Parashat Vayetze

pvIn his ACharity chapter in Jewish Humor, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin relates the tale of an Israeli official who, desperate to buy a new $50-million jet fighter, hatches an idea:  he will ask a thousand very wealthy Jews to give $50,000 each.  A friend objected that the plane would never get off the ground.  Why? ADo you have any idea how much a thousand plaques weigh?

A passuk in our parsha sheds light on the right way to give, which is by no means a given.  Jacob vows to God that if He protects him on the way and helps him to return home in peace, A….and whatever You will give me, I shall repeatedly tithe to you (28:22).

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Parshat Toldot

ptThe verbosity of five strung-together verbs and a redundant proper noun in the final verse of chapter 25 of our parsha provides this week’s question mark.

AJacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, got up and left; thus Esau spurned the birthright.

The AKli Yakar ingeniously pairs up these five verbs with the quintet of sins Esau committed on that fateful day.

Esau was fully responsible for his deliberate disdain.  That’s why, according to the AOr Hachayim, the Torah tellingly repeated his name in the quoted verse: This was quite a conscious act, perpetuated by a specific person, not his pronoun.

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Parshat Chayei Sarah

cs1Exemplary exegesis can be found in Rabbi Sorotzkin’s commentary in our parsha on the first part of the last verse of chapter 24: pithy, penetrating, sublime!  (His analysis of the second part, by the way, is no less laconically profound.)

The Torah records that Isaac brought his soon-to-be bride, Rebecca, A–into the tent of Sarah his mother. What’s so special about this Atent?

Sorotzkin reminds us that the tents of Abraham and Sarah were where they converted men and women, respectively, and instructed the uninitiated in the truth of God, which they proclaimed.

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Parshat Vayera

v1We have all learned back in grade school that Abraham was the paradigm of hospitality: far from casting out, he was busy casting around for guests, for potential believers in monotheism.  Who, however, were his primary guests?

Rabbi Sorotzkin reveals what might not have been apparent to us. The answer is … (a not uncommon dramatic ellipsis appears in his commentary) the Sodomites!

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Parshat Lech Lecha:

l1Why does the Torah sometimes stress seemingly superfluous details?

What message is being conveyed to us in the following consecutive numbers?  Abraham was 86 when Ishmael was born (16:16) and was 99 when he received the command to circumcise himself (17:1).

Rashi responds that the Torah is hereby praising Ishmael for his willingness to undergo the ordeal of circumcision at the age of 13, the difference between the aforementioned two numbers.  Rabbi Sorotzkin finds this difficult since the Torah explicitly records in the antepenultimate verse of our portion that Ishmael was 13 at the time!

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Parshat Noach

n1Who got dibs on first feedings in the ark: Noah (the feeder) or his cargo of creatures (the animals he fed)?

The Talmud (Berachot 40a) mandates that a man may not eat before he has fed his animals. This is derived from the pronominal placement in a verse in the daily Shema: A I shall put grass in your fields for your cattle and –only thereafter–you shall eat and be satisfied.

But if pets take priority, how could God have instructed Noah (6:21) A… and it shall be as food for you (first) and for them (the animal kingdom–second)?

Rabbi Sorotzkin offers three answers:

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Parshat Bereishit

t1A person, were are sagely told (Pirkei Avot 3:1), will not sin if he contemplates his origin ( a putrid drop) and his destination (the grave and his Maker).  Or, as Oscar Wilde less reverently put it: AThe only difference between the saint and the sinner is that every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.

Past and future.  Though both spans are significant, which, one may wonder, is more important: the whence or the whither?

Rabbi Sorotzkin pithily derives the desired direction from the Torah=s directive in our portion: ATherefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and cling to his wife and they shall become (through their child–Rashi) one flesh A (2:24).

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Introduction to the weekly parsha

sorotzkinWe all have our eye-opening mundane favorites in the earthly garden of ocular delights that we inhabit (two of my eyeful trifles — since you asked — are, from the Canadian Rockies and South Africa, respectively, a lake and an actress:  the lovely Louise and the charming Charlize).

Yet if you lend your ears to the spiritual side of things (audition being the forerunner of cognition), no less stunningly stimulating pleasure is yours to favor — and savor.  I stress Aears because of the subject of my weekly byline in this flyer for the coming year (beginning with the beginning of the Torah), with the help of God and the Blums:  Oznaim LaTorah (literally, Aears to the Torah, the magnum opus of Rabbi Zalman Zorotzkin (1881-1966).

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About our Rabbi

rb1Rabbi Gedalyah Berger received his semikhah (ordination) from Yeshiva University‘s affiliated Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary in 1998.  He graduated in 1994 from Yeshiva College with a B.A. in physics, and studied for three years at Yeshivat Har Etzion in Israel under the tutelage of HaRav Aharon Lichtenstein shlita. Along with his duties at Fleetwood Synagogue, he serves on the faculty of the Graduate Program for Women in Advanced Talmudic Studies at YU, and as a sho’el u-meshiv (teaching assistant) at RIETS.

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