Tag Archives: Shlomo


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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Pekudei – Partners with G-d

The Haftarah of Pekudei describes the completion of the building of the Beit HaMikdash (Temple), just as the Parsha of Pekudei describes the completion of the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). It is not surprising to find that there are parallels in the descriptions.

Parshat Pekudei says the following:

וַתֵּכֶל כָּל עֲבֹדַת מִשְׁכַּן אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד וַיַּעֲשׂוּ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל כְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה ה’ אֶת מֹשֶׁה כֵּן עָשׂוּ. וַיַּרְא מֹשֶׁה אֶת כָּל הַמְּלָאכָה וְהִנֵּה עָשׂוּ אֹתָהּ כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּה ה’ כֵּן עָשׂוּ וַיְבָרֶךְ אֹתָם מֹשֶׁה
All the work of the Mishkan was concluded; Bnei-Yisrael had made exactly what Hashem commanded Moshe, so they made. Moshe saw all the construction; and behold, it had been made as Hashem had commanded, so it was made. Moshe blessed them. (Shemot 39:32,43)

and in the Haftarah:

וַתִּשְׁלַם כָּל הַמְּלָאכָה אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה הַמֶּלֶךְ שְׁלֹמֹה בֵּית ה’… וַיַּסֵּב הַמֶּלֶךְ אֶת פָּנָיו וַיְבָרֶךְ אֵת כָּל קְהַל יִשְׂרָאֵל
All the construction was completed that King Shlomo had made for Beit-Hashem…The king turned his face and blessed all the assembly of Yisrael. (Melachim I 7:51, 8:14)

The description focuses on the completion of the work and the blessing that was given by the maker. If that sounds familiar, it is because these are the same words that are used in the Creation of the World itself:

וַיְכַל אֱ-לֹהִים בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי מְלַאכְתּוֹ אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה וַיִּשְׁבֹּת בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי מִכָּל מְלַאכְתּוֹ אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה. וַיְבָרֶךְ אֱ-לֹהִים אֶת יוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי וַיְקַדֵּשׁ אֹתוֹ כִּי בוֹ שָׁבַת מִכָּל מְלַאכְתּוֹ אֲשֶׁר בָּרָא אֱ-לֹהִים לַעֲשׂוֹת
G-d concluded on the seventh day the construction that He had made. He rested on the seventh day from all the construction that He had made. G-d blessed the seventh day and made it holy, for on it He stopped all the construction that G-d had created to make. (Bereishit 2:2-3)

The wording used to describe the completion of Creation is the same as the wording used to describe the completion of the Mishkan and, later, of the Beit HaMikdash. That means that building the Mishkan is analogous to creating the world. Indeed, that is how the Midrash describes it, going through the Creation of the world day by day and showing the parallels to the Mishkan:

את המשכן שהוא שקול כנגד העולם שקרוי אוהל כשם שמשכן קרוי אוהל כיצד כתיב בראשית ברא אלהים וגו’ וכתיב נוטה שמים כיריעה ובמשכן כתיב ועשית יריעות עזים לאוהל על המשכן וגו’ כתיב בשני יהי רקיע ויהי מבדיל וגו’ ובמשכן כתיב והבדילה הפרוכת לכם … בששי נברא אדם ובמשכן ואתה הקרב אליך את אהרן אחיך בשביעי כתיב ויכולו השמים וגו’ ובמשכן ותכל כל עבודת משכן וגו’ בבריאת עולם כתיב ויברך אלהים ובמשכן ויברך אותם
The Mishkan is analogous to the world, which is called a tent, just as the Mishkan is called a tent. How so? It says: “He spreads out the sky like a curtain,” and by the Mishkan it says, “Make goatskin curtains for the tent of the Mishkan.” On the second day it says: “Let the sky be a separation,” and by the Mishkan it says, “the curtain will be a separation,” etc … On the sixth day: mankind was created, and by the Mishkan it says, “Bring close to you Aharon, your brother.” On the seventh day: “The heavens were concluded,” and by the Mishkan, “All the work was concluded.” At Creation it says, “G-d blessed,” and by the Mishkan, “He blessed them.”
(Midrash Bamidbar Rabba 12:13)

If the Mishkan is the world in miniature and its building is Creation in miniature, then the Jewish People are, in a manner of speaking, G-d in miniature. G-d concludes the Creation of the World as its Maker and blesses it; Moshe concludes the building of the Mishkan as its maker and blesses the Jewish People; Shlomo concludes the building of the Beit HaMikdash as its maker and blesses the Jewish People.

How is such a thing possible? What is it that turns a man-made construction into a microcosm of the world and its makers into Makers, capable of bestowing blessing?

In the case of the Mishkan, we can answer that it was made according to G-d’s specific, explicit instructions: “and behold, it had been made as Hashem had commanded, so it was made.” Thus, the Jewish People were simply G-d’s construction crew; because they represent Him in carrying out His commands, they represent Him in their ability to bestow blessing.

But what about the Beit HaMikdash? As the Haftarah points out, the idea to build it did not come from G-d, but rather from David HaMelech. G-d approved it, but that is not the same as commanding it. Nor does it say in the Haftarah that it was made according to G-d’s command. The parallels to the Mishkan include the words “completion,” “construction,” “made,” and “blessed,” but is missing the phrase, “as Hashem commanded.”

How, then, was it possible for the Beit HaMikdash to reach the level of the Mishkan, emulating the Creation of the World, and for Shlomo to reach the level of Moshe, emulating the Maker with the ability to bless?

Shlomo provides the answer himself when he talks about what has been accomplished in the building of the Beit HaMikdash:

וָאֶבְנֶה הַבַּיִת לְשֵׁם ה’ אֱ-לֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל . וָאָשִׂם שָׁם מָקוֹם לָאָרוֹן אֲשֶׁר שָׁם בְּרִית ה’ אֲשֶׁר כָּרַת עִם אֲבֹתֵינוּ בְּהוֹצִיאוֹ אֹתָם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם.
I have built the House to the Name of Hashem, the G-d of Yisrael. And I made there a place for the Ark in which lies the Covenant of Hashem that He had made with our fathers when He took them out of Egypt. (Melachim I 8:20-21)

What makes this particular set of wood and stone into a House for Hashem is the Ark, in which lie the Tablets that represent the Covenant between G-d and the Jewish People at Sinai. It is when the Ark is placed inside the Beit HaMikdash that G-d’s Presence makes itself felt in the House. Only after that is Shlomo able to turn to the Jewish People and say, “I did it. I made this into a House for Hashem.” Only then is he able to bless them.

However, it was not the Ark that breathed life and meaning into wood and stone; it is also only wood and stone itself. Rather, it was the Covenant that it contained, that G-d had made with the Jewish People when He took us out of Egypt, the Covenant of “we will do and we will listen.” It was for the sake of our keeping this Covenant that G-d allowed Shlomo to build a House in His Name and to show His Presence within it. It is this Covenant that makes us G-d’s messengers in this world and His partners in Creation.

The building of the Mishkan, with its multitude of detailed commandments that were carried out “as He has commanded, so it was done,” was the first grand-scale exercise of our role as G-d’s partners. The faithful fulfilment of these commandments made it possible to create a microcosm of the world and made it possible for Moshe to bless the Jewish People in the way that G-d blessed His Creation. However, building the Mishkan was a one-time event; we do not make a Mishkan every day or every year.

In contrast, G-d’s Presence in the Beit HaMikdash was not due to the fulfilment of a set of specific commandments, but rather on the sum total of the commandments in the Covenant. Commandments such as “Honor your father and mother,” “Do not covet,” and the six hundred and eleven others, make us G-d’s representatives and His partners on a daily basis. By leading our entire lives in the form of “as He has commanded, so it was done,” we cause His Presence to dwell in this world, and become capable of bestowing blessing upon His Creation.

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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Second Shabbat Chanukah – Seventy Candles

In years when the first night of Chanukah comes out on Friday night, there are two Shabbatot of Chanukah. The Gemara tells us which Haftarah to read in that case:

ואי מיקלעי שתי שבתות, קמייתא בנרות דזכריה, בתרייתא בנרות שלמה) מלכים א’ ז'(
If there are two Shabbatot; on the first we read the Candles of Zechariah; on the second, the Candles of Shlomo. (Talmud Megilla 31a)

The “Candles of Shlomo” refers to the description of the vessels that Shlomo had made for the Beit HaMikdash. The Haftarah includes the following verse:

וְאֶת הַמְּנֹרוֹת חָמֵשׁ מִיָּמִין וְחָמֵשׁ מִשְּׂמֹאול לִפְנֵי הַדְּבִיר זָהָב סָגוּר
The Menorahs, five on the right, and five on the left, before the Sanctuary, of pure gold (Melachim I 7:49)

The Midrash explain the symbolism of these Menorahs:

וכל מנורה היו בה שבעה נרות הרי שבעים כנגד שבעים אומות
Each Menorah had seven candles; seventy represents the seventy nations
(Yalkut Shimoni Melachim I 185)

Ten Menorahs with seven candles each add up to seventy candles. The number seventy, which is an iconic number in the Torah, refers to the Nations of the World.

The reference to the Seventy Nations appears also in the context of Chanukah. There is a famous dispute between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai whether we should light one candle on the first day, two on the second, and so on until there are eight candles on the eighth day, or whether, according to Beit Shammai, we should light eight on the first day, seven on the second, and so on, until we light one candle on the eighth day. The reason for Beit Shammai’s suggestion is stated in the Talmud:

טעמא דבית שמאי – כנגד פרי החג
The reason of Beit Shamai: representing the bull sacrifices brought on Chag (Succot). (Talmud Bavli, Shabbat 21b)

According to Beit Shammai, Chanukah candles refer to Succot sacrifices. The Torah commands that on the first day of Succot, we bring thirteen bulls, twelve on the second, eleven on the third, and so on, until there are seven on the seventh day, for a sum total of seventy bulls. On the eighth day, Shmini Atzeret, we bring a single bull.
The Talmud explains the symbolism of these numbers:

אמר רבי (אליעזר) הני שבעים פרים כנגד מי כנגד שבעים אומות. פר יחידי למה כנגד אומה יחידה. משל למלך בשר ודם שאמר לעבדיו: עשו לי סעודה גדולה. ליום אחרון אמר לאוהבו: עשה לי סעודה קטנה, כדי שאהנה ממך. אמר רבי יוחנן: אוי להם לגויים שאבדו ואין יודעין מה שאבדו, בזמן שבית המקדש קיים מזבח מכפר עליהן, ועכשיו מי מכפר עליהן?

R’ Eliezar said: Seventy bulls are analogous to what? To the Seventy Nations. The one bull is analogous to what? To the Unique Nation. Like the king that says to his servants, “Make me a big feast.” On the last day, he says to his beloved friend, “Make me a small meal, that I will enjoy your company.” R’ Yochanan said: Woe to the nations that destroyed, and do not realize what they destroyed. In the time of the Temple, the Altar would atone for them, but now who atones for them? (Talmud Succah 55b)

Part of the purpose of our service of G-d is universal. The rainfall of the entire world is determined on Succot; therefore, the sacrifices that we bring are not only for ourselves, but for all seventy nations. Ironically, as R’ Yochanan points out, the Nations of the World did not appreciate what we did for them, and destroyed the Beit HaMikdash, even though it was a source of blessing also for them.

By suggesting that we light Chanukah candles in the manner of Succot sacrifices, Beit Shammai highlights the tension in our relationship with the Nations of the World. On the one hand, we act to further the welfare of the entire world, be it through service of G-d at the Altar, or through the light of Torah wisdom that we project to the world. On the other hand, our expectations of being appreciated for our efforts are minimal. Just as they destroyed the Beit HaMikdash, a source of blessing to themselves, they have not hesitated to destroy Batei Midrash, and, as in the time of the Maccabees, to ban the study of Torah.

While the first seven days of Succot are outward-facing, Shmini Atzeret, the eighth day of the Succot holiday, is a day set aside only for the Jewish People. We bring a single bull, representing the singularity that is the Jewish Nation. We are unique, and our relationship with G-d is unique.

When Chanukah has two Shabbatot, the second Shabbat is the eighth day of Chanukah. We read the Haftarah of Shlomo’s seventy candles, symbolizing the universal aspect of Chanukah, of the light that the Jewish People give the world. The seventy candles allude to Beit Shammai, according to whom we would light a single candle on the eighth day. That single candle, like the single bull offering of Shmini Atzeret, remind us that ultimately, the Jewish People stand alone.

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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Terumah – A House for G-d

Parshat Terumah contains the instructions for building the portable sanctuary which we call the Mishkan. The purpose of this sanctuary is stated at the beginning of the Parsha:

וְעָשׂוּ לִי מִקְדָּשׁ וְשָׁכַנְתִּי בְּתוֹכָם
They will make Me a sanctuary, and I will dwell among them. (Shemot 25:3)

Even though the word Mishkan means “place of dwelling,” G-d makes it clear that His intention is not to have a place to live, but rather to allow His Presence to be felt by the Jewish People. He will not dwelling in “it,” He will be dwelling “among them.”

The same phrase is used in the Haftarah, which describes the construction of the first permanent sanctuary, the Beit HaMikdash, built by Shlomo in Yerushalayim. After the description of the massive effort and architectural marvels, the Haftarah tells us that G-d has a message for Shlomo:

הַבַּיִת הַזֶּה אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה בֹנֶה אִם תֵּלֵךְ בְּחֻקֹּתַי וְאֶת מִשְׁפָּטַי תַּעֲשֶׂה וְשָׁמַרְתָּ אֶת כָּל מִצְוֹתַי לָלֶכֶת בָּהֶם וַהֲקִמֹתִי אֶת דְּבָרִי אִתָּךְ אֲשֶׁר דִּבַּרְתִּי אֶל דָּוִד אָבִיךָ: וְשָׁכַנְתִּי בְּתוֹךְ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְלֹא אֶעֱזֹב אֶת עַמִּי יִשְׂרָאֵל:
About this House that you are building: if you follow My statutes and carry out My laws, and keep all My commandments, to walk in their ways, then I shall keep My word to you as I spoke to your father, David. And I will dwell among the children of Israel, and I will not forsake My people, Israel. (Melachim I 6:12-13)

Here too, G-d stresses that the purpose of this building is for Him to dwell among the Jewish People, and refers to an earlier conversation that He had with Shlomo’s father, David. In order for us to understand the full import of what G-d was telling Shlomo, we need to go back to the context of that earlier conversation.

Soon after David established his kingdom and built his own palace in Yerushalayim, he decided that he felt uncomfortable living in such grandeur, while the Sanctuary that contained the Ark of the Covenant, also in Yerushalayim, was housed in a simple goatskin tent. He mentioned to his court prophet, Natan, that the right thing to do would be to build a permanent structure for the Sanctuary. At first, Natan was enthusiastic about the idea and told him to go right ahead and implement this plan. However, that very night, G-d appeared to Natan with the following message for David HaMelech:

בְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר הִתְהַלַּכְתִּי בְּכָל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל הֲדָבָר דִּבַּרְתִּי אֶת אַחַד שִׁבְטֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אֲשֶׁר צִוִּיתִי לִרְעוֹת אֶת עַמִּי אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל לֵאמֹר לָמָּה לֹא בְנִיתֶם לִי בֵּית אֲרָזִים .. וְהִגִּיד לְךָ ה’ כִּי בַיִת יַעֲשֶׂה לְּךָ ה’
For all that I walked with all of children of Israel, did I ever say to one of the tribes of Israel, that I had appointed to herd My people Israel, saying, why haven’t you built Me a house of cedar? … Hashem said to you that Hashem will make you a house (Shmuel II 7:7)

In a prime example of prophetic sarcasm, G-d points out that in the four hundred years since the Exodus, He had never once asked them to build Him a house. He assures David that if He had had a problem with the tent where the Sanctuary was placed, He would have let them know. The house that David needs to worry about is his own “house”, his dynasty, that G-d is building for him. Only after this dynasty is firmly established, would his son be permitted to build a permanent structure for the Sanctuary.

After hearing this message, David put aside his dream of building a House for G-d, and focused on building his kingdom and raising Shlomo to be the first ever hereditary ruler of the Jewish People.

In the Haftarah, we are at the point where Shlomo has fulfilled David’s dream. And now that Shlomo has built this architectural wonder of a Beit Hashem, a House for G-d, G-d reminds him that He doesn’t particularly need or want it.

What, then, does He want? On this point, G-d is very clear, both in the Parsha and in the Haftarah. The purpose of the beautiful impressive House is the same as the purpose of the simple goatskin tent: “to dwell among the Jewish People.”

This phrase, “dwelling among us” refers to the prophetic experience of G-d by the entire nation. Part of the purpose of the Revelation at Sinai was the profound sense of the “Glory of Hashem” which was manifest by a “cloud” that “dwelled” on the mountain:

וַיִּשְׁכֹּן כְּבוֹד ה’ עַל הַר סִינַי וַיְכַסֵּהוּ הֶעָנָן שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים וַיִּקְרָא אֶל מֹשֶׁה בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי מִתּוֹךְ הֶעָנָן
The Glory of Hashem dwelled on Har Sinai; the cloud covered it for six days; He called to Moshe on the seventh day from the cloud. (Shmot 24:17)

When the Mishkan that is first described in Parshat Terumah was finally completed, its dedication was accompanied by a similar description:

וַיְכַס הֶעָנָן אֶת אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד וּכְבוֹד ה’ מָלֵא אֶת הַמִּשְׁכָּן
The cloud covered the Tent of Assembly, and the Glory of Hashem filled the Mishkan. (Shemot 40:34)

The Mishkan provided ongoing access to the experience of G-d’s Presence that they had known at Har Sinai. This is the meaning of “and I will dwell among them.”

But this is not something that happens automatically. In the pagan world. people believed that “if you build it, they will come.” If the deity gets a temple, the deity can be found in the temple. This is not the case for the Jewish People. The purpose of the Revelation at Har Sinai was to receive the Torah. The prerequisite for a direct relationship with G-d has always been fulfilling the commandments that the Jewish People committed to at Sinai. It is impossible to conceive of G-d allowing them access to His Presence while they ignore His laws.

Therefore, when Shlomo builds a House of G-d to rival any temple in the known world, G-d makes a point to tell him that building it is not enough. If the Jewish People keep the Torah, He is present among them, and He is happy to use this House as the focal point for His Presence, cloud and all, as indeed happened at its dedication:

וַיְהִי בְּצֵאת הַכֹּהֲנִים מִן הַקֹּדֶשׁ וְהֶעָנָן מָלֵא אֶת בֵּית ה’
As the Cohanim left the Sanctuary, the cloud filled the House of Hashem
(Melachim II 8)

But if not? If the Jewish People renege on their commitment at Sinai, then it’s just wood and stone. G-d dwells among the Jewish People, not in some grandiose building.

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.

PDF for printing, 3 pages A4

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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The Parsha of Terumah describes the building of the Mishkan, and the Haftarah, the building of the Beit Hamikdash:

Linear annotated translation of the Haftarah of Terumah

It’s obvious what the Mishkan and the Beit HaMikdash have in common. Or is it?

A House for G-d

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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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Chayei-Sarah: Repetitions

The Haftarah tells the story of the succession to King David’s throne. He is old and ill, and his son Adoniah acts as if he will succeed to the throne, despite King David’s preference for Shlomo. Adoniah takes on some of the overt signs of monarchy and makes a feast, inviting the entire court – with the exception of Shlomo and his supporters.

The Haftarah repeats this story several times. First, we hear it from the point of view of the narrator, then Natan tells it to Batsheva, then Batsheva to David, and finally Natan to David. The repetitions do not add any detail, nor do the different perspectives add any new insight. What, then, is the purpose of that repetition?

Our Parsha exhibits similar characteristics. Chayei Sarah is famous for the repetition of the story of Eliezer and Rivka at the well. First, we are told of his plan: the girl he is looking for will be the one that offers to give water both to him and to the camels. Then, we hear it as it actually happens: Rivka comes, gives water to Eliezer and to the camels, and turns out to be Avraham’s niece. He then goes to Rivka’s house, and we hear all about it yet again, in detail, as he retells it to Rivka’s family.

Finally, as if to tease us, when Eliezer brings Rivka to Yitzchak, this is how the entire event is described:

(סו) וַיְסַפֵּר הָעֶבֶד לְיִצְחָק אֵת כָּל הַדְּבָרִים אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה:
The servant told Yitzhak all the things that he had done. (Breishit 24:66)

Could this not have sufficed earlier, too?

Some suggest that the purpose of the first two repetitions is to learn about Eliezer’s faith, that he relied on G-d and He came through for him. This explains the first two parts, the story of Eliezer’s request for a sign, and the sign working out even better than he had hoped. But what could be the purpose of knowing exactly what he told Rivka’s family? Could it not have said, “The servant told them all the things that he had done”?

This prompts Chazal to make the following statement:

א”ר אחא יפה שיחתן של עבדי בתי אבות מתורתן של בנים פרשתו של אליעזר שנים וג’ דפים הוא אומרה ושונה ושרץ מגופי תורה ואין דמו מטמא כבשרו אלא מריבוי המקרא
R’ Acha said: The conversations of the servants from the Forefathers’ houses are more valuable than the Torah of their children. Eliezer’s story takes up 2-3 pages, and repeats itself, but we learn the Torah law that an insect’s blood does not cause impurity from a hint. (Breishit Rabba 60)

Important Halachot, practical laws, are not spelled out in the Torah; they need to be painstakingly derived from hints in the text. Our sources for important practical laws such as which text needs to be inside Tefillin, or whether or not we need to eat Matza for seven days or only one day, are derived from unusual phrasings or apparent contradictions. It is as writing the laws out explicitly were a waste of ink.

Yet for the story of Eliezer, there’s plenty of room. Pages and pages of it, most of the Parsha, when the entire thing could have been summed up in about three verses.

The Midrash draws the obvious conclusion: the Torah cares more about the conversations of the servants of our forefathers, than it does about making sure that important laws that you and I must keep are written clearly.

Why? What is the value of recording what Eliezer said to Betuel and Lavan? What is the lesson that could not have been conveyed in any other manner?

Nechama Leibowitz (Studies in Breishit, Chayei Sarah), in her analysis of the differences between the version of the narrator and the version of Eliezer, points out that Eliezer’s story has a particular slant that makes it obvious that he had an agenda. In his speech, he keeps repeating that everything came from G-d: his master’s fabulous wealth, the mission itself, the choice of the woman for his master. He points out that as a servant, he has no will of his own, and likewise, his master Avraham, as a servant of G-d, has no will of his own. Eliezer keeps drilling in the point that G-d is the cause of everything that has happened.

It is nice to hear of the faith that Eliezer had in G-d. Yet to suggest that Eliezer was simply sharing his view of the world is inadequate. He is now at a critical juncture of his mission. Once he found the girl, the very worst thing that could happen is that she will not come – or that she will not be allowed to come. The Torah implies that Rivka does not require much convincing. She recognizes very quickly that unlike her home, her life with Avraham’s son will be full of truth and purpose. But Eliezer also needs to convince her family. While Betuel is Rivka’s father, in the ancient world, the brothers had a say in their sisters’ welfare. It appears that the real decision of whether or not Rivka marries Yitzchak is in Lavan’s hands. We get to know Lavan later on, as the father of Rachel and Leah, and we see that he has absolutely no scruples when it comes to getting his own way. We also see that he is very possessive about his family , and prefers to have them firmly under his thumb. Eliezer’s task is not easy: how to get Lavan to let Rivka go?

Betuel and Lavan were pagan; as we say in the Haggada, “originally, our ancestors were idol worshippers”. The pagan relationship with their gods is a manipulative tug-of-war: if you come up with the proper offerings, your god will give you what you want, but if he’s made up his mind, it’s fate, and you can’t do anything to change it . Eliezer thus phrases his entire narrative in a context that they could relate to: Hashem has given Avraham great wealth (point: this god is powerful). Avraham serves Hashem (point: the wealth is conditional on the service). Hashem has miraculously singled out Rivka to be the bride (point: Hashem has made up His mind, and it is impossible to try to get out of it). Indeed, he presents his case so well that he elicits the perfect response:

(נ) וַיַּעַן לָבָן וּבְתוּאֵל וַיֹּאמְרוּ מֵה’ יָצָא הַדָּבָר ;לֹא נוּכַל דַּבֵּר אֵלֶיךָ רַע אוֹ טוֹב:
Lavan and Betuel answered: This came from Hashem; it doesn’t matter what we say.

They might not be particularly happy about it, but they bow to what they perceive to be fated, and let Rivka go. Eliezer achieves his goal and his mission is a success.

In contrast, when he reports on his mission, he does not need to put on a show for his master, and the Torah can comfortably sum it up as: “The servant told Yitzhak all the things that he had done.”

Now we are suitably impressed with Eliezer’s skill as a negotiator, with his understanding of the mindset of his target audience, and the difficulty of his mission.

Still the question remains: why is this in the Torah? Why is Eliezer’s skill as a negotiator so important that it rates pages and pages of text?

Perhaps what we need to look at is the alternative, the other way it might have gone, if the servant were not a member of Avraham’s household.

Several chapters earlier, in Parshat Breishit, when the Torah talks about why the world needs to be destroyed, one of the reasons it gives is that great men would “take themselves wives, whoever they chose” (Breishit 6:2). If it sounds romantic, that they married for love, that is not the intention. The Midrash says: “took wives: women who were already married to someone else” (Breishit Rabba 26:5). If a wealthy and powerful man would see someone he liked, he would take her. He would not ask permission – not from her family, not from her husband if she had one, certainly not from her. He would just take.

Avraham is wealthy. He is respected, even powerful. He needs a girl from a specific family for his son. If he sends his servant, and the servant finds a suitable girl, but she doesn’t want to go, what should happen? Would his servant make her family “an offer they can’t refuse”?

Avraham? Never.

Is that because after the Flood, taking women by force was no longer acceptable by the newly rebuilt society, and wasn’t an option for anyone? Hardly. When the strikingly beautiful Sarah appears in the court of Pharaoh, there are two alternatives: if she’s married, her husband can be killed so she can be taken. Or, if she is under the protection of a brother, the brother can be paid, and she can be taken. The brother doesn’t need to agree; it’s not up to him at all.

But for Avraham, about whom Hashem himself said, “For I know him; that he will command his children, and his household after him; they will keep the way of Hashem, to do righteousness and justice “, this is not how things are done. Eliezer, a member of Avraham’s household and his representative, who keeps the way of Hashem, would not dream of using force, or guile, or bribery, to take Rivka from Lavan.

How, then, does one get what one desperately needs, if one can’t take it?

That is where diplomacy comes in. It is possible to get people to cooperate. It is possible to convince them of your need, of the rightness of your way, to create a narrative that they can identify with, to cause them to do the right thing.

To show us how this is done – that this is done – the Torah is prepared to invest a little bit of ink and a few pages of parchment. It is not something that one can derive through logic, from a hint in the text. It needs to be explicit.

Using his wits and his faith, Eliezer convinced Lavan, the most selfish man in all of Tanach, to let his sister out of his clutches. If this is possible, then other things are possible, too. Justice and righteousness, “the way of Hashem”, can succeed in this world.

In the Haftarah, the story has the same structure as the Parsha. Like Eliezer, we hear Natan and Batsheva making a plan to ensure that Shlomo is crowned, and we see them carrying it out. Unlike Eliezer, they did not ask for Divine Intervention. Nor did they need to manipulate David into doing the right thing. Why then, is their plan recorded in the Tanach? What were the alternatives there, what did not happen that might have?

In the ancient world, a contested royal succession meant inevitable bloodshed. Whichever of the princes wound up taking the throne would immediately murder the remaining contenders and their supporters. In a lesser kingdom than David’s, one that was not founded on “justice and righteousness”, Natan and Batsheva would have arranged for the warriors that sided with Shlomo to attack Adoniah’s supporters.

But that is not what happened. Natan and Batsheva needed something very desperately – it was a matter of life and death – and yet they did not take it by force. They achieved their goals through polite, well-considered discourse, maintaining respect and dignity – their own, and that of the aging King David.

The lesson of Eliezer’s diplomatic success is the lesson of Natan and Batsheva’s diplomatic success. In a society based on justice and righteousness, there is power in words.

And that is a lesson worth repeating.


PDF for printing 4 pages A4

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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