Friday, November 27, 2015

Yaakov or Yisrael

In this week's parsha, Vayishlach, we read how Yaakov fights with an angel and wins. The angel tells him, that he will be also called Yisrael, "because you struggled with Hashem('s angel) and with men, and prevailed." Later in our parsha, Hashem tells Yaakov that his name will now be Yisrael. He goes on to be called by both names, sometimes Yisrael and other times Yaakov.

These are the names we are called by, Bnei Yisrael, the Children of Israel and Bais Yaakov, the House of Jacob.

What is the significance of these names? Why keep both names, if Yisrael is so special, why keep Yaakov?

As Jews we have a constant inner struggle. On one hand, there is being a part of this physical world, with all the hardships and pleasures that go with it. On the other, there is our ability to rise above it all and be one with Hashem.

Our name Yaakov, which means heel, is the part of us that deals with this world. Yaakov also means to trick, being clever, because it is our mission to transform this world into a G-dly place. Since this world is a world of lies and corruption, we must be clever not to be taken by it's allure.

Yisrael is our ability to rise above it all. Above both physical and spiritual realms, which are both creations, and connect with our essence, our Neshama, which is actually a part of Hashem, and not subject to the deceit of creation.

While Yisrael sounds nice, it doesn't effect the change we are meant to accomplish in the world. Yet it is necessary for us to go there from time to time, to rejuvenate and remind ourselves of our purpose. Yaakov is the part of us that transform this world, which can only be done by taking part in it.

On a personal level, our lives are full of pain and struggles. It is there that we accomplish our primary purpose. Our struggles have meaning, our suffering is accomplishing amazing things. It is hard to see it this way. That is when we need to connect with Hashem, rise above and rejuvenate. From time to time we need to let go and allow Hashem to take over.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Our Suffering Has Meaning

In this week's Parsha, Vayeitzei, we read about Yaakov's life in Charan. Fraught with difficulty, living in Lavan's environment. Lavan, a corrupt, lying, cheating fiend, tried to swindle Yaakov in every which way. Yet through it all, Yaakov succeeds in building a beautiful family, and amassing great wealth. 

This seems to be the theme of the parsha. 

Why is it important to tell us all these details, a whole parsha of Yaakov's difficulties, and victories? 

The parsha starts with Yaakov's dream, where he saw a ladder whose base was on earth and its top was in heaven. How does this dream connect with the rest of the parsha? 

What are we meant to take from this parsha for our personal lives and as a people? 

We are Yaakov, Yaakov's leaving to Charan is us going into exile. Many lessons are to be taken to deal with our nations struggles, and our personal suffering. 

To accomplish great things is fraught with difficulties. Yaakov starting the Jewish nation is challenged with suffering, but he knows that these difficulties are the motions necessary to accomplish the purpose at hand. Ultimately he succeeds and returns to the land of Israel with a beautiful family and great wealth. His suffering is not for naught, rather it is the foundation of his greatest accomplishments. 

All this is symbolized in Yaakov's dream. The ladder is standing on the ground, symbolizing the physical world with all the difficulties and suffering. Its top reaches heaven, symbolizing that our interaction with the physical world can be holy and reach the heaven. The suffering and difficulties we endure are accomplishing amazing things, and in the end, when Moshiach comes we see the fruits of our labor. Even more, we create the ladder that connects heaven and earth, fusing the two. This fusion is the essential purpose of creation, it is the Jewish mission, making this world a dwelling for Hashem. 

I'm not sure why, but this fusion is accomplished through our suffering. I think we have suffered enough. Let Moshiach come. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Wild Child

In this week's parsha, Toldos, we read about the twins, Yaakov and Esav. Yaakov being the wholesome studious one while Esav was a "wild child."

Yaakov our forefather was holy, so it makes sense that the Torah tells us all about him, but why tell us so much about Esav?

When it came time for Yitzchak to give his blessings, we find that he wanted to give them to Esav. It was only when Yaakov dressed as Esav, that he was able to receive the blessings. Why did he want to give the blessings to Esav?

We must conclude, that Yitzchak saw something in Esav's nature that was positive and if harnessed can do amazing things. What did he see in Esav?

Yitzchak knew that the purpose of Judaism is to transform this coarse physical world into a holy place. Yitzchak felt that though Yaakov was studious, he lacked the strength and the chutzpa necessary to take on the physical world. Esav surely did have strength and chutzpa, what he lacked was the holiness and will to do Hashem's bidding. Yitzchak was hoping to change that by giving him the blessings. When Yaakov came dressed in Esav's clothing, Yitzchak realized that Yaakov did indeed have what it takes and was happy to give him the blessings.

Some of us have a Yaakov-like disposition, some of us have a "wild child" nature. While being the wholesome studious one is special, the strong chutzpa type can accomplish amazing things if his/her energy is harnessed and directed to fulfill Hashem's will. This attitude is needed especially now when we are fighting with a dark physical exile.

We need both and Yaakov was both. He was Yaakov regularly and Esav when he had to be. This is why both are spoken about, because we also need to know the qualities of Esav if we are going to harness his nature to change this world.

Both types are a source of pride to Hashem. Although I would venture to say that conquering and directing a "wild child" nature is an even greater accomplishment and gives Hashem great joy.

The main thing is that you don't look at your nature as an obstacle, but rather, as blessing and opportunity to make a difference. Whether Yaakov or wild child, you have a lot to contribute, you can change the world into Hashem's home. Now go make a difference.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Only Your Attitude Matters

In this week's Parsha, Chayei Sarah, we read how Avraham purchased the Mearas Hamachpela, the double cave where Adam and Chava (Eve), Avraham and Sarah, Yitzchak and Rivka, and Yaacov and Leah are buried. He purchased the Mearas Hamachpela and the field it is in, which is in our Holy City Hebron.

He starts his request to the Hittites for the burial property, "I am a foreigner and a resident among you." Avraham goes on to purchase the property for 400 silver Shekels.

Why does Avraham say that he is a foreigner and a resident? What lesson can we take from Avraham's attitude?

Rashi sites the Midrash explaining Avraham's words: "If you like, I'm a stranger, if not I will soon be a resident and take it legally, since Hashem said to me, 'I will give this land to your progeny.' " Hearing Avraham's sure attitude, the Hittites respected him and offered him the land.

Avraham knew who he was, he never flinched, knowing that Hashem was with him. He made his case, sell it to me or lose your right to control the land.

Sometimes we forget who we are, what is rightfully ours and who our only true ally is.

Who are you? You are a Jew, chosen to share Hashem's truth with the world. We are respected as "the" people of the book. When we teach truth the world listens. What is rightfully ours?  The Torah, the whole land of Israel, and soon all the land until the Euphrates, which was promised to Avraham. Our only true ally is Hashem, and when we put our trust in Him, instead of the false promises of those who ultimately do what is their best interest, we succeed and the world respects us. It is a mistake to play by the world's rules, when our Torah laws are far superior, more meaningful and considerate.

Don't be afraid to be who you are, you will be respected by your neighbors and those you come in contact with. It is time to turn to Hashem as you come to realize, that He alone can be trusted.

Whether you see yourself as a stranger or a resident makes no difference, only your attitude matters. When you are sure of yourself because you have Hashem and His Torah, the Hittites of the world respect and follow our lead.

May we soon merit the coming of Moshiach, who will lead us all to our Holy Land and rebuild our Holy Temple, on our Temple Mountain. The whole world will be transformed and see the truth we always had.

Until that day, may our brothers and sisters who live in the holy city of Chevron be safe. May Hashem bless them and reward them for their self sacrifice.