Category Archives: 5784

Flatterer’s Folly (Vayishlach)

PDF version for print: Kli Yakar Vayishlach

Flatterer’s Folly (Vayishlach)

 “Flattery is all right if you don’t inhale.” -Adlai E. Stevenson

Jacob and Esau

Some twenty years earlier, Jacob had pretended to be his brother Esau and deceived their blind father to bestow blessings on him that had been originally intended for Esau. Esau, intensely offended and enraged, intended to kill Jacob at the right opportunity. Their mother Rebecca, understanding the danger Jacob was in sends him away to her brother Laban’s care, far away from Esau’s reach.

However, now, twenty years later, Jacob intends to return home and can’t avoid crossing paths with Esau. Jacob sends word ahead to Esau, calling himself his brother’s servant. After sending the message it says Jacob was very fearful (Genesis 32:7).

Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim of Prague, the Kli Yakar (1550-1619) explains that the source of Jacob’s great fear was because of the implied flattery. The Kli Yakar then quotes the Talmudic dictum:

Rabbi Elazar says: whoever flatters his friend, in the end will fall in his hands. -Tractate Sotah 41b.

So apparently Jacob had much to fear in his encounter with Esau. By seeming to unduly flatter Esau, Jacob had set himself up to potentially fall victim to the harm he was trying to avoid. Thankfully, he came away relatively unscathed from the encounter, though subsequent encounters between the Children of Israel and the descendants of Esau have often been less than pleasant.

While it is nice to say a kind word, we should make sure not to confuse it with unwarranted flattery.

May we be spared from undue flattery and likewise spare others the same.

Shabbat Shalom,



To the memory of Staff Sgt. Eitan Rosenzweig hy”d of Alon Shvut.

Anti-Wealth Prayer (Vayetze)

PDF version for print: Kli Yakar Vayetze

Anti-Wealth Prayer (Vayetze)

 He who knows he has enough is rich. -Lao-Tzu

Our Patriarch Jacob becomes a wealthy man. He leaves his uncle Laban, who is also his father-in-law, after twenty years of hard work, laden with massive wealth. What is curious about his wealth is his view of it, or at least the interpretation of Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim of Prague, the Kli Yakar (1550-1619) as to Jacob’s philosophy of wealth.

Twenty years earlier, as Jacob sets out from his father’s house on his journey to Haran, Jacob prays to God. He prays for a safe return home. In the material department he asks for only two things: “bread to eat and clothing to wear.” A minimalist request from a future tycoon.

The Kli Yakar on Genesis 28:20 explains that Jacob’s request for sustenance was also part of his request to return home safely and uncorrupted. It’s obvious that bread is eaten, and clothing is worn. Why did Jacob need to add those verbs?

The answer is that Jacob only wanted enough bread to eat and no more, just clothing to wear and nothing extraneous. The Kli Yakar quotes from Proverbs (30:8):

Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with mine allotted bread.

He claims that wealth has the potential to both corrupt and cause conflict. It can corrupt its owner from following a straight path, a path of service to God. The wealthy are always at risk of servicing their Wealth. It can also cause conflict with those who want to get their hands on their wealth.

Therefore, Jacob pleads that if God will merely give him his basic necessities to support himself and his family then “I shall return in peace to my father’s home.”

May our basic needs always be covered and may the wealth we are granted be harnessed for God.

Shabbat Shalom,



 To the memory of Rabbi Israel Francus z”l.

Beware the Carnivore (Toldot)

PDF version for print: Kli Yakar Toldot

Beware the Carnivore (Toldot)

 Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet. -Albert Einstein

Lion and Sheep

I have a confession to make. I like meat. There is something particularly savory about the smell and taste of freshly grilled meat. However, Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim of Prague, the Kli Yakar (1550-1619) on Genesis 27:3, seems to frown on the practice.

There are other Rabbinic commentators who give us a carte blanche on the consumption of (kosher) meat. They have no ethical or legal concerns with the use of animals for anything that benefits humanity, whether it’s for food or labor. As long as we are not unnecessarily cruel to animals, which is a different biblical prohibition, we are allowed to use and consume animals for our own needs. The Kli Yakar on the other hand seems to have had clear vegetarian inclinations.

He starts with an analysis of Isaac requesting meat from his son Esau to accompany the meal for the blessing he wanted to impart to him. The Kli Yakar claims that the eating of meat was a rarity, reserved for holidays and special occasions. He then explains what is wrong with the regular consumption of the dead flesh of animals.

Only predatory animals eat meat. Predatory animals have the traits of savagery, viciousness, and callousness to the loss of life. The Kli Yakar argues that if we eat too much meat, we may also develop such traits.

He then quotes the prophet Isaiah, who predicts that in the End of Days, the very nature of the world will change, and we will all, predators included, no longer seek meat:

“And the lion as the cattle shall eat straw.” (Isaiah 11:7) for there shall be peace in the world amongst all creatures.

May we enjoy our steaks and meat alternatives, when and where appropriate.

Shabbat Shalom,



 To all those who participated in and supported the March for Israel in DC and similar events all over the world. Thank you.

Added Protection: The Song of Haazinu

Added Protection: The Song of Haazinu

In synagogue last Friday night after services, Rabbi Yoel Bin Nun, together with other members of the congregation recited the Song of Haazinu responsively. He would recite one verse and then the rest of the congregants repeated the verse after him. It’s a relatively short reading of 43 verses. After they finished, I approached Rabbi Bin Nun to ask him what the rationale for the recitation was. He told me the following story:

One of his relatives, I believe his wife’s uncle who was a distinguished Rabbi during World War II, had a number of students who were fighting with the Jewish Brigade for the British. The Rabbi told all his students to memorize the Song of Haazinu (Deuteronomy Chapter 32, Verses 1-43) and to recite it on a daily basis until they returned from the fighting. They all did and they thankfully all returned unscathed.

Since hearing the story, Rabbi Bin Nun himself adopted the same custom and himself returned unhurt from both the Six-Day War, where he was one of the paratroopers that liberated Jerusalem and from the Yom Kippur war, where he crossed the Suez Canal and together with his brigade helped turn the tide of the war.

He recommends that all Jews recite the Song of Haazinu daily, during these turbulent times.

Following is a link to the text at Sefaria (in Hebrew and English) as well as to a YouTube video where it is being read with the classical (Ashkenazi) Torah reading cantillation.

The text itself is a prophetic song, Moses’ last words in the Torah, and according to Rabbi Bin Nun alludes to exactly our situation.

May it, and all our prayers, study, acts of kindness, charity and support be a merit for ourselves, our soldiers, our hostages, our wounded, and all of Israel.


Instant Divine Gratification (Chayei Sara)

PDF version for print: Kli Yakar Chayei Sara

Instant Divine Gratification (Chayei Sara)

A prayer in its simplest definition is merely a wish turned Godward. -Phillips Brooks

Isaac Praying

Jews are supposed to pray three times a day, morning, afternoon, and night. There is a Rabbinic tradition that each Forefather was responsible for the establishment of a different prayer. Abraham was responsible for the morning prayer, Isaac for the afternoon one and Jacob for the night one.

For most people who care to participate in communal prayer, the morning and night ones are typically the easiest. There are early morning meetings in synagogues around the world to fit the schedule of most people. There are typically opportunities at the end of the day to catch the night prayer. However, the afternoon prayer can get tricky to attend (especially during winter months when the afternoon hours are limited).

Though liturgically the shortest prayer, logistically, the afternoon prayer can be the hardest, as it means stopping what we are doing in what is often the middle of meetings, work, school, or travel. I have heard that therefore, one gets the most ‘reward’ for the afternoon prayer (I don’t recall the source, so if anyone knows please send it my way).

Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim of Prague, the Kli Yakar (1550-1619) on Genesis 24:63 takes this idea a step further (and brings sources).

“A man should always be cautious with the afternoon prayer, for Elijah (the Prophet) was only answered for his afternoon prayer.” -Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Berachot 6b.

The Kli Yakar then gives metaphysical reasons for why the afternoon prayer is the most powerful one. As further proof, he brings the biblical account that the moment Isaac finished his prayer, he was answered:

“And Isaac went out to meditate in the field at the eventide; and he lifted up his eyes, and saw, and, behold, there were camels coming.” Genesis 24:63

Isaac was praying at that moment for none other than a bride. As soon as he lifted his eyes from prayer, she was there, arriving on the caravan with Abraham’s servant.

The Kli Yakar states that this is the prime example of the power of the afternoon prayer. The second we finish it, God may answer us.

May we realize the power of our talks with God and take them seriously.

Shabbat Shalom,



In memory of Rose Lubin hy”d, of Atlanta, Georgia. May God avenge her death.

A Fertility Strategy (Vayera)

PDF version for print: Kli Yakar Vayera

A Fertility Strategy (Vayera)

 Every charitable act is a stepping stone toward heaven. -Henry Ward Beecher

Abraham Welcoming

Three travelers, who turn out to be angels, stop by Abraham who is just recovering from having circumcised himself at the age of 99 years old. Abraham rushes to greet them and give them water and food, as well as shade from the hot Canaanite sun. One of the travelers prophetically declares:

‘I will certainly return unto thee when the season cometh round; and, lo, Sarah thy wife shall have a son.’ Genesis 18:10

Abraham and Sarah are the classic biblical example of an infertile couple. After years of trying, after tearful prayers, after attempting every conceivable and even some unusual strategies, they frankly give up. When they reach advanced ages, it is naturally impossible for Sarah to conceive and unlikely for Abraham.

There are various rabbinic explanations given as to why they were tested in this fashion and why it took so long. Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim of Prague, the Kli Yakar (1550-1619) on Genesis 18:6 explains why they finally had a child.

He compares the case to another hauntingly parallel story in the Bible.  The prophet Elisha is given extravagant (for those days) hospitality by an older woman of Shunam who recognizes Elisha as a man of God (see II Kings 4:8-17 for the story). Though past child-bearing age, she is blessed with a son, in almost the same language and words as the prophetic announcement of Sarah’s birth to Isaac:

‘At this season, when the time cometh round, thou shall embrace a son.’ II Kings 4:16

The Kli Yakar explains that a possible reason for their blessing and miraculous births was simply because of their great hospitality.

May our acts of hospitality give birth to many blessings.

Shabbat Shalom,



On the marriage of Atara Razin and Baruch Katz. Mazal Tov!

The Power to Bless (Lech Lecha)

PDF Version for print: Kli Yakar Lech Lecha

The Power to Bless (Lech Lecha)

 No man or woman can be strong, gentle, pure, and good, without the world being better for it and without someone being helped and comforted by the very existence of that goodness. -Phillips Brooks

Abraham Blessing

Dry conventional theological wisdom might claim that only God is capable of affecting blessings upon us. There is a perhaps apocryphal joke of a Lithuanian (non-Hasidic) Rabbi who is approached by a simple Jew and asks the Rabbi to bless him. The Rabbi answers:

“Are you an apple that I should bless over you?”

The Hasidic and Sephardic traditions on the other hand are rife with blessings being bestowed at every opportunity.

When God commands Abraham to leave his homeland and head towards Canaan, He states:

“And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and be thou a blessing.” Genesis 12:2

Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim of Prague, the Kli Yakar (1550-1619) on the verse wonders as to the seeming repetition of ‘be thou a blessing’ and what is the difference from ‘I will bless thee’?

He explains that not only will Abraham be blessed for obeying God’s word, but that Abraham will also have the power to bless whoever he wants to and will indeed be the source of the blessings he bestows.

The Kli Yakar further explains the simple metaphysical mechanics of how one achieves the power to bless. God is the ultimate source of all blessing. The closer one is behaviorally or “physically” to God (the Kli Yakar also points to the Temple mount as a ‘source’), the more one will acquire His ability to bestow blessing.

May we acquire more and more the power to bless – and may we use it.

Shabbat Shalom and blessings on our hostages, our injured, our soldiers, all of Israel and all our brethren around the world.



 To the countless selfless and heroic deeds of our people. The stories we’ve heard, the stories we are yet to hear and the stories we will likely never hear.

Deadly Letter of the Law (Noach)

PDF version for print: Kli Yakar Noach

Deadly Letter of the Law (Noach)  

The law often permits what honor prohibits. -Bernard Joseph Saurin

Righteous Thief

Thousands of years before our latest barbaric enemy called itself “Hamas” the Torah already uses the same word to describe the depravity of antediluvian man. The Torah recounts how the land was filled with “Hamas” and that is what forced God to wipe out mankind and start over again with saintly Noah and his family.

It seems that the lawlessness of man corrupted not only society, but the entire world. All sense of fair play had broken down to the point where the healthy functioning of society collapsed. Murder, illicit relations, and idol worship were commonplace.

Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim of Prague, the Kli Yakar (1550-1619) on Genesis 6:11 quotes the above from Rabbinic tradition. He also cites the counterintuitive idea that the doom of the generation of The Flood was sealed because of the relatively minor sin of theft. And not just any theft – miniscule theft. The theft of items worth less than a ‘prutah’ (the modern equivalent of a penny, or maybe a nickel if you count a few thousand years of inflation).

What was so horrible, so catastrophic about such minor theft that warranted the destruction of all human civilization?

The Kli Yakar explains that it was actually an attitude of righteousness. The theft of less than a ‘prutah’ does not require prosecution. It is too small a value to bother the courts with. Therefore, the thief is legally innocent. These penny ante criminals were smug in the knowledge that they had outsmarted the system. They did nothing wrong. They were just below the radar of justice. They were within the letter of the law.

It seems this conniving “morality” really angers God. These characters, these righteous thieves, upset God more than murderers, adulterers, and idol-worshippers. Thanks to these weasels, God destroyed the planet.

May we be spared from such righteous people and remember to follow the spirit of the law, not just the letter of the law.

Shabbat Shalom,



To Chanan Ben Ari on his new and timely song, Moledet:

Completing Creation (Bereshit)

It is challenging to write words of Torah during this atrocious period. The carnage that Hamas has perpetrated is inhuman. They have shown themselves to be monsters, far removed from the humanity and the divine image that God bestowed upon mankind.

Nonetheless, perhaps some words of Torah will help shine some light and the promise of a better, safer, nobler future. So here goes…


Completing Creation (Bereshit)

If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe. -Carl Sagan

Adam, Eve and Creation

After various stages of creation, including the animal kingdom, the Torah tells us:

“And God saw that it was good.”

The creation of Man on the other hand, ends with the phrase:

“And God saw all that had been made, and found it *very* good.”

Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim of Prague, the Kli Yakar (1550-1619) comments on that verse in Genesis 1:31. He wonders as to the plain statement of “very good” by Man and only the plain “good” by the rest of creation. He explains that the goodness of the rest of creation was only in its potential. The potential is only brought to fruition by the presence of Man. Man has the unique ability to put all the elements of creation to productive use. Man has the unique ability to merge, to mix, to create new and even more useful combinations of what God created. Man completes creation and for that reason when Man enters the picture that is when creation becomes *very* good.

Another hint as to the connection of Man to the realization of the good of the world is the very word itself. In Hebrew, the word for Man, Adam (Alef-Dalet-Mem), has the same letters as the word used for very, Meod (Mem-Alef-Dalet). Man’s physical, intellectual and creative powers allow us to take the raw materials that God placed on this Earth for us, and use the combination to enhance our lives, our productivity, our achievements and our purpose. The proper combination of man’s own creative abilities and the building blocks that God has provided is what gives Man and the world itself the chance to develop, grow and thrive.

May we always use our human faculties and our earthly resources responsibly and for good.

Shabbat Shalom and may we have better days and good notices,



To our dead, our wounded, our kidnapped and all of us mourning and dealing with a horrifying reality. To our soldiers. To the volunteers. To all those displaced by the attacks. We are strong. We will persevere. We will triumph. Light will banish the darkness.