Category Archives: Sefer Breishit

Miketz

Miketz is read rarely, as it is almost always either Shabbat Chanukah, either the first or the second.

But this is one story that everyone knows: Mishpat Shlomo, The Judgment of Solomon:

Linear annotated translation of the Haftarah of Miketz
Judgment of Solomon

The Haftarah gives us insight into Yosef’s behavior in Parshat Miketz: Wise and Perceptive

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Miketz – Wise and Perceptive

To understand the Haftarah and what it teaches us about the Parsha, we need to step back a few verses. Earlier in the same chapter, we read about Shlomo’s prophetic dream, where God offers him to bless him with anything he needs. Instead of asking for power or wealth, he requests wisdom to judge his people. God approves of his request and grants it, using this phrasing:

הִנֵּה נָתַתִּי לְךָ לֵב חָכָם וְנָבוֹן אֲשֶׁר כָּמוֹךָ לֹא הָיָה לְפָנֶיךָ וְאַחֲרֶיךָ לֹא יָקוּם כָּמוֹךָ
…I will give you a wise and perceptive heart, the likes of which has never existed before you, and after you, will not occur again. (Melachim I 3:12)

The Haftarah of Miketz begins by describing his waking up from this experience and realizing that it is a dream.

וַיִּקַץ שְׁלֹמֹה וְהִנֵּה חֲלוֹם
Shlomo woke up, and it had been a dream. (Melachim I 3:15)

This is followed immediately by a story that demonstrates the wisdom and perceptiveness that he had been granted, the famous “Mishpat Shlomo” (Solomon’s Judgment). Two women, prostitutes sharing a home, come to the king for justice. The plaintiff claims that the defendant’s baby died in the night, and she switched the babies, claiming the live one as her own. The defendant denies it. Shlomo commands to bring a sword and cleave the baby in half. One of the women pleads to spare the child, and the other says, “Neither one of us will have it!” Shlomo declares the true mother of the child to be the one who was willing to give the baby up to save his life, and “the Judgment of Solomon” becomes a by-word forever after.

We are so familiar with this story that it is hard for us to imagine not knowing how it ends. But let us put ourselves for a moment in the court of the inexperienced young king. Imagine the reaction of the onlookers when he said, “Bring me a sword.” Imagine the shock when he said, in all seriousness, “Cut the child, and give half to one and half to the other,” as if it were a monetary dispute that can be resolved that way. They did not think that he was bluffing. They thought he was going to murder the child and claim that it was justice.

It was the stress of this shock that caused the women to drop their defenses and reveal their true feelings. Shlomo intentionally set up the circumstances for that shock and manipulated them into dropping their guard. This showcased the “wise and perceptive heart” that G-d had promised him in his dream.

The term “wise and perceptive” appears also in Parshat Miketz, as do dreams. Pharaoh dreams of the fat and skinny cows and fat and skinny sheaves, after which we are told:

וַיִּקַץ פַרְעֹה וְהִנֵּה חֲלוֹם
Pharaoh woke up, and it had been a dream (Bereishit 41: 7)

As a result of that dream, Pharaoh meets Yosef, who advises him:

וְעַתָּה יֵרֶא פַרְעֹה אִישׁ נָבוֹן וְחָכָם וִישִׁיתֵהוּ עַל אֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם
Now, let Pharaoh see to finding a man who is perceptive and wise and place him over the Land of Egypt. (Bereishit 41:33)

The dream leads Pharaoh to appoint Yosef to be the “wise and perceptive man” overseeing all of Egypt.

Surprisingly, the Parsha spends very few verses showing how Yosef, in his wisdom, overhauls the economy of Egypt and saves its population from starvation. In contrast, it spends entire chapters describing how Yosef manipulates his brothers, causing them stress and shock. From accusing them of beings spies, to jailing Shimon, from demanding that they return with Binyamin, to replacing their money in their bags, from seating them in age order, to accusing Binyamin of having stolen the goblet, it looks like Yosef is toying with them, and it is not clear why.

One of the solutions offered by the commentaries is that Yosef felt it necessary to make his original dream, the one with all his brothers bowing down to him, come to pass, which could only happen if all eleven of his brothers did so, including Binyamin. Other commentaries question this idea. Even if there is value in making dreams come true, could that justify what appears to be cruelty on Yosef’s part?

We can learn more from looking at Yosef’s reaction to Pharaoh’s dream. When Yosef interpreted Pharaoh’s dream, his first thought was how to ameliorate its ill effects. He did not worry about making it come to pass, he worried about fixing the trouble it foretold. If that was his concern for Pharaoh’s dream, it was probably his concern for his own dream, too. Yosef searched for a way to ameliorate it, to take out the potential ill will, jealousy, and hatred that comes from having to bow down to a member of your own family. When he saw his dream coming to pass in part, he did not think, “Oh, one brother is missing, how do I get him to come?” He thought, “Oh, they will never be able to look me – or each other – in the eye, how do I get us to be a family that can survive living in exile in Egypt?”

This where the “wisdom and perception” comes in. Like Shlomo, Yosef created situations where his brothers’ defenses came down, and their true feelings were revealed.

In that process, they expressed their remorse at what they had done to Yosef:

וַיֹּאמְרוּ אִישׁ אֶל אָחִיו אֲבָל אֲשֵׁמִים אֲנַחְנוּ עַל אָחִינוּ אֲשֶׁר רָאִינוּ צָרַת נַפְשׁוֹ בְּהִתְחַנְנוֹ אֵלֵינוּ וְלֹא שָׁמָעְנוּ עַל כֵּן בָּאָה אֵלֵינוּ הַצָּרָה הַזֹּאת:
They said to each other, “But we are guilty toward our brother, that we saw his anguish when pleading with us, and we did not listen; that is why this trouble has come upon us.” (Bereishit 42:21)

They took responsibility for Binyamin:

אָנֹכִי אֶעֶרְבֶנּוּ מִיָּדִי תְּבַקְשֶׁנּוּ
I will vouch for him; from my hand you will demand him … (Bereishit 43:9)

They were willing to put themselves in danger rather than leave Binyamin alone in Egypt:

הִנֶּנּוּ עֲבָדִים לַאדֹנִי
… we will all be your slaves.. (44:16)

And, finally, they expressed their concern for their father’s reaction to the loss of his favored son:

כִּי אֵיךְ אֶעֱלֶה אֶל אָבִי וְהַנַּעַר אֵינֶנּוּ
“How can I go up to my father, and the boy is missing?!” (34:44)

Did Yosef know, when he first saw them, that they had this in them? Most likely, they themselves did not know. Until it was expressed, through words and actions, their sense of family unity and mutual responsibility had been uncertain. Yosef manipulated them, shocked and stressed them, so that what they revealed would be their innermost truth. It was not easy for any of them, and caused much grief and many tears, but ultimately, they bowed down to Yosef, fulfilling the dream of his youth, without rancor and with hope for reconciliation.

It is this achievement that showed most clearly that Yosef, like Shlomo after him, was a “man who is perceptive and wise.”


Copyright © Kira Sirote
In memory of my parents, Peter & Nella Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ואמי מורתי חנה בת זעליג ז”ל

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Bereishit – Bearing Witness

In his very first comment on the Torah’s very first verse, Rashi raises a key question about the essence of the Torah. If the Torah is a book of commandments, and its purpose is to teach us how to serve G-d, what does it achieve by telling us about the creation of the world? The answer that Rashi gives is famous for its defense of the Jewish claim to Eretz Yisrael , but it is not the only answer to that question. The Haftarah of Bereishit provides us with a different one:

אַתֶּם עֵדַי נְאֻם ה’ וְעַבְדִּי אֲשֶׁר בָּחָרְתִּי לְמַעַן תֵּדְעוּ וְתַאֲמִינוּ לִי וְתָבִינוּ כִּי אֲנִי הוּא לְפָנַי לֹא נוֹצַר אֵל וְאַחֲרַי לֹא יִהְיֶה.
You are My witnesses, says Hashem, My servant that I have chosen, so that you may know and believe in Me, and understand that I am He; no power was formed before Me, and after Me, none can exist (Yeshayahu 43:10)

The Haftarah is telling us that the Jewish People have been tasked with testifying to all of humanity that G-d is the only Creator, and consequently, the only source of power in the universe. In its description of the creation of the world, the Torah emphasizes one point over everything else: everything that came into being is there only because G-d wanted it there. There was no unrelated action that a god was doing at the time that accidentally caused the world to be created. There was no committee of gods each of which was responsible for a different aspect of reality. G-d created the world deliberately and intentionally, each and every aspect of it, from the stars in the sky to the fish in the sea. If there are powerful creatures in the world, it is because He created them; if the sun rules the heavens, it is because He put it there. There is no other being besides Him that has any power over any part of the universe.

Each alternate creation story that pagan cultures have adopted has moral ramifications. A world that was created by accident has no purpose. In that case, following whatever biological imperatives drive us is sufficiently “moral.” If the world was created by a conglomerate of forces with varying motivations, then we need to please them all: the god of destruction needs to be appeased with acts of terror, the god of war needs to be appeased with victims and captives. If the stars determine our fate, there is no point in helping the poor, who were destined for their station.

But if there is one G-d Who created the world and called it “good,” then we are responsible only to Him. He, and only He, dictates what is good and what is evil. That is the message of the Torah’s account of Creation.
However, if mankind is not aware of this message, they cannot embrace G-d’s morality and His definitions of good and evil. The task of making them aware falls upon the Jewish People. As the Haftarah says, we bear witness to Creation. The Midrash explains:

ואתם עדי נאם ה’ ואני אל – כל מי ששומר את השבת מעלין עליו כאלו מעיד לפני מי שאמר והיה העולם שברא עולמו לששה ונח בשביעי, שנאמר וינח ביום השביעי.
“You are My witnesses, says Hashem, and I am G-d”: Whoever keeps Shabbat, it is as if he testifies before Him Who spoke and the world came into being, Who He created His world in six days, and rested on the seventh, and it says, “He rested on the seventh day.” (Midrash Yalkut Shimoni Yeshayahu 452)

This Midrash is explaining that keeping Shabbat has a dimension beyond our commitment to Torah and its commandments. By keeping Shabbat, which signaled the completion of the process of Creation, we testify that G-d is the One who created the world.

This concept, that Shabbat is a testimony, is expressed in our Halachic observance. The Shulchan Aruch says that when we say “Vayechulu”, whether in Ma’ariv or during Kiddush, we stand. The Mishna Berura explains why:

ואומר ויכלו מעומד – שהוא עדות על בריאת שמים וארץ ועדות בעינן מעומד.
VaYechulu is said standing — since it is testimony about the Creation of the Heavens and the Earth, and testimony is given standing. (Mishna Berura 271:45)

So, when we stand up to make Kiddush on Friday night, we are not simply standing out of respect for the Kiddush. We stand because by stating the verses that describe how Creation was concluded on Shabbat, we are giving testimony and bearing witness.

Without the Jewish People, there would be no Shabbat, and without Shabbat, the world would not know that there is One Creator, One Source of all that exists, One Arbiter of morality. It would still be shrouded in the darkness of a pagan world, where there is a struggle between the forces of good and the forces of evil, and both need to be appeased.

It is for this reason that the Haftarah outlines the mission of the Jewish People in these terms:

אֲנִי ה’ קְרָאתִיךָ בְצֶדֶק וְאַחְזֵק בְּיָדֶךָ וְאֶצָּרְךָ וְאֶתֶּנְךָ לִבְרִית עָם לְאוֹר גּוֹיִם.
I, Hashem, have called you in righteousness; I took you by the hand. I formed you, and I made you a covenantal people, a light for the nations. (Yeshayahu 42:6)

The “light for the nations” is the righteousness, the morality, that comes from G-d, which is the essence of the Torah, and the purpose of the Jewish People.

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Copyright © Kira Sirote
In memory of my father, Peter Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ז”ל

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VaYechi – Unfinished Business

Parshat VaYechi describes the last will and testament of Yaakov to his sons. He blesses each of them, according to their specific talents and the future that he foresees for them.

וַיִּקְרְבוּ יְמֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לָמוּת
The time of Yisrael’s death drew near… (Breishit 47:29)

The Haftarah of VaYechi describes the last will and testament of King David to his son, the newly crowned King Shlomo. David does not bless Shlomo; instead, he asks Shlomo to dispense justice to people whom he had been unable to punish in his lifetime.

וַיִּקְרְבוּ יְמֵי דָוִד לָמוּת
The time of David’s death drew near… (Melachim I 2:1)

It appears that Yaakov leaves his sons with closure while David leaves Shlomo with all his unfinished business. However, the comparison of the two bequests show us that what both fathers had in common at their death, that they each bequeathed to their children, was the gift of perspective.

The first, and most difficult realization that David shares with Shlomo is his realization that Yoav had been guilty of murder. Yoav was David’s kinsman and his closest companion throughout his life; he was also the general of the armies of Israel and David’s right hand man. Years ago, soon after Shaul’s death but before David was crowned as the king of Israel, Shaul’s former general Avner had come to make a treaty with David. Yoav asked to speak with him in private, and stabbed him in the gut. Yoav defended his action by saying that he was protecting David and the nascent kingdom, that he was sure that Avner would betray David. At the time, David believed him, and disciplined him only for making it look like David assassinates his enemies, but he did not judge it as a murder.

More recently, however, after the civil war started by Avshalom, in a gesture to reunite the nation, David had offered Avshalom’s general, Amasa, to serve as his own general, displacing Yoav. When Yoav heard this, he met up with Amasa, and under the guise of greeting him, stabbed him in the gut.
At that time, David was too vulnerable politically and militarily to lose Yoav. He was also still grieving for his son Avshalom, who had been killed in the civil war; the thought of losing Yoav must have been intolerable. He was not in a position to execute him, or even to judge him with a clear mind.

But now, “the time of David’s death drew near, ” and he sees clearly that Yoav must pay for his crimes. David is also worried about his son’s future as the King of Israel. He now believes that Yoav’s loyalty to the crown takes second place to his own agenda, and he cannot leave Shlomo with a wild card in his cabinet. His goal is to bequeath to Shlomo a strong uncontested monarchy, and that means that he has to tell him to beware of Yoav.

Yaakov, too, uses the time of saying goodbye to his sons to take care of unfinished business. Some of the blessings that he gives his children bring up issues that had long been buried:

רְאוּבֵן בְּכֹרִי אַתָּה כֹּחִי וְרֵאשִׁית אוֹנִי יֶתֶר שְׂאֵת וְיֶתֶר עָז: פַּחַז כַּמַּיִם אַל תּוֹתַר כִּי עָלִיתָ מִשְׁכְּבֵי אָבִיךָ אָז חִלַּלְתָּ יְצוּעִי עָלָה:
Reuven, you are my first-born, my strength, and the first of my might. Ahead in dignity, ahead in power. Unstable as water, you shall not have extra. For you went up on your father’s bed, thus you profaned, having gone up on my couch. (Breishit 49:3,4)

In his blessing to Reuven, Yaakov accuses him of having “gone up on his father’s bed”. This is a reference to a story that happened back in VaYishlach:

וַיְהִי בִּשְׁכֹּן יִשְׂרָאֵל בָּאָרֶץ הַהִוא וַיֵּלֶךְ רְאוּבֵן וַיִּשְׁכַּב אֶת בִּלְהָה פִּילֶגֶשׁ אָבִיו וַיִּשְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל פ
וַיִּהְיוּ בְנֵי יַעֲקֹב שְׁנֵים עָשָׂר:
When Yisrael was living in that land, Reuven went and slept with Bilha, his father’s concubine. Yisrael heard….. The sons of Yaakov were twelve.
(Breishit 35:22)

Soon after Rachel’s death, Reuven is recorded as sleeping with Rachel’s maid, his father’s concubine. The verse says that Yaakov heard, but does not record any reaction. It then points out that Yaakov had twelve sons. The implication is that Yaakov did nothing. He did not punish Reuven and he certainly did not exile him from the family. Perhaps, as the verse implies, he did not even say anything to Reuven.

But now, “the time of Yisrael’s death drew near…”, and Yaakov is ready to have this conversation. The Midrash explains why Yaakov had waited until right before his death.

מפני ארבעה דברים אין מוכיחין את האדם אלא סמוך למיתה, כדי שלא יהא מוכיחו וחוזר ומוכיחו ושלא יהא חברו רואהו ומתבייש ממנו, ושלא יהא בלבו עליו, ושלא יהיו המוכיחין מתוכחין, שהתוכחה מביאה לידי שלום, …וכן אתה מוצא ביעקב ויקרא יעקב אל בניו ראובן אומר לך מפני מה לא הוכחתיך כל השנים הללו כדי שלא תניחני ותדבק בעשו אחי
There are four reasons why one doesn’t rebuke a person until one is near death: so that he will not repeat his rebuke again and again; so that his friend will not be ashamed when he sees him; so that he will not carry a grudge against him; and so that the rebuke does not degenerate into an argument, as the rebuke is meant to bring peace… So we see with Yaakov, Yaakov called his sons, and said, Reuven, do you know why I did not rebuke you all these years? So that you wouldn’t leave me and go to my brother, Esav. (Midrash Yalkut Shimoni Yehoshua 34)

The reason that Yaakov did not react immediately when Reuven sinned was that he was afraid of alienating him. Reuven knew that he had done wrong, he did not need his father to explain that to him or to prevent him from doing it again. But if Yaakov were to have words with Reuven then, he would have been so ashamed that he could not look him in the eye. Eventually, Reuven might have found it easier to just leave the family. Perhaps he would even have started seeing himself as a sinner, and feel more comfortable with Esav, who had lower expectations, at least in this area of morality.

But now that Yaakov is about to die, he is not afraid of his son being ashamed to look him in the eye, or of leaving the family. Enough time has passed to give them all some perspective. Yaakov can now tell him that his actions did not go unnoticed, and that they have consequences, and that those consequences are in proportion to the ultimate effect of the deed. Reuven may have made a mistake, but it did not turn him into a sinner. He may not get the double portion of the first-born nor the leadership of the nation, but neither is he excluded from the Jewish People.

Yaakov’s words to Shimon and Levi are much harsher:

שִׁמְעוֹן וְלֵוִי אַחִים כְּלֵי חָמָס מְכֵרֹתֵיהֶם: בְּסֹדָם אַל תָּבֹא נַפְשִׁי בִּקְהָלָם אַל תֵּחַד כְּבֹדִי כִּי בְאַפָּם הָרְגוּ אִישׁ וּבִרְצֹנָם עִקְּרוּ שׁוֹר: אָרוּר אַפָּם כִּי עָז וְעֶבְרָתָם כִּי קָשָׁתָה אֲחַלְּקֵם בְּיַעֲקֹב וַאֲפִיצֵם בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל:
Shimon and Levi are brothers; instruments of crime are their swords. Let my soul not enter their conspiracies, let my honor not be included in their gang. For in their anger, they killed a man, by their will, they uprooted an ox. Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce; their fury, for it is cruel. I will disperse them in Yaakov, scatter them in Yisrael. (Breishit 49:5-7)

In this “blessing”, Yaakov denounces Shimon and Levi’s actions in Shechem. When they went to rescue Dina, who had been abducted and raped, they did not limit themselves to getting her out, not even to killing only those who had actually hurt her. They went and killed all the men in the entire town. At the time, Yaakov did protest, but he accepted their reason that they were protecting the honor of their sister and of the family.

Also in this “blessing”, Yaakov makes veiled references to their role in the sale of Yosef (“the ox” is the symbol of Yosef). Perhaps it is only now, after years in Egypt, that Yaakov puts together what may have happened to Yosef, and that it was not a coincidence that the first thing that Yosef did when he saw his brothers again was to separate Shimon from Levi. Now that the nature of their character is clear to Yaakov, he distances himself from their potential for fierce, destructive, anger. They must not be allowed to gang up, or they would destroy the entire nation.

The approach of death had given Yaakov, as well as David, the ability to see things with a sharper, clearer perspective. From this vantage point, they could see the long-term consequences of earlier events, and they could also see what the future would need. Ultimately, taking care of their unfinished business brought closure, as well as blessing, to the sons of Yaakov and to the son of David.


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Copyright © Kira Sirote
In memory of my parents, Peter & Nella Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ואמי מורתי חנה בת זעליג ז”ל

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VaYeitzei – Man of Truth

In the Haftarah of VaYeitzei, the prophet Hoshea accuses the northern Kingdom of Israel of being steeped in fraudulence and dishonesty. They defend themselves by claiming that they had learned deceit from their forefather Yaakov, and that therefore it is a virtue. They point to the story of Yaakov dissembling in order to receive his father’s blessing instead of Esav, and to the story of his dealings with Lavan in Aram. Their claim is that if it was moral for Yaakov to lie and cheat, it must be moral for them to do the same.

The prophet tells them that G-d is not impressed with their line of reasoning. The last verse of the Haftarah, the bottom line, states:

מִי חָכָם וְיָבֵן אֵלֶּה נָבוֹן וְיֵדָעֵם כִּי יְשָׁרִים דַּרְכֵי ה’ וְצַדִּקִים יֵלְכוּ בָם וּפֹשְׁעִים יִכָּשְׁלוּ בָם
Whoever is wise, understand these, whoever is discerning, know them:
the ways of Hashem are straight; and the righteous walk on them,
but the crooked stumble upon them (Hoshea 14:10)

Those who are themselves crooked will find crookedness everywhere. Hashem’s ways, however, are “straight”, and that is what He values.

But if Hashem’s ways are “straight”, were Yaakov’s deceptions were in line with His ways? We learn from the prophet Michah, Hoshea’s contemporary, that Yaakov is associated with the trait of “Truth.” Yet, the Torah tells us that Yaakov manipulated his brother into selling him his birthright, that he pretended to be Esav to mislead his father, that he negotiated a profit-sharing arrangement where he walked away with all the money, and that he snuck away from his employer in the middle of the night.

How is this a Man of Truth?

The Midrash that describes the Creation of Man questions the impact that mankind will have on the world:

א”ר סימון בשעה שבא הקדוש ברוך הוא לבראת את אדם הראשון, נעשו מלאכי השרת כיתים כיתים, וחבורות חבורות, מהם אומרים אל יברא, ומהם אומרים יברא, הה”ד (תהלים פה) חסד ואמת נפגשו צדק ושלום נשקו, חסד אומר יברא שהוא גומל חסדים, ואמת אומר אל יברא שכולו שקרים, צדק אומר יברא שהוא עושה צדקות, שלום אומר אל יברא דכוליה קטטה, מה עשה הקדוש ברוך הוא נטל אמת והשליכו לארץ הה”ד (דניאל ח) ותשלך אמת ארצה, אמרו מלאכי השרת לפני הקדוש ברוך הוא רבון העולמים מה אתה מבזה תכסיס אלטיכסייה שלך, תעלה אמת מן הארץ, הדא הוא דכתיב (תהלים פה) אמת מארץ תצמח

R’ Simon said: When G-d was ready to create Man, the angels split into factions; some said, “Create him”, and other said, “Do not create him” – as the verse says, “Kindness and Truth struggled….” (Tehillim 85:11) Kindness said, “Create him, because he will be kind,” and Truth said, “Do not create him, because he is full of lies.” … What did G-d do? He took Truth and threw it to the ground… The angels cried out, “Master of the Universe! Why are you mistreating Your methods? Raise it from the ground!” .. as the verse says, “Truth will sprout from the earth.”(Tehillim 85:12) – (Bereishit Rabba 8:5)

According to this Midrash, mankind’s existence is in conflict with Truth. G-d’s solution, having created Man despite the objections of the angels, is to take Truth from up in the Heavens, and throw it down to the Earth. In order to reach back to the Heavens, it needs to grow out of the Earth.

The Midrash asserts that Heavenly Truth cannot coexist with Mankind. We can only handle an Earthly truth, one that is mixed up with the dirt and mud of our material existence. This Truth must be raised and nurtured, like a plant, in order to see the light of day. Until then, it is hidden, like a seed in the ground that is waiting for the proper time and the right conditions to sprout.

If Truth is hidden and complicated, then what is clear and visible may very well be false. Thus, a person who says what he thinks and “calls it as he sees it”, is not necessarily a Man of Truth. The Man of Truth would be the one who deals with the complexity, sees beyond it to the hidden core, and exposes it for the world to see.

Yaakov was a Man of Truth. He did not deal with the world as it was, he dealt with the world as it was meant to be. The truth was that Esav was not suited to the service of G-d that being the firstborn entailed. The truth was that Esav should not have received that blessing. The truth was that Lavan owed Yaakov his salary, and the truth was that Yaakov could no longer stay at Lavan’s house and needed to go back to the Land of Israel. Yaakov saw that truth and acted upon it.

When the Kingdom of Israel says, in the Haftarah, “We may be liars and cheats, but we are just like Yaakov Avinu,” they demonstrate how it is possible to take the paths of G-d and twist them to justify any action. Those who are looking out for their wallets and their egos will see what they want to see. They will say that they, too, are dealing with the world as it was meant to be, but the path they think is straight is actually warped and crooked. The ability to see the hidden Truth is predicated on humility and a lack of self-interest.

At the beginning of Parshat VaYeitzei, after the vision of the ladder, Yaakov asks G-d:

וַיִּדַּר יַעֲקֹב נֶדֶר לֵאמֹר אִם יִהְיֶה אֱ-לֹהִים עִמָּדִי וּשְׁמָרַנִי בַּדֶּרֶךְ הַזֶּה אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי הוֹלֵךְ וְנָתַן לִי לֶחֶם לֶאֱכֹל וּבֶגֶד לִלְבֹּשׁ:
Yaakov made a promise, swearing: If G-d will be with me, and will guard me on the path that I tread, and will give me bread to eat and clothes to wear. (Breishit 28:20)

Yaakov does not ask to be blessed with great wealth; he asked for the minimum to live on. This humility proves that all his subsequent actions were not undertaken for his own aggrandizement, but for the sake of the path that he was treading, the path of G-d, which is straight and clear, a path of Truth.


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Copyright © Kira Sirote

In memory of my parents, Peter & Nella Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ואמי מורתי חנה בת זעליג ז”ל

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Lech Lecha – The Dawn

In the Haftarah of Lech Lecha, Yeshayahu describes a historical figure who represents G-d’s involvement in the history of mankind.

מִי הֵעִיר מִמִּזְרָח ,צֶדֶק יִקְרָאֵהוּ לְרַגְלוֹ,
יִתֵּן לְפָנָיו גּוֹיִם וּמְלָכִים יַרְדְּ יִתֵּן כֶּעָפָר חַרְבּוֹ כְּקַשׁ נִדָּף קַשְׁתּוֹ:
Who arose from the East? Justice follows in his footsteps.
Nations were given over to him, and kings subdued. His sword turns all to dust, to driven straw, his bow. (Yeshayahu 41:2)

The Haftarah asks, “Who arose from the East?” According to the Midrash (Breishit Rabba 43:3), the answer is Avraham. As we read in Parshat Lech Lecha, G-d roused Avraham to leave his home in the East, and to leave his pagan heritage. Wherever he would go, he would advocate justice and truth, influencing people to leave false idols and serve the Creator.

This verse is used by many Midrashim to refer to Avraham, and by juxtaposing it with other verses, they derive different aspects of his impact on the world.

ױאמר הקדוש ברוך הוא עד מתי יהא העולם מתנהג באפילה תבא האורה, ויאמר אלהים יהי אור זה אברהם הה”ד (ישעיה מא) מי העיר ממזרח צדק וגו’ אל תקרא העיר אלא האיר
G-d said: “How long will the world be shrouded in darkness, how long till the light comes? “And G-d said, let there be light”: this is Avraham, for it says “Who arose from the East with justice”, don’t read it as “arose” (העיר), but rather as “illuminated” (האיר). (Breishit Rabba 2:3)

This Midrash claims that the world before Avraham was darkness and the light of Creation became visible only once Avraham appeared. What did Avrharam do that warrants making him the symbol of G-d’s light?

The “darkness” that the Midrash refers to is idolatry. But what makes it so terrible? Why does the Torah focus all its resources on wiping it out? What difference does it really make what people believe?

According to the Torah, it is not possible for polytheistic pagans to build a society of justice and kindness.

First of all, polytheism is a lie. There is no such thing as a “god of rain” or a “god of war” or a “goddess of fertility”, or a “goddess of lost objects”. G-d alone created the world. He alone controls it.

Nevertheless, people can believe all kinds of things that aren’t true, and that is not necessarily destructive. What happens, though, when there is a “god of life” and a “god of death”, is that you begin to see the world as a function of the struggle between them. The simplest explanation for the tension between life and death, between good and evil, is that they are governed by conflicting forces and the “god of good” and the “god of evil” are locked in battle. If there is a “god of evil”, than one needs to placate that evil in order to survive. What some these societies chose to do to placate their evil gods is the stuff of nightmares.

Placating the “god of good” is also not morally neutral. If you relate to your god by through the gifts you give it, quid pro quo, then the greater the gift, the greater the power you have over your god. This creates a society where giving is only valued for the power it earns, and kindness and mercy have no value at all. Not only did paganism fail to promote morality, but it undermined the basic morality that is innate to human beings.

Avraham is often called the father of monotheism; not only the Jewish People, but all the billions who follow Christianity and Islam trace the origin of their religion to him. However, the Torah clearly says that Avraham was not the first monotheist. Adam knew the Creator, Noach did not worship anyone other than Hashem. If we trace the arithmetic of the “begats” in Breishit, we’ll find that when Avraham was born, Noach was still alive. Moreover, in Parsha Lech Lecha itself, Avraham is granted an audience by Malkitzedek, King of Shalem, who is introduced as “the priest of the G-d Above”. There were plenty of people in Avraham’s generation who were aware that polytheism is a lie. So what made Avraham different? How was it that he brought light, while the others did not?

Not only did Avraham reject paganism, risking his life to protest it publicly, but, as we read in Parshat Lech Lecha, Avraham spent his life going from place to place “calling in the name of Hashem.” Unlike Noach, who kept his monotheistic religion to himself, Avraham told everyone willing to listen that there is a single Creator Who cannot be manipulated or placated, Who cares equally about all His creatures, Who is the source of justice and kindness and that such actions matter to Him. Avraham showed the world that worshipping G-d is a path toward greater morality and a more just society. This is the light that Avraham brought into a world of darkness.

There is another Midrash on the same verse from the Haftarah:

אמר רב: איתן האזרחי זה הוא אברהם, כתיב הכא: איתן האזרחי, וכתיב התם מי העיר ממזרח
Rav said: Eitan HaEzrachi is Avraham. Here it says “Eitan HaEzrachi”, there it says “Who arose from the East (Mizrach)” (Bava Batra 15a)

Avraham’s essential trait is that of “eitan”, fortitude, the ability to stand firm for your beliefs. In this Midrash, they derive an additional property to describe Avraham: “Zerach” (אזרחי, מזרח), dawn. Avraham was the dawn of a new era of human history, the dawn of the light of truth, justice and kindness that ultimately spread throughout the world.


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Copyright © Kira Sirote
In memory of my father, Peter Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ז”ל

Dedicated to my son, Yair Eitan, who is named after his great-great-grandfather Avraham, and to my nephew, Nadiv Yair, named after a different Avraham, whose Bar Mitzvah Parsha is Lech Lecha.

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Noach – Leaving the Ark

The Haftarah contains one of the more literal connections to the Parsha. When G-d assures the Jewish People that once Redemption begins, He will not let Jerusalem be destroyed again, He brings Noach as proof:

מֵי נֹחַ זֹאת לִי
אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּעְתִּי מֵעֲבֹר מֵי נֹחַ עוֹד עַל הָאָרֶץ
כֵּן נִשְׁבַּעְתִּי מִקְּצֹף עָלַיִךְ וּמִגְּעָר בָּךְ:
For it is like the Waters of Noach to Me,
as I swore not to let the Waters of Noach pass over the land,
so too I have sworn not to be angry at you, nor to chastise you. (Yeshayahu 54:9)

Just as G-d promised Noach not to bring another flood and kept that promise, so now He promises that Jerusalem will not make Him angry again, and He will keep this promise, too. However, G-d had made many promises, several of them about Jerusalem directly; for instance, the promise to Avraham to give the land to his descendents, and He kept those promises, too. Why does the Haftarah go all the way back to Noach? What aspect of Noach’s experience is relevant to rebuilding Jerusalem?

The Midrash explains why G-d found it necessary to make this promise to Noach in the first place:

כי מי נח זאת לי אשר נשבעתי: זה שאמר הכתוב לכל זמן ועת לכל חפץ זמן היה לנח ליכנס לתבה שנאמר בא אתה וכל ביתך אל התבה וזמן היה לו שיצא הימנה שנאמר צא מן התבה משל לפרנס שיצא מן המקום והושיב אחר במקומו כיון שבא אמר צא ממקומך כך נח צא מן התבה] ולא קבל לצאת אמר אצא ואהיה פרה ורבה למארה עד שנשבע לו שאינו מביא מבול לעולם שנאמר כי מי נח זאת לי

“For it is like the Waters of Noach to Me that I swore”: as it says, “For everything there is a time..” (Kohelet 3) There was a time to go into the Ark, as it says, “Come, you and your entire family, into the Ark,” (Breishit 7:1) and there was a time to leave it, as it says, “Leave the Ark.” (Breishit 8:16)

The allegory is of an executive who took leave of his position, and appointed another in his stead. When he came back, he said, “Get out of your place”. So too, Noach did not wish to leave.

He said, “I will go out and procreate to be cursed?” Finally, G-d swore to him that He will never bring another Flood, as it says, “It is like the Waters of Noach to Me that I swore”. (Yalkut Shimoni Yeshayahu 477)

The Midrash explains why Noach had to be commanded to leave the Ark. One would think that the moment he could get out of that filthy box, he would put on his boots and run. Yet if G-d had to command him to leave the Ark, that means that by default, he would have preferred to stay.

The Midrash offers two possible mind-sets that would cause a person to stay when it is time to go, each of which is relevant to the rebuilding of Jerusalem in the Haftarah.
The first is that of a person who is appointed to a position of responsibility that he knows is temporary. Even though he is aware that his appointment is limited, when the time comes to move on, he will not be eager to do so. Noach was responsible for the well-being of everyone in the Ark, of every being left alive in his world. It might have been a very difficult position, physically challenging and emotionally demanding, but it was also very rewarding and meaningful. Now that he has to leave – who knows what will be his role in the new world? He had grown comfortable in his position, and found reasons to stay.

The Jewish People have also grown comfortable in the Ark of their exile, no matter how tight and stifling it might be. Sometimes they even point to the rewarding and meaningful tasks that must be performed there. Even though they know that their position is temporary, and the time will come to move on, leaving is hard. They might need G-d to say, as He does in the Haftarah, “It is like the Waters of Noach to Me; I had to tell Noach that it is time to go, and now I’m telling you: it is time to go.”

The second reason that Noach refused to go can be inferred from the words that the Midrash puts into his mouth: “I will go out, and I will have more children, and rebuild civilization, but what would be the point? There is no guarantee that they will do any better than their ancestors. Their world will be destroyed as well, and my efforts will be for nought!”

G-d did not dismiss these fears; instead, He addressed them directly by swearing to Noach that there will never again be a Flood of this magnitude. G-d will find other ways to handle the failure of human beings to maintain an upright and decent society, without destroying the entire world. This reassurance allows Noach to move on with rebuilding the world.

The Jewish People have seen what they had built destroyed, many, many times over the centuries. It is frightening to build again, especially on the shifting sands of the Land of Israel. Therefore, in the Haftarah of Noach, G-d says to Jerusalem:

“Do not be afraid of rebuilding for fear that it will be destroyed again. Even the generation of Noach, who were so much more evil than you ever were, were able to rebuild when made My promise to them not to destroy them again. My anger at you has been less than my anger at them, but My promise is just as lasting. I swear to you as I swore to them: this time, when you build, it will last forever.

Now come on out.”


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Copyright © Kira Sirote
In memory of my parents, Peter & Nella Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ואמי מורתי חנה בת זעליג ז”ל

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VaYechi

The Haftarah of VaYechi continues the story of the Haftarah of Chayei Sarah, the transition from King David to King Shlomo.

Despite only being 12 verses long, because it references events and personalities in David’s life, it required quite a bit of back story to explain those few verses. And, by popular request, I included a post-script that describes how things actually work out.

Linear annotated translation of the Haftarah of VaYechi

As for connections – just as it says “ויקרבו ימי דוד למות “, The time of David’s death drew near, and it says, “ויקרבו ימי ישראל למות” – the time of Yisrael’s death drew near.

They each use this time to reflect on their lives and tie up loose ends – and leave things for their sons to deal with, for better or for worse. See : Unfinished Business

Here’s a Midrash that I like very much:

אמר רבי שמואל בר נחמני וכי ימים הם מתים אלא אלו הצדיקים אע”פ שהן מתין ימיהן בטלים מן העולם אבל הם עצמן קיימים
R’ Shmuel Bar Nachmani said: it says (literally) “The days of David came close to death”. Do days die? Rather, righteous people, even though they die and their days are gone from this world, they themselves live on. (Tanhuma Zot Habracha 7)

This Parsha is called VaYechi – “he lived”. We say, “David Melech Yisrael Chai VeKayam!” – David lives. And we say, “Od Avinu Chai!” our father, Israel, lives.

In the consciousness of the Jewish People, Yaakov and David are both still very much alive.

And now I’ve done the Haftarot for all of Sefer Breishit.  Chazak Chazak VeNitchazek!

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VaYigash

The Haftarah of VaYigash is from Yehezkel, and begins with the reconciliation between Yosef and Yehudah, as does the Parsha.

Linear annotated translation of the Haftarah of VaYigash

For a deeper look at the differences between Yosef and Yehudah, and what it means to us: Oseh Shalom Bimromav

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VaYigash: Oseh Shalom Bimromav

The Haftarah of VaYigash begins with the reconciliation of Yehudah and Yosef:

טז) וְאַתָּה בֶן אָדָם קַח לְךָ עֵץ אֶחָד וּכְתֹב עָלָיו לִיהוּדָה וְלִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל חֲבֵרָיו,
וּלְקַח עֵץ אֶחָד וּכְתוֹב עָלָיו לְיוֹסֵף עֵץ אֶפְרַיִם וְכָל בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל חֲבֵרָיו:
יז) וְקָרַב אֹתָם אֶחָד אֶל אֶחָד לְךָ לְעֵץ אֶחָד וְהָיוּ לַאֲחָדִים בְּיָדֶךָ:
16) You, son of man, take one branch, and write on it “For Yehudah, and for the children of Israel, his partners” and take one branch, and write on it “For Yosef, the branch of Ephraim, and for all the children of Israel, his partners.”
17) Bring them together into one branch, and they will become one in your hand. (Yehezkel 37)

Yechezkel describes the reunification of the two political entities of the Jewish People during the time of the First Temple: the northern kingdom, Israel, also known as Ephraim or Yosef, and the southern kingdom, called Yehudah. According to the Haftarah, this reunification will be one of the first steps of Redemption; ultimately, the Jewish People will all be one nation with one country. While this might sound obvious, in truth, it is far from trivial.
The Haftarah is not just talking about uniting two different countries called “Yosef” and “Yehudah”; but rather, untiting two different fundamental prototypes within the Jewish People, represented by the terms “Yosef” and “Yehudah”.

Near the end of Parshat VaYigash, Yaakov sends Yehudah to Egypt to prepare for the family’s migration. The Midrash states the following:

ואת יהודה שלח לפניו זש”ה המשל ופחד עמו עושה שלום במרומיו (איוב כה) …א”ר שמעון כל הרקיע של מים והמלאכים של אש ומשרתיו אש לוהט ואין המים מכבין את האש ולא האש שורף את המים יהודה ויוסף זה ארי וזה שור אתמול מתנגחין זה עם זה ועכשיו הוא משלחו אצלו שנאמר ואת יהודה שלח לפניו הוי עושה שלום במרומיו.
And Yehudah he sent before him: It says, “Oseh Shalom Bimromav – He makes peace in His Heavens” (Job 25)… R’ Shimon said: the sky is made of water and the angels are made of fire, but the water does not put out the fire, and the fire does not burn up the water. Yehudah and Yosef: one is a lion, the other is an ox. Yesterday, they were attacking each other, and now Yaakov sends one to the other, as it says, “And Yehudah he sent”?! Thus: “He makes peace in His Heavens.” (Midrash Tanhuma VaYigash 6)

According to this Midrash, Yehudah and Yosef are polar opposites; getting them to cooperate is so difficult, it is comparable to the peace that G-d makes in the Heavens between fire and water.

Not only are Yosef and Yehudah opposites, they are even hostile, “attacking each other.” According to another Midrash, at the beginning of this Parsha, when Yehudah approached Yosef, he was prepared to use violence to achieve his goal of rescuing Binyamin:

ד”א ויגש אליו יהודה…ר’ יהודה אומר הגשה למלחמה, היך מד”א (שמואל ב י) ויגש יואב והעם אשר עמו למלחמה
Yehudah approached him: …R’ Yehudah says, “approach” is for war, as it says, “Yoav and his army approached for war”. (Breishit Rabbah VaYigash 93)

What makes Yehudah and Yosef so different, why is it so difficult to get them together, and why does the Haftarah list their unification as the very first step in the stages of Redemption?

Yosef is driven, from the very beginning, to provide for others. He excels at making the most of all possible resources at his disposal. He speaks all languages, can participate in any culture, can function at the highest levels in government, in economics, and in the sciences. His goal is the betterment of the Jewish People, and of mankind as a whole.

Yehudah, in contrast, represents the inward-facing aspect of the Jewish People. For him, family comes first, and he will do anything to protect them. In his zeal to do so, he sometimes makes mistakes (erring on who is considered “family” and who is not), but he acknowledges these mistakes, takes responsibility and learns from them. King David, Yehudah’s most illustrious descendant, is the ultimate expression of this trait – his definition of “family” included all of Israel, and his life’s goal was to gather them all under his protection. Yehudah has a strong spiritual side: it was King David who composed Tehillim (Psalms), which reflect our unique and personal connection with G-d.

Yosef, then, represents our ability to participate in the world at large; Yehudah represents our unique spiritual contribution as the Jewish People.
These two very different mindsets have been competing within the Jewish People throughout our history. When we work toward the betterment of humanity, as Jews are driven to do, should our contributions be material, or spiritual? Are we a nation like others, or are we a family that needs to protect itself from outside forces? Do we face outward, like Yosef, or inward, like Yehudah? There are practical ramifications to these questions, and over the centuries, it has caused actual conflict. The two sides fight like an ox and a lion, and get along like fire and water.

The Haftarah tells us that in order to bring about Redemption, Yosef and Yehudah need to come together and become one. We need Yosef’s talents and abilities, and we also need Yehudah’s emphasis on our uniqueness. We need to be cosmopolitan and universal, contributing to the world, and we also need to be insular and inward-facing, devoting ourselves to our own connection with G-d.

May G-d, who makes peace in the Heavens between fire and water, also make peace between the different attributes and strengths within the Jewish People, so that we can all flourish and “become one in His hand.”


For more on the differences between Yosef and Yehudah, and a discussion of Moshiach ben Yosef and Moshiach ben David, see R’ Kook’s eulogy of Theodore Herzl. I’m not aware of an English translation, but for partial translation and more analysis based on R’ Kook, see http://ravkooktorah.org/VAYISHLACH-69.htm, and https://www.google.co.il/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CCsQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.yehatzvi.org%2Fshiurim%2Fparasha%2FMiketz%2520%26%2520Chanuka%2520-%2520Ambivalent%2520Joseph_12_06.rtf&ei=S6ugUumYDaSp4AS0iIDgDQ&usg=AFQjCNG9MrALsT4u6ztcMwuF38VTf9odDg&sig2=rUpwpMKOa5vb4cb5hkbmmA&bvm=bv.57155469,d.bGE

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Copyright © Kira Sirote

In memory of my father, Peter Rozenberg, z”l

לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ז”ל

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Filed under Connections, Sefer Breishit, VaYigash