Parsha Thoughts: Rabbi Jay Kelman

Toldot: The Strength of Yitzchak

Our Sages identified each of our patriarchs and matriarchs with the character traits that they best exemplified. Avraham, the master of hospitality, is the exemplar of chesed, loving-kindness. Yaakov, who learned the effects of mistruth the hard way, is identified with the trait of emet, truth. While practicing distortions, even if legitimate, he suffered his whole life from the deception of others; yet Yaakov is our role model for the faithful, honest employee, giving heart and soul to his unscrupulous boss Lavan.

Chayei Sarah: Growing Old, Staying Young

"And Sarah lived one hundred years, twenty years and seven years; these are the years of Sarah's life” (Breisheet 23:1).

A famous rabbinic comment elucidating the triple expression of years teaches that Sarah maintained her stunning beauty, intuitive wisdom and sinless innocence throughout her life. Furthermore, the seemingly superfluous ending of the verse “these are the years of Sarah’s life” teaches, in the words of Rashi, that her years "were all equally good".   

VaYera: Moving Out of Town

One of the fundamental issues of debate amongst observant Jews regards the degree of openness with which one meets the surrounding culture. Should we “ghettoize” ourselves, trying to avoid the negative and pernicious influences of the outside world? Or must we engage the world about us, influencing it and being influenced by it, even if it entails some degree of risk? One must weigh many factors in determining the answer to this question, one that dates back at least to the time of Avraham Avinu. 

Lech Lecha: In Defence of Terach

Our rabbis famously debate the righteousness of Noach. Was he a tzadik only relative to the corrupt society in which he lived, or was his righteousness that much greater because he attained it in such in a corrupt generation? While they debate the righteousness of Noach, there seems to be little debate regarding Terach. He was an idolater—not just any standard idolater, but a purveyor of idols thereby spreading idolatry far and wide. It was his son, the Midrash claims, who, left to guard the idol store, destroyed his father’s wares, mocking the silly beliefs of Terach.

Noach: Defending Noach

For years, psychologists have debated the impact of the environment (nurture) on the development of human beings. Can we be inherently changed by exposure to our surroundings? Or does our environment act as a mechanism that helps reveal our latent nature? Jewish teachings abound with admonitions regarding the importance of the surroundings we choose. The Rambam (Hilchot Deot 6:1) goes so far as to rule that if one's environment is not conducive to the observance of Torah, one must move to a “better neighbourhood”.

V'zot Habracha: From G-d to Man

When writing a book, a good author will introduce the major themes of the book in the opening chapters, develop these and other secondary themes throughout the story, and conclude with a recap highlighting the major themes of the book. 

The 31 verses that comprise the creation story tell us little about the origins of life on this planet. They do, however, tell us something much more important; all human beings contain within them the image of G-d. 

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