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Chayei Sarah
Pack lunch and take a sweater Print E-mail
Wednesday, 08 November 2023

Avraham sent his servant (known in the midrash as Eliezer) to find a wife for his son, Yitzchak. Eliezer brought gifts with him (Breisheet 24:22):

When the camels had finished drinking, the man took a gold nose ring, weighing half a shekel, and two bracelets for her arms, weighing ten gold shekel.

The nose ring and the two bracelets were not the only gifts that Eliezer brought. Once they got back to her house and Eliezer met Rivka’s parents and her brother, he brought out more gifts (Breisheet 24:53):

The servant took out articles of silver, articles of gold and garments, and gave them to Rivka. To her brother and mother he gave migdanot”.

What are migdanot?

Breisheet Raba 60:11 explains that the word “migdanot” comes from the word “megadim”, sweet fruits that the soul is drawn to. In other words, fruits from the Land of Israel. Which types of fruits were these?

According to Rav Huna, they were “koonabei”, fruits that were cooked in honey or sugar.

The rabbis interpreted “megadim” to be parched ears of corn as well as nuts, both of which keep well for a long journey.

Why was “migdanot” mentioned last? Was the food that he brought more important than silver, gold and garments?

The Torah teaches here that practically speaking, if someone sets out on a trip without enough food, they will suffer.

Similarly, we find that before the exodus from Egypt God told Moshe (Shmot 3:22):

Every woman shall borrow from her neighbour and from the woman living in her house, articles of silver and gold and clothing. You shall put them on your sons and daughters...

Does this mean that clothing was more important than the silver and gold since it was mentioned last?

If a person sets out on a journey without proper clothing, they will suffer whether it is by freezing if it is too cold or sweating if it is too hot.

We find this concept in Ezra 1:6 as well, when B’nai Yisrael returned from the exile at the time of the Second Temple:

And their neighbours supported them with vessels of silver, gold, supplies, beasts of burden and “migdanot”...

We see from here that packing food for a journey proves more valuable than silver and gold and proper clothing comes in a close second.

When the soldiers were called up for miluim last month, they went with the clothing on their backs. Some didn’t even have a uniform with them. Arrangements later had to be made to get them the clothing and uniforms that they needed. The soldiers didn’t even have a chance to take food with them and the army had not yet made arrangements for proper meals. All of Israel took over, sending non perishable snacks as well as sandwiches, hot meals and even barbeques in order to make sure that the soldiers were taken care of.

At the end of the day, food that will last for the journey and functional clothing that is appropriate for the climate are more important than fancy jewelry.

May we return to the days when we can peacefully travel around Israel and enjoy all of the beauty that the land has to offer, while carrying lunch and a sweater in our backpacks.

Why was Chayei Sarah read at an Aufruf? Print E-mail
Monday, 14 November 2022

Parshat Chayei Sarah (Breisheet, Chapter 24:1-7) tells the story of how Avraham’s servant helped arrange Yitzchak’s marriage to Rivka. This story was traditionally read at the Aufruf (Shabbat before the wedding in Ashkenazi communities) or the Shabbat Chatan (the Shabbat after the wedding in Sephardi communities) when the groom was publicly honored by the congregation.

While Ashkenazi grooms stopped reading this portion at their Aufrufs already in the 1700s, some North African grooms still have the custom to read Breisheet 24:1-7 from the Torah. Other communities read these seven verses from a Chumash.

The poets of North Africa also sang songs to the groom based on these seven verses. We have four of these songs which were written by Rabbi Mussa Bujnach who lived in Tripoli in the 17th century.

In his songs, Rabbi Bujnach connects the wedding with the theme of redemption. Just as Avraham sent his servant abroad to find a wife for his son, Yitzchak, and then brought Rivka back to the Land of Israel, so too should those who are in exile return.

There was a time when the groom read the Haftara from Yishayahu 61 as well:

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with jewels.

Although this Haftara was no longer read when there was a Shabbat Chatan in Tripoli, one of Rabbi Bujnach’s poems incorporated some of the themes preserving that tradition.

When the groom publicly read the story of how Avraham’s servant was able to successfully find a wife for Yitzchak, the congregants were reminded to tirelessly continue to help those who wanted to get married.

May we have the opportunity to celebrate with many brides and grooms while not forgetting those who are still looking for their bashert (intended).

Can you be both an alien and a resident? Print E-mail
Monday, 25 October 2021

After Sarah’s death, when Avraham goes to buy a burial plot in Chevron, he tells the sons of Chet (Breisheet 23:4): “I am a foreigner (ger) and a resident (toshav) among you.”

Rabbi J. David Bleich points out that the biblical commentators struggle with this contradiction. If one is a toshav, then they are not a ger. If one is a ger, then they are not a toshav. If a person is a stranger, they are not a permanent resident; if a person enjoys rights of residency, they are not an alien. One may be a citizen or a foreigner, a national or a stranger, but a person can’t be both at the same time.

Rabbi Bleich explains that a Jew of today who has visited Chevron knows exactly what Avraham meant. A Jew visiting Chevron today knows what it means to be a ger and a toshav. A Jew feels at home in Israel but in Chevron, one experiences another emotion as well. In Chevron, particularly at Maarat HaMachpela (The Cave of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs), one has a strange feeling, “Here I am; these are our holy places. And yet I am told when I may enter and when I may not enter, where I may pray and where I may not pray. One experiences the dichotomy existentially: “This is mine. Yet if it is mine, why do I feel as a ger? Why do I feel like a stranger?” There is a tension in the air.

I completely understand what Rabbi Bleich is talking about and I have felt that way every time that I have been to Chevron considering how many soldiers need to protect us while we are praying there.

Rabbi Shmuel Mohilever observed:

In purchasing this parcel of land, Avraham paid more than the fair market value. According to the rabbis, the land was not worth the 400 silver shekels which Avraham paid. So why does the Torah record the exact purchase price?

Rabbi Shmuel Mohilever remarked:

The Torah here teaches us a lesson of great significance. The Torah emphasizes that there is no price that is too high for even the smallest portion of the Land of Israel.

I agree with Rabbi Mohilever and part of the Mitzvah of Yishuv Eretz Yisrael, Settling the Land is buying property. However, in many areas of Israel today the cost to buy or rent an apartment is prohibitive.

When you look at the population of Kiryat Arba (the Jewish neighborhood next to Chevron) today, you will notice that there are many new immigrants from different countries including the former Soviet Union, the United States and India who may not be living there for ideological reasons but rather moved there because the prices were affordable.

May we all merit to own a piece of the land of Israel.

Living to a ripe old age Print E-mail
Thursday, 12 November 2020

In the Torah and Haftara readings for Parshat Chayei Sarah, we see the leaders of the Jewish people living to a ripe old age. Our parsha begins with the death of Sarah at 127 years old (Breisheet 23:1) and ends with the death of Avraham at 175 (Breisheet 25:7). The Haftara (Melachim I 1:1-31) tells the story of the end of King David’s life when he is about 70 years old.

There are a few common themes between the parsha and the Haftara:

In the parsha, Breisheet 24:1 we read: “Now Avraham was “zaken, ba bayamim” old, advanced in years, and God had blessed Avraham with everything.” Avraham, who is already about 137 years old sends his servant to find the perfect match for Yitzchak so that the leadership will continue to the next generation. The perpetuation of Avraham’s mission will not be through Yishmael, his older son, rather it will be through Yitzchak, his younger son. Despite his advanced age, Avraham is very aware of what needs to be taken care of and he makes all of the arrangements.

The Haftarah, Melachim I 1:1 states: “King David was “zaken, ba bayamim” old, advanced in years. They covered him in garments, but he did not become warm.” King David is about 70 years old, yet he already lost a lot of strength. He is not involved in the family politics. He is not even aware that Adoniya, his older son is trying to steal the kingship from Shlomo, the son of BatSheva who the monarchy was promised to. Natan the Prophet is the one who has to tell BatSheva to tell David what is going on in order to ensure that Shlomo becomes the next king in the dynasty. Radak explains that due to all of the wars that King David fought, he lost his strength at a much younger age.

In both families, it was imperative that the leadership go to the right son. When Yishmael was still at home, Sarah had to convince Avraham that the inheritor would be Yitzchak, even though God had already made Avraham aware of this. When Avraham was still unsure, God told him to listen to Sarah.

In King David’s case, Shlomo was the son who was supposed to take over the throne, yet Batsheva had to remind David while Natan the Prophet backed her up.  

In Divrei HaYamim (Chronicles) I 22:8-10 David tells Shlomo: “The word of God came to me, saying, ‘You have shed much blood and have made great wars; you shall not build a Temple for My Name’s sake, for you have shed much blood upon the ground before Me. Behold, a son will be born to you; he will be a man of rest, and I shall grant him rest from all his enemies all around. His name will be Shlomo and I will bestow peace and tranquillity upon Israel in his days.’”

In the end, the correct leaders take over, Yitzchak is Avraham’s inheritor and King David ensures that Shlomo is crowned as king.

When Avraham passed away, he was buried in Chevron. David was buried in Ir David (The City of David).

This past week, Rav Dovid Feinstein, the son of Rav Moshe Feinstein passed away at the age of 91. Rav Dovid took over the leadership of his father’s Yeshiva, Mesivta Tiferet Yerushalayim on the Lower East Side of Manhattan when Rav Moshe passed away in 1986. Following in his father’s footsteps, Rav Dovid was one of the most prominent poskim (authorities in Jewish law) of his generation. May his memory be a blessing.

Going above and beyond Print E-mail
Thursday, 21 November 2019

 In Memory of Stephanie Futterman

In Parhsat Chayei Sarah, the word chesed, loving kindness is mentioned many times.

As Avraham is getting older, he asks his servant to find a wife for Yitzchak. Avraham’s criterea are that she not be C’naanite, rather she should be from the land that Avraham came from (Charan) and if she is the right match, she must be brought to Yitzchak, as he may not leave the land of C’naan.

Avraham’s servant vows to try his best and he and his camels set out on the journey, eventually arriving at the well (Breisheet 24:12-14):

He (Avraham’s servant) said, “HaShem, God of my master, Avraham, be present before me today and do chesed (loving kindness) with my master, Avraham. Behold, here I stand by this well of water, and the daughters of the townsmen are coming out to draw water. Let it be that the maiden to whom I say, ‘Please tip over your pitcher that I may drink’ and she will say ‘Drink and I will also water your camels,’ will be the one whom You have determined for your servant, Yitzchak. With her I will know that you have done chesed with my master.”

According to Rashi, she will be the right match, worthy of entering the house of Avraham if she does gmilut chasadim (acts of loving kindness). If she will be from Avraham’s family and the right match for Yitzchak, then I (the servant) will know that You (God) have done chesed.

Rivka arrives at the well and rushes to give the servant as well as his camels as much water as they need. She then tells him that she is the daughter of Betuel, the son of Milka who is the daughter of Nachor (Avraham’s brother) and she invites him, as well as his camels to come over.

The servant is happy to see that she is performing acts of lovingkindness and that she is from the family of Avraham.

In 24:27 we read: “He said, ‘Blessed is HaShem, God of my master Avraham, Who has not abandoned chasdo v’amito (his loving kindness and truth) in dealing with my master. I am on the road and God has led me to the house of my master’s brethren.”

Why does the servant need to mention chesed, loving kindness and emet, truth?

Radak points out that emet, truth is when someone works hard to succeed and God ensures that they will. Chesed, loving kindness goes above and beyond what one would have expected. Emet: he met a maiden who had good attributes and was suitable for Yitzchak. Chesed: she was also from Avraham’s family.

After the servant explains to Rivka’s family why he is there, he says (24:49): “Now if you (Lavan and Betuel) want to do chesed and emet to my master, tell me. If not, tell me, and I will turn to the right or to the left.”

In all of the earlier verses, the servant spoke about God doing chesed and emet. The terms chesed and emet are not used to describe Rivka, but we see her going above and beyond when she helps a stranger and his camels. Now, we see the servant asking Lavan and Betuel if they are willing to go above and beyond or not.

Radak suggests that the emet, truth is that Rivka should marry Yitzchak because she is the right match for him and she is also Avraham’s relative. The chesed, going beyond, would be the family having to send her far away.

At first Lavan and Betuel agree to send Rivka. However, shortly after, Lavan and their mother get cold feet and try to delay her journey. The servant explains that he has to go back. They ask Rivka if she wants to go and she states that she does want to go.

We see from here that in the end, Rivka’s brother and parents did not want to do chesed and emet with a full heart. Rivka, on the other hand stated that she wanted to go along with the servant to the land of C’naan. Earlier, we saw the chesed that she did with the servant and his camels. Rivka wants to do chesed and emet, become part of Avraham’s family and emulate God.

Although chesed and emet were not on Avraham’s original list of character traits for his servant to look for, Avraham’s servant understood that the right match would be someone who had these qualities. The way that Rivka ran around filling up the water reminds us of Avraham dashing to get the food prepared for his three guests. Rivka leaving her family and homeland behind reminds us of Avraham embarking on the trip to follow God’s path. Rivka was the right woman to become Yitzchak’s wife, Avraham’s daughter in law.

May we merit to perform acts of loving kindness, going above and beyond what may be expected of us. 

Jewish prayer was founded spontaneously Print E-mail
Tuesday, 13 November 2018

In Parshat Chayei Sarah, Breisheet 24:63 we read: “Yitzchak went to speak (lasuach) in the field towards evening. He raised his eyes and suddenly saw camels approaching.”

The Talmud, Brachot 26b teaches that from here we learn that Yitzchak established the Mincha (afternoon) payer:

The Talmud brings the opinion of Rabbi Yossi the son of Rabbi Chanina:

Avraham instituted the Shacharit prayer as it is stated (Breisheet 19:27) “And Avraham arose early in the morning to the place where he had stood (amad).” Standing (amida) refers to prayer as it says (Tehilim 106:30) “And Pinchas stood up and prayed.” Yitzchak instituted the Mincha prayer as it is stated (Breisheet 24:63) “Yitzchak went to speak (lasuach) in the field towards evening.” Speech (sicha) in this verse refers to prayer as it is stated (Tehilim 102:1) “A prayer for the afflicted man when he swoons, and before God he pours forth his speech.” Yaakov instituted the Maariv prayer as it is stated (Breisheet 21:11) “And he encountered (vayifga) the place and spent the night there.” The term pegiah refers to prayer as it is stated (Yirmiyahu 7:16) “And you, do not pray for this people, and do not take up from them a cray and a prayer, and do not entreat (tifga) me.”

In his book, Holistic Prayer, Rabbi Avi Weiss explains what made each of the Patriarch’s prayers spontaneous:

Avraham was an innovator, a trailblazer, a “morning person.” Avraham introduces the world to God and monotheism and therefore he prays at dawn, when the sun rises.

Rabbi Weiss characterizes Yitzchak as a meditator who evaluated and transformed Avraham’s ideas. He was a passive figure who followed in his father’s footsteps. He was taken to the Akeda (almost sacrificed), had a wife chosen for him and dug his father’s wells. He prays in the late afternoon, as the sun sets, a time suitable for contemplative thought.

Yaakov is considered by Rabbi Weiss to be the most tragic. He went through many trials and tribulations including having to run away from his brother. Maariv suits Yaakov as he prayed at night, when one is often overcome by fear and loneliness.

We see from here that all three of our main prayer services were founded spontaneously by the Patriarchs. We too each have a distinct personality. It is natural that particular people will feel closer to God at different times of day. Some connect to one Patriarch’s life story more than another’s. Others feel differently each day as well as at various points in their lives. The Patriarchs teach us that all of these paths are valid and although we now have set prayer, we should not lose the spontaneity through which the prayers were originally established. 

Sarah’s struggles with infertility Print E-mail
Friday, 10 November 2017

Sponsored by Judith & Kenneth Sternfeld in memory of Ruth F. Sternfeld z”l. Ruth was a humanitarian, educator and guidance counselor. She was dedicated to family, Judaism, creativity & the arts. Ruth was a wonderful daughter, sister, wife, mother and friend. She always strove for excellence and saw the glass half full. Ruth loved dance, music, literature, theater and art as a vehicle for bringing joy to the spirit

Chayei Sarah, literally the lifetime of Sarah, opens with her death at the age of 127.

If we look back at Sarah’s life, her struggle to conceive a child specifically stands out:

The first time we are introduced to Sarai (Breisheet 11:29-30) we learn that she is married to Avram and that she is “akara”, “she is barren, she has no child.”

Ibn Ezra explains that Sarai’s barrenness is emphasized to make it clear that Avram was not sterile (which becomes apparent later when Avram fathers Yishmael through Hagar).

Radak points out that Sarai’s bareness is mentioned specifically to show that when she did finally conceive it was a miracle.

God’s promise that Avram would become a great nation would only be fulfilled once they were living in the Land of C’naan. Radak states that the words “I will make you a great nation” (Breisheet 12:2) infer that even though your wife is barren, I will heal her and she will give birth in the land that I will show you.

When Sarai saw that she still could not have a child after they were already living in the Land of C’naan for ten years, she considered having Hagar serve as a surrogate mother (Breisheet 16:2) “Sarai said to Avram: ‘See now, God has restrained me from having children; come to my handmaid perhaps I will be built up through her.’”

According to Radak, Sarai already gave up hope of having her own child as she was already elderly (she was 65 years old when they left Charan). She was hoping that the child that Hagar would give birth to would be considered hers. This plan did not work out well for Sarai as when Hagar saw how quickly she was able to get pregnant (Breisheet 16:4), Sarai “became slighted in her eyes.”

When Avraham was promised that Sarah would give birth at 90, he couldn’t believe the news and didn’t even pass on the information to Sarah. Since Sarah had not yet been informed, she was surprised at age 89 when the angel announced that she would be having a child.

We see from here that Sarah had a difficult time dealing with infertility and did not have a lot of support from Avraham. He was under the impression that his servant, Eliezer or his son Yishmael could be the heir, leaving Sarah out of the picture.

Although Sarah was hoping that Hagar would serve as a surrogate mother, it didn’t work out that way.

In the end, Sarah was blessed to spend the last 37 years of her life with her son Yitzchak as she was 90 when she finally gave birth. However, it was not an easy road for her.

We must learn from Sarah’s life the lesson to reach out to those who are fertility challenged and give them the support that Sarah could have benefited from. To join a fertility chavruta workshop please contact 058-656-3532.

Avraham & Black Friday, Sometimes it is worth paying full price Print E-mail
Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Sponsored by Sharona, Josh, Dov and Yehuda Halickman in Honor of Moshe Nachshon’s Bar Mitzvah

At the beginning of Parshat Chayei Sarah, we see the first purchase in the Torah.

In Breisheet 23:9, Avraham says: “Let him (Ephron) give me the Machpela cave, which belongs to him, which is at the end of the field. Let him give it to me for its full value, as a grave site among you.”

Ramban comments on Avraham’s wording. Avraham does not say “let him sell me the Machpela cave”, rather he says “let him give me the Machpela cave”. Let him give it to me in such a way that I will consider it as a gift even if I will buy it from him for its full value. It is for this reason that Avraham didn’t mention the word “selling”.

 According to Breisheet Rabba 58:9, Ephron set an exorbitant arbitrary price and Avraham, out of the willingness of his heart listened and did according to his will and magnified himself.

Avraham buys Maarat HaMachpela, literally a double cave in Kiryat Arba, Hevron for its full value, he is not looking for a sale or a bargain. When Ephron offers him the land for free (sentence 15), Avraham insists on paying the full amount of 400 silver shekels.

Why was Avraham in such a rush to pay the full amount? Why wasn’t he looking for a bargain? Why didn’t he accept the land as a gift?

Avraham did not want to have any dispute later on as to whether the land belonged to him. He wanted to make sure that he and his descendents would be able to be buried there without anyone contesting their rights to the cave. It was worth it to Avraham to quickly be able to complete the business transaction and bury Sarah in a timely manner rather than have it hang over his head and by paying full price (or even more than the going rate) Avraham ensured that the plot of land which included the burial cave would remain with his family forever.

There are some things that are worth bargaining for but when it comes to the burial plot of our forefathers and foremothers no price is too high.


Avraham’s Dilemma Print E-mail
Wednesday, 04 November 2015

Celebrating the 30th Anniversary of Sharona’s Bat Mitzvah


At the end of Parshat Chayei Sarah (Breisheet 25:1-2) we read: “Avraham again took a wife. Her name was Ketura. She bore him Zimron, Yokshon, Medan, Midian, Yishbok and Shuach.”


In sentences 5-6 we are told: “Avraham gave all that he possessed to Yitzchak. To the son’s of the concubines that Avraham had, Avraham gave gifts. He sent them away from Yitzchak, his son, while he (Avraham) was still alive. He sent them eastward to the Land of the East.”


Why didn’t Avraham give his children blessings before he passed away the way that Yitzchak and Yaakov would later bless their children?


An answer can be found in Breisheet Raba 61:6: Avraham said to himself: “If I bless Yitzchak, the children of Yishmael and the children of Ketura will also want to receive that same blessing. But if I don’t bless any of my children then how is Yitzchak going to get his blessing?” In the end Avraham decided to leave the blessing for Yitzchak in God’s hands. Sure enough (Breisheet 25:11): “After Avraham died, God blessed his son Yitzchak…” A few chapters later in Breisheet 28:4 we see Yitzchak giving Yaakov the blessing of Avraham: “May God give you the blessing of Avraham to you and to your descendents with you, that you may inherit the land of your dwelling which God gave to Avraham.”


It is pretty clear that Yitzchak’s inheritance was the Land of Israel and it was not meant to be shared with his siblings.


What gifts did Avraham give his other children?


The answer is in the Talmud, Sanhedrin 91a: Rabbi Yirmiyahu bar Abba said: The word “gifts” teaches us that Avraham gave over to them the knowledge of unholy utterance.


According to Rashi, Avraham taught them the secrets of the unclean arts of sorcery and demonology.


The Be’er Sheva states that Avraham was trying to prepare them for their move to places in the world that were rooted in idol worship and wanted to show them what they would be encountering.


Gur Aryeh explains that Avraham educated his sons in how to defend themselves against the practices of these arts.


Rabbi Avigdor Miller suggests that Avraham taught them about the natural sciences. However, instead of teaching science to others, they used it to give the impression that there were occult powers performing the magic and instead of standing up against idol worship, they involved themselves in it.


They misused the gifts that Avraham gave them.


Yitzchak’s gift is the Land of Israel. It is our job as descendants of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov to embrace the blessing of the gift of the Land of Israel, appreciate it and never take it for granted.

Two Jews, Three Opinions Print E-mail
Thursday, 13 November 2014

In Parshat Chayei Sarah we read about Avraham buying Maarat HaMachpela (The Cave of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs) in Chevron.

Why did Avraham need to buy land to bury Sarah (and eventually the other patriarchs and matriarchs) when God promised Avraham that the entire land would be his?

Rabbi Yudan bar Simon in Breisheet Raba 79:7 comments: This is one of the three places about which the nations of the world cannot taunt Israel saying these are stolen lands: Maarat HaMachpela, Har HaBayit (Temple Mount) and Shechem (the burial place of Joseph). We see the purchase of Maarat HaMachpela in Breisheet 23:16 "And Avraham weighed to Ephron the silver". The purchase of the Temple Mount is recounted in Divrei HaYamim I 21:25 "So David gave to Ornan for the place 600 shekels of gold by weight". The purchase of Shechem is detailed in Breisheet 33:19 "And Jacob bought the parcel of ground, where he had spread his tent, at the hand of the children of Chamor, Shechem's father for 100 keshita (pieces of money)."

Midrash HaGadol explains that we can learn about Avraham’s humility from the story of Avraham’s purchase of Maarat HaMachpela. Even though God promised him the entire land, the only suitable burial place that he found was expensive yet he paid for it and did not complain in order to make sure that the plot would remain his.

King David purchased the Temple Mount just as Avraham purchased Maarat HaMachpela. King David probably could have taken any piece of land that he wanted, yet he purchased the land which at the time was a threshing floor so that his son King Solomon would be able to build the Beit HaMikdash (Temple) there without any problems. We learn from here that the Temple Mount belongs to the Jewish people whether the Temple is standing there or not.

There are different opinions as to the state of holiness of the Temple Mount (Har HaBayit) in our times. Some Rabbis maintain that the Divine Presence rests there just as it did while the Temple stood there, others do not. Some have the opinion that nobody should ascend the Temple Mount while others feel that with the proper spiritual precautions (immersion in a mikva, not wearing leather shoes and only walking in certain areas) Jews may go up.

As the saying goes, two Jews three opinions.

That being said, I was very disappointed to find two signs outside of the Temple Mount signed by the Chief Rabbinate stating that it is against Torah law for people to ascend the Temple Mount. For anyone familiar with Jewish law this is an extremely complex topic and can’t just be dismissed in one sentence. How do they explain the fact that Rabbi Akiva went up to the Temple Mount after the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash? What about Rabbi Shlomo Goren (former Ashkenasic Chief Rabbi) who ascended the Temple Mount many times after the Six Day War?

If the signs say in Hebrew that it is forbidden for every person (lechol adam) to go up then why are those words omitted on the English signs? Why are the Arabs permitted to be there? Why are non-Jewish tour groups welcome?

This past week, while speaking at a funeral of a seventeen year old boy who was killed in a terror attack while riding his bicycle near the light rail, the Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef stated that all of the problems that Israel is facing right now can be blamed on the Jews who have been ascending the Temple Mount. I hate to break it to him but Jews have been ascending the Temple Mount throughout the ages and in the Modern State of Israel since 1967.

On the other hand, Rabbi David Chai Cohen, Rosh Yeshiva of Netivot Shalom in Bat Yam says: “Non Jews should not be allowed on the Temple Mount and Jews should ascend the Temple Mount. The reason that the Arabs don’t want us to ascend is because they know that by Jews going up and praying we are staking claim to the Temple Mount. The Arabs don’t have a problem with their kids desecrating the holy site by playing soccer there. They also don’t have a problem with non Jewish tourists who are often dressed immodestly. It is unfathomable that non-Jews are telling us who can and can’t pray on the Temple Mount and that the government is going along with it. First we need to establish the fact that the Temple Mount belongs to the Jews. At that point if some rabbis decide that Jews should not go up that is their prerogative. The non Jews should not have more rights than us to the Temple Mount. The reason that they built their mosque there was because they knew that it was our holy place. They knew that the Temple stood there. They shouldn’t be the ones to hold us back.”

Avraham bought Maarat HaMachpela for his family and for most of history people of all religions have been able to pray there. King David bought the Temple Mount, the future site of the Beit HaMikdash, Judaism’s holiest site. It must be the decision of the Jewish people to allow members of other religions to visit and pray there. It certainly should not be decided by the Arabs that the Jews are not welcome.

Spot the difference between what it says in Hebrew and what it says in English! 


Many Women Keep Their Age a Secret Print E-mail
Friday, 25 October 2013



Parsha Points- Chayei Sarah 5774


Sponsored by Bubbie and Zadie Halickman in Honor of Dov Halickman’s 14th Birthday and the First Anniversary of his Bar Mitzvah. Mazal Tov!


Many Women Keep Their Age a Secret


Parshat Chayei Sarah begins by telling us how old Sarah was when she passed away and continues with the story of Rivka’s marriage to Yitzchak. Although we hear how old Sarah was when she passed away (127) as well as how old she was when she gave birth to Yitzchak (90), the Torah only records Rivka’s birth and after that doesn’t mention her age at all despite the fact that it mentions that Yitzchak got married at 40 and became a father at 60.


Since Rivka was married young as was the custom, there was no specific reason to record her exact age. In Avraham’s, Sarah’s and even Yitzchak’s cases they were much older when the got married and had children so the Torah made a point of mentioning their ages.


How young was Rivka when she met Avraham’s servant who brought her back to marry Yitzchak?


Different commentaries have different opinions, but the only actual hint that we have from the text is in Breisheet 24:16: “Vihanaara tovat mareh meod, bitulah v’ish lo yidaa…”, “The maiden was very good looking, a virgin, no man had known her”.


From this sentence we can deduce that she was a young woman, but we still don’t know her age.


The Gemara in Yevamot 61b states that a Kohen Gadol (High Priest) must marry a “betula”, “virgin” as it says in Vayikra 21:14: “Only a “betula” of his people may he take as his wife.”


How old is a “betula”? She is a girl who left the category of minor, but has not reached the category of “bogeret” (more mature girl). When she is twelve years old and hits puberty she becomes a “nearah”, a maiden.


Since Rivka was called a “nearah” and “betula” she is thought to be older than twelve years old.


Tosafot in Yevamot 61b bring up the opinion that if you do the mathematical calculations based on everyone else’s ages then Rivka would have been 14 years old when she married Yitzchak. The Vilna Gaon follows the opinion that Rivka was 14 as well.


Rivka’s death is also not recorded in the Torah.


In Breisheet 35:8 it says: “Devorah, Rivka’s nurse died and she was buried in Beit El under the oak tree. He named it Alon Bachut (Weeping Oak).”


Why is such a big deal made over the death of Rivka’s nurse?


Rashi brings the aggada which states that at the time of Devora’s death, Yaakov was informed of Rivka’s death. Rivka’s death was kept a secret since she was also the mother of Esav and God didn’t want people to curse Rivka for giving birth to Esav.


It says in the Midrash Sifri, Devarim 34:36 that Rivka and Kehat (the son of Levi) both died at the same age. The age listed in Shmot 6:18 for Kehat’s death was 133 years old.


We see that although Rivka’s age was not listed in the text, the Rabbis still tried to figure out how old she was.


My grandmother, Reva (Rivka) Margolin never told us her exact age. She looked and felt young even when she was in her early 80’s. After she became a senior citizen, she did not want the bus driver to know her age so she continued to pay full price. When she passed away, we found out that she was really a few years older than we thought.


We learn from here that not all women like to reveal their age!


Shabbat Shalom from Yerushalayim!

Sharona Margolin Halickman


Did Yishmael Do Tshuva (Repent)? Print E-mail
Monday, 05 November 2012

Avraham passes away near the end of Parshat Chayei Sarah at the age of 175.


In Breisheet 25:8-9 we read: “Avraham expired and died in a good old age (seiva tova), old and satisfied, and he was gathered to his people. His sons, Yitzchak and Yishmael buried him in the Machpela cave, in the field of Ephron, son of Tzochar the Chitite, which faces Mamrei”.


Rashi states that the fact that Yitzchak’s name is mentioned before Yishmael teaches us that Yishmael did Tshuva (repented) and allowed Yitzchak to go ahead of him. This is the reference to “seiva tova”, the “good old age” which is mentioned concerning Avraham.


Ramban says that when Yishmael passes away, there is a scriptural account of Yishmael’s years since he was righteous, a man of repentance and therefore scripture tells of him as it does with all righteous people.


What did Yishmael do that was so bad?


In Breisheet 21:9 it says: “Sarah saw that the son of Hagar, the Egyptian that she had born to Avraham was mocking (mitzachek).”


Eben Ezra says that Yishmael was just playing around like all of the young boys. Sarah was jealous since Yishmael was older than Yitzchak who could not yet play around.


There are harsher opinions which Rashi brings that Yishmael was involved in idolatry, illicit relations or murder but none of these are in the text.


According to Radak, Yismael was making fun of Yitzchak since his parents were elderly when he was born.


Sarah’s reaction to Yishmael being “mitzachek” was (Breisheet 21:9) “Drive out this slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman will not inherit with my son, with Yitzchak.”


Sarah wanted to make sure that Yishmael knew that he wasn’t going to be the inheritor along with Yitzchak.


At Avraham’s funeral, we see that Yishmael understood his place by letting Yitzchak walk first. God’s covenant was not only with Avraham. The covenant was with Avraham and Sarah together and therefore their child, Yitzchak to be the primary inheritor.


Chizkuni points out that although Yishmael was older, he recognized that he was the son of the maidservant while Yitzchak was the son of Avraham’s first wife.


The fact that Yishmael was able to step back and acknowledge that it is Yitzchak’s place to walk before him shows that he was a good person. Should we expect any less? After all, Yishmael was Avraham’s son!


Rivka Had a Nose Ring? Print E-mail
Thursday, 24 November 2011


In Parshat Chaye Sara we read that Avraham’s servant gave Rivka a gold nose ring (nezem) and two gold bracelets when he first met her.


Are body piercings permitted in Jewish law?


Since we are created in the image of God it would make sense that we should not permanently deface our bodies. In Devarim 14:1 we read: “You are the children of God. Do not mutilate yourselves.”


On the other hand, in the Mishna in Shabbat 6:5-7 we learn that a woman is permitted to beautify herself (and wear without it being a violation of Shabbat) with wool in her ear…little girls may use thread (to keep the holes in their ears open)… she can hang from the loop a stone, a nut or a coin as long as she does not do the looping on Shabbat.


If piercings were a problem, the Mishna would not have allowed a woman to have piercings at all and certainly wouldn’t have permitted wearing jewelry on Shabbat since it would have been considered carrying.


Piercings are different from tattoos which are prohibited by the Torah since piercings can close up so there is no permanent damage.


Although piercings are permitted there are also social norms to take into account and that may be why in many communities you don’t see a large number of religious women with nose rings, yet many of the religious women wear earrings.


In Rivka’s time, nose rings seem to have been as acceptable as bracelets so it is no surprise that Avraham’s servant in his role as Shadchan (matchmaker) gave Rivka a nose ring along with bracelets. In our society, where the number of women who wear nose rings are in the minority, a young woman who would be offered a nose ring from a matchmaker who most probably be taken aback.

Our Deep Roots in the City of Chevron Print E-mail
Friday, 29 October 2010

In Parshat Chayei Sarah, we see the importance of the city of Chevron, the city where our forefathers and foremothers are buried.


Chevron was not only important in the days of the Patriarchs.


When the Meraglim (spies) went to check out the Land of Israel in the days of Moshe we read in Bamidbar13:22: “They went up into the Negev and came to Chevron…”


Rashi says that Calev went to Chevron alone and prostrated himself in prayer at the grave of the patriarchs so that he would not be enticed by his companions to join in their design (to spread gossip about the land of Israel). Accordingly it says in Devarim 1:36 “I will give him (Calev) the land on which he walked as it is written in the Gemara in Sotah “they gave to Calev Chevron.”


After King Saul died, Shmuel Bet, 2:1, David asked God if he should go up to one of the cities of Yehuda and God said “Go up”. When David asked “To where shall I go up?” God responded “To Chevron.”


According to the Zohar, David could not become king until he came to Chevron and united himself spiritually with the Patriarchs who are buried there in Maarat HaMachpela.


In Shmuel Bet 2:2-4 we read: “So David went up with his two wives- Ahinoam of Jezreel and Avigail the (former) wife of Naval the Carmelite. David also brought up his men who were with him, each man with his household and they settled in the towns around Chevron. The men of Yehuda came and they anointed David as king over the house of Yehuda”.


Radak points out that Shmuel had already anointed David in Shmuel Alef 16:13 showing that God chose David as their king. Now we see that the tribe of Yehuda accepted David as their king as well.


In Shmuel Bet 3:2-5 we read that sons were born to David in Chevron with a listing of the names of his six sons followed by the words: “These were born to David in Chevron.”


It is clear that there is an emphasis on the fact that his children were born in Chevron.


In 5:5 we see that David ruled over Yehuda in Chevron for 7 and a half years before ruling over Yehuda and Yisrael in Jerusalem for thirty-three years.


David’s career as king started in Chevron!


We can learn from these sources that Chevron remained a spiritual place long after the days of Avraham and Sarah. Today, there are many tourists who make it a point to visit Chevron and pray at Maarat HaMachpela each time that they come to Israel.

As well, there are brave Israelis who connect to our deep roots in the city and have taken the challenge upon themselves to make Chevron their home

Honesty is the Best Policy Print E-mail
Sunday, 23 November 2008
Sponsored by Sharona and Josh Halickman in Memory of Mr. Walter Kramer z"l, beloved father of Naomi Dorfman


In last week’s Parsha, Parshat Vayera,  22:2-3 we read “And God said, Please take your son, your only one, whom you love, Yitzchak and go to the Land of Moriah; bring him up there as an offering upon one of the mountains which I shall tell you. So Avraham woke up in the morning and he saddled his donkey; he took his two young men with him and Yitzchak his son; he split the wood for the offering and stood up and went to the place of which God had spoken to him”.

What is missing in this whole account is Sarah.

Why didn’t Avraham tell Sarah where he was going before he left?

One could answer that Avraham wanted to spare Sarah from the pain and anguish of knowing that her son is going to be brought up as a sacrifice. And if it turns out to be a happy ending (which it did) then what would have been the point of worrying her?

The only problem is that by Avraham not being out in the open, there was a chance that Sarah would find out from someone else.

According to the Midrash in Pirkei De Rebbi Eliezer, when Avraham returned peacefully from Har HaMoriah, Satan was angry that Avraham did not end up sacrificing Yitzchak. Satan went to Sarah and said: “Did you hear what just happened in the world”? Sara answered “no”. Satan then told her that Avraham killed Yitzchak and sacrificed him. At that point Sara began to cry and passed away.

By reading this midrash it seems that if Avraham had been more honest and open with Sarah then she would have been spared the grief may have even lived longer.

Honesty is the best policy.
Why Did Avraham Bury Sarah in That Cave? Print E-mail
Thursday, 01 November 2007

Parshat Chayei Sarah begins with the story of Sarah’s death and Avraham’s quest to buy a plot of land where he can bury her.

Why does Avraham choose Ma’arat HaMachpelah (the Cave of the Patriarchs)?

Pirkei D’Rebi Eliezer explains: In Parshat Vayera, three men (angels) came to visit Avraham. Avraham ran to prepare a feast for them. Avraham chased a calf which he hoped to serve them into a cave and was shocked to find out that this is where Adam and Chava were buried.

Rabbi Abba Zvi Naiman quotes the Zohar: “When Avraham entered the cave, a doorway of Gan Eden (Garden of Eden) was revealed to him. Through this portal, he saw the likeness of Adam, the only man who ever lived in Gan Eden. Ma’arat HaMachpela was a gateway to the spirituality experienced only by Adam and Chava before their downfall.”

At that moment, Avraham resolved to bury his family in Ma’arat Hamachpela.

We see from here that Ma’arat HaMachpela had spiritual significance dating all of the way back to the creation of the world.

This Shabbat, 30,000 Jews from Israel and around the world will be celebrating Shabbat Chayei Sarah in Chevron - the most unforgettable Jewish experience of a lifetime! They will be praying at Ma’arat HaMachpela and showing that Chevron is as important to us today as it was in the days of the Torah.

What Made Avraham's Life Complete? Print E-mail
Thursday, 16 November 2006

In Parshat Chayei Sarah, after the account of Sarah's death and burial, we read (Breisheet 24:1) "Avraham was old, advanced in days and God blessed Avraham .bakol' with all things."

According to Rashi, the gimatriya (numerical equivalent) of bakol (52) and the gimatriya for ben (son) are the same. Now that he had a son (Yitzchak) he needed to find him a wife. In order for Avraham's life to be complete, all he was missing was a daughter in law.

The Gemara in Bava Batra 16b has different explanations for the word "bakol".

1.Rabbi Meir said: Avraham was blessed that he did not have a daughter. Ramban comments that if Avraham had a daughter he would have had trouble finding her a husband. He wouldn't have wanted her to marry one of the C'naanim. If she married someone from outside of Israel she may have been influenced to worship idols. Avraham didn't want his children that he had fathered together with Sarah to leave the land of Israel and he certainly didn't want them to worship idols.

2.Rabbi Yehudah said: Avraham's blessing was that he did have a daughter. Having a daughter made his life complete.

3.Others say: He did have a daughter and her name was actually "bakol".

Whatever way you look at it, all of the wealth in the world would not satisfy Avraham. He was more concerned with upholding the covenant, that the descendents from Sarah's lineage would be a monotheistic people who would inherit the land of Israel. Since Avraham didn't want Yitzchak to leave Israel, he sent his servant Eliezer to find Yitzchak a wife. Throughout the Parsha we see Rivka's good character traits and how much Yitzchak loved her.

Towards the end of the Parsha we read (25:8) "Avraham died in a good old age, old and satisfied".

Now that Avraham saw that Yitzchak and Rivka were continuing in his footsteps he was satisfied that his mission was complete.

May all those who are looking for their "bashert" find the love that Yitzchak found with Rivka.

Buying Land in Israel Print E-mail
Thursday, 08 December 2005

In Parshat Chayei Sarah we read about Avraham's purchase of Ma'arat Hamachpela, The Cave of the Patriarchs in Chevron. Although Avraham was offered the land for free, he insisted on paying.

Rabbi Yudan bar Simon in Breisheet Raba comments: This is one of the three places about which the nations of the world cannot taunt Israel saying these are stolen lands: Ma'arat HaMachpela, Har HaBayit (Temple Mount) and Shechem (the burial place of Joseph).

We see the purchase of Ma'arat HaMachpela (Breisheet 23:16) "And Avraham weighed to Ephron the silver". The purchase of the Temple Mount is recounted in Divrei HaYamim I 21:25 "So David gave to Ornan for the place 600 shekels of gold by weight". The purchase of Shechem is detailed in Breisheet 33:19 "And Jacob bought the parcel of ground, where he had spread his tent, at the hand of the children of Chamor, Shechem's father for 100 keshita (pieces of money)."

How right our forefathers were to make these purchases fair and square. How ironic is it that these three spots are the most contested areas in Israel today? According to Eben Ezra, the fact that Avraham spent so much money on the land that would be used as a burial plot shows the value of Israel for both the living and the dead. Many people buy land in Israel so that they can be buried there. An even greater mitzvah would be to buy land in Israel in order to live there.