Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Deer Sent Forth

Nature in the Parasha: Parashat Yayechi
When Ya’acov blessed his sons – the holy tribes of Israel on his deathbed, he compared many of them to animals. For example, Yehuda is compared to the lion, Binyamin to the wolf, Yessachar to the donkey, Dan to the serpent and Naftali to a female deer (hind). I feel drawn to the gentle, sensitive and graceful deer. Where I grew up in Denmark I could climb over the hedge of our back garden into the famous deer-park, or take a seven minute walk through the proper gate. If anyone ever asks if I miss Denmark, I always answer that besides my family the main thing I miss is the deer-park. Whenever I visit Denmark, I always take a hike with my family in the deer-park. We usually find deer, yet we need to be extremely quiet and try very gradually to get closer, as the deer is so shy and timid and easily runs away. That is why I don’t have any photos to share with you of the deer, as I was never able to come close enough to take photos that didn’t come out blurry. You can understand, why from all the different tribes compared to animals in this week’s parasha, I chose Naftali who Ya’acov blesses with the following words:
נַפְתָּלִי אַיָּלָה שְׁלֻחָה הַנֹּתֵן אִמְרֵי שָׁפֶר: ספר בראשית מט:כא
“Naftali is a hind let loose; he gives goodly words” (Bereishit 49:21).

The word אַיָּל/ayal is also translated as hart, roebuck, gazelle and ibex (net-bible). What is it about the tribe of Naftali which resembles this nimble animal? Why is Naftali compared to specifically a female deer?

The Good Tiding Deer
The sons of Naftali were swift as the deer to run and give good tidings (Rabbeinu Bachaya). Therefore, Naftali was Ya’acov’s favorite messenger. Whenever it states in the Torah, “Ya’acov sent,” without specifying whom he sent, he always chose Naftali as his emissary (Agra D’Kala 139a). To be a good messenger Naftali must also have been trustworthy and humble to carry out his mission. Before the times of email, telephone, fax and telegram, kings used to send messages to one another through the deer. The deer who were born in the north would be raised in the palace of a king in the south. The king would tie his message between its horns. The deer would then run quickly to return to where it was born. We learn from the second part of the verse, “who brings goodly words” that the deer was especially selected to bring good tidings (Ramban). Perhaps this was also because Naftali had a way of accepting his fate by sweetening the judgments. The word ‘Naftali’ is connected to turbulence and twistedness. No matter how much suffering and turbulence the tzaddik endures, he will still “give goodly words” and praise to Hashem about them (Chatam Sofer). This concurs with Targum Unkelos, “He will give thanks for his lot with pleasing words and praise.” Naftali was sweet by means of the good tidings he would share with Israel. “The goodly words” may also refer to the words of Torah that should always be sweet, beloved and new to us just like the hind who is always beloved to its mate as the very first time, due to its narrow womb (Iruvin 54b, Kli Yakar, Bereishit 49:21). The “hind sent forth” is the embodiment of femininity and refers to the sefirah of malchut described as, “The voice of Hashem makes the hinds give birth” (Tehillim 29:9). King David called malchut “Ayelet ha-Shachar” (the morning glow, or the hind of the dawn) (Tehillim 22:1), for it is let lose (meshareret from the word shachar) like the dawn (shachar in Hebrew) to seek her beloved during exile (Magen David 7). Likewise, the congregation of Israel is compared to the deer, which is beloved to its mate, for Israel is sent forth from the upper source and “gives goodly words” – prayers to Hashem (The Rekanti on the Torah). These prayers are messages sent to Hashem by means of his faithful messengers, the angels (Rabbeinu Bachaya).

In praise of Swiftness
“…One must run as a deer… (Pirkei Avot 5:20). Being exited about life makes us run. Actually the Hebrew word for run, רָץ/ratz shares the same root as רָצוֹן/ratzon – will. I try to run, or at least walk swiftly, wherever I have to go anywhere, except if I have just eaten. This way I accomplish two goals in one, both getting needed exercise from always sitting at the computer as well as saving time. Tiferet Yisrael explains that we should not investigate the mitzvot of the Torah through the human intellect, but rather we must run like a deer from its pursuers in order to avoid falling into heresy. The main praise of Naftali is his wholeheartedness with which he would walk in Hashem’s way of Torah. It is known that Torah scholars have no rest neither in this nor in the coming world. A person should always run from strength to strength like Naftali, and never fall into becoming old and complacent (Rav Tzaddok of Lublin, P’ri Tzaddik, Rosh Chodesh Adar 11).

Swiftly Return with the Title-Deed of Machpelah
As Ya’akov’s sons were about to bury Ya’acov in the Cave of Machpela, Esau came to stop them as he claimed the cave of Mahpelah for himself. The burial assembly were compelled to delay the burial while they sent Naftali to run rapidly back to Egypt and bring the deed of the property to prove that only Ya’acov had burial rights to the cave (Sotah 16a), (Rashi, Bereishit 49:21). While they were waiting for the deed, Chushim, son of Dan asked, “What’s the delay? Shall our grandfather lay here unburied in a state of disgrace until Naftali arrives?” He hit Esau on the head, causing his death. Esau’s head was then severed and rolled into the cave (Pirkei D’rabbi Eliezer 38). As a side point, this is the story of how Esau’s head ended up being buried in the Machpelah. Esau, the father of the Western Civilization, which separates head and heart as symbolized by the necktie worn by Westernized men, did not merit to have his entire body buried in the Machpelah. Only his head, wherein holy sparks are trapped, merited burial in the second holiest place in the world.

The Children of Naftali Saving Israel from Sisera
Naftali was also “sent forth” to wage war with Sisero many generations later, during the time of the Judges. “Take with you ten thousand men of the people of Naftali…” (Shoftim 4:6). There too, the expression “shalach” is used “into the valley they rushed (shalach)” (verse 15), as they marched rapidly. The second part of our verse can also be applied to the war with Sisero. “He gives goodly words” as the ten thousand men of Naftali gave rise to the song of praise that Devorah and Barak sang (Shoftim chapter 5). Naftali is compared to a female rather than a male deer, in order to allude to Devorah who descended from him. Even the word אִשָׁה/isha – woman is hinted in the initials of the words of our verse as follows: אַיָּלָה שְׁלֻחָה הַנֹּתֵן/ayala shelucha hanoten – “a hind sent forth that gives” (The Ritba on Bereishit 49:21). Thus on Ya’acov’s deathbed he prophesied about the salvation that would come about through a woman (Devorah) from the tribe of Naftali, who was swift on her legs as a hind (Radak).

The Fruits of Naftali’s Land are Quick to Ripen
Ya’acov’s praise of Naftali also pertained to his allotted land of Israel, the upper Galilee centering around the shores of lake Kineret (The Sea of Galilee). Of the 12 tribes of Israel, none received land more beautiful than Naftali. This tribe possessed the most fertile and productive region in all of Israel. The land includes hidden springs emanating from Mount Chermon, well watered by both the Jordan River, the lake Kineret and the springs of Chermon. The word ‘Naftali’ shares the root with the word ‘petil,’which means string. Therefore, Naftali connects the house of Israel. His land, likewise, includes the Jordan River, which connects the northern and southern regions of the land of Israel. Rashi explains that the valley of Kineret (Gennesareth –‘a garden of riches’) ripens its fruit very quickly just as a hind runs rapidly (Midrash Rabbah 99). “He gives goodly words” – they (the people of Naftali) will give thanks to Hashem and praise G-d for the fruits. This thanksgiving may also refer to the special recital (Mikra Bikurim) accompanying the first fruits sacrifice (Kli Yakar). Naftali was always happy with his portion and filled with all kinds of goodness. From him the good tidings that his land brought forth an abundance of fruits spread to all of Israel (Midrash Tanchuma, Vayechi 13). Naftali’s fruits were so amazing that they would share them with kings who would give them “goodly words of praise” (Rabbeinu Bachaya).

The Legs of Emunah (Faith)
The “goodly words” are words of praising Hashem in song. When we are filled with emunah in the Creator we begin to sing and praise Hashem. Arizal teaches that the legs are connected with emunah. The meaning of “Naftali is a hind sent forth” is that he has strong legs, which enables him to run swiftly. This alludes to the fact that his emunah in Hashem is strong. Because of his great emunah “he gives goodly words” in songs and praises of Hashem. This concurs with Targum Yonatan’s translation of our verse: “The tribe of Naftali sings beautifully.” Because of their strong emunah in Hashem they always sing beautifully in praise of Him (Kedushat HaLevi). Naftali shares this ability to sing with the Levites. The word שיר/shir – song means link. Both of these tribes serve as connectors in Israel. Whereas Levi connects Israel to their father in Heaven, Naftali’s faithful song also connects all of the tribes to one another May we tune into Naftali’s emunah and merit to always see the good in our lives, and may we never stop singing!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Shepherding: The Traditional Jewish Vocation

Nature in the Parasha: Parashat Yayigash
On a B'erot hike!
Flocks of sheep are the central theme in Yosef’s introduction of his family to Pharaoh. Being sheepherders saved the Jewish people from assimilation in Egypt, since Egypt worshipped sheep, Pharaoh would therefore happily relegate Yosef’s shepherding family to the far-off land of Goshen. This explains why Yosef had carefully instructed his brothers to tell Pharaoh that they were sheepherders, in order that he would distance them from the decadent centers of Egypt. “When Pharaoh calls you and asks, ‘what is your occupation?’ You shall answer, ‘your servants have been breeders of livestock from the beginning until now, both we and our fathers’ – so that you may stay in the region of Goshen. For all sheepherders are abhorrent to Egyptians” (Bereishit 46:33-34). Rashi explains that sheepherding was not a respected occupation in Egypt because sheep are considered gods to the Egyptians. “For the animal that the Egyptians worship the Hebrews eat.” (Targum Onkelus, Bereishit 43:32). Egyptian mythology confirms this. The god Khnum was one of the principal and oldest gods of Egypt. Khnum’s temple was located on the island of Elephantine, today known as Aswan. The Egyptians believed that Khnum was responsible for the level of the Nile. He was also portrayed as the creator of humanity. His image is of that of a man with a ram’s head. Remains of mummified rams have been found in Khnum’s temple. It seems to me that the Egyptian worship of the sheep is part of their general worship of the forces of nature. Their Nile worship, from which they received their sustenance, is well known. Perhaps, the eight times the word צֹאן/tzon – flocks is mentioned in this week’s parasha teaches us the contrast between the Egyptian nature worship and the Jewish belief in Hashem’s miracles. Eight corresponds to the reality beyond Nature, as Hashem created the world in seven days. This concept is highlighted by the fact that we read Parashat Vayigash in proximity to the holiday of Chanukah. Most of our forefathers were shepherds, since this occupation is conducive to cleaving to G-d by being close to nature and far away from urban distractions. Here in Bat Ayin we are returning to the vocation of our ancestors. Flocks of sheep and goats dot the pastoral landscape of Bat Ayin as our community includes several sheepherders. Perhaps Jewish mothers should encourage their children to become shepherds rather than doctors and lawyers?

Shepherding Conducive for Developing the Jewish Potential
“Your servants are shepherds, both we and our fathers” (Bereishit 47:3). The Torah clearly states that Avraham, Yitzchak, Ya’acov, Rachel, the twelve tribes, Moshe, Tziporah, her sisters, and King David were shepherds. Why did the majority of our Biblical leaders choose this occupation although it was disdained by the surrounding nations? Rav Yosef HaKohen z”l explains how the shepherd works mainly with living creatures, and the care he extends to them fosters in him human feelings of tenderness and empathy. The flock needs the shepherd’s care, but does not owe its very existence to the human being. As a result, the shepherd is saved from the danger of attaching too much value to himself and to his property. The Egyptian leaders by contrast were very shrewd in instilling in their people an implacable hatred for pastoral peoples (Rabbi R.S. Hirsch, Bereishit 4:2). Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook explains that the benefit of shepherding is the secluded lifestyle of the shepherd. While taking care of flocks, wandering through the hills and valleys, the shepherd separates from the noisy distractions of society, thus facilitating ample time for inner reflection. Therefore, our ancestors chose to be shepherds in order to experience an elevation of the soul and awe of the Creator through viewing His wondrous creations (HaK’tav V’haKabbalah, Bereishit 4:2).

Time for Hitbodedut – Alone in the Field

The definition of a shepherd is a person who separates himself from the way of the world, and goes alone (mitboded) to places far from people, in order to avoid the distractions by the vain pursuits of this world. The field is a place of rest and serenity for him. There, his soul may awaken and become elevated to see the great wonders of Hashem and His creation. For this reason our forefathers Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’acov, the tribes, Moshe and David chose to be shepherds (HaK’tav V’haKabbalah, Bereishit 4:2). During the era of Hevel, the son of Adam, when humanity was still sparse, all the places where suitable for hitbodedut. Nevertheless, scripture called hitbodedut in the name of shepherding for the sake of the generations that was to come after him. Shepherding is not a labor-intensive occupation. Unlike farming, this vocation does not require too much exertion or drain all one’s energy; neither does it occupy one’s mind excessively. The shepherd, therefore, has ample time to elevate his spirit to Divine and humane values, freeing his soul to soar in lofty concepts. Through shepherding, we can recognize the wonders of Hashem who brings humanity to true perfection.

Balance Meditative Reflection with Physical Work
The Torah differs from the Eastern religions by emphasizing the importance of our connection and contribution to society, rather than encouraging separating from the world by going off on a mountain in solitary meditation. How do we balance a reclusive solitary lifestyle with connecting with society and elevating the universe? Being a shepherd provides the opportunity for inner meditative reflection while remaining connected to the physical reality. A shepherd does not live in an ivory tower, immersed in artificial philosophies detached from life. Rather, shepherding requires being concerned with the actual physical needs of the animals. The shepherd is constantly engaged in the real world, seeking good forage, water and shade for his flock. We learn from this that although the shepherd’s contemplations may be sublime and lofty, they do not remove him from being involved in the physical work of this world.

Genuine Concern for the Wellbeing of the Flock
“Ya’acov journeyed to Sukkot and built himself a house, and he made sukkot (booths of shelter) for his flocks; he therefore called the name of the place, Sukkot” (Bereishit 33:17). It seems strange that Ya’acov would name a place “Sukkot” just because he built there “סֻכֹּת/sukkot” for his flocks. The Ohr HaChaim suggests that perhaps Ya’acov was the first person to build “sukkot” – booths of shelter – for his flocks, because of his compassion for the animals. Ya’acov, therefore, named the place “Sukkot” in order to commemorate this historic innovation. This genuine concern for the wellbeing of the flock characterized Ya’acov throughout his life as he grew into his higher self as Yisrael. “Yisrael said to Yosef, Your brothers are pasturing in Shechem...Go now, look into the shalom of your brothers and the shalom of the sheep, and bring me back word” (Bereishit 37:13-14). Why did the sheep merit a special inquiry about their shalom? The Midrash explains that Yisrael inquired about the peace of the sheep because of a sense of gratitude to the sheep for all the benefits that he received from them. We can therefore learn from Yisrael’s words the following good trait: “A person should inquire about the shalom of anything that he benefited from” (Midrash Bereishit Rabbah 84:13). The Alter of Slobodka explains that Yisrael inquired about the welfare of the sheep in order to emulate the universal Divine compassion and concern. For a person who is truly compassionate will be concerned about the welfare of animals, since all of Hashem’s creation is important.

Expressing Leadership Abilities by Caring for the Soft and Weak
When Moshe Rabbeinu was tending the flock of Yitro in the wilderness, a little kid ran away from him. He ran after the kid until it reached the oasis, Chasuah. Upon reaching Chasuah, it came upon a pool of water, and the kid stopped to drink. When Moshe reached it, he said, “I did not know that you were running because you were thirsty. You must be tired.” He placed the kid on his shoulder and began to walk. The Holy One, Blessed Be He, said: “You are compassionate in leading flocks belonging to mortals; I swear you will similarly shepherd My flock, Israel.” (Midrash Shemot Rabbah 2:2). The Midrash adds that before David became King of Israel, he was a shepherd who took care of his sheep with tenderness and compassion. For example, he would first allow the very young sheep to graze so that they could eat the softer grass; moreover, he was sensitive to the needs of each age group. As a result of his special sensitivity and compassion, David was chosen to shepherd the flock of Israel, as it is written, “He chose David, His servant, and took him from the sheep corrals. From behind the nursing ewes. He brought him, to shepherd Ya’acov, His people, and Israel, His inheritance” (Tehillim 78:70-71).

To Shepherd Emunah
Hevel did not shepherd in order to become rich or to eat the flesh or drink the milk of the sheep, but only for the sake of drawing close to Hashem (HaK’tav V’haKabbalah, Bereishit 4:2). The Torah often compares a person who sanctifies and purifies himself for the worship of Hashem to a flock of sheep, as in Song of Songs, “Like a flock of sheep that came out of the washing, all perfect…” (Shir HaShirim 6:6). Rashi explains that the sheep is completely holy, its wool is for techelet (The blue string in the tzitzit), its flesh for a sacrifice, its horns for shofars, its intestines for violins, its skin for drums. The flock of sheep is to the eyes of the shepherd a great reminder of the behavior of his soul. He learns from it that a person must likewise sanctify his entire body: 248 limbs and 365 sinews for the service of Hashem to be a holy vessel. Whoever puts his thought and concept to this matter is called a shepherd, as it states, “shepherd emunah” (Tehillim 37:3).

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Menorah Shaped Sheaves

Nature in the Parasha: Parashat Miketz
Hashem's Chanukia
“Pharaoh awoke He fell asleep and dreamed a second time seven sheaves of grain, healthy and good, grew on a single stalk” (Bereishit 41:5).

It is not by chance that we read about Pharaoh’s dreams during the Shabbat of Chanukah. There is an internal connection between the sheaves in Pharaoh’s dream and the Menorah. The words בְּקָנֶה אֶחָד/bekane echad – on a single stalk or branch are only mentioned twice in the entire Tanach. In our Torah portion and in the description of the Menorah: “Three cups made like almond-blossoms in one branch (בְּקָנֶה אֶחָד/bekane echad) a knop and a flower; and three cups made like almond-blossoms in the other branch, a knop and a flower. So for the six branches going out of the candlestick” (Shemot 37:19). This teaches us that the sheaves in Pharaoh’s dream and the Menorah are interconnected. The Menorah represents the light of Torah, whereas the sheaves represent sustenance. Both of these are interdependent as it states, “If there is no flour there is no Torah, without Torah there is no flour” (Pirkei Avot 3:17). Without Torah scholars, there would be no sustenance in the world (Chatam Sofer, Bereishit 41:5).

The numerical value of the word קָנֶה/kane (155) is the same as that of יוֹסֵף/Yosef (156) when you count the word itself as one. Yosef, who is the tzaddik that upholds the world, was able to unify Torah – the spiritual realm, with sustenance – the physical realm. He represents the kind of Jew who has the ability to truly learn Torah while also being involved in the physical world and making a decent living. Whereas Pharaoh dreamed only of the physical reality (cows and grain), Yosef’s dream included both the physical earthly and the heavenly spiritual realm (sheaves, and sun, moon and stars). Both of Yosef’s dreams conveyed the same message. This teaches us that Yosef had mastered to unify the earthly and heavenly realm. Not only did his work in the physical world not distract him from his spiritual Torah, his physical work itself was transformed to become heavenly Torah. For Pharaoh, in contrast, there was only one world – the world of cows and grain (2001 Chabad of California/www.LAchumash.org).

The Sheaves and the Chanukah Connection
Only the healthy and good sheaves grew on one stalk to teach us that health and satiation is light to the world (Ba’al Haturim, Bereishit 41:5). Does this mean that poor and hungry people bring darkness into the world? This doesn’t seem to make sense since many of our holy Rabbis and Rebbetzins are known to live in great poverty. The truth is that these holy tzaddikim (righteous people) always felt satisfied, in spite of lacking material comforts. “Who is rich? The person who is happy with his portion” (Pirkei Avot 4:1). When we keep ourselves healthy and happy with our portion no matter its size, then we bring light to the world. The Maccabees found only one small jug of pure oil. They could have dismissed it saying, “This is nothing, it is not enough for what we need.” Instead, they appreciated the little that they had, and Hashem expanded it to become the greatest light for all future generations. We, attract abundance to ourselves, when we look at the good that we have and thank Hashem for it like the simpleton in the famous Rebbi Nachman story: “The Sophisticated and the Simpleton.” On the other hand, if people who struggle financially look outside of themselves to see the greener grasses of others, then their sheaves grow even thinner. By comparing themselves to others, emphasizing the negative and indulging in their jealousies, they keep bringing darkness to themselves and the world. When we develop our awareness of how “everything emanate fromקָנֶה אֶחָד/kane echad”– one unified source, then we can accept our lot in life and rejoice. Chanukah is a time of bringing light to the world of darkness by appreciating our lot.

The Seven Sheaves, the Menorah and the Quill of Torah
Rabbi Natan of Breslau explains that Pharaoh’s two dreams allude to the destruction of our two Temples. The second dream about the seven sheaves, which refers to the destruction of the Second Temple, includes an allusion to the rectification of our current exile. The centerpiece of the dream: the קָנֶה/kane, which we have translated as ‘stalk’ and ‘branch’ can also refer to the quill with which the Oral Torah was written. It was only due to the destruction of the Second Temple and the subsequent scattering of the exiles, it became permitted to write down the Oral Torah, in order to save it from getting lost. The rectification for exile is specifically through writing holy books – an endless amount of books. This is the aspect of the six branches of the Menorah, which correspond to the Six Orders of the Mishnah. “They all illuminate the face of the Menorah” (Bamidbar 8:2), which is the seventh light – the aspect of Shabbat. The knobs, flowers and almond blossomed cups, which decorated the Menorah correspond to the amazing chidushim (new Torah insights). The knobs and flowers represent the different ways of expressing the light of the Torah in each of these holy books. The world needs several different amazing shades of Torah insight in order to reach and appeal to different kinds of personalities according to their place, time-period and background (Likutei Halachot, Orach Chayim, Hilchot Rosh Chodesh 6).

According to the Vilna Gaon there are seven kinds of wisdom in the world corresponding to the seven branches of the Menorah. Perhaps the flowers, knobs and cups which together amount to 49 represent the branching out of the seven wisdoms in the world. During Chanukah, we were able to retain the inner light of our Torah while simultaneously gaining the vessels – ways of expression, language, music, art, science etc., which the Greeks mastered. Perhaps we may venture to say that just as the lights of the Menorah represents the light of the Torah, the flowers, knobs and cups represent the vessels of expression. In order to spread the light of the Torah we need to write good and beautiful books that appeal to different kinds of people, books that will reach out to even those who are far away from the Torah path, and help light their path of return back home.

Ease or Effort?
Although both Pharaoh and Yosef dreamed about sheaves, Pharaoh dreamed only of the produce, whereas Yosef dreamed of the process and work. “We were binding sheaves in the field…” (Bereishit 37:7). Looking for the easy way out to get freebees without putting in effort never really get us anywhere. The desire to get by without hard work stem from our unholy side, where work and effort is not necessary. Furthermore, we should remember that anything we receive for ‘free’ will not endure. This is why the miracles of Chanukah didn’t just happen by themselves. The Maccabees did go to war and the Kohanim did kindle the small jug of oil, which they found after much effort of digging under the debris of the Greek garbage. This brings home the message that even when things seem hopeless, we need to try our very best, and then Hashem will reward our effort. In our instant-gratification-microwave culture, it is easy to be swayed away to purchase most everything ready-made. You can even buy the Chanukah menorah with ready-to-go Chanukah oil candles set up. Yes, we are all very busy; nevertheless, there is something precious about preparing our menorah before candle lighting, by pouring oil into a glass container; cutting the wick to size; inserting it in the oil, and then pronouncing the blessings and doing the lighting. The effort exerted to make things more precious.

Permanent versus Impermanent Existence according to the Level of Holiness
Since holiness possesses intrinsic existence – it exists for its own sake and therefore is permanent – while unholiness is only a temporary phenomenon, existing only to challenge holiness. Therefore, any regression that occurs in holiness is only apparent, paving the way for a subsequent ascent. This explains why the dreams of Yosef occurred as a progression: he first dreamed about earthly sheaves and then about the heavenly hosts. Likewise, in his first dream, individual stalks turned into sheaves that are more valuable. In contrast, the themes of Pharaoh's dreams occurred as a regression – first the higher life form of animal, followed by the lower life form of vegetation – even though temporally, the poor condition of the cows resulted from the poor condition of the grain.

Furthermore, each individual dream was about a regression – from healthy cows and grain to unhealthy – predicting an actual regression from years of plenty to years of famine. We can now understand that the reason for this difference in the dreams of Yosef and Pharaoh is that the nature of the unholy progressively diminish. Only that which is created through effort endures. Therefore, any change that occurs in holiness becomes an addition, a progression (Adapted from Likutei Sichot, vol. 3, 805-810, 820,822).

Prophetic Dream Elements

According to Malbim, Pharaoh’s second dream was the interpretation of his first dream, as the cows teaches about plowing and sowing, whereas the sheaves indicates the purpose which is harvesting. Pharaoh’s dream includes three conditions for true dreams, which are fulfilled:
1. The dream was repeated (the cows and the sheaves)
2. The dream was interpreted within the dream (for the sheaf-dream is the interpretation of the cow-dream).
3. “Pharaoh woke up and behold it was a dream” (Bereishit 41:7) – He didn’t feel it was a dream until he awoke, because the dream was crystal clear as if he was awake.

Exile, Redemption and the Unified Branches of the Menorah
It is good to dream of a קָנֶה/kane (stalk, branch or reed). Our Rabbis taught: If one sees a reed (קָנֶה/kane) in a dream, he may hope for chochma (wisdom), for it states, “Get קְנֵה /kane) chachmah” (Mishlei 4:5). If he sees several reeds, he may hope for binah (understanding), as it says, “With all your getting (קִנְיָנְךָ/kinyanecha) get (קְנֵה/k’ene) binah (Ibid. 7), (Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 56b). The word קָנֶה/kane is mentioned twice in Pharaohs dream, once in describing his dream (Bereishit 41:5), and second when he told his dream to Yosef (Ibid. 22). Does this mean that Pharaoh had both wisdom and understanding? No, on the contrary Egypt had lost their wisdom and understanding and especially the connection between them. Yet, Pharaoh’s dream alluded to the wisdom and understanding with which Yosef was able to rule over Egypt, for Yosef and קָנֶה/kane shares the same numerical value. Only Yosef understood that these two stalks alludes to the unification of chachma and binah, for in Egypt the connection between chachma and binah was disconnected as it is in most of the world today. וירא יעקב כי יש שבר במצרים/ V’yera Ya’acov ki yesh shever b’Mitzrayim – the word shever can mean either food or brokenness, thus the verse can be translated as “Ya’acov saw that there was brokenness in Egypt” (Bereishit 42:1). The word יש/yesh – “there is” has the numerical value of 310 2 x 155 the gematria of קָנֶה/kane. Since two stalks corresponds to both chachma and binah, this verse alludes to the disconnection (שבר/shever) between the wisdom and understanding in Egypt. This alludes to the lack of unity in the world during exile (Yesharesh Ya’acov, Egypt). Redemption is a result of the unification between wisdom and understanding, the right and left-brain, the sun and the moon, the masculine and feminine energies. Once we learn to make this integration, which Yosef mastered, then the lights of the branches of the Menorah to its left and right be unified by the בְּקָנֶה אֶחָד/bekane echad – middle branch shining brightly in our eternal Temple.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Grapevine Dream

Nature in the Parasha: Parashat Vayeshev 
Rebbetzin's Grapevine
As we move deeper into the month of Kislev the images of our dreams become more vivid. Parashat Vayeshev includes no less than four dreams, Yosef’s two dreams, which caused him to go down into Egypt, and the dream of the baker and the butler, which eventually brought him out of prison. Finally, in the following Parasha Yosef becomes Pharaoh’s right-hand man by means of his dream interpretation. A dream can reveal to us our innermost thoughts, our aspirations or our fears (Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 55b). A dream can bring us a message of future blessing or of impending doom. A dream can reveal or explain to us thoughts that have not yet congealed in consciousness. The language of dreams follows a language of pictures, rather than one of words. Picture language is the primordial form of human communication. This week’s parasha includes a dream interpretation of a grapevine dream. One of the themes in my new book The Seven Fruits of the Land of Israel with their Mystical & Medicinal Properties is the Talmudic interpretation of dreaming of each of the Seven Species. Such a dream is always a good dream. The dream imagery of the beautiful grapes is very rich. It is associated with fertility and redemption. Grapes are so beautiful, delicious and nutritious.

The Jewish People – Hashem’s Grapevine
The Jewish people is compared to the grapevine. We, as vines, are vulnerable and delicate. However, just as the humble vines produce sumptuous fruit, so, too, does the Jewish nation bear fruit through our performance of mitzvot and Torah study. The grapevine is the centerpiece of my newest book, where I link each of the Seven Species with one of the seven emotional sefirot. Grapes are associated with Tiferet – the middle sefirah of balance, harmony and beauty. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. In Hashem’s eyes, the Torah and the Jewish people embody the greatest beauty in the world. Therefore, the children of Israel are compared to grapes, and G-d to the owner of the vineyard. “I found Israel like the grapes in the wilderness…” (Hoshea 9:10). Malbim explains that when Hashem found Israel, in the desert, they were as dear in His eyes as someone who finds grapes – the most important fruit – in the wilderness, where nothing grows. Just as grapes do not receive grafting, so was Israel in the wilderness pure, holy and careful to avoid immorality. The grapevine, with its beautiful clusters of grapes and foliage, symbolizes the importance of all the different segments of Israel. The children of Israel are like a grapevine. Its branches are the aristocracy, its clusters the scholars, its leaves the common people and its tendrils those in Israel that are void of learning. This is what was meant when word was sent from there, “Let the clusters pray for mercy for the leaves, for were it not for the leaves, the clusters could not exist” (Babylonian Talmud, Chulin 92a). The harmony between the Torah scholars and the common people finds its expression in the grapevine, whose leaves cover the fruit clusters, in the same manner that the common people cover and protect the Torah scholars. Grape juice resemble blood. May the recently spilled blood of our righteous Torah scholars help unify our fragmented people!

Dreaming of a Grapevine
Why did the butler deserve a good dream interpretation when he was a wicked person who completely forgot about Yosef as soon as he was released from prison? (Bereishit 40:23). Why should he merit a more fortunate interpretation than his poor friend the baker? The answer can be found in the grapevine metaphor about which he dreamed. The Talmud teaches, “He who sees a grapevine laden with fruit in a dream, his wife will never miscarry, as it says, ‘Your wife is a fruitful vine…’ One who beholds a branch of a grapevine in a dream, should look forward to seeing Mashiach, as it states, ‘He shall tie his donkey to a small grapevine, and to a branch of a grapevine, his donkey’s foal’” (Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 57a). Yosef – the master dreamer and dream interpreter understood right away from the symbolism of the grapevine to interpret the butler’s dream for good. Yosef also understood that besides the good message of freedom from prison for the dreamer, the grapevine, in the butlers dream, alluded to the future redemption of the Jewish people.

Talmudic Grape Imagery

Here is the full description of the dream that the butler related to Yosef. “‘In my dream,’ he said, ‘there was a grapevine right there in front of me. The vine had three branches. As soon as its buds formed, its blossoms bloomed, and its clusters ripened into grapes. I was holding Pharaoh’s wine cup in my hand. I took a cluster of grapes and squeezed the juice into the cup. Then I placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand’” (Bereishit 40:10-11). In the Taste of Kabbalah section of my book, I explain how the allegory of the grapevine represents G-d’s final goal of Creation. When the grapevine is analogous to the Jewish people, its three branches correspond to our holy fathers, Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’acov, who fulfilled Hashem’s purpose of creation. Therefore, splinters of their souls reincarnate in every generation. The Talmud teaches, “In the vine were three branches…” Rav Chiya ben Abba said in the name of Rav, “These are the three men of excellence that come forth in Israel in every generation…” Rabbi Eliezer said, “‘The vine’ is the world. The ‘three branches’ are [the patriarchs] Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’acov. ‘It was as though it budded, and its blossoms shot forth’ – these are the matriarchs. ‘Its clusters brought forth ripe grapes’ – these are the tribes.” Rabbi Yehoshua said to him, “‘The vine’ is the Torah. The ‘three branches’ are Moshe, Aharon and Miriam. ‘And as it was budding its blossoms shot forth’ – these are [the members of] the Sanhedrin.” Rabbi Elazar the Modiite said, “‘The vine’ is Jerusalem. The ‘three branches’ are the Temple, the King and the Kohen Gadol. ‘And it was as though it budded, and its blossoms shot forth’ – these are the young kohanim. ‘Its clusters brought forth ripe grapes’ – these are the drink offerings” (Babylonian Talmud, Chulin 92a).

The Grapevine of Redemption
In summary the Talmud compares the grapevine to the four main entities of creation:
1. Israel is compared to a grapevine, as it states, “…and on the grapevine there were three branches.” These are the three men of excellence that come forth in Israel in every generation. They are the sparks of the three fathers that reincarnate in every generation.
2. The world is compared to a grapevine.
3. The Torah is compared to a grapevine.
4. Jerusalem and the Temple are compared to a grapevine.

All of the four interpretations of the metaphor are interconnected and lead to one another. Hashem created the world for the sake of the Torah and for the sake of the people of Israel (Rashi, Bereishit 1:1), who will fulfill the Torah in the world and specifically in the Land of Israel. Hashem renewed the Creation of the world by means of the miracles that took place during the Exodus, in order to free His people Israel to serve Him by keeping the Torah, and its mitzvot. It is impossible to keep all of the Torah on foreign soil, as some mitzvot are dependent on the Land of Israel. G-d, therefore, led us to the Holy Land. We drink four cups of wine during the Seder on the first night of Pesach. The first three cups correspond to the Jewish people, the world, and the Land of Israel respectively. The last cup, which we drink following the Hallel prayer of praise, opens with requesting that Hashem deliver us for the sake of His great name. This cup corresponds to the Torah, for its inner level, without the current spaces between the words, consists of various combinations of the letters of G-d’s Holy Names (Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac Chaver, Yad Mitzrayim p. 137). Rabbeinu Bachaya also notes that the word כּוֹס/kos – cup is mentioned exactly four times in our parasha corresponding to the four cups at the Pesach Seder. In order to live safely in our land, we – the Jewish people – need to live and keep the Torah & mitzvot here so that we will merit the rebuilding of the Temple in Yerushalayim and our complete redemption. When we grow into becoming the grapevine we are meant to be, this will benefit the entire world and bring about peace and prosperity.

The Rectified Grapevine
The children of Israel are selected to rectify the entire world, which sank into global immorality as a consequence of eating from the forbidden Tree. It is known that the Tree of Knowledge was a grapevine and through eating its fruit all the souls fell into the shells. Corresponding to the 130 years that Adam separated from Chava and spilled seed after eating from the Tree, Ya’acov was 130 years old when he went down to Egypt. For Ya’acov came to rectify Adam by means of his 12 holy tribes – the children of Israel. He therefore went down into Egypt with 70 souls – the numerical value of יין/yayin – wine (Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac Chaver, Beit Olamim 134b).

The Kuzari compares the prosperity of Israel to a vineyard. In order for the vineyard to flourish, you need first of all the perfect grapevines. These correspond to the Jewish people – the chosen people, who are compared to the perfect seed. In order to produce good grapes you also need proper cultivation – composting, watering, weeding etc. This parallels keeping of the Torah & the mitzvot, including the special mitzvot of the Land. Just as the vineyard will produce the finest most succulent fruits when they grow in their optimal land with the best climatic conditions, so will the people of Israel only fulfill their potential completely when safely rooted in our holy land (The Kuzari, 2:11-12).

The Ben Ish Chai writes that the three vine branches described in the butler’s dream represent the three ingredients necessary to properly perform Hashem’s mitzvot. We must dedicate our thought, speech and actions to serve Hashem. If any one of these three elements is lacking, so, too, will our devotion to G-d be lacking. Let us work on balancing the different faculties of our being that were damaged by means of eating from the Tree, in order to grow fully into the holy rectified ‘grapevine’ we are meant to be!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Weeping Oak

Nature in the Parasha: Parashat Yayislach
One of our recent donors placed an interesting note with his donation “please name the next exotic plant you plant in your greenhouse after me.” I bless this donor to live until 120 so it will be a long time until we can name any exotic plant after him! Whereas I have not found any sources in the Torah for the beautiful custom to plant a tree in the honor of the birth of a child, in this week’s Parasha we find a source for naming a tree after the passing of a dear one.

Ya’acov was on his way back home after having been away from his parents for 34 years, 14 in Yeshiva and 20 years in Lavan’s house in Padan Aram (Rashi, Bereishit 28:9). He left home because of his mother’s advice. Rivkah knew that Esau planned to kill Ya’acov. She, therefore, told him to get away and escape to her brother Lavan immediately, until Esau’s anger would abate. Then she would send for him to return (Bereishit 27:42-45). After all these years of waiting, Rivkah’s old wet-nurse Devorah finally reached Ya’acov to inform him that Rivkah had sent her to tell him that is was now safe to return home. With longing and excitement, Ya’acov gathered his four wives and eleven children together to finally return home to reunite with his dear parents. On the way Rivkah’s old nurse Devorah died (Bereishit 35:8), and Ya’acov was notified of an even sadder event – the death of his dear mother (Rashi, ibid.). With tears streaming down his cheeks, while burying Devorah, he mourned profusely for his mother whose funeral he was unable to attend. Thereupon, he named the oak beneath which Devorah was buried the Weeping Oak to memorialize both of these two holy women (Ramban ibid.).

Why does the Torah make no explicit mention of Rivkah's death, while publicizing the death of her maidservant Devorah? What is the significance of this mysterious Devorah who is unexpectedly introduced only at the time of her death? Moreover, why did Hashem arrange that the tidings of Rivkah's death reached Ya’acov at the same time as the mourning for Devorah? Was Rivkah not deserving of her own separate period of mourning? Why name the place the “Weeping Oak or ‘Tree of Cryings?”

Blessings of Consolation

“But Devorah, Rivkah’s nurse died, and she was buried beneath Beit El, under the oak, and he called the name אַלּוֹן בָּכוּת/Alon Bachut (Weeping Oak). Thereupon G-d revealed himself to Ya’acov again when he came from Padam Aram and he blessed him” (Bereishit 35:8-9). Which blessing did Hashem bless Ya’acov with at this time? Rivkah had promised Ya’acov “Then I will send and fetch you from there” (Ibid. 27:45). She sent Devorah to him in Padam Aram to tell him to leave that place, and she died on the return journey. ‘Alon’ is the name of the plain of Beit El. ‘Alon’ also means ‘another’ in Greek. The agaddah states that there he received news of another mourning, for he was informed that his mother had died… but Scripture doesn’t make open mention of her death” (Rashi). It makes sense that Ya’acov called the name ‘Weeping Oak’ as a memorial for his mother’s death, for why would he be weeping for the old nursemaid? Yet, Ya’acov cried and mourned for his righteous mother, who loved him and sent him away to protect him, but didn’t merit to see him return. Therefore, G-d revealed himself to Ya’acov and blessed him to comfort him from his mourning over his mother as the Midrash explains that Hashem’s blessing here was the blessing for the mourner. Similarly, Hashem also blessed Yitzchak after Avraham’s death (Bereishit 25:11), with the blessing of consolation given to mourners (Babylonian Talmud, Sotah 14a). A support for the fact that Rivkah had passed on is the verse further on which states, “Ya’acov came to Yitzchak his father, to Mamrei, Kiriat Arbah” ( Ibid. 35:27). Had Rivkah been there it would have mentioned that he returned to both his father and his mother, as it was Rivkah who sent him to Padan Aram, and caused him all his blessings (Ramban, Bereishit 35:8). I found it so beautiful to learn how Hashem is always with us in our greatest pain. When we are in mourning, we can always find comfort in Hashem’s presence, which reveals Himself to the mourner to bless him or her with blessings of consolation.

Envisioning the Greatness of the Matriarch Rivkah – Through Devorah
Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann notes the peculiarity of how the Torah doesn’t mention Devorah except for here, at her death. There is no doubt that Devorah was a righteous woman to merit being Rivkah’s wet-nurse. We can imagine how difficult it must have been for Ya’acov to raise his family in Padan Aram, far away from his parents and birthplace in the Land of Israel. Ya’acov surely missed no opportunity to tell his children (and wives) about his parents. Especially since the only grandparents his children had ever known were Lavan and his wife, who were far from being the kind of role-models Ya’acov envisioned for his children. After having heard about them for so many years, we can imagine the anticipation of Ya’acov’s family to one-day meet Yitzchak and Rivkah. When they were finally on their way home, they looked forward to soon having the opportunity to meet their holy grandparents face to face. Then, suddenly, their anticipation was shattered when the news of Rivkah's death arrived. Ya’acov's family were crushed when they realized that they would never will have the opportunity to meet their amazing matriarch and receive her guidance and blessings. Thus Hashem arranged that at least they would have the opportunity to get to know Rivkah's wet-nurse, who herself was a stronghold of piety and strength. Although Devorah does not even reach Rivkah’s ankles, at the very least Ya’acov's family could, through Devorah, grasp a remote spark of what must have been the greatness of Ya’acov’s illustrious mother. This is the 'double mourning' to which Rashi refers. While crying over the righteous wet-nurse Devorah, Ya’acov took the opportunity to open the eyes of his family and awaken their hearts to what kind of person Rivkah was. They could remotely imagine what a person she must have been to have had such a maidservant!

The Tree of Trusting
Although the Hebrew word אַלּוֹן/Alon usually is translated to mean ‘oak,’ it can also refer to just a tree similar to the word אִילָן/ilan. Our rabbis even say that it was actually a date-palm. When it states five hundred years later about Devorah, the prophetess, that she sat under the date-palm of Devorah it was the same Tree of Cryings for Devorah, Rivkah’s nursemaid (Da’at Zekeinin, of Ba’alei Tosfot). The fact that both trees are mentioned as being near Beit El serves as a support for linking the Tree of Cryings for Devorah and Rivkah with the date- palm of Devorah (Abarbanel, Shoftim 4). About Devorah it states, “She dwelled under the palm tree of Devora between Rama and Beit E-l…” (Shoftim 4:5), and “Devorah, Rivkah’s nurse died, and she was buried beneath Beit E-l, under the oak…” (Bereishit 35:8). The word ‘E-l’ furthermore is one of Hashem’s names, which means Divine Power. It is interesting to note that the word ‘Alon’ – a strong powerful tree – shares the same root as the word ‘E-l.’ Perhaps the message of this tree, which spans more than five-hundred years, comes to connect both Ya’cov and the generation of Shoftim with the strength of G-d. On his way home, Hashem has to command Ya’acov to return to Beit E-l (Bereishit 35:1), in spite of the fact that Ya’acov himself had promised to stop in Beit E-l on his return trip (Bereishit 28:22). The midrash explains that Hashem had to command him because he was tarrying (Midrash Bereishit Rabbah 81). Perhaps Ya’aov was delaying out of fear. From all the patriarchs Ya’aov was the most fearful. The word ‘fear’ is related to Ya’acov about ten times in the Bible. Surely, Ya’acov had what to fear. He was justifiably worried about the Shechem aftermath and about the Canaanite people. He had already suffered twenty years of Lavan. During the period of the Judges, Barak was likewise fearful, hesitant and overwhelmed by the military threats of the surrounding enemies. Devorah aroused him to look beyond the 900 armored chariots and trust in Hashem. She delivered the following message, when our internal world is in order, the external world will take care of itself. Empowered by Devorah’s words, Barak delivers a crushing blow to Yavin, the Canaanite king (Shoftim 4:23).

From Devorah to Devorah
Rabbi Asher Brander explains the link between the date palm of Devorah, which imbued her with trust in Hashem, and the Tree of Crying for Devorah, Rivkah’s nursemaid. The first time we hear about Rivkah’s nursemaid is when Rivkah left her home to become Yitzchak’s wife. Her family then “sent Rivkah their sister and her nursemaid” to accompany her (Bereishit 24:59). Devorah witnessed Rivkah’s departure from home and her destiny towards greatness. She heard the message [ironically delivered by Lavan] that we impart to our brides until today: “Our sister, you shall be great and your children shall conquer the gate of your enemies.” (Ibid. 60). Devorah understood the importance of first becoming great internally in order to afterwards conquer the enemies externally. Devorah witnessed how her Rivkah’le grew into a matriarch. She helped raise Ya’acov who became a patriarch in his own right – father of numerous tribes. Devorah is, therefore, most suitable to impart Rivkah’s message to Ya’acov: “Don’t worry about the outside. When you ensure that the children of Israel are internally great, then, you can conquer your enemies.” This is the message of the Tree with its roots strongly planted in Beit E-l – the house of G-d. Sitting in judgment under this selfsame tree, Devorah, the prophetess, learns this inspirational message from Devorah, the nursemaid, which she then imparts to Barak. The message of emphasizing the internal aspect of trusting in Hashem is alluded to in the name Beit E-l, as the word ‘Beit’ means ‘house’ or ‘inside,’ and the word E-l means strenght, so Beit E-l literally means: “There is strength inside.” Moreover, the numerical value of בָּכוּת/Bachut – 428 is the same as that of וּבֵיתְךָ/u’Beitecha – “and your home.” It also shares the same numerical value and even the exact same letters as that of the word בְּתוֹךְ /betoch – inside. Women are always linked with the home (see for example Mishnah Yoma 1:1). Women are connected with the inner aspect, “The honor of a king’ daughter is her innerness” (Tehillim 45:14). Therefore, women are the mistresses of the truth of how the internal aspect supersedes the external, which demonstrates the importance of strengthening ourselves in emunah and trusting in Hashem. This is the eternal motherly message transmitted from Devorah to Devorah.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Haftorah Commentaries

Easy access links to Rebbetzin Chana Bracha's weekly Haftorah Commentaries:

The Book of Bereshit
Parashat Bereshit: The Holy Women who Protect Israel
Parashat Noach: Parshat Noach and Blessing in Disguise
Parashat Lech Lecha: Physical and Spiritual Renewal 
Parashat Vayeira: The Power of Women’s Emunah
Parashat Chayei Sarah: Developing our Feminine Attribute of Binah
Parashat Toldot: The “Esavs” and the “Ya’acovs” of Today
Parashat Vayetze: Ya’acov’s Toil to Deserve His Wives
Parashat Vayishlach: The Secret Power of Shema Yisrael
Parashat Vayeshev: Sisterly Sensitivity
Parashat Miketz (Chanukah): Sing and Rejoice, Daughter of Zion!
Parashat Vayigash: The Path to Peace and Redemption
Parashat Vayechi: The Bridge Between Life and Death


The Book of Shemot
Parashat Shemot: On the Verge of Redemption
Parashat Va'era: Our Actions Today Empower the Future
Parashat Bo: Hashem’s Feminine In-dwelling Presence
Parashat Beshalach: Devorah: "A Woman of Flames"
Parashat Yitro: (at present there is no commentary for this week)
Parashat Mishpatim: Overcoming Negative Patterns and Addiction
Parashat Terumah:(at present there is no commentary for this week)
Parashat Tetzaveh: The Power of Visualization
Parashat Ki Tisa:(at present there is no commentary for this week)
Parashat Vayakel - Pekudei: (at present there is no commentary for this week)

Parashat Shabbat Shekelim: Haftorat Shabbat Shekalim
Shabbat before or on Rosh Chodesh Nissan: Haftorat HaChodesh

The Book of Vayikra
Parashat Vayikra: Praising Hashem Through Song
Parashat Tzav:(at present there is no commentary for this week)
Parashat Shemini: The Dance of David
Parashat Tazria-Metzora: Reaching Perfection in Speech
Parashat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim: To Plant and Be Planted
Parashat Emor: The Power of Challah
Parashat Behar: Redeeming the Land – The Extension of Our Soul
Parashat Bechukotai/Behar-Bechukotai: Hashem's Miracles in Our Time


The Book of Bamidbar
Parashat Bamidbar: Hashem's Eternal Bond to Us
Parashat Naso: Hidden Lessons from a Hidden Woman
Parashat Beha’alotcha: Sing and Rejoice Daughter of Zion!
Parashat Shlach L’chah:The Ability to Completely Turn Life Around
Parashat Korach: The Feminine Role in Establishing True Kingdom
Parashat Chukat: The Pilegesh in Our Times
Parashat Balak: Walk Modestly with Your G-d
Parashat Pinchas: Soul Reincarnations
Parashat Matot: Monogamy – Reflecting Hashem’s Relationship with His People
Parashat Masai (Matot/Masai): The Way to Redemption Paved by the Jewish Family

 
The Book of Devarim
Parashat Devarim: The Shabbat of Vision
Parashat Va’etchanan: The Inner Lights of Tu b'Av
Parashat Eikev: Hashem - “He” or “She” or both?
Parashat Re’eh: The Stones of the Holy Tribes
Parashat Shoftim: Tapping into Hashem’s Comforting Energy
Parashat Ki Tetze: The Barren Woman Bursts Out in Song
Parashat Ki Tavo: Believe in Your Hidden Powers and Spiritual Grandeur!
Parashat Nitzavim: Dancing on the Bridge of Redemption
Parashat Vayelech:(at present there is no commentary for this week)
Parashat Ha'azinu: (at present there is no commentary for this week)


Special Haftorot
Preparing for Purim: Haftorat Parashat Zachor  
Haftorat Parashat Parah
Before or on Rosh Chodesh Nissan: Haftorat HaChodesh
Chanukah: Sing and Rejoice, Daughter of Zion!
Shabbat Teshuva (the Shabbat between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur) "Repairing the Gaps"

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Secret of the Dudaim Deal

Nature in the Parasha: Parashat Vayetze
Dudaim from Israel (photo from Dudaim.net)
Desirable Dudaim Flowers
The Dudaim – the love flowers or mandrakes appear mysteriously in Parashat Vayetze as they became subject of a bizarre businesslike transaction between Rachel and Leah. All the Torah mentions about the Dudaim is that Reuven found them in the field and brought them to his mother. When Rachel asked for some of them, Leah scolded her. After Rachel had appeased her, and offered her night with Ya’acov as an exchange, Leah gave all of the Dudaim to Rachel. If we assume that Rachel desired the Dudaim because of their possible fertility effects, then she wasted her effort in acquiring them, as they didn’t make her pregnant. On the other hand, Leah, who ended up without any of the Dudaim, became pregnant and gave birth to Yissachar and Zevulun for Ya’acov. Here is the full story as it appears in the Torah.

Reuven went in the days of wheat harvest, and found mandrakes in the field, and brought them unto his mother Leah. Then Rachel said to Leah: ‘Give me, please, some of your son’s mandrakes.’ Leah replied: ‘Is it not enough that you have taken away my husband? You also want to take away my son’s mandrakes?’ Rachel said: ‘Therefore, he shall lie with you tonight in exchange for your son’s mandrakes. When Ya’acov came from the field in the evening, Leah went out to meet him, and said: ‘You must come to me; for I have surely hired you with my son’s mandrakes.’ He lay with her that night and G-d listened to Leah, and she conceived, and bore Ya’acov a fifth son. Then Leah said: ‘G-d has given me my reward, because I gave my handmaid to my husband, and she called his name Yissachar. Leah conceived again, and bore a sixth son to Ya’acov. Leah said: ‘G-d has endowed me with a good dowry; now my husband will dwell with me, because I have born him six sons.’ And she called his name Zevulun” (Bereishit 30:14-20).

What is the secret of the mysterious Dudaim flowers and why did Rachel desire them so much?

Fertility Remedy or Ecstasy Love-enhancing Drug?
Rashi has only very little to say about the identity of the Dudaim. He classifies them as weeds free for all to take, yet he also identifies them as violets called jasmine in Arabic. Ibn Ezra adds, based on the Targum, that the Dudaim are flowers with a good scent, as it states, “The Dudaim give off their fragrance” (Shir HaShirim 7:14). They have the shape of a person with head and hands. He ponders that it doesn’t make sense that they are beneficial for conceiving since they are of a cold nature. Why would Leah mind sharing those unimportant common weeds found in the field with her sister? Why would Rachel give up her night with her husband for the sake of these insignificant Dudaim? According to Ramban, Rachel did not desire the Dudaim for their fertility effect, as she understood that conception depends more on prayer than on medicine. Perhaps, the healing effect of the Dudaim may be their ability to bring about love between people, kind of like a natural ecstasy drug. This is why Reuven, who knew that Ya’acov mainly loved Rachel, brought the Dudaim to Leah, in order to bring his mother close to his father. This also explains Leah’s strange reaction, “Is it not enough that you have taken my husband? You also want to take away my son’s mandrakes?” She meant to say, “Is it not enough that Ya’acov has established his dwelling with you, and is always with you? Now you also want my son’s Dudaim to gain even more of Ya’acov’s love, so he will spend even more time with you!” In other words, “You don’t need these Dudaim, since you already have Ya’acov’s love (Be’er Mayim Chaim). The Hebrew word דּוּדָאִים/Dudaim shares the same root as דוֹד/dod – the Hebrew word for love or lover. This supports the connection between them.

Trading the Love of Their Husband
Why would Rachel, Ya’acov’s beloved favorite wife need a remedy that would attract Ya’acov’s love? Although Ya’acov’s bed was permanently set up in Rachel’s tent, she felt Ya’acov’s love drifting away from her and gradually gravitating more towards Leah. Due to being barren, Rachel felt pushed aside to a certain extent. She, therefore, desired to regain Ya’acov’s love through the Dudaim, in order that her love would be equal to that of her sister, who bore Ya’acov sons. This is why she requested some of the love flowers. She only asked for some of the Dudaim and not all the Dudaim, for all she wanted was to be loved equally to Leah. Realizing that Leah wouldn’t give her the Dudaim for free, she preferred trading one night with Ya’acov in order to become more beloved in the long run. However, it would only be a fair that she give up her night with the tzaddik in exchange for all of the Dudaim, Neither Rachel nor Leah intended these matters according to their superficial understanding. Our holy mother’s did not care about the trivial matters of this world. Their true intentions were to make mystical yichudim – unifications between the upper and the lower worlds (Be’er Mayim Chaim).

The Dudaim – Outweighing Two Tribes and Burial in the Machpelah
What are the consequences of Rachel’s trading her night with Ya’acov? THEREFORE HE SHAL LIE WITH YOU THIS NIGHT – “It was my night to be with him, but I give it to you in return for your son’s Dudaim.” Because she thought lightly of sleeping with so righteous a man, she was not privileged to be buried with him (Rashi, Bereishit 30:15). Rachel gave up one night with Ya’acov for the sake of the Dudaim, and lost her merit of eternal burial with him. “Rabbi Eliezer says, they both lost, and they both gained. Leah lost the Dudaim but gained two tribes and the burial (in Machpelah). Rachel gained the Dudaim but lost the tribes and the burial… “(Midrash Shir HaShirim Rabbah 7:20). As a result of the Dudaim trade, Leah gained two extra tribes and thus gave birth to six of the twelve tribes, leaving only two tribes for Rachel, and she merited to be buried with Ya’acov. Rachel lost all of the above, but she gained the Dudaim. It seems that the Midrash equalizes the value of the Dudaim with two extra tribes and eternal burial with Ya’acov in the Machpelah cave. What is the big deal about the Dudaim that they outweigh two tribes and burial in the Machpelah? Have you ever heard about anyone making this kind of exchange? How can this tremendous loss be balanced against the gain of these simple Dudaim weeds?

First Fruit of Hashem’s People
“Reuven went… found …and brought.” Why didn’t the Torah simply state, “Reuven went in the time of wheat harvest and found Dudaim in the field?” Rav Eliyahu Kitov explains that Reuven was four years old, “and went” – in the ways of the fathers of the world who strove to rectify the sin of Adam. The three Patriarchs paved the way for progressing in holiness. Reuven, the first son of their accumulated efforts was worthy to walk in the way of his Fathers when he became four years old. Reuven is the first plant of Hashem’s people. The holiness of the first three years of the life of a tree is not yet available in its fruits (orlah). Likewise, the three first years we knew nothing about Reuven; his world opens only in his fourth year. Reuven’s deed praises Hashem; therefore, the Torah mentions every one of his moves. A little deed in purity is dearer to Hashem than the greatest accomplishment, which is not totally pure.

The Pure Act of Giving to His Mother
The home of Ya’acov, our Father, was empty. There was nothing there except that which Lavan would give with his stingy hand. Ya’acov’s children didn’t complain. The little bread with salt, which they honestly earned was dearer to them than all the pleasures of the world. Those who seek Hashem do not desire extras in this world. They are happy with their portion. Reuven, the oldest of the sons was hungry. There was nothing to eat at home, so he went to the field. “It was the days of the wheat harvest.” In contrast to the emptiness of his home, the field was bursting with wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates and more. The soul of the young boy desired them all. However, he had no right to any of them. The field belonged to his miserly uncle Lavan, and whoever even tastes a small bite without permission is a thief. However, the Dudaim are weeds that grow by themselves, they are hefker – belonging to whoever finds them. Although nobody planted or tended the Dudaim, they were a desirable sight with their tempting orange fruits with their delicious scent. Reuven wanted to grab some of them for himself but instead, “He brought them to Leah his mother.” He didn’t even save any for himself. – “My mother should be the first to enjoy the pleasure. She is stuck in the house with the little ones. “I found the Dudaim, but what about my mother? Let me bring them to her. She brought me to the world; I owe my soul to her!” The eye of flesh and blood cannot see or understand what was going on in Reuven’s pure heart, when he performed the first deed of his greatness. Only Hashem tests our heart and knows. Therefore, it is written in the Torah, “And he went, and he found, and he brought.”

Repairing the First Act of Stealing in the World
Reuven’s deed is contrasted to that of Adam and Chava in the Garden. Why does the Torah tell us that Reuven picked the Dudaim in the time of the wheat harvest? “To tell the praise of the tribes, that it was the harvest time and he did not stretch his hands out in robbery to bring wheat and barley, rather only a hefker matter which people don’t care about” (Rashi, Bereishit 30:14). What kind of praise is it to state that the holy tribes are not thieves? This alludes to the rectification of the first act of stealing in the world. Adam and Chava were alone in the world; everything in the Garden of Eden was theirs. Only one tree was withheld from them. They desired it and took what was not theirs. At that moment, they descended from their previous greatness and never ascended again. After 20 generations, one family spun a thread from three strands that will never be broken. Reuven, the first fruit of this family, rectified their sin. Nothing in the whole world belonged to him except for one weed. He held it in his hand and desired it, but did not taste it although he saw that it was good, because the tzaddikim do not stretch out their hands in robbery.

Rectifying Eating from the Tree of Knowledge
The gematria of חטא עץ הדעת טוב ורע/chet etz hada’at tov v’ra – The sin of the Tree of Knowledge Good and Evil is the same as וַיִּמְצָא דוּדָאִים בַּשָּׂדֶה וַיָּבֵא אֹתָם אֶל לֵאָה/v’yimtza Dudaim b’sadeh v’yave otam el Leah – “He found Dudaim in the field and he brought them to Leah.” The greatness of this act is depicted on the flag of Reuven in the form of a picture of the Dudaim. The good scent of the Dudaim, furthermore, attest to their rectifying the Tree of Knowledge, as this was the only sense not engaged in the sin of eating from the Tree. When Reuven brought the Dudaim to Leah his mother, she knew what he had brought her. The fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, transformed in the hand of her son to the fruit of the Tree of Life. Could Leah have brought Ya’acov a gift greater than this?

The Selfless Giving of a Mother
All Rachel cared about was to make Ya’acov happy. He was also a mother even before she had sons. When it states, “Rachel is crying for her children” (Yirmeyahu 31:14), it doesn’t refer only to Yosef and Binyamin. All the twelve tribes are her sons. Even the barren women can be mothers. Rachel, our Mother, was a mother even before she gave birth to the fruits of her own womb. A mother is someone who gives everything she has to another. Rachel gave even motherhood to her sister in her great mercy. She had worked so hard on herself to accept that her womb was closed. To reach a place within herself where she was happy for the tribes born to Ya’acov, even if they weren’t fruits of her own womb. She did not desire the blessings of the other wives of Ya’acov for herself. Because of her happiness for the children of Ya’acov’s other wives, she is considered the mother of all his children. Therefore, Reuven’s act of making his mother happy belonged to Rachel. Even her request of the Dudaim was an act of giving, “Therefore you will sleep with him tonight…” – “Please merit two extra tribes and burial at the Machpeleh with Ya’acov. May what is yours be yours, and also mine be yours.” Because of her selfless giving, all the glory of Reuven’s Dudaim goes to Rachel.

Rectifying Esau’s Selling His Birthright
Now we begin to understand the value of the Dudaim and what they represent. Leah gained the tribes and the burial in the Machpelah but lost the Dudaim. They are not called in her name but in the name of Rachel, for she was the mother of the mothers. The deed of Rachel parallels Reuven’s deed of rectifying eating from the Tree. All she cared about was giving pleasures to others without taking for herself. She cared more about the long-term result, than instant gratification. She gave up quantity for quality. Rachel wanted to unify with Ya’acov in the highest deepest way. For this she was willing to sacrifice everything to her sister. What was important to Leah, on the other hand, was to use every single opportunity and each current moment to serve Hashem. If she had an opportunity now to serve Hashem, she would do it promptly and willingly without thinking about the future consequences. The approaches of the two sisters represent two legitimate Torah paths. Both of the sisters acted out of love. Through the Dudaim deal they were doing a replay of the selling of the birthright. Leah’s selling of the Dudaim enacts a tikun (rectification) for Esau’s selling his firstborn right. Esau said, “Behold I am going to die, so what is this birthright to me” (Bereishit 25:32). He despised his future spiritual opportunity in order to indulge in physical pleasures. Leah took Esau’s cleaving to the present moment for the sake of taking instant gratification for himself and raised it up to become cleaving to the present for the sake of giving Hashem gratification by serving him. Esau was asking for הָאָדֹם הָאָדֹם הַזֶּה /ha’adom ha’adom haze – “this red, red.” The word אָדֹם/adom has all the letters of the word דוּדָאִים /dudaim. The additional letters of Dudaim are יַד/yad –The hand – with which you can either take or give! By giving Rachel the Dudaim in order to perform a mitzvah with her husband that night, Leah rectified Esau’s sin of relinquishing his birthright and spiritual future, through his desire for instant physical gratification. Rachel, too, had part of this rectification, by giving up everything for her sister, even the extra tribes and burial for the sake of giving pleasure to Ya’acov.

The Dudaim Deal and David’s Mother
An additional secret can be gleaned from the word דוּדָאִים /dudaim, you can unscramble this word to become אם דָּוִיד/im David – meaning the condition of David. Through the Dudaim Deal, David and the Mashiach were conceived. Another way to read the same words is Em David – the Mother of David. Through the Dudaim exchange, Rachel became the mother spiritual mother of David. Now we can finally answer our original question, what is the big deal about the Dudaim? How can they outweigh two extra tribes and burial with Ya’acov in the Machpelah? While Leah gained these abovementioned blessings, Rachel gained the merit of becoming the spiritual mother of David and the Mashiach. In Rachel’s merit Hashem will ingather the exiles and bring the redemption (Midrash Eichah Rabbah, Introduction 24).

May it be speedily in our days!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Re-digging the Wells of Tradition

Nature in the Parasha: Parashat Toldot 
Parashat Toldot tells the story of Yitzchak. Yitzchak’s life is linked deeply to the concept of wells from the time when Rivkah became his wife on account of her kindness at the well. Yitzchak was perpetually involved in re-digging his father’s wells, removing the dirt and pebbles with which the Plishtim had blocked them. The Hebrew word for wells is בְּאֵרֹת/b’erot. I hope this word is familiar to you, as I chose to include it in the name for our Midrasha. Here at B’erot women from all over the world return to continue Yitzchak’s work of re-digging the wells of tradition. We had to dig through a lot of dirt, pebbles and mud on our path in order to return to the authentic Torah way. The digging continues until we reach the “well of living waters” and connect with the very essence of our soul. Our full name is B’erot Bat Ayin, the latter part, which is the name of our village, means wellspring. Together B’erot Bat Ayin symbolizes the merging of the well, which needs to be dug from below, by our own efforts, to reach the depth, with the wellspring, which flows by itself, as a gift from Above. The aspect of בְּאֵרֹת/b’erot – the wells requires that we exert ourselves to dig deeply within our traditions and within ourselves, to discover the hidden Torah and bring it up to the surface. We use the plural form בְּאֵרֹת/b’erot – wells, rather than the singular בְּאֵר/b’er, for just as all wells ultimately receive their water from one fountain, similarly, the Torah has seventy facets, all of which derive from the same Source.

Yitzchak’s Wells in the Torah
“Yitzchak dug anew the wells of water, which had been dug in the days of Avraham his father; for the Pelishtim had stopped them up after the death of Avraham. He gave them the same names that his father had given them. When Yitzchak’s servants dug in the valley, they found there a well of spring water. The herdsmen of Gerar quarreled with Yitzchak’s herdsmen, saying, ‘the water is ours.’ He called the name of the well Esek; because they contended with him. And when they dug another well, they disputed over that one also; so he named it Sitnah. He moved from there, and dug another well; and they did not quarrel over that one, so he called it Rechovot, saying, now Hashem has granted us ample space for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land” (Bereishit 26:18-22).

Digging the Wells of the Temple of Jerusalem

Why does Scripture speak in length about the matter of the well? According to the simple meaning, it does not honor Yitzchak to go into such detail about how his well digging. Only by digging below the surface of the story can we discover how the wells contain a secret matter about the future to come. The wellspring of living water alludes to the house of G-d, which the children of Yitzchak will build. This metaphor for the Temple, is also mentioned in the prophets, “Because they have forsaken Hashem, the fountain of living waters” (Yirmeyahu 17:13). The first well was called עֵשֶׂק /Esek alluding to the first Temple, where the Babylonians הִתְעַשְּׂקוּ/hitasku – contended with us, waged many wars, and made us into several divisions, prior to destroying our Temple. The second well was called שִׂטְנָה/Sitnah – hatred, a worse name than the first. This refers to the second Temple, which was called in the name of hatred, as it states about it, “In the beginning of the kingdom of Achasverus they wrote שִׂטְנָה/Sitnah – hatred against the inhabitants of Yehuda and Yerushalayim (Ezra 4:6). The nations were perpetually full of hatred for us until they finally destroyed the second Temple, and exiled us into a bitter exile. The third well, which Yitzchak called רְחֹבוֹת /Rechovot – expansiveness, refers to the third Temple, may it be built speedily in our days! The building of the third and final Temple will take place without strife and contention. G-d will then expand יַרְחִיב /yarchiv our borders as it states regarding the future to come, “For Hashem, your G-d will expand your border, as He has sworn to your fathers...” (Devarim 19:8). It, moreover, states in regards to the third Temple “and the side chambers were expanded וְרָחֲבָה / v’rachava as one circled higher and higher” (Yechezkiel 41:7), (Ramban). When there is peace and unity the space feels wider. Then we will be able to multiply more, while still feel as if we have more space (Kli Yakar). Today, sadly, we still suffer the tail end of the period of “Sitnah – hatred against the inhabitants of Yehuda and Yerushalayim.” The Plishtim of our time, who bear a similar name, are certainly trying to block our wellspring on the Temple mount by stopping us from praying there with their unruly riots. May we continue to walk in Yitzchak’s footsteps and have courage to remove their rubble, dirt and pebbles, with which they block our well!

Rediscovering the Well of Living Waters Within

Yitzchak’s work was to dig wells in order to reveal the living waters that exists under the ground, and to raise it up. The goal is not to make waters flow into the wells from another source; but only to reveal the living waters, which is found within the wells themselves. For in truth these wells retain by themselves the living waters, yet, they are covered up by dirt, mud and pebbles. When we remove these, the living waters is revealed. It was Yitzchak’s spiritual work to remove all the veils of the physical world, and transform it into a vessel for Divinity and raise it up from below to above. This is compared to the living waters themselves that rise up from below (Rabbi Menachem Mendel Shneerson). In EmunaHealing, as well, the goal is to remove all the blocks that block the Divine essence of each person and in this way allow it to shine from his inside out. Through meditation and hitbodedut we have the opportunity to remove the dirt, mud and pebbles blocking our souls and raise up the Divine spark within. The metaphor of digging wells also applies to the process of teshuva (return to the Torah path). When I became a ba’alat teshuva 34 years ago, I experienced how every new Torah idea that I learned seemed so familiar as if I had known it before. It reverberated a Deja Vu, and that is how I knew that it was true. I was relearning something that was already part of myself. It knew it even before I was born. It was buried deeply within my being, and covered up by my secular upbringing, the Western culture and my own inclination to separate myself from G-d. The pebbles and mud that blocked the living waters in addition to the natural covering of dirt represent the obstacles in our path trying to divert and prevent us from reconnecting to our Divine source. Yitzchak’s dealing with the negative forces attempting to prevent his holy work of digging paved the way for us to be able to overcome the deterrents that attempt to sidetrack us. Yitzchak teaches us never to give up! Although the herdsmen of Avimelech chased Yitzchak’s herdsmen away and shut up the wells, Yitzchak was not discouraged but continued to dig the wells – separating and raising the sparks from their shells until he reached Rechovot.

The Dirt, Pebbles and Mud Blocking our Way
When we begin to learn and grow in the living waters of Torah, numerous obstacles arise. The same thing happen when people try to make Aliyah to Israel. During daily meditation or hitbodedut it may be helpful to ask about the obstacles that come in our way of our learning and growing. Sometimes its different people pulling us in various direc­tions away from the living waters. It could be the need for an education or a promotion in our career. Financial security and making extra money is always a big draw. Sometimes it is trying to fit into the popular opinion of the world that divert us from the path, worrying about what others might think of us etc. Many young women coming to Israel to learn and grow in Torah are called back home by worried parents who want their daughters to be close to them and out of the imminent danger of the ‘war-zone’ of Israel. We need to pray that G-d helps open the gate so that we will be able to continue digging down deep in spite of all the obsta­cles.

The Well as a Vessel for the Deepest Bond
The wells remain to be re-dug. Their profound and mysterious waters call us to delve into them – To dig deeply within ourselves and within the sources. Their waters are nourishing to satiate our thirst, and life giving, to sustain us, bestowing us with our basic need. Water never comes alone. It is a substance wherein each drop cleaves to the other. In Hebrew the word מַיִם/mayim – water is always plural. Through water you can bind two substances together. It is, therefore, not surprising that it was at the well that Avraham made a covenant with Avimelech (Bereishit 21:27), and it was at the well that Ya’acov and Rachel, Moshe and Tziporah met and made the covenant of marriage. So many of the Biblical characters met their soul mate at the well, because the well symbolizes the woman who also is very deep and mysterious (Maharal). The well contains deep waters. In order to make it available, you have to draw out the waters from within the depth of the well. This process can be compared to the process of marriage. When two soul mates merge to become one, it is like two halves becoming whole, for they both draw out the hidden potential within each other. The well is a receptacle for water, which symbolizes Torah. Intellectual Torah learning is not complete. In order to really make a commitment to Torah life one need to create a כְּלִי/keli – receptacle – a home in which Torah can flourish. Marriage is a well that enables couples actualize Torah to its fullest.

The Multifaceted Well of Women’s Torah
Midreshet B’erot Bat Ayin is called in the name of the wells that Yitzchak dug. B’erot is a multifaceted well in which our students may dig deeper without being limited to one outlook or approach. Instead, we encourage each student to express Torah in her own personal way, always remaining connected to the foundation of Torah as put forward by the Sages of Israel. The well, where many of the biblical heroes met their soul mates is also a symbol of fertility in Judaism. We aspire to nourish and encourage our students to plant their roots in the fertile soil of Torah and of the Land, and to blossom, and multiply expressing their hidden talents in the world. Our practical goal is to help prepare them to meet their soul mates as they proceed along their life’s path as women of valor.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Discovering the Camel Connection


Nature in the Parasha: Parashat Chayei Sarah
The camel stands out in this week’s parasha, where it is mentioned no less than 18 times, all in chapter 24. Why do we need to know that Rivkah’s father “had made a place for Avraham’s servant’s camels,” and that “his camels were unloaded and given straw and feed”? (Bereishit 24: 31-32). Why are these camels so important that the Torah bothers to mention them over and over again? I remember once when I was at a Beit Din for Conversion with a student, the Rabbi asked her which women in the Torah rode on a camel. Since then my ‘Women in Tanach’ class has become mandatory for conversion students. Actually, I didn’t find any other woman than Rivkah about whom the Torah explicitly states that she rode on a camel. Rivkah, our mother, is connected to camels in several ways. The first thing we hear about Rivkah is how she goes completely out of herself in the most astonishing way to give the ten camels belonging to Avraham’s servant drink until they are full (Bereishit 24:19). (Read on to learn how much water this is!) Later at the end of the same chapter, when she first encounters Yitzchak, Rivkah falls off the camel that she had been riding on (ibid. 24:64). Until two weeks ago, I had never ever in my life ridden a camel. When at the Dead Sea with my husband I thought it would be a good opportunity to try how it would feel to be up so high and moving in the soft wavy way of the camel. It was a bit scary when the camel first rose to its feet, and I felt uneasy in my stomach. I really cannot imagine Rivkah riding all the way from Mesopotamia to Hebron on a camel without getting seasick. After less than five minutes, I sighed in relief when my camel ride was luckily over. I’m even more relieved not to have shared Rivkah’s experience of falling off the camel!

Camels & Kindness
Avraham’s servant selected Rivkah as a suitable wife for his master’s son based on her outstanding character-trait of kindness, expressed in her willingness to not only draw water for his ten camels, but to water them until they had finished drinking (Bereishit 24:19). How much water would that take? There are different opinions of how long a camel can go without drinking, but at the very least for 6-8 days under desert conditions. Thereafter, a camel must drink to replenish its body water, and when water is available, it may drink more than a third of its body weight. (Knut Schmidt Nielsen, Animal Physiology: Adaptation and Environment). When a camel has become dehydrated and then suddenly has access to water, it is capable of drinking up to 135 litters of water in thirteen minutes (Jonathan Kingdom, East African Mammals: An atlas of Evolution in Africa). Keep in mind, we have to multiply this number with ten for each of the camels that Rivkah watered in her incredible chesed (kindness)! Rivkah’s association with the camel is based precisely on her being steeped in chesed. The camel is called גָּמָל/gamal in Hebrew. This word also means to bestow like in גְּמִילוּת חֲסָדִים/gemilut chasadim – bestowal of kindness (Pirkei Avot 1:2). Rivkah loved kindness to such an extent that she naturally connected to anything called in the name of this character-trait (Kli Yakar). It is not accidental that a camel is called גָּמָל/gamal. Camels seem to be very kind and docile animals. Perhaps the camel is associated with chesed because it has the ability to keep going and providing for man without needing to be replenished for long periods. The word גָּמָל/gamal also means ‘to go without’ like in the weaning of Yitzchak (Bereishit 21:8). According to some opinions, camels can go without water for as long as a month in the harshest desert conditions. (http://www.animalfactsencyclopedia.com/Camel-facts.html#sthash.aMSUTEOv.dpuf).
Camels are masters at survival and hold the teaching of resourcefulness. They can show us how to make the most out of whatever resources we have. They are very intelligent and emotional animals, and form close bonds with their human masters with whom they work with a noble dignity when treated with respect (http://www.animalfactsencyclopedia.com/Camel-facts.html). To the people who rely on camels for their very existence, the camel holds a sacred space. It is not the rude, vulgar and unruly creature of myth, but a stately, noble and amiable servant. The association between camels and kindness is supported by Maor v’Shemesh. He explains that when Rivkah fell off the camel, she fell off from her primary level of kindness and good deeds in the world, and arrived in the world of teshuvah (repentance). Realizing that this was the world of Yitzchak, Rivkah desired to join him in rectifying former deeds.

Drinking Before our Animals
Whereas, according to Torah law, we are required to feed our domesticated animals before eating our own meals, this does not apply to drinking. We are permitted to drink in order to quench our thirst prior to feeding our animals or giving them to drink (Sefer Chassidim 531; Magen Avraham 167:18). Sefer Chassidim cites as a source for this halacha the story of our righteous mother, Rivkah, who offered Avraham’s servant, Eliezer to drink before watering his camels (Bereishit 24:11-21). One of the reasons for the distinction between eating and drinking in regards to the precedence of animals over people, is that thirst is of great distress to man (Sha’alot u’Teshuvot Chatam Sofer, Choshen Mishpat 119; Sha’alot u’Teshuvot Har Tzvi, Orach Chaim 1:90). Another reason is that only with eating is it likely that a person will forget to feed his animals if he tends to his own needs first (Sha’alot u’Teshuvot Har Tzvi).

Falling or Sliding off the Camel?
“Yitzchak went out to meditate in the field at the turn of evening: and he lifted up his eyes, and saw, and, behold, camels were coming. Rivkah lifted up her eyes, and she saw Yitzchak, and she fell off the camel” (Bereishit 24:63-64).

Why did Rivkah fall off the Camel? As they approached Avraham’s land, Rivkah looked up and saw a man standing in the field praying. She did not know it was Yitzchak. Seeing him praying with such intensity, Rivkah realized that this was a great man. When she saw an angel standing beside him, Rivkah bowed deeply toward him and fell off the camel in her great awe and respect. Hirsch describes the emotion that prevented Rivka from riding towards Yitzchak, which is very characteristic of Rivkah. A fancy lady surely would have preferred to ride in honor and glory and with her head held high. She would have afterwards allowed her future husband to help her descend from the camel. However, especially since Yitzchak was not riding, it didn’t seem suitable for Rivkah to ride towards Yitzchack who was walking. In addition, riding is a sign of ruler-ship, and Rivkah didn’t want to be seen by Yitzchak as the first lady. All this was not done through calculation (if not so, it would be only a small difference between humility and haughtiness). Rather “She fell” as if accidentally by herself, though arousal of the spontaneous correct emotion. Furthermore, Rivkah saw the tetragrammaton expressed in the personality of Yitzchak. She fell on her face, just as people would fall on their faces when they heard the tetragrammaton being pronounced on Yom Kippur by the Kohen Gadol. HaRav Moshe Meir Weiss, Rav of the Agudah of Staten Island relates that after the Akeidah, Yitzchak spent three years in the Garden of Eden and came down just as Rivkah was arriving. In Gan Eden it is said that people walk upside down. Following this thought, Rivkah saw Yitzchak walking upside down and she fell off the camel as a result.

Mixed Pure and Impure
A camel is a non-kosher animal who chews its cud but does not have a split hoof – one kosher and one non-kosher sign. The root of the camel is in holiness, but when it descends into the lower world, it becomes un-kosher (Shem M’Shemuel, Parashat Shemini). Rivkah was riding a camel rather than in an enclosed cab on a horse befitting of a proper noblewoman, as an allusion to the twin sons she would bear. Just as the camel includes both kosher and non-kosher elements, among her sons, one would be righteous and the other wicked. (Yalkut Shimoni Bereishit 24:109). When Rivkah saw Yitzchak, Hashem sent her a spark of prophecy. In that moment, she saw that her marriage to Yitzchak would produce an Esau. When this was revealed to her, she became so weak that she fell from the camel. This prophecy would remain with Rivkah for years to come. She always saw Esau for what he was while Yitzchak remained blind to his actions. The camel is associated with kelipat noga (the husk with light that can be released). Its message for us is to choose holiness over impurity, disassociate with the lower impurity and come close to holiness (Imrei Noam).

Dreaming of a Camel
“If one sees a camel in a dream, death has been decreed for him from heaven and he has been delivered from it” (Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 56b). The reason for this is that the letters of גָּמָל/gamal – camel have the same numerical value as the word חכמה/chochmah – wisdom (73). However, the particular combination of the letters in the word גָּמָל/gamal indicates death. This is what it means when it states, “He saw that camels were coming…” (Bereishit 24:63). When Yitzchak “went out to the field” of the holy apples to destroy the mixture of holy and unholy, then he saw the combination of camels with the shechinah. He, therefore, went out to eradicate the husk and judgments from which death emanates. “Rivkah lifted her eyes and saw Yitzchak” (ibid. 64). When she saw Yitzchak who came to eradicate the judgments “she fell from upon the camel,” meaning she fell from the combination of גָּמָל/gamal and it then turned into חכמה/chochmah – wisdom (Sefer Ohev Yisrael). It is known that “Wisdom preserves the life of him that has it” (Kohelet 7:12), this explains why he is saved from death. In the impure chariot there is a camel, yet גָּמָל/gamal – camel is also the language of bestowing kindness. Thus by means of bestowing kindness we have the power to break the camel of the impure chariot from the other side and be saved from death (Noam Elimelech, Parashat Vayeshev). The camel corresponds to diminution and judgment from the language of “weaning Yitzchak” (Bereishit 21:8). Simultaneously it is also associated with bestowal of kindness, so it consist of the two opposites, judgment and kindness. When the judgments are rectified then the person is saved from death, this is the character-trait of Rivkah’s son Ya’aov.

The Camel -- Forging the Jewish Nation by Choosing Pure over Impure
Parashat Chayei Sarah encompasses the main transition point in Jewish history. Its opening description of Sarah’s passing and burial is a shock not only for Avraham, but it also poses a peril for the continuation of the entire Jewish people. The aftermath of the loss of such righteous giant may naturally lead to despair. The continuation of the seed of Israel is hanging in a thin thread between death and life. Only if Rivkah comes alive to take Sarah’s place can the chain of Jewish motherhood pass on. Even so, there are many deterrents trying to prevent the yet unborn people from living to become the chosen nation. This explains why camels are so central to this week’s parasha. The camel, which connects pure and impure elements, represents the ability to forge the Jewish nation by choosing the path that will lead to the life embodied by Ya’acov over the path that will lead to the death represented by Esav. Rivkah is the carrier of this opposing mixture. She derived from a clan of tricksters, yet she unhesitatingly jumped on the camel and left her family behind in order to marry the son of Avraham whom she had never met. The camel theme serves as the backdrop for this most pivotal transition point in Jewish history. The exact amount of 18 camels – the numerical value of חי/chai – life alludes to the life-giving choice of both Rivkah and Yitzchak, which saves us all from death and eventually forges the Jewish nation.