Jacob and his family returned from the house of Laban to the land of Israel, only to find Esau heading toward them with 400 men, ready for battle. After preparing his family for war and praying to G-d for help, Jacob attempts to appease his brother by sending him a gift of many animals. After his family crosses the river to await the meeting with Esau, Jacob is left alone for an all-night ‘confrontation’ with an angel disguised as a man. Although Jacob is victorious, he is left limping from a hip-dislocation. Rejoining his family, Jacob encounters Esau who accepts him with an apparent new-found brotherly love. Jacob and Esau part ways in peace. Another crisis arises when Jacob’s daughter Dinah is abducted and raped by Shechem, the prince of a town with the same name. Two of Jacob’s sons, outraged at the humiliation caused to their sister, trick the town’s residents into circumcising themselves on the condition that they would then be allowed to intermarry with Jacob’s family. Simeon and Levi (two sons of Jacob) then decimate the entire city and save Dinah. Later in the portion, G-d blesses Jacob and gives him the additional name, Israel. Soon after, Rachel dies while giving birth to Benjamin, Jacob’s twelfth son. Finally, Jacob returns home and is reunited with his father Isaac. The Torah portion concludes with a lengthy genealogy of Esau’s family.
Isaac and Rebecca pray to G-d for a child. Rebecca finally conceives, and after a difficult pregnancy gives birth to twins — Esau and Jacob. Their personality differences soon grow apparent, as Esau turns to hunting while Jacob is pure and wholesome, spending his time studying Torah. Returning from a hunting expedition, Esau finds Jacob cooking a pot of lentil soup. Jacob agrees to give his older brother a portion from the pot of soup in exchange for the spiritual birthright. Faced with a
severe famine, Isaac and family settle in Gerar (the land of the Philistines within Israel’s borders) rather than descend to Egypt as his father Abraham had done years before. After experiencing astonishing financial success, Isaac comes into continual conflict with King Avimelech over the wells which Isaac dug anew. This pattern of ‘success and persecution’ has repeated itself throughout Jewish history. Isaac decides to bless Esau as the firstborn. At Rebecca’s insistence, Jacob disguises himself as his older brother and receives the blessing of the firstborn (which rightfully belonged to
him). The Torah portion concludes with Jacob fleeing from Esau’s wrath for ‘stealing’ his blessing and escaping to Charan to stay with his uncle, Laban, where he is to find a wife.
Chayei Sarah begins with Sarah’s death at the age of 127 and Abraham’s search for a proper burial place which would be worthy of her greatness. Abraham is conned by Efron (a member of the Hittite nation who lived in the land of Israel) into paying an extremely large sum of money for her place of burial. Sarah is buried in M’arat HaMachpelah – the Tomb of the Patriarchs – in Hebron. Do you know who else is buried there? (answer: Adam & Eve, Isaac & Rebecca, Jacob & Leah ….in addition to Abraham and Sarah). Abraham sends his faithful servant Eliezer back to the old country (Aram Naharaim) to find a suitable wife for Isaac. Eliezer devises a plan by which he will find a modest, generous and kind girl fitting for his master’s son. Eliezer decides to stand by the town’s well, waiting for a girl to offer water to him and his camels. Suddenly Rebecca appears and exerts great effort to draw water for a stranger and his ten camels. She brings Eliezer to her father’s house, whereupon Abraham’s servant asks that Rebecca return with him to marry Isaac. She accepts, and they are married. The Torah states that “Isaac married Rebecca ….and he loved her.” This teaches us that true love comes after marriage, not before.
The parsha begins with Abraham’s incredible display of chesed (kindness) to three angels who appear as men. This, despite extreme discomfort from his recent bris milah (circumcision). The angels declare that Sarah will give birth to her first child at the age of 90 when Abraham would be 100. Later, Abraham pleads to G-d on behalf of the cities of Sodom and Gemorrah. However, the cities are soon destroyed, but not before the angels save Abraham’s nephew Lot and his family from destruction. Later the parsha describes how Sarah is abducted by Avimelech, the king of Gerar, who did not realize she was married. G-d responds by striking him with a plague which prevents him from touching her. Sarah conceives and gives birth to Isaac, and Abraham makes a huge celebration.
Sarah sees Ishmael (Abraham’s son from Hagar) as a menace to her own son’s spiritual well-being, and asks Abraham to expel Ishmael and Hagar.
The Torah portion concludes with the akeidah, Abraham’s tenth and final test, in which he shows his willingness to comply with G-d’s command to bring his beloved son Isaac as an offering.
Abraham was called by G-d to leave his homeland, his father’s house, and his position of status and prosperity to travel to the land that G-d would show him. Upon arrival with his wife Sarah and nephew Lot in the land of Israel, they discover it to be ravaged by a horrible famine. Traveling to descend to Egypt for a temporary stay, the immoral Egyptians immediately capture Sarah and take her to the Egyptian king. G-d responds by afflicting the king and his household with a debilitating plague until he releases her. Guess what the plague was?
Back in the land of Israel, Lot parts ways with Abraham, with Lot relocating to the fertile plains of Sodom. Abraham subsequently rescues the kidnapped Lot by miraculously defeating four kings and their armies. Through a Covenant, G-d promises Abraham that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the sky. Because she had no children, Sarah gives her maidservant Hagar to Abraham as a wife, and their son Yishmael is born. At the age of 99 Abraham circumcises himself, his son Yishmael, and the other male members of his household.
As a result of Mankind’s evil, G-d brings a flood to destroy every living creature. Only Noah, his family, and at least one pair of every animal species were spared. Trivia question: Do you know the name of Noah’s wife? (hint — it is NOT ‘Joan of Ark’) When the flood waters begin to recede after a lengthy deluge, Noah sends forth from the ark a raven and dove to determine whether the land has dried sufficiently so that they can leave the ark to once again resettle the earth. G-d promises that He will never again destroy all of Mankind by means of a flood, and He designates the rainbow as a sign for that eternal covenant. Noah plants a vineyard, drinks from its produce and becomes drunk. In his intoxicated state, he shamefully uncovers himself. While his son Ham dealt with his father inappropriately, Noah’s other two sons, Shem and Japeth, cover their father in a respectful manner. Generations pass and the world is repopulated. The people attempt to wage war against G-d by building the Tower of Babel. G-d responds by mixing up their languages into a ‘babble’, and dispersing them across the planet.
Ha’Azinu is comprised primarily of Moses’ “song” about the horrible tragedies and supreme joy which will make up the Jewish people’s future history. While not a song in the familiar sense, Moses’ song is a blend of otherwise disparate ideas into a beautiful symphony of thought. It expresses the idea that everything that G-d does — past, present and future — somehow fits into a perfect harmony, although our limited human understanding prevents fully recognizing the wisdom of G-d.
Ha’Azinu contains the mitzvah for each Jew to write a Sefer Torah (Torah scroll). Many suggest that this mitzvah can be fulfilled by the purchase of books containing Torah content. Does your home contain any books of Torah? Today there are an abundance of excellent Torah books written in English. Let me suggest two: The Stone Chumash (5 Books of Moses), and Living Each Week by Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski. Ha’azinu concludes with G-d’s command to Moses to ascend Mount Nebo, where he will view the land of Israel and then pass away.
Vayelech opens with Moses walking through the Jewish camp on the final day of his life to say goodbye to his beloved people. He teaches them the mitzvah of Hakel, the once-in-seven-years gathering of the entire nation to hear the king read certain passages from the Torah. G-d commands that a special Torah, written by Moses, be placed by the Levites at the side of the Holy Ark to bear witness against Israel if they were to ever deviate from its teachings.
The Shabbos between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is called Shabbos Shuvah, Shabbos of Return because its special haftarah reading begins with the words Shuvah Yisrael “Return O Israel,” from the prophecy of Hoshea. It is also referred to as Shabbos Teshuvah because it falls during the Ten Days of Repentance. The prayer service on this Shabbos is the same as on an ordinary Shabbos with the exception of the additions that are made to the Amidah throughout the Ten Days of Repentance. Avinu Malkenu is not recited. In the blessing at the end of the Magen Avot prayer following evening services on Friday night, the words ha-Melech ha-Kadosh are substituted for ha-El ha-Kadosh. It is customary for the rabbi to expound on matters related to teshuvah.
Nitzavim begins with Moses gathering every member of the Jewish people for the final time. He initiates them into a Covenant with G-d as the Almighty’s ‘Chosen People’. This Covenant applied not only to those present on that day, but to all future Jewish generations. A question for your consideration- how could someone not present be bound to a commitment made by their ancestors? What is the binding force today that obligates all Jews to keep a Torah accepted over 3,000 years ago?
Moses tells the people that although eventually they will sin, in time they will repent and return to the Torah, and G-d will usher in the messianic era when we all return to the land of Israel. Furthermore, he assures them that the commandments are neither distant nor inaccessible (‘it is not in heaven’). This means that a committed Jewish life is well within everyone’s reach.
Parshas: Ki Savo
The parsha begins by describing the annual mitzvah for farmers in Israel to bring their bikurim, or first fruits, to the Kohen in the Temple. The donor was then to recite a prayer of thanksgiving, recalling how G-d had delivered his ancestors from Egypt and brought the new generation into a land flowing with milk and honey. Moses then teaches two special mitzvos, which the Jewish people are to perform upon entering the land of Israel. First, they are to inscribe the entire Torah on twelve large stones. Second, the twelve tribes are to ratify their acceptance of the Torah in the following manner; six tribes were to stand on Mt. Gerizim, representing the blessings, while the remaining six tribes were to stand on Mt. Eival, signifying the curses. The Levites were to stand in the valley between, reciting blessings and curses which will apply respectively to those who observe and defy the Torah. The parsha concludes with a recounting of the wonderful blessings G-d will bestow upon the Jewish people for remaining faithful, and a chilling prophecy of what might happen if the Jewish people do not follow the Torah.
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December 16, 2018
Lunch & Learn Pirkei Avos with Rabbi Smason
December 19, 2018 @ 12:15 pm - 1:15 pm
Studying Pirkei Avos with Rabbi Smason.
Rabbi Smason's Pirkei Avos / Ethics of the Fathers class
December 22, 2018 @ 9:00 am - 12:00 pm
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