Dangerous Jealousy

Dangerous Jealousy

The disease of jealously is so malignant that is converts all it takes into its own nourishment. -Joseph Addison

In Judaism there’s a concept of an “evil eye.” An evil eye is when someone looks upon another in some negative fashion. This is most commonly the result of jealousy.

Rabbeinu Bechaye on Genesis 30:38 (Vayetze) discusses the destructive power of such jealousy, how people can unwittingly bring it upon themselves, and how it can attack and damage even the most miraculous interventions.

The first example is Jacob’s wife Leah, who upon giving birth to Judah, her fourth child, thanks God (Judah’s name is actually based on the Hebrew word Thanks). Rabbeinu Bechaye explains that because of Leah’s gratitude for a greater portion of children of what she knew was prophesized for Jacob, the evil eye immediately fell upon her, and she was stopped (temporarily) from having further children.

The second example was the descendants of Joseph, who declared proudly their blessing of being a numerous people. After that statement Joshua directs them to go to the forest. The sages interpret the passage to mean a command for them to go to the forest to hide from the evil eye.

The most glaring example was the actual Revelation at Mount Sinai and the delivery of the Ten Commandments upon the Tablets of the Law. It was given with incredible fanfare, lightning, thunder and Shofar blasts. Rabbeinu Bechaye explains that the evil eye immediately fell upon the event, which led in turn to the breaking of the Tablets shortly thereafter. When the second set of Tablets was given quietly, inconspicuously, no evil eye fell upon the event. The second set of Tablets was never destroyed.

Finally, Jacob, who was attuned to the concept of the evil eye, in his efforts to increase his herd, utilized strategies that would be perceived as natural, to hide what he understood was the miraculous intervention he knew was taking place. His low-key understated work efforts hid what was truly going on from onlookers and protected him from the evil eye.

Rabbeinu Bechaye warns that “the power of the evil eye is so great that it can affect even things that miracles touch.”

May we beware of jealousy in all its forms and reduce our chances of attracting it.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the Krieger and Silverman families for their blessed hospitality. May the evil eye never enter their homes.

What kind of twins were Jacob and Esau?

What kind of twins were Jacob and Esau?

I always assumed they were not identical twins, as the physically different characteristics imply, and I was comfortable with the description of Jacob holding Esau’s heel as possible if the sacs separating them had ruptured before birth. What brought this issue to the fore is the fact that in Spanish there are two different words used for twins. “Gemelos” means identical twins and “Mellizos” mean non-identical twins, there’s no word for just “twins”. Therefore when I wrote “twins” in this week’s essay, my friend, Marcello Farias, who helps me translate my writings into Spanish asked “What kind of twins were they?” I was under the impression they were of the Mellizo variety, not identical (dizygotic is the scientific term, i.e. from two amniotic sacs) as opposed to Gemelos, identical, monozygotic, one sac.

Marcello, ever thorough and inquisitive, did some more research and came across this fascinating article that provides a beautiful scientific explanation for the possible discrepancy in physical appearance of twins that might have been born from one sac.

Given the fact that we don’t know what type of twins they were, I will stick to Marcello’s original translation of just calling them “hermanos” — brothers.

Enjoy the article:

WhatKindofTwinsWereJacobAndEsau

 

The Blessing of Multiplication

The Blessing of Multiplication

Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing. -Salvador Dali

Isaac starts to feel his age. He has lost his eyesight. He is uncertain as to when he will die. He wishes to bless his firstborn, Esau. He orders Esau to prepare a festive meal for him. As Esau hunts for game, Isaac’s wife Rebecca directs the younger twin, Jacob, to claim the blessing. Jacob disguises himself as his hairier brother, Esau, serves his father a sumptuous meal, and gets the coveted blessing from mislead blind Isaac. Shortly thereafter, Esau and his father discover the deception and thereafter Esau burns with a murderous hatred for his brother that would send Jacob into exile and influence the entire history of the Jewish people.

Rabbeinu Bechaye on Genesis 27:4 (Toldot) wonders why it is that Isaac requests a festive meal in the first place? What is it about a sumptuous meal of delights that seems to be a prerequisite for giving and receiving a blessing?

He answers that Isaac wanted to bless Esau with material prosperity, and therefore required some sample of material prosperity present to enact the blessing. Hence the need for the festive meal for this particular blessing. Rabbeinu Bechaye brings other examples as supportive evidence:

During Temple times:

  • On Sukot we brought water libations to ask for the blessing of rain.
  • On Passover we brought the first grains to ask for the blessing of produce.
  • On Shavuot we brought the two loaves to ask for the blessing of fruit.

And in general:

  • Whoever is careful to wear Tzitzit merits fine garments.
  • Whoever is careful with the Mitzva of Mezuza merits a fine house.
  • Whoever is careful with Kiddush merits fine wines.

Rabbeinu Bechaye points out that the real rewards for the performance of any Mitzva is actually in the next world, and what we receive in this world are merely the “fruits” of the performance of those particular Mitzvot. Nonetheless, there is a powerful connection between the objects we utilize in our service of God and the blessings that result.

May our possessions be good, useful and beautiful and may we receive the blessing of their positive influence and development.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To Yeshiva University. It was wonderful to spend Shabbat at my alma mater and see how the community has grown and developed since my student days.

Say little, do much

Say little, do much

A dog that barks much is never a good hunter. -Proverb

The Torah and the Rabbis had little use for braggarts. They consistently look unfavorably at those who talk much, but at the end of the day don’t come through. On the other hand, they laud those who under-commit yet over-perform. We should always be striving to deliver beyond expectations, as the ancient sage Shamai famously exhorts in Chapters of the Fathers (Pirkei Avot) 1:15, “say little and do much.”

Rabbeinu Bechaye on Genesis 23:15 learns the above from the story and actions of Abraham. When the angels come to visit Abraham, Abraham states that he’ll give them some bread, but in actuality brings out a veritable feast, including mounds of freshly baked cakes and freshly-prepared meat. Abraham proves himself to be the model of generous hospitality. The righteous say little and do much.

Conversely, the wicked say much and don’t even do a little. We see this from the scene of the negotiation between Abraham and Efron. Abraham’s wife Sarah had passed away in the city of Hebron. Abraham needs to bury her and has identified the Cave of Mahpelah, within Efron’s property as the ideal location. Efron is effusive in his declarations that he will gift not just the cave, but the entire property to Abraham. However, the bottom line is that Efron demands a princely sum of 400 shekel for land whose market value was likely significantly cheaper. Rabbeinu Bechaye adds that the numerical value of Efron’s name is equivalent to “evil eye,” indicating his miserly attitude.

There is a direct correlation of being generous with ones time and resources for the benefit of others and delivering over and above the call of duty, without saying much or drawing attention to oneself. Likewise, there is also a direct correlation between loud proclamations of future generosity and effort, yet a stingy and underwhelming  performance.

May we be among those who say little and do much.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To our daughter, Tiferet, on her Bat-Mitzvah.

 

Punishment for Undue Credit

Punishment for Undue Credit

A man’s pride will humiliate him, but a humble man will obtain honor. -Proverbs 29:23

Anonymous – Camille Flammarion, L’Atmosphère: Météorologie Populaire (Paris, 1888), pp. 163

Many of us may have experienced the annoyance of a friend, a sibling or a colleague, taking credit for something we did, a brilliant idea that we actually suggested first, a beneficial act that we initiated or some other effort where we should really have gotten credit. Conversely, we may have inadvertently taken credit ourselves in such cases, when in truth it was somebody else who was responsible.

Rabbeinu Bechaye in Genesis 19:13 suggests that such crimes stem from undue pride and arrogance, that God doesn’t take kindly to the stealing of “credit,” and that he will punish such wrongdoers by humbling them and thereby teach them some needed humility.

Perhaps surprisingly, he learns this lesson from a poorly phrased comment by God’s angels. The angels were coming to destroy Sodom. They stated “we’re destroying;” when they should have said “God is destroying.” Their initial punishment was that they were not able to leave the place until they admitted that “God sent us to destroy.” Their further punishment was that they were banished from God’s presence for 138 years, for we only see these angels again generations later with the patriarch Jacob.

Even the greatest personalities were guilty of such missteps of arrogance, including Moses, Samuel and Deborah:

  • Moses said: “Whatever is too hard for you to judge, you’ll bring to me.” Punishment: Didn’t know answer to question of the daughters of Zlofhad.
  • Samuel said: “I’m the seer.” Punishment: When came time to anoint the next king, he thought it was Eliav (David’s brother); God reprimands him, saying he’s wrong, that man “sees the eyes, but God sees the heart.”
  • Deborah said: “Until I, Deborah, arose.” Punishment: The divine spirit left her.

Rabbeinu Bechaye concludes that there is a particular danger for anyone who attributes any divine credit and honor to themselves. When we delude ourselves into thinking that we are due honor, when in fact it is God moving the pieces behind the scenes, we are liable to set ourselves up to being humbled in order to correct our mistaken notions.

May we retain our humility and always give credit where credit is due.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To Yoni Tocker on his Bar-Mitzvah and all those who deserve the credit for such a beautiful event.

 

 

You can choose your friends

You can choose your friends

Tell me who’s your friend and I’ll tell you who you are. -Proverb

God commands Abraham to leave his land, his birthplace and his father’s home. In the process, Abraham is also leaving his childhood friends, the social network he grew up with and was familiar with his entire life. He’s commanded to leave all he knew, his comfort zone, and move to a new land, a new climate, a new culture and a new people.

We may go through life surrounded by friends of circumstance. Classmates, co-workers or neighbors become our closest friends, not from any conscious decision, but rather from a natural progression of circumstance, comfort and inertia. Rabbeinu Bechaye on Genesis 12:1, quoting King Solomon asks us to reconsider how we choose our friends. King Solomon in Proverbs 13:20 states: “He who walks with the wise will become wise, but the companion of fools will come to harm.”

So too, Abraham needed to leave the foolish people of his hometown before he could truly grow and serve God. They were holding him back from becoming the great man he had the potential to be: the beloved of God, the beacon of his generation and the forefather of the Jewish people.

Rabbeinu Bechaye is not saying we need to move countries to find worthy friends. What he is saying is that we should become closer to the wise and put some distance from the foolish. It’s a conscious effort. When we take the path of least resistance, we may fall back to old, unproductive patterns and relationships. However, when we look around and actively seek out those who are wise, those who are pursuing noble goals, people of character, integrity and purpose, and befriend them, we elevate ourselves. There is nothing artificial or conniving in purposely seeking out new friends, better friends, inspiring friends; of finding areas of joint interest; of identifying shared dreams and aspirations; of pursuing a common cause for the greater good.

Rabbeinu Bechaye compares befriending the wise to walking into a perfume store. Even if one didn’t buy anything, just having been in the store already improves ones scent. So too, being in the presence of the wise will rub off on a person. The converse is likewise true.

May we be worthy of wise friends and enjoy each other’s company.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To my own childhood friends, who’ve stayed in touch through all the continents and decades.

Immortality by 2077

Immortality by 2077

I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it through not dying. -Woody Allen

Modern scientists have reached a stage of technological development where they can start to dream of extending man’s life indefinitely. While immortality still remains in the realm of science-fiction, multiple solutions are being worked on that should there be a breakthrough in any one of them, would signify a serious change in man’s longevity. The search for eternal life has often been connected with Messianic dreams.

It has long been taboo in Judaism to predict when the long-awaited Messiah may finally arrive. Maimonides declared it a fundamental principle of Judaism that we need simple belief and faith that the Messiah can arrive any day and to await him expectantly. Not that this has stopped countless Rabbis throughout the generations from giving dates and deadlines (all the past ones clearly erroneous so far) as to when the personification of our redemption will show himself.

Rabbeinu Bechaye does something a little different. In his commentary on Genesis 11:10 he predicts when the Messianic age will end. Back when he wrote his commentary, around the year 1290, he predicted that the Messianic age would end by 2077. And it would end with eternal life, for some.

When the Torah provides the list of generations and descendents of Shem son of Noah, it doesn’t mention their deaths, as opposed to the similar list of descendents of Adam until Noah. Rabbeinu Bechaye explains that the reason may be because Shem was the ancestor of the Davidic monarchy and the Messiah son of David will not die, but rather will live forever.

He states that after the year 2077 (really, 5837 in the Hebrew calendar) we will enter the seventh millennium which is the Sabbath of the world, and eternal life. He further implies that only those who cleave onto God will merit that eternal life.

For the younger ones among us, they may very well live to test Rabbeinu Bechaye’s prediction 60 years from now. The rest of us need to work on our life extending strategies. All of us need to work on cleaving to God.

May the Messiah show up rapidly in our own days.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the staff and volunteers of IsraAID who consistently provide life-saving help in disaster scenes around the world.