Monday, November 26, 2012

Vayetze (He Went Out ) - Part 1

This week's Torah portion is Vayetze, from Beresheet (Genesis) 28:10-32:3. In this portion, we learn about the twenty years of Ya'akov's life spent in Haran with his uncle Lavan. We see him leave the land of Kena'an, witness the dream of "Jacob's ladder", and read of his vow to YHVH. The portion continues with his marriages to the daughters of Lavan, the births of most of his children, his amassing of great wealth, and final flight from Haran back to Kena'an. This is an action-packed epic Torah portion. I won't discuss everything that happens, but we'll hit quite a bit. Let's get started.

Ya'akov stops to sleep on his way out of the land at a place that he later names Beit-El (house of God). It is here that he dreams of a ladder to Heaven with angels ascending and descending. The sages say that this was a changing of the guard in the angelic realm. The angels that were assigned to watch over Ya'akov in the land of Kena'an could not follow him out of the land. They ascended to Heaven and a new set descended to begin watching over Ya'akov outside the land. We see when Ya'akov returns to Kena'an at the end of the portion, that he once again sees angels. This is said to be the guard changing again, back to the original set.

Ya'akov fled Kena'an to get away from the wrath of his family. His brother Esau had sworn to kill him as punishment for Ya'akov's deceptions. It seems ironic that the man who is fleeing family because of mistreating them, attempts to gain safety by running to his family in another land. What he doesn't consider, is that Lavan puts his family first above all things; including his sister's family visiting from Kena'an.

Lavan does everything he does for the sake of his family. He deceives Ya'akov into marrying Leah so that his first-born daughter is not humiliated. He makes Ya'akov work an additional seven years so that he cannot leave and take his daughters away from him. He then convinces him to stay longer and care for Lavan's sheep. He gives him a job so he will stay close with Lavan's daughters and grandchildren. He knows that Ya'akov came with nothing and has a brother who wants him dead. If Ya'akov leaves and returns to Kena'an, can he support Lavan's daughters? Can he even keep himself, his wives, and his children alive?

Now let's look at the family that Ya'akov finds in Haran. He is welcomed into the house of his uncle Lavan where he expects to be treated as family. Instead, he gets treated as a stranger in the land. Ya'akov makes a deal with Lavan to work for him seven years in exchange for the right to marry Rachel, Lavan's younger daughter. Lavan agrees to the deal and puts Ya'akov to work. Ya'akov barely notices the passage of the seven years. As it says in the Scriptures, it seemed like only a few days. This is evidence that Ya'akov accepted the work as being enjoyable. As they say, time flies when you're having fun. He did not begrudge the work or consider it tedious waiting for the day he could marry Rachel. Very soon the special day arrived. It says that Lavan gathered all the men of the community for a banquet. He then, when it was pitch dark, brought his older daughter Leah to Ya'akov instead of bringing Rachel. Ya'akov didn't notice until morning. By then, it was too late. Haran had become the Las Vegas of the Bible.

At this point, you would expect Ya'akov to demand a divorce or to file a grievance with the city council, the sheriff's department, the homeowners association. Everyone who would listen to his complaint. Well, he did file with everyone who would listen. He realized, probably for the first time, that he was truly a stranger in this land. Lavan made that clear with the statement "In our place, that isn't how it's done..." Despite being family, he had been born in Kena'an to a man born in Kena'an, to a man who chose to leave Haran and settle in Kena'an. Ya'akov was not of Haran in the eyes of those present. He also remembered that all the men of the community had come to the wedding and seen him take Leah to the tent with him. He had no choice but to agree to Lavan's new deal of working another seven years for Rachel. But this time, Lavan sweetened the deal by allowing him to marry Rachel at the beginning of the seven years instead of the end. How generous.

To be continued...

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Lekh L'kha

B'resheet (Genesis) 12:1-17:27

The title of this Torah portion is commonly translated as "Get Yourself Out" or "Go Forth". However, there is another translation or interpretation that gives an interesting perspective on the information in this portion. The Chassidic interpretation is "Go to you". I know what you're thinking. What is "go to you" supposed to mean? How does that make any sense? I'm glad you asked. Keep reading and I'll try to explain it with only a few short (or long) minor (or major) rabbi trails and random discussions.

Avram is being called to go to a place that is the essence of himself. The land he is leaving, Haran, is the land of his father, Terach. It is Avram's old nature. It is a land that has importance because it is the place of his family. His destination, Kena'an, is the land of Avram's new nature. It is important because Avram goes there. Prior to Avram's arrival, the land of Kena'an has no significance or special importance to mankind. It is simply another place like so many others. However, to YHVH, it is already a chosen place. He just hasn't revealed it yet. It is an example of YHVH's progressive revelation. I love progressive revelation. It always keeps you wondering what's coming next!

Avram has been called the first Jew. However, we know that is not technically accurate. After all, to be a Jew, Avram would have to be a descendant of his own great-grandson Judah. Unless Avram was somehow related to Dr. Who, I don't think that could happen. So the correct statement is that Avram was the first Hebrew. So what does Hebrew mean, exactly? Hebrew comes from the Aramaic word ibri, from the root word abar meaning "to cross over" or "to pass over". This is also related to the word eber meaning "one who traverses". So we can see that Hebrew means crossed over or passed over. Now that we've cleared that up, we get a few more questions.

What did Avram cross over? Avram made multiple crossings, both physically and spiritually. First, he crossed the Euphrates river to enter Kena'an. However, after doing so, he left again. Therefore, he had to cross over again coming from Egypt back into Kena'an. That's two physical crossings. Spiritually, Avram made an even more important crossing. Avram's father Terach made idols for a living. As such, Avram grew up being taught polytheism and idol worship. Whether he actually worshiped multiple gods or not is not mentioned in scripture. What is known is that at some point, Avram made the decision to worship and follow YHVH. This was a huge change from the culture of his family. This is also a strong example of the mercy of YHVH. He could have left Avram (and all his descendants) to suffer condemnation for idol worship. Instead, He chose to be merciful and deliver Avram to the Truth of Himself.

Why was Avram called to leave his land, his city (the place of his kin), and his father's house? Isn't that backwards of the way he would have to leave? You have to leave your home, then your city, and then your country. You can't do it the other way around. So why did YHVH state it the way He did? Since everything YHVH does has a reason, there must be some meaning we can get from this order. According to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, this order is indicative of a spiritual, emotional, and intellectual meaning. I'll discuss each item in the order below.

Land - Represents natural desires and base instincts. The Hebrew word for land, eretz, is related to the word ratzon which means will and desire.
City - Represents the influence of society and family - This is learned behavior.
Father's house - Represents intellect. Chassidic teaching says that intellect is the father within the man. Intellect has authority over feelings and behavior.

Using the explanations above we see that Avram was told to leave his natural desires and base instincts, his sinful nature. He is told to leave the learned behavior of his kin, idol worship and false gods. Finally, he is told to leave his intellectual knowledge (what he thinks he knows) behind.

Avram is told to go to a new place that would be given to him by YHVH. He was called to be a new man in a new place. That is what is meant by "go to you". He was literally going to himself, the new Avram. He would later even be given a new name.

We see this same concept in the B'rit Chadashah. We are called to be "born again". We are to leave our old man (our old nature) and cross over to become a new creation. We must leave behind our base instincts and sinful nature. We must leave behind our learned behavior from society. We must know the difference between right and wrong, moral and immoral. Just because something is called "normal" does not mean that it is right. The last step is most often the hardest and most people never make it. The last step is what makes us true Hebrews. We must leave behind our intellectual knowledge of Christianity or Judaism if it doesn't match YHVH's Word. Like Avram, we must accept His promise and covenant.

Like Avram, our journey after crossing over is not always easy. Avram went through troubles. When he first arrived in Kena'an, he found a famine. Avram was not yet ready for his inheritance, so the land was not ready to be inherited. He had to go to Egypt. While there, (as a result of his own deception),his wife was taken from him and given to Pharoah. YHVH, in order to get his plan back on track, was forced to send plagues on Pharaoh until he released Sarai. Pharaoh sent Avram away with cattle, sheep, donkeys, etc. to end the plagues.

When Avram went to Kena'an, he took his nephew Lot with him. As so often happens, having family along leads to trouble. Avram and Lot were both very prosperous and the land could not support both of them. There was not enough room for all their herds and flocks together. To settle the issue, the men agreed to separate and divide the land between them. Lot chose S'dom, despite knowing that the men were evil, "committing great sins against YHVH", because the land was good for grazing. It would allow him to become even wealthier. This simple decision for gain in the present led to a devastating loss in the future.

While Lot was living in S'dom, the king of S'dom and four others rebelled against the king of K'dorla'omer and his three allies. The four kings defeated the five rebellious kings and took their people captive, including Lot and his family. When Avram learned of it, he went after Lot and defeated the four kings with 318 men. Why does Torah tell us such a specific number of men? Is there some significance to 318? Actually, there is. The gematria of the number 318 means "Elohim's help". Therefore, this scripture can be read as Avram defeated the four kings with Elohim's help.

When Avram returns home after defeating the kings, he is met by Malki'Tzedek, the King of Shalem with bread and wine. The name Malki-Tzedek means King of Righteousness. Shalem means peace. Therefore, the King of Righteousness and King of Peace gave him bread and wine. Avram then gave him a tithe of all he had. I think it's pretty obvious who Avram met that day. If you are unsure, there are some good teachings on the subject available at and a new one coming soon to

There is more in this Torah portion, but that will be for another time as this has already gotten much longer than I intended. Until next time, Shalom!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

B'resheet - In the Beginning

This week's parasha is B'resheet - In the Beginning. This seems like a good time to get a new beginning on the blog. I am going to attempt to post updates more often than I have in the past. Even if it's just a short note about why I haven't posted anything relevant or reasonable.

We just got back this week from Sukkot. This year, we went to Walnut Creek State Park on the north end of Keystone Lake. It was a small gathering with friends and family. I must say, "best Sukkot ever!" We spent the week in fellowship and relaxation. It was nice to not have to stress over teaching schedules, meal planning, registration problems, etc. like we've had in the past. Sometimes, you just need to get out of into the wilderness and leave civilization behind.Nothing says wilderness like sleeping in a pop-up camper and eating meals prepared in my sister's travel trailer kitchen, on the grill, or in a crock pot. Yep, just like the Israelites back in the day!

On another blogging note, I helped Dad setup his new blog last night. He will now be blogging teachings at As soon as he posts, there will be a link on the right side of this page to his blog. I'm looking forward to seeing what he'll be writing. For any who don't know who Dad is, it's Rabbi Earl Walters.

As you may have noticed, there is a picture and link on the right for NaNoWriMo 2013. That's right, I'm doing it again! I will once again subject myself to the mental anguish, torture, and sheer delight of trying to write a 50,000 word novel in only 30 days. If you've never heard of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), you should check it out. If you've ever thought you might want to write a book, but were afraid it was too hard or you just can't get yourself to start, you should try Nano. I won last year and plan on winning again this year. BTW, I even talked Dad into entering this year. It's going to be a blast watching him freak out when it's half way through November and he's only got 5000-10,000 words. That's what happened to me last year. If you think 50,000 words in 30 days is hard, try 40,000 in 15 days! It was still a great experience and I'm glad I did it. As I said, I will be doing it again this year. I wrote a sci-fi novel last year and this year, I will be writing the sequel. I have the first one edited and almost complete. If you ask really nicely, I might even let some of you read it. We'll see. I might even publish it and sell it for the bargain price of $25.00. Just kidding, I'd never go above $24.50.

Back to the original topic, this is a new beginning for the blog. I will once again be posting Torah teachings each week that I'm teaching at the synagogue and maybe even some weeks when I don't. I will also include updates on my Nano progress and any other projects that strike my fancy in the future. Until the next post, Shalom and YHVH bless you all!