Sunday, November 30, 2014

Haftorah Commentaries

Easy access links to Rebbetzin Chana Bracha's weekly Haftorah Commentaries:

The Book of Bereshit
Parashat Bereshit: The Holy Women who Protect Israel
Parashat Noach: Parshat Noach and Blessing in Disguise
Parashat Lech Lecha: Physical and Spiritual Renewal 
Parashat Vayeira: The Power of Women’s Emunah
Parashat Chayei Sarah: Developing our Feminine Attribute of Binah
Parashat Toldot: The “Esavs” and the “Ya’acovs” of Today
Parashat Vayetze: Ya’acov’s Toil to Deserve His Wives
Parashat Vayishlach: The Secret Power of Shema Yisrael
Parashat Vayeshev: Sisterly Sensitivity
Parashat Miketz (Chanukah): Sing and Rejoice, Daughter of Zion!
Parashat Vayigash: The Path to Peace and Redemption
Parashat Vayechi: The Bridge Between Life and Death

The Book of Shemot
Parashat Shemot: On the Verge of Redemption
Parashat Va'era: Our Actions Today Empower the Future
Parashat Bo: Hashem’s Feminine In-dwelling Presence
Parashat Beshalach: Devorah: "A Woman of Flames"
Parashat Yitro: (at present there is no commentary for this week)
Parashat Mishpatim: Overcoming Negative Patterns and Addiction
Parashat Terumah:(at present there is no commentary for this week)
Parashat Tetzaveh: The Power of Visualization
Parashat Ki Tisa:(at present there is no commentary for this week)
Parashat Vayakel - Pekudei: (at present there is no commentary for this week)

Parashat Shabbat Shekelim: Haftorat Shabbat Shekalim
Shabbat before or on Rosh Chodesh Nissan: Haftorat HaChodesh

The Book of Vayikra
Parashat Vayikra: Praising Hashem Through Song
Parashat Tzav:(at present there is no commentary for this week)
Parashat Shemini: The Dance of David
Parashat Tazria-Metzora: Reaching Perfection in Speech
Parashat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim: To Plant and Be Planted
Parashat Emor: The Power of Challah
Parashat Behar: Redeeming the Land – The Extension of Our Soul
Parashat Bechukotai/Behar-Bechukotai: Hashem's Miracles in Our Time

The Book of Bamidbar
Parashat Bamidbar: Hashem's Eternal Bond to Us
Parashat Naso: Hidden Lessons from a Hidden Woman
Parashat Beha’alotcha: Sing and Rejoice Daughter of Zion!
Parashat Shlach L’chah:The Ability to Completely Turn Life Around
Parashat Korach: The Feminine Role in Establishing True Kingdom
Parashat Chukat: The Pilegesh in Our Times
Parashat Balak: Walk Modestly with Your G-d
Parashat Pinchas: Soul Reincarnations
Parashat Matot: Monogamy – Reflecting Hashem’s Relationship with His People
Parashat Masai (Matot/Masai): The Way to Redemption Paved by the Jewish Family

The Book of Devarim
Parashat Devarim: The Shabbat of Vision
Parashat Va’etchanan: The Inner Lights of Tu b'Av
Parashat Eikev: Hashem - “He” or “She” or both?
Parashat Re’eh: The Stones of the Holy Tribes
Parashat Shoftim: Tapping into Hashem’s Comforting Energy
Parashat Ki Tetze: The Barren Woman Bursts Out in Song
Parashat Ki Tavo: Believe in Your Hidden Powers and Spiritual Grandeur!
Parashat Nitzavim: Dancing on the Bridge of Redemption
Parashat Vayelech:(at present there is no commentary for this week)
Parashat Ha'azinu: (at present there is no commentary for this week)

Special Haftorot
Shabbat Rosh Chodesh: Birth, Renewal, and Redemption
Preparing for Purim: Haftorat Parashat Zachor  
Haftorat Parashat Parah
Before or on Rosh Chodesh Nissan: Haftorat HaChodesh
Chanukah: Sing and Rejoice, Daughter of Zion!
Shabbat Teshuva (the Shabbat between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur) "Repairing the Gaps"

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Secret of the Dudaim Deal

Nature in the Parasha: Parashat Vayetze
Dudaim from Israel (photo from
Desirable Dudaim Flowers
The Dudaim – the love flowers or mandrakes appear mysteriously in Parashat Vayetze as they became subject of a bizarre businesslike transaction between Rachel and Leah. All the Torah mentions about the Dudaim is that Reuven found them in the field and brought them to his mother. When Rachel asked for some of them, Leah scolded her. After Rachel had appeased her, and offered her night with Ya’acov as an exchange, Leah gave all of the Dudaim to Rachel. If we assume that Rachel desired the Dudaim because of their possible fertility effects, then she wasted her effort in acquiring them, as they didn’t make her pregnant. On the other hand, Leah, who ended up without any of the Dudaim, became pregnant and gave birth to Yissachar and Zevulun for Ya’acov. Here is the full story as it appears in the Torah.

Reuven went in the days of wheat harvest, and found mandrakes in the field, and brought them unto his mother Leah. Then Rachel said to Leah: ‘Give me, please, some of your son’s mandrakes.’ Leah replied: ‘Is it not enough that you have taken away my husband? You also want to take away my son’s mandrakes?’ Rachel said: ‘Therefore, he shall lie with you tonight in exchange for your son’s mandrakes. When Ya’acov came from the field in the evening, Leah went out to meet him, and said: ‘You must come to me; for I have surely hired you with my son’s mandrakes.’ He lay with her that night and G-d listened to Leah, and she conceived, and bore Ya’acov a fifth son. Then Leah said: ‘G-d has given me my reward, because I gave my handmaid to my husband, and she called his name Yissachar. Leah conceived again, and bore a sixth son to Ya’acov. Leah said: ‘G-d has endowed me with a good dowry; now my husband will dwell with me, because I have born him six sons.’ And she called his name Zevulun” (Bereishit 30:14-20).

What is the secret of the mysterious Dudaim flowers and why did Rachel desire them so much?

Fertility Remedy or Ecstasy Love-enhancing Drug?
Rashi has only very little to say about the identity of the Dudaim. He classifies them as weeds free for all to take, yet he also identifies them as violets called jasmine in Arabic. Ibn Ezra adds, based on the Targum, that the Dudaim are flowers with a good scent, as it states, “The Dudaim give off their fragrance” (Shir HaShirim 7:14). They have the shape of a person with head and hands. He ponders that it doesn’t make sense that they are beneficial for conceiving since they are of a cold nature. Why would Leah mind sharing those unimportant common weeds found in the field with her sister? Why would Rachel give up her night with her husband for the sake of these insignificant Dudaim? According to Ramban, Rachel did not desire the Dudaim for their fertility effect, as she understood that conception depends more on prayer than on medicine. Perhaps, the healing effect of the Dudaim may be their ability to bring about love between people, kind of like a natural ecstasy drug. This is why Reuven, who knew that Ya’acov mainly loved Rachel, brought the Dudaim to Leah, in order to bring his mother close to his father. This also explains Leah’s strange reaction, “Is it not enough that you have taken my husband? You also want to take away my son’s mandrakes?” She meant to say, “Is it not enough that Ya’acov has established his dwelling with you, and is always with you? Now you also want my son’s Dudaim to gain even more of Ya’acov’s love, so he will spend even more time with you!” In other words, “You don’t need these Dudaim, since you already have Ya’acov’s love (Be’er Mayim Chaim). The Hebrew word דּוּדָאִים/Dudaim shares the same root as דוֹד/dod – the Hebrew word for love or lover. This supports the connection between them.

Trading the Love of Their Husband
Why would Rachel, Ya’acov’s beloved favorite wife need a remedy that would attract Ya’acov’s love? Although Ya’acov’s bed was permanently set up in Rachel’s tent, she felt Ya’acov’s love drifting away from her and gradually gravitating more towards Leah. Due to being barren, Rachel felt pushed aside to a certain extent. She, therefore, desired to regain Ya’acov’s love through the Dudaim, in order that her love would be equal to that of her sister, who bore Ya’acov sons. This is why she requested some of the love flowers. She only asked for some of the Dudaim and not all the Dudaim, for all she wanted was to be loved equally to Leah. Realizing that Leah wouldn’t give her the Dudaim for free, she preferred trading one night with Ya’acov in order to become more beloved in the long run. However, it would only be a fair that she give up her night with the tzaddik in exchange for all of the Dudaim, Neither Rachel nor Leah intended these matters according to their superficial understanding. Our holy mother’s did not care about the trivial matters of this world. Their true intentions were to make mystical yichudim – unifications between the upper and the lower worlds (Be’er Mayim Chaim).

The Dudaim – Outweighing Two Tribes and Burial in the Machpelah
What are the consequences of Rachel’s trading her night with Ya’acov? THEREFORE HE SHAL LIE WITH YOU THIS NIGHT – “It was my night to be with him, but I give it to you in return for your son’s Dudaim.” Because she thought lightly of sleeping with so righteous a man, she was not privileged to be buried with him (Rashi, Bereishit 30:15). Rachel gave up one night with Ya’acov for the sake of the Dudaim, and lost her merit of eternal burial with him. “Rabbi Eliezer says, they both lost, and they both gained. Leah lost the Dudaim but gained two tribes and the burial (in Machpelah). Rachel gained the Dudaim but lost the tribes and the burial… “(Midrash Shir HaShirim Rabbah 7:20). As a result of the Dudaim trade, Leah gained two extra tribes and thus gave birth to six of the twelve tribes, leaving only two tribes for Rachel, and she merited to be buried with Ya’acov. Rachel lost all of the above, but she gained the Dudaim. It seems that the Midrash equalizes the value of the Dudaim with two extra tribes and eternal burial with Ya’acov in the Machpelah cave. What is the big deal about the Dudaim that they outweigh two tribes and burial in the Machpelah? Have you ever heard about anyone making this kind of exchange? How can this tremendous loss be balanced against the gain of these simple Dudaim weeds?

First Fruit of Hashem’s People
“Reuven went… found …and brought.” Why didn’t the Torah simply state, “Reuven went in the time of wheat harvest and found Dudaim in the field?” Rav Eliyahu Kitov explains that Reuven was four years old, “and went” – in the ways of the fathers of the world who strove to rectify the sin of Adam. The three Patriarchs paved the way for progressing in holiness. Reuven, the first son of their accumulated efforts was worthy to walk in the way of his Fathers when he became four years old. Reuven is the first plant of Hashem’s people. The holiness of the first three years of the life of a tree is not yet available in its fruits (orlah). Likewise, the three first years we knew nothing about Reuven; his world opens only in his fourth year. Reuven’s deed praises Hashem; therefore, the Torah mentions every one of his moves. A little deed in purity is dearer to Hashem than the greatest accomplishment, which is not totally pure.

The Pure Act of Giving to His Mother
The home of Ya’acov, our Father, was empty. There was nothing there except that which Lavan would give with his stingy hand. Ya’acov’s children didn’t complain. The little bread with salt, which they honestly earned was dearer to them than all the pleasures of the world. Those who seek Hashem do not desire extras in this world. They are happy with their portion. Reuven, the oldest of the sons was hungry. There was nothing to eat at home, so he went to the field. “It was the days of the wheat harvest.” In contrast to the emptiness of his home, the field was bursting with wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates and more. The soul of the young boy desired them all. However, he had no right to any of them. The field belonged to his miserly uncle Lavan, and whoever even tastes a small bite without permission is a thief. However, the Dudaim are weeds that grow by themselves, they are hefker – belonging to whoever finds them. Although nobody planted or tended the Dudaim, they were a desirable sight with their tempting orange fruits with their delicious scent. Reuven wanted to grab some of them for himself but instead, “He brought them to Leah his mother.” He didn’t even save any for himself. – “My mother should be the first to enjoy the pleasure. She is stuck in the house with the little ones. “I found the Dudaim, but what about my mother? Let me bring them to her. She brought me to the world; I owe my soul to her!” The eye of flesh and blood cannot see or understand what was going on in Reuven’s pure heart, when he performed the first deed of his greatness. Only Hashem tests our heart and knows. Therefore, it is written in the Torah, “And he went, and he found, and he brought.”

Repairing the First Act of Stealing in the World
Reuven’s deed is contrasted to that of Adam and Chava in the Garden. Why does the Torah tell us that Reuven picked the Dudaim in the time of the wheat harvest? “To tell the praise of the tribes, that it was the harvest time and he did not stretch his hands out in robbery to bring wheat and barley, rather only a hefker matter which people don’t care about” (Rashi, Bereishit 30:14). What kind of praise is it to state that the holy tribes are not thieves? This alludes to the rectification of the first act of stealing in the world. Adam and Chava were alone in the world; everything in the Garden of Eden was theirs. Only one tree was withheld from them. They desired it and took what was not theirs. At that moment, they descended from their previous greatness and never ascended again. After 20 generations, one family spun a thread from three strands that will never be broken. Reuven, the first fruit of this family, rectified their sin. Nothing in the whole world belonged to him except for one weed. He held it in his hand and desired it, but did not taste it although he saw that it was good, because the tzaddikim do not stretch out their hands in robbery.

Rectifying Eating from the Tree of Knowledge
The gematria of חטא עץ הדעת טוב ורע/chet etz hada’at tov v’ra – The sin of the Tree of Knowledge Good and Evil is the same as וַיִּמְצָא דוּדָאִים בַּשָּׂדֶה וַיָּבֵא אֹתָם אֶל לֵאָה/v’yimtza Dudaim b’sadeh v’yave otam el Leah – “He found Dudaim in the field and he brought them to Leah.” The greatness of this act is depicted on the flag of Reuven in the form of a picture of the Dudaim. The good scent of the Dudaim, furthermore, attest to their rectifying the Tree of Knowledge, as this was the only sense not engaged in the sin of eating from the Tree. When Reuven brought the Dudaim to Leah his mother, she knew what he had brought her. The fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, transformed in the hand of her son to the fruit of the Tree of Life. Could Leah have brought Ya’acov a gift greater than this?

The Selfless Giving of a Mother
All Rachel cared about was to make Ya’acov happy. He was also a mother even before she had sons. When it states, “Rachel is crying for her children” (Yirmeyahu 31:14), it doesn’t refer only to Yosef and Binyamin. All the twelve tribes are her sons. Even the barren women can be mothers. Rachel, our Mother, was a mother even before she gave birth to the fruits of her own womb. A mother is someone who gives everything she has to another. Rachel gave even motherhood to her sister in her great mercy. She had worked so hard on herself to accept that her womb was closed. To reach a place within herself where she was happy for the tribes born to Ya’acov, even if they weren’t fruits of her own womb. She did not desire the blessings of the other wives of Ya’acov for herself. Because of her happiness for the children of Ya’acov’s other wives, she is considered the mother of all his children. Therefore, Reuven’s act of making his mother happy belonged to Rachel. Even her request of the Dudaim was an act of giving, “Therefore you will sleep with him tonight…” – “Please merit two extra tribes and burial at the Machpeleh with Ya’acov. May what is yours be yours, and also mine be yours.” Because of her selfless giving, all the glory of Reuven’s Dudaim goes to Rachel.

Rectifying Esau’s Selling His Birthright
Now we begin to understand the value of the Dudaim and what they represent. Leah gained the tribes and the burial in the Machpelah but lost the Dudaim. They are not called in her name but in the name of Rachel, for she was the mother of the mothers. The deed of Rachel parallels Reuven’s deed of rectifying eating from the Tree. All she cared about was giving pleasures to others without taking for herself. She cared more about the long-term result, than instant gratification. She gave up quantity for quality. Rachel wanted to unify with Ya’acov in the highest deepest way. For this she was willing to sacrifice everything to her sister. What was important to Leah, on the other hand, was to use every single opportunity and each current moment to serve Hashem. If she had an opportunity now to serve Hashem, she would do it promptly and willingly without thinking about the future consequences. The approaches of the two sisters represent two legitimate Torah paths. Both of the sisters acted out of love. Through the Dudaim deal they were doing a replay of the selling of the birthright. Leah’s selling of the Dudaim enacts a tikun (rectification) for Esau’s selling his firstborn right. Esau said, “Behold I am going to die, so what is this birthright to me” (Bereishit 25:32). He despised his future spiritual opportunity in order to indulge in physical pleasures. Leah took Esau’s cleaving to the present moment for the sake of taking instant gratification for himself and raised it up to become cleaving to the present for the sake of giving Hashem gratification by serving him. Esau was asking for הָאָדֹם הָאָדֹם הַזֶּה /ha’adom ha’adom haze – “this red, red.” The word אָדֹם/adom has all the letters of the word דוּדָאִים /dudaim. The additional letters of Dudaim are יַד/yad –The hand – with which you can either take or give! By giving Rachel the Dudaim in order to perform a mitzvah with her husband that night, Leah rectified Esau’s sin of relinquishing his birthright and spiritual future, through his desire for instant physical gratification. Rachel, too, had part of this rectification, by giving up everything for her sister, even the extra tribes and burial for the sake of giving pleasure to Ya’acov.

The Dudaim Deal and David’s Mother
An additional secret can be gleaned from the word דוּדָאִים /dudaim, you can unscramble this word to become אם דָּוִיד/im David – meaning the condition of David. Through the Dudaim Deal, David and the Mashiach were conceived. Another way to read the same words is Em David – the Mother of David. Through the Dudaim exchange, Rachel became the mother spiritual mother of David. Now we can finally answer our original question, what is the big deal about the Dudaim? How can they outweigh two extra tribes and burial with Ya’acov in the Machpelah? While Leah gained these abovementioned blessings, Rachel gained the merit of becoming the spiritual mother of David and the Mashiach. In Rachel’s merit Hashem will ingather the exiles and bring the redemption (Midrash Eichah Rabbah, Introduction 24).

May it be speedily in our days!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Re-digging the Wells of Tradition

Nature in the Parasha: Parashat Toldot 
Parashat Toldot tells the story of Yitzchak. Yitzchak’s life is linked deeply to the concept of wells from the time when Rivkah became his wife on account of her kindness at the well. Yitzchak was perpetually involved in re-digging his father’s wells, removing the dirt and pebbles with which the Plishtim had blocked them. The Hebrew word for wells is בְּאֵרֹת/b’erot. I hope this word is familiar to you, as I chose to include it in the name for our Midrasha. Here at B’erot women from all over the world return to continue Yitzchak’s work of re-digging the wells of tradition. We had to dig through a lot of dirt, pebbles and mud on our path in order to return to the authentic Torah way. The digging continues until we reach the “well of living waters” and connect with the very essence of our soul. Our full name is B’erot Bat Ayin, the latter part, which is the name of our village, means wellspring. Together B’erot Bat Ayin symbolizes the merging of the well, which needs to be dug from below, by our own efforts, to reach the depth, with the wellspring, which flows by itself, as a gift from Above. The aspect of בְּאֵרֹת/b’erot – the wells requires that we exert ourselves to dig deeply within our traditions and within ourselves, to discover the hidden Torah and bring it up to the surface. We use the plural form בְּאֵרֹת/b’erot – wells, rather than the singular בְּאֵר/b’er, for just as all wells ultimately receive their water from one fountain, similarly, the Torah has seventy facets, all of which derive from the same Source.

Yitzchak’s Wells in the Torah
“Yitzchak dug anew the wells of water, which had been dug in the days of Avraham his father; for the Pelishtim had stopped them up after the death of Avraham. He gave them the same names that his father had given them. When Yitzchak’s servants dug in the valley, they found there a well of spring water. The herdsmen of Gerar quarreled with Yitzchak’s herdsmen, saying, ‘the water is ours.’ He called the name of the well Esek; because they contended with him. And when they dug another well, they disputed over that one also; so he named it Sitnah. He moved from there, and dug another well; and they did not quarrel over that one, so he called it Rechovot, saying, now Hashem has granted us ample space for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land” (Bereishit 26:18-22).

Digging the Wells of the Temple of Jerusalem

Why does Scripture speak in length about the matter of the well? According to the simple meaning, it does not honor Yitzchak to go into such detail about how his well digging. Only by digging below the surface of the story can we discover how the wells contain a secret matter about the future to come. The wellspring of living water alludes to the house of G-d, which the children of Yitzchak will build. This metaphor for the Temple, is also mentioned in the prophets, “Because they have forsaken Hashem, the fountain of living waters” (Yirmeyahu 17:13). The first well was called עֵשֶׂק /Esek alluding to the first Temple, where the Babylonians הִתְעַשְּׂקוּ/hitasku – contended with us, waged many wars, and made us into several divisions, prior to destroying our Temple. The second well was called שִׂטְנָה/Sitnah – hatred, a worse name than the first. This refers to the second Temple, which was called in the name of hatred, as it states about it, “In the beginning of the kingdom of Achasverus they wrote שִׂטְנָה/Sitnah – hatred against the inhabitants of Yehuda and Yerushalayim (Ezra 4:6). The nations were perpetually full of hatred for us until they finally destroyed the second Temple, and exiled us into a bitter exile. The third well, which Yitzchak called רְחֹבוֹת /Rechovot – expansiveness, refers to the third Temple, may it be built speedily in our days! The building of the third and final Temple will take place without strife and contention. G-d will then expand יַרְחִיב /yarchiv our borders as it states regarding the future to come, “For Hashem, your G-d will expand your border, as He has sworn to your fathers...” (Devarim 19:8). It, moreover, states in regards to the third Temple “and the side chambers were expanded וְרָחֲבָה / v’rachava as one circled higher and higher” (Yechezkiel 41:7), (Ramban). When there is peace and unity the space feels wider. Then we will be able to multiply more, while still feel as if we have more space (Kli Yakar). Today, sadly, we still suffer the tail end of the period of “Sitnah – hatred against the inhabitants of Yehuda and Yerushalayim.” The Plishtim of our time, who bear a similar name, are certainly trying to block our wellspring on the Temple mount by stopping us from praying there with their unruly riots. May we continue to walk in Yitzchak’s footsteps and have courage to remove their rubble, dirt and pebbles, with which they block our well!

Rediscovering the Well of Living Waters Within

Yitzchak’s work was to dig wells in order to reveal the living waters that exists under the ground, and to raise it up. The goal is not to make waters flow into the wells from another source; but only to reveal the living waters, which is found within the wells themselves. For in truth these wells retain by themselves the living waters, yet, they are covered up by dirt, mud and pebbles. When we remove these, the living waters is revealed. It was Yitzchak’s spiritual work to remove all the veils of the physical world, and transform it into a vessel for Divinity and raise it up from below to above. This is compared to the living waters themselves that rise up from below (Rabbi Menachem Mendel Shneerson). In EmunaHealing, as well, the goal is to remove all the blocks that block the Divine essence of each person and in this way allow it to shine from his inside out. Through meditation and hitbodedut we have the opportunity to remove the dirt, mud and pebbles blocking our souls and raise up the Divine spark within. The metaphor of digging wells also applies to the process of teshuva (return to the Torah path). When I became a ba’alat teshuva 34 years ago, I experienced how every new Torah idea that I learned seemed so familiar as if I had known it before. It reverberated a Deja Vu, and that is how I knew that it was true. I was relearning something that was already part of myself. It knew it even before I was born. It was buried deeply within my being, and covered up by my secular upbringing, the Western culture and my own inclination to separate myself from G-d. The pebbles and mud that blocked the living waters in addition to the natural covering of dirt represent the obstacles in our path trying to divert and prevent us from reconnecting to our Divine source. Yitzchak’s dealing with the negative forces attempting to prevent his holy work of digging paved the way for us to be able to overcome the deterrents that attempt to sidetrack us. Yitzchak teaches us never to give up! Although the herdsmen of Avimelech chased Yitzchak’s herdsmen away and shut up the wells, Yitzchak was not discouraged but continued to dig the wells – separating and raising the sparks from their shells until he reached Rechovot.

The Dirt, Pebbles and Mud Blocking our Way
When we begin to learn and grow in the living waters of Torah, numerous obstacles arise. The same thing happen when people try to make Aliyah to Israel. During daily meditation or hitbodedut it may be helpful to ask about the obstacles that come in our way of our learning and growing. Sometimes its different people pulling us in various direc­tions away from the living waters. It could be the need for an education or a promotion in our career. Financial security and making extra money is always a big draw. Sometimes it is trying to fit into the popular opinion of the world that divert us from the path, worrying about what others might think of us etc. Many young women coming to Israel to learn and grow in Torah are called back home by worried parents who want their daughters to be close to them and out of the imminent danger of the ‘war-zone’ of Israel. We need to pray that G-d helps open the gate so that we will be able to continue digging down deep in spite of all the obsta­cles.

The Well as a Vessel for the Deepest Bond
The wells remain to be re-dug. Their profound and mysterious waters call us to delve into them – To dig deeply within ourselves and within the sources. Their waters are nourishing to satiate our thirst, and life giving, to sustain us, bestowing us with our basic need. Water never comes alone. It is a substance wherein each drop cleaves to the other. In Hebrew the word מַיִם/mayim – water is always plural. Through water you can bind two substances together. It is, therefore, not surprising that it was at the well that Avraham made a covenant with Avimelech (Bereishit 21:27), and it was at the well that Ya’acov and Rachel, Moshe and Tziporah met and made the covenant of marriage. So many of the Biblical characters met their soul mate at the well, because the well symbolizes the woman who also is very deep and mysterious (Maharal). The well contains deep waters. In order to make it available, you have to draw out the waters from within the depth of the well. This process can be compared to the process of marriage. When two soul mates merge to become one, it is like two halves becoming whole, for they both draw out the hidden potential within each other. The well is a receptacle for water, which symbolizes Torah. Intellectual Torah learning is not complete. In order to really make a commitment to Torah life one need to create a כְּלִי/keli – receptacle – a home in which Torah can flourish. Marriage is a well that enables couples actualize Torah to its fullest.

The Multifaceted Well of Women’s Torah
Midreshet B’erot Bat Ayin is called in the name of the wells that Yitzchak dug. B’erot is a multifaceted well in which our students may dig deeper without being limited to one outlook or approach. Instead, we encourage each student to express Torah in her own personal way, always remaining connected to the foundation of Torah as put forward by the Sages of Israel. The well, where many of the biblical heroes met their soul mates is also a symbol of fertility in Judaism. We aspire to nourish and encourage our students to plant their roots in the fertile soil of Torah and of the Land, and to blossom, and multiply expressing their hidden talents in the world. Our practical goal is to help prepare them to meet their soul mates as they proceed along their life’s path as women of valor.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Discovering the Camel Connection

Nature in the Parasha: Parashat Chayei Sarah
The camel stands out in this week’s parasha, where it is mentioned no less than 18 times, all in chapter 24. Why do we need to know that Rivkah’s father “had made a place for Avraham’s servant’s camels,” and that “his camels were unloaded and given straw and feed”? (Bereishit 24: 31-32). Why are these camels so important that the Torah bothers to mention them over and over again? I remember once when I was at a Beit Din for Conversion with a student, the Rabbi asked her which women in the Torah rode on a camel. Since then my ‘Women in Tanach’ class has become mandatory for conversion students. Actually, I didn’t find any other woman than Rivkah about whom the Torah explicitly states that she rode on a camel. Rivkah, our mother, is connected to camels in several ways. The first thing we hear about Rivkah is how she goes completely out of herself in the most astonishing way to give the ten camels belonging to Avraham’s servant drink until they are full (Bereishit 24:19). (Read on to learn how much water this is!) Later at the end of the same chapter, when she first encounters Yitzchak, Rivkah falls off the camel that she had been riding on (ibid. 24:64). Until two weeks ago, I had never ever in my life ridden a camel. When at the Dead Sea with my husband I thought it would be a good opportunity to try how it would feel to be up so high and moving in the soft wavy way of the camel. It was a bit scary when the camel first rose to its feet, and I felt uneasy in my stomach. I really cannot imagine Rivkah riding all the way from Mesopotamia to Hebron on a camel without getting seasick. After less than five minutes, I sighed in relief when my camel ride was luckily over. I’m even more relieved not to have shared Rivkah’s experience of falling off the camel!

Camels & Kindness
Avraham’s servant selected Rivkah as a suitable wife for his master’s son based on her outstanding character-trait of kindness, expressed in her willingness to not only draw water for his ten camels, but to water them until they had finished drinking (Bereishit 24:19). How much water would that take? There are different opinions of how long a camel can go without drinking, but at the very least for 6-8 days under desert conditions. Thereafter, a camel must drink to replenish its body water, and when water is available, it may drink more than a third of its body weight. (Knut Schmidt Nielsen, Animal Physiology: Adaptation and Environment). When a camel has become dehydrated and then suddenly has access to water, it is capable of drinking up to 135 litters of water in thirteen minutes (Jonathan Kingdom, East African Mammals: An atlas of Evolution in Africa). Keep in mind, we have to multiply this number with ten for each of the camels that Rivkah watered in her incredible chesed (kindness)! Rivkah’s association with the camel is based precisely on her being steeped in chesed. The camel is called גָּמָל/gamal in Hebrew. This word also means to bestow like in גְּמִילוּת חֲסָדִים/gemilut chasadim – bestowal of kindness (Pirkei Avot 1:2). Rivkah loved kindness to such an extent that she naturally connected to anything called in the name of this character-trait (Kli Yakar). It is not accidental that a camel is called גָּמָל/gamal. Camels seem to be very kind and docile animals. Perhaps the camel is associated with chesed because it has the ability to keep going and providing for man without needing to be replenished for long periods. The word גָּמָל/gamal also means ‘to go without’ like in the weaning of Yitzchak (Bereishit 21:8). According to some opinions, camels can go without water for as long as a month in the harshest desert conditions. (
Camels are masters at survival and hold the teaching of resourcefulness. They can show us how to make the most out of whatever resources we have. They are very intelligent and emotional animals, and form close bonds with their human masters with whom they work with a noble dignity when treated with respect ( To the people who rely on camels for their very existence, the camel holds a sacred space. It is not the rude, vulgar and unruly creature of myth, but a stately, noble and amiable servant. The association between camels and kindness is supported by Maor v’Shemesh. He explains that when Rivkah fell off the camel, she fell off from her primary level of kindness and good deeds in the world, and arrived in the world of teshuvah (repentance). Realizing that this was the world of Yitzchak, Rivkah desired to join him in rectifying former deeds.

Drinking Before our Animals
Whereas, according to Torah law, we are required to feed our domesticated animals before eating our own meals, this does not apply to drinking. We are permitted to drink in order to quench our thirst prior to feeding our animals or giving them to drink (Sefer Chassidim 531; Magen Avraham 167:18). Sefer Chassidim cites as a source for this halacha the story of our righteous mother, Rivkah, who offered Avraham’s servant, Eliezer to drink before watering his camels (Bereishit 24:11-21). One of the reasons for the distinction between eating and drinking in regards to the precedence of animals over people, is that thirst is of great distress to man (Sha’alot u’Teshuvot Chatam Sofer, Choshen Mishpat 119; Sha’alot u’Teshuvot Har Tzvi, Orach Chaim 1:90). Another reason is that only with eating is it likely that a person will forget to feed his animals if he tends to his own needs first (Sha’alot u’Teshuvot Har Tzvi).

Falling or Sliding off the Camel?
“Yitzchak went out to meditate in the field at the turn of evening: and he lifted up his eyes, and saw, and, behold, camels were coming. Rivkah lifted up her eyes, and she saw Yitzchak, and she fell off the camel” (Bereishit 24:63-64).

Why did Rivkah fall off the Camel? As they approached Avraham’s land, Rivkah looked up and saw a man standing in the field praying. She did not know it was Yitzchak. Seeing him praying with such intensity, Rivkah realized that this was a great man. When she saw an angel standing beside him, Rivkah bowed deeply toward him and fell off the camel in her great awe and respect. Hirsch describes the emotion that prevented Rivka from riding towards Yitzchak, which is very characteristic of Rivkah. A fancy lady surely would have preferred to ride in honor and glory and with her head held high. She would have afterwards allowed her future husband to help her descend from the camel. However, especially since Yitzchak was not riding, it didn’t seem suitable for Rivkah to ride towards Yitzchack who was walking. In addition, riding is a sign of ruler-ship, and Rivkah didn’t want to be seen by Yitzchak as the first lady. All this was not done through calculation (if not so, it would be only a small difference between humility and haughtiness). Rather “She fell” as if accidentally by herself, though arousal of the spontaneous correct emotion. Furthermore, Rivkah saw the tetragrammaton expressed in the personality of Yitzchak. She fell on her face, just as people would fall on their faces when they heard the tetragrammaton being pronounced on Yom Kippur by the Kohen Gadol. HaRav Moshe Meir Weiss, Rav of the Agudah of Staten Island relates that after the Akeidah, Yitzchak spent three years in the Garden of Eden and came down just as Rivkah was arriving. In Gan Eden it is said that people walk upside down. Following this thought, Rivkah saw Yitzchak walking upside down and she fell off the camel as a result.

Mixed Pure and Impure
A camel is a non-kosher animal who chews its cud but does not have a split hoof – one kosher and one non-kosher sign. The root of the camel is in holiness, but when it descends into the lower world, it becomes un-kosher (Shem M’Shemuel, Parashat Shemini). Rivkah was riding a camel rather than in an enclosed cab on a horse befitting of a proper noblewoman, as an allusion to the twin sons she would bear. Just as the camel includes both kosher and non-kosher elements, among her sons, one would be righteous and the other wicked. (Yalkut Shimoni Bereishit 24:109). When Rivkah saw Yitzchak, Hashem sent her a spark of prophecy. In that moment, she saw that her marriage to Yitzchak would produce an Esau. When this was revealed to her, she became so weak that she fell from the camel. This prophecy would remain with Rivkah for years to come. She always saw Esau for what he was while Yitzchak remained blind to his actions. The camel is associated with kelipat noga (the husk with light that can be released). Its message for us is to choose holiness over impurity, disassociate with the lower impurity and come close to holiness (Imrei Noam).

Dreaming of a Camel
“If one sees a camel in a dream, death has been decreed for him from heaven and he has been delivered from it” (Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 56b). The reason for this is that the letters of גָּמָל/gamal – camel have the same numerical value as the word חכמה/chochmah – wisdom (73). However, the particular combination of the letters in the word גָּמָל/gamal indicates death. This is what it means when it states, “He saw that camels were coming…” (Bereishit 24:63). When Yitzchak “went out to the field” of the holy apples to destroy the mixture of holy and unholy, then he saw the combination of camels with the shechinah. He, therefore, went out to eradicate the husk and judgments from which death emanates. “Rivkah lifted her eyes and saw Yitzchak” (ibid. 64). When she saw Yitzchak who came to eradicate the judgments “she fell from upon the camel,” meaning she fell from the combination of גָּמָל/gamal and it then turned into חכמה/chochmah – wisdom (Sefer Ohev Yisrael). It is known that “Wisdom preserves the life of him that has it” (Kohelet 7:12), this explains why he is saved from death. In the impure chariot there is a camel, yet גָּמָל/gamal – camel is also the language of bestowing kindness. Thus by means of bestowing kindness we have the power to break the camel of the impure chariot from the other side and be saved from death (Noam Elimelech, Parashat Vayeshev). The camel corresponds to diminution and judgment from the language of “weaning Yitzchak” (Bereishit 21:8). Simultaneously it is also associated with bestowal of kindness, so it consist of the two opposites, judgment and kindness. When the judgments are rectified then the person is saved from death, this is the character-trait of Rivkah’s son Ya’aov.

The Camel -- Forging the Jewish Nation by Choosing Pure over Impure
Parashat Chayei Sarah encompasses the main transition point in Jewish history. Its opening description of Sarah’s passing and burial is a shock not only for Avraham, but it also poses a peril for the continuation of the entire Jewish people. The aftermath of the loss of such righteous giant may naturally lead to despair. The continuation of the seed of Israel is hanging in a thin thread between death and life. Only if Rivkah comes alive to take Sarah’s place can the chain of Jewish motherhood pass on. Even so, there are many deterrents trying to prevent the yet unborn people from living to become the chosen nation. This explains why camels are so central to this week’s parasha. The camel, which connects pure and impure elements, represents the ability to forge the Jewish nation by choosing the path that will lead to the life embodied by Ya’acov over the path that will lead to the death represented by Esav. Rivkah is the carrier of this opposing mixture. She derived from a clan of tricksters, yet she unhesitatingly jumped on the camel and left her family behind in order to marry the son of Avraham whom she had never met. The camel theme serves as the backdrop for this most pivotal transition point in Jewish history. The exact amount of 18 camels – the numerical value of חי/chai – life alludes to the life-giving choice of both Rivkah and Yitzchak, which saves us all from death and eventually forges the Jewish nation.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Avraham’s Hospitality Tree

Nature in the Parasha: Parashat Vayera
B'erot's Eshel Tree
Avraham is the second person in the Torah that planted in the Land. Noach, the first man who planted, is criticized for planting a vineyard and getting drunk before planting anything sustainable for people (Rashi, Bereishit 9:20). Ultimately, Noach’s planting caused disgrace to himself and a curse to his son. Avraham’s orchard, on the other hand, became a blessing for all. Planting needs to be thought out carefully, what to plant, where and when and for whom makes a great difference in the outcome of the fruits. Planting can also be understood figuratively. For example, we can plant ideas in people’s mind. A plant starts out small, sometimes even as a tiny seed. With the right conditions and with proper nurturing it may grow into a beautiful fruit-bearing tree. Avraham is a role model for how to plant in an altruistic way on all levels, both literally and figuratively. His purpose for planting was to share his blessings with others and teach the world about the Creator. Planting trees both literally and symbolically represents thinking ahead of how to benefit others, as it takes several years until the trees bear fruit. The fruit trees teach us to share and become kinder to others, for a healthy tree usually gives much more fruit than one person can eat. I’m very blessed to tend an orchard of about 36 trees together with my husband. We planted these trees about 18 years ago as tiny saplings, and for the last ten years or so, we have been enjoying the fruits of our hard labor. The harvest season keeps me very busy distributing the best of our fruits to Rabbis, teachers, poor and old people.

An Orchard or an Inn?
וַיִּטַּע אֵשֶׁל בִּבְאֵר שָׁבַע וַיִּקְרָא שָׁם בְּשֵׁם הָשֵׁם אֵל עוֹלָם:
“And Avraham planted an אֵשֶׁל /eshel – tamarisk in Be’er Sheva, and invoked there in the Name of the Eternal, the everlasting G-d” (Bereishit 21:33).

What is the אֵשֶׁל /eshel that Avraham planted? There are different opinions in the Talmud whether Avraham planted literally or figuratively. As Rashi explains, Rav and Shemuel, two sages of the Talmud, differ in their interpretation of this term. One says that the eshel is an orchard. Avraham planted this orchard in order to have fruits to give to his many guests. The other says that eshel refers to an inn for lodging which provided all sorts of fruits to nourish the guests. Avraham, therefore, “planted” a hospitality tent in order to nurture needy human beings. Rashi explains that the Hebrew term for “planting” is also used within biblical literature in reference to tents. He cites the following example, “He will plant the tents of his palace” (Daniel 11:45). Through this eshel, Avraham provided free food to all travelers. What difference does it make whether Avraham planted an orchard or established an inn? How does each view emphasize a different aspect of Avraham’s personality and mission?

As typical of the Maharal, he reconciles the different views in the Talmud and answers our questions above as follows: According to the view that Avraham planted an orchard, it means that it is fitting for Avraham to plant an orchard, since Avraham himself is like an orchard. Just as an orchard is full of trees and plants, likewise Avraham is the first plant, since G-d created the entire world for Avraham’s sake, as it states, (Bereishit 2:4), בהבראם/behibaram – when He created them. If you unscramble the letters of this word you get באברהם/beAvraham – for the sake of Avraham. The first 2000 years of the world were desolate, without any true reality, until the 2000 years of Torah began with Avraham’s discovery of Hashem. In this way, Avraham was the first plant that G-d planted in His world. Avraham is compared to a blessed plant through which everyone benefited. Therefore, it is fitting that his actions would reflect his essence by planting an orchard. We can also explain the view that Avraham built an inn based on this principle. It was fitting for Avraham to establish an inn, since Avraham himself was like an inn, in which all the travelers would enter and gather. This is why Avraham was called “a father of many nations.” As the father of both the Jewish, Arab, Asian and Roman people, he is the gatherer of the majority of the nations in the world. Thus, Avraham established an inn, reflecting his essence of uniting and gathering everyone, because he includes them all (Maharal, Chidushei Agadot 2:43, Tractate Sotah).

Rectifying the Sin of the First Man
Avraham’s planting in the Land is compared to the very first planting in the world when Hashem originally planted the Garden of Eden. The same form of the word וַיִּטַּע /vayita – he planted is used in both instances. Compare the following two Torah verses:

וַיִּטַּע הָשֵׁם אֱלֹהִים גַּן בְּעֵדֶן מִקֶּדֶם וַיָּשֶׂם שָׁם אֶת הָאָדָם אֲשֶׁר יָצָר:
“The Eternal G-d planted a Garden in Eden in the very beginning, and He placed there the human being which He had formed” (Bereishit 2:8).

וַיִּטַּע אֵשֶׁל בִּבְאֵר שָׁבַע וַיִּקְרָא שָׁם בְּשֵׁם הָשֵׁם אֵל עוֹלָם:
“Avraham planted an אֵשֶׁל /eshel – tamarisk in Be’er Sheva, and invoked there in the Name of the Eternal, the everlasting G-d” (Bereishit 21:33).

When Adam and Chava ate from the Tree of Knowledge, Hashem expelled them from Eden, as they were no longer worthy of living in in the Garden. Since then, humanity yearns to return to our lost Paradise. The Zohar explains that through Avraham’s planting he rectified Adam and Chava’s sin of eating from the Tree of Knowledge and brought us closer to the Garden of Eden.

HE PLANTED AN ORCHARD IN BE’ER SHEVA –The cuttings, which Adam the first man cut, Avraham rectified. This is in Be’er Sheva, which is the Malchut. (Kingdom) (Zohar Chadash, (Margaliot), p. 60a).

What does it mean that Adam cut cuttings? Perhaps it means that when Adam and Chava ate from the Tree they introduced evil in to the world, which is the illusion of the existence of something separate from Hashem. Thus, they caused a split between the spiritual and physical realms. People erroneously believe that Avraham was the first monotheist. This is not true as many great people before him knew about the oneness of G-d. A few examples are Adam, Noach, Shem and Ever. Avraham, however, brought a new kind of G-d-consciousness to the world. He realized that the belief in One G-d must be actualized into physical action. Through the power of Avraham’s nurturing example, he conveyed the message to the world that we have both the capacity and the responsibility to emulate the ways of the Hashem within the physical reality. When Avraham planted an orchard, he unified and integrated the spiritual with the physical to the very bone of his being. He also “invoked the name of Hashem” – penetrating the illusion that there exist anything separate from G-d. This fits in with Rashi’s commentary that Avraham taught people about Hashem through giving them food. He connected the food – the most physical, with Hashem – the most spiritual. Therefore, he merited to be the forefather of the Jewish people whose spiritual essence has become ingrained within our physical genetics, and therefore passed down from generation to generation.

The Orchard and Grace After Meals
Rav Yosef HaKohen z”l reveals how Avraham became inspired to plant his eshel based on the following Midrashic dialogue between Avraham and his ancestor, Shem, the son of Noach, who was also known as Malki-Tzedek (Rashi, Bereishit 14:18).

Avraham asked Malki-Tzedek, who was in the ark during the great flood, “By what merit were you able to leave the ark?” Malki-Tzedek responded, “Through the merit of acts of tzedakah (charity) that we performed in the ark.” Avraham then asked, “To whom did you give tzedakah? There were no poor people in the ark; there was only you and your family.” Malki-Tzedek replied, “All night, we were busy feeding the livestock, wild creatures, and birds; in fact, we were too busy to sleep!” Avraham said to himself, “If they were able to leave the ark because of the tzedakah which they gave to animals, then how much more would I accomplish if I performed acts of tzedakah for human beings who are created in the Divine image!” He then opened an inn for travelers, and provided them with free food and drink, as well as escort (Yalkut Shimoni on Tehillim 37). Through the eshel that Avraham planted the name of Hashem was proclaimed “G-d of the entire universe.” For after the guests had eaten and drunk Avraham said to them, “Bless Him of whose possessions you have eaten! Do you think that you have eaten of what is mine? You have eaten of that which belongs to Him Who spoke and the Universe came into existence (Babylonian Talmud, Sotah 10a), (Rashi, Bereishit 21:33). When people refused to thank Hashem, Avraham would make them pay. It was either ‘pay’ or ‘pray.’ This way he brought numerous people to recognize Hashem and taught them how to thank Him for their sustenance. Many years ago, I learned that Avraham would teach his guests to thank Hashem through the words that later became the first paragraph of Grace after Meals, invented by Avraham. I have searched long hours for a source for this, to no avail; if any of you can help me I will be very grateful.

Revealing the Eternal Hidden G-d of the World
וַיִּקְרָא שָׁם בְּשֵׁם הָשֵׁם אֵל עוֹלָם:
Vayikra sham b’shem Hashem E-l Olam– He called there in the name of Hashem the G-d of the Olam – (world/hidden/forever), (Bereishit 21:33).

The word עוֹלָם/olam has several meanings. It can mean both ‘world’ and ‘hidden,’ since G-d is hidden in His world. Next to this eshel, Avraham proclaimed the name of G-d and revealed the aspect of G-d hidden beyond the surface of what can be experienced. Since the future is hidden from us, the same word also means future – eternity לעולם/l’olam – forever (Hirsch). Moreover, a tree also alludes the notion of future, since it takes time for it to grow and bear fruits. Even before Yitzchak, Avraham’s choicest fruit, was born, Avraham publicized the existence of G-d, His individual providence and unity. However, without a future continuation, all of Avraham’s teachings would have been forgotten, as the midrash states, that all the souls that they had made in Charan reverted back to their old ways. However, when Yitzchak, his spiritual heir was born, Avraham’s teachings got an everlasting continuation in the world (Meshech Chachma, Bereishit, 21:33).

Planting and Proclaiming Hashem in the World
Avraham wanted to plant trees and orchards to make use of the water from the well he had dug there – in order that he, together with the guests who came to his house, could benefit from the fruits. What is the connection between planting an orchard and calling out G-d’s name? Through gardening and planting our G-d-consciousness is expanded. “Since the effort of the righteous in planting is a preparation for intellectual (and spiritual) actions. Therefore, it is written immediately afterwards AND HE CALLED THERE IN THE NAME OF G-D” (Rabeinu Bachaya, Bereishit 22:33). Calling in the name of G-d can also refer to prayer (Targum Unkelus, Ramban). Gardening prompts us to pray by making us aware of how each plant needs Hashem’s blessing to survive and grow. Theאֵשֶׁל /eshel is possible the name of a tree called in English Tamarisk. This tree is a wonderful cooling shade tree in the desert because it exudes tiny salt crystals. During the night water vapor adheres to these crystals and condenses into droplets. Under the warming sun the water evaporates and provides a cooler shade than regular trees (Nogah Hareuveni, Tree and Shrub in Our Biblical Heritage p. 24).

Inheriting the Garden of Eden
By unscrambling the letters of the word אֵשֶׁל /eshel you can get the word, שאל/sha’al – ask, for Avraham would tell all his guests, “Ask anything you would like,” and he would give them whatever they requested. אֵשֶׁל /eshel is also an acronym for אכילה/achila – eating, שתייה/shetiyah – drinking, לוייה/levia – escorting, or לינה/lodging. Through the planting of the eshel which symbolizes the three mitzvot of welcoming guests – the ultimate emulation and expression of G-d’s character of chesed (kindness), we may walk in Avraham’s footsteps. Thus, revealing and expressing the name of Hashem within the physical world. This way, we too, can rectify “the cuttings of Adam” – the selfish grabbing of the first human beings, which consequently caused their expulsion from the Garden. It states twice in the Torah “he planted.” 1. “Hashem planted a Garden eastward in Eden,” 2. “Avraham planted an eshel…” This is to teach you that whoever performs the mitzvah of welcoming guests will inherit the Garden of Eden (Rabbeinu Bachaya).