parshat hashavua

Vayeshev: The President and the Viceroy

One of the messages I try to hammer home to my students is that everything in the Torah can be understood as editorial comments on current events. Greed, temptation, family problems, substance abuse, heroism, war, loyalty--you name it, it is right there in the Torah. The Torah has little interest in history, only recording that which is morally relevant for us today. This approach is encapsulated in the rabbinic observation that thousands of prophets arose amongst the people of Israel, yet we only have recorded the teachings of 55 of them--those whose messages still resonate today.

Toldot: And He Grew Up

"Vayigdal Haish, and the man grew up and grew more and more, until he became very big" (Breisheet 26:13). At first glance, this is a very strange verse. The Torah has just described Yitzchak's and Rivka's move to Gerrar (Yitzchak's place of birth[1]) and the great wealth he acquired there. This move occurred after Eisav's sale of the birthright to Yaakov--an event that happened many years after the Torah, using the same terminology, tells us "vayigdelu hane'arim, and the young men grew up" (25:27).

Chayei Sarah: Like Mom and Dad

“And Yitzchak brought her to the tent of his mother; and he took Rivka, and she was for him a wife, and he loved her; and Yitzchak was consoled after his mother” (Breisheet 24:67).

The contrast between the description above with that of Yaakov meeting his wife could not be more striking. “And when Yaakov saw Rachel, the daughter of Lavan, the brother of his mother...and Yaakov came forward, and he moved the stone from atop the rock...and Yaakov kissed Rachel, and he lifted his voice and he cried” (29:11).

Vayera: 20/20 Vision

It is a truism that two people can look at the same thing, yet see something quite different. One person might see a beautiful piece of art, whereas his neighbour sees nothing but a few scribbly lines on canvas. Similarly, what for one is the most pleasant of sounds, for another is the most annoying of noises. And what for one is the most uplifting poetry is for another just incomprehensible words. And on and on it goes, whether in the worlds of sports, business, or nature; what one senses is dependent on one's ability to appreciate that which is before him. 

Noach: The First Terrorists

"In the midst of the day, b'etzem, Noach came, and Cham and Yefet, the children of Noach, and the wife of Noach, and three wives of his children with them, to the ark[1] (Breisheet 7:13). Commenting on the use the word b'etzem, Rashi quotes the Midrash that Noach entered the ark in broad daylight. Noach, as is often noted, had little influence on his generation.

V'zot HaBracha: Four Giants

“And Moshe was one hundred and twenty years when he died” (Devarim 34:7). It is a beautiful, if somewhat unrealistic, custom to offer blessings to those celebrating a birthday that they should live to be 120. While this quantity of life is (usually) unrealistic, the blessing to live to 120 relates not only to quantity, but to the quality of life; “his eyesight did not diminish and his strength did not wane” (ibid). 

Shoftim: Seeking Justice

Almost always, wrongdoing requires that people work together to perpetrate such. As has been accepted in the legal systems of Western countries, it is the enablers, more than the perpetrators themselves, who are viewed with greater opprobrium. Those who enable sin violate the biblical prohibition against lifnei iver, placing a stumbling block before the blind. According to Tosafot (Avodah Zara 22a, s.v. teipuk), even if one only aids and abets a rabbinic violation of the law, one nonetheless violates lifnei iver on a biblical level.

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