Saturday, November 20, 2010

Vayishlach - Diplomacy vs. Appeasement

An interesting point in Vayishlach follows from my earlier post about the difference bwetween malachim and avodim. Vayishlach starts with Yaakov sending malachim to Eisav. This leads to a machlokes about whether these are "real angels" or messengers. Later one, he sends bribes to Eisav. However, the people bringing these "gifts" to Eisav are described as "avodim". This shows that initially, he sends "people" who are capable of reacting intelligently to what they will find and will be able to use their knowledge of the principles being maintained to continue. When he attempts to appease Eisav, he sends avodim who know exactly what they are meant to do and will be unable to do anything other than deliver the gifts. In modern day politics, we se that people attempting to appease the villains and dictators of the world are making the mistake of sending avodim, who are incapable of independant action, when they should be sending malachim, who would know what is correct and be able to act properly.

Chasdei Hashem - Thanks for what You have done

Every day we say in the שמונה עשריה
מלד עוזר ומושיע ומגן
Melech Ozer Umoshiah umagen
King, helper, savior, Shield
These terms describe the various types of ישועה (salvation) that Hashem causes in this world.
  1. Hashem saves us from a danger that we, not only do not see coming, but do not even find out about after we have been saved. The story is told about the minister of the Tsar (before the Russian Revolution) who commented to a Rabbi (paraphrase), "If you knew about the decrees that we discussed that were never implemented, you would really be scared".
  2. We see the problem coming, but we see a possible way out via our own actions. Hashem saves us by allowing our השתדלות (attempted actions) to appear to succeed. This is a difficult thing to actually feel proper thanks for because we are subject to the temptation to think כחי ועוצם ידי (my strength and actions) caused the salvation. This is like Chanukah and the survival of the State of Israel in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
  3. We see the problem coming and do not see any way out. Any action on our part apparently makes things worse. Nothing that we do or try to do helps in the slightest. We are in the position of "Pearl Pureheart tied to the train tracks by Snidely Whiplash" watching the train bearing down on her. This is the actual position of the Jewish people in the world today. While Hashm has saved us, we have undergone the suffering and terror of the events that precede the salvation. It is like someone who (chas veshalom - G0d forbid) is told that he is suffering from an incurable and terminal disease, only to have a miraculous cure. While we can appreciate the salvation and be able to give thanks, we have still had to live through the suffering first.
  4. Hashem brings the salvation and after we are saved we find out about what we have been saved from and how bad it could have been. This is what happened to me and what I have to give thanks for. I did not know beforehand what was happening and did not know what could have happened. Only after it was all over did I find out what the problem was and how bad it could have been.
I had an EKG as a result of a routine prep test, before undergoing a normal followup colonoscopy  that looked somewhat abnormal. The doctor sent me to a cardiologist who took another one that also looked abnormal. He said to go ahead with the colonoscopy but scheduled an echo-cardiagram and stress test on Veterans' Day (Thursday). Before I got home from the stress test, he called the house and told me to check into the hospital for an angiogram and stent placement Friday morning. Since I would have to stay in the hospital for 24 hours and be discharged in the middle of Shabbos, I considered waiting until Monday morning. I had had no symptoms, no chest pains, no shortness of breath - it seemed that there was time. However, my primary care physician said to go in at once. When I woke up, the doctor said that my Lower Anterior Descending Artery (LAD) had been 99% blocked. However, it was only later in the week when my wife printed out a description of this type of blockage (known as a Widow Maker) that I could truly understand what Hashem did by orchestrating the events so that I could get the stent put in in time. There is a person who postponed his cardiologist appointment from Friday to Monday and did not survive to see the cardiologist.

With thanks to Hashem for all that he has done for me and for arranging events as He did.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Vayeitze - Lavan & Yaakov - "gifts" and "wages"

An interesting difference between Bethuel and Lavan occurs in their relationship to the wedding of their daughters. Eliezer gave Rivkah's families fruits and other gifts from Eretz Canaan but did not really provide a "dowry". Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch points out that the gifts that he gave the family are more on the order of the gifts that a guest will bring his host nowadays when he is invited for a meal. The gold, clothing, and jewelry were given to Rivakah.

When Yaakov wanted to marry Rachel, Lavan demanded a full seven years of work. The only concession that he made was that after he tricked Yaakov by "giving" him Leah, he allowed Yaakov to marry Rachel as well on the promise for another seven years of work. He realized that the work that Yaakov (unlike Lavan) was actually trustworthy and would provid full value for his work. In fact, the previous seven years of work had been so profitable, that it really was worth both daughters.

Another point is that Lavan constantly refers to what he pays Yaakov as a "gift", pretending to be "generous". Notice that after the  first month, Lavan says
ויאמר לבן ליעקב הכי אחי אתה ועבדתני חנם
And Lavan said to Yaakov, "Because you are my close relative (brother) should you (continue to) work for me for free?"
We see that even during this first month he worked so well, that Lavan was afraid that he might lose him if he did not pay him.

Notice that even in this case, Lavan does not speak in terms of Yaakov "earning" the right to marry Rachel, but in terms of "giving" her to him. Additionally, he attempts to minimize the deal by saying
ויאמר לבן טוב תתי לך מתתי אותה לאיש אחר
(I suppose that) it is better to give her to you (a close relative) than some random stranger.
 When Yaakov finished the seven years, he realized that if he did not say anything, Lavan would keep things going as they were and never "give" him Rachel. If Yaakov had delayed, Lavan would have said, "I was just waiting for you to say something" and would have gotten the extra work for "free". As a result, Yaakov has to say
ויאמר יעקב אל לבן הבה את אשתי כי מלאו ימי
Then Yaakov said to Lavan, "Bring my wife for the days are completed"
Yaakov knew that he had to express things in terms of Rachel already being his wife or Lavan would have tried some other trick.

After the second seven years are up, Yaakov knows that he can't just quit and go off on his own. Lavan would raise a fuss. As a result, he has to get Lavan to officially acknowledge that he has completely fulfilled his obligations. As a result, he says,
,תנה לי את נשי ואאת ילדי אשרעבדתי אתך בהן ואלכה כי אתה ידעת את עבדתי אשר עבדתיך
Give me my wives and my children for whom I have served you and I will go, for you know the toil that I have served for you.
 Note that the term used is עבודה an not מלאכה. Yaakov has been treated like a slave to "toil" like a slave and not "work" like a free man for an actual purpose (see the earlier post on the difference). At this point (assuming that he has spent 14 years at the Yeshivah of Shem and Ever), Yaakov is 91 years old, with 11 children and is just starting out to support his family. Even here, Lavan tries to denigrate the work that he has done and the worth of that he has accomplished.
נחשתי ויברכני ה בגללך ויאמר נקבה שכרך עלי ואתנה
I have a superstitious feeling that Hashem has blessed me for your sake. And he said, OK tell me what you want to call your "salary" and I will give it to you.
Yaakov has  to go into detail about how this is complete baloney. He has worked hard and everything that Lavan has is the result of Hashem blessing Lavan because of the way that Yaakov has worked, not because of some superstitious idea of magic.
ויאמר מה אתן לך ויאמר לא אתן מאומה אם תעשה לי הדבר הזה אשובה ארעה צאנך אשמר
And he said, what should I give you? And Yaakov said, Don't give me anything, if you will do this, I will shepherd your flock and guard it.

In other words, Yaakov says, you will not be giving me anything. I will take care of your sheep, on the condition that matters are set up in such a way that I automatically get my wages without your having to provide them. You cannot be trusted to pay, so let us set up the deal so that you never get anything going through you.

This is actually the way things are happening nowadays with the State of Israel. All Israel wants is to be allowed to exist and earn its own way in the world. The nations of the world, on the other hand, pretend that Israel should be grateful for even being allowed to survive and that everything that it gets is a "gift".

In the end, Yaakov has to sneak away in order to keep what he has earned over the past decades, and Lavan is only prevented from stealing it by  the direct threat of Hashem. Even than, he pretends that he is being magnanimous. Hashem tells him "Be careful lest you speak either good or evil to him". That is, when the nations of the world pretend to speak "good" to Israel, it is really an attempt to destroy us. Lavan is just like the United Nations, and the so called "Human Rights Commission".

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Nature vs. Nurture

One of the first questions that comes up in Parshas Toldos is the meanining of the first pasuk.

אלה תולדות יצחק בן אברהםת אברהם הוליד את יצחקץ
These are the offspring of Yitzchak son of Avraham, Avraham fathered Yitzchak.
 There are those, such as רש"י who connect this with the incident in G'ror when Avimelech kidnapped Sarah. The mockers of that generation pretended that Avrohom was "too old" to father a son with a women ten years yonger than him (since Sarah was only 90). Rashi quotes the Medrash that Hashem made Yitzchak resemble Avraham exactly so that he would be shown to be Avrohom's son. However, there is an alternate explanation.

Rabbi Silbur explained that this is similar to the description of Aharon's sons as the sons of "Aharon and Moshe". That is, a student is also his teacher's "son". Yitzchak was not only the "physical" child of Avrohom, but also the spiritual heir as well. Avrohom was the teacher who formed his son's spiritual and mental being. This enabled Yitzchak to continue the development of what would become the "Children of Israel" and fom the second leg of the triplet that would support us.

We say that the world is supported by three "legs': Torah, Avodah, and Gemilus Chasadim. We also say that the three patriarchs each exemplified a different trait.

Avrohom - Chesed or Midas Harachamim (emotionalism)
Yitzchak - Gevurah or Midas Hadin (rationality or logic)
Yaakov - Emes or Torah - the ability to meld the two traits into a whole that allows life to continue.

We are told that Yishmael and Eisav took the trait of their fathers (Chesed [emotionalism] and Gevurah logic]) and attempted to make them the cornerstone of their being without balancing it with other traits. As a result, they became flawed and could not be accepted as part of the line of descent that would become "Hashem'People". Avraham who had the trait of Chesed married Sarah who exhibited Gevurah when it was needed. The child of chesed (Yitzchak) was gevurah and he married Rivkah who exhibited the trait of Chesed so that he too was able to maintain a balance. He was able to absorb the teaching of his father and apply it to his life, becoming the second of the "three stranded rope" that would not break.

"Rabbi Scroll" points out that where Avrohom had many students, Yitzchak had just one, Yaakov. Yaakov had to absorb the traits of his father and his grandfather (who taught him until he was 15). He too had to learn to balnce and control the traits that he inherited from his parents.

Another point that needs to be made is that the Torah is very careful at the points which it uses the term "Toldos" regarding a person. The creation of the universe, Adam, Noach, Terach, Yitzchak. These are the significant break points in history.

Another point that we see is that Yitzchok and Yaakov brought back into the family the traits of Nachar and Haran Avrohom's brothers, sinc Milkah, Nachar's wife was the daughter of Haran. Similarly, we have the medrash that Iskah, Haran's other daughter, was Sarah. Thus, Yischak was actually the culmination of the line of Terach, and Yaakov was the full manifestion of the development of this line. When Yaakov married Leah and Rachel, he created the final  aspect of this line. We see this in the other lines that are mentioned, as each of the final product has 12 children. For example, consider Nachar who had 8 children by his wife and 4 by his concubine, similar to Yaakov who had 8 children by his wives and four by the maid servants.

Avrohom and Yitzchak had children that inherited their "nature" but failed to absorb the "nurture" and continue the teachings. Avraham had to reject Yishmael so that he could properly bring up Yitzchak to follow him. THere is a medrash that Yitzchak was afraid that Eisav was "too red" and that circumcision would be a health hazard. As a result, he planned to wait until he was 13 years old, like Yishmael, before giving him a bris milah. At that point, Eisav refused, thereby making himself ineligible for continuing the line of Avraham. Yitzchok married Rivkah so that he would be able to balance his trait of Gevurah with his father's (and his wifes's) trait of Chesed. Yaakov absorbed both traits and married Rachel and Leah so that he was able to balance the "Olam Haemes" with the ability to live among the world as it is (as his wives managed to do).

We see therefore, that to succeed, me must balance "nature" and "nurture" and attempt to avoid the problems that giving too much emphasis to eother might cause.