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

Strength during the war Print E-mail
Wednesday, 22 November 2023

As we read about Yaakov and Rachel’s relationship in Parshat Vayetzei, this is a good opportunity to talk about Yaakov’s inner strength when he meets Rachel.

The story of the first time that Yaakov sees Rachel is in Breisheet 29:9-12:

While Yaakov was still speaking with the shepherds, Rachel came with her father’s flock—for she was a shepherdess. When Yaakov saw Rachel, the daughter of Lavan, his mother’s brother, with the sheep of Lavan, his mother’s brother, he stepped near and rolled the stone from the mouth of the well. He then watered the sheep of Lavan, his mother’s brother. Yaakov kissed Rachel and cried in a loud voice. Yaakov told Rachel that he was a relative of her father, that he was the son of Rivka. She ran and told her father.

 The stone that Yaakov rolled off the mouth of the well was not an ordinary stone. It was huge. Usually all of the shepherds had to remove it together.

According to Ramban, the Torah tells this story at length in order to let us know that “They that wait for the Eternal shall renew their strength.” (Yishayahu 40:31)

The fear of God gives strength.


Ramban continues: Yaakov is coming from the journey and he is tired. Yet he alone rolls away the stone, a task which required all the shepherds. The many shepherds and all the watchmen of the three flocks of sheep could not shift the rock.


Yaakov had an inner strength that he didn’t even know that he had in order to accomplish the extraordinary.


On October 7, we saw a tremendous amount of strength from our soldiers as well as from civilians. Although the soldiers didn’t even know what exactly was happening in the south, they went down and fought as best that they could, killing many terrorists. The soldiers focused on what they needed to and got the job done. Somehow they found their inner strength like Yaakov did and saved many lives. Civilians as well helped get as many people out of harm’s way as possible by driving participants away from the party or by protecting the people who they were with in the shelters. Without their strength many more lives would have been lost.

 As we recite the brachot upon arising in the morning- we should add special kavana, intent when we say: Baruch Atah HaShem Elokeinu Melech HaOlam HaNoten Layaef Koach, Blessed are You, Hashem our God, King of the Universe, Who gives strength to the weary.

May we learn from Yaakov and from our brave soldiers to look for our inner strength and may we all have the energy to get through this war and overcome all of the challenges that we are facing.

As we recite in Tehillim 29:11:

HaShem Oze L’Amo Yiten, HaShem Yivarech et Amo BaShalom, May God give strength to His people; May God bless His people with peace.

Jerusalem: The Focus of our Prayers Print E-mail
Monday, 28 November 2022

In Parshat Vayera, Yaakov leaves home, heading to Charan. On his way, he takes a break, falls asleep and has a dream where God appears to him.

We then read in Breisheet 28: 16-17:

Yaakov awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely God is present in this place, and I did not know it!” Shaken, he said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the abode of God, and that is the gateway to heaven.”

Ramban comments that the words “This is none other than the abode of God, and that is the gateway to heaven” refer to the Sanctuary which is the gate through which the prayers and sacrifices ascend to heaven.

Ramban adds: From here you learn that whoever prays in Jerusalem is considered as if they prayed before the Throne of Glory, for the gate of heaven is open there to receive the prayer of Israel, as it is said “and that is the gateway to heaven.”

We learn in the Talmud, Brachot 28b:

While praying, one must face toward the direction of the Holy Temple. One who was riding on a donkey should dismount and pray calmly. If they are unable to dismount, they should turn their face toward the direction of the Temple. If they are unable to turn their face, it is sufficient to focus their heart opposite the Holy of Holies. Similarly, one who was traveling in a ship or on a raft and is unable to turn and face in the direction of Jerusalem should focus their heart opposite the Holy of Holies.

Brachot 30a continues:

One who is standing in prayer in the Diaspora, should focus their heart toward Eretz Yisrael, as it is stated: “And they shall pray to You by way of their land which You have given to their fathers” (I Kings 8:48). One who is standing in Eretz Yisrael, should focus their heart toward Jerusalem, as it is stated: “And they shall pray to the Lord by way of the city that You have chosen” (I Kings 8:44).One who is standing in Jerusalem, should focus his heart toward the Temple, as it is stated: “And they shall pray toward this house” (II Chronicles 6:32). One who is standing in the Temple, should focus his heart toward the Holy of Holies, as it is stated: “And they shall pray toward this place” (I Kings 8:35).One who is standing in the Holy of Holies, should focus his heart toward the seat of the ark-cover, atop the ark, the dwelling place of God’s glory. One who is standing behind the seat of the ark-cover, should imagine that they are standing before the ark-cover and turn toward it.

Consequently, one standing in prayer in the east turns to face west, and one standing in the west, turns to face east. One standing in the south, turns to face north, and one standing in the north, turns to face south; all of the people of Israel find themselves focusing their hearts toward one place, the Holy of Holies in the Temple.

We see from here that all of our prayers pass through Jerusalem and the Temple Mount before ascending to heaven. While technically one can pray anywhere, the closer one can get to the Temple Mount, the better. This is why people from all over the world pray at the Kotel, the Western Wall which is at the footsteps of the Temple Mount and why groups of Jews would like to be granted the opportunity to pray on the Temple Mount.


Names with Significance Print E-mail
Monday, 15 November 2021

In last week’s Parsha, Parshat Toldot, Breisheet 17:18, we read:

Yitzchak returned and excavated the wells of water which were dug in the days of his father, Avraham, and were plugged by the Plishtim after Avraham’s death. He gave them the same names that his father had given them.

Rabbi Dr. Lionel Mirvis explains that by giving the wells the same names that Avraham had named them, Yitzchak gave credit to his father for initiating a project that provided fresh water for the community. In reopening these wells, Yitzchak was not doing something new, he was simply bringing Avraham’s vision to fruition.

According to Rabbeinu Bahye, Yitzchak’s reward for not changing the names of the wells was that he retained his own name (Yitzchak was the only one of our forefathers whose name was not changed).

Whenever a new settlement is planned in the Modern State of Israel, extensive research is done to see if an ancient settlement existed in the area.

One such settlement, Beit El, appears in this week’s Parsha, Parshat Vayetzei. We encounter Beit El in the days of Avraham as well as in the days of Yaakov, when he officially names the place, after God appears to him in his dream (Breisheet 28:19):

He (Yaakov) named the site Beit El; but previously the city had been called Luz.

The modern city of Beit El is located north of Jerusalem, in the region of Benyamin, not far from Ramallah. Beit El was awarded local council status in 1997. There are now over 6500 people living in Beit El.

Some other examples of names of cities that are based on ancient settlements are Kiryat Arba (which overlooks Chevron), Efrat (near Beit Lechem), Elazar (near the battlefield where Yehuda Maccabi’s brother lost his life) and Be’erot Yitzchak, literally the wells of Yitzchak (near where Yitzchak stayed).

Rabbi Mirvis points out that the modern founders of the State of Israel who kept the ancient names of the cities alive have also been rewarded. Many of our modern sites are named in their honor.

Leah’s Innovation in Prayer Print E-mail
Monday, 01 November 2021

In Parshat Vayetzei (Breisheet 29:35), after Leah gave birth to her fourth son, she said, “‘This time, let me thank God (odeh at Hashem)’. Therefore she called him Yehuda…”

Leah was the first person to express openly her feelings of thankfulness to God as we see in the Talmud, Brachot 7b: Rabbi Yochanan said in the name of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai: From the day that the Holy One, Blessed is He, created His world, there was no person who offered thanks to Him until Leah came and thanked Him as it is stated (Breisheet 29:35) “this time let me thank God.”

Sforno points out that the name Yehuda contains the letters of God’s ineffable name as well as the root that means “thankfulness” and “praise.” Therefore the name connotes thanks to God.

According to Rashi, Leah was especially grateful because she had been granted more than her rightful share (as the mother of more than one third of the future total of Yaakov’s sons).

Siftei Chachamim states that “hoda’ah” is the recognition that one has received excessive benefit, beyond what one thinks that they deserve. Leah was the first to realize that God had given her something more than could be expected.

Chidushei HaRim points out that Jews are called Yehudim after Yehuda, because it is a Jewish characteristic to always be thankful to God.

May we always be appreciative of the blessings that God bestows upon us.

The Weeping Oak Print E-mail
Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Parshat Chayei Sarah (Breisheet 24:59) ends with Rivka leaving her home in Padan Aram to marry Yizchak: “So they sent off their sister, Rivka and her nurse along with Avraham’s servant and his men.”

At the end of Parsha Toldot (Breisheet 27:43-45) when Esav started making plans to kill his brother, Rivka told Yaakov:

Now, my son, listen to me. Flee at once to Haran, to my brother Lavan. Stay with him a short time, until your brother’s fury has subsided. Until your brother’s anger against you has subsided, and he has forgotten what you did to him. Then I will send for you and bring you back from there. Let me not lose you both in one day!

In Vayetzei, After Yaakov and his family safely arrive in the Land of C’naan, a verse pops up that seems to be out of place (Breisheet 35:8): “Devora, Rivka’s nurse, died, and was buried under the oak below Beit El; so it was named Alon Bachut (The Weeping Oak).”

Was Devora who is mentioned here the same nursemaid that Rivka had when she was a child? If so, what was she doing with Yaakov’s family now and why was such a big deal being made about her death?

Rashi asks how Devora ended up with Yaakov and brings an answer from Rabbi Moshe Ha-darshan: Rivka promised Yaakov (Breisheet 27:45) “Then I will send for you and bring you back from there.” Rivka fulfilled her promise by sending Devora to Yaakov in Padan Aram to tell him to leave that place. Devora died on the return journey.

Rashi also brings an Agada from Breisheet Rabbah 81:5 which states that Yaakov received news of another death, for he was informed that his mother, Rivka, had died. In Greek “alon” means “another”. Rivka’s death was kept secret in order that people might not curse the mother who gave birth to Esav (Midrash Tanchuma, Ki Teitzei 4).

Ramban explains that Yaakov wept and mourned for his righteous mother who had loved him and sent him to Padan Aram but was not privileged to see him when he returned. Therefore, God appeared to him and blessed him in order to comfort him just as He had done with Yitzchak, following the death of Avraham. With reference to both of them the rabbis taught that He gave him the blessing of consolation addressed to mourners. Proof for this is that which is said below "And Yaakov came unto his father to Mamre." If Rivka had been there, it would have said "to his father and his mother" for it was she who sent him to Padan Aram and caused him all the good for Yitzchak commanded him to go there at her advice.

We see from here that the focus on Devora’s death was to cover-up Rivka’a death in order to make sure that her name was not disgraced. The naming of the spot, Alon Bachut reminds us that there were two reasons to cry at the time, for the death of the dedicated nursemaid, whether she was the original nursemaid or not and for the death of Rivka Imenu.

Unfortunately, in the Tanach, there were more reasons to cry at that spot. In Shoftim (Judges) 2:1-5, the tribes were rebuked for not breaking apart the altars of idol worship. They did not listen to God and did not keep their part of the bargain. They wept and the place was named Bochim (Crying).

In Melachim I 12:28-31, King Yeravam made an alternative to the Beit HaMikdash (Temple) in Jerusalem by placing golden calves and bamot (high places) in Beit El and Dan leading the northern tribes to idol worship.

Today, a 1000 year old Oak tree, considered a descendant of the ancient oak tree from the time of our forefathers stands in Beit El. When we visit the tree, we are taken back in time to the day when Yaakov stood near that spot weeping over the death of his mother, Rivka.

Rachel’s reward Print E-mail
Tuesday, 03 December 2019

In Parhsat Vayetzei, after working for seven years in order to marry Rachel, Yaakov tells Lavan that his term has been completed and he is ready to get married. Lavan gathered all of the local people and made a wedding feast.

In Breisheet 29:23,25 the trouble begins:

When it was evening, he (Lavan) took Leah, his daughter, and brought her to him (Yaakov). He consummated the marriage with her...When it was morning, behold it was Leah! He (Yaakov) said to Lavan, “What have you done to me? Did I not work with you for Rachel? Why did you deceive me?”

How did Yaakov only realize in the morning that it was Leah? Why did he think that it was Rachel in the evening?

Rashi quotes the Talmud, Megillah 13b which explains that Yaakov had given Rachel certain signs. When Rachel saw that Leah was being brought to him she thought: “My sister may now be humiliated,” whereupon she readily transmitted those signs to her.

The Talmud explains:

As a reward for the modesty that was exhibited by Rachel, she merited that the modest King Saul descend from her. And as a reward for the modesty that was exhibited by Saul, he merited that the modest Esther descended from him.

What was the modesty exhibited by Rachel?

In Breisheet 29:12 we read: “And Yaakov told Rachel that he was the brother of her father.”

Was Yaakov the brother of her father? Wasn’t he the son of Rivka, her father’s sister? Rather, this is what happened: Yaakov asked Rachel to marry him and she answered, “Yes. However, my father is a deceiver and you will not be able to outwit him.”

Yaakov answered, “I am his brother in deceit.” Then Yaakov asked “What deceit would he use against me?”

Rachel answered: “I have a sister, Leah who is older than I, and my father will not marry me off before he marries her off (he will therefore try to trick you into marrying her).” To prevent this from happening, Yaakov gave Rachel signs/ passwords where he would be able to identify her as Rachel.

When the wedding night arrived and Rachel saw that her father was indeed planning on substituting Leah, she said to herself, “Now my sister will be put to shame” (since Yaakov will ask her for the passwords and she will not know them). She gave the signs to Leah and therefore Yaakov didn’t know until the morning that it was really Leah.

Eicha Rabba, Ptichta 24 takes Rachel’s selfless behavior a step further and explains that when the Beit HaMikdash was being destroyed, Yirmiyahu pleaded with each of the Avot, forefathers- Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov as well as Moshe to rise from their graves and beg God to have mercy on their children. However, God would not listen to any of them. At that point, Rachel jumped in and said:

Sovereign of the Universe! It is revealed before You that Your servant, Yaakov loved me exceedingly and worked for my father on my behalf for seven years. When those seven years were completed and the time arrived for us to get married, my father planned to switch me with my sister. I had pity on her and I gave over the signs which I arranged with Yaakov so that he would think that she was me. I did her a kindness, was not jealous of her and did not expose her to shame. If I was not jealous of my rival then why should You, a King who lives eternally and are merciful be jealous of idolatry and exile my children and let them be slain by the sword. I had mercy on my sister, you should have mercy on your children.

God answered, for your sake, Rachel, I will restore Israel to their place.

In Yirmiyahu 31:15 we find the portrait of Rachel crying:

Thus said the LORD: A cry is heard in Ramah— Wailing, bitter weeping— Rachel weeping for her children. She refuses to be comforted for her children, who are gone.

Yirmiyahu’s words of consolation are found in Yirmiyahu 31:16-17:

Thus said the LORD: Restrain your voice from weeping, your eyes from shedding tears; for there is a reward for your labor —declares the LORD: They shall return from the enemy’s land. And there is hope for your future —declares the LORD: Your children shall return to their country.

God did in fact follow through and continues to reward Rachel. The Jewish people have returned to the Land of Israel after 70 years of exile. With the founding of the State of Israel, Jews from all over the world are once again able to return to their homeland.

Beit El- Coming Full Circle Print E-mail
Wednesday, 21 November 2018

After Avram left Charan and arrived in the land of C’naan, he passed through Shechem and Elon Moreh. God appeared to him and said “To your descendents I will give this land.” Avram then built an altar and knew that he arrived in the right place. Then, in the next sentence, Breisheet 12:8 we see “From there he moved to the mountain that was east of Beit El and set up his tent. Beit El was to the west and Ai to the east. There he built an altar to God, and he proclaimed the name of God.”

We see from here that the first time that Avraham called out in the name of God was in Beit El.

When Avram, Sarai and Lot returned from Egypt we read (Breisheet 13:3-4) “He continued on his travels from the south to Beit El, until the place where he originally had his tent, between Beit El and Ai. To the site of the altar which he made there at first; and there Avram called in the name of God.”

In Parshat Vayetze, when Avraham’s grandson Yaakov is fleeing to Charan from his brother Esav, he arrives at a place which is at first not identified. There, he has the famous dream with the ladder and the angels ascending and descending. When Yaakov wakes up, he realizes that this is a holy place. In Breisheet 28:17-19 we read: “He was afraid and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than Beit Elokim (the house of God) and this is the gate of heaven’. Yaakov rose early in the morning and took the stone that he had placed at his head; and he set it as a monument and poured oil on top. He named that place Beit El, but Luz was the original name of the city.” Yaakov then makes a vow to God.

In Breisheet 31:13, when Yaakov is ready to leave Lavan’s house and return to C’naan, God appears to him and says “I am the Almighty of Beit El where you anointed a monument, where you made a vow to Me. Now arise and leave this land, and return to the land of your birthplace.”

Yaakov returned to C’naan and made peace with Esav. Following the episode of Dina’s rape, in Breisheet 35:1 we read: “God said to Yaakov, ‘Arise, go up to Beit El and live there. Make an altar there to the Almighty Who appeared to you when you were fleeing from your brother Esav.”

Yaacov and his family follow God’s instructions (Breishett 35:6-7) “Yaakov comes to Luz, which was in the land of C’naan- that is, to Beit El- he and all the people that were with him. There he built an altar, and he called the place El Beit El for there God was revealed to him when he was fleeing from his brother.

We see from here that Beit El was an important stop for our forefathers when they arrived in the land as well as when they had to leave the land.

When B’nei Yisrael finally returned to conquer the land with Yehishua, Beit El was one of the first places where they situated themselves in order to attack the city of Ai (Yehoshua, 8:9.12).

Beit El, just north of Jerusalem was first excavated by the archaeologist Prof. William Albright at the beginning of the 20th century. After the Six Day War in 1967, it was identified by Prof. Ze'ev Vilnai as the site of Yaakov’s dream. A few months ago, I had the privilege of visiting Beit El. It was an amazing experience to stand at the spot where Avraham and Yaakov were standing when they called out in the name of God.

The mothers named all of the tribes Print E-mail
Thursday, 23 November 2017

After each tribe was born, Yaakov did not get involved in naming the children. His wives were given the space to choose each child’s name and speak from the heart as they explained its significance:

Leah’s first four sons:

Reuven: “God has seen my affliction; for now my husband will love me.”

Shimon: “Since God heard that I am the hated one, He also gave me this one.”

Levi: “This time my husband will be attached to me, for I have born him three sons.”

Yehuda: “This time I will praise God.”

Bilha’s sons were named by Rachel as they were considered to be her surrogate children:

Dan: “God has judged me. He has also heard my voice, and has given me a son.”

Naftali: “With God’s bonds, I have been joined to my sister. And I have also prevailed.”

Zilpa’s sons were named by Leah as they were considered to be her surrogate children:

Gad: “Unexpected success has come.”

Asher: “It is in my good fortune that women will consider me fortunate.”

Leah’s other sons:

Yissachar: “God has given me my reward because I gave my handmaid to my husband.”

Zevulun: “God has given a goodly portion. Now my husband will make his main home with me for I have borne him six sons.”

Rachel’s sons:

Yosef: “God has removed my shame. May God add to me another son.”

As Rachel’s soul was departing, she named her son BenOni (son of my sorrow).

With Leah, we see that the names of her children are connected with the fact that she is appreciative of God as well as hopeful that she will become closer to Yaakov.

Rachel is optimistic when naming the first three and honest when naming her last child at the point where she no longer had any hope.

Radak explains that Rachel was in a lot of pain when she named the baby BenOni as she had a difficult childbirth and her soul was leaving her body so the name could have negative connotations. Yaakov chose to change the name slightly to the more positive Binyamin,“son of my right” and “beloved to me” as he was happy to have this baby who was born during his old age, despite the circumstances.

Ramban’s opinion differs from the other commentators. He believes that Yaakov didn’t actually change the baby’s name. When Rachel used the word “Oni” she was referring to mourning. Yaakov on the other hand translated “Oni” as strength (the same way that he later used the word “Oni” in his blessing to Reuven). Yaakov called him Binyamin “the son of power or strength” for in the right hand (yamin) there is strength and success. Yaakov wanted to keep the name that Rachel had called him, for all his children were called by the names that their mothers had called them. Therefore he called him Binyamin, a positive spin on the name BenOni.

Wedding Practices Dating Back to Lavan Print E-mail
Thursday, 15 December 2016

At the end of Parshat Chayei Sarah we read about Rivka’s marriage to Yitzchak and in Parshat Vayetze we read about Yaakov’s marriage to Leah. In both of these stories we see practices that are still part of Jewish weddings today.

When Avraham’s servant went to find a wife for Yitzchak, Lavan and his mother were not in a rush to let Rivka go so soon. They wanted her to wait ten or twelve months before sending her off to get married. The servant explained that he could not wait so long and that he had to get back. At that point (Breisheet 24:57) Lavan and his mother said that they would call her and ask her.

Rashi states that from here we learn that a woman may not be given in marriage unless it is with her consent.

They called Rivka and asked her if she wanted to go and she said “I will go.”

In Breisheet 24:60 “They blessed Rivka and said to her, ‘Our sister may you become thousands of myriads and may your descendents inherit the gates of their foes.’”

Many still bestow his same blessing on the bride before she enters the chupah.

When Rivka saw Yitzchak for the first time (Breisheet 24:65) “…she took her veil and covered herself.”

This is where the tradition comes from that the bride’s face is covered with a veil.

In Vayetze, it is pretty clear that the bride’s face was covered and therefore Yaakov didn’t know that he was marrying Leah instead of Rachel.

In order to avoid this problem, before the chupah (ceremony) takes place the groom makes sure that he has the correct bride and then lowers her veil in a ceremony called the badekin.

In Breisheet 29:22, we read: “Lavan invited all of the local people and he made a wedding feast.”

From here we see that a wedding was celebrated with a feast as is done today with a seudat mitzvah. In those days the entire community was invited. The custom to invite the whole community is still practiced today on kibbutzim in Israel.

When Yaakov saw that he had in fact married Leah and requested to also be able to marry Rachel (his chosen bride), Lavan explaind that he would have to wait until after the week of celebrations (Breisheet 29:27) “Complete the marriage week for this one (Leah), we will then give you the other one (Rachel) also…”

From here we learn that the wedding celebrations lasted for an entire week- similar to the way that we celebrate Sheva Brachot with a different party in honor of the bride and groom each night.

We see from here that many of our wedding traditions date back to the time of Lavan and what was done in his community. However, some of the traditions that Lavan had we are forbidden to practice including marrying two sisters to the same man and setting up a wedding under false pretenses including where the groom doesn’t know which bride he is marrying. To avoid this, we have a Ketubah (marriage contract) where the names of the bride and groom are clearly stated and pairs of witnesses who sign the Ketubah and witness the ceremony.

May we witness many weddings in the Land of Israel and throughout the world.

Rachel the Shepherdess Print E-mail
Thursday, 19 November 2015

In Parshat Veyetzei, Breisheet 29:9 we read “…Rachel came with her father’s sheep, for she was a shepherdess.”


According to Ramban, Lavan did not have any other shepherds aside from Rachel, his daughter.”


How did Rachel end up being in charge of all of Lavan’s sheep?


Ramban presents two opinions as to why Leah, Rachel’s older sister was not able to be a shepherdess:

  1. “Leah’s eyes were tender”, the strong sun would have hurt her tender eyes and therefore she would not have been able to handle staying outside in the sun for long periods of time.
  2. Leah was of marriageable age and it would not have been befitting for her to be working with men who may try to take advantage of her.


Rachel was permitted to be a shepherdess as she was still a young girl so Lavan wasn’t worried about the men bothering her.


All seven of Yitro’s daughters were also shepherdesses as he didn’t have any sons.


Why wasn’t Yitro concerned about Tziporah and her sisters, who were of marriageable age, having to encounter the shepherds each time that they went to the well?


Ramban explains that since Yitro was the Kohen (Priest) of Midian, he was well respected so he was sure that the men wouldn’t cause his daughters any trouble.


How did it happen then that the day that Moshe arrived at the well (Shmot 2:16-17) the shepherds chased Yitro’s daughters away and Moshe had to come to help them?


According to Rashi, Yitro abandoned idol worship and therefore the Midianites lost their respect for him and shunned him and his family.


When Moshe married Tziporah, he took over the job of being the shepherd as we see in Shmot 3:1: “Moshe tended to the sheep of his father-in-law Yitro…”


Once Yaakov began to live with Lavan’s family, he started to work as a shepherd for Lavan right away. Yaakov took over the job as shepherd from Rachel.

In Yaakov’s case as well as in Moshe’s, the women only worked as shepherdesses until there was a man available to take over the job.


What is the reason for this?


Midrash Yelamdenu teaches that God miraculously watched out for the women who would end up marrying righteous men and kept them safe from harm as it says in Tehilim 34:8: “ The angel of God encamps round about those who fear him and he delivers them.”


We see from here that the women only worked as shepherdesses when there was no other choice as it was a dangerous job. As soon as a man was available to take over for her she was relieved of her duties.


Rachel was unique as she tended all of the sheep on her own. The name Rachel actually means ewe or sheep. We see Yaakov use the word later in our Parsha while speaking to Lavan (Breisheet 31:38) “For these twenty years that I was with you, your ewes (rechelecha) and she goats never miscarried…” We also find the word in the beginning of Parshat Vayishlach as part of the gift that Yaakov is preparing for Esav, (Breisheet 32:15) “Two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes (richelim) and twenty rams.”


I have a student named Hillel who lives at the Beit Sababa nursing home at Kibbutz Ramat Rachel. Hillel was a shepherd for many years in the Lower Galilee. He told me that it is an extremely difficult job for one person to be able to handle all of the sheep by themselves.


Rachel’s difficult work as a shepherdess may have helped her prepare for the difficult life that lay ahead.



The Fulfillment of Yishayahu’s Prophecy Print E-mail
Thursday, 19 November 2015

In Parshat Vayetzei, when Yaakov sees Rachel for the first time, he finds the energy to lift a heavy rock that would normally take a group of shepherds to lift.


Ramban uses the pasuk from Yishayahu 40:31 to explain that God gave Yaakov this extra energy: “But those whose hope is in God will have renewed strength; they will grow wings like eagles; they will run and not grow tired, they will walk and not grow weary”.


The last few months in Israel have been very difficult, from the kidnapping and murder of the three boys, the rockets bombarding Israel from Gaza, Operation Tzuk Etan (Potective Edge) where we lost too many of our finest soldiers, terrorists attacking innocent civilians on the streets, at train stations as well as in a shul, attacks being carried out with a construction vehicle, knives, screw drivers, guns, cars and trucks as well as constant stonings, fire crackers and grenades.


Despite all of these attacks, Israelis continue to go about their day to day lives with more strength than they had before.


Rabbi Yehuda Glick who was shot four times in the chest by an Israeli Arab terrorist not far from my home in Jerusalem is recovering and has been released from the hospital this week. Rabbi Glick is gaining the “renewed strength” that Yishayahu was describing.


Seventy families and ninety singles from North America made aliya last week and 660 Bnai Menashe made aliya from India this past year including a group this past week. These flights of Jews returning to Israel sound like “growing wings like eagles”.


Finally, we have a wonderful team protecting us: the army, the police and the officers of Mishmar HaGvul (border patrol) are also part of Yishayahu’s prophecy “they will run like eagles; they will run and not grow tired, they will walk and not grow weary”. These officers are willing to give their lives if necessary to save innocent Israelis. We unfortunately saw this last week when two Arab Israelis attacked a Jerusalem synagogue in Har Nof killing four rabbis. Zidan Sayif, an Israeli-Druze policeman saved numerous lives when he engaged the two Arab terrorists in a gun battle. Sayif was the first of two officers on the scene. As a result of Sayif’s heroic actions, the terrorists were forced to stop slaughtering worshipers and instead concentrated on attacking the policeman. Unfortunately, Sayif passed away from his head wounds later that day.


Policemen, soldiers and civilians have used their renewed strength to try to save as many people as possible at each of the unfortunate attacks that have taken place recently.


May God continue to protect our soldiers, our border police and all Israeli civilians.

A Man is Ready to Marry When He Can Support His Wife and Family Print E-mail
Wednesday, 06 November 2013


In Parshat Vayetzei, after Lavan asked Yaakov what his wages would be, Yaakov answered (Breisheet 29:18): “…I will work for you for seven years for Rachel your younger daughter.”


Why did Yaakov obligate himself to work for seven years, a relatively long period of time, in order to marry Rachel?


According to Chizkuni, Yaakov should have only said a year or two but he didn’t think that Lavan would give him a woman as beautiful as Rachel if he only worked for a short time.


Sforno points out that Yakkov, the Tzadik (righteous man) would not marry a woman and have children if he wasn’t able to support them with food and clothing. Lavan, a man of means would not let his daughters marry a man who could not support them.


As we know from Breisheet 32:11, Yaakov arrived at Lavan’s house with only his “makel”, his staff.


Rashi comments that Yaakov didn’t have silver, gold or cattle, he only had his staff.


Since Yaakov didn’t have any flocks when he arrived, he had no way to make a living. He had to work as a shepherd for Lavan in order to marry Rachel. The money that he earned would go towards her “mohar”, bride price or dowry.


We learn from Yaakov that a husband is required to support his wife and children. If he is not financially independent he is not ready to get married.


There are communities today that believe that the wife should support her husband or that the parents or in-laws should support their children and grandchildren. This viewpoint is actually contrary to Halacha (Jewish law). In the Ketubah (marriage contract) the husband obligates himself to support his family for the duration of the marriage as well as pay alimony in case of divorce.


Although Yaakov had a wealthy father-in-law, he did not expect Lavan to support them. Yaakov didn’t want to be dependent on his father-in-law and Lavan would have never agreed to support them anyway.

Feeling God’s Presence in Jerusalem Print E-mail
Friday, 02 December 2011


In Memory of my Grandfather Harry (Tzvi) Dubrow z”l Who Passed Away this Past Friday


Immediately after Yaakov woke up from his dream about the ladder with the angels going up and down we read in Parshat Vayetzei 28:17: “He was in awe and said: ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of Elokim and this is the gate of heaven.’”


Rashi comments that this “place” is the same “place” that Avraham saw from afar on the way to the Akeda (the binding of Yitchak), meaning Har HaBayit (The Temple Mount).


Living in Israel, we may start to take these holy places for granted.  


I live right neat the Tayelet in Talpiot, the promenade where Avraham stood when he saw “the place” from afar. Even though we live so close, each time we visit or pass by, the view is still breathtaking. When we visit the Tayelet with friends who are here on vacation and see their excitement it reminds us to not lose sight of the fact that we can visit these sights on a regular basis.


This past Sunday, I went with the Midreshet Devora students to the Kotel for Shacharit on Rosh Chodesh Kislev. It was the day of my grandfather, Harry Dubrow’s z’l funeral in Connecticut. Even though I could not be physically at the funeral, I spiritually felt connected as I was literally standing and praying on his behalf at the “gate of heaven.”


On Wednesday, my two younger sons, Moshe and Yehuda decided to come with me and the young women from Midreshet Devora to Kever Rachel (Rachel’s Tomb) and Maarat HaMachpela (The Cave of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs) in Chevron. They had just learned about Rachel Imenu (Mother of the Jewish People) as her Yahrzeit (anniversary of her death) was last month in Cheshvan. Moshe was studying Parshat Chayei Sara in school and learned about Chevron and its holy sites. In addition, they didn’t mind missing a day of school!


Seeing the holy sites with my children and my students who had never visited before opened my eyes to the deep holiness of the places and how the Jewish people from all over the world strive to have the opportunity to come to Israel to visit these sites and how we as Israelis must take time from our schedules to remind ourselves why we are here.


What my children were most surprised about was the fact that there are playgrounds and schools and houses in Chevron and that it is not just the city where our forefathers and foremothers are buried, it is a city of Jewish life.


I remember the fond memories that my grandparents Dorothy and Harry DuBrow z”l had of the Land of Israel from their one visit in the early seventies. They enjoyed seeing first hand how the ancient and modern cultures meshed together. My grandparents were very generous, giving Tzedaka to hospitals and orphanages and were partners in helping build up the State of Israel, they were true “Bonei Yerushalayim”, “Builders of Jerusalem.”

Yaakov Needed a Good Lawyer Print E-mail
Friday, 12 November 2010

Dedicated in Honor of Shani Schwartz


When you put together a contract, don’t leave any stone unturned.


In Breisheet 19:18 we read: “And Yaakov loved Rachel; and said (to Lavan her father): I will serve you seven years for Rachel your younger daughter”.


We know that the Torah does not waste words so Rashi asks why this pasuk is so descriptive, why does Yaakov have to say Rachel, your younger daughter? Why isn’t just saying the name Rachel enough?


The answer is that Yaakov knew that Lavan was a rogue. If Yaakov didn’t say Rachel, your daughter, then Lavan could later say “I thought that you were talking about a different Rachel from the marketplace”. Therefore Yaakov had to clearly state: “your daughter”.


Why did Yaakov have to say “your younger daughter”? Yaakov had to be clear because he didn’t want to take a chance of Lavan switching Leah’s name to Rachel and saying: “Here is my daughter Rachel”.


Nechama Leibowitz points out that Lavan’s language was ambiguous in 29:19: “Better that I give her to you than give her to another man. Stay with me”. There was no commitment or promise from Lavan’s side.


Even though Yaakov took all of these precautions, it still didn’t help him, Lavan cheated him just the same and gave him Leah instead of Rachel.


What Yaakov needed was a good lawyer and a formal contract. It also wouldn’t have hurt to check under the veil before the wedding ceremony.

Is it a Blessing to be Compared to Dust? Print E-mail
Saturday, 06 December 2008



In Parshat Veyetze (Breisheet 28:14) God tells Yaakov: “Your descendents shall be as the dust of the earth. You shall spread to the west, to the east, to the north and to the south…”


Sforno comments that after the Jews will be in the lowest possible condition (as the dust of the earth), then they will arise and spread out across the Land of Israel. God will only bring salvation after the Jewish people have been in the lowest possible state.


Rabbi Yochanan states in the Talmud in Sanhedrin 98a:  “If you see a generation upon which numerous troubles come like a river, expect the Mashiach as it says in Yishayahu 59:19 ‘For distress shall come like a river with the spirit of God devouring within it’ and next to that verse it says ‘uva letzion goel- a redeemer shall come to Zion’”.


Accoding to HaDrash VeHaIyun, Israel is compared to three things, stars, sand and dust. Each star stands alone and has no connection with the others. The pieces of sand are all next to each other but are not connected. The dust is the only one of the three that sticks together. God’s bracha to Yaakov is that if his children will live in complete unity and stick together like dust, then they will be able to spread out (or as Rashi says become strong) across the entire Land of Israel.


With headlines like “Israeli troops fight Jewish settlers in Chevron”, it looks like we have reached our lowest point. Let’s hope and pray that the prophecy of  “a redeemer shall come to Zion” will be fulfilled speedily in our day.                                                                         

The Power of Prayer Print E-mail
Thursday, 15 November 2007

Parshat Toldot ended with Esav saying in his heart (Breisheet 27:41): “The days of mourning for my father are approaching, I will then kill my brother, Yaakov.” Rashi explains that Rivka  was informed of what Esav was planning through Ruach HaKodesh, Divine Inspiration. Rivka therefore told Yaakov to leave the Land of Israel and go to Charan until Esav calms down. Yitzchak blesses Yaakov and tells him to go to Padan Aram and get married there. Eventually Yaakov will have children, return to the Land of Israel and inherit it.

Parshat Vayetze begins with Yaakov’s journey out of the Land of Israel. In Breisheet 28:11 we read the words “vayifga bamakom”, “Yaakov reached the place”. Rashi teaches us that the word “vayifga” is a term for prayer. We learn from here (Tractate Brachot 21) that Yaakov prayed at “the place” and established aravit (maariv), the evening prayer.

Shem MiShmuel comments that although Yaakov was going through such a dark part of his life, he didn’t give up. Yaakov gathered up all of the energy that he had left and used it to pray.

According to the Gemara in Eruvin 65a, one who is coming from a journey should not pray for three days. It would be impossible for that person to have kavana (proper intent) since they have not settled from the weariness of the journey. The Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 98:2 states that this does not apply today since our level of kavana is different.

Yaakov was actually exempt from prayer. The prayer that Yaakov prayed was therefore voluntary. Torah Temima points out that since Yaakov’s prayer was voluntary, the maariv service was established as a voluntary service throughout the generations. Rambam states in Hilchot Tefillah, Laws of Prayer 1:6 that although aravit started out as a voluntary prayer, it has now been taken on as an obligatory prayer.

Why would Yaakov who was not just on a journey but rather fleeing for his life take it upon himself to pray a voluntary prayer at this time?

Sometimes spontaneous prayer, especially at the time of danger, can be the most meaningful prayer with the most kavana. Even during this most difficult time, Yaakov set aside time to pray that his journey should be safe.

At the end of Parshat Vayetze, when Yaakov is heading back to the Land of Israel, Breisheet 32:2 we read “Yaakov went on his way ‘vayifgeu bo malachei Elokim’, and the angels of God met him.” Just as Yaakov was protected on his journey leaving the land of Israel, so too was he protected when returning to the Land of Israel.

Considering how dangerous the roads in Israel have become, it would be wise for us to say Tefillat HaDerech, prayer for a Journey with intense kavana when setting out on a trip. 

Our Inner Strength Print E-mail
Thursday, 30 November 2006

In Parshat Vayetzei, Breisheet Chapter 29, Yaakov traveled to Aram to flee from his brother Esav as well as to look for a wife. When Yaakov arrived in Aram he saw a well. The Torah goes into a long description of how Yaakov couldn't understand why the shepherds were gathering around and waiting at the well as opposed to feeding their flocks. The Torah then recounts the conversation that ensued. The shepherds explained to Yaakov that they needed to wait for all of the shepherds to work together to lift the heavy rock off of the well.

In sentences 9-10 we read "While Yaakov was still speaking with the shepherds, Rachel came with her father's sheep, for she was a shepherdess. When Yaakov saw Rachel, the daughter of Lavan, his mother's brother with the sheep of Lavan, his mother's brother, he stepped near and rolled the stone from the mouth of the well."

According to Rashbam, Yaakov himself lifted off the rock. This shows Yaakov's strength.

Ramban comments on Breisheet 29:2 that the Torah recounts the story in detail in order to let us know that "they who wait for God shall renew their strength" (Yishayahu 40:31). For here Yaakov is coming from the journey and he is tired yet he alone rolls away the stone, a task which required all of the shepherds. The many shepherds and all of the watchmen of the three flocks of sheep could not shift the rock.

Maharam adds that as soon as Yaakov saw Rachel, Ruach HaKodesh (Divine Presence) rested upon him.

When Yaakov saw Rachel, an inner strength emerged.

It is often the case that when one is faced with challenges, one is able to cope in ways that one may never have imagined.

In Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's address to the Knesset on July 17, 2006 he commented: "I had the privilege of witnessing these inner strengths in the years when I was Mayor of Jerusalem. For years, our capital was subject to the most murderous terror attacks. The resilience, patience and restraint of the residents of Jerusalem and the entire citizens of Israel are exemplary".

"I recall a conversation with Rudy Giuliani, who was Mayor of New York during the terror attacks of September 2001. I called to offer encouragement to him and the residents of New York following the collapse of the Twin Towers, and he replied: ""Ehud, if the New Yorkers can withstand it like the Jerusalemites do, then we will defeat terrorism"".

Let's hope and pray that this inner strength will help us get through the difficulties that we are facing in Israel and throughout the world.

Jerusalem the Gate to Heaven Print E-mail
Thursday, 08 December 2005

When Jewish people throughout the world pray, they face towards Jerusalem. Those in Jerusalem pray towards the site of the Beit HaMikdash (Holy Temple). When the Beit HaMikdash stood, prayer was focused on the place of the ark, the "even shtiya" (foundation stone) in the Kodesh HaKodashim (Holy of Holies).

Why do we pray towards Jerusalem?

In Parshat Vayetze, Breisheet 28:12, Yaakov has a dream, "He dreamed and behold a ladder was set up on earth and the top of it reached toward heaven, and behold angels were ascending and descending it."

Sforno says that this was the site of the Beit HaMikdash.

In Breisheet 28:17, Yaakov says: "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God and this is the gate of heaven."

Rashi comments that this is the gate where prayer ascends to heaven. According to the midrash in Breisheet Raba, the Heavenly Beit HaMikdash is situated directly above the earthly Beit HaMikdash.

Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan comments: Just as our prayers go through Jerusalem in order to reach God, God's blessings in turn emerge through Jerusalem. As it says in Tehillim (Psalms) 128:5 "God will bless you from Zion". God sends the blessing to Jerusalem and from there it flows to the entire world.

Our prayers are like the angels going up the ladder and God's blessings are like the angels going down the ladder in Yaakov's dream.

As the famous saying goes, you can speak to God from long distances and he will hear you, but in Jerusalem it's a local call.