Dec 26 2014

All According to Plan

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business-planning-guideIf there is one lesson to be learned from this week’s reading and those of the past few weeks, said Rav Asher Rubenstein zt”l, it is that G-d runs the world, and He has a Plan. We can either follow the plan, or we can fight the plan, but it’s going to happen anyways.

Yosef had dreams, dreams that indicated his brothers would bow to him. Yosef knew they were prophetic. His brothers, though, dismissed them, and when they threw him into a pit and then sold him into slavery, they said “let’s see what comes of his dreams!” [Gen 27:20]

Now read the story. What happens afterwards? What action set the process in motion by which Yosef was elevated to the position of viceroy of Egypt, second only to the King, to whom the brothers would bow? It happened because the brothers sold him into slavery. The very thing that they believed would destroy any prospect of the dreams turning into reality, caused them to turn into reality.

Yosef, for his part, acted to ensure that the dreams would come true. He followed the plan. When ten of the brothers came down to Egypt and bowed to him, he realized that something was missing — because the dreams included his brother Benyamin. All eleven brothers had to bow to him, so he had to do something to ensure that Benyamin came down and joined them.

There was no basis on which to accuse the brothers of “spying;” they came to buy food like anyone else. And certainly it was ridiculous for Yosef to claim that he was unable to recognize that all ten of them were brothers, but the addition of an eleventh man would somehow prove to him that they were indeed all related and were telling him the truth. As soon as he said that, the brothers said to each other something equally nonsensical: that this is all because they were guilty, because they saw their brother in pain and did not listen [42:19-21]. Yosef’s behavior, otherwise, made no sense at all… and even so, it didn’t make sense — until he stood and declared, “I am Yosef!”

Then, of course, it all made sense. And it all went according to Plan.

The Torah describes the plan, and guides us in following it. What can we do to align our lives more with the plan, so that when it all eventually happens, we will know we did our part?

Dec 19 2014

More than 8 Days

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forever-ink2Lighting the Menorah each night after dark, seeing the children’s excitement for this beautiful Mitzvah, and singing Hallel, the festival prayer of gratitude, praise, and hope each morning for 8 days, is a reservoir of inspiration that it would be a shame to waste. I wish I could take these moments and put them in a bottle to pull out later when I need them most.

“On a good day be good, and on a bad day reflect” (Koheles – Ecclesiastes, 7:14). When you have a day filled with goodness, be mindful of the goodness and let it penetrate your being. On that same day, consider the “bad day” in the future when the cycle of this world takes its natural course, and prepare by insuring your inspiration has left an indelible mark on your soul. Pharoah’s nightmare of healthy cows and grain being consumed by emaciated cows and parched grain gave him no rest, until Joseph proposed a plan to secure Egypt’s healthy years of plenty and responsibly face the years of famine.

Chanukah is a festival designed to leave permanent impressions. The miracle of the oil and the victory over Greek culture were gifts from the Al-mighty during the Second Temple, when a significant portion of the Jewish people were still exiled from Israel, and the feeling of the Al-mighty’s Presence (Shechinah) in the Temple had been diminished. The destruction of the Temple would follow, and our exile continues, the Sages tell us, until the coming of the Messiah (Moshiach). Our celebration of this festival helps us to relive these miracles each year, to help carry us through the exile.

Chanukah is also unique in that it takes place during a full week during which we continue to work normally, and are involved in productive activities. The spiritual experience overlaps the mundane. This demonstrates that it is possible for our daily activities to coexist with G-d’s Presence.

Preparing for Chanukah is relatively easy – clean the Menorahs, buy the wicks and candles, dust off the dreidels – but how will we plan for after Chanukah? Perhaps you have some ideas. Please, share them in the comments below. Have a happy, and long-lasting, Chanukah! (based on Sefer HaLekach V’Halibuv, Chanuka)

Good Shabbos and Happy Chanukah,
Rabbi Mordechai Dixler
Program Director, Project Genesis – Torah.org

Dec 12 2014

Certainly Wrong

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greek-soldierI was once driving with my wife, way back in the pre-GPS days when you actually had to remember directions. She was driving, and approached a T in the road with her left-turn signal on. “Wait!” I said. “Not left, definitely not left!”

We arrived at the intersection, and I saw and remembered where we were. “OK, maybe left.” This has been a family joke ever since.

After Yosef’s brothers threw him in a dangerous pit of snakes and scorpions, they sat down comfortably to eat [Gen. 37:24-25, Talmud Shabbos 22a]. The Tiferes Tzion explains that they believed they had judged Yosef correctly for having slandered them to their father, and attempting to elevate himself above them with his dreams. They were so certain of their decision that they were able to sit down to eat with a clean conscience — not realizing that their true motivation was simple jealousy. Even these great and holy individuals, the tribes of Yaakov, were capable of not merely misjudging, but of being quite certain that they had acted correctly.

The holiday of Chanukah is just around the corner. While it is sometimes misunderstood as commemorating a battle for freedom between the Jews and the Greeks, the truth is considerably more nuanced. There was an internal battle between Jews, between those who promoted the Hellenization of Judaism and Jerusalem vs. those who rejected it. Those in the first camp were so certain about what they were doing, that it was they who defiled the Temple in Jerusalem. They believed it would somehow help the Jewish people for them to be more like the dominant Greeks. And of course, in the end it was just about their personal biases, their desire to worship idols and engage in the immoral behavior the Greeks encouraged.

Personal bias is capable of not merely enticing us to do the wrong thing, but to do so with complete confidence that we are acting correctly. We have to look to third parties with sound judgment and a neutral perspective, precisely when we think we are so obviously right that there is no question to ask.

Dec 05 2014

Dental Admonition

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homeremedyforatoothacheThe Medrash tells us many things not found in the written text of the Torah. It is, in fact, crucial to our understanding, because otherwise many passages could be misunderstood and misconstrued.

Sometimes, however, statements in the Medrash appear to conflict with each other, representing differing schools of thought on how to understand a particular passage. How do we respond to apparent conflicts? When there is a true conflict, we must conclude that while each is intended to teach its own lesson, only one could actually have occurred. Unlike a question in the law, we don’t need to resolve the conflict by declaring one version correct — we try to learn from both in any case — but we still recognize that the two accounts are at odds with one another.

When we look deeper, though, we may realize that two versions of an account are not mutually exclusive. For example, there are differing accounts of who the angels were who were ascending and descending the ladder in Yaakov’s dream. One version says that Yaakov was escorted by different angels outside the Land of Israel, so one set was leaving and the other was coming down to join him. Another says that there were various angels representing the exiles that would befall Yaakov’s children, and each angel ascended according to the length of that exile before falling back down — and the fourth and final angel ascended so high that Yaakov was afraid, until HaShem reassured him that that angel, too, would eventually fall.

Are the multiple versions at odds in that case? Actually, no. Yaakov could have had multiple visions of the angels on the ladder, all designed to teach him something different.

This week, the Sages differ in how to understand Esav’s reunion with his brother Yaakov, whom Esav hated so passionately. In the Torah, there are dots penned over the word “VaYishakehu,” “and he kissed him.” Some say that this indicates that Esav was not kissing him with a full heart, with actual love for his brother. On the contrary, one Medrash says that Esav tried to take the opportunity to kill his brother, by biting him! Yaakov’s neck miraculously turned to stone, and the reason Esav cried afterwards was because of his broken teeth.

Another opinion in the Medrash says the opposite: at that very moment Esav’s heart filled with mercy for his brother, and he genuinely loved Yaakov and cried for their reunion. It seems obvious that these Midrashim are completely at odds with each other.

It occurred to me that even here, we could say that both versions are correct. It could be that Esav came to Yaakov with murderous intent — but when he was thwarted by an obvious miracle, he recognized that G-d was sending him a message, telling him that he was in the wrong. Esav could, in that moment, have realized that he should be greeting his brother with love, and learned his lesson.

We are not greeted with obvious miracles when we find ourselves going down the wrong path, but often there are signals if we are sensitive to them. It could be as simple as a twinge of conscience when doing something unproductive, instead of learning Torah. We are supposed to listen to those messages, to improve and do better — without suffering broken teeth!

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