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Subdued Wrath

B”H

highlight from parashas Vayeitzei

by Tzvi Schnee

The parashas begins in an almost matter of fact manner, stating, “And Jacob went out from Beer-sheba, and went toward Haran (Genesis 28:10, JPS 1917 Tanach). Many commentators, both past and present, comment upon the prior events of Jacob’s life, as mentioned in the previous parashas. They often conclude that Jacob was fleeing for his life, because of the wrath of Esau. For Torah records Rebecca’s confidential words to her son, Jacob: “My son, hearken to my voice; and arise, flee thou to Laban my brother to Haran; and tarry there a few days, until thy brother’s fury turn away” (Genesis 27:43-44, JPS).

However, we do not see Esau in pursuit of Jacob, nor did Jacob make a hasty departure. Rather, after receiving a blessing from his father, Isaac (see Genesis 28:1-4), Jacob departs toward Haran. As for Esau, when he hears that his father Isaac sent his brother Jacob to find a wife that was specifically not from the “daughters of Canaan,” Esau, who had already married two daughters of Heth, a descendant of Canaan, realized that this must have been displeasing to his father. So, Esau regains his composure concerning his anger towards Jacob, “and went unto Ishmael, and took unto the wives that he had Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael Abraham’s son” (Genesis 28:9, JPS). In other words, Esau’s overiding concern at that moment in time was to please his father; thus his anger towards his sibling was suppressed by his filial devotion.

Interestingly, Or HaChaim suggests that “Esau’s anger חרונו, departed from him the moment Jacob departed from Beer Sheva. This is expressed by the words: וילך חרנה” (commentary on Genesis 28:10, sefaria.org). Thus, Esau’s anger was set aside until twenty years later, when Jacob was on his return journey home, and Esau set out to greet him with four hundred armed men. Yet, at that time, Jacob appeased the smouldering resentment of Esau, giving him many animals from his flocks and herds. Additionally, Jacob’s decorum and humility may have elicited a change in Esau’s heart: “Jacob bowed himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother. And Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him; and they wept” (Genesis 33:3-4, JPS).

“Thou shalt not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself: I am the L-RD.”

– Leviticus 1 9:18, JPS 1917 Tanach

Sanctification

B”H

by Tzvi Schnee

“Thy way is in holiness [kedushah].”

– Psalm 77:14, JPS 1917 Tanach

Holiness has to do with sanctification. “G-d blessed the seventh day and sanctified [KDSh] it” (Genesis 2:3). The root meaning of KDSh is to separate. Something that is sanctified is set apart for a holy purpose. In other words, sanctification places a holy status upon an individual or object, for the sake of a connection to G-d. Therefore, the person or object is elevated to a certain degree of holiness.

By way of example, mundane acts, such as eating are sanctified through a blessing said before a meal or snack. On the Sabbath, beginning on Friday evening, candles are lit, and blessings are said over wine and challah (a braided loaf of bread). In this manner, the day is further sanctified through those who remember (zachor) the day, and observe (shamor) the commandment to refrain from work on the Sabbath.

Furthermore, inasmuch that upon waking up every morning, prayers are recited, thanking G-d for preserving and restoring the soul, the day as well the person become consecrated (sanctified). Holiness is brought into the life of a person, by designating time and space as set aside for connecting with G-d.

The word for blessing is berachah, having as a root meaning, “to bend the knee,” or “to bring down.” In saying a blessing over food, for example, it is taught that there is an actual measure of kedushah (substance of holiness), brought down from Above; a sensitive individual may be aware of that kedushah.

A friend of mine mentioned, regarding Shabbos (the Sabbath) in Israel, that he could feel the kedushah in the air. When we direct our lives in a manner that acknowledges the Divine, we enhance the mundane, by eliciting blessings from Above. The prayers, traditions, and communal (as well as personal) places, where we worship, constitute the aspect of religion; whereas the blessings, and sense of kedushah (holiness) received, pertain to the quality of spirituality. These are two sides of the same coin.

Character Suppression

B”H

November 28, 2019

30 Chesvan 5780

Rosh Chodesh Kislev

by Tzvi Schnee

An often neglected perspective, regarding the narrative wherein Jacob deceives his father, Isaac by pretending to be Esau, the first born, in order to reappropriate the blessing of the firstborn, is that as an ish tam (wholesome man), he needed to suppress his naturally inclined tendency towards truth, so he could procure the blessing that was rightly his.

Although, traditionally the blessing goes to the first born, Esau did not represent the character traits that would exemplify the positive qualities of Abraham, so, he was not qualified to receive the blessings of the patriarchal lineage, carrying, in effect, the chesed (kindness) and the gevurah (moral strength) of Isaac into the next generation.

“You will show truth (emes) to Jacob and kindness (chesed) to Abraham.” – Micah 7:20

Jacob inherited the qualities of chesed (kindness) from Abraham, and gevurah (strength) from Isaac, balancing the two within the framework of truth. For too much kindness can lead to indiscriminate permisiveness, and an excess of strength can lead to a level of severity that approaches harshness. Truth places both kindness and strength within the service of righteousness.

On the contrary, Esau represented the lower nature of man, subject to the natural instincts. Whereas Jacob was a wholesome man of the tents, Esau, who was a hunter, a man of the fields, was inclined to impulsivity and lack of restraint. Yet, Jacob’s conscience later suffered for his deception, as can be interpreted at one level when he wrestled with an angel; as one modern commentary claims, he was wrestling with his conscience. Only a man committed to inner truth will feel his conscience twinged when acting contrary to truth.

Hidden Benefits

B”H

by Tzvi Schnee

29 Chesvan 5780

“And he went up from thence to Beer-Sheba. And the L-RD appeared unto him the same night, and said: ‘I am the G-d of Abraham thy father. Fear not, for I am with thee, and will bless thee, and multiply thy seed for My servant Abraham’s sake.’ And he builded an altar there, and called upon the name of the L-RD.”

– Genesis 26:23-25, JPS 1917 Tanach

Isaac left Gerar, and went to Beer Sheba, where Abraham had entered into a covenant with Abimelech (Genesis 21:31). Isaac’s refuge seemed transient to him, inasmuch that he feared further antagonism from the Philistines. Yet, H’Shem appeared to him that very night, assuring Isaac of His protection. “Fear not, for I am with thee.”

In response, Isaac built an altar there, “and called upon the name of the L-RD” (see above). After pitching a tent there, his servants dug a well. Shortly afterwards, Abimelech showed up, as might be expected within the framework of the overall narrative (see Genesis 26:13-22).

Isaac questioned him, “Why do you come to me, seeing you hate me, and have sent me away from you?” (Genesis 26:27, JPS). Abimelech recognised by now that Isaac was also blessed, like his father Abraham; so that the quarrels would cease, he offered to renew the covenant that had previously been made with Abraham.

According to Targum Yonatan, Abimelech’s motivation stemmed directly from the nature of his own provisions suffering, after Isaac had formerly left his lands. Therefore, he attributed the decline in his sustenance from the earth, as a result of his contention towards Isaac. This also seems to be in accord with the teaching that a tzaddik (righteous person) brings benefits beyond counting to others in the place where he lives.

the Three Wells

parashas Toledos 3rd aliyah

(Genesis 26:13-22)

by Tzvi Schnee

November 26, 2019

28 Chesvan 5780

Isaac relocates from the land of the Philistines, after being subjected to their envy of him, for Isaac “had possessions of flocks, and possessions of herds, and a great household; and the Philistines envied him” (Genesis 26:14, JPS 1917 Tanach). Then, “Abimelech said unto Isaac: ‘Go from us; for thou art much mightier than we'” (Genesis 26:16, JPS).

So, Isaac travelled to the valley of Gerar. While there his servants found a “well of living water” while digging in the valley (Genesis 26:19, JPS). However, the local herdmen contended with the herdmen of Isaac. They claimed that the water was theirs; so, Isaac named the well Esek, meaning “contention” (26:20).

The second well dug by Isaac’s herdmen also garnered strife with the locals; so, that well was named Sitnah, meaning “enmity” (Genesis 26:22). A third well was found, wherein there were no complaints. This well was named Rehoboth, meaning “room” (Genesis 26:22), seemingly denoting the area of land where Isaac settled, free of previous complications. A place with room to breathe, and space to grow (spiritually).

According to commentary, the three wells represent the three Temples. The first Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians, who razed it to the ground (2 Chronicles 36:19). The second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 C.E. The Third Beis HaMikdash (Temple), will be built in Yerushalayim (Jerusalem; Ezekiel 40-48), when there will be peace (Ramban).

“And many peoples shall go and say: ‘Come ye, let us go up to the mountain of the L-RD, to the house of the G-d of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His path.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the L-RD from Jerusalem.” – Isaiah 2:3, JPS 1917 Tanach

Separate Paths

B”H

parashas Toldos highlight

by Tzvi Schnee
November 25, 2019

(17 Chesvan 5780)

“And the boys grew; and Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field; and Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents.”

– Genesis 25:27, JPS 1917 Tanach

With regard to the plain meaning of the pasuk (verse), Esau was an ambitious person, not content to settle down in one place for the days of his life; rather, he enjoyed the thrill of pursuit in the field, chasing game, showing his skillful prowess in hunting. On the contrary, Jacob is described as an ish tam (a simple or wholesome man). He lived in tents, inasmuch that he tended his nearby flocks, living a life characterized by faith, with many opportunities to reflect on G-d in the quietness of the day, provided by the solitary nature of the life of a shepherd.

According to the sages, Esau’s ambitious nature was fraught with wickedness. He is compared to Nimrod, who built Babel, and expanded his kingdom from there, subjugating men along the way, in the name of progress. Esau eventually became the forerunner of the Edomites, whose descendants were the Romans. Yet, Jacob, whose character reflected the traits best known to be in alignment with the moral integrity of Abraham, was the prime candidate to take on the position of the next Patriarch:

“Let peoples serve thee, And nations bow down to thee. Be lord over thy brethren, And let thy mother’s sons bow down to thee. Cursed be every one that curseth thee, And blessed be every one that blesseth thee.”

– Genesis 27:29, JPS 1917 Tanach

The Battle Within

B”H

The Battle Within, by Tzvi Schnee

“And the children struggled together within her; and she said: ‘If it be so, wherefore do I live?’ And she went to inquire of the L-RD. And the L-RD said unto her: Two nations are in thy womb, And two peoples shall be separated from thy bowels; And the one people shall be stronger than the other people; And the elder shall serve the younger.”

-Genesis 25:22-23, JPS 1917 Tanach

Even before their birth, Jacob and Esau contended against each other; “the children struggled together” within the womb of Rebekah; “and she said: ‘If it be so, wherefore do I live?’ And she went to inquire of the L-RD” (see above, Genesis 22:22). H’Shem (the L-RD; literally, the Name), responded to Rebekah’s inquiry as a concerned parent, and the next Matriarch of the Jewish people, “Two nations are in thy womb, and the two peoples shall be separated from thy bowels” (Genesis 22:23). These are the nations and peoples that would descend from Jacob and Esau. Jacob’s descendants would be the twelve tribes of Israel (the name given later to Jacob); and, Esau’s descendants would be the Edomites.

Although, on the literal level, the prophecy given to Rebekah refers to the enmity that would persist throughout the ages between the descendants of Jacob and Esau, on a metaphorical level, the struggle between Jacob and Esau in their mother’s womb indicates a battle between the forces of good and evil. This same struggle exists within every human being: the battle between the yetzer tov (good inclination), and the yetzer harah (evil inclination). When we become conscious of this inner conflict, we may realize that while we have the opportunity to good in any given moment, there is a part of us that resists our inclination to do what is right on the level of morality.

As the prophecy concludes, “the elder will serve the younger” (Genesis 22:23); in other words, the descendants of the wicked Esau will serve the righteous descendants of Jacob; so, we should also aspire to compel our evil inclination to be subservient to our good inclination. H’Shem has given mankind free will, so that we can choose what is right, despite the opposing inclination within us. As is written, “I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before thee life and death, the blessing and the curse; therefore choose life, that thou mayest live, thou and thy seed” (Deuteronomy 30:19, JPS 1917 Tanach).

soul connection

by Tzvi Schnee

Our very souls are connected to G-d. This is in accord with the teachings of chasidism, regarding the soul, whereby the highest level of the soul, the yechida, is directly attached to G-d. We are not entities, separated from G-d; except, when we sin: “Your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you” (Isaiah 59:2, JPS 1917 Tanach). Even so, by way of teshuvah (repentance), we have the opportunity to restore our relationship with G-d.

Victor Frankl wrote that man’s conscience is connected to something greater than himself. This implies, as in the Chasidic model of the soul, that there is an in-built, permanent connection to G-d. Yet, it is understood, in regard to the conscience, that over time through sinful behavior, man’s conscience becomes dulled. This is an effect of the separation that occurs as a result of sin; it is as if to say, that sin damages the soul, resulting in a felt distance between us and G-d.

It is mentioned by chazal (the sages), that teshuvah (repentance) is the remedy for this particular sickness of the soul. Indeed, as mentioned in the Talmud, teshuvah was created even before G-d created the world (Nedarim 9b). In other words, He created the remedy before the sickness appeared, with the sin of Adam and Chava (Eve). “Return unto Me, and I will return unto you, saith the L-RD of hosts” (Malachi 3:7, JPS 1917 Tanach).

Abraham’s Life

B”H

Chayei Sarah 6th aliyah
(Genesis 25:1-11)

November 22, 2019 (24 Chesvan 5780)
by Tzvi Schnee

“And Abraham expired, and died in a good old age, an old man, and full of years; and was gathered to his people.”

– Genesis 25:8, JPS 1917 Tanach

This phrase, “gathered to his people” (vayei’asef el amayv) is likened by Sforno to “the bundle of life:” “the bundle of souls who are part of the life after death, all of whom the righteous of the various generations who were like him in lifestyle” (Sforno, commentary on Genesis 25:8, sefaria.org).

Sforno continues, “there are all kinds of different spiritual levels among the righteous souls, not all attained the same level of righteousness while on earth although all of them share the experience of enjoying eternal life” (Sforno, commentary on Genesis 25:8, sefaria.org).

The “bundle of life” (biz’ror hachayim) that he refers to is found in reference to a prayer expressing the intent of Abigail, David’s future wife, for the eternal well-being of David:

“Yet the soul of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of life with the L-RD thy G-d”

– Samuel 25:29, JPS 1917 Tanach