Category Archives: Scripture

Don’t Confuse Wisdom and Goodness

“From Asher, rich is his bread, and he will provide kingly delicacies.” (Bereshis/Genesis 49:20). Can you hear Asher’s thoughts? “Gee, thanks dad, I guess I get to be the king’s chef.” What kind of blessing is this from the soon to die Jacob?

Don’t Confuse Wisdom and Goodness

The parsha for this Sabbath is the last of the book of Bereishis, Vayechi. It begins with Jacob becoming ill. Realizing his death is imminent, Jacob blesses Joseph’s sons Manassah and Ephraim, elevating them to the status of his sons. Then he blesses his sons, though some of the blessings sound more like rebukes. Jacob’s final request is that he not be buried in Egypt, but that he be taken back to Canaan and buried with Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, and Leah in the cave of Machpelah.

All of Egypt mourns him, a testament to his greatness. His burial procession was so large it impressed and scared the Canaanites. After his father’s death, Joseph assures his brothers that all is forgiven. He lives to see his great-grandchildren. Before he dies, Joseph appeals to his brothers to bring his bones with them when G-d brings them out of Egypt.

The stage is now set for the enslavement of the Children of Israel and its redemption.

There is an interesting parallel between the blessings that Jacob gives and those that Moses gives to the Twelve Tribes at the end of the Torah.

Rashi, commenting on the Asher’s blessing that he will provide kingly delicacies, says that his land will be so rich in olive groves that olive oil will flow as if from a fountain. When Moses blesses Asher he says, “. . . he will dip his feet in oil.” Clearly, olive oil, especially an abundance of it, is something wonderful to have. Why?

Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, points out from a spiritual perspective olive oil symbolizes wisdom. Thus both Jacob and Moses were blessing the tribe of Asher with abundant wisdom, keen development of the intellect.

But Moses adds another dimension to his blessing: the feet. The parts of the body that connect us to the ground have their own spiritual significance: feet represent the direction we take in life, and perhaps more importantly our commitment to strive toward that direction.

Many people believe that a life committed to obtaining wisdom means one is automatically headed in a good direction and that the accumulation of knowledge will make a person ipso facto righteous. But among the lessons of the Holocaust is that intelligence, even wisdom, do not necessarily lead to goodness. Many Nazis were highly intelligent and yet irredeemably evil.

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Less dramatically, Judaism holds that one of the highest values is humility. Yet you have probably met someone who is very intelligent and wise but is equally conceited. Surely a person whose wisdom leads to the abrogation of such an important value cannot be said to be going in a good direction.

The prayer recited on awakening is: “the beginning of wisdom is fear of G-d,” meaning that your direction must be clear before you strive for wisdom.

Remembering the Chanukah lamps that so recently burned brightly, may you have the blessing of abundant olive oil, preceded by a deep, abiding commitment to learn G-d’s values, striving to embed them ever deeper in yourself.

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Every year beginning on Simchas Torah, the cycle of reading the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, ends and begins again. Each Sabbath a portion known as a sedra or parsha is read. It is named after the first significant word or two with which this weekly reading begins.

What verse in the Old Testament would you like to know more about? Ask a question and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!

 

How to Tell When Repentance is Genuine

“Now, please, let your servant remain in place of the youth as a servant to my lord, and let the youth go up with his brothers.” (Bereshis/Genesis 44:33). Judah begs Joseph to enslave him instead of Benjamin for Jacob’s sake. Is this brotherly love or what?

How to Tell When Repentance is Genuine

The parsha for this Sabbath is Vayigash. In it, we find that the brothers have learned their lesson when Judah steps forward to take Benjamin’s place as a slave. Overcome with emotion Joseph clears the room and reveals himself to his brothers.

Joseph convinces his brothers to bring Jacob and their households to Egypt where he will take care of them. At first, Jacob does not believe his sons when they say Joseph is still alive. However, the brothers finally convince him and they load up the wagons and move to Egypt where they settle in Goshen.

The famine comes and it is harsh. The Egyptians spend all of their money buying food then sell their animals, land, and finally themselves so that they will live. Only the priests are exempt.

At the beginning of this week's parsha Judah gives us a sterling example of how to do teshuva, variously translated as repentance or return.

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In his last encounter with the brothers Joseph, now Viceroy of Egypt, told them not to appear before him again without their youngest brother. Jacob, who thinks Joseph was torn apart by wild beasts, fears letting Benjamin go to Egypt lest he lose him too.

Jacob's sons sit on the horns of a dilemma. They need food to survive but they must honor their father Jacob. In the words of the song, “When an irresistible force such as me meets an old immovable object like you . . . something’s gotta give.”

Demonstrating true leadership, Judah guarantees Jacob that Benjamin will be safe. He commits to changing his behavior. As a result, Jacob agrees to let Benjamin go.

Repentance is Genuine When Behavior Changes

When Joseph manipulates events to make it look like Benjamin is a thief and condemns him to slavery Judah steps forward to take his place. Little does he know that by doing so he is making amends to Joseph who sees by this act Judah’s genuine reformation.

The process is the same for you. First, admit your mistake. Next, commit to change. Finally, ask for forgiveness and make amends to anyone who was hurt by your behavior. If someone as great as Judah, the progenitor of the royal line of Israel, can humble himself so can all of us.

Please briefly share one obstacle to internalizing change…

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Every year beginning on Simchas Torah, the cycle of reading the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, ends and begins again. Each Sabbath a portion known as a sedra or parsha is read. It is named after the first significant word or two with which this weekly reading begins.

What verse in the Old Testament would you like to know more about? Ask a question and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!

 

The Tug-of-War Duel Between Love and Love

“By this you will be tested: By Pharaoh’s life you will not go out from here except if comes here your youngest brother.” (Bereshis/Genesis 42:15). Unbeknownst to them, Joseph is reunited with ten of his brothers. Not the most loving reunion, or is it?

The Tug-of-War Duel Between Love and Love

The parsha for this Sabbath is Mikeitz. In it, we learn about Pharaoh’s dream and Joseph’s interpretation of it and his ascent to Viceroy of Egypt. Next, the famine begins resulting in Jacob sending ten of his sons to Egypt to buy food.

Joseph knows he must do everything possible to bring about the fulfillment of prophecy as shown in his dreams so he treats his brothers harshly and requires them to bring Benjamin to Egypt. At first Jacob will not do so but the lack of food becomes so severe he has no choice. Finally, Joseph endeavors to find out if his brothers’ attitude has truly changed.

In this week’s parsha, we see the true nature of love. In last week’s parsha, when the brothers are faced with Jospeh’s privileged treatment they react by first plotting to kill him and then selling him into slavery. Of course, Joseph was not blameless. He had been speaking lashon hora, telling tales about his brothers. But like a true tzadik, he accepts his punishment and uses it as an opportunity to refine his character.

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Joseph elevated himself spiritually and was elevated societally by Pharaoh. How easy it would have been for him, upon seeing his brothers in Egypt, especially when they bow down to him, to have said, “See! I was right!” But such conduct would have been unbecoming to the mature Joseph.

He also could have welcomed his brothers with open arms, coddled them, and given them everything they asked for without conditions, no questions asked. Would this have given his brothers the opportunity to come to terms with their faults? Certainly not.

Rather, because he loves his brothers he chooses a path that gives them the opportunity to demonstrate that they too have learned from their mistakes. In doing so Joseph must mistreat them. No peremptory forgiveness is offered. But in the end, the entire Jewish people is the benefactor since the brothers’ refined character became a permanent part of their legacy.

Loving someone, whether your spouse, child, or friend, does not always mean taking the easy path. You must constantly strive to improve yourself while seeking how best to help those who you love.

Sometimes your love must be comforting, others times tough.

As you wrestle with deciding which to emphasize in a given situation, you will build your own character. As well, you will gain ever-greater insight into how the seeming vicissitudes of life are actually G-d demonstrating His love for you, depending on whether adversity or solace will best help you grow.

Please take just a minute to share how you decide to use comfort or tough love…

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Every year beginning on Simchas Torah, the cycle of reading the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, ends and begins again. Each Sabbath a portion known as a sedra or parsha is read. It is named after the first significant word or two with which this weekly reading begins.

What verse in the Old Testament would you like to know more about? Ask a question and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!

It’s the Worst Day of Your Life – But All is Not Lost

“ . . . and their camels were carrying spices, and balsam and birthwort . . .” (Bereshis/Genesis 37:25). Joseph’s brothers decide to sell him to a caravan of Ishmaelites. One of the major turning points in Biblical history is about to take place, Joseph is about to be sold into slavery, and the Torah takes time out to discuss baggage! What is going on here?

It’s the Worst Day of Your Life - But All is Not Lost

The parsha for this Sabbath is Vayeishev. In it we learn about Joseph’s prophetic dreams; the plot of the brothers against Joseph: selling him to a caravan that takes him to Egypt and sells him into slavery and their letting Jacob think he is dead; the story of Judah and Tamar; Joseph rising to run Potiphar’s household and eventually being jailed though the slander of Potihpar’s wife; and Joseph being the conduit for the interpretation of the Chief of Butler’s and Chief of Baker’s dreams.

The stage is being set for the Israelite’s sojourn in Egypt. Shall we look at one of the trees in this forest of well know stories?

After Reuben convinced the brothers not to kill Joseph they sat down for a meal and saw a caravan. The Torah then describes in detail what the camels were carrying. Does it really matter?

Rashi, the paramount Torah commentator, explains that this was a consolation for Joseph.

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Normally such a caravan would carry resin and other products used for fuel that smell bad. Although Rashi does not mention it, the camels themselves are not the best smelling of G-d’s creatures. Imagine traveling about 400 km immersed in such a stench.

That the caravan was carrying a pleasantly fragrant cargo was a reward for the righteous Joseph, a subtle hint from G-d to him that not all was lost. It let Joseph know that G-d was still guiding his life and supplying him with a small pleasure in the midst of his misery.

You can learn two lessons from Joseph’s caravan journey. The first is that the Torah never wastes words. In what seems like a trivial or even useless detail there is a lesson for you. Second, even on the worst day you face, don't fall prey to self-pity and despair, focusing only on what has gone wrong. Keep your wits about you and you will find a positive aspect of your situation. Even in your darkest hour,

G-d will remind you of His support if only you will open your senses to it.

This message from G-d should be savored and used as a catalyst to reframe your situation and make plans for moving forward with your life.

Please take a minute to say how G-d has hinted his support of you. 

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Every year beginning on Simchas Torah, the cycle of reading the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, ends and begins again. Each Sabbath a portion known as a sedra or parsha is read. It is named after the first significant word or two with which this weekly reading begins.

What verse in the Old Testament would you like to know more about? Ask a question and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!

How You Can Be Mightier Than the Stars

This is a guest post by Rabbi Mendel Schwartz, Executive Director of The Chai Center.

Did you ever wonder what the Jewish belief in astrology is? Look no further. “G-d said to him, ‘Your name is Jacob; your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.’ And He called his name Israel.” (Bereshis/Genesis 35:10)

How You Can Be Mightier Than the Stars

The parsha for this Sabbath is Vayishlach. In it Jacob prepares to be attacked by Eisav, then he struggles with the angel and is given the name Israel. Next, he reunites with his brother, settles in Shechem where his daughter is abducted, and his sons Shimon and Levi take revenge on the abductors. Then Jacob journeys to Beth-el, Rachel dies, and the parsha ends with a recitation of the descendants of Eisav and the Edomite Kings.

Israel is actually two Hebrew words, Yisra El, that are joined together. They mean a noble minister or a minister of G-d. G-d told Jacob you are now destined for greatness. To receive this tremendous blessing as illustrated in the following verses, Jacob needed a new name. He needed a new vessel to receive these blessings.

We see a similar episode with Abraham who was told to change his name from Abram to Abraham and his wife Sarai to Sarah. (Bereshis/Genesis 17:5)

We then see something even more interesting when Abraham is nervous about being unable to have children, “And G-d took Abraham outside and said gaze towards the heavens and count the stars” (Bereshis/Genesis 15:5). The greatest commentator on the Bible – Rashi - translates this verse to mean that “Abraham should go out from his astrological calculations and abandon the signs of the Zodiac.”

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So we see two distinct systems here. One: that Jews do believe in the power of the Zodiac and what it can tell you. And two: that you have the power to overcome what the Zodiac’s signs have in store for you. If you change certain characteristics about yourself, if you give yourself a new mission or a new identity, those Zodiacs have no further relationship with you. Sometimes it’s as easy as manipulating your name from Abram to Abraham or Jacob to Israel.

So when you feel that things in the workplace are not going according to your liking, or there are marital issues in your life, or even health hazards, it’s important to remember that although people say “I have bad luck”, the truth is, you have the power to change that luck by creating for yourself a new vessel for new astrological energy by perfecting yourself so that you are somebody new and fresh today. And the old you from yesterday is forgotten and extinct.

Please take just a minute to share what you think about astrology and how it affects your life . . . You can leave a comment on this question or ask another question below ↓

 

Every year beginning on Simchas Torah, the cycle of reading the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, ends and begins again. Each Sabbath a portion known as a sedra or parsha is read. It is named after the first significant word or two with which this weekly reading begins.

What verse in the Old Testament would you like to know more about? Ask a question and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!

 

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