Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Dealing with Death

Life Lessons from the Rebbetzin’s Heart
Parashat Vayishlach
Living Every Day as the Last Day of our Life
I have always been afraid of death. Since early childhood, it was hard for me to fall asleep, as I was afraid that I would never wake up. To this day, I cannot sleep with ticking clocks in the room. They remind me that our life clock is ticking away and that we have a finite amount of years in this world to accomplish an infinite amount of tasks. Lately, we have witnessed a lot of untimely deaths in the world and it’s hard to make sense of it all. Some people take tranquilizers; others lock their door with double locks, but life goes on, and part of life is death. As we grow older, death plays a greater role in our lives. When we lose friends and family members, we recognize that eventually we too will be called to face our own death. This awareness of our own inevitable death is a maturing experience. It forces us to think deeply about what is most important in life, and to put energy into meaningful endeavors.
ספר קהלת פרק ז (ב) טוֹב לָלֶכֶת אֶל בֵּית אֵבֶל מִלֶּכֶת אֶל בֵּית מִשְׁתֶּה בַּאֲשֶׁר הוּא סוֹף כָּל הָאָדָם וְהַחַי יִתֵּן אֶל לִבּוֹ:
“It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting; for that is the end of all men, and the living should take it to heart” (Kohelet 7:2).

Taking to heart “the end of all people” helps us do teshuva (repent) as it reminds us that one day we too will be held accountable for all our deeds in the heavenly court. All the tears I have cried for all the lost lives during funerals and shiva-calls lately ingrain within me the true value of life. Since life is short, we need to make the most of it by nurturing the loved people in our lives. It is not worthwhile to have expectations of others, which may cause us to experience disappointments. Rather we are put in this world to give and show love, no matter how others behave. In the face of death, we need to live to our fullest, living and let live every day, as if it was the last day in our life. How could we ever forgive ourselves for cutting off close relationships due to petty or even not so petty disagreements? What if one of us had to leave this world before we got a chance to reconcile?

Mourning our Losses
As our parents age, we realize that the opportunities to honor them are counted for, and that “if not now when?” (Pirkei Avot 1:14). Now is the time to put past arguments behind us while focusing on spending quality time and show appreciation for everything our parents have done for us all these years. This Chanukah it will be 12 years since my grandmother’s passing and I miss her love and compassion that she had in her heart for all of us. I remember when my grandmother was in her nineties feeling so lonely because all of her siblings and most of her friends had passed away. Sadly, she passed away when I was on one of my North America tours, and it was very traumatic to miss being with my grandmother in her last hours. Likewise, in this week’s parasha Ya’acov is informed of the death of his dear mother Rivkah with whom he did not experience closure.

ספר בראשית פרק לה (ח) וַתָּמָת דְּבֹרָה מֵינֶקֶת רִבְקָה וַתִּקָּבֵר מִתַּחַת לְבֵית אֵל תַּחַת הָאַלּוֹן וַיִּקְרָא שְׁמוֹ אַלּוֹן בָּכוּת:
“But Devorah, Rivkah’s nurse died, and she was buried beneath Beit El, under the oak, and he called the name Alon Bachut (Weeping Oak)” (Bereishit 35:8).

“Here he received news of another mourning, for he was informed that his mother had died” (Rashi). Ya’acov cried and mourned the loss of his righteous mother that he loved, who didn’t merit to see him on his return home after being away for 36 years. Therefore, Hashem revealed Himself to Ya’acov to console him (Ramban). Soon after the completion of this prophesy, Ya’acov suffered another very great loss. His dear beloved favorite wife died tragically in childbirth.

ספר בראשית פרק לה (יט) וַתָּמָת רָחֵל וַתִּקָּבֵר בְּדֶרֶךְ אֶפְרָתָה הִוא בֵּית לָחֶם:
“Then Rachel died, and was buried on the way to Efrat, which is Beit Lechem” (Bereishit 35:19)

Finally Ya’acov returns back home to his father in Chevron soon after which the Torah describes his death:

ספר בראשית פרק לה (כט) וַיִּגְוַע יִצְחָק וַיָּמָת וַיֵּאָסֶף אֶל עַמָּיו זָקֵן וּשְׂבַע יָמִים וַיִּקְבְּרוּ אֹתוֹ עֵשָׂו וְיַעֲקֹב בָּנָיו:
“Yitzchak then expired and died, and was gathered unto his people, being old and full of days and his sons Esau and Ya’acov buried him” (Bereishit 35:29).

How did Ya’acov recover from all his losses? How did he process all this mourning and continue to go about his life?

Life on Earth – A Prelude to a more Glorious Eternal Life
One of the most comforting concepts when it comes to death is the knowledge that death is not the final destination but only a release of the body and a rebirth of the soul. 

ספר קהלת פרק יב (ז) וְיָשֹׁב הֶעָפָר עַל הָאָרֶץ כְּשֶׁהָיָה וְהָרוּחַ תָּשׁוּב אֶל הָאֱלֹהִים אֲשֶׁר נְתָנָהּ:
“The dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to G-d who gave it” (Kohelet 12:7).

Without the constraints of the body, our soul is liberated to bask in the light of the Divine splendor. Death is just a transcendence; it can be compared to changing our set of clothes, moving into a new home, or being born into this world. Rabbi Tucazinsky opens The Bridge of Life – Life as a Bridge between Past and Future with a parable about two twin brothers in their mother’s womb discussing whether there is life after gestation in the womb. One brother believes that the end of the time in the womb marks the end of their life, whereas his brother believes that they will be birthed into a new and freer life. He further explains that “just as the life of the embryo merely constitutes the transition to a broader and more exciting life – so, to an even greater extent is life on Earth merely the prelude to a more fascinating, glorious life which man, confined within his puny body and with limited perception, is incapable of conceiving.” Believing in the afterlife makes all the difference in how to live our current life. Hedonism is born out of a belief that this lifetime is all there is. In that case, there is no purpose in living other than getting the maximum enjoyment out of the here and now. The Talmud teaches otherwise: “Rabbi Ya’acov says, ‘This world is compared to an antechamber before the world to come. Prepare yourself in the antechamber in order to enter the banquet hall’” (Pirkei Avot 4:16). Just as we fix our dress collar, put on lipstick and smooth out any leaking mascara at the mirror in the hallway before entering the ball, so do we stand in front of our mirror in this world, where we need to check whether our deeds measure up to our potential. When we leave this world, we will be shown two movies. One movie shows the life we lived, the other the life we could have lived according to our potential. The experience of Hell is when there is a great discrepancy between these two movies. With this perspective in mind, it is easier to understand that all difficulties and suffering in life are tests to help us perfect our character and reach our ultimate perfection.

The Greatness of a Person is only Known at Death
When a person’s soul leaves the body, its greatness becomes known in the world. Recently, one of my neighbors died. Menashe ben Chaim had been confined to a wheelchair since he moved to Bat Ayin, perhaps seven years ago. I didn’t know much about him except that he was handicapped due to being injured in the Yom Kippur war. I didn’t think of him as a hero, in fact I didn’t think of him at all, as I was busy with my own life. When told about Menashe’s passing I decided to pay him his last respect by attending his funeral, since, after all, he was a neighbor. I expected a small funeral, and was surprised to see on the way to the graveyard that it was backed up with parked cars on every side. My realization of what a great person Menasha must have been was confirmed by the incredibly eulogies. Menashe had basically died from two bullets in his head but miraculously came back to life after being resuscitated by a close friend. This is when he changed his last name from Mizrachi to Ben Chaim. The injury wiped away his entire memory including the memory center connected to speech and it was only after a long retraining that Menashe was able to speak again, although by no means very fluently. Nevertheless, Menashe was invited to speak about his war-experience and amazing recovery at various schools and universities. Once at a girl’s high-school, one student raised her hand and asked, “How come you go and give speeches when you are unable to speak well? Aren’t you embarrassed?” The question has to be understood in relation to the girl who asked it. She obviously had a strong speech defect and stuttered all through her question. Menashe answered with such compassion and gentleness, “You and I are in good company, you and I are just as Moshe Rabbeinu who had a speech defect but that didn’t stop him from being our greatest teacher!” As the girl heard these words, she immediately straightened up on her chair with renewed self-confidence. Later, Menashe received letters of thank you from both the principal and the girl’s parents. Her newly gained self-confidence had done wonders for her ability to speak. During the last year of Menashe’s life, he was incapacitated to a great degree. In the end, when he no longer could eat, the only mitzvah Menashe was able to do was to praise Hashem when uttering a blessing over his drink. Yet, he performed this mitzvah with all his heart and just for this one mitzvah was it worthwhile for him to live. May we be inspired to live each day of our lives to its fullest extent through whatever mitzvah we can do before our time is up!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Sister-Heart Protects the People of Israel

Life Lessons from Rebbetzin’s Heart - Parashat Vayetze
Sisters are Called to Bridge the Schisms of the World
In last week’s parasha we discussed the reconciliation between the two brothers, Ya’acov and Esav, whose hatred toward Ya’acov is eternal. This week highlights the even deeper relationship between the sisters Rachel and Leah. The foundation of the Jewish people is rooted in perfecting relationships between brothers and sisters. Parallel to the birth of the tribes of Israel, the Torah depicts the love and self-sacrifice between their mothers. Likewise, the rebirth of the tribes during the final redemption depends on rectifying our relationships and repairing the fragmentation of our people.

I thank Hashem for the most wonderful sister in the world, whom I deeply treasure. In some ways, I feel even closer to her than to my own husband. Since we grew up together as the branches of the same tree, we know each other so deeply. Over the years, we have been the greatest support for one another through thick and thin. We both admire and respect each other greatly and are able to mutually learn and grow from one another. My relationship with my sister is everything to me. I would move mountains for her and change myself 180 degrees. The relationship with my sister as two equals is especially important to me since in my role as mentor and teacher, most of my relationships are with women who come to me for help and guidance. Therefore, it is essential for me to have an equal relationship with my sister where we work things out even when we disagree. Like Rachel and Leah, my sister and I are in many ways opposite personalities who complement each other. Whereas I’m more of an outgoing leader type, the wisdom of my sister, which I hold in such great esteem, is more inwardly meditative and reflective. I have a favorite knitted sweater, which I call my Rachel-Leah sweater because half of it was knitted by my sister, and the other half by me. This sweater symbolizes for me the most rectified relationship of sisters enacted by Rachel and Leah who bridged the source of divisiveness in the world – the division between heaven and the earth, between the waters above and the waters below. Rachel and Leah affected each other to the greatest extent. Leah, who originally cried her eyes out in her inner world of prayer, became revealed in the world as the endeared wife of Yisrael and the happy mother of sons, whereas, Rachel the outgoing leader who originally embodied the physical external world, learned to cry internal tears from Leah. These heartfelt tears will ultimately return the exiles to the land, as it states, “Rachel cries for her children…they will return to their boundaries” (Yirmeyahu 31:14-16).

Women are Masters of Relationships
We women are masters of relationship. Connecting to others on the deepest level is most women’s highest aspiration, as sisters, wives and mothers. The spiritual energy created by true loving bonds generates spiritual unifications, which in turn reflect their light on the physical reality within our land. According to Arizal, everything that takes place in the world and especially in connection with the Land of Israel is a reflection of underlying spiritual relationships. Blessings come into the physical world as a result of unifications in the spiritual world. There are endless spiritual relationships interconnected with relationships we experience among ourselves. These relationships are both reflected on a national level within our people, on a personal level as mothers, daughters and sisters and within our marital relationship – a reflection of our relationship with the Divine. Redemption takes place in the merit of the righteous women who strive toward perfection in relationship. This explains how the Jewish women are praised for bringing about the redemption from Egypt. A deeper understanding of the underlying feminine spiritual forces connecting us to the Land of Israel will with Hashem’s help enable us to find our own place in the unfolding of redeeming the Land.

Allowing Your Sister to Change You
The opposing personalities of Rachel and Leah, and their incredible teamwork in overcoming the obstacles of jealousy and competition while each allowing her sister to ultimately change her, gives us the clue to repairing the spiritual root of the rift between the people of Israel and our land. Rachel and Leah in their soul-work and spiritual struggle, allowed themselves to be affected by one another and reverse their natural tendencies “He loved Rachel – the revealed world, but Leah was the hidden world” (Arizal, Sefer Etz Chaim 38:2). Both Rachel and Leah met each other in the middle ground halfway between hidden and revealed. We as women can tap into the tikun of Rachel and Leah in order to rebuild the land of Israel. The greater each partner in the relationship is able to change herself toward the other, the greater the relationship. If you are naturally outgoing, strong and opinionated while your sister is quiet and shy, in a rectified relationship you learn to tune down your own voice and become more reflective and understanding of your sister’s perspective. Likewise, she will learn from her outspoken sister how to articulate her feelings and express herself clearly.

Building the House of Israel through Rectified Relationship
The process of overcoming internal emotional struggle between Rachel and Leah was not easy. Rachel and Leah had very different and opposite natures from the very beginning. Rachel was outgoing, beautiful and strong. She was used to getting her way and having others cater to her needs. Leah was more introverted and eager to please. Through her difficult relationship with her sister Leah, Rachel was able to perfect her nature. In her love for her sister, Rachel overcame her own tendency of jealousy and handed over the secret signs she had with Ya’acov to Leah, thus sacrificing everything that clearly was coming to herself. (Metzudat David, Yirmeyahu 31:15). Rachel hadn't expected then this situation where she remained barren while her sister enjoyed motherhood and the stronger connection with Ya’acov through her children. This test was harder than she could bare, stretching her beyond the limit, and she succumbed to a tinge of jealousy. When Leah bares one child after the other to Ya’acov, Rachel is overcome by her old jealousy that she seemingly had conquered when she allowed Leah to become Ya’acov's wife (Bereishit 30:1). Rachel felt that she was on the brink of death unless she too would bear Ya’acov sons (ibid.). However, she was able to do a tikun to the extent that the went to the other extreme by not being jealous even at her maidservant. After being admonished by Ya’acov, she looked into herself and rectified her tinge of jealousy by giving Ya’acov her maidservant Bilha as a wife (Bereishit 30:3-4). The birth of Bilha’s second son Naftali completed this rectification process. This explains the rather obscure exclamation with which Rachel named Naftali.
בראשית ל:ח וַתֹּאמֶר רָחֵל נַפְתּוּלֵי אֱלֹהִים נִפְתַּלְתִּי עִם אֲחֹתִי גַּם יָכֹלְתִּי וַתִּקְרָא שְׁמוֹ נַפְתָּלִי:
“With great wrestlings have I wrestled with my sister and I have prevailed” (Bereishit 30:8).

The inner struggles that Rachel had gone through by means of her sister Leah ultimately refined her nature. All the difficulties she has experienced through her relationship with her sister thus serves the purpose of making Rachel overcome herself in order to reach perfection of character. The more difficulties we may have relating to another person, the more opportunity we have to grow specifically through this very relationship. It is this insight that prompted Rachel to call Bilha's second son Naftali – I became strengthened through my sister, like two people who wrestle and help each other thereby. Like a string that is made up of two strings, it becomes stronger when it is twisted. (Radak, Bereishit 30:8) Going through the process of overcoming the difficulties between them enabled the sisters to connect with holy connections (Rashbam, Bereishit 30:8). This spiritual work laid the foundation for the offspring of the two sisters to become one unified nation of Israel. As in the case of Rachel and Leah, the underlying problem between most sisters is some kind of deep-seated jealousy, which can only be overcome by profound self-awareness, deep emotional work, followed by rectified action. This is why, “it is impossible to build the house of Israel except through both Rachel and Leah”... (Arvei Nachal, Parashat Miketz based on Ruth 4:11).

Rectifying Relationships by Meeting in the Middle
“The feet of Leah ensconce (is clothed) within the crown of Rachel” (Etz Chayim, Sha’ar 38, Chapter 3). The complete building of the relationship with the Land of Israel is a relationship with both Leah and Rachel simultaneously – including both the hidden spiritual world and the revealed physical world. The spiritual relationship of hidden Torah and inner thoughts must unite with the physical relationship of working and building the land. Without going into the scope of the difficult topic of polygamy in the Torah, I want to venture to explain why Ya’acov, our father, was meant to marry the two sisters, Rachel and Leah. From all our holy fathers only Ya’acov retains two names. The reason for this is that Ya’acov corresponds to the sefirah of Tiferet, which has two aspects. The upper aspect of Tiferet corresponds to Yisrael, while the lower aspect to Ya’acov. Matching each of these aspects of himself, Ya’acov needed to marry both Rachel and Leah (Imrei Noam on the fifth day of Chanukah). Before Ya’acov became Yisrael he was unable to relate to Leah but connected with Rachel in the deepest way. After struggling with Esau’s arc angel and receiving the name of Yisrael he rose to the level of Leah. The relationship that needs the greatest work is always the holiest. Therefore, the rectified relationship between Yisrael and Rachel corresponds to the generation who enters the Land of Israel. The land is the embodiment of Rachel, and Israel is Yisrael (Arizal, Sefer HaLikutim, Parashat Beshalach 18). The only way Yisrael who stands on the top of the ladder would be able to connect with Rachel at the foundation of the ladder would be through her relationship with Leah whose feet touches the crown of Rachel. In order for the zivug of Yisrael and Rachel to be complete, Rachel must approach Yisrael by extending herself into the point where she and Leah was able to meet. Likewise, Yisrael must approach Rachel by extending himself into the point of his zivug with Leah where Leah meets Rachel. In this way, the unification of Yisrael and Rachel is the highest unification because it includes the sisterly relationship of Rachel and Leah within it.

Overcoming Spiritual and Physical Enemies in the Merit of Rachel and Leah
In these redemptive times, we lack neither physical nor spiritual enemies. Our spiritual enemies who want to strip us of our true belief and culture, by enticing us to exile and assimilation correspond to Leah, whereas our physical enemies who threaten our very lives correspond to Rachel. Moav, the antithesis to the Jewish people, includes both Bilam and Balak, and thus represents both kinds of enemies. בִּלְעָם/Bilam and בָּלָק/Balak together makes up the accumulative gematria (numerical value) of רָחֵל/Rachel and לֵאָה/Leah, which is 274 עדר/eder – flock (the flock of Israel). Rachel 238 + Leah 36= 274 Balak 132+ Bilam 142 = 274. This concept is alluded to in the following Torah verse,

ספר שמות פרק טו (טו) אָז נִבְהֲלוּ אַלּוּפֵי אֱדוֹם אֵילֵי מוֹאָב יֹאחֲזֵמוֹ רָעַד נָמֹגוּ כֹּל ישְׁבֵי כְנָעַן:
“Then the chiefs of Edom shall panic; the mighty men of Moav, trembling (רעד/ra’ad) shall take hold upon them; all the inhabitants of Canaan shall melt away” (Shemot 15:15).

Moav wages war with Israel both through the spiritual and physical weapons. This corresponds to the two kinds of service in Israel, the aspect of action – Rachel and the aspect of thought/speech. – Leah. Balak’s deeds was in physical warfare from the other side of Rachel. Whereas, Bilam wanted to curse Israel in thought, and speech, the other side of Leah. In Moav both Balak and Bilam joined together to stand against Israel. However, they were unable to prevail due to the eternal bonds of Rachel and Leah which preceded them. Because Balak and Bilam consist of the gematria of עדר/eder, their punishment is through letters trembling – רעד/ra’ad, with the exact same letters (Agra d’Kalah, 179b).

Expressing True Love in Relationships on All Levels
Through the rectified relationship between Rachel and Leah, none of our archenemies will be able to attack us as they each only have the ability to overcome us either physically or spiritually. When our Torah learning and spirituality is united with our physical mitzvot in the Land, then our spiritual enemy will be deterred by our physical strength, while our physical enemy by our spiritual shield. The foundation of shalom bayit (peace in the home) within the Jewish people as a whole, is reunification of the two main tenants of the bayit of Israel – the children of Rachel with the children of Leah. Redemption depends on repairing the schism within the Jewish people, rooted in the division between the sons of Rachel and Leah. The character building work of rectifying our relationship with our sisters has repercussion toward repairing the breach between the different factions of our people, between Ashkenazim and Sephardim, Chareidim, and “settlers,” religious and non-religious, Jews in Israel and in the Diaspora. We will be able to bring peace to Israel when we are able to perfect and express our relationship to others on the deepest level as sisters, wives and mothers. Any kind of relationship where we express pure love enacts rectification beyond boundaries. The spiritual energy created through this pure love generates spiritual unifications that elicit the Divine flow effecting shalom in our Land. Therefore, redemption will take place in the merit of the righteous women who overcome jealousy, indifference, anger, power-struggle and fear to express true love in relationship on all levels.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Can Sibling Rivalry be Repaired?

Life Lessons from the Rebbetzin’s Heart - Parashat Toldot
Our Siblings are the Branches in our Tree
Sibling rivalry is deeply rooted in the very first brothers of the world. As soon as a baby is able to scream and grab, he will attempt to seize a teddy bear from his brother or protest loudly when his brother takes away his soft ball. Last Shabbat one of my granddaughters pushed her sister off her chair. Though she fell, hurt herself, and cried profusely, with the help of their mother, the sisters quickly became friends again. Both learned to apologize, one for pushing her sister off her chair and the other for taking her seat. Even as we grow up and learn to share, the underlying need to protect our own rights does not always abate, and in the process, great rifts between siblings may arise. Unlike children, who quickly forget, adults are not always able to get over the hurt they experience through their brother or sister. They could use a ‘mother’ to help them reconcile. I believe that it is one of the saddest things in the world when siblings don’t get along and some even refuse to put effort or take a risk for the sake of saving their relationship. A human being is compared to a tree, the roots are our parents, the branches our siblings, and the fruits our offspring. Our tree can only flourish when all our family relationships are healthy. More than once, women have come to me for help because they do not get along with their sisters. Others came for different issues and during the sessions, it turned out that they had accepted not being on speaking terms with their sister for many years. Some felt unable to work on these relationships as so many issues had piled up over the years that they had given up untangling the emotional mess.

Could it be Damaging to have an Open and Honest Talk with Your Sister?
I recall one woman in particular, let’s call her Aliza who refused to go to a mediator with her elder sister, Tanya, as she felt it may be damaging for her personal development to find her own voice. Since childhood, Aliza had looked up to her big sister and during adulthood, she had often gone along with Tanya and learned much from following her advice. One day when a dispute arose between them, Aliza decided it was time to free herself from allowing her sister to dictate her opinions. When Tanya became extremely hurt, Aliza interpreted it to be the result of Tanya’s unwillingness to accept her right to assert her own views in life. I explained to her that it was possible that Tanya’s hurt feelings were unrelated to Aliza having her own opinion but a cause of Aliza’s avoidance of an open and honest discussion between them. “Perhaps your unwillingness to be open about your feelings toward your sister may cause the negative feelings to be expressed indirectly in even more hurtful ways.” Sometimes we may evade speaking our heart in order to avoid hurting people without realizing that these unspoken negative feelings leak out in other ways, especially to our loved ones, and cause more damage and hurt than mustering up the courage to be direct in our speech. Furthermore, perhaps the process of asserting her personal independence caused Aliza to close her heart to having compassion for her sister in fear that empathy for her sister’s feelings would cause her to be swayed into having to agree with her. It is not always easy to know how to show compassion by acknowledging verbally where the other person is coming from and empathizing with her pain without having to agree with her or be persuaded to apologize for things we didn’t do. Could it be that Aliza’s possible lack of empathy and compassion was hurtful to her sister? Perhaps this could be repaired through a reconciliation with a third person who could act as a buffer and create a safe space for Aliza to express herself by ensuring that Tanya would not bully her younger sister. Working things out with Tanya could possibly be an opportunity for Aliza to find her own voice and practice expressing her own emotions in a clear and direct way.

Ya’acov is Held Accountable for Lack of Brotherliness toward Esav
What can we learn from Parashat Toldot about repairing Tanya and Aliza’s relationship?
After 20 years of infertility, Rivka finally gives birth to twins. The boys were very different, “Esav became a cunning hunter, a man of the field, while Ya’acov became a sincere person dwelling in the Tents” (Bereishit 25:27). Rashi explains that אִישׁ יֹדֵעַ צַיִד –“a cunning hunter” implies that Esav would entrap and deceive his father, whereas אִישׁ תָּם – “a sincere, wholehearted or simple person” implies that Ya’cov would express what was in his heart with his mouth. Although Esav is evil and Ya’acov righteous, Ya’acov’s actions toward his brother don’t seem very brotherly. When “Esav comes home from the field faint [with hunger]” (Bereishit 25:29), Ya’acov takes advantage of his brother being so famished that he is unable to think about the future. As a condition for giving him a bowl of lentil soup Ya’acov demands that Esav sell his birthright without explaining what this birthright consist of. Unaware of the connection between the birthright and his father’s blessing, Esav is overcome with pain when he finds out that Ya’acov has taken the blessing through deception.
ספר בראשית פרק כז (לד) כִּשְׁמֹעַ עֵשָׂו אֶת דִּבְרֵי אָבִיו וַיִּצְעַק צְעָקָה גְּדֹלָה וּמָרָה עַד מְאֹד, וַיֹּאמֶר לְאָבִיו בָּרֲכֵנִי גַם אָנִי אָבִי:
“When Esav heard the words of his father he cried out with a great (מְאֹד/meod) and exceedingly bitter cry and he said to his father, ‘Bless me also, O my father’” (Bereishit 27:34).

The Zohar explains that Esav’s scream, voice and cry reaches until a place called “very much” that is spelled with the letters מ-א-ד mem, aleph, dalet, which also spell Adam – א-ד-ם aleph, dalet, mem. It echoes the primal suffering of all humanity stuck into a seemingly vain and hopeless existence. Esav’s voice rises to one of the highest places where Adam, the progenitor of humanity, is created as a being separate from godliness and pure paradise, which in itself is terrible suffering. It includes the suffering of all humanity throughout the ages. Therefore, the heavens and earth and everything that is within them shake (Zohar, Parashat Mishpatim 111a). This pain that Ya’acov inflicted on his brother, although he was wicked cannot be swept under the carpet and forgotten, as the prophet writes, “Hashem has a quarrel with Yehuda, and He will remember about Ya’acov. He will repay him according to his deeds” (Hoshea 12:3). Although the birthright with its blessings surely did belong to Ya’acov, he is still liable for not treating Esav with brotherly love and compassion. Hashem does not forget how Ya’acov disregarded the prophetic principle, וּמִבְּשָׂרְךָ לֹא תִתְעַלָּם “…Do not hide from your kin” (Yesha’yahu 58:7), by refusing to feed his famished brother unless he sold to him his birthright. Ya’acov had to pay for this lack of brotherliness, through the strife between his sons, which lead Yehuda and his brothers to sell Yosef as a slave in Egypt (Shabtai Teicher z”l, Sabba D’Mishpatim, The Old Man in the Sea).

Did Ya’acov Need to Apologize to Esav for the Pain he Caused Him?
Is it possible to repair the relationship, if you feel your sibling has wronged you, and hours, days, weeks, and years go by with no communication between you, without the opportunity to tell him how hurt you were, and why you were hurt. Is it possible to make believe that everything is fine, and maintain a superficial relationship without working things out? Even if on the surface, everyone is friendly again, how is it possible to avoid a loss of a certain trust without a heartfelt open communication and a sincere request for forgiveness? Yet, how could Ya’acov risk his life to offer the murderer Esav such opportunity for reconciliation? “Esav hated Ya’acov, because of the blessings which his father had given him…” and plotted to kill Ya’acov (Bereishit 27:41). In order to save his life Ya’acov had to flee and the brothers were separated for 36 years (Rashi, Bereishit 28:9). Ya’acov was naturally afraid to face his brother and it is understandable that he would evade such a meeting of reconciliation with or without a mediator. Moreover, Ya’acov’s personality, which is more fearful than any other Biblical hero, made it even harder for him to face his murderous brother. (Note that the word ירא – fear is mentioned in the Torah in connection with Ya’acov about 14 times). Considering all these extenuating circumstances, it would seem that Ya’acov surely is exonerated from seeking reconciliation with the evil Esav who has plotted to kill him for years. Then how would Esav ever be appeased?

Ya’acov Risks His Life to Seek Reconciliation with his Brother
Four wives and eleven sons later, on his way home from the house of Lavan, Ya’acov is gripped by fear and anxiety when Esav, accompanied by four hundred men, marches toward him (Bereishit 32:7-8). Nevertheless, despite his fear, he apparently remains steadfast in his intention to meet with Esav. Prepared to face his brother, Ya’acov sends an offering (mincha) to Esav (Bereishit 32:14-22). Ya’acov instructs his emissaries to explain the purpose of the gifts as follows:
ספר בראשית פרק לב (כא) וַאֲמַרְתֶּם גַּם הִנֵּה עַבְדְּךָ יַעֲקֹב אַחֲרֵינוּ כִּי אָמַר אֲכַפְּרָה פָנָיו בַּמִּנְחָה הַהֹלֶכֶת לְפָנָי וְאַחֲרֵי כֵן אֶרְאֶה פָנָיו אוּלַי יִשָּׂא פָנָי:
“Behold, your servant Ya’acov is behind us, for he said: I will cleanse his anger\face (אֲכַפְּרָה פָנָיו/achapera panav) with the offering (mincha) that goes before me, and afterwards I will see his face (פָנָיו/panav); perhaps he will accept me (יִשָּׂא פָנָי/yisa panai)” (Bereishit 32:21).

The combination of a mincha (offering) and the verb root כ-פ-ר – kaf-peh-reish, clearly refers to atonement. Rashi thus explains that Ya’acov comes to “remove [Esav’s] agitation.” Thus, it appears that Ya’acov seeks forgiveness. How else would Esav’s anger be purged? The continuation of Ya’acov’s statement further strengthens this point. Ya’acov states his desire that perhaps יִשָּׂא פָנָי/ yisa panai literally, that Esav will lift his face. The verb for lifting or raising נ-ש-א – nun-sin-aleph is often associated with forgiveness and relationship. For example, after Kayin’s mincha is rejected and his “face falls,” G-d informs him that if he is good, he will be “lifted up,” an apparent reference to his “fallen face”, and the possibility of divine forgiveness, acceptance and relationship (Bereishit 4:5-7). In sending his mincha, Ya’acov wishes for exactly what Kayin failed to achieve with his mincha, namely, an elevation of his face by his master, a renewed relationship and reconciliation (Rav Chanoch Waxman, Parashat Vayislach, Yeshivat Har Etzion).

“Do not Hide from your Kin”
What can we learn from Ya’acov about appeasing the pain of our sibling? The fact that Ya’acov was willing to risk his life to face his brother Esav and go into effort in becoming reconciled with him through humble words of endearment and excessive atonement offerings teaches us the importance of being willing to go into risks for the sake of reaching reconciliation with our siblings. Although the birthright was rightfully Ya’acov’s, and as such he had done nothing objectively wrong in obtaining it from Esav, he still needed to make amends through a face-to-face appeasement for having caused much pain to his brother. Note that the word “face” is mentioned three times in our Torah verse. Today we often cause so much damage to our dear ones through easy telephone and email access. So many miscommunications occur via these indirect ways of communication, all of which can be saved through the effort of a face-to-face communication. According to Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, in spite of the well-known spiritual law that Esav hates Ya’acov, at the moment of their face-to-face meeting his compassion was aroused and he kissed Ya’acov with his full heart (Rashi, Bereishit 33:40). No matter how patronizing, intimidating and manipulative your sister may be; could she be even half as wicked as Esav?” I asked Aliza, “Would any conceivable damage that could possibly issue from a face-to-face reconciliation between you and your sister in any way amount to a fraction of the damage caused by evading such opportunity for appeasement?” I inquired. “How can you withhold from your sister the opportunity to speak her heart and hear you express yours?” Perhaps the answer to this question echoes the admonishment of the prophet, “…From your kin do not hide” (Yesha’yahu 58:7).

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Is the Burial of the Matriarchs and the Patriarchs mainly a Muslim Holy Site?

Life Lessons from the Rebbetzin’s Heart - Parashat Chayei Sara
“The Absence of Truth – a Sign of Redemption
B'erot Trip to Ma'arat HaMachpala, Hevron
I know that you are concerned about how it feels to live in the heart of Israel at this time, as you are aware that we have lately experienced such a wave of violence. While the municipalities of Gush Etzion and other regions offer psychological help to those, who are very afraid, life here somehow goes on more or less in a normal fashion. Besides the fact that wild rabbits consumed B’erot’s entire veggie garden, our midrasha is still flourishing and new students keep coming. I personally don’t live with fear, but do take more precautions when travelling. Likewise, our students are more careful to use public transportation rather than hitchhiking.

Since this week is Parashat Chayei Sarah in which the Torah makes super clear how the Machpelah cave in Chevron was purchased by Avraham, the first Jew, I decided to write my own unpolitical take on the political situation in Israel today. We live in a time when the media is constantly pouring twisted and misconceived information into the world. This is actually a sign that the Redemption is near as one of the symptoms of the footsteps of Mashiach is that “truth will be lacking” (Babylonian Talmud, Sota 49b).
Recently UNESCO has approved a resolution recognized the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Chevron and Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlechem as Muslim holy sites, despite that none of these places are mentioned the Quran (http://www.westernjournalism.com/analysis-heres-what-the-bible-says-about-the-muslim-claims-to-holy-sites-in-the-land-of-israel/), whereas they have great significance in the Torah, Jewish history and tradition. (https://www.breakingisraelnews.com/51910/unesco-declares-rachels-tomb-cave-of-patriarchs-muslim-holy-sites-jerusalem/#Evq9osXUlAB8bUoT.97). UNESCO ‘s resolution does not concur with the statements of the Bible, accepted by most world religious. Neither do they reflect the teachings of the Muslim Quran. It may perhaps be surprising to some people that the Quran recognizes the Land of Israel as the heritage of the Jews and explains that, before the Last Judgment, Jews will return to dwell there. This prophecy has already been fulfilled (Shaykh Prof. Abdul Hadi Palazzi). Among the many statements in the Quran about the right of the Jews to the land of Israel we find the following: “And thereafter We [Allah] said to the Children of Israel: ‘Dwell securely in the Promised Land…’” (Quran 17:104). So why is it that many of those who follow the Quran today do everything they can to prevent Israel from dwelling “securely in the Promised Land?”

Why Don’t We Stand Up for Our Rights in Our Holy Sites?
We may find a partial answer to this question in the Quran itself. The Quran warns Israel against the consequences of turning our back to the Holy Land: “And [remember] when Moses said to his people: ‘O my people, call in remembrance the favour of God unto you, when he produced prophets among you, made you kings, and gave to you what He had not given to any other among the peoples. O my people, enter the Holy Land which God has assigned unto you, and turn not back ignominiously, for then will ye be overthrown, to your own ruin’” (Quran 5:20-21). If we lack desire, courage and self-sacrifice for the holy sites in the Promised Land, we make ourselves vulnerable to “our own ruin.” My husband told me that his study partner explained that the current wave of terrorism was elicited by Israel’s inability to stand up for our rights to the Temple Mount. When the terrorists desecrated out holiest site with their consecutive rioting last month around Rosh Hashana time, Israel had the opportunity to institute as a natural consequence the restriction of their access to our holy Temple Mount. In fear of world opinion Israel restrained herself and continues to put up with the Wakf’s abuse of their authority on the Temple mount. Although sovereignty of Judaism’s holiest site – where the First and Second Temples once stood – was reclaimed by Israel during the 1967 War, it granted Jordan’s Wakf authority over the Temple mount and entrusted it to oversee it in order to avert unrest. The recent Temple Mount riots clearly prove that the Wakf has forfeited this trust. Contrary to what UNESCO claims, it was Israel that took measures to defuse tensions at the site where Muslims enjoyed unlimited access until they indulged in violent riots and attacked Jews with stones and knives. To this day Jews are banned from praying on our holiest place. Many Jews including my own husband who have visited the Temple mount testify to how the Wakf search them for any prayer book, which they confiscate and even watch their lips to ensure they are not praying from their heart. Instead of standing up firmly for our right to pray on the holiest site in Judaism, we make ourselves weak and vulnerable to the terrorists when we continue to allow the Arabs to have authority over the Temple Mount in spite of their innumerable riots. This fear to go against world opinion and taking ruler-ship is perceived by the terrorist as a weakness that gives them the impetus to strengthen their violence against us.

Sarah, Our Mother, Ensured Eternal Jewish Ownership to Chevron
We women have the power to stop the terrorism and bring about world peace and redemption. Mustering up the courage to stand up for Israel and proclaiming the truth against all the false condemnations are redemptive acts that we women can take. I must admit that it even takes a bit of courage for me to write you this. I had to overcome my fear of any possible angry responses. We need to be willing to take risks when it comes to assuring the security of the Land of Israel. Way before the original conquest of Canaan in the times of Yehoshua, Sarah, our mother, understood deeply the importance of ensuring Jewish ownership to the holy sites in the Promised Land. This is why she chose to die at the right time in the right place, in order to ensure the holy city of Chevron as her burial place and an everlasting inheritance for her descendants.
ספר בראשית פרק כג ב) וַתָּמָת שָׂרָה בְּקִרְיַת אַרְבַּע הִוא חֶבְרוֹן בְּאֶרֶץ כְּנָעַן וַיָּבֹא אַבְרָהָם לִסְפֹּד לְשָׂרָה וְלִבְכֹּתָהּ:
“Sarah died in Kiriat Arba, now Chevron, in the Land of Canaan, and Avraham came to eulogize Sarah and bewail her” (Bereishit 23:2).

Where did Abraham come from, and why wasn’t he with Sarah in Chevron at her final moments? According to Rashi, Avraham had settled temporarily in Be’ersheva following the binding of Yitzchak. Ramban explains that both Avraham and Sarah lived in Be’ersheva, but Sarah had returned to Chevron on her own. It is possible that Sarah was motivated by the desire to leave the land of the Philistines, where there were many idol worshipers, for the holiness of the Land of Israel (Otzar Rishonim, 376). “…This is to explain that this righteous one [Sarah] died in Eretz Yisrael and was buried there, for the Chitites are from the families of Canaan (Ramban, Bereishit 19:19). In her love of the holy sites of Israel, Sarah relocated to Chevron, when she instinctively knew that she was about to die. She desired that Avraham would purchase the Machpelah as an eternal burial place for her offspring – the Jewish people. As a support for Sarah’s inherent connection with the holy land of Chevron we find a verse in the Eishet Chayil,

:ספר משלי פרק לא (טז) זָמְמָה שָׂדֶה וַתִּקָּחֵהוּ
“She envisioned a field and took it” (Mishley 31:16).

The Midrash explains this verse to refer to Sarah who envisioned the field of Machpeleh, which she took for a burial place (Midrash Tanchuma, Chayei Sarah chapter 4). The Machpelah cave is indeed called the field of Machpelah 10 times in our Torah portion. I believe that this implies that Avraham purchased much more than a burial cave for his wife Sarah. He purchased an entire field – a substantial piece of land, which in the future would become one of the major holy cities for Sarah’s descendants. “From then on the field became the inheritance as a burial place for him and his descendants. This section is mentioned to inform us of the value of the land of Israel beyond all the lands for the live and the dead, and moreover to establish the word of Hashem to Avraham to become his inheritance” (Ibn Ezra, Bereishit 23:19).

Purchasing the Field of the Machpelah in Chevron
There are several redundancies in the Torah description of Avraham’s purchase of “the field of the Machpelah cave,” which clearly come to emphasize that there should be no doubt that Avraham has rightfully purchased the field of the Machpelah in Chevron and paid its full price in the presence of the people of the land. I have underlined some of the redundancies in this excerpt. If you read the entire chapter in the Torah, you will find even more redundancies.

בראשית כ"ג (י) וְעֶפְרוֹן ישֵׁב בְּתוֹךְ בְּנֵי חֵת וַיַּעַן עֶפְרוֹן הַחִתִּי אֶת אַבְרָהָם בְּאָזְנֵי בְנֵי חֵת לְכֹל בָּאֵי שַׁעַר עִירוֹ לֵאמֹר:(יא) לֹא אֲדֹנִי שְׁמָעֵנִי הַשָּׂדֶה נָתַתִּי לָךְ וְהַמְּעָרָה אֲשֶׁר בּוֹ לְךָ נְתַתִּיהָ לְעֵינֵי בְנֵי עַמִּי נְתַתִּיהָ לָּךְ קְבֹר מֵתֶךָ:(יב) וַיִּשְׁתַּחוּ אַבְרָהָם לִפְנֵי עַם הָאָרֶץ: (יג) וַיְדַבֵּר אֶל עֶפְרוֹן בְּאָזְנֵי עַם הָאָרֶץ לֵאמֹר אַךְ אִם אַתָּה לוּ שְׁמָעֵנִי נָתַתִּי כֶּסֶף הַשָּׂדֶה קַח מִמֶּנִּי וְאֶקְבְּרָה אֶת מֵתִי שָׁמָּה: (יד) וַיַּעַן עֶפְרוֹן אֶת אַבְרָהָם לֵאמֹר לוֹ: (טו) אֲדֹנִי שְׁמָעֵנִי אֶרֶץ אַרְבַּע מֵאֹת שֶׁקֶל כֶּסֶף בֵּינִי וּבֵינְךָ מַה הִוא וְאֶת מֵתְךָ קְבֹר: (טז) וַיִּשְׁמַע אַבְרָהָם אֶל עֶפְרוֹן וַיִּשְׁקֹל אַבְרָהָם לְעֶפְרֹן אֶת הַכֶּסֶף אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר בְּאָזְנֵי בְנֵי חֵת אַרְבַּע מֵאוֹת שֶׁקֶל כֶּסֶף עֹבֵר לַסֹּחֵר: (יז) וַיָּקָם שְׂדֵה עֶפְרוֹן אֲשֶׁר בַּמַּכְפֵּלָה אֲשֶׁר לִפְנֵי מַמְרֵא הַשָּׂדֶה וְהַמְּעָרָה אֲשֶׁר בּוֹ וְכָל הָעֵץ אֲשֶׁר בַּשָּׂדֶה אֲשֶׁר בְּכָל גְּבֻלוֹ סָבִיב: (יח) לְאַבְרָהָם לְמִקְנָה לְעֵינֵי בְנֵי חֵת בְּכֹל בָּאֵי שַׁעַר עִירוֹ: (יט) וְאַחֲרֵי כֵן קָבַר אַבְרָהָם אֶת שָׂרָה אִשְׁתּוֹ אֶל מְעָרַת שְׂדֵה הַמַּכְפֵּלָה עַל פְּנֵי מַמְרֵא הִוא חֶבְרוֹן בְּאֶרֶץ כְּנָעַן: (כ) וַיָּקָם הַשָּׂדֶה וְהַמְּעָרָה אֲשֶׁר בּוֹ לְאַבְרָהָם לַאֲחֻזַּת קָבֶר מֵאֵת בְּנֵי חֵת:
“…Ephron the son of Hittite answered Avraham in the hearing of the Hittites, all who entered the gate of his town saying, ‘No my lord, hear me, I give you the field and I give you the cave that is in it. I give it to you in the presence of my people. Bury your dead.’ Then Avraham bowed down before the people of the land, and spoke to Ephron in the hearing of the people of the land saying, ‘If only you would hear me out! Let me pay the price of the land; accept it from me, that I may bury my dead there.’ hear me; I will give the price of the field; accept it from me, that I may bury my dead there.’ Ephron answered Abraham, ‘My lord, listen to me; a piece of land worth four hundred shekels of silver, what is that between you and me? Bury your dead,’ Avraham agreed with Ephron; and Avraham weighed out for Ephron the silver that he had named in the hearing of the Hittites, four hundred shekels of silver, according to the weights current among the merchants. So the field of Ephron in Machpelah, which was east of Mamre, the field and the cave which was therein and all the trees that were in the field, throughout its whole area, was made sure to Avraham as a possession in the presence of the Hittites, before all who went in at the gate of his city. After this, Avraham buried Sarah, his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah east of Mamre (that is, Chevron) in the land of Canaan. The field and the cave that is therein were made sure unto Avraham for a property of a burying place by the Hittites” (Bereishit 23:10-20).

Just as there are four couples buried in the Machpelah: Adam & Chava, Avraham & Sarah, Yitzchak & Rivka, Ya’acov & Leah so it the purchase of the Machpelah mentioned four times, twice “before the eyes of the sons” and twice “before the ears.” Silver is mentioned three times, and both verse 2 and verse 19 it mentions “The same is Chevron in the land of Canaan.” Emphasizing that Chevron is part of the land of Canaan and not Philistine land. These and other redundancies clearly indicate that Avraham purchased the Machpelah cave with its surrounding land before the eyes and ears of those present, so no misunderstanding could ever occur about Chevron belonging to Avraham and Sarah’s descendants. In fact, the most disputed places, which the Arabs claim as their exclusive holy sites are actually the exact places that the Torah most explicitly describes as being legally purchased to maintain an everlasting Jewish inheritance.

The Torah’s Preemptive Foresight to Refute the False Claims to Jewish Holy Sites

מדרש רבה בראשית פרשה עט פסקה ז ויקן את חלקת השדה אשר נטה שם אהלו וגו' במאה קשיטה א"ר יודן בר סימון זה אחד משלשה מקומות שאין אומות העולם יכולין להונות את ישראל לומר גזולים הן בידכם ואלו הן מערת המכפלה ובית המקדש וקבורתו של יוסף מערת המכפלה דכתיב (בראשית כג) וישמע אברהם אל עפרון וישקול אברהם לעפרון בית המקדש דכתיב (ד"ה א כא) ויתן דוד לארנן במקום וגו' וקבורתו של יוסף (בראשית לג) ויקן את חלקת השדה יעקב קנה שכם:
…Rabbi Yuden son of Simon said: This is one of the three places in which the nations cannot affront Israel saying: “You have robbery in your hands.” These are they: The Cave of Machpelah, The Beith Hamikdash and the burial of Yosef [in Shechem]. The Machpelah Cave, as it states: “Avraham listened to Efron, and Avraham weighed out the silver for Efron.” (Bereishit 23:16). The Temple, as it states: “David gave to Ornan for the place 600 Shekel of gold by weight” (I Divrei Hayamim 21:25). The burial of Yosef, as it states: “He bought the piece of land on which he had spread his tent, at the hand of the sons of Chamor, Schem’s father for a hundred pieces of silver” (Bereishit 33:19), (Bereishit Rabbah 79:7).

The Torah clearly foresaw the current false claims over the holiest sites of the Promised Land, and therefore it preempted to clarify to Israel that we have an undisputed historical, religious and political right over these vortex points that infuse the entire Land of Israel with its inherent holiness. Therefore, we should not be afraid to claim this right. Yet, in spite of the fact that Israel legally liberated these holy sites in the Six Day War, Israel sadly still accept limited access to them. Today, Jews are barred from entering and praying at the main part of the Machpelah Cave except for ten days a year! Are the Muslims the only ones who have a right to pray at the entire Machpelah Cave and on the Temple mount? The Arabs living in Israel and their leaders clearly think so and act upon it. They don’t hesitate to use violence to prevent freedom of worship as guaranteed by Israeli law and deny Jews entry to their holy places. (http://www.westernjournalism.com/analysis-heres-what-the-bible-says-about-the-muslim-claims-to-holy-sites-in-the-land-of-israel/). If we truly learn our Torah lesson, muster up courage to stand up for our spiritual rights in our Promised Land and stop succumbing to the pressures of the world powers, b”H the terrorists will cease from our Land, and we will be able to live in security, rebuild our Holy Temple and engender everlasting world peace!