Archive for Divrei Torah

Chaye Sarah: It’s How You Say It That Counts

When examining the life of Sarah Imenu, I was intellectually dissatisfied with the akeida story. Was she informed that Avraham was bringing Isaak as a korban? I think not. The Midrash says that an angel spoke to Sarah and told her, after which she died.

My recent explorations have been in Emunah (the belief that all God does is for good) and Haskacha Pratit (the belief that God participates in our lives individually) as concerning our life situations. In these, Sarah had no opportunity to look at the situation with emuhah or see within it the hand of God. She died before either could happen, and that like a big rip-off.

Later, we saw a story in which prayer was very clearly answered. Eliezer was seeking a wife for Isaak at his mother’s brother’s house and “he said” a prayer setting the condition that if she offers water to his camel, she’s the one.

I was called up for the shlishit alia in which the special trope called attention to the words “he said” and I returned to my seat puzzled. Chazal was silent about the two words, but went on and on about WHAT he said, that it was one of a few times that a prayer was answered while it was “still in his mouth.” Instead, it was the manner in which “he said” this prayer. It was a matter of kavanah.

Eliezer had a secret hope that the match would fail, then Isaac could marry is own daughter. His instantaneous answer served to let hi know beyond doubt that the situation was being guided by heaven. No hindsight was required to understand the lesson. It was to be as it was, regardless of what “he said.”

Sarah’s case was different. She never even got the chance to pray before or reflect after. Chaye Sarah can only be understood under the filter of time, the intergeneration linking of destiny in which hashgacha pratit can be seen, hidden in the details and waiting to foster emunah in us all.

Inverted Nuns & Choveiv ben Reuel

This week in parshat Behaalotecha we were introduced to a novel concept, that of Chazakah, in which a pattern is established by three uninterrupted occurrences. The narrative describes the Jews “rushing from Sinai like schoolchildren”  before the sin of complaining. Any sin to come would create chazakah, thus the Torah employs a one-of-a-kind tactic. Behold the inverted nun:


The chazakah was averted by adding a break into the narrative leading to the golden calf with inverted nuns filled with nonlinear content.

So who cares? What’s the big deal?

Last time they were mentioned on this blog, the idea was that a person can break chazakah in their behaviors by injecting some sort of positive character trait into their life, like turning the status quo upside down, by adding an “inverted nun” type of action into their habits.

These new diversions, the lifestyle separations between the patterned behaviors of the past, will keep us from habitual behavior and provide a much-needed break from the frustrations of day-to-day life. The crown of goodness that will rest upon these new moments will serve as an “inverted nun” in our lives and make it truly a life worth living.

Kinda esoteric, that one. Wonder that it is, our Torah always changes and I had a chidush again concerning these letters last Shabbat in San Jose (nice place!) while discussing Choveiv ben Reuel, father-in-law of Moshe Rabbeinu.

The obvious question is “who is Choveiv” followed by “who is Reuel?” The text implied Reuel is father-in-law of Moshe Rabbeinu, which would mean Choveiv is his brother-in-law. Huh?

Rashi brings the crucial bit of data, and Ramban concurs. Choveiv is the name given to Yitro when he converted to the G-d of the Jews at Mount Sinai. This makes sense of his puzzling decision to leave that Presence and return to Midian. He was a Ger ha Tzedeck on a mission. He had souls to save back home.

Thus, the chidush. When I converted 23 years ago, it began the long process of integrating who I am with who I will be. Orthodox Judaism is not a path for the timid, or the proud, or the lovers of comfort; Things that I most certainly am. Thus, I have my feet in two worlds that seem radically diametric. And yet, there it is.

Like the inverted nuns that can break chazakah, they also provide a placeholder within which can be created a unique and meaningful life modeled after the text found between the inverted nuns in this weeks parsha:

“Let those who hate you flee. Reside tranquilly.”

Sometimes, the simple pshat is actually simple, and a huge bracha for us all.

Parsha Tzav: What’s It To You?

In our parsha this week, we see Moshe using a new term to address the nation with the demands placed upon them by Hashem. The previous instances were introduced with Viadaber, Daber, Emor and others that imply a chiuv to act, but now we are commanded with Tzav. Why the stronger call to action?

The simple meaning, according to Rashi, is that the korban under discussion was burned entirely on the altar rather than a portion being given to the kohein to eat. Since this offering was brought “for free” by the temple priests, perhaps they would lose some enthusiasm for the mitzvah. Thus, the strong commandment.

My wedding to a wonderful frum girl fell during this parsha and, as I always do, it was important to look into it and see if there was a connection between the strong imperative of Tzav and the responsibilities of a new marriage. Turns out there is a message to live by hidden in the moment.

In the same way that the kohein worked without expectation of reward in the bringing of this particular korban, so it is in marriage. This is not a relationship that flourishes in selfishness. Rather, we do the right thing out of love and a desire to please our spouse.

The message of Tzav is that my wife does not exist exclusively to fulfill my needs. The healthier approach that came to me when pondering this parsha is that a successful marriage must be one in which we strive to provide support and kindness, without expecting anything in return.

Maybe that’s why the Jewish People are called a “Nation of Priests” because we treat the ordinary as holy and keep our focus on what is truly important.