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Haftarah: Obadiah 1: 1-21

DECEMBER 4-5, 2009 18 KISLEV 5770


"Jacob's sons answered Shechem and his father Hamor with cunning and they spoke" (Beresheet 34:13)

Jacob had overcome the terrible trials of over twenty years and believed that at last he could find tranquility in Eress Yisrael, but suddenly he faced an unexpected crisis. Ya'akob's daughter Dinah was abducted and violated by Shechem the son of Hamor. Shechem did not seem to know his boundaries. Not only did he express no remorse, but he pleaded for permission to marry Dinah. Ya'akob's sons handled the situation with "cunning," and made his marriage conditional on all the males of the town undergoing milah. The eager Shechem convinced his people to agree and they all performed circumcision. On the third day, while all the people were in pain from the milah, Shimon and Levi killed all the males and rescued Dinah.

What was their cunning? Conventional wisdom seems to be that it refers to the intentional weakening of the enemy. However, the Kli Yakar offers a novel approach. They did something that would ensure that there would be no reprisal from the surrounding nations. By circumcising themselves, the Shechemites had become, in the eyes of the world, like Jews. The brothers knew that when "Jews" were assassinated no one was particularly interested. Unfortunately, we see that Jewish blood has been cheap from time immemorial.

An amazing illustration of this attitude can be seen in an event of only a few years ago. The wicked terrorist Yasir Arafat unleashed the second Intifada. Many bloodthirsty Arabs killed families who stopped for pizza, or commuters on their way to work. Men, women and children were killed. There is a certain prominent animal rights group that was very involved in ensuring "humane treatment" to animals in slaughterhouses. For most of the time of the terror campaign, they were silent. Then the terrorists came up with a new idea; they attached an explosive device to a lone traveling donkey. They sent him on the road where the device was detonated alongside a vehicle carrying Jewish occupants.

This event prompted the animal rights group to take action; an innocent donkey had been killed! They immediately penned a letter to Arafat imploring him to "keep animals out of the conflict."

This is nothing short of incredible. Such are the moral principles of these people. They are not bothered by the wholesale slaughter of Jews, but they will not stand for the mistreatment of donkeys or cattle. We see the cunning of Shimon and Levi still today. May Hashem always protect us from the enemies of Israel. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Reuven Semah

"Why do you ask my name?" (Beresheet 32:30)

As Ya'akob prepared to meet his brother Esav, he met up with a "man" and struggled with him the entire night. The Rabbis tell us that this was the angel of Esav who wanted to overpower Ya'akob, and fought with him until morning. When Ya'akob asked him his name, the angel responded, "Why do you want to know my name?" Some of the commentaries tell us that in reality he answered his question, because the angel of Esav, who represents the yeser hara (evil inclination) wants us not to know him. Therefore, he says, "Why do you ask my name?" which means don't find out about me; that's my identity and my essence.

The yeser hara works best when we don't ask questions. He convinces us to do things that we shouldn't do but his success lies in the fact that we don't bother checking if it's correct. So in reality his name, which means his identity, is "Don't ask me my name." We have to learn from here not to take his advice but rather to ask before we do or don't do anything. This way we will be able to overcome him. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Shmuel Choueka


"And I have acquired oxen and donkeys." (Beresheet 32:6)

Ya'akob set a message to Esav informing him of his vast wealth in order to impress him, so that he may thereby gain favor in his eyes. There is a Midrash which says that in this pasuk, when Ya'akob said "oxen" he was referring to Yosef, and when he said "donkeys" he was referring to Yissachar. This seems puzzling. Ya'akob's intention is to impress Esav with his strength and power. Why then does he set forth the two sons who represent to him the spiritual dimension of the twelve tribes? Yosef, who is famous for being a great saddik and Yissachar, who represents the epitome of Torah study, should not be the ones who should impress Esav, the great warrior. He should be impressed by seeing those sons who are physically strong and outwardly impressive.

This Midrash teaches us that when one wishes to impress the wicked by being pretentious and acting like them, speaking their language, dressing in their fashion, feigning agreement with their misguided philosophies, he is fooling only himself. The most corrupt individual will not be impressed by an impostor. On the contrary, these actions will only alienate him. Ya'akob is showing how one speaks to a wicked person. He says to Esav, "My lifestyle is very different than yours. It is guided by the Torah, its values and heritage. I have raised my children to follow in the paths of their ancestors whose every movement was spent serving Hashem and fulfilling His misvot. I therefore hope that by being honest and straightforward with you, I will find favor in your eyes." By having self-respect, one achieves the respect and admiration of others. (Peninim on the Torah)


"And Ya'akob was greatly afraid and was distressed." (Beresheet 32:8)

Upon hearing the grim news that Esav was approaching, Ya'akob was gripped with a terrifying fear. He immediately began preparing for this confrontation. He prepared for battle, prayed arduously to Hashem, and did teshubah, repentance. Fear can either be a remarkable asset or a debilitating hindrance.

Rav A.H. Leibowitz cites the Midrash which describes another fear experienced by Ya'akob's descendants, centuries later at the time of the miracle of Purim. When Haman's decree to annihilate every Jew in the Persian Empire was issued, the Jews searched for a similar precedent in history. The initial response of the past would guide them to an avenue for the present. When they looked back at Ya'akob's confrontation with Esav, they were overcome with fear. They deduced the following: Hashem assured Ya'akob not to be concerned with Esav. Nonetheless, Ya'akob still feared Esav. The Jews of Persia, who had received no such assurance of Divine intervention, were convinced that their death was imminent. This lack of confidence produced feelings of sorrow and despair. The Jewish people completely relinquished hope for salvation. They felt justified in their sentiments, for, after all, Ya'akob had still been gripped with fear despite Hashem's pledge to him. They were only emulating their forefather!

Rav Leibowitz explains that, although outwardly these two anxiety provoking situations appear to be the same, they essentially represent two very distinct fears. The outcomes were contrasting as well. One fear was constructive in nature, while the other was destructive. By conceding to their overwhelming fear, the Jews of Persia became so depressed that they draggled themselves deeper into despondency. This emotional process rendered them incapable of helping themselves. Indeed, they lost their will to fight for life!

Conversely, Ya'akob's fear was restorative. The fear which gripped Ya'akob transformed him into a spiritual fighter. The fear strengthened his resolve to pray and to do teshubah. He intensified his bitahon, trust and faith, in Hashem. This enabled him to confront the decree with peace of mind, comfort and security. Ya'akob's fear was laudatory, for it spurred positive action. Alternatively, the fear which enveloped the Jews of Persia was demoralizing.

It is imperative that when we are gripped by fear, we examine its focus. Does it overwhelm us or edify us? Do we implement it as a tool for our improvement or do we fall captive to it? This concept is summarized in one question: Whom do we fear? Do we fear Hashem Himself or the punishment which He employs? Ya'akob feared Hashem's displeasure, so he did teshubah. The Jews of Persia feared His punishment, so they disintegrated. If we internalize the appropriate fear of Hashem, we will no longer fear others. We will become a much happier, and more productive people. (Peninim on the Torah)


The media know that sensational news sells. The expos? of a famous personality's less-than-sterling behavior whets the appetite of a curious public. The electronic and print media rush to bring the latest revelations to the anxious masses, whose curiosity does not wane until a bigger story breaks and takes over the headlines. The people seek "reality"; they want to know what makes the successful, rich or famous celebrity, tick.

Advances brought about by the age of technology, combined with a free-press mentality, has removed the romantic gloss from many a public figure. The persona presented to the public rarely represents the person who lives behind closed doors.

This dual-personality syndrome is not exclusive to the rich and famous. Most people behave quite differently in the privacy of their own homes than they do in public. The gentle administrator in the office may be the aggressive monster at home. The soft words used to convince and cajole an employee of co-worker may be replaced by angry, cruel shouts at a child or spouse. The polite, well-mannered synagogue member may be the sloppy, rude family member.

Why is it that we can be so nice to others - even strangers - and so cruel to those whom we should love the most? It is probably because at home we feel immune to the critical stares of a judgmental public. "When no one is watching, I can be myself" may be fine when referring to more casual attire or a sloppy hairdo, but it is not a license to transform from a kind person into a monster.

To help you measure your performance at home, think of the way you behave when away from home. Connecting the two "people" that make up the one "you" will refine and perfect the beast within, transforming it into the beauty you can become. Compare and improve your "home" and "away" personas. (One Minute With Yourself - Rabbi Raymond Beyda)

* * * * *

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)

Please pass this message along. Tizku L'misvot.

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