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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Vayetzei

Parshat Vayetzei

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter    Print Version

Parashat Vayetzei
7th of Kislev, 5778 | November 25, 2017

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Dayan Yonasan Abraham
Think Big, Dream Bigger

ויחלם והנה סלם מצב ארצה וראשו מגיע השמימה

And he dreamt, and behold, a ladder was set earthward and its top reached heavenward (Bereishis 28:12)

We all wish to achieve the extraordinary. Deep down, we are driven to actualize our potential and make the most of our lives. Yet what attitude sets the process in motion? What underlying thought process will put us in position to free ourselves from any limitations we feel and enable us to dream big and achieve big?

Let’s fast forward to Parshas Shemos.

As Moshe Rabbeinu beholds the unusual sight of the Burning Bush and turns towards it, he is instructed by Hashem to first and foremost, “Remove your shoes from your feet, for the place upon which you stand is holy ground” (Shemos 3:5).

In explaining the underlying rationale behind the need for Moshe to remove his shoes, the Shelah cites the Maharshal who points to the Pasuk in Tehillim (8:7-8), “You placed everything under his feet, sheep and cattle, all of them, even beasts of the field…” Every component of creation in the world is nourished and supported by the level underneath it. Animals eat plants which in turn grow in soil. The higher, more sophisticated element of creation grows and develops by means of its lower counterpart.

Above all else is the human being who makes use of the animal’s hide to fashion leather shoes, placing them underneath his feet and gaining support. This is what the Pasuk in Tehillim underscores. “You placed everything under his feet…” All levels of creation – animals, plants and inanimate rocks, minerals and soil – are subordinated to man’s use.

However, when it comes to entering a place of holiness, wherein G-d’s presence is more acutely perceived and sensed, it becomes appropriate to divest oneself of such feelings of superiority. It is there that one’s shoes, the sign of subjugation of all creation to man, become out of place and are removed in deference to G-d’s overriding world domination.

With this, explains the Maharshal, we can better appreciate the meaning of the morning blessing, “Blessed are You Hashem… Who made for me all my needs.” The Gemara (Berachos 60b) tells us that the all-encompassing needs which we refer to in this blessing are the use of shoes. Yet why in fact do shoes provide all of man’s needs? It is because they bespeak of man’s subordination of all aspects of creation – from the animal to the plant to the earth – for his higher purpose and benefit. We thank Hashem for granting man “all his needs,” for it is He Who has “placed everything under his feet.”

Yet the Chofetz Chaim sees an alternative, empowering message embedded in Hashem’s instruction. “For the place upon which you stand is holy ground” is a constant reminder of our moment to moment opportunities. In life, we can find many excuses. We think, “Just if, just when, but not just now and not just here…” Yet when it comes to matter of spiritual growth, the opposite attitude is demanded. “The place upon which you stand” – right here and now – is holy and full of potential. Today, at this time and place, greatness awaits you. Our greatest gift is life itself, and with every breath, we are capable of taking mundanity and transforming it into spirituality and holiness.

Many a time we convince ourselves, “It is too hard, too much, maybe tomorrow…” but Hashem redirects this line of thinking. “The place upon which you stand” right now – not tomorrow or next week – is a place waiting to be spiritually uplifted and transformed.

For this reason, further adds the Chidushei HaRim, Moshe was told to remove his shoes. The shoe is made to restrict and enclose the foot. It is a symbol of restraint and confinement. Hashem therefore conveyed to Moshe that attaining great heights of spirituality and developing into a true Jewish leader would require that he remove his shoes, the semblance of such restraining limitations. “Don’t think small; reach above and extend beyond.”

Yet, the most important question then becomes how we achieve this? What can we do to adopt this attitude of pushing beyond limits and attaining the extraordinary?

The Gemara (Yoma 35b) relays that when an individual who lived a poor life comes before Hashem in judgment after a lifetime, he will be asked if he had set aside time to learn Torah. If the poor man replies that he was overly burdened with eking out a living and didn’t have the time, he will be asked, “Were your poorer than Hillel who earned a miniscule amount of income each day, yet used half to support his family and used the other half to enter the synagogue and learn?” Despite the difficulties of earning a livelihood, the poor man should have found the wherewithal to study Torah to the best of his abilities.

The Gemara continues to record the time when Hillel was one day without money to enter shul and learn. Yet that didn’t deter him from attending the Torah lecture given by his teachers, Shmaya and Avtalyon. He climbed to the skylight atop the building and listened so ever closely to the “word of G-d which Shmaya and Avtalyon related.” It was only later in the morning that he was discovered to be buried underneath a pile of snow, and was brought to warmth and safety.

While the Gemara certainly conveys the degree of dedication Hillel displayed for Torah study, it is puzzling that no information is provided as to how he did it? Our Sages surely wish for us to emulate the great deeds of Hillel and develop such unmitigated love for Torah. What was his secret though? What motivated Hillel so greatly that he was ready to bear the cold and set aside comfort in order to hear his teachers speak?

Within the lines of this Gemara, there is one phrase which clues us into the answer. Hillel remained by the skylight, inclining his ear to catch the “words of the living G-d from his teachers, Shamaya and Avtalyon.” To Hillel, the Torah his teachers taught was not mere information to gain or nice insights to enjoy. It was the very word of Hashem. He viewed it no less than G-d speaking at Har Sinai, with his teachers serving as the mouthpieces and conduits of such Divine wisdom.

If we had the guaranteed opportunity that were we to travel on a long voyage we would find ourselves at Har Sinai and be privileged to literally hear G-d speak, would we not grab the opportunity? That is how Hillel viewed every moment of Torah study. It was a mini revelation of Har Sinai, with the word of G-d funneling through his teachers’ minds and mouths and entering his ears. When this is the perspective with which Torah study is viewed, you more than happily expend every ounce of energy and effort to be a part of such an extraordinary experience.

Years ago, at the time of completing the eleventh cycle of Daf Yomi, I was privileged to be a part of a group of tourists in standing in the old yeshiva building of Chachmei Lublin in Poland.

It was there that I participated in reciting the concluding words of the Talmud and began yet another cycle of Daf Yomi. Synchronizing the final completion with those living in America, thirty-five Jews stood in attendance at 2 am in Poland, shivering inside the freezing cold building which was without central light and heating. After reciting the Talmud’s final words and taking a moment to appreciate the monumental achievement, all of those present broke out in a fiery and lively dance.

Amidst the many guests who had come from afar were children from Hungary, Russia and East Berlin. The assembled men and boys joined hands and reveled in the shared accomplishment we all had along with so many other thousands around the globe.

As I joined the circle of dancing, one of the older boys turned to me and gently whispered in Yiddish, “Be careful with that boy…” He was referring to the fifteen-year-old boy who stood to my side. Not sure what he meant, I asked him to clarify. “He just underwent a bris milah,” he explained, “and immediately afterwards jumped on a twelve-hour bus ride to come here and partake of this incredible experience. Just be careful and gentle with him.” As I continued dancing and thinking about this boy, I could not get over his clearly unrestrained dedication to Torah and Judaism.

Six years later, I was present at a Rabbinic board meeting in a yeshiva in Berlin. For some time, all the Rabbanim spent time learning with the yeshiva boys in preparation for a Gemara class that Dayan Chanoch Ehrentreu planned to deliver. And so, there sat fifty respected Rabbanim with a large contingent of dedicated boys, poring over the give-and-take of the Gemara.

Some time amidst our learning, a boy approached to me. “The Rav may not remember me,” he slowly articulated in broken English, “but last time we met, I couldn’t dance.” It then all of a sudden hit me. This was the boy. He had grown into such a fine and enthusiastic yeshiva student in just a short time. But it made perfect sense. His love for Torah and Yiddishkeit propelled him beyond any and all limitations anyone would have placed on him years before.

We all can achieve the extraordinary. The time and place we live in this very minute is full of potential and opportunity. We just need to grab it. Don’t ever limit yourself and say you can’t. Think big and dream bigger.

Rav Elya Brudny
One Man, One Heart

It is understood that for children, both at school and in the home, many problems can result from bullying. Being picked on, insulted and put down in whatever which way can be the cause of numerous issues which arise. Yet, equally so, the question which must be addressed is what breeds such bullying? Aside from unrefined middos and character, which are certainly causal factors, what leads children in school to act in such a way?

Chazal tell us, “The speech of a child in the marketplace is either from his father or mother” (Sukkah 56b). The way children speak and act is very much the result of the education they receive at home. Now, you may wonder, why then would Reuven pick on Shimon if Shimon’s name was never even mentioned in Reuven’s home? Reuven never heard anything negative about Shimon; why did he then decide to pick on Shimon?

While this may be true, there is another message sent in the home that children quickly pick up on. And that is factionalism. When it becomes a matter of “we” and “us,” children begin to realize that there are differences between each other and become, what can be termed, clannish. Within families and circles of friends, it is lifestyles, standards of living and values and ideals which set people apart. Some parents may be very vigilant of their children and wish to limit their exposure to certain activities, yet others may not exercise the same degree of attentiveness. It is without question very important that parents set standards and do whatever possible to ensure that those safe and healthy guidelines are respected, but it must be done with wisdom. And this wisdom is to draw a distinction between people and actions.

Divisiveness occurs when the focus of our differences is in the context of who we are as people. When it becomes, “us” and “them,” “our way” and “their way,” children begin to realize that there are cliques. If this is mistakenly conveyed as a matter of elitism, and another child has that “other way” of life, it can lead the child to exercise superiority. If, however, children are taught that there will be differences between themselves and their friends, but these differences do not create factionalism and elitism, such negativity can be mitigated. We may have different lifestyles, customs and mannerisms, but essentially we are all one people. There are many different sects among us, but at the very core we are “K’ish echad b’lev echad,” one man with one heart. If this becomes the message we send within and without our homes, as parents and educators, we will be on our way to properly guiding our children towards healthy attitudes and actions.

Dr. David Lieberman
The Ego and Self-Esteem

Have you ever wondered why people feel hurt when someone disrespects them? Consider the following.

The human being is a complex composite of many coexisting parts. For one, we all possess to some degree or another an ego. The ego exists to compensate for feelings of guilt, inferiority and insecurity. If there would be a person with absolute perfect self-esteem, the ego would fade into the background. The foundation of self-esteem can therefore be understood to be self-acceptance and self-love.

When an individual therefore struggles to accept some part or the whole part of themselves, the ego seeks to compensate. Instead of looking at their faults and failures, they realize they can protect themselves by inflating their ego and projecting a grandiose, though false image of who they are. Yet when they are then disrespected, considering their low self-esteem and large ego, they take it very personally. The bigger the ego, the bigger the hurt and pain. Moreover, it will be assumed that the cause of such disrespect is because the other person does not like them. The reason for such thinking is simple. If I don’t like myself, why should you?

Therefore, in short, the ego compensates for the parts that we don’t like about ourselves, and commensurate to how much we don’t like ourselves, the larger our ego becomes, and the more personal and hurtful any dismissive comment we hear about ourselves is. People who do not love themselves cannot understand why others would love them.

There is more to the picture, though, as this feeling can extend to affect other areas of life as well.

A person only gives as much as they have. A person who thus cannot experience love of themselves is at a loss to give love to others. They have more difficulty accepting and receiving love. In the words of Rav Noach Weinberg zt”l, “If you don’t love yourself, don’t love me.” To love, you must be loved by yourself.

In addition, such an individual will tend to feel more pain and discomfort when they are disrespected by a smart, wealthy or well-liked person. This is because the ego, which must expand when there exists low self-esteem, ascribes value and importance to money, power and prestige. When someone who therefore possesses these attributes is the cause of the insult, the ego takes a bigger hit and the person feels the pain more acutely.

In essence then, the first step to counteract the above trickle-effect is to learn to love, learn to accept and learn to appreciate exactly who you are.

A Short Message From
Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky

We often wonder how to strike the proper balance between our own growth in Torah and Yiddishkeit and inspiring and teaching others. In truth, the Chasam Sofer addresses this very consideration. He writes that although Avraham Avinu could have sat alone and learned Torah, he instead extended himself to educate people about the existence of Hashem and bring them closer to Him. Avraham decided to make this his mission in life, despite the fact that it took him away from his own personal growth.

In reality, however, Avraham ended up growing much more by helping others than he would have had he exclusively worried about his own spiritual growth and development. His breadth and depth of Hashem, Torah and the world were enhanced and expanded in consequence of his pure dedication to spreading Hashem’s name to the world. In our own times, as well, we must recognize our need and responsibility to reach out to as many Jews as possible and bring them closer to our Father in Heaven and His Torah.

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