Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Master of Dreams

Posted by Ishbitz Forever

Ishbitzer Rebbe shared with us a deep and beautiful secret, that in ancient Hebrew the word for dream "Chalom" and the word for bread "Lechem" - are formed of the same letters "Chet Lamad Mem" - this is to teach us from the depth of truth that just as one needs bread to live - so too one needs a dream.

Do dreams follow our hearts or do our hearts follow our dreams?

The story of Joseph is the story of the soul. There is part of our magical soul that dreams, wild and wonderful dreams unbound by the world around us fed only by the spiritual world on high. This dreamy part of our soul is looked down upon by the other parts of our being as a "child" - A "na'ar", never given any real respect.

Yet as we go through life - we have moments - moments when the dreamer is given a coat of many colors - colors so vivid and beautiful, so unimaginably breathtaking that they light up the night, they inspire and remind us that it is truly the intangible, the spirituality in our lives that makes life so magical and worth living. They are only moments.

The other parts of the soul knowing that what they have seen, felt and learned in these brief fleeting moments are so deep and true, begin to hate the dreamer. It is because of him that they now doubt their once clear mission.

The dreamer himself reaffirmed by these bursts of clarity becomes emboldened and suggests to the others that they simply let go and follow him to wherever it is he will lead, he will unshackle them from a mundane life and lead them to a higher goal.

They respond angrily, "Enough dreamer! Lets see how you survive in the real world where its dark and cold- It's easy to dream when protected by your father's love and clothed in color". So they rip off the coat of colors and throw him into a darkest pit - and proceed to sell him into slavery... and say, "Let us see what shall be of this dreamer!"

The dreamer is in hell, betrayed by those he loved and only wished to help. Hurt and alone... he seeks a new dream.. and it comes in the form of the warm bed of a most beautiful yet forbidden woman, a woman who wears many colorful clothes of her own . Her call is sweet and intoxicating, the urge to let go of the old and begin anew is too much to resist - why hold onto the painful quest a hopeless dream when these passions and dreams can be fulfilled. The dreamer about to succumb at her bedside - gains strength with a memory of another love upon seeing a vision of his father through a window to the future. For a brief moment he takes comfort that he at least has her colored cloak but the woman returns and claims that the cloak is hers, and the comfort he took betrays him, he is thrown into prison where there are no colors at all.

Once again lost and alone, the dreamer spends years in prison unable to do much at all - He has lost all his dreams to the pain. Yet it is here in this very dark prison where he learns perhaps the greatest secret of dreams - the most powerful power of dreams is not about the vivid colors or inspiration that the dreamer wears or spins - but helping others find their true dream - it is this giving of dreams that makes him "master of dreams." (Ba'al Chal'omus).

Only after this lesson learned do the other parts of the soul bow before him and accept the dreamer as their king and leader - for what good is a selfish dream - what is greater than to give the gift of dreams.

The Hailiga Ishbitzer writes, and I am sure these words are scorched with the fire of truth, the "The absolute greatest thing a yid can do is give another yid a place to stand" - a place to stand, a place to live, love and exist - and above all a place to dream.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Thanksgiving and the Heresy of Entitlement II

[Read part-one here.]

I would like to both clarify and expand on my recent post on this topic.
  1. The central point of my post was that Yaakov never felt entitled to anything and that is why he was so grateful when God promised to protect him. The hypothesis is this: When you receive something that you think you are entitled to, there is little cause for thanksgiving. But if your expectations are zero, then anything and everything you get is perceived as a free gift and thanksgiving is in order. It turns out that Rashi in our parsha makes this same point quite explicitly. Rashi, quoting the Midrash, tells us that "the matriarchs were prophetesses who knew that twelve tribes would come from Yaakov" (Rashi to 29:34). Yaakov married four women, so that means that each wife is "entitled" to three sons. When Leah's fourth son, Yehudah, was born, Leah said, "Now I will thank God" (29:35). Rashi explains her meaning: "Now that I have taken more than my portion, I must thank [God]." This Rashi is based on a Midrash which illustrates the point with a parable:
    R. Berachya said in the name of R. Levi, "A Kohen went to the granary. One guy gave him a pile of ma'aser (a tithe that must be given to a Levite) and the Kohen did not thank him for it. Another guy gave him a handful of ordinary grain and he thanked him for it. [The first guy] said to him, 'My Master Kohen, I gave you a pile! This guy gives you a handful and you thank him?' [The Kohen] replied, 'You gave me my own portion, but this guy gave me from his own. That is why I thanked him.' Similarly, the matriarchs assumed that each one of them would have three sons, so when Leah had a fourth she exclaimed, 'Now I will thank God!'"
    Bereishit Rabba 71:4
    There you have it, black on white. People are never grateful when they get what's coming to them. It's just that Yaakov felt that nothing was coming to him.

  2. While Yaakov's attitude was that God owes him nothing, Yaakov was no shmata (doormat). The clear message of the bulk of the parsha is that Yaakov will not allow Lavan to rip him off.

  3. I wrote, parenthetically:
    God introduces Himself to Yaakov as the God of both Avraham and Yitzchak, cf. 28:13, but God stresses that Avraham, not Yitzchak, is Yaakov’s “father”!
    By this I meant to suggest that God was well aware of Yaakov's tendency towards the "din" attribute of his father, and God therefore wanted to remind Yaakov that Avraham, the man of chesed, was also his father. (For an altogether different and far more radical explanation of why Yitzchok is not called Yaakov's father, see Moznayim LaTorah here.)

    This is all the more interesting in light of the fact that Yaakov had just completed a fourteen-year stint in yeshiva, cf. Rashi to 28:11 quoting B.R. 68:11. Yaakov's "yeshivish" din streak expresses itself when he confronts the shepherds in 29:7, a la R. Shimon bar Yochai right out of the cave. Hameivin Yavin.

    Despite God's gentle reminder, Yaakov was not prepared to let go of Yitzchak as his primary model. At the very end of the parsha, Lavan proposes that they take an oath in the names of the "God of Avraham, the God of Nachor, and the God of their father (Terach)" (31:53). Yaakov is obviously not going to take any oath in the name of the pagan gods of Nachor and Terach, but we would imagine that Yaakov would have no objection to the God of Avraham. However, "Yaakov swore by the Dread of Yitzchak his father" (ibid.) Once again, Yaakov asserts the primacy of din over chesed. (See, however, 31:42.)

    [Continue with part-three here.]

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Do Two Wrongs Make a Right? The Balance Between Responsibility and Respect

Posted by R. Moshe Adatto

Was it proper for Rachel to steal her father's idols? According to the Midrash (quoted in Rashi 31:19), Rachel's intent was to stop her father from worshipping idols. She clearly felt that it was not only acceptable, but laudable for her to commit this act of theft for the greater good of saving her father from continuing a life of paganism. However, this appears to be a matter of debate. For if Yaakov agreed with her, how could he be so certain that a member of his household had not stolen them? If so, we are faced with a philosophical difference in perspective between a great Patriarch and an great Matriarch. Talk about being stuck between a rock and a hard place.

(The Talmud's discussion (Shabbat 4a) about the propriety of one person committing a minor sin in order to stop someone else from a more major sin may well be relevant, although there is room to make a distinction.)

We might be tempted to support Yaakov's position based on the fact that Rachel was punished with an early death. However, this does not appear to be relevant to our discussion, because her death seems to be attributed to Yaakov's curse- "whoever you find your gods with shall not live," and not due to the G-d taking a position on the morality of her action.

From a contemporary standpoint this is a difficult issue to grapple with. In a culture of relative morality we are very uncomfortable as a society with the concept of people imposing their standards on others. Additionally, as Jews we do not want anyone else imposing their standard of absolute morality on us. However, we also believe in our responsibility to help others, and our understanding of what is considered help is certainly shaped by our beliefs and moral code.

I am not offering any answers, but I do feel that the balance between respect for other people's property rights (and their right to make their own decisions, as flawed as they might be) and care and concern for the spiritual wellbeing of others deserves thought.

Are you a Yaakov or a Rachel?

Friday, November 16, 2007

Thanksgiving and the Heresy of Entitlement

On the run from his brother Eisav, Yaakov is broke and alone. A yeshiva bachor by nature and seventy-seven years old, he must make his way northeast across hundreds of miles of trail to start life anew in a foreign land. Stopping for the night on a hilltop in the middle of nowhere, Yaakov falls asleep under the stars and, for the first time in his life, he receives a prophecy. God promises him the world.
“I am God, Lord of Avraham your father and Lord of Yitzchak. I will give to you and to your descendants the land upon which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth. You shall spread out to the west, to the east, to the north and to the south. All the families on earth will be blessed through you and your descendants.
“I am with you. I will protect you wherever you go and bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have fully kept this promise to you.”
Bereishit 28:13-15
There is much here that Yaakov must have been thrilled to hear. Not only does God guarantee Yaakov’s safe return home, He also gives him the land of Israel and promises to make him a source of blessing for all humanity. But most significantly, God promises him children. Lots of them. For a single man getting on in years with a long history of infertility in his genes, this is a wonderful piece of news.

Yaakov’s reaction is intense.
Yaakov took a vow. “If God will be with me,” he said, “if He will protect me on the journey that I am taking, if he gives me bread to eat and clothing to wear, if I return in peace to my father’s house, and if God makes Himself my Lord, then this stone that I have set up as a monument will become a temple for God, and of all that You give me, I will set aside a tithe for You.”
Yaakov is overwhelmed with feelings of gratitude and indebtedness, and he wants to give back to God in the only way he knows how. In return for God’s blessings, Yaakov commits to transform this site into a center of divine service and worship – and indeed he does just that when he returns to Israel many years later (cf. 35:6-7).

It is a beautiful story, but something is very wrong here. Yaakov left out all the important blessings! Nowhere in his “acceptance speech” does Yaakov mention Israel, nor does he respond to God’s promise to grant him children. It would seem that Yaakov is most excited about the prospect of clothes, food and returning to his parent’s home in peace. How mundane! Certainly, the divine promises of Israel and nationhood are of greater significance than mere survival. Does being the father of the chosen nation mean nothing to Yaakov?

The contrast with Avraham is striking. When Avraham arrived in Israel, God appeared to him and said, “To your descendants I will give this land” (12:7). Avraham’s response? “He built an altar there to God who had appeared to Him” (ibid). Rashi explains: “‘He built an altar’ – on the news about children and on the news about Israel.” But when God makes these very same promises to Yaakov, Yaakov is silent. Why?

It would seem that the different reactions of Avraham and Yaakov reflect their different personalities. Avraham was a man of pure chesed, kindness, and he was thus better able to relate to and understand God’s chesed. Yaakov, however, was a son of Yitzchak, the personification of din, strict justice. Indiscriminate divine love was something he had trouble with. (Read more about Yitzchak and din here.) Like his father Yitzchak, Yaakov never assumed that life was secure (cf. 32:8; compare 14:14). (Significantly, God introduces Himself to Yaakov as the God of both Avraham and Yitzchak, cf. 28:13, but God stresses that Avraham, not Yitzchak, is Yaakov’s “father”!)

Yaakov was overwhelmed by the “small” gifts of survival and safety. For those alone he swore to build a temple for God. The gifts of Israel and nationhood were altogether too much to take. Faced with the enormity of those blessings, Yaakov was speechless.

This humble attitude appears again later in the parsha. Yaakov marries two sisters, Leah and Rachel; Leah is able to have children, but Rachel is barren. Exasperated by childlessness and jealous of her sister, Rachel confronts Yaakov:
“Give me children! If not, let me die!”
Yaakov got angry with Rachel. “Shall I take God’s place?” he said. “It is He who is holding back the fruit of your womb.”
The logic of his response notwithstanding, Yaakov’s anger seems unwarranted. It goes without saying that Yaakov was a caring and sympathetic husband. Why is he angry with Rachel? The language of the Midrash is more direct. “Is this the way to answer a person in pain?!” (Bereishit Rabba 71:1).

In light of what we have learned about Yaakov, it is not difficult to pinpoint the source of his anger. It is one thing for a frustrated woman to demand a child, but it is another to exclaim, “If not, let me die!” Rachel was saying that she felt her life was meaningless – even useless – without children. From Yaakov’s perspective, this bordered on heresy.

God owes us nothing. Man cannot even claim that he has a right to the basic necessities of food, clothing and shelter. On the contrary, these are to be seen as divine blessings that leave man eternally indebted. Being alive is reason enough to rejoice and build a sanctuary to express thanksgiving to God. Children? The gift of children is an otherworldly blessing that is well beyond human capacity to comprehend or appreciate. How can anyone say that life is useless without it?

In a similar vein, R. Yitzchak Arama (1420-1494) points out that the purpose of life is not raising children. The purpose of life is to do mitzvot and cultivate a relationship with God. That is why, says R. Arama, Yaakov got angry with Rachel. She forgot why she was alive.

Rachel got the message. When she finally does have a child, she exclaims, “God has taken away my disgrace” (30:23). The simple meaning is obvious, but the Midrash has an innovative reading.
As long as a wife does not have a son, she has no one to blame for her blunders. But once she has a son, she blames him. “Who broke this container?” “Your son.” “Who ate the figs?” “Your son.”
Bereishit Rabba 73:5; Rashi ad loc.
Are we to believe that Rachel wanted a child so she could have someone to blame for her mistakes?! What is the meaning of such a bizarre statement? The answer, as many have explained, is that Rachel wants to be sure that her thanksgiving is all-inclusive. She is not satisfied with simply thanking God for the child; she wants to express appreciation for every single advantage gained. And that includes having someone to blame.

In the end, Rachel absorbed Yaakov’s beliefs. God owes us nothing. We owe God – for every little thing.

[Read part-two here.]

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Digging for Fun?

[Yitzchak] continued to prosper until he became extremely wealthy. He had flocks of sheep, herds of cattle, and a large retinue of slaves.
The Philistines became jealous of him. They plugged up all the wells that his father's servants had dug while Avraham was still alive and they filled them with earth.
Avimelech said to Yitzchak, "Go away from us. You have become much more powerful than we are."
Yitzchak moved away from there, camped in the Gerrar Valley and settled there. Yitzchak returned [to Gerar] and redug the wells that had been dug in the days of Avraham, which had been plugged up by the Philistines after Avraham's death. He gave them the same names that his father had given them.

Bereishit 26:13-18

Can anyone please tell me why Yitzchak, after he was evicted, snuck back into Gerar to redig wells for his enemies to enjoy?

Friday, November 9, 2007

Trust in Prayer

Posted by IshbitzForever

And Issac entreated Hashem opposite his wife, because she was barren. Hashem allowed himself to be entreated by him, and his wife Rebbeca conceived."

Genesis 25-22-23

The authoritative commentator known as Rashi explain the words "opposite his wife" as thus "This one stood in this corner and prayed and this one stood in this corner and prayed".

What is the significance of opposite corners - we have no such tradition that man and wife can not pray together or that retreating to different parts of the room help our prayers to be received, accepted or answered.

In addition we must introduce another puzzling explanation given by Rashi. Although we find that both Issac and Rebbeca prayed for a child, the verse tells us "Hashem Allowed himself to be entreated by him" (Isaac only)" - but what of Rebbeca's prayer? To this Rashi makes the statement, "One can not compare the prayer of someone who is righteous and whose parents were also righteous - to the prayer of someone who although they are righteous their parents weren't righteous" - meaning we cant compare the paryer of Issac who had a father like Abraham to the prayer of someone like rebbeca who had a father like Bethuel (an evil man). The question is blazing - is a new requirement for prayer to have a righteous parent? Isn't prayer the open and direct connection between every living creature and its maker our living G-d in heaven - what is Rashi talking about!?

So there's a story of a Great Rabbi, one of the Students of the Baal Shem Tov (Founder and Leader of the Hassidic Movement). This Rabbi hadn't had children for many years. One day his wife could take the pain no longer and yelled at her husband " I don't understand, people come from far and wide seeking your blessing for all their ills and troubles, you pray to G-d on their behalf and they are answered. Yet I, you're own wife sits in a sad and empty house without children and your prayers for me don't seem to be answered". The Rabbi softly answered "Those that come from far and wide believe I am a saintly man and they believe with all their hearts that G-d will surely listen to my prayers it's this very pure belief that carries their cause up to the deepest place in heaven before G-d's heavenly thrown - you on the other hand live with me, you know I am no saint just a struggling Jew trying to make the best of myself, your belief in me or my prayers is rightfully not without its doubts - hence my prayers for us must fight their way up, and so far they haven't reached their destination".

Isaac was the son of Abraham, he was installed with unquestioning belief in G-d from an early age. So much so that when his father told him that he was to slaughtered as a sacrifice he didn't flinch, an accepted the will of G-d as the only reality by which to live, utter trust. Rebbeca not so. She did not grow up with G-d at all, although she was good hearted, her religious experience surely began when she was wed to Issac.

When they prayed - each was in their own corner - they both had different approaches to prayer. Issac was sure G-d was listening - as he himself had been a miracle baby - and was sure G-d could change the worlds natural order in an instant as he had seen and heard his entire life - Rebbeca had not shared that upbringing, and could not pray the same way - Although she believed it could not be the same belief. One can not compare the prayer of one who is the child of a righteous man - because the child of a righteous man prays differently due to what he has been taught and seen while growing up.

Although prayer's function is primarily away to connect man and his creator - G-d set it aside as a tool we can use to call out to him in times of need. For it to function as such it needs trust, in both how closely G-d is listening, and how quickly G-d can change things.

Friday, November 2, 2007

In Search of a Matriarch

In this week’s parsha, Avraham decides it is high time for his son to get married. After all, Yitzchak is pushing forty. Instead of doing the Jewish thing and yelling at him to get married already or introducing him to a nice Canaanite girl, Avraham sends his butler Eliezer off to his old hometown of Charan to find Yitzchak a wife.

Eliezer is understandably confused. He asks the obvious:
What if the girl does not want to come back with me to this land? Shall I bring your son back to the land that you left?
Bereishit 24:5
Before he schleps across the Middle East on a camel, Eliezer wants to make sure he’s not wasting his time. He knows it would be a whole lot easier to make a shidduch if the girl could just meet Yitzchak first. Who is going to agree to marry a man sight unseen? Eliezer makes a reasonable request. Let me take Yitzchak along.

Avraham says no. And he explains why.
“Be careful! Do not bring my son back there! God, the Lord of the heaven, took me away from my father’s house and the land of my birth. He spoke to me and made an oath. ‘To your offspring I will give this land.’ He will send His angel before you and you will take a wife from there for my son.
“If the girl does not want to come back with you, then you shall be absolved from my oath. But do not bring my son back there!”
It's a passionate speech, but what does it mean? Is Avraham saying that Eliezer is guaranteed success because God will intervene and send an angel? No, Avraham didn’t say that. In fact, after mentioning the angel, Avraham’s very next sentence is this: “If the girl does not want to come back with you, then you shall be absolved from my oath.” Clearly then, there are no guarantees. So what exactly is this angel going to do? (cf. Rashi 24:52) And why can’t Yitzchak go to Charan? In short, how has Avraham responded to Eliezer’s legitimate concern?

In order to understand Avraham’s response, we need to think again about Eliezer’s question. Eliezer was worried that the girl will not agree to come back with him to Israel; but the truth is, there is a bigger question that needs to be addressed first. What kind of girl are we looking for? How is Eliezer to decide who is right for Yitzchak? All Avraham said was to find someone from “my land and my birthplace” (24:4). No further instructions were given. How will Eliezer choose?

This problem does not seem to concern Eliezer. Eliezer is confident in his ability to find the right girl, for he has devised a little test that he implements as soon as he arrives in Charan:
He prayed, “O God, Lord of my master Avraham: Be with me today and grant a favor to my master Avraham. I am standing here by the well, and the daughters of he townsmen are coming to draw water. If I say to a girl, ‘Tip over your jug and let me have a drink,’ and she replies, ‘Drink, and I will also water your camels,’ she will be the one whom you have determined for Your servant Yitzchak.
The very first girl that Eliezer approaches is none other than Rivkah herself and, to Eliezer's amazement, she passes his test with flying colors (24:15-27). If you think about it, this test, which was Eliezer’s idea, was entirely unnecessary. Avraham was right. God’s angel saw to it that Rivkah was the first girl Eliezer met. There was no need for a test to find the right girl.

This is what Avraham was telling Eliezer. You will find the right girl immediately. Forget about your test. There is something else we need to look for.
“God, the Lord of the heaven, took me away from my father’s house and the land of my birth. He spoke to me and made an oath. ‘To your offspring I will give this land.’ He will send His angel before you and you will take a wife from there for my son.”

God didn’t really “take” Avraham away from his father’s house. God told him to go and Avraham chose to listen. Avraham listened even though he did not know where he was going: “Go… to the land which I will show you” (12:1). Avraham had faith and Avraham went, and in the merit of that mitzvah God said, “To your offspring I will give this land.”
The path that Rivkah must tread is the one that Avraham and Sarah had traveled – the road that they journeyed in following the will of God. It was that path that led to their destiny as the chosen people and is therefore the road that leads Rivkah to that same destiny.
R. Yitzchak Twersky, Amittah Shel Torah, pg. 94
In other words, what Avraham is saying here is that in order for her to merit the blessing of Israel in her own right, Yitzchak’s wife-to-be must pass the test of Lech Lecha. Now we understand why the local girls are out of the running.

This is no ordinary marriage. To enter Avraham’s family and become a matriarch, Rivkah must sacrifice all on the altar of monotheism. Her love for the One God must drive her to abandon her pagan family forever for an unknown fate with an unknown man, just like Avraham abandoned that same pagan family many years earlier for an unknown land. All Rivkah knows is that Yitzchak fears God. That should be enough. If the heroic Yitzchak were to show up at her door in person, there would be no test here at all.

Eliezer and Avraham were looking at this shidduch project from very different perspectives. Eliezer thought it was his job to find the right girl and bring her home, and he just couldn’t figure out how he was going to convince someone to marry a man she never met. But Avraham knew that God, not Eliezer, would find the right match for Yitzchak. Whether or not she would come to Israel had to be Rivkah’s choice, uninfluenced by anything other than the faith of her own heart. Even Yitzchak himself could not be the determining factor.
God orchestrated events and took the Jews out of Egypt only because of the merits of Sara, Rivkah, Rachel and Leah… [The Exodus was] a reward for Rivkah, who, when asked if she wanted to go with the man [Eliezer], said, “I will go!” (24:58).
Eliyahu Rabba 25
It is understandable that Eliezer, the faithful student of Avraham, was looking for a woman of chesed, loving-kindness (cf. Rashi to 24:14; compare 24:44). Avraham, however, was searching not for a chavruta for himself but for a wife for his son Yitzchak. Avraham wanted to see gevurah, strength, determination and sacrifice. While it turned out that Rivkah had plenty of both chesed and gevurah, ultimately, Avraham was right. Rivkah’s legacy to her people is not her chesed to camels but her gevurah for God. She is the paradigm of a woman who has the inner strength to drop everything and say, “I will go!”

Seeing Beyond

Posted by IshbitzForever

When she (Rebecca) finshed giving him (Eliezer) to drink she said, "I will draw water even for your camels until they have finished drinking."

Bereishit 24:19

The Talmud relates the following story:

The saintly scholar named Nachum Ish Gam Zu was laying in bed near death. He was blind and was missing his arms and legs. The ceiling of his decrepit home was creaking and began to crumble. "Remove everything from the house," Nachum told his gathered students, "then remove me - for as long as I am in here, my merit will prevent the ceiling from collapsing." The students did as their Rabbi instructed removing all utensils from the house. They then proceeded to carry the bed of their rabbi outside. The moment they were clear of the house the entire ceiling fell in.

The students asked, "Rabbi, if you have such merit how did it come to be that you lost your eyesight, your arms and legs?"

Nachum Ish Gam Zu said, "Let me tell you the story. I was once riding on a camel ladened with packages, and a poor man approached me asking for food. I got off my camel and proceeded to unpack to reach the food, but by the time I got to some the poor man had dropped dead of hunger. I was heartbroken and I said, "G-d, for my eyes not looking closely enough and seeing how hungry this man was, let me be punished by losing my eyesight. For my legs not moving fast enough to get down from the camel, let me lose my legs. For my hands not moving swift enough in unpacking, let me lose my hands" - and so it came to be. That is why you see me as you do today."

My friends - as Jews we are required to look around us. Not a casual glance, but good hard deep look. When we see an elderly person, we must wonder how they manage and ask if they need help with anything shopping, cleaning, cooking. When somone comes into shule and looks sad we must ask if they are ok, and follow up if something is wrong. This is true for countless situations. We can not pretend not to see, and when we do see we must open our hearts and look deeper.

Rebecca, although Eliezer simply asked for water for himself, she looked deeper and figured that for whatever reason he wasn't able to draw water for himself, so what will be with his camels? Not only did she not look away, she looked deeper!

Thursday, November 1, 2007


Posted by IshbitzForever

Sara died in Kiryat Arba which is Hebron in the land of Canaan; and Abraham came to eulogize Sara and to cry over her.

Bereishit 23:2

Whether through anecdote or adjective, when eulogizing, we use words to convey ideas about the deceased. We attempt to describe to the assembled who the deceased was as a parson and who they were to us. We pay tribute, give thanks and ask forgiveness. We hone in on lessons learned, and pledge not to forget.

Words however can never describe the piece of us that dies along with that person. The part of us to which only our beloved had the key, making us who we were. An entire dimension of our being lost forever. For this loss there are no words. The heart and soul's private loss can never be expressed - bystanders only see the evidence of this inner hell - the sobbing and tears.

The Talmud states "A woman dies only to her husband." The difficulty with the statement is obvious, what of children, parents and friends - do they not feel the loss?

According to Jewish tradition the husband and wife are really one.

This idea is not only expressed in Kabbalistic writings where we are taught the souls actually unite to form one complete soul - but reflected in matters of practical law. One tiny example - Just as one is required to rise and stand in the presence of a Torah scholar so to one must stand for his wife, the Talmud states the reason as "Ishto K'gufo" - "His Wife is like his Own Body."

A good woman is the light in a man's life and can inspire and help him be beyond what he could ever have been alone. She soaks into his being - she fills him - with a sense of beauty, magic, mystery, encouragement, hope, and strength.

When the Talmud tells us that "a woman dies only to her husband" - it means no one else dies along with her in their entirety like her husband, who has lost his entire being.

This last week my Rosh Yeshiva, my dear teacher, lost his wife after seven long years of cancer. Although I haven't seen them together but for the briefest of moments - I could get a tiny glimpse of what she meant to him during the Shiva. Their amazing relationship reflected in his anguished silence and streaming tears. It broke every heart. A brilliant man, lost and in a hell no person can save him from - we his students could only look on helplessly.

Abraham eulogized Sara, he said what he could put into words to the crowd, but then there were only tears.

A prayer for my Rabbi - "May G-d Console You Together and Among All the Mourners of Zion in Jerusalem." - Amen

Spiritual Self

Posted by IshbitzForever

"Rather to my land and to my family shall you go and take a wife for my son Isaac."

Bereishit 24:4

According to tradition, Abraham's father was so cruel that it was he that handed Abraham over to authorities to be thrown into a fiery furnace for rejecting King Nimrod as a god. It was the very family which G-d commanded Abraham to abandon that Abraham now sought a wife for his son. Puzzling.

The same can be asked of Issac himself, who sent his son Jacob to marry from "family" as well - the daughters of Laban - a liar, a thief and a worshiper of idols.

The answer is quite simple. In the eyes of G-d we are not credited for what we are given, but for what we achieve on our own.

Abraham is associated with the attribute of mercy - for although he displayed tremendous strength as exhibited by passing ten trials - among them the "Binding of Issac" - Abraham's father had displayed similar strength, as mentioned earlier, by offering his son Abraham to his god, Nimrod. Abraham inherited this quality of strength, it was only the attribute of mercy that he acquired on his own to which he was credited as "his attribute."

It was precisely because Abraham knew of the cruelty of his family that he sent Eliezer there.(See Midrash of how Rebeca's family was only motivated by greed, and even plotted to kill Eliezer.) The girl that grew up surrounded by cruelty, and still blossomed into a icon of generosity, can truly be defined by that attribute.

The same could be said of Jacob - the man of truth. To find worthy spouse - his father Isaac sent him to the house of the most selfish thief and liar. It was there he found a woman, Rachel, who was willing to give up her husband to her older sister. Her charitable heart was clearly of her own work and making.

In the service of G-d we are all obligated to use everything we are given, but we are defined by what we acquire on the lonely battlefield of our hearts.

Any comments on the new picture?