Rabbi Shaya's Thoughts

Faith vs. Reason

Religion, to many, means faith or blind faith. Just believe in G-d and everything else follows. If you don’t have faith, then you can’t be religious. This logic can be used to come to the opposite conclusion as well: logical people are not religious since they use logic and not faith to come to their decisions. Hence, religious people are unreasonable. They may be kind and giving, but they can also be fanatical and unbearable because they don’t use logic and reason to come to their conclusions, only faith, and faith can lead a person down a path where one should not go. So says logic. The faithful obviously disagree and feel that it is faith that keeps them going. They have a higher purpose, they are connected to G-d and there is more to their actions than just what makes them feel good. 

This in short, is the age-old argument between the faithful and the atheist, between those who believe and those who don’t.  Which makes us wonder, what happens in this week’s Torah portion, Mishpatim? Last week, we read how G-d gave us the Torah at Mount Sinai. The Jews accepted with complete faith to do whatever G-d asked of them. No questions asked.  Yet, this week, the Torah portion starts by teaching us logical mitzvot, mitzvot that make sense to us. True, they are commandments, but they resonate with us, they are reasonable! We can understand them. When we fulfill these requests from G-d we are doing them not out of faith, but out of reason. What happened here? Why the shift from a “faith-based religion” to a “reason-based relationship with G-d” (did you even know that you can have that)? Yet, as the Torah portion moves on, we go right back to the famous verse in which the Jews say, Naaseh V’nishma, meaning “We will do and we will listen” (the Torah does jump back and forth in the narrative). Clearly, this verse is telling us that Judaism is based on faith.

How to we explain this sequence of events: Faith – reason – faith? 

The foundation of Judaism is based on faith. However, from the earliest moments after the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, G-d wanted to make it clear to us that we should not rely on faith alone to have a relationship with Him. We must use our minds, our thinking heads to understand what it is that G-d wants from us. True, there are some mitzvot that might be more difficult for us to understand while others are very easy and logical. But that is beside the point; the main thrust of Judaism is that we should study, learn, and understand. Judaism should be meaningful and understandable to us.  We should enjoy our connection to G-d. It should not be a burden on us.  However, there are times, that for whatever reason, all logic gets thrown out the window, and all that we have left is faith. 

That is why the Torah starts off with faith, moves on to logic, and then finishes with faith. To teach us that the foundation of Judaism is based on a strong, never-wavering faith in G-d.  However, we must nurture this faith with a deep understanding. Therefore, we learn and debate as we try to dig deeper into the meaning of the whats, whens, whys, and hows of what G-d commands of us.  In the end we know that even if we don’t understand, it all boils down to faith. 

So, is it faith vs. reason, or is it faith AND reason?

Making the Impossible Possible

There are times in life when we feel stuck. We may think to ourselves, how in the world can we accomplish this task? It’s impossible for us to do this! Yet somehow or another, we find the strength within us to be able to accomplish the task at hand. Does that ability come from within us or from some outside power? Perhaps a mixture of both? 

We find examples of this in our own life all the time. We are put to a challenge and we wonder if we are up to this task. Can I do this particular thing or is it too much for me to do? Yet we go ahead and just do it – because we were forced by circumstances, perhaps even against our will.

From where do we get the strength? 

In this week’s Torah portion, Yitro, we learn that when G-d gave the Torah to the Jewish nation, we “heard the lightning and saw the thunder!” You read that correctly. Our senses were so in tune that we heard what we usually see and we saw what we usually hear. Well, that is at least the way Rabbi Akiva understood the verse. Rabbi Yishmael, however, understood the verse a bit differently and took the more practical, albeit less literal, interpretation, and said that they saw the lightning and heard the thunder. 

There are of course reasons for their disagreements, but what is interesting is that they do agree on one thing: G-d was creating a bond with the Jewish people at Mount Sinai. The question is, how was it done?  Was G-d telling us that He works in wonderous ways? That it is He who runs this world, and therefore He performed a miracle that betrayed the laws of nature, so we could have “seen the thunder and heard the lightning?” Or was the message that the world is meant for us to live in, and to reveal G-dliness within the confines of this limited space? If so, the thunder was heard and the lightning was seen, in a very natural way.

The truth is that the two rabbis are not arguing but teaching us an important lesson. We need to always remember that we should keep both perspectives alive in our outlook on life. Yes, we live in this physical, mundane world. We see and hear things through our limited perspectives. However, there are times when we have to, and have the ability to, see what is usually heard and to hear what is usually seen. How? When we connect to G-d. We can do that when we learn the Torah, and we connect to G-d. That is when we recognize that this world is G-d’s world.  

We are real, and G-d is real. We can make the impossible possible. 

What doesn’t break you makes you stronger

What doesn’t break you makes you stronger. This is a well-known saying, but what does it mean? Why are we so sure that if we don’t break from the pressure of the “thing” (whatever the thing may be), we will come out stronger? Perhaps we will still come out weaker, even if we are not destroyed.

Many ideas in our world originate in the Torah. This concept, above, can also be found in this week’s Torah portion, Be’Shalach.  The story is about how the Jews are stuck between the Egyptian army behind them and the Sea of Reeds in front of them, and they don’t know what to do. G-d instructs them to go directly into the sea and the sea will split on their behalf. In order for the water to remain divided so that they can pass through the sea to the other side, G-d has to perform a continuous miracle, holding the “walls of water” up on both sides. After the Jews pass through, the water returns to its original state, as it was since the creation of the world.  

The Hebrew word used in the verse to say that the water returned to its original state, is L’eitanu, which can mean “to its original form,” however, it can also mean “to its original condition.” This is a wordplay that can mean to the original deal (condition i.e., deal) for which it was created. 

To appreciate this nuance of the meaning of this word, we must understand what the deeper message being conveyed to us is. On the surface, the water is doing whatever G-d wants it to do. If G-d wants it to flow, it will flow, if G-d wants it to stand still it will stand still. If G-d wants it to split for the Jews to go through, it will do that as well. So what does it mean “to its original condition?”  

G-d made a deal with the sea. He said, “I am going to create you only if you fulfill your ultimate purpose, if you do that job well, willingly, and enthusiastically; then, once you go back to your natural state of being, you will be even stronger that you were before.”  

Of course, the sea has no mind of its own and it must follow whatever G-d wants it to do. True. However, if it just goes along with G-d’s plan, then over time, G-d will also allow the sea to dry up, perhaps die a natural death. However, if the sea shows that this temporary change in its nature is not something that it is upset about, but it understands that this is part of G-d’s plan, then it will come out stronger.  

That is the reason why G-d put a condition on the sea to begin with. He didn’t have to make this deal; G-d wanted to make this deal so that He could reward the sea afterward. 

In our life we experience the same thing. Our life can be plain vanilla, every day the same thing. No ups or downs. No challenges – just boring.  However, G-d says, “I have a deal for you. I am going to throw you a curve ball. I am going to ask you to change your nature, just for a little while. If you go with the flow, a reward will come as well. I may ask you to stay still, or I may ask you to run. Whatever I ask, it will be a challenge, and if you succeed, the reward that will come out of your hard work will make you much greater and stronger than what you were as a person before you started.”

The challenges that we face are not here to break us but are here to strengthen us. Take up the challenge with love as it comes from G-d, as it was all part of the plan from the beginning.

When the Clock Strikes 12:00

This past week, people around the world were counting down to midnight. As the clock struck exactly 12:00, people celebrated the beginning of 2022. Today, with modern technology, we know the exact moment to celebrate. However, if you do some research, you will learn that the question of exactly when midnight occurs, or whether midnight belongs to the day before or the day after—or smack in between the two—is a complicated question. That is why most people try to avoid the issue, and we just raise our glass in celebration and say L’chayim, and we don’t think too much about it. 


This makes us wonder, why did G-d, in this week’s Torah portion, Bo, decide to get Himself into hot water by saying that He would bring the tenth and final plague - the death of the first born - at exactly midnight.  


In addition, no other plague was given a timeframe. At most, Moses let Pharaoh know that the next day a plague would come. That is a vague timeframe, and even the time that G-d was specific, Moses wouldn’t say exactly what G-d told him to say; instead he said K’chatzos, loosely translated to mean “at about” midnight. Why wouldn’t Moses say what G-d said, “exactly” at midnight?


Rashi takes a novel approach to the word K’chatzos. He explains, yes, it can mean “at about” midnight, but it can also mean so much more. We can interpret this word to mean “in between today and tomorrow,” since this time is very difficult to pinpoint. Even today, with all the technology that we have, it is very challenging to split this timeframe in half. Moses, who didn’t want to take the responsibility on his own shoulders to define that time, says “at about” this time, yet he still defined the meaning of this time: “In between the two days.”


However, let’s take this a bit deeper. Moses was not telling us when G-d would bring the tenth plague, but how He would bring the death of the first born!


The how is that it was G-d Himself who brought this tenth plague, and who brought the other nine plagues, and who performed all the miracles for the Jewish people. And for that matter, who runs this world. G-d was sending a message to the Egyptians and to the Jews alike: There is a Creator of this world. He is a master clockmaker, who knows how to make this world click. Who knows precisely how this world works – after all, He is G-d. That is why G-d says: B’chatzi Haleila at exactly midnight!


Moses, who wanted to emphasize G-d’s greatness, changed the word to say “at about” not to diminish the time, but to enhance its meaning.


We look at the clock and we may not know exactly when midnight is, however, we know that G-d does, and this fact reminds us of our Creator and our connection to G-d. This reminder tells us to take a moment and contemplate all the blessings that G-d gives us on a regular basis, the “exodus” and “redemption” that we experience each and every day.

Change in Four Steps

With every major milestone we reach, we tend to commit to new resolutions. We want to change ourselves. We want to become a better person, a more refined human being. Yet, it is a common occurrence that these well-intentioned plans don’t always come to fruition. What can we do to plan better?


In this week’s Torah portion, Va’eira, which discusses the first steps of the exodus from Egypt, we have G-d’s promise to the Jewish people that He will redeem them from Egypt. Actually, there are four different expressions: I will take you out, I will save you, I will redeem you, and I will remove you (from Egypt). These four expressions are the source - and reason - for the enactment to drink “four cups of wine” at the Seder.


If we read deeper into these verses, we will find that they are not just expressions of redemption, but they are lessons in self-refinement. They helped the Jews of that time to prepare for the exodus from Egypt, and they can help us today, to refine ourselves for the better, as well.


Step one: Remove yourself from any negative environment. Or, just stop a bad behavior. If there is something that you want to change, first and foremost you must distance yourself from “it.” Don’t define yourself by it, don’t have a connection with it. You and the “thing” just have to disconnect.


Step two: Start doing good things. Don’t think too much about the reason behind the redemption, whether you are worthy of this new role or not. Just do it. Start behaving as if you belong. If this is the life that you want to lead, then behave that way.


Step three: Pursue goodness. Seek it out. Don’t sit around waiting for an opportunity to come your way, but as soon as you see an opening, grab it. In order to accomplish this, you have to be proactive.


Step four: Bring passion into your life. Do steps three and four with zest. Let it become contiguous! Not only should you look for the opportunity, have others search for you – to the point that they will help you find the resources to accomplish great things. This is when you really become successful!


If you can get into the zone, you will feel like a new person, and you will not be concerned if you have kept your resolutions or not, since you will be a free person, a different, better person.


Shabbat Shalom and Happy New Year! 

Can We Choose

We see that some people choose not to be a part of the society in which they grew up. We see this more often in tightknit communities, like the Jewish community, where someone may have grown up in a Jewish home, but as they get older, they might choose a different path. The question is, how does G-d look at this individual?


In this week’s Torah portion, Shmos, Moses asks G-d, When the Jews ask me your name, what should I tell them? G-d responds: I am who I am. 


This response is an interesting one, as it doesn’t sound like a name as much as a statement. What does it mean?


The Midrash gives us illuminating insight. I am G-d to those who choose me. And I am still the G-d to those who reject me. The Midrash is telling us, Although there are Jews, and there always will be Jews who will not appreciate the relationship between Me and them, I am still making my commitment to them. I am choosing them!  My commitment to the Jews is real.


Now, this is a beautiful statement from G-d, promising that He will never forsake us. However, we don’t have to look far to see that was not the case. Just a little while later when the Jews were allowed to leave Egypt, according to many opinions, a large percentage of Jews didn’t leave Egypt because they didn’t believe in G-d and felt that they had been forsaken! How could it be that they were forgotten? Why didn’t G-d save them even though they didn’t have an appreciation for G-d? Didn’t we just say that it doesn’t have to be a two-way street?


The explanation is that there is a difference between our connection to G-d before the Torah was given at Mount Sinai, and after.


Before the giving of the Torah, each person, including the Jewish people, had the ability to choose to be connected to G-d or not to be. However, at Mount Sinai a unique bond was created between the Creator and the created. G-d was infused within our relationship—not only with a love as a parent has to a child, but our essence became connected to His essence. A bond was formed that can never be severed. G-d became personal to us. We can hide, we can run away, but we cannot cut the connection. We might try, but He will not permit it because He has made a commitment to us.  


Therefore, when we say “L’shana Haba B’Yerushalyim, next year in Jerusalem, with the coming of Moshiach, may it happen speedily in our days,” no Jew will be left behind, because we have G-d's commitment to us!


If G-d is committed to us, we too should be committed to Him.

A Parents Blessing

 What happens when you as a parent want to bless your child, but you are really disappointed in something that your child has done in the past, something that really is unforgivable? Everything else about the child is good. What do you do? You can’t ignore the past bad deed, but you also want to acknowledge the positive. How do you balance it all out? 

You send a hint. 

Jacob, in this week’s Torah portion, Vayechi, had this exact challenge when it came to blessing his children Shimon and Levi. Jacob was on his death bed giving his last blessing to each of his twelve sons, but when it came to Shimon and Levi, he couldn’t forget how they brutally killed all the males in the whole city of Shechem. True, their intention was to save their sister, Dina, (after she was violated by their prince, Shechem himself), but they did make a treaty, and even more so, was the whole city guilty by extension? With one sentence chastising these two sons, Jacob delivers a powerful message and teaches us a lifelong lesson. 

Jacob says, "Out of anger you have killed a person …" Wait a minute, didn’t they kill all the men in a whole city? If it would have been just one person, might Jacob have forgiven them? Maybe. Therefore, we must conclude that Jacob was saying either that they killed the men of the city so swiftly because their anger didn’t subside (and they didn’t get tired of the hard work) until they killed everyone, or that they felt that everyone was guilty as a unit, as if they were all one. 

With this one statement, Jacob is also giving them a compliment—although he cannot bless them—and this is where the lesson for us lies. 

Jacob is saying: Look, I might be upset at you for what you have done. We made a treaty not to harm the people of Shechem, so long as they converted (i.e., the men would be circumcised); then we would marry them and they would marry us; we would not look back and we would all get along. However, you made me look bad. But I still want to look at the positive lesson in all of this. You had a passion to defend your sister, you didn’t let your energy subside until you finished the job. Or better said, your energy took you over, to the point where everyone became one person. They all merged into one. You believed in something, and you carried it out until the end. The process took on a life of its own.

Now imagine, Jacob is hinting to his children, Shimon and Levi, or many years later, you and I, that same drive to do good. Even if in the beginning we might be motivated by some personal gain, once we start rolling, our action picks up speed and it takes on a life of its own to the point that it cannot be stopped. It becomes a force of its own. How much can we accomplish? That good cannot be stopped. It gets all wrapped up into one; we forget who even gets credit for it, nor do we care, because all that we want is that outcome to be accomplished. 

Many people become one. Many deeds become one. We all become stronger.

Shabbat Shalom

 We all have family and friends who have wronged us at some time or another. We know that the right thing to do is to live and let live, but that is easier said than done. We wonder to ourselves, did the person really want to offend us? Do they know how badly we were hurt? If they knew, would they be able to apologize? These and other thoughts start to get the better of us and it is not easy to just let go. How we move on becomes the nagging question.   

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayigash, we learn about the story of Joseph and his brothers. Unbeknownst to the brothers, Joseph had become the viceroy of Egypt at the time they came from Israel to buy food; there was famine in Israel as well. In a powerful government position, Joseph could choose to take revenge on the brothers for selling him into slavery. But when Joseph finally reveals himself to them, instead of punishing them, he takes the high road. He tells them that although their actions were bad, it is those actions that gave him the ability to help them now. Wow! 

Let’s unpack this. How was Joseph able to live and let live? How was he able to look beyond what he went through and not take revenge? The answer is powerful: It was because of their actions, not because of their intentions – perhaps we can even say, despite their intentions – that he was brought to where he was that day. Joseph was able to look at the end result, not at the steps that were taken along the way.  

How was he able to do that? Because he knew that deep down in the recesses of their souls, his brothers did not want to harm him. True, their actions didn’t align with their souls’ desires, but that is why, ultimately, while they did something terrible, that didn’t make them bad people. Joseph was able to look past all of that and see deep into their souls’ truest desires, and see only good. 

Joseph gives us, his progeny, the gift of being able to look at others with this same compassion and kindness. To find good in others and to see them for who they really are, even if their actions don’t always align. 

Just as in the story of Joseph, we see that when he treated his brothers with kindness, he was able to reveal within them a liking toward him, and he toward them. So, too, it is with us. When we train ourselves to be kind to others, we eventually bring out within ourselves and within others, a kindness that we might not have known existed before. 

A Chanukah Message

There are two mitzvot that have significance with the outside of our homes—the Chanukah menorah and the mezuzah.  However, the similarities end there. The menorah is intended to bring the light of the Chanukah to the outside world, while the mezuzah is intended to be at the entrance to the inside of the home. 


Here is a way to better appreciate the difference between the two: placing the mezuzah on our doorpost is a positive act that we do to bring positivity into our homes. On the other hand, the main purpose of placing the lights of Chanukah toward the outside is to disperse the darkness of the world, to keep the darkness away.   


However, the most productive way to keep negative factors in our life and in the world around us away from us, is by being active, by doing something, by doing a mitzvah. This way we have both benefits—we have the benefit of keeping the outside (negative) darkness out of our life, while at the same time we bring light into the world.  


This is what the lights of Chanukah are all about.  Creating positive waves.   


A bonus detail when it comes to lighting the menorah outside our home is that people who light it at their door outside (in places where the weather permits) also light it on the left side of the door, while the mezuzah is hung on the right side (when entering a home). This also signifies the difference between the mezuzah and the menorah. The right represents the positive act and the left represents the withholding of negativity in the world. Lighting the menorah ensures the evil in the world will not take hold. 


As we light our Chanukah candles, let us keep in mind to not only illuminate the world with kindness but also to rid the world of negativity.  


Shabbat Shalom and Happy Chanukah

Bring to them or come to me

Listen now to this dream, which I have dreamed: Behold, we were binding sheaves in the midst of the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and also stood upright, and behold, your sheaves encircled [it] and prostrated themselves to my sheaf: So, his brothers said to him, "Will you reign over us, or will you govern us?"


The verses above are from the famous biblical dialogue between Joseph and his brothers, found in this week’s Torah portion, Vayeishev. Joseph innocently shares his dream with his brothers, while they think that all he wants is power and prestige. The story does end with Joseph becoming Viceroy of Egypt and the brothers bowing down to Joseph. 


Let’s take a moment and zoom in to the nuance of the verse where it says, “binding sheaves.” This is the translation of the Hebrew words, M’almim Alumim. Why do we translate the verse to mean that they were binding sheaves of wheat in the field versus collecting wheat sheaves and putting them into sacks? Perhaps the sheaf that stood upright was a single sheaf, not a whole bundle. How do we make sense out of this story?


One principle that we should always take from a dream is that it appears to teach us a lesson.  This dream in particular is meant to teach each and every one of us a lesson, not just Joseph and his brothers. 


Collecting loose wheat is a challenging job, but not a very difficult job. On the other hand, trying to tie loose stalks of wheat together in large bundles so that they don’t fly away is a very difficult job to do. Yet, the reward is great. First of all, they will not move in the wind so easily; in addition, they are tied together well. This will keep them together and there will be very little waste since you are gathering and tying the wheat right there in the field. (If you dragged them to a general space to bag, you can lose a great amount of wheat on the way.)


The lesson that we can take into our life is clear: When we have the opportunity to help someone, go to them. Don’t wait until they come to you for help, since by that point much can be lost. Seek them out; this way you will preserve more energy, they will come out stronger, and in the end, more good will come out of it for everyone.


Chanukah is around the corner. The message of Chanukah is to bring more light into the world by lighting our candles in the open for others to see. We don’t wait to bring people into our home, we bring the light of Chanukah to them. 

Joseph taught this message to his siblings and eventually to all of Egypt. With time, the Jewish people, since the story of Chanukah, are spreading this message to the world.


This Chanukah you can help by taking part in our Chanukah events. One event will on Wednesday evening, December 1 at 6:00pm, (see info. below) and the second community wide program will be on Sunday, December 5 at 3:00pm. (see info. Below). 


Shabbat Shalom and Happy Chanukah!

Honoring Your Parents


One can argue that one of the most rewarding, and yet at the same time most challenging, things in life can be to honor our parents. When our relationship is good, when we are young and healthy, and when our parents are fun to be around, yes, we can honor them. Not only can we, we want to! However, there can be times when we might want to do our own thing and just ignore their “sage advice.” Which is why it is a bit difficult for us to understand why we learn the age of Bar Mitzvah from a story of two thirteen-year-old boys who do NOT look to their dad for advice.

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayishlach, we read about the story of how Shimon and Levi attack the people of Shechem after their sister Dina was violated. Jacob, their father, was not happy about their actions since he felt that they made a deal with the people and they didn’t honor it. The interesting thing we learn from this incident is the age of Bar Mitzvah. How can we learn from Shimon and Levi, who were disrespectful to their father, that the appropriate age to become Bar Mitzvah is at this point in one's life? Could we not have found a better story to have learned from?

Let’s take a closer look at this incident. What did Shimon and Levi do? They wanted to make the world a better place. They wanted to put an end to inappropriate behavior. Their intentions were to help their sister, and to teach a lesson to those around them that promiscuous behavior was not going to be tolerated. Part of this basic idea includes honoring one’s parents. In this case, they felt taking matters into their own hands was their duty.

After the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai another aspect of “honoring your mother and father” was added onto this basic concept, and we are commanded that honoring one’s parents is a virtue in its own right. Whether we see it as a “value” or not is irrelevant. We honor our parents not only because it is the right thing to do, but we do so mainly because G-d told us to.

We learn two interesting lessons: The age of Bar Mitzvah from Shimon and Levi since they acted with the intention to make the world a better place. This is a virtue in its own right. In addition, we learn that that is not enough. We still have to grow up and learn to honor our parents even if we don’t understand why we should, and even if we don’t agree with everything they tell us to do (or not to do). 

Growing Your Business

One of the beauties of mom-and-pop shops is that they are attentive to their customers. They offer that personal touch—for example, they know the names of their customers and their life stories, etc. The challenge comes when a business starts to grow. How do you scale up and not lose that personal touch? How do you keep your heimish environment and not become too corporate as you become more professional, as is necessary in order to remain organized?


This can be a huge challenge for some.


We see that, Jacob, our patriarch, had this challenge as well. He started off as a simple shepherd.  All that he had were some sheep. Then, over time, he accrued many sheep, and became very wealthy. In this week’s Torah portion Vayeitzei, we learn how he traded some of his sheep for work helpers as well as cattle. But when it came time to send gifts to his brother, Esau, he sent him all different kinds of gifts, and only at the end of the list of gifts does it mention sheep as well. So we see that he “moved up” the ladder from being a simple shepherd who only dealt with sheep, to a very successful businessman. 


Did Jacob lose his touch, or did he maintain his humility?


The commentators point out that from the nuances of the verses, we learn a powerful lesson.


By way of introduction, the Midrash points out that we serve G-d in the same manner as children behave for their father, and similarly, as sheep who follow their shepherd.  Of course, children and sheep are not the same, and that is the point that the Midrash is making. 


Jacob started off dealing with sheep, sheep being a metaphor for the way sheep follow where they are told to go. Total subjugation to the shepherd. For Jacob, it was total subjugation to G-d.  Jacob did exactly what G-d wanted him to do. Yet, as he got older, he wanted to internalize these teachings. He didn’t want to just move through life like a sheep; he wanted to become a servant, a helper, or more like others and understand why and what he was here to do. So he “moved up” the ladder of life. He learned, he studied, he questioned, he debated. As he started to understand the deeper meaning of G-dliness and of what G-d wanted him to accomplish in this world, he still maintained his humble spirit. He never forgot that in the end, it is all about the personal touch. 


As we scale up in life, whether at work or in our personal life, we must always keep in mind our humble beginnings. Just as Jacob did.

What Makes Jews Tick?

The phenomenon that Jews are exceptionally successful in their fields of expertise, beyond their percentage points, is something that has piqued the interest of academics, angered anti-Semites, and given pride to Jews over the years. However, we do have to ask the question, is this just a fluke of nature? Or is it many years of nurturing? Perhaps it is more than that—a blessing from G-d. 

In this week’s Torah portion, Toldot, G-d’s blessing for Isaac is that together with Rebekah, they should be fruitful and multiply. The simple interpretation of the verse is that they should have many children. They only had two, Jacob and Esau. What then, does the verse mean? The Aramaic translation of the verse is that they should “expand” (as a deer expands its body when it runs). Rashi, the classic commentator, picks up on this translation and says that we don’t count our offspring by numbers only, but by their accomplishments. 

The lesson for us is that we are not limited by just being “one person”—we can expand our influence by what we accomplish in this world. The more positive things we do with our time, the more influence we can have. Think about the deer—not only does it move quickly and expand its body as it does so, it can also cover a lot of ground. Similarly, if we just stretch ourselves a little bit more, maybe even out of our comfort zone, then we, too, can accomplish so much more. 

So G-d’s blessing to Isaac that he would expand his offspring meant not only in quantity but in quality, taught us that all we have to do is put in more effort. The more we put in, the more we get out of it. 

Looking for a Good Job?

Recently, the economic news in our country is that the job market is full of job opportunities. Everywhere you go you see signs reading “We are hiring,” yet businesses cannot find people willing to work. Businesses are willing to pay more salary than in the past, yet some workers are not after only money, but after a job that will give them satisfaction. The flip side of those reports state that workers are saying; "If I am already going to go to work, I want to make a lot of money and fast." What is it about money and satisfaction? What is the connection between money and any transaction? 

In this week’s Torah portion, Chayei Sarah, after Sarah dies, Abraham researches where to bury her. Abraham approaches Ephron the Hittite and offers to buy a parcel of his land. Ephron offers the land, which includes a burial cave for free -- as a gift. But Abraham refuses the gift—not only does he offer to pay him for the land, but he also uses the phrase “I will pay you in full.” The meaning of this phrase indicates that he is not looking for a deal or a discount, let alone a favor. He wants to pay the going rate, so that there should be no disputes whatsoever as to who owns this land going forward. 

The lesson that we can take from Abraham is that although he could have easily taken the land as a gift—and even if he insisted on paying for it, he could have gotten a “good deal,”—he didn’t want that. His attitude was that we must put in the effort, we must earn what we acquire. When we receive something for free, or too easily, we don’t respect the thing that we have, and others don’t respect that the item is ours. Abraham wanted this specific burial land for his wife and for his family. He also wanted the Hittites not to challenge the ownership of the land in the generations to come. 

Our generation can take a lesson from Abraham: When we put in the effort instead of looking for the easy way, the reward will stay with us for a long period of time. 

The Inquisitive Child

Children can be very inquisitive. They often ask questions that adults don’t even think of. Not because they are so smart, or because their questions are silly, but because they simply see the world differently; they see the world through the purity of a child. Their curiosity is genuine, and if we just listen to their questions with sincerity instead of being annoyed by them, we can actually learn a great deal. As the famous idiom goes: From my students I learn even more than from my teachers (Ethics of the Fathers). This idea doesn’t only apply to older students, but to young children as well.


Here is a story for you. A five-year-old turns to his father and says, “Why did G-d appear to Abraham after his Brit Mila (circumcision) but He does not appear to me?” After a moment of contemplation, the father responds, “A Jew of ninety-nine years of age who circumcises himself is worthy of an appearance by G-d.”


In this week’s Torah portion, Vayeira, we learn that G-d visits Abraham on the third day after he was circumcised. The Torah portion then tells us more about Abraham’s life and his accomplishments.  However, if we look deeper into the portion, we see that there is more than just this story.


This is what the father is addressing when he answers his son.


At ninety-nine years of age, Abraham was a very accomplished man. He had many followers. He was even wealthy. And when G-d commanded him to circumcise himself, he didn’t flinch. He knew that until this point in his life, he was incomplete. All his accomplishments were more self-centered than G-d-centered. Of course, everything that Abraham did was for G-d, but he was “stuck” in this world. In order for Abraham to elevate himself from this world and reach greater spiritual heights, he knew that he had to do something dramatic, but the idea of what to do couldn’t come from him, it had to come from G-d. Once G-d told him what that was, he acted swiftly. 


G-d showed Abraham His appreciation by coming for a visit. This was not a casual visit; this was an acknowledgement that Abraham was on the road toward reaching great spiritual heights. His first success was a face-to-face meeting with G-d. However, it didn’t stop there--Abraham was able to change the world for the better. He had the ability to see the world in a different light, as the name of the Torah portion, Vayeira—“and He appeared”—indicates.


From this point on he traveled far and wide to teach about G-d. His goal was to make sure that people understood that G-d is present in this world in a real, tangible way.    


Abraham become a complete person, and in the process, he worked hard to repair and complete the world, Tikun Olam.


The child in the story might have asked an innocent question, but the answer that his father gave him was far from simple. He let his son know that even at ninety-nine years of age, our responsibility to improve ourselves and to change the world around us is not over. For some, it has just begun. For those who do not tire, they are worthy of G-d appearing to them.


As the progeny of Abraham, we all have it within ourselves to change the world for the better. Let us not allow age to slow us down. Let’s get up and make a difference.

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