappear. If we attribute what took place to natural means, we throw ourselves into even greater danger.

Coming Up

When Klal Yisrael left Mitzrayim, it was clear that this was an act of Hashem’s Hand and that we had no part in it. Chazal tell us that during Golus Bavel, anyone who left Bavel to go to Eretz Yisrael transgressed. So, too, in every golus, it is Hashem alone Who brings us out.
Even in our days, having returned to Eretz Yisrael, the golus continues. When this last long and bitter exile finally comes to an end, the Almighty Himself will take us out of our suffering. Only when Hashem decides to end golus will it officially be over.
Until that day, the only protection that we can truly rely on is the merit of Torah. Our limud haTorah gives the Almighty true pleasure in this world and allows us to continue finding favor in His eyes. We cannot possibly fathom the protective power that our Torah learning has.

Ben Gurion’s Error

When the sTate of Israel was formed, the government wanted to draft every able-bodied male into the army. Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer and the other gedolim of the time protested vehemently. They argued that there had to be some bochurim sitting in yeshivos and studying Torah.
Ben Gurion initially refused their request but eventually he agreed. He assumed that those learning Torah would soon be museum pieces and this antiquated custom would die out. For the interim period, Ben Guion granted them their exemption.
Meanwhile, the yeshivos flourished and, eventually, one thousand yeshiva students became twenty-five thousand. Ben Gurion was shocked by what transpired, for he was sure that yeshiva students were destined to disappear. He was recorded as saying that the only mistake he made in his life was to exempt the yeshiva students from the army.
Chazal tell us that one of the conditions necessary for Moshiach to come is that “chochmas sofrim yisrach – Torah must be putrid in the eyes of people”. As we get closer and closer to this auspicious day, the hatred of Torah grows stronger and stronger. The Israeli government grabs any opportunity to blame yeshiva students for everything that goes wrong in the country.
While the government tried to pin the blame for the fire on yeshiva bochurim, in truth, yeshiva students’ learning is what protect the country and prevents many more tragedies from taking place. During these difficult days prior to the arrival of Moshiach, we must strengthen ourselves in Torah and gemilus chassodim (acts of loving-kindness). This way, we will be prepared for the great revelations that will take place may they happen speedily in our days.
Friday, December 17, 2010

Behind the Fire

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

Reacting to Tragedies

During the life of the Chofetz Chaim, a great tragedy took place in Europe. The Chofetz Chaim wanted to declare a day of fasting and prayer, and he called on the great gaon, Rav Chaim Brisker, to support this undertaking. However, Rav Chaim explained that the call of the Chofetz Chaim was too early.
Rav Chaim said that in order to properly rectify this issue, we must first identify the source of the problem. After we have discovered why we are receiving such harsh Divine punishment, then we can try to fix the problem. Only after the issues have been dealt with is a day of fasting and prayer appropriate.
This past weekend, a fire raged through Haifa. Many were killed, more injured, and the amount of overall damage that was caused rendered the catastrophe even greater. Let us look into what took place now, along with how it fits in with other events of the past two years, and try to understand the deeper message that Hashem is relaying to us.

The Only Source of Power

Perhaps the biggest chillul Hashem (desecration of G-d’s name) in the modern wourld is the gaavah, the haughtiness, that exists in Israel. During Israel’s short history, the country has fought and won many wars, each one accompanied by open miracles. Yet, each time, almost all of the leaders of the government and army denied Divine involvement and gave full credit to their own expertise.
Two years ago, the Israeli army went into Gaza, with the goal of knocking out the infrastructure of Hamas and thus helping stop the bombings and terror. Although open miracles took place during this time and there were few casualties, Barak and other government officials denied that their victory was in any way connected to Hashem. Once again, they flexed their gaavah and credited their success to their own military prowess.
For the past two years, there has been relative quiet, and Hashem has given us some time to forget about what took place in Gaza. However, the fire this past weekend seems to have been a direct shot at the Israeli gaavah. Israel was forced into a position where they had to admit that they have no control and that everything is in the Hands of the Almighty.
This fire was so bad that Israeli equipment and know-how were not sufficient to extinguish it. AS a result, Turkey had to be called upon for help to put out the blaze. There could be no greater to Israel’s inflated ego than to be humbled into turning to Turkey, their enemy for aid.
Before Moshiach comes every Jew must come to the recognition that Hashem is the Single Power guiding the world. Actions taken by individuals or nations are merely manifestations of His will, and they have no effect on the outcome of world history. Chazal reveal that in order for the final redemption to take place, “We must believe that we have nothing to rely on except for our Father in Heaven” (Sotah 49b)
The great blaze that took place this past weekend showed Israel that only Hashem wields control and that there is absolutely no place for haughtiness. If every Jew is able to internalize this message and recognize that there is no other source of power, Moshiach will come immediately. However, if we categorize what happened as a natural event, the message will get louder and stronger, and chas veshalom (G-d forbid), we would be in danger of experiencing demonstrations such as this fire on an even greater scale, if one dares imagine.
Recognizing that Hashem alone wields power is no easy task. Man naturally feels kochi ve’otzem yodi, that success comes through his own strength. Let us try to understand how we can bring ourselves closer to this recognition of the truth.

Humility Pays

Yosef is the paradigm of the above outlook that one must maintain his humility at all times. After he spent a number of years in jail in Mitzrayim, Paroh called upon him to interpret his dream. This was Yosef’s opportunity to free himself, and one would think that he would take this chance to show himself in the best light.
Yet, when Paroh asked Yosef if he interprets dreams, Yosef emphatically replied that this power is only in Hashem’s jurisdiction. If the Almighty wished, He would reveal to Yosef the meaning of Paroh’s dream. Nothing was in his hands.
People appreciate humility, and the best thing a person can do to find factor in the eyes of others is to stay clear of haughtiness. For this reason, Yosef found favor in the eyes of others and was successful in all that he did. In his famous Igeres (literally letter), the Ramban emphasizes the importance of humility and adds that a person should not even take credit for his wisdom, for it is not his.

Complete Trust

Chazal attribute the verse “Happy is the person who believes in Hashem” to Yosef. Yet, at the same time, Yosef was punished for two years after asking the steward to mention him to Paroh. How can we understand this?
Hashem aided Yosef throughout his stay in Mitzrayim. The Divine Hand was so strong in Yosef’s life that the Torah testifies that everything he did was successful. Even Potifar recognized that Yosef’s success was from above.
After experiencing such open assistance, Yosef should not have turned to the steward for assistance. He should have continued to put his faith solely in Hashem. Yosef’s act showed a certain amount of yi’ush (giving up) and because of that, he needed another two years in prison to strengthen his faith.
When Rav Sternbuch was a child, Rav Elchonon Wasserman was a regular guest at his family’s home in England. About seventy years ago, Rav Sternbuch’s father passed away. Rav Elchonon was sensitive to the feelings of the widow and orphans and was careful to still visit and spend time with the family.
During one such visit, Rav Sternbuch’s mother asked Rav Elchonon the following question: With her husband’s passing, the entire burden of supporting the family fell on her, yet at the same time, she had to take care of herself and her nine children. Both of these were full-time jobs. How could she be expected to do both and at the same time maintain her bitachon (belief and faith in G-d)?
Rav Elchonon responded, “First we must recognize that this world is only a preparation for the World to Come. This world is fleeting, while the next world will be our permanent existence. We must make acquiring a place in the World to Come our primary focus.
“After we have recognized what our goal in life is, we must realize that we can’t grab anything that’s not ours and if we try to take more money than is coming to us, we will be forced to pay it back in problems with our health, children, or some other area of our finances. Hashem has already decreed exactly how much you and your family will receive. Take as much time as you need to raise your children, and rely that the Almighty will grant you all of your needs in the remaining few hours”.
When we are suffering in the area of finances, health, or grappling with any other problem, the natural reaction is to panic. We must first recognize that the purpose of our lives is to serve Hashem. After this, we will be able to recognize that Hashem is in complete control and has designed this situation to help us recognize His Hand in our personal lives.

Avoiding Negative Influences

At the beginning of the famine, Yaakov and his household still had food. Yaakov asks his children, “Why are you making yourself appear as you do?” What were Yaakov’s intentions in this question?
The Ramban explains that although Yaakov still had food, Eisav’s and Yishmoel’s families did not. They needed to go to Mitrayim in order to purchase sustenance. However, if they knew that Yaakov’s family had food, they might stop in for a few days.
Yaakov understood that such a visit could have a negative influence on his family. Therefore, he told his children to go to Mitzrayim to purchase food. This way, Eiasav and Yishmoel would think that they were also in need and would not come to their home.
Distancing children from negative influences is a critical issue in their chinuch (education). A child who does not yet have the ability to discern between right and wrong can be harmed if he is exposed to anti-Torah philosophies. Rav Chaim Brisker would keep tabs on who his children spoke to and what was said to them.

The Drought Continues

As the fire was blazing through Haifa, the drought continued throughout Israel. While drought was once the cause of death, today this is not the case. The Chazon Ish said that lack of rain tells us that Hashem is upset with us and wants us to change our ways.
We have seen that fire and water, two of the most basic elements in the world, are out of our control. Both of these circumstances tell us the same message: we must humble ourselves before Hashem. He is the lone Source of strength.
Chazal tell us that before Moshiach comes, there will be chevlei Moshiach, the “birth pangs” of this event. The purpose of these tribulations is singular. They are all directed at getting us to recognize that we have no personal power and that He alone is the Force that directs us.
We have discussed humility, complete trust in Hashem, and avoiding influences that are spiritually harmful. Hashem has brought about these tzaros to influence us to work on these three issues. If we do not take this to heart, these destructive events took place for naught.
Hashem wants to bring the geulah (redemption) today, and He is calling out to us to make it happen. If we internalize the message of the fire and the drought and elevate ourselves to a complete recognition that He alone wields power, the redemption will come immediately. Let’s not let this opportunity slip through our fingers.
Thursday, December 9, 2010

Refusing Compromise

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

The Best of Both Worlds

Rashi tells us that Yaakov Avinu sent actual malachim to speak with Eisav. Seeing an angel is no small feat, and only someone on a very high spiritual level can merit this. Why was Eisav worthy of such a revelation?
In truth, Eisav was a complete believer in Hashem, and he was aware that there is reward for good deeds and punishment for transgression. While he was around his father, Yitzchok, Eisav acted like a tzaddik and asked him the most complex and intricate questions in halachah. However, Eisav was drawn after the pleasures of this world, and he rationalized his evil ways through receiving himself in the moment that everything would somehow be fine in the end.
Today, the temptations of the world are stronger than ever. Without constant vanguard over ourselves and our families, we can easily be pulled into the same erroneous thinking that influenced Eisav’s life philosophy. When it comes to religious issues, we must keep in mind that there is no room for compromise and that keeping Hashem’s Torah overrides all other considerations.

Honoring Parents

Before meeting up with Eisav, Yaakov prepared himself with prayer and presents. If that would not work, Yaakov was ready to go to war with his brother. Although Yaakov was certainly more righteous than his brother, he feared that Eisav’s fulfillment of the mitzvah of honoring his father could override Yaakov’s own merit.
Although Yaakov certainly had the merit of going in the ways of Yitzvhok and Avrohom, there was a reason that he might not benefit from this regarding the particular situation with Eisav. During the twenty years that Yaakov was away from his parents, he did not fulfill the mitzvah of honoring his parents. This lapse could effectively take away his zechus avos.
Eisav, on the other hand, excelled in the mitzvah of honoring his parents. He even kept a special set of clothes in which to serve his father.
We might think that Yaakov was exempt of his obligation to honor his parents during his twenty-year stint by Lavan. After Chazal tell us that he was punished for this, we must assume that he was not freed from his responsibility. Even under these circumstances, Yaakov should have made special efforts to try and fulfill this mitzvah.
Many of us have busy schedules, and the more we are involved with activities, the harder it is to give our parents our full attention. Who was more busy and righteous than Yaakov Avinu? Yet, he did not escape punishment for his absence from Yitzvhok and Rifkah. When it comes to the mitzvah of kibbud av ve’eim, we may not compromise, and even if it is difficult, we must do everything we can to honor them.

Out of our Hands

Upon encountering Eisav, Yaakov tells him that he had lived with Lavan. Chazal tell us that the Hebrew world for “I lived”, garti, is spelled with the same letters as the number taryag, 613. This was a hint to Eisav that, even while Yaakov lived with the evil Lavan, he still kept all of the mitzvos.
Was it necessary for Yaakov to tell this to Eisav? Yaakov wanted his brother to know that although he was willing to make large financial sacrifices, there was one issue that he would not compromise on. When it came to mitzvos, Yaakov was not prepared to budge an inch.
A group of doctors once met in Kovna to discuss various issues of the time. One of the topis that came up was spitting during chalitzah (if a woman’s husband dies and she has no kids, she has to marry the husband’s brother, called yibum, if she does not then she has to go through the process of chalitzah). They felt that it was unbecoming and should be abolished from the ceremony.
The group went to the Kovna Rav, Rav Avrohom Shapira, and asked him about the possibility of changing chalitzah. He asked them if, before they dealt with that issue they could help him out with something that was bothering him. Since they were doctors, perhaps they could tell him a cure to death.
Surprised by the rov’s request, they replied that medicine had not found a cure for death and that this certainly was not in their hands. Rav Shapira said, “So, too, the Torah is not in our hands. The Almighty established that chalitzah is done by spitting and we have no ability to change this”.

My Brother Eisav

Yaakov Avinu asks Hashem to save him from his “brother Eisav”. We can understand why we need protection from Eisav when he acts against us, but why did Yaakov request that the Almighty protect us even when Eisav is acting as our brother?
When the Jewish people are persecuted, it is clear that Eisav is our enemy. However, when the non-Jews treat us as equals in order to pull us away from Torah, the flight is much more subtle. In such cases, we require much more Divine assistance.
When the State of Israel was formed, the Satmar Rov told the Chazon Ish that he was afraid there were Zionists who would persecute the religious Jews. The Chazon Ish replied that Hashem would protect us from evil intentions. He was much more worried about the “candies” they want to give us to lure us away from Torah.
The nisyonos (tests) in Israel today are very difficult. If we let the government carry out their intentions, they will destroy the entire Torah framework that exists in the Holy Land. We must turn to Hashem to help protect us from their influence.

Dinah in a Box

Before meeting Eisav, Yaakov Avinu hid Dinah from him putting her in a box. Yaakov was afraid that when Eisav saw Dinah, he would want to marry her. Despite his good intentions. Chazal tell us that Yaakov was punished for hiding her.
Yaakov’s behavior stemmed from his refusal to compromise his beliefs and seemingly was completely justified. Furthermore, Eisav was over 100 years old and Dinah was a young girl. Why was Yaakov punished for his actions?
Rav Eliyahu Desler explains that although Yaakov’s actions were both justified and correct, he should have had more compassion for his brother. We can compare this to a person who sees someone drowning, but he himself does not know how to swim. The onlooker does not have to risk his own life to save him, but he should at least feel bad that the other person is dying.
So too, Yaakov was right in hiding Dinah from Eisav. Yet, at the same time, he should have felt bad that he could not do something to bring his own twin brother back to the right path. For his lack of concern, Yaakov was punished when Dinah was abducted.
From this incident with Dinah, we see an important lesson in compromise. Even when a person sticks to his principles, he should not let this dull his emotions. We must act in the way the Torah directs us, while at the same time feeling for the suffering of others.

Fighting Angels

The Torah tells us that the night before His encounter with Eisav, Yaakov fought with an angel the whole night. As dawn approached, the malach (angel) asked Yaakov to free him so that he could return to the heavens to sing shirah. What was the special song that the angel had to rush back to sing that morning?
The Tchebiner Rov explains that the malach that Yaakov fought was none other than the Sotan himself. He tries to influence us to sin and at times succeeds. Converng Yaakov, the Soton fought very hard but was unable to influence Yaakov to compromise even an iota.
The Soton’s job is to get us to sin, and success brings him great joy. Yet there is something that causes him even more joy. If he puts up a good fight and through that battle we are able to reach even higher levels of serving Hashem, the Soton has an even greater accomplishment and is even more happy.
The Zohar writes that the injury in the gid hanosheh (sinew) is a sign that the Soton will try and knock out the tomchei Torah, those people who contribute funds to the upkeep of Torah. Today, the world financial scene is difficult. Torah has take a hit, and the Soton continues to battle. We must try and continue to do whatever is in our ability to strengthen Torah learning in Eretz Yisrael and the rest of the world.
The dawn of world history is approaching, and the personal battle of every Jew is becoming more difficult daily. During this time of darkness, we must refuse any compromise that draws us away from Torah and persevere in the struggle that Yaakov started. The degree to which we relentlessly cling to the Torah is the amount of light that we will merit to see when the redemption comes.
Friday, November 26, 2010

Decision Making

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

Holding up the Heavens

Yaakov falls asleep at the future sight of the Beis Hamikdosh. While he is sleeping, he is shown a ladder that rests on the ground but extends up tot the heavens. What was the deeper meaning of this revelation?
Even while a Jew has his feet on the ground, his actions have a ripple effect in the heavens. Every mitzvah that he does during his lifetime has a major affect o the upper worlds. Every Jew is, in essence, a ladder connecting this world to the next.
Yaakov faced constant challenges throughout his lifetime. The choice in these decisions affected not only himself, but the rest of the Jewish people as well. Yaakov successfully navigated these tests, and, as a result, he became the prototype “ladder” connecting this world to the heavens.
Yaakov’s decisions involved education, livelihood, marriage, and a number of other critical choices. These issues are just as important today, and the ability to choose correctly has major repercussions on the life of every Jew. Let us analyze Yaakov’s choices and see if we can apply his decision-making skills to our own lives.

Jewish Education

When Yaakov Avinu set off to Lavan’s home, he had ample funds to help him find a wife and start to build a home. However, on the way, Yaakov encountered Eisav’s son, Elifaz, whom Eisav had sent to kill Yaakov and only by relinquishing all of his money was he able to escape death. Yaakov Avinu understood that, as a result of this, he would now need to work to marry Rochel and Leah.
Yaakov knew that the time at Lavan’s would be fraught with difficult challenges and that before undertaking this endeavor, he would have to raise himself up spiritually. Therefore, before setting out to complete his journey, Yaakov went to learn in the yeshiva of Sheim and Eiver. Only after fourteen yeas of study there did he consider himself ready to deal with the crooked ways of Lavan.
Chazal tell us that during the fourteen years that Yaakov spent in yeshiva, he did not even once go to sleep. Yaakov surely slept, for it s impossible for a person to go more than three days without sleep. What this means, then, is that Yaakov did not deliberately go to sleep, but rather whenever he had no strength left, he collapsed in exhaustion. He was so driven that he did not ever choose to rest from his focused spiritual regimen.
Yaakov’s actions should set a precedent for deciding how to educate our families today. If our children want to enter a career in business, we might think that the most logical way to go about this is to get their work credentials as quickly as possible. We might be tempted to send them to business school at a young age.
From Yaakov we see that this is a mistake. Especially today, the business world is fraught with challenges both in halachah and haskafah. Someone who does not have a solid Torah education under his belt has little chance of overcoming these obstacles.

Appropriating Funds

Hashem gives each of us the money we require for our daily needs. We may feel that our funds are strained and that after all of our expenses have been taken care of, there is no money left for tzedakah. How can we make sure that we will fulfill this mitzvah properly?
“From all that I am given, I will tithe and give to You” (Genesis 28:22). Recognizing that a tenth of our money already belongs to Hashem, we will facilitate the decision to give it away. We are partners with the Alm-ghty in deciding who receives these funds.
We can compare giving maser to produce in Eretz Yisrael, which is forbidden to eat until one separates maser. We should keep in mind that money that has not been tithed, has the same status, and before giving tzedakah, we do not have permission to benefit from it. This recognition will make the decision to give tzedakah easier.
Just as there is an obligation to maser one’s money, there is a mitzvah to give a tenth of one’s time to the needs of the Jewish people. When Rav Sternbuch was a bochur, his Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Moshe Shneider would make every student dedicate at least two hours a week to teaching other students. Rav Shneider called this avodas hakodesh, holy work, for this taught the talmidim the importance of giving oneself over to Klal Yisrael.
A person might think that if he gives up his time, he will lose out from his personal growth. The truth is just the opposite. Rav Shneider related that he say many bochurim whose success came as a direct result of their helping other, weaker students.

Underneath the Beauty

The Torah describes Rochel as “beautiful in face and form” (28:18) Shlomo Hamelech tells us “Beauty is false and charm is fleeting” and, seemingly, these factors would not be Yaakov’s first consideration when choosing a wife. Why does the Torah need to tell us about Roche’s appearance?
The Zohar explains that there are six parts of a person’s body that reveal the truth about a person’s personality. A person’s hair, forehead, face, eyes, lips and palms all contain signs of his spiritual level (Zohar, Yisro 78a). The Arizal was fluent in all six; people feared to stand before him lest he discover the truth about them.
If this was true about the Arizal it certainly applied to Yaakov Avinu. Rochel’s outer grace and charm was a sign of her true inner beauty. Yaakov immediately discerned this and was able to use this understanding to decide to marry her.

Making Sense

One would think that as soon as Yaakov Avinu received direct instructions from Hashem to leave Lavan’s, he would relay this information straight to Rochel and Leah. Yet, we find that Yaakov Avinu went through great effort to explain to his wives why leaving Eretz Yisrael was the most practically sound course of action. Why didn’t he just tell them that Hashem had commanded them to leave?
We can understand Yaakov Avniun’s actions basedon what the Rambam writes in Shemonah Perakijm. The Rambam explains that intellectual understanding is a higher level than only accepting something as a Divine command. Rational acceptance of something as the best course of action motivates a person to focus all of his energy toward carrying it out after this recognition has been reached.
A very gifted bochur once went to the Chazon Ish with the following question: He had been offered a shidduch from a very wealthy family of distinguished lineage. The girl was looking for a boy would learn for a few years and then go to work.
The bochur, on the other hand, was interested in dedicating himself for many years to becoming a talmid chochom. After some thought, the girl agreed to make the sacrifice and to agree to the boy’s conditions. The bochur asked the Chazon Ish if he should go ahead with the shidduch.
The Chazon Ish replied in the negative. If this girl felt that notwithstanding their financial stability she had to sacrifice by being married to a talmid chochom, she would not be able to give herself over for his learning. Only a girl who understood that it was a privilege to marry such a bochur would be able to compliment him in what he was doing.
The Chazon Ish added that a ben Torah should look for a wife who recognizes the great honor and privilege it is to be married to a real talmid chochom. A girl who recognizes this will cherish every minute that she has the opportunity to be part of such a relationship and will not even think of the practical difficulties this entails. Someone who looks at marrying a ben Torah as a sacrifice might easily become discouraged.
The boy heeded the Chazon Ish’s advice and broke off the shidduch. Instead he married a girl from a simpler, less wealthy family. With the help of his dedicated wife, today this bochur is a prominent talmid chochom in Eretz Yisrael.

Changing Angels

Wherever Yaakov traveled, he was accompanied by malachim. As he entered Eretz Yisrael, the angels who had been with him until then departed, and they were replaced by the malachim of Eretz Yisrael. Why was there a need for this changing of the guards?
The level of holiness that exists in Eretz Yisrael is much higher than that of any other place in the world. In order to maintain free choice, the yeitzer harah battles much more fiercely to cause the Jew in Eretz Yisrael to fall. Yaakov received special angels so that he would have extra help to make the difficult decisions that living in Eretz Yisrael requires us to face.
As we enter the final period before the coming of Moshiach, Amaleik is mustering up all of its strength to prevent the final revelation from taking place. A week does not pass during which the Israeli government or some other arm of Amaleik does not institute some new plan to remove any trace of Torah from the Jewish people. The tests that we are given and the decisions that we are forced to make are becoming more and more subtle.
Jews living inside and outside of Eretz Yisrael must make every effort to insure that Amaleik does not topple Torah in the Holy Land. Whatever this entails, we have difficult choices ahead of us to show that we are in truth, affiliated with Hashem and not Amaleik. During these days before Moshiach, we must turn our hearts toward the heavens and ask for Divine assistance to make the decisions that will bring the final redemption quickly.
Thursday, November 25, 2010

Raising Twins

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

Yaakov and Eisav are perhaps two of the most divergent brothers we find in the Chumash. Certainly, bringing them up was no easy task. Let us look into their origins and chinuch (education) and see what lessons we can extract to help us raise our own children.

Tzaddik ben Tzaddik

Rashi explains that Hashem accepted the prayers of Yitzchok because he was the son of the righteous Avrohom Avinu, and, therefore, a tzaddik son of a tzaddik. Rifkah, on the other hand, did not have such illustrious lineage. Since here parents were evil, Hashem did not accept her tefillos (prayers).
At first glance, Rashi’s words are difficult to comprehend. Rifkah had to break away from her past and forge her own path in life. Seemingly, her accomplishment was even greater than that of Yitzchok and Hashem should have preferred her prayers to those of her husband. Let us take a deeper look.
Even though Yitzchok was the son of a tzaddik, he did not simply follow in his father’s footsteps. Avrohom excelled in the attribute of chessed, kindness, but Yitzchok forged his own path. He took a completely different route and served Hashem through gevurah, strict justice.
Rifkah’s separation from the evil ways of her family’s household was certainly praiseworthy. However, since Yitzchok also “broke away” from his father, he, too, had this accomplishment to his credit. In some ways, this was even harder than what Rifkah did, for it is even harder to innovate based on the lessons that he gained from his righteous father’s household and forge his own path in life.
Yitzchok had a double merit of having achieved individual greatness as well as having come from illustrious lineage. The synthesis of his righteous father together with his own individual greatness tilted the scales and gave him more merit than his wife Rifkah. For this reason, only his prayers were accepted.

Chavrusah with a Malach

Rashi writes that Rifkah experienced an unusual pregnancy. When she passed by a bais medrash, Yaakov was pulled by the holiness and kicked inside her womb to try and exit. If she be a house of idol worship, Eisav was drawn by the forces of evil to try and get there.
Chazal tell us that while a baby is inside his mother, he learns the entire Torah with an angel. Seemingly, there could be no better situation. What benefit did Yaakov find in the bais medrash that made him so drawn to leave?
We can understand Yaakov’s drive from the following incident with the Vilna Gaon. The Gaon was offered a malach (angel) to teach him Torah, yet he refused. The Gaon said that he did not to be spoon-fed by an angel, and he preferred the toil of learning Torah without the aid of a Divine emissary.
So, too, even though Yaakov Avinu was studying with a malach, he preferred the vibrant experience of a bais medrash. There he could acquire Torah through his own sweat and effort. For this reason, even while he was in his mother’s womb, Yaakov made an effort to leave.
In the same light, we can understand why Eisav threatened to kill Yaakov during the period of mourning for his father Yitzchok. Even though a mourner is permitted to study Torah, he cannot do so with the same depth that everyone else can. Only Torah learned with all of one’s energies and efforts has the ability to protect one from danger.

Nothing too Small

The Torah tells us that by selling the birthright, Eisav was mevazeh the bechorah (he scorned his birthright). Chazal tell us that on that very same day, Eisav committed the three cardinal transgressions of murder, idol worship and immorality. After we have already been told that Eisav was evil, what does it add to know that he also disgraced the privileges of his birthright?
We can understand this through another story about the Vilna Gaon. Before the famous righteous convert Avrohom ben Avrohom was killed, the Gaon went to visit him. The Gaon took with him fruit and whiskey in order to celebrate this great mitzvah of dying al Kiddush Hashem (sanctifying G-d’s name)
One of the guards in the prison was Jewish, and the Gaon asked him to make a bracha before he partook of the food. The guard told the Gaon that he was completely unobservant. What difference would it make if he recited a bracha or not?
The Gaon told the guard that he was mistaken. Hashem takes every detail of one’s life into consideration before meting out punishment. Even a person steeped in sin will not escape judgment on the smallest acts.
So, too, even after Eisav committed murder, worshiped idols and acted immorally, he would not be absolved for his other actions. He would still be held accountable for the relatively minor act of disgracing the bechorah.
Rav Yisroel Salanter had a son who drifted away from Torah observance and started to attend the university in Mamel, where they were living. Rav Yisroel asked his wife to take a position as the cook in the college. This way, at least their son would not be eating non-kosher food.

Believer or Not

Eisav is an extremely difficult personality to figure out. On one hand, he understood the value of Yaakov’s blessings and had a deep desire to acquire them. This implies that Eisav was a ma’amin,that he really believed in Hashem.
On the other hand, Chazal tell us that Eisav was a kofer, that he denied the fundamental principles of the Torah. From the way that Eisav’s personality and actions are described, this portrayal as a non-believer seems to be accurate. How can we reconcile these two descriptions?
In truth, Eisav, the son of the righteous Yitzchok, was a true believer in Hashem and the World to Come. However, Eisav had his own life philosophy. He felt that while one should certainly work hard to earn a portion in the World to Come, he should simultaneously enjoy this world as much as possible.
Yitzchok, Rifkah, Yaakov and others tried to influence Eisav with words of musar in order to redirect him onto the correct path in life. Eisav pretended that he was a non-believer so that others would give up hope on him and stop trying to influence him. While Eisav was a believer inside, he made himself appear as a non-believer on the outside so that he would be able to continue his erroneous way of life.

Playing Along

Chazal tell us that Eisav was constantly attempting to deceive Yitzchok. He would ask him intricate questions regarding tithing straw and salt, as well as other complicated halachic issues. This was all a ploy to build a false image of himself in his father’s eyes.
In truth, Yitzchok saw through this whole bluff, but went along with the charade. He knew that if he pushed Eisav away, the situation would worsen and there would be no chance to bring him back. For this reason, Yitzchok treated Eisav with great honor and respect.
We can see Yitzchok’s true intention from the way that the Torah describes Yitzchok’s interaction with Eisav. The Torah says that Yitzchok loved (veye’ehav_ Eisav, expressing that Yitzchok’s love for Eisav was only while he was around, so as not to distance him. When describing Rifkah’s love of Yaakov, the Torah writes oheves, i.e. that she loved him all the time, since Yaakov was worthy of her affection (Genesis 25:28).
Yitzchok’s plan bore fruit, for Chazal tell us that the Tanaim felt that the honor they afforded their parents paled compared to how Eisav dealt with Yitzchok. Eisav even had special clothes that he wore when he served his father. Yitzchok’s actions did accomplish something: at least Eisav behaved properly when he was around his father.

Blessings of Wealth

The Alter of Novardok compared this world to an expensive hotel. A person can order as much as he wants and seemingly does not have to pay a cent. Only at the end of his whole stay does he receive a bill charging him in full for everything he ordered.
So, too, a person can take whatever pleasures he desires from this world. However, he should remember that he will be charged. When he gets to the next world, a full accounting will be made.
Yitzchok wanted to give Yaakov the blessings for the World to Come, but not for this world. He felt that giving Yaakov brachos for this world would end up running up an expensive bill for him and this would detract from his reward in the World to Come. Therefore, the blessings for wealth he saved for Eisav, who was not destined for the next world in any case.
Rikah understood that a tzaddik also needs money to study Torah with peace of mind. She wanted Yaakov to get the blessing for this world and the next. Yet, she had to make sure that when Yaakov received the brochos, he would not take a loss for the next world.
How did she solve this problem? She had Yaakov come to Yitzchok as if he were Eisav. In this way, Yaakov would not receive these blessings in them merit of the fact that he was Yaakov, with all of his personal achievements. Instead, he would receive them as if he were merely a son of Yitzchok. Thus, these brachos would not be considered as part of Yaakov’s portion, and they would not take away from his reward in the next world.
Bringing up two sons as radically different as Yaakov and Eisav was certainly a great challenge for Yitzchok and Rifkah. Even if our children are not as diverse, everyone presents us with a great challenge of educating him or her according to his or her own unique personality. We can learn from the efforts of the avos and imahos how to make sure that our children will grow up to serve Hashem properly.

Finding One's Spouse

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

A matter of Trust

Yitzchok was the sole heir to all that Avroham Avinu had accomplished in his lifetime. Certainly, who his wife would be would have a major affect on the history of the Jewish people. One would think that Avrohom would view this task with the greatest severity and undertake this job himself.
In this light, Avrohom’s choice of Eliezer to find a spouse for Yitzchok is a little startling. Eliezer was an eved Canaani, a nation known for their corruption and dishonesty. How could Avrohom give over such an important task to Eliezer?
Eliezer was different from any other Canaani and Avrohom trusted him blindly. The proof to his integrity is that Avrohom wrote out a deed on all of his belongings and gave it to Eliezer to show Rifkah’s family. Just as Avrohom trusted Eliezer with all of his possessions he relied on him to find the proper wife for Yitzchok.
Some of us are very quick to trust otherws when it comes to information about our children’s future marriage partner or other religious matters. Yet, when it comes to depositing large sums of money by the same individuals, we will be far less trusting. The following incident sheds light on the connection between these two circumstances.
When Rav Sternbuch was n eighteen-year-old bochur, he had to spend some time in France. Rav Sternbuch did not speak a word of French and had difficulty in the station catching his return train. As a result, he missed it and had to spend Shabbos in France.
Rav Sternbuch went to a hotel and booked meals for Shabbos. However, before Shabbos, he went to speak to the great gaon and rosh yeshiva, Rav Mordechai Pogramansky. Rav Pogramansky asked the young Rav Sternbuch how he could trust the kashrus of the hotel, to which Rav Sternbuch replied that they had a reliable hechsher and a good reputation.
Rav Pogramansky told Rav Sternbuch, “Kashrus means checking for bugs and making sure that every other detail of the Shulchan Aruch is taken care of. Would you trust them with $5,000 (then a small fortune)? If you would not deposit $5,000 with them, then you certainly should not trust their kashrus, which is much more valuable!”
When it comes to shidduchim, kashrus and any other Torah issue, we should be careful whom we trust. A person should not blindly accept whatever anyone says. We should be just as careful with spiritual matters as we would be with our financial portfolios.

Remaining Inspired

As soon as Avrohom finished speaking, Eliezer set off to find a wife for Yitzchok. Rashi says that the miracle of kefitzas haderech (shortening of the road) transpired, and shortly after he left, Eliezer was already in Aram Naharayim. Why was it necessary for Hashem to perform a special miracle?
The Belzer Rov explains that Eliezer was a devout chossid of Avrohom Avinu. As such, he was willing to be moser nefesh, literally give over his life, for whatever Avrohom asked him. Avrohom knew that Eliezer would give his all to find the right shidduch for Ytizchok.
One cannot compare the level of elation that a person has right after speaking to his rebbe to a short time afterwards after the excitement has worn off. While Eliezer was looking for the right match, Hashem wanted him to maintain the same level of elation that he had when speaking to Avrohom. Therefore, as soon as Eliezer finished speaking to his master, Hashem made kefitzas haderech and he immediately started looking for Yitzchok’s spouse.
Hashem’s actions help us understand the proper way to go about looking for a shidduch. We should involve people who are excited about our children and will put all of their energies into helping us. They will go the extra mile for our sons and daughters, and the Torah considers this proper histadlus.


When Eliezer went to look for a match for Yitzchok, he chose to make a test regarding the attribute of kindness. There are many qualities to consider when choosing a spouse. Why did Eliezer focus on this one?
Although chesed was certainly important, Eliezer was looking for another attribute as well. He wanted to see how gentle Rifkah was and whether she was an akshan, inflexible. He was hoping that this situation would bring out her true nature and he could see if she was flexible or not.
Rifkah passed her test with excellence. She offered to water all of Eliezer’s camels, a task which no akshan would even consider. In addition, she spoke in a pleasant and refined way, showing that she was a gentle person.
Rav Sternbuch once asked the Chazon Ish what one should look for in a spouse. The Chazon Ish replied that certainly fear of Heaven is critical. However, said the Chazon Ish, the most important thing to look for is that she should not be an akshan, i.e. that she is flexible.
Living with an akshan is extremely taxing, for this characteristic may cause a person to get angry over every minor issue. If one is flexible, then the couple can always come to terms and agree about how they should act. They will have true domestic tranquility and blessing will illuminate their household.

Listening to Elders

Chazal tell us that before Avrohom Avinu, there was no aging. A young person looked the same as someone much older. As a result, it was difficult to distinguish between youth and elders.
Avrohom Avinu asked that aging should be noticeable. This way it would be possible to honor individuals who had spent their life growing in their fear of Heaven and acquiring wisdom. Hashem responded and instituted the concept of aging.
When it comes to questions about shidduchim, or any other issue that may be important in our lives, the address to turn to is the gedolim of Klal Yisrael. Through their years of toiling in Torah and working on Yiras Shomayim, they have been granted the wisdom to guide us. We should recognize their greatness and make use of this valuable resource.
The secular world views older people as a burden to society. In fact, when Chaim Weitzman served as the prime minister of Israel, he encouraged youth to come and turned away the elderly. He saw the elderly as useless in his long-term goal of building the State of Israel.
When Rav Moshe Shneider, Rav Sternbuch’s rosh yeshiva, tried to get an entrance visa into Israel, the government told him that they did not need to let in old people who were merely going to die in the land. Rav Shneider replied to them that by abandoning the Torah, they were already dead in the land. He was the one who as alive and most fitting to live in Eretz Yisrael.

Good Days

Rashi tell us that when Sarah was 100, she was like 20 as far as her number of transgressions and when she was 20, she was like 7 In the purity of her beauty. Rashi concludes that all of Sarah’s days were “equally good.” What is the deeper meaning of this description?
Sarah did not have an easy life. Twice she was abducted by kings and she was a partner in many of the other trials of Avraham Avinu. Yet, during this time, she remained happy and was a faithful and dedicated wife to her husband.
Chazal tell us that no evil comes from Above. The Chofetz Chaim explains that, in truth, everything that Hashem does is good. Our level of perception is extremely limited and we do not understand what takes place.
Especially when it comes to shidduchim, a person can get extremely frustrated. Just when it looks like our child is about to go out or get engaged, some snag comes about and the shidduch is over. If we adopt Sarah’s positive world outlook and look for the good in every situation, all of our days will be “equal in goodness”.
Friday, October 29, 2010

Sarah’s Deeds

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

Ladies First

“And Avrohom pitched his tent...” (Bereishis 12:8)
Rashi notes that although the Torah writes ohalo, his tent, we read ohala, her tent. Avrohom made sure to pitch Sarah’s tent before his own. Was this just another example of Avohom’s Avinu’s attribute of chesed or is there something more fundamental we can learn from Avrohom’s actions?
Men have an important role in Klal Yisrael. They study and teach Torah and make sure to perpetuate the unbroken chain of Torah from generation to generation. Because of this privilege, men recite the blessing of “Shelo asani isha – Who did not make me a woman,” every morning.
Women have an equally important role in maintaining Klal Yisrael, for they provide the atmosphere, foundation and warmth of every Jewish home. While men pass down the content of Har Sinai by teaching Torah, a woman’s job is to pass down the experience of Torah to her family. Thus we find that when Hashem gave the Torah tot he Jewish people, He said “Say this to Bais Yaakov (females), and relate this to Bnei Yisrael (males),” mentioning the women before men.
While Avrohom influenced the men to come close to Hashem, Sarah dedicated herself to teaching women. Avrohom understood that when it comes to setting up a home, a woman’s role is primary. He expressed this by pitching Sarah’s tent first, allowing her to start influencing the women around her without delay.

The Fury of a Priest

We have previously discussed the bracha of Shelo asani isha – Who did not make me a woman. This bracha signifies the extra responsibility that men have vis-à-vis the mitzvah of Torah study. It in no way undermines the crucial role that women play in Jewish society.
In the same light, we can understand the blessing of “Shelo asani goy – Who did not make a member of the other nations of the world,” Chazal did not mean to belittle non-Jews, rather they wished to express thanks for the additional mitzvos that we have that the other nations were not given. We feel great joy for the privilege that we were chosen by the Almighty to keep His Torah and draw closer to the King.
Rav Sternbuch relates that a priest in England once got hold of an English translation of the siddur. When he saw the blessing of “Shelo asani goy – Who did not make me a member of the other nations of the world,” he was furious. The priest’s anger was ignited, and the Jewish community in England was in grave danger of the percussions of his fury.
Luckily, the rov in his neighborhood understood the real meaning of this bracha and explained it to the priest. When the priest heard that the Jewish people were thanking the Almighty for all of the additional restrictions and commandments placed on them, he was pacified. In fact after hearing how many of the pleasures that he indulged in were forbidden by the Torah, he said that he was thankful that he had not been made a Jew!

Remaining Pure

“...and you shall be bracha (Bereishis 12:2)”
The Torah attributes this attribute of bracha to Avrohom Avinu. Rabbeinu Bechaya explains that the word “bracha,” blessing, shares the same root as “bereichah,” a spring of water. A bereichah has the ability to purify those who are impure and who immerse themselves in it. So, too, Avrohom Avinu could purify others by bringing them closer to Hashem.
In addition to cleansing others, a spring has another property. Even if an impure item touches a bereichah, the water remains pure. Although Avrohom was involved with uplifting many different types of people, maintaining his own purity was essential.
Sarah was an equal partner in Avrohom’s work and was able to influence the women. While Avrohom was busy working in “frontline” kiruv, Sarah brought women to her tent and showed them the inner beauty of a Jewish home. By focusing on the unique roles that a man and a woman have in serving Hashem, they were able to bring many people under the wings of Divine service.
Avrohom’s and Sarah’s actions should be lessons to us and for all future generations. From Avrohom’s pitching of Sarah’s tent first, we should earn that women’s education should be given top priority, and that the continuation of Jewish homes centers on teaching our daughters. And from Avrohom’s and Sarah’s work in influencing other, we should be inspired to follow in their footsteps – but not at the expense of our spiritual or physical well-being; we should not let it get to the point of ragging ourselves down as a result.

An Evil Eye

“And Sarah afflicted her (Hagar), and she ran away” (Bereishis 15:8)
Soon after Hagar married Avrohom, she was already expecting a child. When Hagar saw how quickly she merited to conceive, while Sarah had been waiting so many years, she began to doubt Sarah’s righteousness. Eventually, Sarah ordered Avrohom to send Hagar away from their home.
Chazal tell us that Sarah also put an ayin harah, an evil eye, on Hagar, and that this caused her to have a miscarriage. Sarah was righteous and would not do anything out of spite or revenge. How can we understand the exchange between Sarah and Hagar?
In order to grasp this section of the Torah, we must first understand the deeper meaning of an evil eye. Ayin hara, comes when a person “sticks out” because of his misbehavior or misdeeds. Once this happens, others focus their eyes on him, and the sublime powers of the eyes have the ability to harm him.
As long as a person acts properly and keeps the Torah, ayin hara cannot have any effect. Only when someone deviates from the pleasant ways of Torah by acting in an ostentatious way or via some other transgression can the effects of ayin harah be felt. Hagar acted improperly, so she became the recipient of ayin harah.

Wedding Gowns

When a woman deviates from the modest ways of Sarah Imeinu and breaches the boundaries of tznius, she becomes especially susceptible to ayin harah. Rav Sternbuch related the follwoing incident to show some of the problems that such ayin harah can cause.
About sixty years ago, a wedding was planned in England. The guest began to arrive at the hall, but neither side of the family turned up. Everybody wondered what had happened to the chosson and kallah and their relatives.
Eventually it became clear that there was a fight between the families. Until this issue was resolved, the wedding could not take place. Only after much deliberation was the issue settled and the ceremony could go on.
What had happened? The mother of the kallah had traveled to Paris and spent 5,000 pounds sterling (at the time a small fortune) to purchase the most up-to-date and expensive dress available. She told all of her guests that on the eve of the wedding, she would be the center of the party with her top-of-the-line fashion.
Right before the wedding, she heard that the mother of the chosson had bought the same exact dress for less than half the price. She could not deal with the embarrassment that her very own machateinister (mother of the Chosson) would be wearing the same dress, after she had boasted to all of her friends about her dress. Luckily, the two of them were able to come to terms and the wedding could go on.
Although she may have meant well, this woman’s need to be the center of attention almost caused the cancellation of her daughter’s wedding! From Sarah we learn that the true beauty of a woman is her modesty. Trying to be the center of attention just invites ayin harah.
Sarah’s actions, involving kiruv, tnius and all of her other positive qualities, enabled her to be the matriarch of the Jewish people. In our generation, when Jews are so far from Torah and the world is so distanced from tznius, we should try to learn from Sarah’s refined conduct. If we do so, we will sanctify Hashem’s Name and spare ourselves and our families from ayin aharah and the potential damage and disasters that often come with it.
Thursday, October 28, 2010

Acting out of Love

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

“Noach was perfect in His days...” (Bereishis 6:9). Some understand this as praise: certainly if Noach were in the generation of Avrohom Avinu, he would have been even greater. However, some understand that this statement is to Noach’s disrepute. Had Noach lived in the time of Avrohom Avinu, he would not have been considered anything. (Rashi)

Acts of Love

Rashi’s words are difficult for us to swallow. The Torah calls Noach a tzaddik (righteous) and he was single-handedly responsible for saving the entire world. How is it possible that such a righteous individual “would not have considered anything” in the times of Avrohom Avinu?
Although Noach believed in Hashem, it was only on an intellectual level. The proof is that even after 120 years of building the teivah (ark), once it actually started to rain, Noach did not want to go in. Only when there remained no other choice did he board.
Avrohom Avinu loved Hashem. He recognized his nothingness vis-à-vis the Almighty and he had no sense of his own separate self. His only desire was to get closer and closer to Hashem, and Hashem calls him “My beloved” (Yeshayah 41:8)
While an intellectual recognition of the Almighty is important, when a person’s back is to the wall, only strong feelings of love can pull one through. The Chossid Yaavetz writes that during the Spanish Inquisition, many of the Jewish philosophers renounced their religion under pressure. Only those who had a strong sense of inner faith held true to these values and were willing to sacrifice their own lives and those of their families for the sake of their beliefs.
Because Avrohom Avinu loved Hashem, he was able to stand up to all of the trials that Hashem sent him. Noach’s faith was only intellectual, so he was in constant danger of failing the challenges that he was up against, and only through consistent support from Hashem was he able to overcome these tests. For this reason, according to that opinion, Noach is considered nothing in comparison to Avrohom Avinu.

In Defense of the World

Chazal highlight another difference between Avrohom Avinu and Noach. The Zohar calls the flood “thee waters of Noach” because Noach did not daven to Hashem to stop the deluge. Avrohom Avinu, on the other hand, did not give up so easily and prayed even for the salvation of Sedom.
Avrohom Avinu understood that someone who loves Hashem loves His creations and will do whatever he can to help them. Every minute of Avrohom’s day was dedicated to this principle. He was always involved with chessed and helping others recognize Hashem’s kindness in the world.
In order to help Noach learn this crucial principle, Hashem put him in charge of every living creature in the world. Noach spent a whole year taking care of the people and animals in the teivah. In doing so, Hashem hoped that he would become more focused on the needs of others, thereby fixing the transgression of not having davened for the salvation of the world.
The Chovos Halevavos, in Shaar Ahavas Hashem, writes that someone who helps others gets a part in every mitzvah they perform. Therefore, the highest level a person can reach while in seclusion pales in comparison to what he can achieve when he is helping others. The Torah wants us to be actively involved with the world, not to behave like monks secluded in a monastery on a mountaintop.

Kiruv Rechokim

Why didn’t Noach take a more active role in trying to bring the world to rep
entance? In his commentary on Rashi, the Mizrachi explains that Noach feared that the evil people around him would influence him negatively. He preferred to remain secluded rather than risk the chances of being drawn after them.
Avrohom Avinu, on the other hand, was not afraid that his convictions would be weakened by others. He influenced the entire world to recognize the Almighty, while his own belief remained steadfast. This, too, came from the intense love that he had for Hashem.
The lessons we take from Noach and Avrohom Avinu are crucial for us today. Although kiruv rechokim (teaching non-religious Jews about their priceless heritage) is an important mitzvah, one must be wary of the outside influences that could pull a person away from Torah. Only a firm connection to Torah and a strong love of Hashem can save a person from these dangers.

Into the Fire

Avrohom Avinu’s love of Hashem was so strong that he held steadfast to his beliefs even in the face of opposition from the entire rest of the world. Nimrod threatened to throw him into a furnace if he did not renounce his beliefs in Hashem, and when Avrohom refused, Nimrod tried to kill him. The Almighty miraculously saved him.
Chazal tell us that Avrohom Avinu endured ten tests of his faith. Surprisingly, while the Torah goes on at great length speaking about the Akeidah (the binding of Isaac), this test, wherein he put his very life on the line, is not listed as one of the them. One would think that the willingness to sacrifice his life would be on par with the Akeidah.
In truth to give up one’s own life may not be an act of greatness. A person may be motivated by a momentary spur of religious passion, without considering the broader ramifications of his act. Even in our days, we see that Arabs are willing to die en masse for the “holy cause” of reclaiming the Land of Israel.
On the other hand, sacrificing Yitzchok meant contradicting everything that Avrohom had espoused until now. He was the lone voice at the time who spoke out publicly against human sacrifice – and now it would appear to the world as if he is giving in and doing just that, completely undermining any impact he may have made with his previous protests.
Furthermore, by killing Yitzchok, Avrohom would be destroying the only hope that he had to continue his teachings, especially since Hashem Himself, promised that it was through Yitzchok, and Yitzchok alone, that his lineage would be perpetuated. Even though Avrohom could not intellectually reconcile the chasm and seeming contradiction between Hashem’s promise and His current instructions, he enthusiastically went ahead to fulfill what he had been asked. This was a true act of love, and much greater than giving up his own life.

Floods of Fire

Hashem promises us that He will never bring another deluge of water onto the entire world. The Medrash states that although the world will never again be destroyed by water, it will be engulfed with fire. This refers to the apikorsis (heresy) that will exist in the days prior to the coming of Moshiach.
In current times, we see more and more that we are standing in the times that the Medrash describes. This past week, a professor who works with the Israeli Ministry suggested that the description of the creation of the world as it appears face value in Parshas Bereshis might, in fact be the true account of how the world was created. This means that all of the current science textbooks are inaccurate.
The professor’s statement caused such a huge uproar amongst the Israeli intelligentsia that it disrupted learning in the Hebrew University. Finally, the head of the university wrote a letter to the Minister of Education to fire this professor. His request was accepted, and he was removed from his position.
We can compare last week’s events to that which we find by Haman, who initiated the destruction of all of the Jewish people because Mordechai would not bow down to him .Why id he get so upset because of a simple statement from one person? What difference does it make if one person disagrees with their world outlook?
The answer is that the truth hurts. These people would rather believe that their ancestors were monkeys that that they were created by the Hands of the Almighty and that they are obligated to listen to what He says. Therefore, even the smallest notion that they were intentionally created causes them great vexation.

Coming Close to the End

On every day of Sukkos, we recite Hoshanos during Shacharis. In one of the Hoshanos, we mention, “Three hours, Hoshanah.” What does this phrase refer to?
Rav Yeshoua Leib Diskin explains that all of the history of the world is likened to a short time periosd. As we approach the coming of Moshiach, the final day is drawing to a close. During this period, the world fills up with apikorsis, and it is more difficult to see Hashem’s Presence in the world.
We are currently in the last three hours of the final day. The world is filled with people denying Hashem’s existence, and the darkness is growing stronger daily. Only by following Avrohom Avinu’s example and developing a strong sense of inner love for the Almighty will we have a chance of remaining strong in the this time of darkness.
Friday, October 15, 2010

Getting Started

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

Protecting our Lives

“Jealousy, physical desire, and honor remove a person from this world” (Pirkei Avos 4:21)
Chazal tell us that there are three attributes that have the ability to seep into one’s life to the point where they threaten a person’s very existence in this world. We must always be on the lookout for infiltration of these drives to protect ourselves from their influence and make sure they do not destroy us.
“I created the yeitzer harah (evil inclination) and I created the Torah as a cure” (Kiddushin 30b)
On our own, we have no chance of winning this battle, for the evil inclination is stronger than us and his powers wax every day. Chazal revealed to us that our only hope is to study and practice the Torah, for only then do we have a chance to overcome the schemes of the yeitzer harah.
“Anyone who learns the parsha every week will have increased days and years” (Brachos 8a)
Hashem gives us a special injection of Torah each week to help protect us from the life-threatening strategies of the yeitzer harah. As we start the Chumash again, afresh, the Torah gives us special insight into dealing with the yeitzer harah.

Fleeing from Honor

“And Hashem made two great lights, the great light to rule the day and the smaller light to rule the night and the stars as well” (Bereishis 1:16)
The discrepancy in this verse is glaring. The Torah tells us that Hashem made two great lights, yet when describing them, only one is described as great. How can we understand this sudden shift?
Rashi cites the Gemara that describes how, originally, the sun and moon were the same size. After their creation, they got into an argument over which one should rule the sky, and Hashem decided to shrink the moon. However, He fixed the stars in the sky to be a consolation to the moon.
The Rashbah explains that the sun refers to the non-Jews and the moon refers to the Jewish people. Klal Yisrael claimed that they should have honor in this world, and Hashem told them that their place in the next world. Just as the moon was shrunk, so too, the Jewish people are shrunken and removed from excessive positions of honor in this world.
As a consolation to Klal Yisrael, Hashem filled the universe with stars. Gazing at the vast expanse of the universe should bring everyone in the world to a state of awe over Hashem’s greatness. This prevents the other nations of the world from using their feelings of pride to overly subjugate the Jewish people in this world.
However, instead of using the stars and the great expanse of the universe to humble themselves, the nations of the world take an opposite approach. They claim that the universe was self-generated and that man developed afterward through an evolutionary process. The goal of their theories is to take Hashem out of the picture and remove any form of responsibility that recognition of His power obligates.
While the stars were created to be a consolation for the Jewish people in this way, they are meant to influence us as well. Even a Jew who is completely estranged from Torah observance should feel awe of Hashem’s Presence when looking up into the universe. For this reason, even a tinok shenishbah, a Jew who was captured and raised by non-Jews as an infant, must bring a sacrifice for his past misdeeds when he discovers his true identity.

Misplaced Honor

When Hashem shrunk the moon, He was giving us a powerful message for all generations. In this world, Jews must flee from honor. Any attempt to take credit away from Hashem by attributing to ourselves will result in dismal consequences.
Unfortunately, in our recent Jewish history, our leaders have not taken this message to heart. Especially regarding the State of Israel, they have tried almost everything to remove Hashem from any successes that we have seen. Instead, they have traveled the route of kochi ve’otzem yodi, believing that our own power is what ahs caused our victories, a philosophy completely antithetical to Torah belief.
When Israel was declared a state, some argued that there should be some mention of Hashem in the proclamation. Ben Gurion heard this and was furious, for he argued that their victories had not come as a result of Divine assistance, but rather from the strength of the army. In the end, he agreed to write, “With the help of Tzur Yisrael” (The Rock of Israel), for Ben Gurion claimed that this could also refer to the army.
Similarly, when composing the national anthem there were those who argued that Hashem should be mentioned. After all, He is found in the anthems of many other countries. Weitzman adamantly refused, and as a result, there is no mention of the Almighty in their Hatikvah.
Chazal tell us that Bilam and his students are exemplified by their craving for honor. They cannot bear to attribute their successes to any other power, for that eats away at their own egos, and therefore they take all credit for themselves. Bilam is the teacher of Ben Gurion, Weitzman, and all of the honor-hungry individuals who were involved in setting up the state of Israel.

In the Beginning

The importance of attributing all honor to Hashem can be seen from the opening words of the Torah; Bereishis bara Elokim. The foundation of Jewish belief is that there is a Creator of the universe and that we are subjugated to His will. The rest of the Torah is commentary on this concept.
Some people are plagued with questions like, “What existed before Creation?” or “Why didn’t Hashem create the world beforehand?” etc. etc. These types of doubts do not stem from thirst for understanding. Rather, they come from the haughtiness and from the false assumption that man is capable of grasping everything.
Religious Jews know that these types of questions should not shake our belief at all. When a person goes to a medical specialist, he does not start questioning his diagnoses, for he recognizes the person he is speaking to knows a thousand times more than he does in this field and therefore trust this analysis. The Almighty is the Creator of the world, and we must believe in Him with an infinitely greater trust than we would place in any doctor.
This the reason we start teaching children Chumash Vayikrah, which deals with the sacrifices in the Bais Hamikdosh, and only later do we study Bereishis with them. Korbanos (sacrifices) and other sections of Vayikrah are clearly of Divine origin and there is little room for doubt in the matter. After this philosophy has been deeply engrained in the minds of our children, only then do they study the creation of the world, a section more susceptible to question and doubt.
Hashem purposely created us in a way that we cannot grasp the answer to every question. This leaves us with free choice and the ability to choose to serve Hashem from our won will and not by force. The more we flee from honor by accepting that there are questions that exist that we cannot answer, the more we will fathom the true meaning of Torah and how it is meant to affect and improve our lives.

Giving in to Desire

“And Hashem turned to Hevel and his offering” (Bereishis 4:4)
Even after we overcome the obstacles that honor and pride place in our path, we still need to work on overcoming the physical desires that pus us. To some extent, this is more difficult than fleeing from honor, for we can often justify these desires and drives. The yeitzer harah guides us to believe that even things which are transgression are actually not so bad.
One argument that the evil inclination uses is that since we are generally doing a good job in most areas of our lives, the fact that we are transgressing in some areas is not so terrible. The Torah shows us the fallacy of such thought when it states that Hashem turned “to Hevel” and his minchah. The Almighty did not merely consdier “Hevel’s minchah,” i.e., what he was doing, but rather looked at Hevel as well, i.e. He takes the entire life of the person into consideration.
Based on this, we can understand what Chazal mean when they tell us that Hashem cannot be bribed. The Brisker Rov explains that we should not think that our mitzvos will cause Hashem to overlook the transgression we do. Hashem looks at the whole person, including all his acts, both his mitzvos and his transgressions.
One of the top pilots in the British Air force during World War II was a religious Jew, and during the war, he risked his life daily to kill the Nazis. The nature of his work kept him away from a Torah environment, and this took its toll on his mitzvah observance. Eventually, he ban smoking on Shabbos.
When is rov, the famed gaon Rav Chatzkel Abramsky, heard that he was smoking on Shabbos, he questioned him about his actions. Confidently, the man told him that he was not worried. He was doing so much to help the Jewish people that this bad habit would surely be overlooked.
Rav Abramsky told him that he was seriously mistaken. While it is true that Hashem gives credit for one’s actions, He takes into account everything about the person as well. In one book, all of his meritorious deeds were inscribed, while in the other one, all of his transgression would be written.


“If you do good, I can accept it, but if you do not do good, sin crouches by the door” (Bereishis 4:7)
After the Almighty refused to accept Kayin’s sacrifice, He made the above comment If Hashem did not find favor with Kayins’ offering, He should have simply said so outright. What deeper message was He conveying with the above statement?
Hashem was warning Kayin that even if he wants to act properly, he should be wary of doing so because of jealousy. In this vein, we can explain the verse: If you want to do good for the right reasons, then Hashem will accept your future offerings. However, if the cause of your vexation is the jealousy that Hashem accepted your brother’s sacrifice and not your own, then Hashem will never find favor with your korbanos.
As we start the Torah again, we must be aware of the three dangerous drives of honor, desire and jealousy, which can literally take us out of this world. If we are cognizant of them, we can recognize them in our daily lives and fight their influences. Learning the parsha each week and understanding the advice the Torah imparts to us to help us battle them is the best line of defense we can take.