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NOVEMBER 26-27, 2004 14 KISLEV 5765

Pop Quiz: For how many years was Ya'akob away from his father's home?


"Then G-d said to him, 'Your name is Jacob; your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.'" (Beresheet 35:10)

In our perashah Hashem gives Jacob a new name. His new name is Yisrael. However, if one studies the verse quoted above, one will note that there seem to be extra words. The great Alshich points out that the words "Your name is Jacob," are superfluous. We already know his name is Jacob. Why is it said here that his name is Jacob? The answer is that Hashem is telling Jacob that his original name will not be uprooted; it will still be used. The Talmud (Berachot 13) says that the original name remains in place and Rashi explains: Since G-d himself later referred to him as Jacob (46:2) it is obvious that the name Jacob was not abolished.

Why was the original name retained? The Alshich explains that the name Jacob is a hint to the character trait of trickery and cunning. Jacob used this trait to obtain the right of the firstborn and the blessings from Isaac that were meant for Esav. However, the name Yisrael means straightness and courtesy. If Hashem would have uprooted the name Jacob, never to be used again, it would imply that the old way of trickery is over and the new era of truthfulness begins. It would imply that the old way was wrong and no longer part of Jacob's ways. Therefore, Hashem maintains his old name to teach us that both names are valid and are to be used. What Jacob did in the past by way of trickery, which might appear as wrong, is now endorsed by Hashem as proper and correct, for at the time, it was the right and necessary thing to do in order to receive his rights and blessings. The epitome of truth is represented by Jacob, and his image is engraved in the heavenly throne of Hashem. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Reuven Semah

"I have sojourned with Laban" (Beresheet 32:5)

When Ya'akob sent messengers to his brother, Esav, he told them to relay the above message to his brother. Rashi comments that the word garti (I have sojourned) in this verse has the numerical value of 613, which is also the number of misvot in the Torah. By using this word, Ya'akob was alluding to Esav, "I dwelt with Laban and kept the misvot; I did not learn from his bad deeds." The simple meaning of this statement is that even someone on the high spiritual level of Ya'akob could have been influenced negatively in the environment of a Laban; it was a substantial accomplishment that he withstood the test of living with the evil and dishonest Laban.

Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman quotes his Rabbi, the Hafess Hayim, in saying Ya'akob's statement was actually self-critical. When Laban did something improper, he did it with much enthusiasm and energy. Ya'akob was saying about himself that his zeal in the pursuit of a good deed did not compare to Laban's zeal in doing evil. He says of himself, "Though I sojourned with Laban and observed all 613 commandments, I lament that I did not emulate Laban - my ardor in positive pursuits did not approach Laban's enthusiasm in his pursuits of sin." Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Shmuel Choueka


"And Ya'akob remained alone" (Beresheet 32:25)

The Midrash states that just as Hashem is alone so too Ya'akob was alone (lebado). We see from this that the Sages understood the word "alone" to be a positive attribute and a form of emulating Hashem. It is exactly this trait of being "alone" that helped Ya'akob to be victorious in his forthcoming battle. This, too, was the great attribute of Ya'akob's grandfather Abraham; he was willing to be alone for his spiritual ideals.

In this light, said Rabbi Yeruchem Levovitz, we can understand the well-known Mishnah in Pirkei Abot 4:1. There the Mishnah gives definitions for four key terms. Who is the wise man? The one who learns from everyone.

Who is the strong person? The one who conquers his negative impulses. Who is the wealthy person? The one who has joy with what he has. Who is the honorable person? The one who honors others.

The Mishnah reveals a wonderful concept: each person can obtain the most important things in life independently of anyone else. The wise man is the individual who loves wisdom and because of this love wants to learn from everyone, for each person has some wisdom to share. If strength were dependent on being victorious over others, then as soon as someone is stronger than you, you are no longer the strong man. But, says the Mishnah, true strength is having the ability to overcome your negative tendencies and impulses. It is not dependent on anyone else but yourself. Wealth is not dependent on how much money you have or the number of your possessions. If it were, then you could lose your entire wealth overnight. Rather, true wealth is feeling joy for what you do have. This trait is yours regardless of external circumstances. If honor were dependent on how others treat you, what are you supposed to do if others decide not to honor you? Woe to a person whose honor is dependent on the whim of others. True honor is up to you. You are honorable if you honor others regardless of how others treat you. All these important attributes are up to you. You alone decide where you stand as regards wisdom, strength, wealth and honor. (Growth through Torah)


"And Dinah the daughter of Leah went out" (Beresheet 34:1)

Rashi comments: "And was she not the daughter of Ya'akob? However, because of her going forth she was called the daughter of Leah, since Leah was also one who went out, as it is stated, 'And Leah went out to greet him.'"

Rashi mentions the Midrash which relates Dinah's "going out" to that she was Leah's daughter. When Leah went out to greet Ya'akob, there was a tinge of immodesty in this "going out," which reflected itself in her daughter's "going out." There is a lesson to be derived from this Midrash.

We see that the actions of parents, even when trivial, sometimes leave a lasting impression on their children. The dictum of "do as I say, not as I do," does not work. Parents' deviation from Torah laws not only weakens their own faith but also causes confusion among their children. We see also that when children follow in their parents' "footsteps," they will tend to "outdo" their parents. (Peninim on the Torah)


Question: Why are we obligated to answer "Amen" when we hear a berachah? Answer: Moshe instructed B'nei Yisrael "When I call out the Name of Hashem, ascribe greatness to our G-d." (Debarim 32:3) When I call out Hashem's Name (in a berachah), bring praise to Hashem by answering Amen.? (Sefer Ta'amei Haminhagim Umkorei Hadinim)


"And Ya'akob came complete to the city of Shechem." (Beresheet 33:18)

Bnei Yissachar explains that the word "shalem -complete" in this pasuk is an acronym for "shem"(name), "lashon"(language) and "malbush"(garment). The Torah is telling us that even though Ya'akob spent twenty years in the house of Laban, he was not influenced by Laban's ways. Ya'akob did not adopt a new name, begin to speak the local language or change his style of clothing.

He did not make any effort to change himself in order to fit in with the locals of Haran. Because he was so steadfast in his ways, he merited that the Torah testified on his behalf that he arrived "complete."

Question: What aspects of today's society have you incorporated into your life? Would a casual observer immediately know that you are a Jew?


This Week's Haftarah: : Obadiah 1:1-21.

In our perashah, Esav takes a small army to meet Ya'akob. Ya'akob prepares to meet his older brother and hopes to triumph, just as he had triumphed by receiving the blessings of the firstborn. Esav went on to become the father of a large nation, Edom who, true to the blessing given by Yitzhak, lived by their sword, and in doing so, oppressed the Jews.

In our haftarah, Obadiah the prophet foretells what will be Edom's fate. Obadiah himself was an Edomite who converted to Judaism. He warns his former nation that just as Ya'akob triumphed over Esav, the Jews, with the help of G-d, will eventually triumph over Edom.

Answer to Pop Quiz: : Thirty six. 14 in the yeshivah of Shem and Eber, 20 by Laban's home and two on the road back home.

A quick tip to boost the power of your prayer. Hazal tell us (Masechet Baba Kama Daf 92A) that Hashem loves the tefilot of one Jew for another so much that anyone who prays on behalf of a fellow Jew with similar needs will have his prayer answered first. A special service has now begun to provide people with names of others who find themselves in a similar predicament. You can call with complete anonymity and get the name of someone to pray for and give the name of someone that needs our prayers. The name of the service is Kol Hamitpalel. Categories include: Marriage; Income; Health; To have children etc.

Call to 646-279-8712 or email (Privacy of email limited by the email address)

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