Parshat Vayeshev

v11How do we praise someone who’s less than pristinely praiseworthy, whose defects can’t readily be dismissed?

We are familiar with the phrase Ato damn with faint praise. Well, the Torah would have us reverse that formula: the plus should be explicitly revealed; the minus, implicitly concealed. Rabbi Sorotzkin teaches us this important rule in interpersonal conduct from our own parsha=s depiction of an inanimate object!

Sorotzkin cites (as does Rashi) what the Talmud says about the Torah’s characterization of the pit into which Joseph was hurled by most of his brothers: A….and the pit was empty; no water was in it (37:24).

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Parashat Vayishlach

pvyBy what mandate did Shimon and Levi decimate the city of Shechem and indiscriminately kill all its males in retaliation for its namesake prince=s violation of their sister, Dinah, as depicted in chapter 34 of today’s parsha?

Much exegetical ink has been spilled on the topic of the polemical blood that was spilled in this attack on Ainnocent inhabitants.  The main commentary-combatants here are the Rambam (failure to set up courts of justice and judge transgressors) and the Ramban (general abominable and immoral behavior) who variously vindicate the execution of both perpetrator and populace.

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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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