Friday, November 25, 2011

The Hunt


Why does Yitzchak ask Esav to hunt him up a meal ? Since when is a tzaddik interested in game or does he even notice what it is that sustains him ?

R Shimshon Raphael Hirsch observes that Yitzchak was well aware of his son's shortcomings. He wanted to right those wrongs and therefore make Esav worthy of divine blessing. Esav used his "red" traits to hunt and dominate the animal world, but he did this for his own gratification. Yitzchak sought to offer Esav a path of reconciliation where he could still use his "red" traits but not be wicked. Since Esav excelled in kibbud av, Yitzchak reasoned that it would provide the perfect outlet. This hunting trip would be different – instead of seeking his own pleasures, Esav would hunt for his father, butcher the animal for his father, and engage in his "best" traits – but all for the sake of his father's command.

This ploy actually worked and we find that Esav did become worthy of receiving some sort of blessing, just not the main one.

Whenever we find an Esav streak in ourselves – sometimes we can correct its evil influence in this same fashion. If we find a way to channel the behavior into the observance of a mitzvah then we will have broken the spell. Once we take any given behavior or action and remove it from the exclusive domain of the yetzer hara – by using it for a mitzvah, even once – we are on our way to conquering that trait and bettering ourselves.

Hatzlacha !!

Friday, November 18, 2011

And A Nose Ring, Too

When Eliezer decides that Rivka meets his criteria for Yitzchak he bestows upon her two lavish gifts: a nose ring and a pair of bracelets. Chazal point out that these symbolize the half shekel coin that the Jews would give in a census and the ten commandments, respectively.
Understood is the significance of ten with the bracelets, two items each weighing five "selah", as the ten commandments. Telling Rivka that her children will merit receiving these from the hand of G-d is certainly something Eliezer might do. One might ask, however, why was the mitzvah of machatzis hashekel worthy of being represented in these gifts ?
To answer, the Kli Yakar points out that the Luchos HaBris had to come in two installments. The first time around they were given with great pomp and ceremony – thus inviting the negative effects of "ayin hara." Take two, however, were given in a discreet fashion – which is why they survived.
Rivka was destined for great things, and her magnanimous nature had already been established. What Eliezer had to do now was find a way to safeguard it. This is where the half shekel comes in.
When the Jewish people are counted – the "ayin hara" can take effect. (Over)Simply put, when we broadcast loud and clear any positive item – the forces of evil can't resist and redouble their efforts at destroying it. To escape this, Hashem commands them to take a census using the half shekel.
So when Eliezer gives Rivka her two gifts he is, in effect, saying – "Your children will be great, but let's just keep that to ourselves and be discreet about it."
(One can clearly contrast with Lavan who blesses his sister with far reaching blessings upon her departure.)
We can learn an important lesson from this. Good deeds are, perhaps, most prone to being over broadcast and hoisted up upon pedestals for all to see. Now, we should be proud of our kindnesses, but at the same time, we should realize the need and propriety of discretion.
May we, in the merit of our good deeds and subtlety in performing them, be privileged to once again behold the Aron Hakodesh, where the whole and broken Luchos reside.

Hatzlacha !

Friday, November 11, 2011

Why Are We Good ?


Hashem tells Avraham Avinu of the impending destruction of Sodom and Amorrah. What's Avraham's reaction ? He tries to avert this "tragedy" by negotiating with G-d.

Two points to consider:

1. Why would the presence of any amount of righteous people be reason to spare the wicked multitudes from their just desserts ?
2. Secondly, if Hashem already informed Avraham that He was going to punish the people of Sodom – what was the point of the negotiation – wasn't it a done deal ?

There are multiple reasons that someone would choose a path of righteousness. Motivations could include positive role models or a mature worldview that values the goodness inherent in positive actions. There is another possible motivation which is really counterintuitive. Bearing witness to the dark underbelly of the human condition – someone might be "scared straight" and decide to devote themselves to the polar opposite of evil, namely, goodness. In this last instance, the wicked people are perversely partially responsible for the ensuing righteousness. It is this angle that Avraham Avinu plays up in his bargaining.

As far as it being a "fait au compli" – that is not the point. In the Darash Moshe, R Moshe Feinstein ZTL, points out that the negotiations were Avraham's prerogative. It wasn't about changing G-d's mind – it was about trying. Despite an absolute inability to affect the outcome – how could a man of kindness stand by and let entire cities suffer? He couldn't.

We learn many powerful lessons from this episode.

1. To have gratitude towards anyone who helps us on the path to goodness – even if it is someone whose example we decidedly avoid following.
2. That we have an obligation to wish everyone well – even to the point of bargaining with G-d Himself.
3. We must do our part in following the dictates of righteousness. Even if there is no way we will succeed – Hashem doesn't look to see if our actions bear fruit – He just wants us to do our best.

Hatzlacha !!

Thursday, November 03, 2011



When Avraham Avinu defeats the four kings he makes off with a fair bit of wealth in spoils. Doing the "right thing" Avraham returns the wealth to the king of S'dom. When the king offers to let Avraham keep the money – Avraham Avinu declares emphatically – "I swear by G-d, I will not take a string nor a shoe strap from you!"

Why strings and straps ?

Strings and straps are both methods of connection. Some connections are more permanent, like tied knots, and some are meant to be strapped and unstrapped. The king of S'dom was offering Avraham Avinu a golden gift – with strings attached (pun intended!). The king wanted bragging rights that he had been responsible for Avraham Avinu's wealth.

And why would the king of S'dom care whether or not he was known as Avraham's benefactor? Because to a s'domite – wealth was everything. By retaining a connection to Avraham's wealth the king of S'dom was actually gaining. He would rise in echelons in Canaanite society.

This offer, and attitude, Avraham vehemently rejects.

"Man is not defined by his wealth," he tells the king, "and I wish no connection to you or your philosophy."

Sometimes we find ourselves caught up in something we may not be truly supportive of. It could be a sports team's winning streak or a sale at the boutique that sells the latest fashions. Step back and ask yourself – would I be willing to strap on this philosophy and worldview?

And while you're at it - what are you connected to ? And how strong are your knots ?

Hatzlacha !!