Home Seniors Programs Special Needs Mommy and Me Join a Study Group Bat Mitzvah Program for Women of All Ages One on One Learning Giving
Parsha Points About Us Contact Us

The Significance of Sukkot Print E-mail
Tuesday, 28 November 2023

At the end of Parshat Vayetze, Lavan sent Yaakov and his family on their way to return home.

As Yaakov entered the Land of Israel, we see that he named the places that he encountered along the way.

In Breisheet 32:1-2 we read:

Yaakov continued on his way- and angels of God encountered him. When he saw them, Yaakov said, “This is God’s own camp,” and he named the place Machanayim (two camps).”

In Parshat Vayishlach, After Yaakov crossed the Yabok and fought with the angel, in Breisheet 32:30, “Yaakov named the place Peniel (face of God), ‘for I have seen God face to face and yet my life has been spared.’”

After Esav went home to Seir, Yaakov went to Sukkot (Breisheet 33:17):

Yaakov travelled to Sukkot and built himself a house (bayit), and for his livestock he made sukkot (booths). He therefore named the place Sukkot.

We learn in the Talmud, Megilla 17a that Yaakov was in Sukkot for eighteen months.

Rashi, as explained by the Maharsha points out that he was there for a summer, a winter and another summer.

A house implies a winter home while a sukkah is a summer dwelling. The plural “sukkot” suggests two seasons of shelter-dwelling while house in the singular alludes to a single winter. Nothing is derived from the first mention of Sukkot because that is the name of the town.

The places that Yaakov named appear once again in the books of the prophets:

The location of Sukkot is outlined in the book of Yehoshua as part of the tribe of Gad’s inheritance (13:24-28):

…All of the cities of Gilad, and half the land of the children of Amon…and from Cheshbon to Ramat HaMitzpeh and Vetonim and from Machanayim to the border of Dvir. And in the valley:…Sukkot and Zaphon- the rest of the kingdom of Sichon, king of Cheshbon- the Jordan at its border, to the shore of the Kineret Sea on the eastern side of the Jordan…

In Shoftim 8:4-9 the cities of Sukkot and Peniel appear in the story of Gidon:

Gidon arrived at the Jordan and crossed over, but the 300 men that were with him were weary from the chase. He said to the people of Sukkot, “Please provide loaves of bread for the men following me, for they are exhausted, and I am pursuing Zebah and Zalmunna, the kings of Midian…”

The people of Sukkot refused to help out so Gidon ascended to Peniel but they too refused to help.

In Melachim I 7:46, we see that the spot where King Shlomo made the copper vessels for the Temple was in the Plain of Jordan between Sukkot and Zarethan.

Do we know where Sukkot is located today?

According to archaeologist Yochanan Aharoni, Sukkot is associated with Tel Dir Alla, located in the Biblical borders of the Land of Israel on the eastern side of the Jordan (where Jordan is today) in the spot where Wadi Yabok meets the Jordan River.

We have come a long way from the days of Gidon when the people of Sukkot and Peniel refused to give his soldiers food. Today, everyone is reaching out to make sure that the soldiers are fed properly.

As the weather has changed and we have moved in from our sukkot to our homes, we must remember that our soldiers are still staying in makeshift homes in order to protect us.

When one travels to the border of Gaza, they encounter a surprising sight. The whole area is frozen in time back to October 7 and the sukkot have still not been taken down.

May we quickly finish off the enemy and allow for the soldiers to return to their warm homes. May we have strength to rebuild what was destroyed and take down the sukkot that remind us of how much we have lost.

May the blessing that we say in the Hashkiveynu prayer each Friday night be fulfilled: Blessed are you God who spreads the sukkah (shelter) of peace upon us, upon all of Israel and upon Jerusalem.

Why did Yaakov buy land in Israel? Print E-mail
Thursday, 08 December 2022

After Yaakov separated from his brother, Esav and returned to the Land of C’naan we read (Breisheet 33:18):

Yaakov came to Shalem, a city of Shechem, which is in the Land of C’naan, when he came back from Padan Aram. He encamped before the city. He bought the part of the field where he had spread his tent from the sons of Chamor, father of Shechem, for one hundred kesitas.

Rashbam explains that Shalem was a city that belonged to Shechem, the son of Chamor. After the incident with Dina, when Yaakov’s sons fought against Shechem, the name of the city Shalem was changed to Shechem.

Why is Yaakov already buying land as soon as he returns to the Land of C’naan?

Ramban explains that Yaakov did not wish to be a transient lodger in the city. Rather, he wanted his inaugural entrance into the Land to be into his own property. Therefore, he encamped in the field and bought a place for the purpose of taking possession of the Land.

According to Ibn Ezra, the Torah mentions that Yaakov bought land to show us that the Land of Israel has great virtues and whoever has a portion of it is considered to have a portion in the World to Come.

Just like Yaakov, people have different reasons for buying property in Israel. Some buy for the material asset, some buy for the spiritual investment. Others buy so that they will have a place of their own to remodel and turn into a home while others buy in order to live without having to worry about their landlord raising the rent or selling their home from under them.

May all those who want to acquire a piece of the Land of Israel have the opportunity to do so!

Our roots in Shechem Print E-mail
Monday, 15 November 2021

In Parshat Vayishlach, after Yaakov separates from Esav we read (Breisheet 33:18-20):

Yaakov arrived safely at the city of Shechem, which is in the Land of C’naan, when he came from Padan Aram. He encamped before the city. He bought the part of the field where he had spread his tent, from the sons of Chamor, father of Shechem, for 100 kesitas. He set up an altar there and called it “El Elohei Yisrael.”

In the Book of Yehoshua (24:32), we come full circle when we read about Yosef’s burial in Shechem:

Yosef’s bones, which B’nai Yisrael had brought from Egypt, they buried in Shechem, in the portion of the field that Yaakov acquired from the children of Chamor, the father of Shechem, for 100 kesitas; and it became a heritage for the children of Yosef.

It is clear from these two sources that our history in Shechem goes back to the TaNaCh.

Yosef’s tomb is located at the eastern entrance of the valley that separates Har Grizim and Har Eval. It is 300 meters northwest of Yaakov’s Well, on the outskirts of the city of Nablus.

After Israel captured Nablus in 1967, Jews began to frequent the tomb. Unfortunately, over the years, there have been many conflicts at the site.

Shulamit Aloni, minister of culture and education in the Rabin government did not help matters when she promoted the idea (falsely claimed by archeologists) that the site was only 200 years old.  Palestinian spokesperson Hanan Ashwari as well claimed that Judaism’s connection with the tomb was fabricated.

The site was viciously attacked on two occasions:

In 1996, six Israeli soldiers were killed at the tomb after Nablus was handed over to the PA as part of the Oslo Accords (even though technically, Yosef’s tomb along with other religious sites was still considered under Israeli control).

In 2000, Prime Minister Ehud Barak handed over Yosef’s tomb to the Palestinian Police. This was a humiliating moment for Israel. Palestinians burned the tomb immediately after it was evacuated. Madhat Yusef, a Druze Israel Border Policeman was killed. When Rabbi Hillel Lieberman rushed to the tomb to check the damage, he too was killed.

Unfortunately the site is no longer in Israeli hands. Jews can only visit with permission from the army.

In 2011, the Palestinian Authority Police opened fire on three cars of worshippers after they were praying at Yosef’s tomb. One man was killed, Ben Yosef Livnat, former culture minister, Limor Livnat’s nephew. It seems that the visit was not coordinated by the authorities. Former IDF Chief of Staff, Benny Gantz stated that they fired without justification.

There have been more clashes, fires and damage to the tomb ever since.

It is unfortunate that the Israeli government does not see Yosef’s tomb as a priority even though it is clear from the TaNaCh that it is one of our holy sites.

May we see the day when Yosef’s tomb is properly cared for the way that Yosef’s bones were taken care of by B’nai Yisrael.

Shechem: The first city of our forefathers Print E-mail
Thursday, 03 December 2020


Sponsored by Leah and Bernie Weinberger in honor of the anniversary of their son Michael's Bar Mitzvah, Parshat Vayishlach, 28 years ago


Shechem often gets a bad rap as it is the city where Dinah was raped and Yosef was sold. However, before those two horrible occurrences, Shechem was the place where Avraham and Yaakov arrived safely when they reached the Land of Israel.

In Breisheet 12:6-7 we read about Avraham’s arrival:

Avram passed through the land as far as the site of Shechem, at Elon Moreh. The Canaanites were then in the land. God appeared to Avram and said, “I will assign this land to your offspring.” And he built an altar there to God who had appeared to him.

According to Rashi, Avram stopped in the city of Shechem in order to pray on behalf of Ya’akov’s sons, anticipating the time when they would come to fight against Shechem, the prince. Rashi then explains that Elon Moreh is another name for Shechem. God showed Avram Mount Gerizim and Mount Eval where Israel would take upon themselves the oath to observe the Torah.

Radak explains: Rashi alludes to the fact that Avram saw a prophetic vision of the rape of Dinah in that town, and how the sons of Yaakov would avenge that deed. He therefore stopped there and offered a prayer on behalf of the family of Yaakov, asking God to save them from the pursuit and hatred of the Emorites who would try and avenge their compatriots. We know that this prayer was answered from Breisheet 35:5 “the fear of God was on these cities...”

Radak continues: Avraham foresaw that the Jewish people at Mount Gerizim and Mount Eval would confirm that the Torah was binding for them.  The word Elon is an allusion to the oath the people would swear in that location not to violate those commandments. Avram prayed there asking God to make the hearts of the people amenable at that time to take upon themselves this oath

Ramban quotes the famous saying from Midrash Tanchuma: "Everything that occurred to our forefathers is a sign for the children." The verses recounting the journeys of our forefathers come to teach about the future…Avraham took possession of this place (Shechem) at the very beginning, even before the land was given to him. It was thus hinted to him that his children would conquer this place first before they would merit it, and before the guilt of the dwellers of the land was complete to warrant their exile from there. And therefore, it stated, "and the Canaanite was then in the land." And when the Holy One, blessed be He, gave him the land by His word, then he traveled from there and planted his tent between Beit El and the Ai, since it is the place that Yehoshua conquered first....

When Yaakov returned to the Land, Shechem was his first stop as well (Breisheet 33:18-20):

Yaakov arrived “Shalem”, safe in the city of Shechem which is in the land of Canaan—having come from Paddan Aram—and he encamped before the city. The parcel of land where he pitched his tent he purchased from the children of Chamor, Shechem’s father, for a hundred kesitahs. He set up an altar there, and called it El-Elohe-Yisrael.

Rashi explains the meaning of the word “Shalem”, safely, literally, whole, perfect, unimpaired —Yaakov was unimpaired in body (health) as he was cured of his lameness (after fighting the angel); whole in regard to his possessions for he was not short of anything even though he had given Esav a huge gift (for his remaining cattle soon bore other young); and perfect in his knowledge of the Torah for he did not forget his Torah learning while he was in Lavan’s house (Talmud, Shabbat 33b).

Even though the city of Shechem may seem tainted to us due to the atrocities that later occurred there, we must remember that Shechem was the spot where God showed Avraham, the first “oleh chadash” (new immigrant) that he finally arrived at his destination and that his offspring would eventually inherit the entire land. It is also the place where Yaakov, the first “toshav chozer” (returning citizen) finally felt calm, complete and truly at home again after being on the run from his brother. As well, it was the spot where B’nai Yisrael as a nation took upon themselves the oath to observe the Torah. 

Why is it hard to find kosher filet mignon? Print E-mail
Monday, 16 December 2019

I went out to dinner in Jerusalem with friends from the United States and they were surprised to see filet mignon on the menu. They said that they thought that it is not kosher and that they never saw it at a kosher restaurant before.

Filet mignon is in fact kosher. However, since the meat is close to the “Gid HaNashe”, the sinew in an animal’s leg that the Torah forbids us to eat, a very skilled person is needed to separate the forbidden parts in a process called nikur, tunneling. In the United States, where kosher meat is readily available, most of the hind portions are sold to non-Jews so that the kosher butchers don’t have to deal with this intricate process of removing the “Gid HaNashe” so certain cuts are not available.

The background of why we don’t eat the “Gid HaNashe” comes from Parshat Vayishlach, Breisheet 25-32:

Yaakov fought with the angel prior to his meeting with his brother Esav. When the angel realized that he could not prevail over Yaakov, he struck Yaakov’s hip, dislocating his thighbone from the hip- socket and leaving him with a limp. In consequence, Breisheet 32:33 states “Therefore B’nei Yisrael must not eat the Gid HaNashe (displaced sinew) which is on the spoon of the thigh, to this very day; because he struck the spoon of Yaakov’s thigh, on the displaced sinew.”

The Talmud, Chulin 101b points out that the mitzvah of Gid HaNashe was commanded in Vayishlach as part of the story of Yaakov and the angel and was later commanded at Sinai as well.

In Israel, there is a small market for non-kosher meat so the hind portions are not sold to non-Jews. The entire animal is koshered and the “Gid HaNashe” is removed. Therefore, filet mignion is available in Israel, another good reason to come to Israel (unless you are a vegetarian or you have just become one after reading this article. In that case, we have some great fruits and vegetables here as well).

Be wary of those who lay it on too thick Print E-mail
Wednesday, 21 November 2018

In memory of Dorothy and Harry DuBrow on their yahrzeits

In Parshat Vayishlach, Esav seems overly excited about being reunited with his brother Yaakov who he has not seen for twenty years. This is surprising since they did not part on good terms. In Parshat Toldot, after Yitzchak blessed Yaakov (Breisheet 27:41) “Esav hated Yaakov because of the blessing with which his father blessed him. Esav said in his heart, ‘The mourning days for my father are approaching. I will then kill my brother, Yaakov.’”

We read how excited Esav is to see Yaakov in Breisheet 33:4, “Esav ran to meet him. He hugged him and fell on his neck and kissed him. They both wept.”

Many of the words used here to describe Esav’s behavior remind us of other emotional family reunions in the Torah. Nehama Leibowitz brings Benno Jacob’s list of similar meetings in the Torah:

Yaakov and Rachel: (Breishet 29:11) “And Yaakov kissed Rachel and lifted up his voice and wept.”

Yosef and Binyamin: (Breisheet 45:14) “And he (Yosef) fell on the neck of Binyamin, his brother and wept and Binyamin wept upon his neck.”

Yaakov and Yosef: (Breisheet 46:29) “And Yosef harnessed his chariot, and went up to greet his father, Yisrael in Goshen. When he appeared before him, he fell on his neck, and wept on his neck for a long time.”

Moshe and Aharon: (Shmot 4:27) “God said to Aharon, ‘Go meet Moshe in the desert.’ He (Aharon) went and met him at the mountain of God and he kissed him.”

Benno Jacob explains that the description of Esav’s running, embracing, falling, kissing and weeping is suspect. Yaakov can see through Esav. He does not believe that Esav is genuine and parts ways with him.

In all of the other cases, which were sincere reunions, one, two or three of the verbs were used. In Esav’s case all five were used!

We can learn from here that it is best to be upfront and honest. Someone who puts on an act will be regarded as suspect. There is no reason to lay it on so thick!

Dinah and the #MeToo campaign Print E-mail
Monday, 27 November 2017

Breisheet Chapter 34 begins with the story of the rape of Dinah: “Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Yaakov, went out, to see the local girls. She was seen by Shechem, son of Chamor, the Chivi, who was the prince of the land. He took her and lay with her and afflicted her (vaye’aneha).”

Ramban explains that all forced sexual connection is called “affliction”, “inui”. Scripture emphasizes that Dinah was forced and did not consent to the prince of the country.

As the story unfolds, we do not hear from Dinah at all, not after the rape and not when she is taken captive. From what we see from the text, she is completely silent when Shechem tries to convince her brothers to let him marry her. We also don’t hear from her after she is rescued.

Yaakov is silent as well.

In Breisheet 34:5 we read: “Yaakov heard that he (Shechem) had defiled his daughter, Dinah, while his sons were with the livestock in the fields. Yaakov remained silent until they returned.”

Yaakov let his sons do all of the talking and negotiating with Shechem’s family and he only speaks up at the end of the chapter (sentence 30) about Shimon and Levi’s violence, not about the rape: “Yaakov said to Shimon and Levi, ‘You have made trouble for me, to make me odious among the inhabitants of the land, among the C’naani and Prizi. Since I am few in number, they will gather and attack me. I and my family will be destroyed.’”

We know that Shimon and Levi’s behavior (killing the men on the third day after they had been circumcised) continued to bother Yaakov. On his death bed (Breisheet 49:7) Yakov said “Cursed be their (Shimon and Levi’s) anger for it is powerful and their fury for it is cruel.”

Why didn’t Yaakov speak up about the rape? Why did he let things get out of hand before intervening? Why don’t we hear from Dinah?

We don’t have answers to any of those questions and unfortunately some things still have not changed.

Through the recent #MeToo campaign, many women who were afraid to speak out about the abuse that they went through are finally opening up about what happened.

Unfortunately, Dinah was never able to express herself and tell her own story about what really went on and the anguish that she suffered.

May the statements of the women who have courageously spoken up so far help promote awareness of abuse and help deter all forms of misconduct in the future.

Yaakov’s sheep are back in Israel! Print E-mail
Thursday, 15 December 2016

 Commemorating the yahrzeit’s of Dorothy and Harry Dubrow z”l

In Breisheet 25:27, Yaakov is described as “ish tam yoshev ohalim”, “a plain man dwelling in tents”. Rashi comments that “dwelling in tents” refers to Yaakov being a scholar who studied in the tents (yeshivot) of Shem and Ever. Radak and Rav Saadiah Gaon also interpret the phrase to mean scholar.

There is also another interpretation. According to Chizkuni, Ibn Ezra, Rashbam and Bechor Shor the plain meaning of the text is that Yaakov tended his father’s sheep. This makes sense since as soon as he got to Lavan’s house, Yaakov began to work for him, taking care of his sheep as an experienced shepherd.

In Breisheet 29:15 “Lavan said to Yaakov, ‘Just because you are my relative, must you work for me without pay? Tell me what I should pay you.’”

Ramban explains that the unidentified “work” here means the tending of the sheep, for this is what was needed and this was the subject of their conversation.

Yaakov worked as a shepherd for seven years in order to marry Rachel but instead Lavan gave him Leah, so he had to work another seven years for Rachel. After the fourteen years, he continued working for Lavan for six more years without compensation. When enough was enough, Yaakov said that as compensation, he would keep any new flock born spotted and speckled as well as any new dark brown sheep. Lavan agreed to this. With God’s help, Yaakov figured out a way for the sheep to reproduce spotted and speckled and he became prosperous. Lavan was not happy and tried to change the terms of the agreement again until Yaakov had enough and decided to take his family and go back home (based on a dream where the angel of God told him that it was time to return to the land of his birth, the Land of Cnaan).

After Yaakov tried to sneak away with his family and was caught by Lavan, they finally made peace and with Lavan’s blessing, Yaakov took his wives, children and flocks back to the Land of Cnaan.

In Parshat Vayishlach, which took place about 3000 years ago,  Yaakov prepared a peace offering gift for Esav (who was preparing to kill him the last time that they met) which included 200 female goats, twenty male goats, 200 ewes and twenty rams.

Yaakov’s flocks and their descendents remained in Israel for 1000 years until the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash where they went into exile along with the Jewish people and did not return.

This past week, the flocks began to come back. An organization called Friends of Jacob’s Sheep began to bring 119 spotted and speckled sheep to Israel from Canada.

Once all of the sheep have arrived and settled, visitors will be able to see the sheep and get a glimpse into the life of Yaakov and his flocks.

Why was Yaakov so worried? Print E-mail
Monday, 30 November 2015

Commemorating the Yahrzeit of Harry V. (Tzvi) DuBrow

In Parshat Vayishlach, when Yaaakov heard that Esav was approaching him with four hundred men (Breisheet 32:8-9) “Yaakov was frightened and distressed. He divided the people that were with him along with the sheep, cattle and camels into two camps. He said ‘If Esav comes to one camp and attacks it, the remaining camp will survive.’”

God already promised Yaakov that he had nothing to worry about so why was he distressed and afraid?

According to Rashi Yaakov feared that he may be killed and he was distressed that he might kill others.

Those who are living in Israel during these difficult times understand where Yaakov was coming from when he was afraid. When you have male and female terrorists as young as eleven years old attempting to stab innocent people with knives and scissors on the street, on the train or on a bus, the situation can be frightening. When you have drivers purposely trying to run over innocent people who are waiting at a bus stop it is not a surprise that people worry every time they need to take a bus. When rocks as big as cinder blocks are thrown at cars for no reason other than the fact that the kids throwing the rocks want to see Israelis dead it can make people nervous to drive on certain roads.

The Israeli soldiers, police and others who carry a weapon also understand where Yaakov was coming from when he was distressed. Israeli security personnel and those who carry weapons don’t want to have to use them. They are distressed about the fact that if a terrorist approaches them they may have to kill them. However, they know that Jewish law teaches us self defense, if someone comes to kill you, you need to kill them first.

Yaakov was afraid and distressed but he didn’t just worry. He was proactive. He divided the group in half to make sure that at least some, if not all of his family would be saved. He offered gifts to Esav, prayed and prepared for war.

Israel is concerned about the current situation just as Yaakov was. Just as Yaakov was proactive, so are we. Security has been tightened and many attacks have been thwarted. Israelis are still going on with their daily routines, just with a little more caution. Just as Yaakov prayed, we are praying for peace and for a full recovery for those who have been injured. And Israel has a strong army which is prepared for war if the need arises.

May we have peace in the State of Israel & throughout the world!

Are Bilha and Zilpa Considered Our Imahot (Matriarchs)? Print E-mail
Monday, 11 November 2013
In Parshat Vayishlach, as Yaakov was about to meet Esav (Breisheet 33:2) “He (Yaakov) placed the handmaids (shfachot) and their children in the front, Leah and her sons behind them and Rachel and Yosef in the back”.


The handmaids were Bilha and Zilpa.


The first time that we hear of Zilpa is in Breisheet 29:24, when Leah marries Yaakov: “Lavan gave Zilpa his servant to her, to Leah, his daughter as a handmaid.”


Bilha is mentioned in Breisheet 29:29, when Rachel and Yaakov finally get married: “To his daughter Rachel, Lavan gave his servant Bilha to be her handmaid.”


When Rachel had difficulty getting pregnant, she gave Bilha to Yaakov (Breisheet 30:3-4): “She (Rachel) said: Here is my handmaid Bilha, consummate a marriage with her. Let her give birth upon my knees and I too will have a son through her. She gave him Bilha, her handmaid as a wife and Yaakov consummated the marriage with her.”


Bilha gave birth to two children and Rachel named them Dan and Naftali. The children of Rachel’s handmaid were considered as if they were Rachel’s own children.


After having four children, Leah gave her handmaid to Yaakov as well in Breisheet 30:9-10: “Leah realized that she was no longer bearing children. She therefore took Zilpa her handmaid and gave her to Yaakov as a wife.”


Zilpa gave birth to two sons and Leah named them Gad and Asher.


Lekach Tov points out that Yaakov did not just take Bilha and Zilpa as concubines. It is very clear from the text that he married them.


Chizkuni adds that they were married with a Ketuba (marriage contract) and Kidushin (full marriage ceremony). All twelve tribes were therefore children of Yaakov’s wives (not children of concubines).


At the time that Yaakov and his family were parting from Lavan (Breisheet 31:43), “Lavan said to Yaakov: The daughters are my daughters (HaBanot Bnotai), the sons are my sons and these flocks are my flocks. All that you see is mine. What can I do this day for these my daughters (vili’vnotai), or for their children whom they have born?”


According to Midrash Raba 74:14, all four of Yaakov’s wives were Lavan’s daughters. When he mentions daughters (bnotai) the first time he is referring to Rachel and Leah, daughters of his wife and when he says daughters (vnotai) the second time he is referring to Bilha and Zilpa, daughters of his concubine.


This idea is further reinforced in Breisheet 31:50, when Lavan told Yaakov not to marry other wives “in addition to my daughters.”


If all four women were Yaakov’s wives, then why did he decide to put Bilha and Zilpa and their children first (what seemed to be the most dangerous spot) when greeting Esav?


Midrash HaBiur which is quoted in Torah Shlema explains that Yaakov knew that if Esav was going to hurt anyone it would be Rachel and Yosef and therefore he kept them hidden in the back. It was not because his other wives and children were inferior.


Bilha and Zilpa were the mothers of Dan, Naftali, Gad and Asher. Should they count as our Matriarchs?


The Midrash in Shir HaShirim (Song of Songs) Raba 6:4:2 teaches: The number six corresponds to the six Imahot (Matriarchs): Sara, Rivka, Rachel, Leah, Bilha and Zilpa.


However, the Gemara in Brachot 16b states: We do not call anyone Matriarchs of the Jews except for four individuals who according to Rashi are Sara, Rivka, Rachel and Leah.


Rav Hai Gaon explains that only these four women were worthy of the title “Imenu”, “Our Mother.”


Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov were the only ones who had the title of “Avinu”, “Our Father.” That does not mean that the Twelve Tribes were not important, it just means that they do not receive the same level of honor. So too, just because Bilha and Zilpa were not described as “Matriarchs” in the Talmud doesn’t mean that they did not make a huge contribution to the birth of the Jewish nation.



What Happened to Kever Rachel? Print E-mail
Friday, 30 November 2012
What Happened to Kever Rachel (Rachel's Tomb)?
In Parshat Vayishlach, we read about the death of Rachel, shortly after Yaakov and his family arrived back in the Land of Israel.
There is a controversy as to where Rachel is buried. Is she buried closer to the city of Efrat, South of Jerusalem (where her tomb is marked today), or is she buried closer to Ramah, North of Jerusalem?
The reason that it would make sense for her to be buried North of Jerusalem is because that is the territory of Binyamin (her son) as opposed to South of Jerusalem which is the territory of Yehuda (Leah's son).
In Parshat Vayishlach 35:7, it states: "Rachel died and was buried on the way to Efrat which is Beit Lechem."
The prophecy of Yirmiyahu 31 states: "A voice will be heard in Ramah- wailing, bitter, weeping- Rachel weeps for her children..." which would lead us to believe that she is buried closer to Ramah.
In any case, the spot that we have traditionally marked as Rachel's tomb in Beit Lechem (whether it is her exact burial place or not) has become a holy site since we have been praying there for thousands of years and therefore it has a level of holiness.
A quote about the Modern Kever Rachel from The Committee For Rachel's Tomb:
The exterior of the Tomb was once a humble, quaint and homey religious site but the situation required that it be transformed into a fortress. The new Rachel's Tomb building is built to withstand the ravages of war, both to protect the tomb as well as those within should hostilities break out. Besides the guard towers there are many small windows that are designed to enable our soldiers to shoot out in the event of a siege. These windows allow a myriad of our soldiers to actively defend the tomb while being safely protected by the walls should this ever come to pass, God forbid! Fortunately, the area around the Tomb remains calm.
Early winter of 2000, the area became much more secure and this was mostly because of the people who have been demanding to the Israeli government to be able to visit our holy site. The reason for this is quite simple. Previously ex Prime Minister Barak had been unwilling to unleash even a tiny portion of the power that the Israeli Defense Forces are capable of to defend the Tomb and as a result he had let the Arabs attack our Matriarch's resting place with impunity and repeatedly.
Back in November 2000, the government had agreed to allow Jews to visit the site, under heavy security, so the site had become far safer because the visitors must be protected.
By 2008 the Israeli government under former PM Ehud Olmert established a Security Fence to cordon-off certain areas of the Palestinian Authority to prevent the ingress of Arab terrorists, especially genocide-bombers, into I the interior of Israel and her major cities. Since Rachel's Tomb was in the middle of Bethlehem that was abandoned by previous governments there was some doubt that Olmert's government would keep Rachel's Tomb as everything depended on the route of the Security Fence. One plan was to leave Rachel's Tomb outside the Security Fence and simply abandon it to the Palestinian Authority. With every hint by government officials and leftist Keneset Members that Rachel's Tomb might be abandoned a hew and cry arose from the Israeli public - nonreligious and religious alike - that opposed this idea. To gauge the public sentiment the government wanted the soldiers stationed at Rachel's Tomb to count the number of visitors that entered the Tomb and send the results to the committee that decided the route of the Security Fence. Mostly from the tallies of the numbers of those who went to visit the Tomb the government decided to route the Security Fence around Rachel's Tomb so that the Tomb resides in a compound surrounded with high concrete walls and guard towers where IDF soldiers protect those who go to visit the Tomb. At that time visitors were only permitted to enter the Tomb compound in armored vehicles.
In early 2009, the security situation improved to the point that visitors may enter the Tomb compound in ordinary vehicles as the restriction that required armored vehicles had been lifted.
The fact is that everyone who visits the Tomb forces the government to take firm action to protect the grave of Rachel. If we continue to demand that Rachel's Tomb remain in Jewish hands - and actually go to visit our 3rd most important holy place - we will insure that it will remain in our hands rather than be surrendered to the Palestinian Authority in the "peace process" or simply abandoned in war.
Below: The traditional picture of Kever Rachel
Photo: The classic picture of Kever Rachel
My Visit to Kever Rachel 20 years ago and Moshe and Yehuda at Kever Rachel last year.
Photo: Kever Rachel 20 years ago!Photo: Kever Rachel as it looks in 2012
May we all merit to visit Kever Rachel as often as possible!
Shabbat Shalom from Yerushalayim!
Sharona Margolin Halickman
Special Protection for those Living in the Land of Israel Print E-mail
Friday, 09 December 2011


In Parshat Vayishlach, Yaakov returns with his family to the Land of Israel. He is very worried about seeing his brother Esav who had said over twenty years before that he is planning to kill Yaakov.


In Breisheet 32:8 we read: “Yaakov was very frightened and distressed.”


Why is Yaakov so worried about Esav? Why isn’t he confident that God will protect him?


Midrash Raba states: Yaakov said to himself: “All of these years, Esav has been living in the Land of Israel, maybe he will have more merits than me and overcome me because he has the merit of living in the Land of Israel all of those years (which I don’t have).”


The Vilna Gaon asks: How do we know that the mitzvah of “Yishuv Eretz Yisrael”, “Settling the Land of Israel” was already in effect in the days of Yaakov?


The Vilna Gaon answers that the mitzvah of “Lech Lecha Miartzecha”, “Leave Your Home and Go to the Land that I will Show You” which was commanded to Avraham was also given to Avraham’s descendents who came after him. Yaakov was worried since Esav was also a descendent of Avraham that he would merit extra protection since he observed the mitzvah of settling the Land of Israel the entire time that Yaakov was in Chutz La’Aretz, outside of the Land.


The fact that Yaakov was worried shows us that he understood how big an impact living in Israel can have, even for someone like Esav. How much more of an impact can it have on a person who is observing the Torah and performing mitzvot while living in the Land of Israel.


Lets Continue to Fulfill Yaakov’s Blessing Print E-mail
Friday, 19 November 2010

At the end of Parshat Toldot, Breisheet 28:3-4, right before Yaakov left to go to Padan Aram, Yitzchak gave the following blessing to Yaakov: “And may God bless you, make you fruitful and make you numerous and may you be a congregation of peoples. May God grant you the blessing of Avraham to you and to your offspring with you, that you may possess the land of your sojourns which God gave to Avraham.”


In Parshat Vayetze, Yaakov has a dream where God reaffirms this blessing, Breisheet 28:13-15 “…and God said: ‘I am the God of Avraham your father and God of Yitzchak; the ground upon which you are lying, to you will I give it and to your descendents. Your offspring shall be as the dust of the earth, and you shall spread out powerfully westward, eastward, northward and southward; and all of the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you and your offspring. Behold, I am with you; I will guard you wherever you go, and I will return you to this soil; for I will not forsake you until I have done what I have told you’”.


In Parshat Vayishlach, Yaakov returns to the Land of C’naan. At that point, God changes Yaakov’s name to Yisrael and once again reaffirms the blessing that he gave to Yaakov before he left the Land, Breisheet 35:11-12: “And God said to him, ‘I am E-l Sha-dai. Be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a congregation of nations shall descend from you, and kings shall issue from your loins. The Land that I gave to Avraham and to Yitzchak, I will give it to you; and to your offspring after you I will give this Land…”


Why do the blessings of having children and inheriting the land have to be reiterated so many times?


The first time, in Toldot, Yitzchak gave the blessing. In order for us to know that Yitzchak didn’t make a mistake by giving it to Yaakov (when maybe it should have gone to Esav) it was important for God to give that blessing directly to Yaakov.


In Vayetze, God wanted to make it clear to Yaakov that He will protect him, Esav will not harm him and that He will bring him back to the Land where the ultimate promise will be fulfilled.


In Vayishlach, now that Yaakov has returned to the Land and brought his children with him, he receives the final affirmation that the Land belongs to him and his offspring. Yaakov made peace with Esav who went back to Seir, the land that he was destined to inherit.


God’s promises to Yaakov’s offspring are promises to us. The Land of Israel is our land to live in, build up and possess!

Where is the Best Place for the Divine Presence to Dwell- a Mountain, a Field or a House? Print E-mail
Sunday, 06 December 2009
Rabbi Elazar makes the following statement in Masechet Pesachim 88a:

What is the meaning of the pasuk in Yishayahu 2:3 “Many peoples will go and say ‘Come let us go up to the mountain of Hashaem, to the House of the God of Yaakov…’”?

Why does the pasuk specify the God of Yaakov? Is the Beit HaMikdash only the house of the God of Yaakov and not also the house of the God of Avraham and Yitzchak?

Rather, the pasuk teaches that the Beit Hamikdash is not like the description found in the context of Avraham, concerning whom it is written “har, mountain”(Breisheet 22:4) and it is not like the description found in the context of Yitzchak, concerning whom it is written “sadeh, field”(24:63). Rather, it is like the description found in the context of Yaakov who called it “bayit, house” as it is stated: “Vayikra et Shem HaMakom HaHu Beit El”, “He named that place Beit El, the House of God (28:19).”

According to Rashi, Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov each prayed on the Temple Mount, but each one viewed it differently. Only Yaakov saw it as a house, a place of habitation.

Maharsha based on Pesikta Rabati 39:3 explains that each of the three descriptions corresponds to one of the three Temples:

Avraham’s mountain represents the First Temple. The Shechina watched over the Temple like a guard stationed on top of a mountain. This protection was not permanent as the First Beit HaMikdash was eventually destroyed.

The field of Yitzchak signifies the Second Temple which merited an even lesser degree of the Shechina.

The house of Yaakov symbolizes the Third Temple which like a house will be permanently protected by the Shechina.

“Let us go to the House of the God of Yaakov” refers to the Third Beit HaMikdash.

May we all have the opportunity to witness the building of the Third Beit HaMikdash speedily in our day!
The Merit of Living in the Land of Israel Print E-mail
Saturday, 06 December 2008

When Yaakov heard that his brother, Esav was coming to meet him accompanied by 400 men, Yaakov was frightened and distressed (Vayishlach 32:7-8).


What was Yaakov so worried about. After all, didn’t God tell him that He would protect him?


The Vilna Gaon explains the the mitzvoth of Brit Milah (circumcision) and Yishuv Eretz Yisrael (settling the Land of Israel) were given to Avraham and passed on to the generations that came after him. As it says in Breisheet Raba: Yaakov said: All of these years, Esav has been living in the Land of Israel (while I haven’t been) so maybe he will defeat me because of the power of his observance of the mitzvah of Yishuv Eretz Yisrael.


Rabbi Shmuel Mohlibar points out the famous midrash that Rashi brings down on the words in 32:5, “im Lavan garti”, “I lived with Lavan”- the gimatria, numerical value of garti is 613 (the amount of mitzvoth in the Torah), as if to say: “I lived with the wicked Lavan and yet I kept the mitzvoth and have not learned from his wicked deeds”. If Yaakov kept so many mitzvoth, why is he worried about Esav who only kept one mitzvah? The mitzvah of Yishuv Eretz Yisrael is so powerful that (even when observed by someone like Esav) it can equal all of the other mitzvoth put together. How much more so does God love when a Jewish person (who may not fully observe all of the other mitzvoth) lives in the Land of Israel. As it says in Yalkut Shimoni, Eicha: God said: “How I wish that the Jewish people would be in the land of Israel, even if they make it impure”.


There are many Israelis today who call themselves “chiloni”, “secular”. However, the term secular Israeli is really an oxymoron. If someone is living in the Land of Israel, they are observing the mitzvah of Yishuv Eretz Yirael which may be equal to all of the other mitzvoth combined.

Who is Happy? One who is Satisfied with what they Have Print E-mail
Thursday, 22 November 2007

In order to try to make peace with his brother Esav, Yaakov offered Esav an impressive gift. The tribute included 200 she goats, 20 he goats, 200 ewes, 20 rams, 30 nursing camels with their colts, 40 cows, 10 bulls, 20 she donkeys and 10 he donkeys.

In Breishhet 33:9, Esav says “yesh li rav…”, “I have plenty, let what you have remain yours.”

In the next two psukim, Yaakov begs Esav to accept the gift. In 33:11, Yaakov says: “Please accept my gift which was brought to you, inasmuch as God has been gracious to me and inasmuch as ‘yesh li kol’, I have everything.”

Kli Yakar and the Chafetz Chayim explain the difference between what Esav said and what Yaakov said. Esav said “yesh li rav (plenty)” while Yaakov said “yesh li kol (everything)”. Esav says that he has plenty however he still wants more and more. The more that someone has, the more they want. Yaakov says that he has everything- he is content with what he has.

Ktav Sofer explains that wealth which comes out of luck will never be enough, since it is in a person’s nature to want more and more. However, wealth that comes from God comes in the right amount for a person to live a good life and he won’t always be aching to beg for more. Yaakov is happy that God blessed him and he has no need for more.

As the holiday shopping season takes off, advertisers are working to convince us that we all need more material goods. What we really need is to take a moment to appreciate our family and friends that “God has graciously given us”.

God Helps Those Who Help Themselves Print E-mail
Thursday, 07 December 2006

In the beginning of Parshat Vayishlach, Yaakov was informed that his brother Esav would be approaching him with four hundred men. After not seeing Esav in over 20 years, Yaakov was not sure if Esav still wanted to kill him.

We read in Breisheet 32:8-9: "Yaakov was very frightened and distressed." We then read that Yaakov took the necessary precautions in order to ensure that he and his family would be safe. "He divided the people that were with him, along with the sheep, cattle and camels into two camps. He said, If Esav comes to one camp and attacks it, the remaining camp will survive."

Yaakov did not stop there. He prayed to God and reminded God of his promise to protect him. Breisheet 32:12: "Rescue me from my brother, from the hand of Esav, for I fear him, that he will come and attack me- mother and children alike."

Finally, Yaakov prepared gifts to send to Esav in order to placate him, Breisheet 32:19: ".It is a present sent to my master Esav."

Why didn't Yaakov just rely on God's promise to protect him? Why didn't Yaakov just pray? Why did he have to prepare for war as well as send gifts?

According to Rabbi Isaac Arama (the Akedat Yitzchak) who is quoted by Nechama Leibowitz, "Human initiative is called for and the lack of it where necessary constitutes sin.If a person works, they will be blessed. We see this as well from King David who did all that he could to escape from his enemies and Saul. King David did not just rely on the Divine promises of future success, since he knew that these only hold good for those who complement them by human efforts to the limits of moral capacity."

The same holds true in Israel today. God promised the land of Israel to the Jewish people. However, we must take the initiative and do our part to take care of the land and protect it. This includes having strong leaders, a strong army and citizens who do what they can to contribute to society.

Prayer works, but prayer alone is not enough. God helps those who help themselves.

Why is Rachel Buried On The Way? Print E-mail
Thursday, 15 December 2005

Rachel Imaynu (our fore mother) led a difficult life. First she had to deal with a lot of aggravation concerning getting married. Her father, Lavan only allowed her to marry Jacob after her sister Leah had already married him. Next, she suffered from infertility for many years until she gave birth to Joseph. Finally, in Parshat Vayishlach we read about Rachel's tragic death while giving birth to Benjamin. As the Torah states in Breisheet 35:19 ""Rachel died and was buried on the way to Efrat which is Beit Lechem.""

The question of why Rachel is buried ""on the way"" and not buried in Ma'arat Hamachpela (the cave of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs) in Chevron is sure to cross our minds.

In Breisheet 48:7 right before Jacob's death he asks Joseph to bury him in Ma'arat Hamachpela and reiterates that he buried Rachel ""on the way"".

Joseph already knows that Rachel was buried ""on the way"". Joseph was there when his mother passed away. Why does Jacob again have to reiterate this information?

According to Rashi, Jacob was afraid that Joseph would resent him for burying Rachel ""on the way."" Jacob thought that Joseph might hold a grudge and not bring his own body back to Chevron. Jacob therefore explained that it was actually God's plan to bury her ""on the way"" so that she might help her descendents when they would be sent into exile. When they would pass by way of her grave Rachel would emerge and cry and beseech mercy from God for them. The Navi states in Jeremiah 31: ""A voice is heard in Rama, Rachel is weeping for her children. She refuses to be consoled for her children, for they are gone."" God answers her: ""Restrain you voice from weeping and your eyes from tears. There is a reward for your toil and your children will return to their border (veshavu vanim ligvulam).""

God's promise to Rachel is being fulfilled on a communal level today. The Jewish people are returning to Israel. Next week, another full plane of North American's making aliya will be arriving in Israel.

Last month, Rachel's yahrzeit was commemorated in Israel at Kever Rachel (Rachel's tomb). Many single women traveled to Kever Rachel to pray for a shiduch (husband).Women suffering from infertility prayed for a child. Others came to pray for the welfare of Agunot, women whose husbands refuse to grant them a get, a Jewish divorce.

Rachel overcame great difficulties in getting married and having children. We hope that through her merits our prayers will be answered.

Let's pray that the full prophecy in Yirmiyahu 31 is fulfilled, ""Behold I will bring them; and gather them from the ends of the earth and with them the blind and the lame, the pregnant and birthing women;the young maiden shall rejoice in dance, both young men and old together: for I will turn your mourning into joy and will comfort them.""