Category Archives: Parsha

The Blessings of Aging, Tribulations and the Death-Bed

The Blessings of Aging, Tribulations and the Death-Bed

According to the Midrash, the physiology of Man during the time of our Forefathers was very different from what we know today. Rabbi Yaakov ben Manoach (Hizkuni) gives the details, as well as why things changed.

It seems that ancient Man did not show outward signs of aging. This troubled Abraham greatly, as it made things difficult to determine who was older and to whom to show the proper respect because of age. The problem became even more acute when sons would look identical to their fathers and they could not be distinguished. Abraham prayed to God about this problem, God enthusiastically agreed with Abraham, and in response, God made Abraham the first man to visibly age.

Isaac noted that man didn’t necessarily suffer tribulations before his death, and therefore the attribute of Justice would take a complete accounting of ones life. Isaac argued that if there were some tribulations, then absolute Justice would be softened by the attribute of Mercy (whatever that means) and man would not get as full and absolute a punishment as he deserves (presumably in the afterlife). God enthusiastically agreed with Isaac, and in response, God made Isaac the first man with tribulations (poor eyesight) before his death.

Perhaps most dramatic of all, is that Man did not die slowly or of disease. A person would suddenly sneeze and he literally expired (“exhaled his life force out”). This is one of the theories why we say “God Bless You!” or something similar since antiquity. Jacob prayed to God that there should be a slower process to give a person time to get his affairs in order as well as for the family and loved ones to prepare for the eventual death. God enthusiastically agreed with Jacob, and in response God made Jacob the first man to become “deathly ill” allowing everyone to prepare for his actual death.

Aging, tribulations and a death-bed are never easy to bear, but it is both surprising and somewhat comforting that according to Hizkuni our Forefathers actually prayed for such phenomena. What is even more significant is that God actually granted these “gifts” to the Forefathers themselves.

May God take his time in granting us such “gifts” and when he does have to bestow them upon us – may they be with grace.

Shabbat Shalom,



To the memory of Tziporah Harari and Shula Suede of Alon Shvut, who both got their fair share of illness and tribulations. May their families be comforted amongst the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.


Genesis Fiction: Lech Lecha


“I shall not go with Abram on this crazed campaign,” Eshkol stomped his long but lithe feet on the intricately tiled floor of Mamre’s home, “it is suicide!”

“How can you even think to abandon us, Eshkol,” Mamre responded as forcefully from deep in his barrel chest, “you would sunder our sacred covenant with Abram, out of cowardice?”

Aner, the eldest of the three, who had been watching the debate with growing concern, stood up to intercept Eshkol before he got within striking distance of Mamre.

“Now, now, Mamre,” Aner stated in soothing tones, as he grabbed on to Eshkol, “there is no need to speak so disparagingly of our brother.”

“Mamre, we have fought side by side with Abram on previous skirmishes and small raids,” Eshkol said more tersely, standing a bit taller, “where I was very much in danger and threatened personally. But what Abram proposes now is nothing less than suicide. To attack Amrafel’s legions, after they successfully destroyed the combined armies of Sedom and Gemorah is simply insane. We are speaking of pitting our workers and slaves against Amrafel’s professional soldiers.”

“Do not try to frighten me,” Mamre answered angrily, “I am loyal to the death to Abram, and more importantly to the God of Abram, who visibly protects him like a favored child. Abram must rescue his nephew from Amrafel, and we, his oath-brothers must go with him. The God, who protects and blesses Abram, will continue to protect and bless us as well.”

“I too believe in his God,” Eshkol explained, “however, against such a formidable foe, we might as well take our own lives here at home and save ourselves the journey, and Abram’s God the hassle.”

Aner cleared his throat, getting both Mamre’s and Eshkol’s attention. “I too am fearful of such a momentous undertaking. However, we cannot in good conscious forsake our brother Abram.”

“By placing us in such an impossible position,” Eshkol retorted, “Abram is the one who is forsaking us. I shall not in good conscious throw away my life against all reason.”

“First of all,” Mamre said, his voice getting louder again, “Abram has not called us to help him, though it should be clearly understood. Second, Abram, our great brother, would not think any less, of any of us, for not joining him. Third, and most importantly – you are lacking in faith. Faith! If you do not have the faith that the God of Abram, the One and Only God, as Abram has taught us, the Creator and Ruler of the Earth, can perform miracles beyond our imagination – then perhaps you are better off staying home. Though I think it would break my heart and perhaps our friendship.” Mamre then sat down heavily looking away from his guests.

Eshkol stood speechless. His mouth hung open at Mamre’s statements. He too sat down morosely. After a few silent moments he uncomfortably explained:

“It may be true that my fear is greater than my faith. However I cannot live with my friendship being questioned. I just require some more tangible hope, something concrete that will let some reason rule over trepidation.”

Eshkol’s confession was greeted with uncomfortable silence.

“Then let me suggest a thought you just inspired,” Aner broke the quiet, “that encourages me and may give you the concrete loadstone you require. Amrafel has just re-conquered and ransacked the entire plain of our very wealthy neighbors of Sedom and Gemorah. If by some miracle, the God of Abram were to place Amrafel in our hands, the spoils of this war would be beyond anything we have ever seen.”

“That is indeed a more tangible goal,” Eshkol stated more excitedly, “though equally suicidal.”

“The spoils would be ours by convention,” Mamre added, “and they would indeed be monumental. Though that is not what draws me, and I am sure it holds little allure to Abram.”

“But it is agreed then,” Aner looked meaningfully at Eshkol, “we are in this together, with the explicit understanding that we get our fair share of the spoils.”

Eshkol looked pensively at Aner and then at the brooding Mamre. He was in mortal fear of attacking Amrafel’s legions. The image of facing Amrafel’s army made his legs wobble and his stomach turn. But he could not face the possibility of being branded a coward. Such a mark would ruin him. And the thought of disappointing Mamre, and even worse, the holy Abram, was more than he could bear. How could he abandon his friends, his oath-brothers? They had always been there for him, especially Abram. Abram, so kind and gentle and wise. Yet so strong and firm and courageous. He knew in his heart he would follow Abram to the ends of the earth.

Aner was right. The idea of the spoils was a good distraction and lessened the dread. And Mamre was right too. The God of Abram had performed miracles for him against all odds. He was indeed powerful.

“I am with you.” Eshkol declared emotionally. “I was wrong to even sow doubt in our friendship.”

Mamre leapt up with a tear in his eye. “My dear Eshkol,” Mamre almost cried as he grabbed Eshkol’s forearm, “I am sorry I even questioned your friendship. This will be a grand adventure.”

As if by divine inspiration, at that very moment, Abram walked in to Mamre’s house.

Aner was the first to greet him and quickly pulled Abram into the embrace of Eshkol and Mamre.

“All hail Abram!” Aner exclaimed, “Prince of God!”

“All hail Abram! Prince of God!” Eshkol and Mamre responded.

“We are with you in all your troubles. Be strong and of good courage!” Aner sang.

“We are with you in all your troubles.” Eshkol and Mamre rejoined in unison.

“Be strong and of good courage!”

* * * * * *

See Genesis Chapter 14 “The War of the Kings”

From Bereshit Rabbah 42:8:

When the Holy One, Blessed is He, told Abraham to circumcise himself, he went and consulted his three friends…

Eshkol said to him, “Why will you put an end to yourself among your enemies, (weakened by circumcision, you will be unable to ward off their attack)?” Said the Holy One, Blessed is He, “By your life, I will not appear to Abraham in the residence of Eshkol…”

Aner said to him, “You are already a hundred years old, and you are going to inflict pain on yourself?”

Mamre said to him, “Your God Who stood by you in the fiery furnace, in the battle with the kings, and in famine – will you not obey Him when He tells you to circumcise yourself?” The Holy One, Blessed is He, said to Mamre, “You advised him to circumcise himself – by your life, I will appear to him only in your residence.” Then God appeared to Abraham in the plains of Mamre (Genesis 18:1)

Tower of Egotism

Genesis Fiction: Noach

Tower of Egotism

Tower of Babel

Nimrod jumped the steps of The Tower three at a time, with powerful, energetic strides. He stood at the top of The Tower just as the first rays of sunrise shone on it. The entire populace for miles around saw his large, muscular frame capping the monstrously imposing structure. He ushered in the new day and formalized his status as King and God.

Nimrod’s priests offered conventional sacrifices and libations. He strode to a room below the top of The Tower Nimrod where he consumed a sumptuous breakfast with a savage appetite. Satiated and surveying his empire, Nimrod allowed his lieutenants to report on activity and issues of the day.

“Your Majesty,” Mebtah, his Chief Lieutenant reported, “all the workgroups are falling behind on the scheduled milestones. I have personally investigated each group and witnessed that their productivity has indeed deteriorated. My concern is that their efforts will deteriorate further and we may not complete the full structure of The Tower before the autumn rains.”

“This is highly disturbing,” Nimrod stated in a menacing voice, “what do you propose?”

“My conclusion, your Majesty,” Mebtah continued unperturbed, “is that we permit the requested weekly day of rest. Let me provide an example. This brick,” Mebtah held out in his right hand a solid and attractive looking brick, “was produced early in our construction. I took the liberty of keeping it as a model for future construction. However, this brick,” and now Mebtah held out his left hand, demonstrating an ugly, ill-shaped and frail looking piece, “this brick, was produced yesterday.”

“I see. And how will a day of rest solve this problem? I would think it would delay us further.” The King asked, the frown on his ruddy face growing.

“Yes, your Majesty,” Mebtah replied, “a day of rest does seem at first to go against reason. However, I believe that the main cause for the poor effort is that we are pushing the workers too hard. If they have a chance to recuperate on a consistent basis, I am certain we shall see an improvement in productivity.”

“What happens if you are wrong, Mebtah?”

“I am not. But even if I were, we would at most lose a day of work, your Majesty.”

“And what solutions could we try then?”

“We would need some way to work them harder, motivate them further.”

Nimrod sat pensively for a few minutes, looking at Mebtah, looking at the distance, looking at the workers doing their tasks up and down The Tower and on the ground below.

He stood up suddenly, like an animal about to pounce on his prey, having arrived at a brilliant solution.

“Mebtah, I cannot take the chance that you are wrong.”

“I understand your Majesty.”

“We must complete The Tower before the rains.”

“I agree completely.”

“To show softness at this critical time would have a negative effect on morale.”

“Um, perhaps, your Majesty.”

“Mebtah, you have been a loyal and dedicated Lieutenant.” Nimrod stated with an ironic grimace on his face.

“Yes, your Majesty.” Mebtah was suddenly confused, not following his lieges’ thinking as he usually did.

“You would give your life at my command without hesitation.” Nimrod asked, his grin getting broader.

“Why of course, your Majesty.” Mebtah replied slowly, feeling as if a trap had been sprung on him, but still not seeing its contours.

“Then you will understand what I am about to do.”

And without further delay, Nimrod vigorously grabbed the tall but thin Mebtah. Nimrod held on to the belt by Mebtah’s waist and the garment by the shoulder and hoisted Mebtah over his head. To Nimrod, Mebtah was as light as a puppet in a child’s hands. Nimrod then climbed with Mebtah to the top of The Tower. Mebtah his eyes wild and confused held on tightly to the bricks in either hand, almost in a death-grip.

At the top of The Tower, with Mebtah over his head, Nimrod called out in a booming voice.

“My people!”

“My people!”

“Heed the words of your ruler!”

“The man I hold in my hands is Mebtah, my loyal Chief Lieutenant.”

“He feels that we cannot complete our Tower in time.”

“He is wrong, and his lack of faith is offensive to the Gods.”

“This is what happens to those that do not work hard, or do not obey the Gods.”

Nimrod with great flourish and drama proceeded to throw Mebtah from the roof of the tower. The eyes of every single worker were on Mebtah’s body. The descent seemed to take forever, however the resounding, sickening thud occurred all too quickly.

Within moments, the workers started scurrying like ants, back to their tasks with renewed vigor and energy.

Nimrod nonchalantly turned to two of his other lieutenants and said:

“Make sure to bring up Mebtah’s two bricks for me.”

They raced down, each eager to get the bricks first.

* * * * * * *

From Genesis 10:8-10:

“And Cush begot Nimrod. He was the first to be a mighty man on earth. He was a mighty hunter before God; therefore it is said: ‘Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before God.’ The beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh in the land of Shinar.”

From Tractate Chulin 89a:

“God gave greatness to Nimrod, yet he said, ‘Let us build us a city and a tower with its top in the heavens.’ (Genesis 11:4) “

Carnivores Unite!

Carnivores Unite!

Once, during my more foolish and perhaps idealistic youth, I decided to be a vegetarian. There were the purported health reasons. There was also a slight vague sense of guilt for the butchering of harmless, innocent creatures to merely satisfy my gastronomic urges. I was spending the summer in the Far East and kosher meat would be hard to come by in any case. It seemed like a good and noble idea.

As fate would have it however, the day following my momentous decision, there was a kosher community barbecue at the Hong Kong Jewish Center. The smell of roasting meat, of hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken wings, cutlets, shish-kebab and steak was more than I could handle. I attacked the meat with renewed gusto, questioning my sanity with each sumptuous bite in giving up such God-given (and permitted) delicacies.

I have good friends who are devoted vegetarians and I have tremendous respect for their dedication and persistence in keeping true to their diet. However, according to Rabbi Hizkiyahu ben Manoach (Hizkuni), ever since Noah’s Ark, there is no ethical reason to avoid eating animals.

Shortly after Noah exits the Ark, God commands Noah that all animals are fair game (pun intended):

“Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; like the green herbage I have given you everything.”

Genesis 9:3

Hizkuni explains that because animals are in existence thanks to human efforts (i.e. Noah), they owe humanity an eternal debt that is payable in at least “a pound of flesh”. Hizkuni goes even further in saying we can make any use of animals, not only for food, but in any fashion that we deem fit. Pharmaceutical and drug companies would also seem to be permitted to perform animals testing according to Hizkuni.

I’m not sure where Hizkuni would draw the line between practical uses of animals and frivolous mistreatment or cruelty, but in the meantime, I will keep on enjoying my steaks.

May we partake of meat for joyous and celebratory occasions and enjoy the sacrifice that these animals are making for our nourishment, health and contentment.

Shabbat Shalom,



In memory of my childhood pet, Kiki. Kiki was a beautiful, loving, Golden Labrador Retriever, who was our regular companion at our home in Rio de Janeiro. To this day we still mourn her untimely death.

I’m grateful that Noah rescued Kiki’s ancestors, as well of those of chickens, turkeys, cows and the occasional lamb descendant that we partake of.

Animal Intimacy

Animal Intimacy

One of the more educational aspects of reading the Bible and the more challenging aspects when reading it to kids is the lack of censorship. The Commentators also had no qualm about tackling sensitive topics or issues that would be politically incorrect in our day.

According to Rabbi Chizkiya ben Manoach (Hizkuni) there are three species that naturally face each other in the act of procreation: Humans, fish and snakes.

Hizkuni comes to this startling conclusion by the simple fact that there are three different creatures in the Bible that are directly addressed by God. The snake is cursed by God for his ensnarement of Eve into partaking of the forbidden fruit. An unspecified Big Fish is given instructions by God to release the runaway prophet Jonah after having given him underwater sanctuary. Finally, Man is the primary audience of God’s word.

Hizkuni implies a parallel between the great honor of a creature having communicated directly with God (even if it was being told of its punishment) and that species being able to face its significant other during intimacy.

There is another related lesson we can extrude from the Hizkuni regarding the snake vis-à-vis the rest of the animal kingdom. Child psychologists have been saying for years that some children would prefer to be cursed and verbally abused by their parents than to be ignored (not that I’m recommending either act, of course). Cursing implies some type of attention, while ignoring or not even facing a child may give them the feeling of non-existence or at best non-importance (hence often engendering problematic attention-seeking behavior).

Was the snake like a petulant child seeking God’s attention?

By the way, if anyone can confirm or deny the animal physiology business, it would be interesting to have it verified.

May we know how to give the people in our lives the proper positive attention and may we be recipients of such attention ourselves.

Shabbat Shalom,



To my children. They often give me the opportunity; if not outright force me, to see the world through their young and no less valid point of view.

Animal Intimacy

One of the more educational aspects of reading the Bible and the more challenging aspects when reading it to kids is the lack of censorship. The Commentators also had no qualm about tackling sensitive topics or issues that would be politically incorrect in our day.

According to Rabbi Chizkiya ben Manoach (Hizkuni) there are three species that naturally face each other in the act of procreation: Humans, fish and snakes.

Hizkuni comes to this startling conclusion by the simple fact that there are three different creatures in the Bible that are directly addressed by God. The snake is cursed by God for his ensnarement of Eve into partaking of the forbidden fruit. An unspecified Big Fish is given instructions by God to release the runaway prophet Jonah after having given him underwater sanctuary. Finally, Man is the primary audience of God’s word.

Hizkuni implies a parallel between the great honor of a creature having communicated directly with God (even if it was being told of its punishment) and that species being able to face its significant other during intimacy.

There is another related lesson we can extrude from the Hizkuni regarding the snake vis-à-vis the rest of the animal kingdom. Child psychologists have been saying for years that some children would prefer to be cursed and verbally abused by their parents than to be ignored (not that I’m recommending either act, of course). Cursing implies some type of attention, while ignoring or not even facing a child may give them the feeling of non-existence or at best non-importance (hence often engendering problematic attention-seeking behavior).

Was the snake like a petulant child seeking God’s attention?

By the way, if anyone can confirm or deny the animal physiology business, it would be interesting to have it verified.

May we know how to give the people in our lives the proper positive attention and may we be recipients of such attention ourselves.

Shabbat Shalom,



To my children. They often give me the opportunity; if not outright force me, to see the world through their young and no less valid point of view.

Future Israeli Gold Rush

Future Israeli Gold Rush

They came by boat. They came by wagon. They traversed oceans and jungles and deserts. They died by the hundreds before ever seeing their destination. By 1849 (hence “forty-niners”), tens of thousands of people from every single continent made their way to California in search of gold.

Before the advent of the American trans-continental railway, the journey from the East Coast of the U.S. to the West Coast took many months and was dangerous and uncertain. They sailed around the tip of South America; or they sailed to Panama, crossed the jungle and took another boat on the other side; or they took their chances with wagons across the entire continent.

Those who survived the journey dug the ground and sifted the streams. The fortunate early arrivals did indeed make handsome profits. The late-comers often spent more than they ever made.

In the poetic swansong of Moses, at the very end of his biblical narrative, he blesses the tribes:

“Of Zevulun he said: Rejoice, O Zevulun, in your excursions, and Yissachar in your tents. The tribes will assemble at the mount; there they will offer offerings of righteousness, for by the riches of the sea they will be nourished, and by the treasures concealed in the sand.”

Deuteronomy 33:18-19

Rabbi Ovadia Sforno predicts a future rush to the tribal territory of Zevulun and Yissachar.

Sforno claims that in the future, all the nations of the world will come to Israel for the unique and precious items that only the tribes of Zevulun and Yissachar will possess. Sforno explains that these will be items drawn from their waters and found in their sands.

While there may be many theories as to what these treasures may be, I suspect that we have yet to discover, create or successfully market that truly exclusive and highly prized commodity that the world will rush to us for.

In the meantime, may we all continue searching, exploring, creating and developing the unique treasures we can each bring forth to the world.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,



To Rabbi Ovadia Sforno. He has guided me and inspired me in my studying of the Torah this year. His words have been as precious as hidden treasure. Goodbye Sforno. We shall return to you.

The Forge of Music

Genesis: Bereshit

The Forge of Music

“Yuval! Cease that infernal noise!” Lemech bellowed in the tool-filled smithy.

“My apologies, Father,” Yuval responded meekly, “the spirit of music possessed me again.”

“Nonsense,” retorted Lemech, “are you a man? Or are you an animal that cannot control itself? Your constant banging is driving me mad.” He continued angrily. “Besides, it will ruin our tools and is a distraction from our work.”

“Yes, Sir,” Yuval mumbled, looking down as he examined the molding he was setting. They were preparing for the production of cooking pots.

Lemech eagerly returned his attention to the molten copper in his furnace, making sure the color reached a precise reddish hue. Lemech, had the broad build and darkened skin of a master blacksmith, and could practically manufacture metal by instinct. Nevertheless, he still needed to inspect the coloring. The specific hue of red signified the ideal moment for pouring the flowing metal into the mold.

Suddenly Lemech heard a tapping sound with an unfamiliar rhythm. As he realized the source of the disturbing noise, his blood began to boil. He could not believe his son would continue banging after the strong admonition.

Through clenched teeth, Lemech turned to Yuval and whispered in a deadly tone: “By the Cursed One. Your disruptions are becoming unforgivable. ”

Lemech then started to pour the copper from the furnace into the mold, but it was too late. The copper had passed the right color. Lemech’s anger became explosive. “Fool of a son!” he roared, “You have cost us good metal and an entire day of work!”

“You are good for nothing!” he continued, his anger overcoming his senses, and menacingly raised the molding with the liquid metal still in it, “You add nothing but distress and troubles”.

Yuval stepped back from his father’s threatening moves and grabbed a nearby pan to afford him some protection.

Lemech tripped and the molding with its red hot contents went flying towards Yuval.

Instinctively Yuval raised the pan to cover his face from the molten copper. The copper fell on his shoulders and chest, immediately combusting his clothing. However, part of the copper bounced right into Lemech’s face.

Primal screams erupted from Lemech’s workshop.

* * * * * *

Lemech’s eyes had not been burned completely, but enough so that he could barely see shadows. It took several weeks before Lemech, now the Blind Blacksmith, would enter his forge again.

Yuval had recovered quickly from his superficial burns and had dedicated himself exclusively to the blacksmithing. There were already rumors going about that Yuval’s creations were even better than Lemech’s renowned work. It was reported that Yuval also started producing many more wooden tools and not predominantly metal, as Lemech had. However, there were also rumors that Yuval was creating tools that no man had ever made before and that apparently served no purpose.

Lemech’s youngest son, Tuval-Kayin, became his eyes. Over the course of a few weeks at home, they had developed a rapport. With minimal guidance by Tuval-Kayin, Lemech could move around and function again. The big test however, would come in the smithy.

As Lemech approached the workshop, he already knew something was wrong. Sounds were emanating from the forge that were not natural to metalworking. Not the sound of the roaring furnace, nor that of a hammer on an anvil, nor even the sound of delicate metalwork. It was a sound unlike any Lemech had ever heard, and it was not produced by man.

It had the rhythm of clapping or even whistling or song, but it was not man-made. It sounded as if it were made by a tool.

Lemech, in hand with Tuval-Kayin, rushed to the smithy.

“Yuval!” Lemech asked in a mixture of anger and confusion. “What is that sound?”

“What sound father?” Yuval asked taken aback by his father’s sudden intrusion.

“That sound I just heard.”

“Nothing, Father. Just the wind rattling some of the hanging tools.”

“Do not play the fool with me, son. I ought to kill you for your insolence.”

“You tried that already father,” Yuval said quietly, with both fear and resentment in his voice, “and it did not turn out so well for you.”

Lemech was about to charge towards the sound of Yuval’s voice, but froze mid-stride. After a moment’s pause he said:

“My intention was never to hurt you,” Lemech explained haltingly, “my temper got the best of me, and the rest was an unfortunate accident.”

Yuval remained silent.

“Hmph,” Lemech breathed out, breaking the silence. “Let us move on then. Show me what you have been working on.”

Yuval placed a new pot in Lemech’s hands.

Lemech touched, caressed, and weighed the pot in his thick hands as a jeweler would examine a diamond.

“Give me one of my old pots.” Lemech requested.

Lemech went through the same procedure. After having inspected all of the new items with silent admiration Lemech inquired.

“Is there anything else you have been working on?”

“Like what?” Yuval answered defensively.

“Enough Yuval! Stop playing games with me. Just show me what you have.”

Out of instinctive obedience, Yuval handed him an instrument.

Lemech inspected the instrument with his hands for a long time before speaking. He perceived a wooden frame covered with plated bronze on the edges. Within the frame Lemech counted with his seeing fingers ten strings drawn across the frame. The combination of wood, metal and string was one he had never dreamed of, let alone understood.

“What is it?”

“I call it a lyre. It plays music.”

Lemech started to laugh from surprise. It was a deep rumbling laugh that radiated from his torso.

“No. Truly Yuval. What does this contraption do?”

“Father. The instrument you are holding when touched a certain way makes musical notes that cannot be copied by man. When played in certain sequences it can be quite beautiful.”

“Show me.”

Yuval took the instrument back and ran his fingers across the strings.

At first he played a soothing melody, followed by a dramatic piece full of anger and love and passion. He ended with a light wistful score that spoke of dreams unfulfilled.

Lemech was dumbstruck. For several moments he did not move at all. Then big salty tears streamed down his scarred face. He started crying. He sat his large bulk down on the smithy floor and began to sob uncontrollably.

After a few minutes he composed himself. He raised his towering figure up again, to stand facing Yuval.

“Yuval,” he said, with a voice no one had ever heard before.

“Yes, Father,” replied Yuval in apprehension.

“What you have created is magical. I was a blind and arrogant fool not to appreciate your musical inclination before.”

“I am sorry as well father, for being the cause of your physical blindness.”

“Do not be. I am finally able to see clearly. My wounds are self-inflicted. But that is enough time spent on self-remorse. We have work to do.”

“Yes, Father. What would you like to do?”

“Why, we have lots of pots and pans, and hammers and hoes, and spears and arrowheads and many more things to make.”

Yuval was crestfallen at the verdict. He died a small death, but walked back to the furnace with resignation.

But Lemech continued: “And I would also like you to show me how you make those clever musical instruments of yours.”

* * * * * *

From Genesis 4:17-21

“And Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch. He became a city-builder, and named the city after his son Enoch. To Enoch was born Irad, and Irad begot Mehuyael, and Mehuyael begot Metushael, and Methushael begot Lamech.

Lamech took to himself two wives: The name of one was Adah, and the name of the second was Zillah. And Adah bore Yaval; he was the founder of those who dwell in tents and breed cattle. The name of his brother was Yuval; he was the founder of all who handle the harp and flute.”

Water for Growth

Water for Growth

In the rare song from Moses – ‘Haazinu’, he uses the metaphor of water as Torah, coming down and being absorbed by various audiences:

“Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak; and may the earth hear the words of my mouth. May my teachings drop like the rain, may my utterance flow like the dew;

like storm winds upon vegetation and like raindrops upon blades of grass.”

Deuteronomy 32:1-2.

Rabbi Ovadia Sforno explains that the same Torah and the same instruction is valuable, though different, for a spectrum of people:

1. “Rain”: for those with ‘understanding’ who will absorb the ‘essence’ of Wisdom.

2. “Dew”: for the ‘simple’ person. Even a little bit (like dew for vegetation) is very good and provides Knowledge.

3. “Storm winds”: for the ‘insightful’ – they will perceive Wonders.

4. “Raindrops”: again for the ‘simple’ person (I guess extended exposure), will give them Understanding of their Creator (which I presume then brings one up to the level of ‘understanding’.)

The order of ascendancy according to Sforno seems to be (see table below also):

A. Dew (2)

B. Raindrops (4)

C. Rain (1)

D. Storm winds (3)


Though Moses presents it in an alternating structure; my theory is that it is a repetitive (like the rains) and constantly ascending formation. Meaning, once one has reached the highest rung (Insightful) of a certain level, he moves up to the lowest rung (Simple) of an even higher level (see figure below). This would result in continuous growth (hopefully) by extended exposure and involvement with Torah.


May we take and make the opportunities this year to grow in all areas: physical, educational, social, financial and spiritual.

Shabbat Shalom and G’mar Chatima Tovah,



To both the physical and spiritual gardeners of Yeshivat Har Etzion. As I spend more time in the Yeshiva at this time of the year, I appreciate both the beautiful grounds keeping as well as the spiritual tending that occurs at the Yeshiva.

The Diamond in the Cesspool

The Diamond in the Cesspool

The Egypt of our ancestors was apparently one of great moral depravity. Egyptian culture was submerged in a superficial, materialistic, hedonistic, idol worshipping, incestuous reality. A by-product of such a society was many unwanted births and a cheapening of life.

In the beginning of the Book of Exodus, the Children of Israel have evolved from honored guests and royal protégés, to feared enemies and eventually downtrodden slaves. The low point of this progression is perhaps the draconian edict to kill all newborn Jewish boys.

Into this environment Moses is born. Fearing for his life, the mother of Moses takes the desperate measure of placing the three-month old into a basket to float on the river. Moses’ sister, not without hope, keeps an eye on the basket (Exodus 2).

Pharaoh’s daughter spots Moses’ basket while bathing in the Nile. She investigates and is surprised to find baby Moses within.

At this point Rabbi Ovadia Sforno asks as to why Pharaoh’s daughter would claim Moses. Sforno explains that it was apparently common practice for Egyptians to discard unwanted children into the river, and there would be a plethora of abandoned children to be claimed.

Sforno answers that the “goodness” of Moses was “shinning” and was clearly visible for anyone to see. Pharaoh’s daughter said to herself: “This is not some bastard or unwanted child. This is a beautiful Israelite child. He is so stunningly gorgeous that I must claim him for myself.”

Sforno continues to explain that Moses was visibly outstanding because of the “ingredients” put into him. Following is a translation of Sforno’s comment regarding the reaction to the birth of Moses by his mother, that “he was good”:

“She noted that he was more beautiful than normal, and thought that this was for an intended purpose from his Creator, for the beauty of the form indicates the quality of the ingredients and the complete power of the Designer.”

As we all know, Moses was indeed intended for supreme greatness, even amidst the decadence and immorality of Egyptian culture.

May we all transcend the negative environments around us, and like Moses, take the great ingredients that are a part of us – and shine.

Shabbat Shalom,



To the recovery of 2nd Lieutenant Aharon Karov of the IDF Paratrooper Brigade. Aharon is from the community of Karnei Shomron. He left to Gaza the morning after his wedding to lead his soldiers. He was critically injured from a blast within a booby trapped home in Northern Gaza. Please pray for him – Aharon Yehoshua ben Chaya Shoshana. May our soldiers be safe, may the wounded recover and may the mourners be comforted.

Unfamiliar terms?

Drawn from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Nile is a major north-flowing river in Africa, generally regarded as the longest river in the world.[1]

The northern section of the river flows almost entirely through desert, from Sudan into Egypt, a country whose civilization has depended on the river since ancient times. Most of the population of Egypt and all of its cities, with the exception of those near the coast, lie along those parts of the Nile valley north of Aswan; and nearly all the cultural and historical sites of Ancient Egypt are found along the banks of the river. The Nile ends in a large delta that empties into the Mediterranean Sea.

The Nile (iteru in Ancient Egyptian) was the lifeline of the ancient Egyptian civilization, with most of the population and all of the cities of Egypt resting along those parts of the Nile valley lying north of Aswan. The Nile has been the lifeline for Egyptian culture since the Stone Age. Climate change, or perhaps overgrazing, desiccated the pastoral lands of Egypt to form the Sahara desert, possibly as long ago as 8000 BC, and the inhabitants then presumably migrated to the river, where they developed a settled agricultural economy and a more centralized society.

Sustenance played a crucial role in the founding of Egyptian civilization. The Nile is an unending source of sustenance. The Nile made the land surrounding it extremely fertile when it flooded or was inundated annually. The Egyptians were able to cultivate wheat and crops around the Nile, providing food for the general population. Also, the Nile’s water attracted game such as water buffalo; and after the Persians introduced them in the 7th century BC, camels. These animals could be killed for meat, or could be captured, tamed and used for ploughing – or in the camels’ case, travelling. Water was vital to both people and livestock. The Nile was also a convenient and efficient way of transportation for people and goods.

The structure of Egypt’s society made it one of the most stable in history. In fact, it might easily have surpassed many modern societies. This stability was an immediate result of the Nile’s fertility. The Nile also provided flax for trade. Wheat was also traded, a crucial crop in the Middle East where famine was very common. This trading system secured the diplomatic relationship Egypt had with other countries, and often contributed to Egypt’s economic stability. Also, the Nile provided the resources such as food or money, to quickly and efficiently raise an army for offensive or defensive roles.

The Nile played a major role in politics and social life. The pharaoh would supposedly flood the Nile, and in return for the life-giving water and crops, the peasants would cultivate the fertile soil and send a portion of the resources they had reaped to the Pharaoh. He or she would in turn use it for the well-being of Egyptian society.

The Nile was a source of spiritual dimension. The Nile was so significant to the lifestyle of the Egyptians, that they created a god dedicated to the welfare of the Nile’s annual inundation. The god’s name was Hapy, and both he and the pharaoh were thought to control the flooding of the Nile River. Also, the Nile was considered as a causeway from life to death and afterlife. The east was thought of as a place of birth and growth, and the west was considered the place of death, as the god Ra, the sun, underwent birth, death, and resurrection each time he crossed the sky. Thus, all tombs were located west of the Nile, because the Egyptians believed that in order to enter the afterlife, they must be buried on the side that symbolized death.

The Greek historian, Herodotus, wrote that ‘Egypt was the gift of the Nile’, and in a sense that is correct. Without the waters of the Nile River for irrigation, Egyptian civilization would probably have been short-lived. The Nile provided the elements that make a vigorous civilization, and contributed much to its lasting three thousand years.

A Blessing on Your Head

A Blessing on Your Head

Joseph enters with his two sons, Menashe and Ephraim, to visit with the bed-ridden patriarch, Jacob (Genesis 48). Jacob inquires as to who is accompanying Joseph. Joseph responds that it his two sons, and then Jacob asks that they come closer so he may bless them.

Before continuing with the blessing, the Biblical narrative seems to go out of its way to mention that Jacob had trouble seeing. Jacob proceeds to kiss and hug his grandchildren and then in what sounds like somewhat elaborate maneuvering, Joseph extricates his sons from Grandpa Jacob’s embrace, so that they may now bow down to receive the formal blessing.

Biblical commentators give a range of interpretations to the above actions. Rabbi Ovadia Sforno however, takes the narrative at face value. Jacob had trouble with his vision, Sforno explains. In order to properly bless the boys, he had to see them; hence, his request to bring them closer.  The loving Patriarch kisses and hugs them, which Sforno says was so “his soul may attach to them and his blessing to them should come to pass”.

Jacob then gives them blessings that are included in the blessings many traditional Jews pronounce to their children to this day on Friday nights (“May God make you like Ephraim and Menashe. May God bless you and safeguard you. May God illuminate His face for you and be gracious to you. May God turn His face to you and establish peace for you.”)

Sforno then provides other examples of vision being a critical component of blessings, such as Moses viewing the entire land of Israel.

However, just a few verses later, after having just given his thesis as to the need to see in order to bless, Sforno makes an about-face. In the same visit Jacob blesses Joseph as well. Sforno, who understands that Joseph is not close enough for Jacob to really see, states that Jacob blesses and can bless Joseph without having to touch him, be near him or even see him.

Sforno seems to be implying that while the common way to bless is to see the person or object one is blessing, people have the power to also bless at a distance without even seeing the party being blessed. Perhaps it was the strong and loving nature of the Jacob-Joseph relationship that enabled this more powerful connection, bypassing the common method.

May we always be both recipients and deliverers of blessings – and may they all come true!

Shabbat Shalom,



To our friends, neighbors and relatives; sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, who are fighting in Gaza (and now to the North as well). May God keep them safe and return them home whole and uninjured.

Unfamiliar terms?

Drawn from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Priestly Blessing, (translit. Birkat Kohanim), also known in Hebrew as Nesiat Kapayim, (lit. Raising of the Hands), is a Jewish prayer recited by Kohanim during certain Jewish services. It is based on a scriptural verse: “They shall place My name upon the children of Israel, and I Myself shall bless them.”[1] It consists of the following Biblical verses (Numbers 6:24-26):

May the Lord bless you and guard you –
May the Lord shine His countenance toward you and be gracious to you –
May the Lord lift up His countenance toward you and give you peace –

This is the oldest known Biblical text that has been found; amulets with these verses written on them have been found in graves in dating from the First Temple Period, and are now in the Israel Museum, Jerusalem.

In the mid-1960s, actor Leonard Nimoy, who was raised in a traditional Jewish home, used a single-handed version of this gesture to create the Vulcan Hand Salute for his character, Mr. Spock, on Star Trek. He has explained that while attending Orthodox services as a child, he peeked from under his father’s tallit and saw the gesture; many years later, when introducing the character of Mr. Spock, he and series creator Gene Roddenberry thought a physical component should accompany the verbal “Live long and prosper” greeting. The Jewish priestly gesture looked sufficiently alien and mysterious, and thus was television & science fiction history made.