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יעקב

בס״ד

The existential battle between Ya'akov and Eisav that has colored much of our history began in the womb, as the possuk says, ויתרצצו הבנים בקרבה - ".. and the children struggled within her [Rivka]". 1



Ya'akov entered the world holding on to the heel of his brother, grasping for what was rightfully his.2 In the realm of ma'asei avot siman le-banim, Ya'akov's life foreshadowed the goluyot (exiles) of the Jewish people amidst jealous enemies who hated, persecuted and tried to destroy them. Much of his life was spent in struggle, often living as a resident alien among enemies bent on his destruction.

ויגדלו הנערים ויהי עשו איש יודע ציד איש שדה ויעקב איש תם יושב אהלים
And the lads grew up and Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the fields; and Jacob was a wholesome man, who dwelled in tents.3

The word tam, which I have translated here as "wholesome", has various other connotations.

One of the four prototypical sons described in the Pesach Haggada is the "tam" - but it would certainly be a stretch to say that Ya'akov was "simple", as the word is commonly translated there. It does have a connotation of "innocence"4, which is perhaps a better translation for the word in the Haggada.

Noach is introduced as נח איש צדיק תמים היה בדרתיו which is usually translated: "Noah was a righteous man - he was perfect in his generation".5

When God is about to give Avraham the commandment to perform the bris milah, He tells him: התהלך לפני והיה תמים "walk before me and be complete".6 The commentators there explain that, in a way, the milah is a metaphor for our role in life: Hashem created us deficient in some respects, and our job is "fix ourselves" and become complete.

Kli Yakar quotes a Midrash that Ya'akov was born mahul , and guarded himself from immorality; he explains that that is what is meant by yosheiv ohalim7. (There is also a Midrash that Noach was also born already circumcised.)

Ramban8 says that the command of ve-heyei tamim is related to תמים תהיה עם ה׳ אלקיך - "be wholesome with Hashem your God"9, which follows the prohibition of using magic or divination. He says that the rejoinder is to have emuna - faith; to believe in ones heart that Hashem is the only Power.

Rashi here says, Eisav knew how to deceive his father with feigned righteousness, but Ya'akov was not expert in these matters; rather he said was in his heart. Indeed, Ya'akov is called a man of truth: תתן אמת ליעקב חסד לאברהם - "Give truth to Ya'akov, kindness to Avraham."10

Ironically - somewhat paradoxically - Ya'akov's entire life seems to be touched by deception.
  • He needs to buy his birthright from his brother Eisav, and seemingly shakes him down when he is desperate and buys it for a pot of beans.
  • He has to fool his father, acting cunningly and apparently deceitfully, to "steal" the blessings of Yitzchak.
  • He lives with Lavan Ha-Arami - "Laban the trickster" - for 20 years; where he is tricked into marrying a girl he didn't love and had his wages changed 100 times.
  • Without consulting him, his sons deceive the inhabitants of the city of Sh'chem, and kill all the men of the city after their sister Dina was kidnapped and raped.
  • His sons sell their brother Yosef as a slave, and then dip his cloak in goat's blood, in an attempt to fool him into thinking that Yosef was torn apart by wild animals.

Perhaps this is his personal challenge - his "test" - to reconcile his natural personality of straightforwardness and truth to a world of deceit and deception.

The Zohar says that Eisav represented the Primordial Snake (which itself can be understood as a metaphor for the yetzer ha-ra - the evil inclination). The verse tells us how to deal with it: ve-ata teshufenu akeiv "And you will strike him in the heel" .11 If Eisav (or the Yetzer ha-rah) comes to you deceitfully, you must use your wiles to overcome him.

Targum Unkelos consistently translates tam and tamim as שלים - (Aramaic for) shalem, or complete.

Ya'akov, the third link in the chain of Avot, incorporated and extended the traits of both his father and his grandfather, synthesizing and balancing the chessed (lovingkindness) and din/gevura (strict judgement). By themselves, wild, untamed love and cold, compassionless, strict justice can each be destructive. These extremes manifested themselves in the other children that Avraham and Yitzchak had. Avraham, who excelled in the attribute of love, begot Yishmael. Yishmael represents a perversion of love. Yitzchak, the epitome of fear, begot Eisav. Eisav represents the corruption of fear.

Ya'akov brought the polar opposites of Chessed and Gevurah into balance, synthesizing the two attributes in order to make a perfect, complete, whole, and was complete. In Kabbala, this unifying quality is called Tiferet - synthesis, harmony and beauty. All of Ya'akov's children were righteous, and had the proper balance. Chazal refer to this as mitaso shleima - "his bed was complete".

Ya'akov is associated with the Torah, as we have mentioned, and the Torah is also called Emet, as it says (for instance) תורת אמת היתה בפיהו "Torah of Truth was in his mouth".12 The Torah is made of negative Mitzvot, representing Yirat Hashem, and positive Mitzvot, representing Ahavat Hashem. The Torah is also associated with the number 3, as the Gemara says, "Blessed is Hashem, who gave a threefold Torah (Torah, Nevi'im and Kesuvim [the Writings] - all were given on Sinai) to a threefold nation (Kohanim, Leviyim and Yisraelim) through a third born (Moshe was born after Miryam and Aharon) on the third day (of abstention) in the third month!" 13

Hashem is the ultimate Truth, as Chazal say13, "God's seal is Truth". And the verse says ה׳ אלקים אמת הוא אלקים חיים - "God the Lord is truth, He is the living God".14 Hashem combines His attributes of Midat Ha-Din and Midat Chessed into One unified whole, an idea expressed by the first verse of Shema: שמע ישראל ה׳ אלקנו ה׳ אחד - "Hear, O Israel, Hashem our God, Hashem is One".

--


After Ya'akov "stole" the blessings, his brother Eisav vowed to kill him, so his parents send him away to his uncle's house to find a wife. The Midrash says that Eisav sent his son Eliphaz to kill Ya'akov, but Ya'akov convinced him to take all of his possessions (since a poor man is considered like he is dead15) and Ya'akov spent 14 years in the "Yeshiva of Shem V'ever". When he finally leaves to go to Charan, he "meets up" with the place where his father and grandfather prayed.


Rashi notes that when he laid down, the passuk says, "he placed avanim - 'stones' around his head"16, but when he awoke in the morning "he poured oil on ha-even 'the stone'"17, and says that the rocks "argued" amongst themselves, each saying, "let the Tzaddik lay his head upon me!"; and so, Hashem caused them all to merge together. The Midrash upon which this is based says that he placed 12 rocks around his head as a sign, saying, "if they merge into one I know that my 'bed will be complete' (all my children will be righteous).


Ya'akov then slept and had his prophetic vision:
ויחלום והנה סלם מצב ארצה וראשו מגיע השמימה והנה מלאכים עלים ויורדים בו. והנה ה׳ נצב עליו..
And he dreamt, and - behold! A ladder was set in the ground and its top reached heavenward; and - behold! angels were going up and coming down on it. And - behold! Hashem was standing over him ..18


Rashi's "simple" explanation is that Ya'akov saw the angels that were accompanying him in the land of Israel going up (returning) to Heaven, and the ones who would be accompanying him in chutz la-Aretz descending.

Many other explanations are offered by the Midrash and commentators for the meaning of his monumental dream/vision of the ladder, including:
  • The sulam is a metaphor for Mt. Sinai - in fact the Gematria of sulam (סלם) and Sinai (סיני) is the same (130). The "angels" going up and down refer to Moshe and Aharon.
  • Ya'akov saw the Sar of each of the nations who would subjugate the Jewish people. The sar of Bavel went up 70 rungs (representing the 70 years of that exile) and then fell down. The sar of Yavan went up for 130 rungs and then fell down. The sar of Edom went up and up until Ya'akov became afraid, until Hashem reassured him, 'they too will fall, at the end of days'.
  • Ya'akov was lying in the "place" of the future Temple. This is the meaning of "ve-zeh sha'ar shamayim "and this is the gate of heaven" - Chazal say that Har ha-Moriah, the site of the Batei Mikdash is situated precisely below the "heavenly gate" through which all prayers "go up".

The Alshich quotes a Midrash that Ya'akov saw the first Temple (which was in the merit of Avraham) and its destruction, the second Temple (which was in the merit of Yitzchak) and its destruction, and finally, the third Temple which will last forever. The Midrash cites a parable:
There was a King who had three friends. He showed the first one the place of his palace and said "what do you see?" The friend said "A mountain". He showed the second one the place of his palace and said "what do you see?" The friend said "A field". He showed the third one the place of his palace and said "what do you see?" The friend said "A palace". He said, "By your life - I will build it and call it by your name". So too, Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya'akov were "friends" of The Holy One, Blessed is He. Avraham called it a mountain, as it says "on the mountain Hashem is seen".19 Yitzchak called it a field as it says, "the fragrance of my son is like the fragrance of a field that Hashem has blessed.20. Ya'akov called it a house, as it says, "He named that place the House of Hashem".21 Hashem said, "By your life, I will name it after you", as it says "Many people will go and say, 'Come, let us go up to the mountain of Hashem to the House of the God of Jacob'". 2223


The Alshich explains, the first Beit Hamikdash which was in Avraham's merit, lasted for 420 years despite the fact that Avoda Zara was rampant throughout the period. There were also 5 open miracles during this time that were lacking during the 2nd Beit Hamikdash. This demonstrated the Chessed (Avraham's trait) that Hashem displayed during this time. It was destroyed with the help of the sons of Yishmael, who were part of the coalition that defeated the Bnei Yisrael and among the nations that persecuted them in the aftermath of the destruction. However they left the actual mountain intact.

The second Beit Hamikdash lasted only 410 years, according to the Gemara24. It lacked the direct prophecy of the Urim V'Tumim, and the Aron was missing. It was destroyed despite the high level of Torah learning during that time (Rabbi Akiva and Rabban Gamliel both lived in this period) because of the relatively minor offense of Sinat Chinam. This was a function that Midas HaDin, since this Beit Hamkdash was in Yitzchak's merit. It was destroyed by Edom, the descendants of Yitzchak's son Eisav. They plowed over the Har Habayit until it resembled a field.

The third Beit Hamikdash, which will be built in Ya'akov's merit will be an everlasting house, and will never be destroyed, since no blemish was found in his offspring.

"The place" is Yerushalayim. Chazal say that Avraham called the place Hashem yirah25 and Malkitzedek called it shaleim26. Hashem synthesized the two together, and called it Yerushalayim.

The Gemara says
אברהם תקן תפילת שחרית שנא׳ וישכם אברהם בבקר אל המקום אשר עמד שם ואין עמידה אלא תפילה..
יצחק תקן תפילת מנחה שנא׳ ויצא יצחק לשוח בשדה ואין שיחה אלא תפילה..
יעקב תקן תפילת ערבית שנא׳ ויפגע במקום וילן שם ואין פגיעה אלא תפילה..

Avraham enacted Shacharis, as it says, va'yashkem Avraham ba'Boker el ha-Makom asher amad sham - Abraham arose early and stood in the Place that he (always) stood".27 The word "Amidah" refers to Tefilah.
Yitzchak enacted Minchah, as it says, va-yetzei Yitzchak la-su'ach ba-sadeh "And Isaac went out in the afternoon to speak in the fields;28 "sichah" refers to Tefilah.
Yakov enacted Ma'ariv, as it says, va-yifga ba-Makom va-yalen sham "and he met up with the place for the sun had set"29; "Pegi'ah" refers to Tefilah. 30

The Alshich asks - why doesn't the day follow the night, like in all other places in Jewish law, as it says va-yehi erev va-yehi voker yom echad [yom sheni/shlishi etc] "and it was evening, and it was morning one day [a second/third day etc]. Why didn't Avraham establish Maariv, Yitzchak Shacharis and Yaakov Mincha?!

He explains that Avraham's Temple existed in the dawn of Jewish organized civilization. Yitzchak's was just before twilight - its destruction ushered in the bitter darkness of exile that we find ourselves in now. Yaakov's Temple will only come at the end of this long night.

At the end of the Sh'ma that we say as part of Maariv, we begin the next blessing with "Emet ve-emunah" (truth and trust) which are two of Ya'akov's hallmark traits, as we have seen (above).

--


In this week's parsha, Vayishlach, Ya'akov returns from his sojourn in Lavan's house and prepares to meet his brother Eisav. The Sages used to study this portion before going to deal with the Roman overlords of the day.

Ya'akov prepares for his meeting. He divides his camp into two, preparing militarily. He prays to be saved from mi-yad achi, mi-yad Eisav - as Rashi explains, Eisav can be just as dangerous in the guise of "brotherly love" as he can in the guise of Eisav the hunter and wielder of the sword. And he sends gifts, in an attempt to sue for peace, even at the cost of appeasing Eisav with all of his worldly possessions.

But when he goes back to retrieve "some small jars", he is met by "a man", who all the commentaries say is the sar of Eisav, and they struggle all through that night: ויאבק איש עמו עד עלות השחר - "and a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn"31

The commentators point out that when two people are wrestling, sometimes it can look like they are hugging each other and other times it is clear that they are at odds. In the battle through the millenium of dark golut for which this struggle serves as metaphor, the Jewish people have had to struggle with both the overt physical dangers, as well as the "hand of friendship" that hides the evil intent in the heart of our enemies.

When morning shines, Ya'akov prevails, and the angel blesses him and tells him he will be renamed "Yisrael" - for you have fought with the Divine and with men, and you have prevailed. But in the darkest time, just before dawn, the angel reaches out and injures Ya'akov in his thigh. This is an allusion to the terrible destruction that we have seen - even in our (or our parents') time. In my humble opinion, we are in the time of the "footsteps of Mashiach", the darkest hour, just before dawn.


Ya'akov finally meets Eisav, and Eisav seems to be appeased. He offers to accompany Ya'akov, but Ya'akov pushes him off. "You pass ahead of me, and I will meet you in Se'ir". Rashi says that Ya'akov had no intention of going to Se'ir; rather he was refering to the end of days as it says ועלו מושיעים בהר ציון לשפוט את הר עשו - "And saviors shall ascend Mt. Zion to judge the mountain of Esau". 32


ויעקב נסע לסכתה ויבן לו בית ולמקנהו עשה סכות על כן קרא שם המקום סכות

And Jacob journeyed to Sukkos and built himself a house, and for his livestock he made shelters; he therefore called the name of the place Sukkos33

The Tur Shulchan Orech34 writes that the shalosh regalim each correspond to one of the Forefathers. Pesach (Passover) corresponds to Avraham Avinu. The travelers/angels visited him on Pesach and the cakes he asked Sarah to prepare for them were actually matzos. Shavuos, the holiday of receiving the Torah, corresponds to Yitzchak Avinu. The shofar that sounded at Har Sinai was from the ram that was sacrificed in place of Yitzchak. Sukkos corresponds to Yaakov Avinu as it says by Yaakov that he built Sukkos.

As we have discussed previously, Sukkos is a time to reflect on the temporary nature of this world, and renew our trust that it is God Who ultimately protects us.


After that,
ויבא יעקב שלם עיר שכם
And Jacob came complete to the city of Sh'chem..


--


There is another name that Hashem calls Israel - the third and highest level, as it were: ישרון Yeshurun - which means straight or upright.

When Moshe Rabeinu blesses the nation of Israel before he died, he concluded his introductory words with:
תורה צוה לנו משה מורשה קהלת יעקב
ויהי בישרון מלך בהתאסף ראשי עם יחד שבטי ישראל
The Torah that Moses commanded us is the heritage of the congragation of Jacob.
He became King over Yeshurun when the heads of the nation gathered - the tribes of Israel in unity.36



Our task is to follow the path that Ya'akov set for us: be a "holy nation", keeping the spirit of the Brit Mila by staying away from immorality; keeping our emuna strong, recognizing that this world is illusory and temporary; and by coming together - fusing the disparate "rocks" of Israel into one whole.

In this merit, we will see the fulfillment of the last of the brochos of Sh'ma that we say in Tefilat Ma'ariv: u-fros aleinu sukkat sh'lomecha: Hashem will "spread upon us his sukka of peace". Bayom ha-hu - "on that day", Yisrael will rightfully be called Yeshurun - the straight, upright people, serving God in the ultimate Bayit, in Yerushalayim, the city of peace.

ביום ההוא יהיה ה׳ אחד ושמו אחד
On that day, Hashem will be one and His Name will be one37


And the entire world will recognize the Truth that has been hidden there all along.



1 Breishis (Genesis) 25:22
2 The Midrash says that Ya’akov’s “seed” was the first to be implanted in Rivka
3 Breishis (Genesis) 25:27
4 In mesechet Bava Kama, a "shor tam" refers to an animal that is not known to be aggresive
5 Breishis 6:9
6 ibid 17:1
7 see Rashi to Devarim 5:27
8 On Breishis 17:1
9 Devarim (Deuteronomy) 18:13
10 Micha 7:20
11 Breishis 3:15
12 Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) 10:10
13 Shabbos 55a
14 Shabbos 88a
15 Nedarim 64b; see also Rashi to Shmos 4:19
16 Breishis 28:11
17 ibid 28:18
18 ibid 28:12-13
19 ibid 22:14
20 ibid 27:27
21 ibid 28:19
22 Isaiah 2:3
23 See also Pesachim 88a
24 Yoma 9a
25 Breishis 22:14
26 ibid 14:18
27 ibid 19:27
28 ibid 24:63
29 ibid 28:11
30 Brachos 26b
31 Breishis 32:25
32 Ovadia 1:21
33 Breishis 33:17
34 Orech Chayim 417
35 Breishis 33:18
36 Devarim 33:4-5
37 Zecharia 14:9

Posted by joem on Dec 07, 2006 11:30 pm

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