Bereishis - Beginnings 

The very first parsha of the Torah begins with the word Bereishis, which is commonly translated as "In the beginning." This parsha is clearly and truly a parsha of beginnings. The world is created, and each day brings a new "first": the first light, the first water, the first vegetation, the first life, and the first human.

Given the above, it might seem obvious that this parshah's theme would be "beginnings." However, creation only takes up the first 31 of the 146 verses in the parshah. Of course, the parshah continues with many other firsts. We have the first sin, the first pairing of man and woman, followed by the first child, and then the first siblings, along with the first sibling rivalry. But even all of that only takes us about halfway through the parshah.

Every beginning has an end. With this in mind, perhaps this parsha is not only a parsha of beginnings, but also a lesson in how we deal with endings. If we take a closer look at all of the “beginnings” in this parsha, we start to notice a theme. It is true that every beginning has an end, but in this parsha we see that every end has a beginning as well. After the very first day of creation, the next verse tells us:

ויהי־ערב ויהי־בקר יום אחד- “And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.”

This verse tells us that the first day of creation was not just a beginning, but also an ending. The day ended with evening, and then a new day began. This is a reminder that every ending leads to a new beginning.

After the six days of creation the Torah tells us

 ויכלו השמים והארץ וכל־צבאם - “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their host.”

ויכל אלהים ביום השביעי מלאכתו אשר עשה וישבת ביום השביעי מכל־מלאכתו אשר עשה - “And by the seventh day God ended His work which He had done; and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done.”

This may seem like the end of the creation story, but it is not. The verse continues:

 ויברך אלהים את־יום השביעי ויקדש אתו כי בו שבת מכל־מלאכתו אשר־ברא אלהים לעשות - “And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because in it He rested from all his work which God had created and performed.”

The end of creation ushers in the advent of the Holy Shabbos. Even the final act of creation - the end of creation itself if you will - spawns the beginning of a new concept called Shabbos. A gift that will sustain us for all generations.

The next part of the parsha tells us that Hashem placed Adam in the Garden of Eden to cultivate and care for it. He was given a partner (only after he had named all the animals that Hashem brought before him, another example of an ending bringing about a beginning) and together they were expected to live a blissful life there. All they had to do was follow the simple rule of the Garden: Do not eat from the Tree of Knowledge. However, their blissful life was short-lived, as Adam sinned and ate from the forbidden fruit. Thus ended their blissful existence in the Garden of Eden. In this case, the ending was not a happy one. It was a tragic one, and it led to a very painful beginning. For womankind, it would be the beginning of a painful childbirth experience. As for mankind, man would now have to toil for his food. The ground that had been so bountiful to him until then would now be a source of hardship. It was the beginning of man having to work for what he wanted. Thus they are sent out of the Garden of Eden to start their journey in the “real world”.

Next came another first. The first child, Cain, was followed by the first sibling, Abel. Amazingly the first siblings bring about the first sibling rivalry and ends tragically with Cain killing Abel. Hashem calls out to Cain and asks him what he has done and curses him for his actions. Although Cain shows tremendous remorse for what he has done he eventually leaves his home and goes to the land of Nod. One would think that this would be a good point to end the narrative of Cain but the Torah does not end there. Amazingly in the very next verse it says:

וידע קין את־אשתו ותהר ותלד את־חנוך ויהי בנה עיר ויקרא שם העיר כשם בנו חנוך - “And Cain knew his wife; and she conceived, and bore Ḥanokh: and he built a city, and called the name of the city, after the name of his son, Ḥanokh.”

The Torah specifically tells us that just as we thought this was the end of Cain he picks himself up and makes a new beginning for himself by building a city and a family for himself. What we thought was Cain's end may have been the low point he needed to reach in order to begin anew. When we fall down we get back up. This is a theme of Judaism. Always picking ourselves up, dusting ourselves off and starting again. 

At this point the Torah lists the generations between Adam and Noach (we’ll get back to that ending in a minute). At some point during these ten generations there began to be a decline in human behavior and Hashem even “felt remorse” about creating Man in the first place. It’s so bad in fact that he wants to bring about an end to mankind completely,  as the second to last verse in the parsha says:

ויאמר ה אמחה את־האדם אשר־בראתי מעל פני האדמה מאדם עד־בהמה עד־רמש ועד־עוף השמים כי נחמתי כי עשיתם - “And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth: both man, and beast, and creeping things, and the birds of the air; for I repent that I have made them.”

But as we've seen throughout the parsha we can not end off like that. As we've said all along every ending has a beginning. To end the parsha this way would be the ultimate end without a new beginning. Thus we have the final verse in the parsha hint to the beginning of a new world. Yes, the world had decayed to the point where Hashem wanted to just destroy it but as the final verse says:

ונח מצא חן בעיני ה - “But Noaĥ found favour in the eyes of the Lord.” 

Every ending brings about a new beginning .....


Noach - The light in the darkness

The parshah of Noach begins with the words אלה תולדת נח. The name of the parsha is not the first word in the parsha nor is it even the first significant word. The first significant word - תולדת - gets its own parsha later on. What is it about the word Noach that makes it so central to this week's parsha? 

In this case perhaps it’s not the actual word itself but rather what it represents. Noach was a righteous man who found favor in the eyes of Hashem. He was the only one who was not corrupt in the generation of the Flood. Noach built the ark and saved his family and the animals from the destruction. He was a light in a time of darkness. In this case the name of the parsha is the name of an actual person and so we must try to understand who Noach the person was and how that concept permeates throughout the parsha.

Our parsha begins by telling us that Noach was an איש צדיק תמים היה בדרתיו - “a just man and perfect in his generations''. Noach's generation, of course, was filled with violence and corruption and so Hashem wanted to destroy the entire world with a flood. But Hashem saw Noach as a light upon which to restart the human race. Hashem tells Noach to build the ark so he can be rescued from the great flood that was to come. The ark itself is a safe haven, but even built right into the ark, is a reminder to be a light in the darkness:

צהר  תעשה לתבה - “A window shalt thou make to the ark” 

Rashi brings two opinions as to what צהר means. 

צהר. י"א חלון וי"א אבן טובה המאירה להם - “Some say this was a window; others say that it was a precious stone that gave light to them”

Regardless of the translation, the צהר was a feature built into the ark. The very ark that was protecting Noach, who was the light that Hashem chose to start the world over with. In that very structure, there was a light! Perhaps the light was there to remind Noach of the light that he was to be. To remind him of the reason he was being saved. Whenever he was sitting in the ark during that dark time, with the flood waters raging outside, he would be able to look at the light of the ark. (Incidentally, according to one opinion in the Gemara in Zevachim 113b, the effects of the flood were less severe in the Land of Israel, thereby making it a light in the world of the darkness of the flood.)

When Noach entered the ark the pasuk tells us that he went in בעצם היום הזה - in the middle of the day. This is only one of three times that this phrase is used in the entire Torah. Rashi explains that Hashem specifically wanted Noach to enter in the middle of the day. Hashem wanted everyone, including Noach himself, to realize that Noach was the light in this dark generation. Indeed, later in that perek the pasuk tells us: 

וימח את־כל־היקום  אשר  על־פני האדמה מאדם עד־בהמה עד־רמש ועד־עוף השמים וימחו מן־הארץ  - “And He destroyed every living substance which was upon the face of the ground, both man, and cattle, and creeping things, and the birds of the heaven; they were destroyed from the earth”

But, the pasuk continues 

וישאר אך־נח - “and Noaĥ only remained alive”

Noach alone remained to be the light in the darkness of all the destruction. 

The rain ceased at this point, and the pasuk tells us ויזכר אלהים את־נח - Hashem recalls Noach. Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan translates this to mean that Hashem gave special thought to Noach. It was time for him to leave the ark and go back on to the earth. It was time for him to be the light. The flood stops, the ark comes to a rest on the mountain tops and seemingly it is time for Noach to try to fulfill his destiny. When the waters have descended a bit, Noach wants to send out a bird to see if it is safe for him to go out on to the land and so -  ויפתח נח את־חלון התבה אשר עשה - he opens up the window to send the bird out. Rashi points out לצהר, ולא זה פתח התבה - “for the light; it does not mean the door of the Ark”. Perhaps Rashi points this out to tell us that Noach realized that when he was to re-enter the world, it would have to be with the light in mind. Not just the light of the ark, but the light of the world. Perhaps this light served as inspiration for the task that lay ahead of him.

Upon the bird's return with the slightest glimmer of hope, a simple olive branch, Noach was ready to leave the confines of the ark. Once there was even the slightest light in the world of destruction, even just something as simple as an olive branch, he was prepared to venture forth. The dove's return with an olive branch—a single living thing in a world of destruction—was sufficient for Hashem to tell Noach - צא מן־התבה - leave the ark. It was time for him to go out and shine his light on the world. 

After Noach left the ark and Hashem told him to begin repopulating the world, Hashem made a covenant with Noach. Hashem told him that He would never again use a flood to destroy the world, and He gave him, and all future generations, an actual physical sign that people could look at to remember this promise - את־קשתי נתתי בענן - “I have set My bow in the cloud”

How fitting, that the sign from Hahsem to all of humanity is a literal light in a dark cloud. 

As if to emphasize this point, the pasuk tell us again: 

והיה בענני ענן על־הארץ ונראתה הקשת בענן - “And it shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in the cloud”

Whenever there is a dark cloud in life, there will also be light within that very cloud.It is our job to look for it and perhaps to even help create it. The pasuk then continues:

וזכרתי את־בריתי אשר ביני וביניכם ובין כל־נפש חיה בכל־בשר ולא־יהיה עוד המים למבול לשחת כל־בשר - “and I will remember My covenant, which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh”

והיתה הקשת בענן וראיתיה לזכר ברית עולם בין אלהים ובין כל־נפש חיה בכל־בשר אשר על־הארץ - “And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth.”

As long as there is light in the world there is hope in the world and the world can not be destroyed no matter how dark it may get. This is the promise that Hashem made us. 

Having established the covenant, Noach and his family set about repopulating the world with children who would eventually become the seventy nations of the world. At some point, however, society once again began to decline, as evidenced by the story of the Tower of Babel. Prior to the covenant between Hashem and mankind, the world may have been destroyed. However, there was still light in the world. Just as after ten generations from Adam, the light of the world was found with Noach, ten generations after Noach, another light emerged in the world: Avraham, the son of Terach. Although Hashem was angry, He would not destroy the world with this magnificent light just waiting to shine. The very last Rashi on the very last word of this parsha tells us:

בחרן הנו"ן הפוכה לומר לך, עד אברם חרון אף של מקום - “The נ is inverted to tell you that until the time of Abraham, the fierce anger (חרון) of the Omnipotent was kindled against the world.” 

Hashem was angry with the world but the bright light that was to be Avrohom Aveinu was ready to shine. 

Lech Lecha

Lech Lecha - focusing on yourself

The parsha of Lech Lecha begins with the words ויאמר ה אל־אברם לך־לך. The name of the parsha is not the first word in the parsha, but rather the fifth and sixth words. Furthermore, whereas parshas Noach is named after a person, this parsha is not called “parshas Avrom” but rather parshas לך־לך literally meaning “go to yourself”. How does this phrase resonate throughout our parsha, and what, specifically, is that phrase trying to tell us about the story of this parsha?

At the age of 75, Avrom, who had believed in monotheism and the existence of Hashem for many years, was finally spoken to by Hashem . The very first thing Hashem told him after all those years of Avrom's belief was that he must leave his birthplace. In order to improve himself, he must distance himself from his homeland. He must go "to himself." He must find himself. He cannot be concerned about the people he is leaving behind. He must do what is best for himself, to find out who he really is and what he is truly capable of. Avrom is now going to take the time to focus on himself. 

Avrom, accompanied by his wife Sarai and nephew Lot, left his hometown of Haran. Once Avrom arrived in this new land, Hashem appeared to him and told him that this is the land that his children will inherit. Perhaps this was Hashem telling Avrom that he was on the right track. However, Avrom ran into a problem. A famine struck the land, so he decided to go down to Egypt. Avrom foresaw a potential problem, though, and told his wife Sarai::

הנה־נא ידעתי כי אשה יפת־מראה את והיה כי־יראו אתך המצרים ואמרו אשתו זאת והרגו אתי ואתך יחיו - “Behold now, I know that thou art a fair woman to look upon: therefore it shall come to pass, when the Miżrim shall see thee, that they shall say, This is his wife: and they will kill me, but they will save thee alive.”

Avrom was apprehensive about his own safety. He knew that he was on a journey for himself now. He had to look out for himself first and foremost, and so he devised a plan and told Sarai:

אמרי־נא אחתי את למען ייטב־לי בעבורך וחיתה נפשי בגללך - “Say, I pray thee, thou art my sister: that it may be well with me for thy sake; and my soul shall live because of thee.”

This was not a selfish plan on Avrom’s part. This was a laser like focus on the mission that Hashem gave him with the very first words ever to spoken to him by Hashem: לך־לך - “Go to yourself” The plan worked as the Egyptians gave Avrom many possessions and he left Egypt a wealthy man. 

After Avrom and his family left Egypt there was an argument between the herdsmen of Avrom and the herdsmen of Lot. 

ויהי־ריב בין רעי מקנה־אברם ובין רעי מקנה־לוט - “And there was a strife between the herdsmen of Avram’s cattle and the herdsmen of Lot’s cattle”

Avrom does not want any strife and so: 

ויאמר אברם אל־לוט אל־נא תהי מריבה ביני ובינך ובין רעי ובין רעיך כי־אנשים אחים אנחנו - “And Avram said to Lot, Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee, and between my herdsmen and thy herdsmen, for we are brethren.”

It is noteworthy that the argument was not between Avrom and Lot. It was between their herdsmen. However, when Avrom addressed the situation, he used the language of "between me and thee." This again emphasizes Avrom's focus on himself and his desire to become the best person he can be. Avrom  wants nothing to do with anything that will stand in his way of achieving that goal, even if it means sending family away. Therefore, Avrom tells Lot:

הלא כל־הארץ לפניך הפרד נא מעלי - “Is not the whole land before thee? separate thyself, I pray thee, from me”

Avrom told Lot to choose any land he wanted. As long as the rift between the herdsmen would be taken care of, he didn't care where Lot would go. Lot chose to travel to Sodom, while Avrom dwelt in Canaan. After this incident, Hashem once again told Avrom that this land is the land that will be given to his descendants. It seemed that Avrom was still on the right path. 

Having settled in Hebron, Avraham had resolved the rift among his own people by sending Lot and his herdsmen away to the place of Lot's choosing. Things seemed to be calming down after his adventurous journey that Hashem had sent him on at the beginning of the parsha. Suddenly, an escapee (הפליט) came and informed Avrom that Lot had been taken captive during a war between between the “four kings and the five kings''. The point of לך־לך - of going to yourself - was for Avrom to improve himself, so that he can help the world. The expulsion of Lot was intended to benefit the common good. Just as Avrom’s earlier act of telling Sarai to say she was his sister was not a selfish act, so too was his decision to send Lot away not a selfish act. It was intended to help. However, Avrom would never want his own family to be harmed.The fact that Avrom referred to Lot as his brother, even though Lot was actually his nephew, is a clear indication that Avrom considered Lot to be a close member of his family. Avrom swiftly took action and involved himself and his tiny army in a war between nine major kingdoms. Defying all odds, Avrom rescues Lot. Avrom was once again laser-focused on the concept of לך־לך ("go for yourself"). He set out to do what needed to be done to better himself, in this case by rescuing his family. He would never have wanted his actions to cause his "brother" to be taken captive. That was not who he was. His single goal was to get Lot back. That was who Avrom was. After the war, the king of Sodom offered Avrom riches. Earlier in the parshah, Avrom had taken riches from Egypt when he departed, but now he was an established and wealthy man. He did not need Sodom's riches, and so he told the king of Sodom:

אם־מחוט ועד שרוך־נעל ואם־אקח מכל־אשר־לך ולא תאמר אני העשרתי את־אברם - “I will take nothing from a thread even to a shoe-latchet, and that I will not take anything that is thine, lest thou shouldst say, I have made Avram rich:”

בלעדי רק אשר אכלו הנערים וחלק האנשים אשר הלכו אתי ענר אשכל וממרא הם יקחו חלקם - “save only that which the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me, ῾Aner, Eshkol, and Mamre; let them take their share.”

Avrom’s mission was complete, and he desired nothing more. He certainly did not want anything from the king of Sodom. He only wanted to do what Hashem wanted him to do: to better himself. To go to himself - לך־לך. With his mission complete and Lot brought back from captivity, he simply left. Other people might have taken and indeed may have even been entitled to take the spoils of war. This is why Avrom mentioned Aner Eshkol and Mamre. Avrom may have been entitled to the spoils, but there was no reason for him to take them. That was not his goal. His goal was a continuation of  לך־לך - going to himself. In this case he needed to get Lot back. Nothing more.

After this adventure, Hashem once again reassuringly appeared to Avrom and told him that He would protect and reward him. After every significant moment from when Avrom left Haran to find himself, Hashem had promised him that his descendants would inherit the land. Clearly, this was an important part of Avrom's future. Here, finally, Avrom expressed concern as he did not have any children! Hashem reassured Avrom with the “covenant of the pieces” that he would indeed have children who would inherit the land. After many years of Sarai being unable to conceive, she suggested trying to have a child with her handmaid Hagar so they could build a family that way. With a clear mindset that he must have children in order to continue his לך־לך journey to himself, Avrom agreed and Hagar became pregnant and gave birth to Yishmael. 

As with every other major event in this parsha, Hashem once again appeared to Avrom after the birth of Yishmael. But this time it was different. There were still reassurances from Hashem about the future, but in this case Hahsem made major changes and thus sent a major message to Avrom. Yishmael was not to be the future that had been promised throughout the parsha. Something had to change. Avrom’s single-minded focus on himself had to be tempered. If Avrom was to be the father of a nation, he could no longer have that tunnel vision of only improving himself. It was time for the next step: 

ולא־יקרא עוד את־שמך אברם והיה שמך אברהם כי אב־המון גוים נתתיך - “Neither shall thy name any more be called Avram, but thy name shall be Avraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee.”

Avraham could no longer be concerned solely with himself. He was to become "a father of many nations." Name changes are very rare in the Torah. In fact, there are only four name changes in the entire Torah, and two of them occur in this parshah! This was a major shift in perspective for Avraham. He now needed to begin the next phase of his life by giving of himself. Perhaps it's no coincidence that it’s at this point that Hashem commands Avraham: 

זאת בריתי אשר תשמרו ביני וביניכם ובין זרעך אחריך המול לכם כל־זכר - “This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and thy seed after thee; Every manchild among you shall be circumcised.”

Circumcision certainly seems to represent giving of oneself. For Avraham, this had to start at the age of ninety-nine. He was done with his mission of לך־לך. However, going forward, the children he would have, and the nation he would build would have to possess that trait from the very beginning, at eight days old. The children who would inherit the land promised to Avrom throughout the parsha would have to take all of the לך־לך that Avrom had accumulated and add to it the willingness to give of themselves. It starts with the father and the mother, and so Hashem also changes Sarai's name as Rashi explains: 

לא תקרא את שמה שרי. דמשמע שרי, לי ולא לאחרים, כי שרה סתם שמה, שתהא שרה על כל - “THOU SHALT NOT CALL HER NAME SARAI which means “my princess”— a princess to me and not to others — BUT SARAH, in a more general sense, SHALL BE HER NAME: she shall be princess over all”

Before going to circumcise himself and his entire family, Hashem makes clear to Avraham that it will be  שרה אשתך ילדת לך בן - “Sara thy wife shall bear thee a son ”. Specifically Sarah with her new name and new meaning of “princess over all”. With their new names and new joint mission Avrohom and Sarah are ready to forge ahead building a nation.


Vayera - Uplifted spiritual appearance

For the first time since Parshas Bereishis, we have a parsha whose first word is also the name of the parsha. However, that is not necessarily the reason for its name. The word וירא, meaning "and he appeared," has a much deeper meaning. The first pasuk of the parsha tells us about Hashem appearing to Avraham after his circumcision. The circumcision of Avraham represented a turning point in his life. Avraham was now on a higher, more connected level, where he was able to view things in a more spiritually uplifted way. The word וירא represents a new type of revelation from Hashem. For the first time, Hashem is revealing himself to Avraham without some sort of divine agenda. Previously, when the word וירא is used, it is used in the syntax of וירא ה אל־אברם, followed by something that Hashem wanted to convey to Avrohom. In our parshah, for the first time, the order is reversed: וירא אליו ה. Rashi comments:

וירא אליו. לבקר את החולה. אמר רבי חמא בר חנינא, יום שלישי למילתו היה - “AND THE LORD APPEARED UNTO HIM to visit the sick man. R. Hama the son of Hanina said: it was the third day after his circumcision”

It is evident that this "appearance" by Hashem was done for Avrohom’s sake. God had no other reason to appear. No command was given by God. Rashi specifically tells us that Hashem came to visit the sick, to make known to us that this revelation is different from the others. Avrohom, after his circumcision, is now on a higher level. He is on a level where he is worthy of Hashem visiting him. The word וירא therefore in the context of this parsha is telling us that everything that happens in this parsha must be viewed through that lens. Avrohom was worthy of “seeing” the world in a new way. Not everyone else was. This concept of being able, or not being able, to view the world from a spiritually uplifted level is one that appears throughout our parsha.

The second pasuk in the parsha, in fact, hints at this idea:

וישא עיניו וירא והנה שלשה אנשים נצבים עליו וירא וירץ לקראתם מפתח האהל וישתחו ארצה - “and he raised his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood by him; and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself to the ground”

Avrohom “sees” these “men”. Avrohom, in his raised spiritual level, saw these angels as men. Almost as equals to him. Even in his weakened state in his recovery from his circumcision, he ran towards them as if being pulled by some outer force, and bows down to them. 

The angels then told Avrohom the news that Sarah would soon have a son. The very idea of a couple of Avrohom and Sarah's age being able to conceive was quite literally laughable! In fact, this was Sarah's exact reaction. She laughed to herself at the very idea. Avrohom, however, does not have this reaction. As Hashem questions Avrohom about Sarah's reaction he asks: היפלא מה דבר - “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”. We do not see any response from Avrohom in the pasuk. Is it as if he internally just understood that it was in fact possible. 

After the angels get up from the visit, they “looked” (in this case the word וישקפו is used and as Rashi explains it is because they were taking notice for the intent of doing bad. Still, the pasuk specifically tells us that they “looked”) towards Sodom as Avrohom got up to send them on their way. Avrohom, being on this higher spiritual plane as evidenced by the higher form of revelation from Hashem, now is able to see things in a different light. As such Hashem says: 

המכסה אני מאברהם - “Shall I hide from Avraham”

Now that Hashem had revealed Himself to Avrohom in this way, he could no longer hide things from him that he may normally have in the past! Avrohom was on a new level now. He was able to see things that others could not. Hashem then tells Avrohom about his plan to destroy Sodom. Avrohom is on the spiritual level to “discuss” this with Hashem. In fact, he even tries negotiating with Hashem for their rescue. To even be in this discussion requires a certain elevated spiritual level. Others would not be able to “see” the situation so clearly. (The lowest of the low in Sodom, in fact, were not able to “see” at all as the pasuk tell us that they were הכו בסנורים - “smitten with blindness”). 

Before setting out to destroy Sodom, the angels had to evacuate Lot from the city. When they were evacuating him, they warned him:

המלט על־נפשך אל־תביט אחריך - “Escape for thy life; look not behind thee”

Rashi comments:

אל תביט אחריך. אתה הרשעת עמהם ובזכות אברהם אתה נצל; אינך כדאי לראות בפרענותם ואתה נצל: - “LOOK NOT BEHIND THEE — You sinned with them but art saved through the merit of Abraham. It is not fitting that you should witness their doom whilst you yourself are escaping”

Lot may have merited being saved from the city because of Avrohom’s merit but that did not mean that Lot was able to “see” the destruction. Lot was not worthy enough to understand on the same level as Avrohom was able to. Lot does not end up “looking” behind him and is rescued to a nearby city but his wife is not as lucky. She thought that she could “look” behind her. She thought that she could “see” and understand, but she was mistaken:

ותבט אשתו מאחריו ותהי נציב מלח - “But his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.”

Lot’s wife was not worthy of “seeing” the destruction brought about by Hashem. Only Avrohom was on that level, as the pasuk tells us just two pesukim later:

וישקף על־פני סדם ועמרה ועל־כל־פני ארץ הככר וירא והנה עלה קיטר הארץ כקיטר הכבשן - “and he looked toward Sedom and ῾Amora, and toward all the land of the plain, and beheld, and, lo, the smoke of the country went up like the smoke of a furnace.”

Avrohom was able to “see”  the destruction. He was on that level of divine revelation. 

Some time after the destruction of Sodom, Avrohom traveled and sojourned in Gerar. As he did previously when he traveled to Egypt he once again told his wife Sarah to say that she is his sister as opposed to his wife. King Avimelech then took Sarah and Hashem appeared to him in a dream to admonish him about taking another man’s wife. When he woke up from his dream he asked Avrohom why he misled him to think that Sarah was his sister instead of saying she was his wife!:

ויאמר אבימלך אל־אברהם מה ראית כי עשית את־הדבר הזה - “And Avimelekh said to Avraham, What sawest thou, that thou hast done this thing?”

ויאמר אברהם כי אמרתי רק אין־יראת אלהים במקום הזה והרגוני על־דבר אשתי - “And Avraham said, Because I thought, Surely the fear of God is not in this place; and they will slay me for my wife’s sake.”

Avimelech realized that Avrohom must have been able to “see” something that other people may not have been able to “see”. Avrohom was able to “see” that this place was not on the same spiritual level that he was on. Avimelech, for his part, does not argue and in fact, he rewards Avrohom by giving him land. As for Sarah, he tells her:

הנה נתתי אלף כסף לאחיך הנה הוא־לך כסות עינים לכל אשר אתך ואת כל ונכחת - “Behold, I have given thy brother a thousand pieces of silver: behold, it is to thee a covering of the eyes, to all that are with thee, and unto all others: thus she was reproved.”

Rashi comments on the term כסות עינים:

כסות עינים לכל אשר אתך יכסו עיניהם שלא יקלוך, שאלו השיבותיך ריקנית, יש להם לומר לאחר שנתעלל בה החזירה; עכשו שהצרכתי לבזבז ממון ולפיסך, יודעים יהיו שעל כרחי השיבותיך ועל ידי נס - “SHALL BE UNTO THEE A COVERING OF THY EYES TO ALL WHO ARE WITH THEE — these will put a covering over the eyes of all who are with thee so that they shall not hold you in light esteem. But had I sent you back empty-handed, they might have said, “After he abused her he sent her back”; now, however, that I have had to lavish money and to mollify you they will understand that I have sent you back against my own will forced to do so by a miracle.”:

Avimelech realized that most people were not on Avrohom’s spiritual level and may not understand what happened. He didn’t want only people who had heightened spiritual revelation to realize what happened. He wanted everyone to understand that Sarah had done no wrong, and so he provided a gift that would be a כסות עינים - COVERING OF THY EYES. Even if people’s eyes were covered and were not able to see on the level of Avrohom, they should still know that Sarah is innocent. 

After many years of waiting, Avrohom and Sarah were finally blessed with a son who would be the one to carry on Avrohom’s legacy and rightfully inherit the land that had been promised to him. In the midst of the celebration that Avrohom was having upon his son Yitzchok being weaned, Sarah noticed something.

ותרא שרה את־בן־הגר המצרית אשר־ילדה לאברהם מצחק - “And Sara saw the son of Hagar the Miżrian, whom she had born to Avraham, mocking.”

Sarah did not like what she was “seeing”. This was Sarah seeing something on a higher level. Perhaps this was Sarah seeing the terrible consequences of leaving Yishmael alone to bother Yitzchok. Sarah could not just let this go. She told Avrohom:

גרש האמה הזאת ואת־בנה כי לא יירש בן־האמה הזאת עם־בני עם־יצחק - “Cast out this bondwoman and her son: for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, with Yiżĥaq.”

Saras was able to “see” what might happen when we leave Yishmael alone to bother Yitzchok. She wanted them out of their lives. Upon hearing this request from Sarah:

וירע הדבר מאד בעיני אברהם על אודת בנו - “And the thing was very grievous in Avraham’s eyes because of his son.”

Avrohom does not like this idea because, after all, Yishmael is still his son. In his “eyes” this is not a good idea but immediately Hashem assures Avrohom:

אל־ירע בעיניך על־הנער ועל־אמתך כל אשר תאמר אליך שרה שמע בקלה כי ביצחק יקרא לך זרע - “Let it not be grievous in thy sight because of the lad, and because of thy bondwoman; in all that Sara has said to thee, hearken to her voice; for in Yiżĥaq shall thy seed be called.”

Avrohom needed to be assured by Hashem that Sarah was right. In this case, Sarah was the one who saw clearly. With clear vision, Avrohom listened to Hashem and sent his son away.

After some time, Hashem put Avrohom to the ultimate test of faith. He is asked to bring the son that he had waited so long for, as a sacrifice on an altar of Hashem. Hashem told him to bring Yitzchok על אחד ההרים אשר אמר אליך - “upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.” Hashem did not tell Avrohom what mountain specifically to bring Yitzchok to. Avrohom then arose early in the morning and set off to do the task at hand.

ביום השלישי וישא אברהם את־עיניו וירא את־המקום מרחק - “Then on the third day Avraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off.”

How did Avrohom know what mountain to go to? Because he “saw” the mountain. In his elevated spiritual state, he was able to “see” that this was a significant mountain. The mountain of the future of his people. Har Hamoriah. The site of the future Beis Hamikdash. Even though is was רחק - “far off”, Avrohom was able to understand that this was a spiritually uplifted mountain. This was the place. 

As they are traveling to the mountain, Yitzchok, not realizing that it was him who was the intended sacrifice, asked the most heart breaking of questions: איה השה לעלה - “where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” What can a father possibly answer his son when asked a question like that? Avrohom answered in the only way he knew how to: 

אלהים יראה־לו השה לעלה - “God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering”

Only Hashem can know. Avrohom did not expect Yitzchok to understand. Only Hashem can provide that understanding as He did to Avrohom when he appeared to him in the beginning of the parsha: Only because of וירא ה אל־אברם - was Avrohom able to answer Yitzchok אלהים יראה־לו השה לעלה. With this in mind they went on their journey. Avrohom was ready to sacrifice his son. He takes out his, knife when suddenly an angel calls out and stops him! What is Avrohom to do now? He had brought his son to this point and was ready to go! 

וישא אברהם את־עיניו וירא והנה־איל אחר נאחז בסבך בקרניו - “And Avraham lifted up his eyes, and looked and behold behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns”

Hashem had provided another way of seeing the situation. Avrohom may have seen the situation but Hashem adjusted his vision to be able to “see” it a different way. In recognition of Hashem once again enabling him to “see” the right thing to do, he called the name of the place ה  יראה - because בהר ה יראה - “In the mount the Lord will appear.” 

A parsha that started off with וירא ה אל־אברם, Hashem appearing to Avrohom thereby elevating his spiritual state, ends off with Avrohom acknowledging בהר ה יראה. 

Chayei Sarah

Chayei Sarah - Sarah’s legacy

The beginning of Parshas Chayei Sarah talks about the death of Sarah, Avrohom  eulogizing her and then finding and purchasing a proper burial place for his recently deceased wife. It seems interesting that in all the talk on this parsha regarding Sarah's death that the name of the parsha be חיי שרה - “Sarah's life”. What was it about Sarah’s life that permeates the entire parsha? 

Sarah was a significant figure in the development of the Jewish nation, despite the fact that her contributions are often overshadowed by the greatness of her husband, Avrohom. Avrohom was a very generous man, almost to a fault. Sarah was the one who helped him to channel his generosity in a more responsible way. It was Sarah who helped Avrohom to focus his energies and resources on the future of the Jewish people. For example, she was the one who told Avrohom to send away his son Yishmael, whom he loved dearly, because she saw that he was not a good fit for the nation that they were trying to build. 

In this parsha we see that people did recognize Sarah for the great person that she was. As Avrohom was preparing burial arrangements the pasuk tells us: 

ועפרון ישב בתוך בני־חת ויען עפרון החתי את־אברהם באזני בני־חת לכל באי שער־עירו - “And ῾Efron dwelt among the children of Ḥet: and ῾Efron the Ḥitti answered Avraham in the hearing of the children of Ḥet, even of all that went in at the gate of his city”

Rashi brings a midrash to explain why the entire town was present: 

לכל באי שער עירו. שכלן בטלו ממלאכתן ובאו לגמל חסד לשרה - “OF ALL THAT CAME IN AT THE GATE OF HIS CITY — for they all left their work and came to pay their last respect to Sarah”

Sarah didn’t just live a life in the shadow of her great husband. She helped shape the future of a nation together with him. This is the “life of Sarah”. Even after her death, she would still live on. Her legacy would continue.

Sarah’s influence extends even further. Avrohom, of course, had been promised the land of Israel, but as of that point, that promise had yet to be fulfilled. Avrohom had been living in the Land for over sixty years but had never acquired any of it. The very first purchase of property in the Land was the burial place for Sarah. This is another way for Sarah’s legacy to “live on''. Avrohom's purchase of the Cave of Machpelah was the first time he purchased land. He bought it for Sarah, who had died and needed a place to be buried. With Sarah's burial in the Cave of Machpelah, Avrohom was finally beginning to possess the Land that God had promised to him and to the Jewish people. The Gemarah in Eruvin 53a tells us that Adam and Chavah were also buried in that cave. The burial of Sarah marks a significant change in the status of the Land. From being a land for all mankind, it becomes the homeland of the Jewish people. What greater legacy could there be than having the homeland of the Jewish people begin as a result of the amazing life that Sarah led? Indeed, in this way, Sarah's life continues on.

With Sarah now deceased, Avrohom sets out on his next life task. 

ואברהם זקן בא בימים ויהוה ברך את־אברהם בכל - “And Avraham was old, advanced in age: and the Lord had blessed Avraham in all things.”

Rashi comments: 

ברך את אברהם בכל. בכל עולה בגימטריא בן, ומאחר שהיה לו בן היה צריך להשיאו אשה - “BLESSED ABRAHAM IN ALL THINGS — The numerical value of the word בכל is equal to that of בן (a son) — suggesting that God had blessed Abraham with a son and since he had a son he had to find him a wife.”

As previously mentioned, Avrohom had another son. In fact, he would go on to have many more children. Yet here, the pasuk tells us that this son, Yitzchok, is the son that is “בכל”. This son was everything. This son, that Sarah gave birth to, and made sure was taken care of and not influenced by Avrhom’s other son, is the one that is defined as “בכל”. Sarah’s legacy would live on through her son. Avrohom would make sure of that, by finding him a wife that would be worthy of carrying on the legacy of his mother. This wife would have to be a wife that would be fit to enter the family of Avrohom and Sarah. 

Avrohom sent his servant Eliezer with instructions to find a wife for Yitzchok. 

אל־ארצי ואל־מולדתי תלך ולקחת אשה לבני ליצחק - “thou shalt go to my country, and to my kindred, and take a wife to my son Yitzchok.”

Eliezer then double checks to make sure and asks what to do if the girl would not want to go with him and Avrohom reiterates and says:

ה  אלהי השמים אשר לקחני מבית אבי ומארץ מולדתי ואשר דבר־לי ואשר נשבע־לי לאמר לזרעך אתן את־הארץ הזאת הוא ישלח מלאכו לפניך ולקחת אשה לבני משם - “The Lord God of heaven, Who took me from my father’s house, and from the land of my kindred, and Who spoke to me, and swore to me, saying, To thy seed will I give this land; He shall send His angel before thee, and thou shalt take a wife for my son from there.”

The wheels were now in motion and there was no going back. Once Avrohom had started establishing a stronghold on the Land, he could have nothing else. Remember, of course, that it was actually because of Sarah that Avrhom started establishing real ownership in the Land. It is only right then, that the wife for Sarah’s son be in that land. Sarah’s legacy would live on through this son and in this land. Yitzchok’s wife would also have to come from good roots and would have to exhibit the same characteristics of kindness that Sarah and Avrohom showed all these years. 

After being satisfied that Rivkah was worthy of marrying Yitzchok he goes to talk to Rivkah’s family and in this discussion with them, he reveals something about his conversation that he had earlier with his master Avrohom. 

ואמר אל־אדני אלי לא־תלך האשה אחרי - “And I said to my master, Perhaps the woman will not follow me.”

Rashi adds a little bit to this conversation that must have happened behind the scenes.

אלי לא תלך האשה. אלי כתיב, בת היתה לו לאליעזר, והיה מחזר למצא עלה שיאמר לו אברהם לפנות אליו להשיאו בתו, אמר לו אברהם בני ברוך ואתה ארור ואין ארור מדבק בברוך: - “PERADVENTURE THE WOMAN WILL NOT FOLLOW ME —The word אולי perhaps is written without ו so that it may be read אֵלַי unto me. Eliezer had a daughter and he was endeavouring to find some reason why Abraham should say that he must appeal to him (Eliezer) that he should give his daughter in marriage to Isaac. Abraham said to him, “My son is blessed and you are subject to a curse. One who is under a curse cannot unite with one who is blessed” ”

Eliezer wanted his own daughter to marry Yitzchok! Eliezer was obviously a trusted and reliable disciple of Avrohom, but Avrohom still could not allow Yitzchok to marry Eliezer’s daughter. This is clearly Sarah’s influence. Sarah was the one who would not allow a co-mingling of bad influence for her son when she told Avrohom to send Yishmael away. Sarah’s influence would continue here, as Avrohom would ensure her legacy not get tarnished with any potential bad outside influence for her son. 

After some discussion and negotiation between Eliezer and Rivkah’s family, Eliezer finally took Rivkah to Yitzchok. The meeting was a dramatic one as Rivkah immediately realized that the man she was to marry was quite a special one. When she saw Yitzchok, before even getting confirmation that it was him, she quickly got off her camel in a show of awe and respect.

At that point Eliezer told Yitzchok everything that had happened in his journey to find a wife for him. After hearing this from Eliezer: 

ויבאה יצחק האהלה שרה אמו ויקח את־רבקה ותהי־לו לאשה ויאהבה וינחם יצחק אחרי אמו - “And Yitzchok brought her into his mother Sara’s tent, and took Rivkah, and she became his wife; and he loved her: and Yitzchok was comforted after his mother’s death.”

 Rashi comments on the significance of entering Sarah’s tent. 

האהלה שרה אמו. ויביאה האהלה ונעשית דגמת שרה אמו, כלומר והרי היא שרה אמו, שכל זמן ששרה קימת היה נר דלוק מערב שבת לערב שבת וברכה מצויה בעסה וענן קשור על האהל, ומשמתה פסקו, וכשבאת רבקה חזרו - “INTO HIS MOTHER SARAH’S TENT — He brought her into the tent and she became exactly like his mother Sarah — that is to say, ... [And he brought her into the tent] and, behold, she was Sarah, his mother). For whilst Sarah was living, a light had been burning in the tent from one Sabbath eve to the next, there was always a blessing in the dough (a miraculous increase) and a cloud was always hanging over the tent (as a divine protection), but since her death all these had stopped. However, when Rivkah came, they reappeared” ”

Clearly Sarah had a tremendous impact on Yitzchok’s life. In this great moment of his life, of his finding a wife and carrying on the legacy of his father and mother he immediately thought of his mother. Yitzchok is comforted in the fact that Sarah’s legacy would continue through him and his new wife Rivkah. His mother’s life work - her very legacy - would carry on. Rivkah would be able to carry the torch. This is what gave Yitzchok comfort. He now knew that Sarah would indeed live on.

The final portion of the parsha talks about Avrohom giving birth to six more children after taking Keturah as a wife. After listing the children and grandchildren from this union the pasuk tells us:

ויתן אברהם את־כל־אשר־לו ליצחק - “And Avraham gave all that he had to Yitzchok.”

Even after Avrohom fathered all these children and had grandchildren from them, he remembers Sarah’s influence. He gives everything to Yitzchok. His lone child from Sarah is the only one that truly mattered in carrying on the legacy of Sarah and continuing the chain of the Jewish people. As for the rest of the children:

ולבני הפילגשים אשר לאברהם נתן אברהם מתנת וישלחם מעל יצחק בנו בעודנו חי קדמה אל־ארץ קדם- “But to the sons of the concubines, which Avraham had, Avraham gave gifts, and sent them away from his son, while he yet lived, eastward, to the east country.”

Just as Sarah had told Avrohom to do years earlier by sending Yishmael away from Yitzchok, the words must have rang in his ears all these years later, and he sent these children away from Yitzchok as well. Sarah’s influence and legacy live on.

Avrohom died at the old age of a hundred and seventy five and his sons buried him in the same burial spot that the parsha started with - the Cave of Machpelah. The burial place of Sarah. In fact the torah makes special mention to mention that, even though we already know that Sarah was buried there: 

ויקברו אתו יצחק וישמעאל בניו אל־מערת המכפלה אל־שדה עפרן בן־צחר החתי אשר על־פני ממרא - “And his sons Yitzchok and Yishma᾽el buried him in the cave of Makhpela, in the field of ῾Efron the son of Żoĥar the Ḥittite, which is before Mamre;”

השדה אשר־קנה אברהם מאת בני־חת שמה קבר אברהם ושרה אשתו - “the field which Avraham purchased of the sons of Ḥet: there was Avraham buried, and Sara his wife.”

It is notable that Yitzchok is mentioned first, even though Yishmael was the firstborn. Yitzchok, Sarah’s son, is the one that is responsible for carrying on the legacy of his parents. Note also, that even when discussing the death and burial of Avrohom, we cannot escape the influence that Sarah’s life had on Avrohom and Yitzchok. The pasuk goes out of its way to tell us, to make sure we realize, that Avrohom is being buried with Sarah. More than that, the pasuk is telling us that this field that Avrohom purchased which began the acquisition and real settlement of the Land for the Jewish people, started because of Sarah. 

Finally, in this parsha we learn of the progeny of Yishmael. After listing all of Yishmael’s children, we are informed of Yishmael’s death. The final pasuk of our parsha tells us: 

וישכנו מחוילה עד־שור אשר על־פני מצרים באכה אשורה על־פני כל־אחיו נפל - “And they dwelt from Ḥavila to Shur, that is before Miżrayim, as thou goest toward Ashshur: and he dwelt in the presence of all his brethren.”

Rashi explains the word נפל - literally meaning “fall”:

כאן הוא אומר לשון נפילה, ולהלן אומר על פני כל אחיו ישכן (בראשית ט״ז:י״ב)? עד שלא מת אברהם ישכן, משמת אברהם נפל: - “Here it says “He fell” and there (16:12) it says “In the presence of all his brethren shall he dwell''. It may be explained thus: before Abraham died it could be said “He would dwell in security: after he died, “he fell” ”

After the death of Avrohom the quality of Yishmael’s life “fell”. Sadly, Sarah’s prior concerns were well warranted. Sarah had a certain intuition to not trust Yishmael and although it may not have been evident right away, her wisdom in making sure not to trust Yishmael proved absolutely right. Sarah’s life and legacy are important for us to remember. Sarah’s life, indeed, lives on.


 Toldos - Building a foundation

The word תולדות has been translated in a variety of ways, including offspring, chronicles, generations, story, progeny, and descendants. Regardless of the translation, this parashah is concerned with establishing the foundation and identity of the Jewish people. This parsha also sheds light on the past while looking ahead to the future. The building of the foundation began prior to this week’s parsha, but it truly began to take shape in Parshas Toldos. That is תולדות, the continuation. All of the definitions mentioned earlier rolled into one. (Note: for the sake of consistency and ease of use, when quoting a verse I always use the same English translation found on This parsha is a parsha of תולדות. Generation building, if you will. The parashah begins by telling us that, from the very beginning, there is a struggle for the future of the Jewish identity. The very first Rashi in the parsha tells us: 

ואלה תולדות יצחק. יעקב ועשו האמורים בפרשה - “AND THESE ARE THE PROGENY OF ISAAC — viz, Jacob and Esau who are spoken of in this section”

These two children of Yitzchok, who had succeeded his father Abraham, are to contend to see who will perpetuate his legacy. This struggle to be the true “Tolda'' begins in utero. After the Torah tells us that Rivkah had conceived, the pasuk states, ויתרצצו הבנים בקרבה - “And the children struggled together within her.” Rivkah was pregnant with twins, and they both wanted to be the dominant one, to perpetuate the legacy of Yitzchok. Their struggle continued as they were born. Esav was born first, but Yaakov grabbed his heel as if to say, “Hold on. Where do you think you are going? I am the one who should be going first.” This was not a petty claim to the firstborn rights of inheritance; it was a claim to be the rightful heir to the family name. Yaakov will seemingly do anything to earn this right to be part of the true תולדות of Yitzchok, to be the next building block of the Jewish nation.

ויגדלו הנערים ויהי עשו איש ידע ציד איש שדה ויעקב איש תם ישב אהלים. ויאהב יצחק את־עשו כי־ציד בפיו ורבקה אהבת את־יעקב - “And the boys grew: and ῾Esav was a cunning hunter, a man of the field; and Ya῾aqov was a plain man, dwelling in tents.And Yiżĥaq loved ῾Esav, for he relished his venison: but Rivqa loved Ya῾aqov.”

Yaakov had a difficult task ahead of him. Esav was a man of the field, a man of physical strength. He was also the favorite of his father. Yaakov was a quiet and simple man, but he had the love of his mother. As we have seen with Sarah, one should never underestimate the power of a mother’s love. We will return to this in a moment. In the meantime, Yaakov would continue his seemingly lifelong pursuit of the birthright. Esav, not realizing the value of what he had, and perhaps a bit overconfident because of his father’s affection, sold his birthright to his brother. Eisav was likely not concerned. He probably presumed that the family name and tradition would continue through him. Eisav paid no heed to history. The parsha is not called Parshas Yitzchok (see Parshas Noach that begins with the words אלה תולדת נח). It is called תולדת. The parsha is a lesson in how the line of Jewish generations were built. 

The very first pasuk in the parsha hints to the idea that we have to look back in order to move forward when building a family and a nation.

 ואלה תולדת יצחק בן־אברהם אברהם הוליד את־יצחק - “And these are the generations of Yiżĥaq, Avraham’s son: Avraham begot Yiżĥaq:” 

Although one would expect that the reference is to all future descendants of Yitzchak, the verse specifically mentions that Avrohom "gave birth" to Yitzchak. The chain of events began with Avrohom.

Before the Torah continues with the account of the battle between Jacob and Esau, it reminds us that, in order to build a family and a nation, one must also look back at the family's history to see how it was built and what has worked and what has not worked.

ויהי רעב בארץ מלבד הרעב הראשון אשר היה בימי אברהם וילך יצחק אל־אבימלך מלך־פלשתים גררה - “And there was a famine in the land, beside the first famine that was in the days of Avraham. And Yiżĥaq went to Avimelekh, king of the Pelishtim to Gerar.”

Once again famine struck the land, and Yitzchok was faced with a decision as to where to go. The pasuk specifically informs us that this was a different famine than the one experienced by Avrohom. The last time there was a famine Avrohom had gone down to Egypt, and if Yitzchok were trying to learn from Avrohom he would also go down to Egypt. Rashi tells us that Yitzchok was going to go down to Egypt but:

וירא אליו ה ויאמר אל־תרד מצרימה - “And the Lord appeared to him, and said, Go not down into Miżrayim”

Rashi tells us:

שהיה דעתו לרדת מצרימה, כמו שירד אביו בימי הרעב; אמר לו: אל תרד מצרימה, שאתה עולה תמימה, ואין חוצה לארץ כדאי לך - “ Because he thought of going down to Egypt as his father had gone down in time of famine. He said to him, “Do not go down to Egypt for you are a burnt-offering without blemish and residence outside the Holy Land is not befitting you””

Hashem had to specifically tell him not to go down to Egypt. Although Yitzchok did not follow Avrohom’s path precisely, it is only because Avrohom himself had arranged it to be so. Avrohom was the one who brought Yitzchok up as an offering, which rendered Yitzchok unable to leave the Land of Israel. This is further tied to Avrohom as Hashem tells Yitzchok: 

גור בארץ הזאת ואהיה עמך ואברכך כי־לך ולזרעך אתן את־כל־הארצת האל והקמתי את־השבעה אשר נשבעתי לאברהם אביך - “sojourn in this land, and I will be with thee, and will bless thee; for to thee, and to thy seed, I will give all these countries and I will perform the oath which I swore to Avraham thy father;” 

והרביתי את־זרעך ככוכבי השמים ונתתי לזרעך את כל־הארצת האל והתברכו בזרעך כל גויי הארץ - “and I will multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven, and will give to thy seed all these countries; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed;"

עקב אשר־שמע אברהם בקלי וישמר משמרתי מצותי חקותי ותורתי - “because Avraham obeyed My voice, and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.”

Hashem twice mentioned Avrohom's name when he commanded Yitzchok not to go down and also mentioned the blessing that had originally been given to Avrohom. This too was part of Yitzchok building on Avrohom’s legacy in making his children into a great nation. Yitzchok is the תולדות of Avrohom.

Nevertheless, Yitzchok does the next closest thing and goes to another familiar name, Avimelech. Just as Avrohom had done years earlier, Yitzchok tells his wife that if anyone asks she should say that she is his sister. And just as years earlier Avimelech seems incredulous when he finds out the truth, the same thing happened here:

ויקרא אבימלך ליצחק ויאמר אך הנה אשתך הוא ואיך אמרת אחתי הוא - “And Avimelekh called Yiżĥaq, and said, Behold, surely she is thy wife: and how didst thou say, She is my sister?”

After Avimelech sent Yitzchok on his way, Yitzchok took on the tedious task of digging wells. Not just any wells, but the very wells that his father Avrohom had dug years earlier. Indeed, the Torah makes special mention of this in two separate verses. The first verse states that the Philistines had filled the wells with earth, and the second verse states that Yitzchok dug them up. In both verses, the Torah specifically mentions Avrohom.

וכל־הבארת אשר חפרו עבדי אביו בימי אברהם אביו סתמום פלשתים וימלאום עפר - “For all the wells which his father’s servants had dug in the days of Avraham his father, the Pelishtim had stopped them up, and filled them with earth.”

וישב יצחק ויחפר  את־בארת המים אשר חפרו בימי אברהם אביו ויסתמום פלשתים אחרי מות

 אברהם ויקרא להן שמות כשמת אשר־קרא להן אביו - “And Yiżĥaq dug again the wells of water, which they had dug in the days of Avraham his father; for the Pelishtim had stopped them up after the death of Avraham: and he called their names after the names by which his father had called them.”

That seems like a lot of mention of Avrohom just for a story about Yitzchok digging wells. But Yitzchok wanted to right the wrong done to his father in order to continue his task properly. 

Immediately after this, Hashem appeared to Yitzchok and invoked the name of Avrohom, as if to confirm that he did good by digging up his wells.

וירא אליו ה בלילה ההוא ויאמר אנכי אלהי אברהם אביך אל־תירא כי־אתך אנכי וברכתיך והרביתי את־זרעך בעבור אברהם עבדי - “And the Lord appeared to him the same night, and said, I am the God of Avraham thy father: fear not, for I am with thee, and will bless thee, and multiply thy seed for My servant Avraham’s sake.”

It was important for Yitzchok to carry on the legacy of Avrohom. It was important to be תולדת. Perhaps this is exactly what Hashem was telling Yitzchok here. 

At this juncture in the parsha, there appears to be a small break in the action in order to convey to us a seemingly minor side note concerning Eisav.

ויהי עשו בן־ארבעים שנה ויקח אשה את־יהודית בת־בארי החתי ואת־בשמת בת־אילן החתי - “And ῾Esav was forty years old when he took to wife Yehudit the daughter of Be᾽eri the Ḥittite, and Basemat the daughter of Elon the Ḥittite:”

Rashi comments:

כל מ' שנה היה עשו צד נשים מתחת בעליהן ומענה אותם, כשהיה בן מ' אמר אבא בן מ' שנה נשא אשה, אף אני כן: - “For the whole forty years Esau enticed women from their husbands and ill-treated them; when he reached the age of forty he said, “My father took a wife when he was forty and I shall do the same” ”

Eisav, though he may not have been the ideal child of Yitzchok and Rivkah, understood the importance of family dynamics and the significance of continuing a family tradition. Perhaps this is what Rashi is trying to tell us: Eisav also wanted to be a תולדת, a link in the chain, a part of the foundation of something special. Although Eisav may have chosen the wrong path, as the Torah tells us, ותהיין מרת רוח ליצחק ולרבקה, “and they were a grief of mind to Yiżĥaq and to Rivqa,”, by marrying at the same age his father did, he demonstrated that he understood the importance of תולדת.

Yitzchok was now growing old, and he felt it was time to pass on the torch of leadership to the next generation. He called Esau to him and said:

הנה־נא זקנתי לא ידעתי יום מותי - “Behold now, I am old, I know not the day of my death”

One may wonder why Yitzchok suddenly had this feeling. Rashi helps us to understand why specifically now Yitzhok felt this way.

אם מגיע אדם לפרק אבותיו ידאג חמש שנים לפניהן וחמש לאחר כן; ויצחק היה בן קכ"ג, אמר שמא לפרק אמי אני מגיע והיא מתה בת קכ"ז והריני בן ה' שנים סמוך לפרקה - “When a person approaches the age at which his parents died he may well be anxious five years before and five years after. Isaac was then one hundred and twenty three years old and he said, “Perhaps I shall only reach the age of my mother who died at the age of 127 and I am now within five years of her age:”

Yitzchok was so focused on being the תולדת of Avrohom and Sarah, that he just assumed he would die within five years of the age of either his mother or father. 

As he gave his instructions to Eisav, there is a watchful eye, or rather a listening ear bearing witness to these instructions:

ורבקה שמעת בדבר יצחק אל־עשו בנו - “And Rivqa heard when Yiżĥaq spoke to ῾Esav his son”

Very much like her mother in law Sarah, Rivkah realized that perhaps her husband had a soft spot for the wrong son. Just as years earlier it was because of Sarah that Yishmael got sent away and ensured that Yitzchok would be the one to continue the building of the nation, now too now it was Rivkah, who would have to make sure that the תולדת get carried on properly through Yaakov. 

Rivkah engineered the situation so that Yaakov, rather than Eisav, would receive the blessing from his father Yitzchok. Yaakov donned Eisav-like clothing and brought food to his father. Upon his arrival, Yitzchok uttered the famous phrase הקל קול יעקב והידים ידי עשו - "The voice is Ya'aqov's voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau." The chain must continue! But here Yitzchok was at a crossroads of sorts. What path is the right one to continue building the תולדת of his father? Eisav's hands, or Yaakov's voice? Ultimately, Yitzchok bestowed the blessing on Yaakov, and the תולדת continued.

Eisav did receive another blessing from his father, but he was extremely distraught to not receive the first one, the one that would establish the תולדת of Avrohom and Yitzchok. Eisav turned his attention to revenge. Much like Yishmael, who took a turn for the worse after the death of his father Avrohom, Eisav now actually planned on taking that turn himself. ויאמר עשו בלבו יקרבו ימי אבל אבי ואהרגה את־יעקב אחי - “Esav said in his heart, When the days of mourning for my father are at hand; then will I slay my brother Ya῾aqov”. Rivkah once again observed what was happening and told Yaakov to run away until Eisav could calm down. She did not want to lose her son but she expressed it in an interesting way:

למה אשכל גם־שניכם יום אחד - “why should I be bereaved of you both in one day?”

She could not bear the thought of losing both her sons in one day. Although she believed that Yaakov was the son who should carry on the Jewish tradition, she could not bear the thought of the tradition ending altogether. Thus, she would not allow both sons to die, as this would sever the chain of tradition altogether. The תולדת must be carried on, regardless of the circumstances.

Yitzchok told Yaakov to go find a wife for himself and, again building on his father’s words, told Yaakov not to take a wife from the daughters of Canaan. The very same command was given by Avrohom when he sent Eliezer to find a wife for Yitzchok. This was the proper way to continue the chain. To further establish and strengthen the תולדת. Yaakov left and found himself at the house of Lavan:

וישלח יצחק את־יעקב וילך פדנה ארם אל־לבן בן־בתואל הארמי אחי רבקה אם יעקב ועשו - “And Yiżĥaq sent away Ya῾aqov: and he went to Paddan-aram to Lavan, son of Betu᾽el the Arammian, the brother of Rivqa, mother of Ya῾aqov and ῾Esav.”

Why does the Torah emphasize that Rivkah was the mother of both Yaakov and Eisav? What lesson is there to be learned from this? Perhaps the Torah is reiterating that Rivkah knew that the chain of descent must continue. She strongly felt that Yaakov should be the one to carry on the building of the foundation, but she was still a mother to Eisav. Continuing the תולדת was of paramount importance.

The parsha ends with one final attempt by Eisav to do right in his father’s eyes. To perhaps salvage something:

וירא עשו כי רעות בנות כנען בעיני יצחק אביו - “and ῾Esav saw that the daughters of Kena῾an pleased not Yiżĥaq his father;”

Eisav knew not to marry into the daughters of Canaan. He had seen that from his father and grandfather. Unfortunately for him though, the parsha ends off by telling us:

וילך עשו אל־ישמעאל ויקח את־מחלת  בת־ישמעאל בן־אברהם אחות נביות על־נשיו לו לאשה - “then ῾Esav went and took to wife besides the wives he had, Maĥalat the daughter of Yishma᾽el Avraham’s son, the sister of Nevayot.”

Perhaps his heart was in the right place, but he did not follow the chain properly. In order to build תולדת one must look at the whole picture. The father and the mother. Eisav failed in that regard and did not look to his mother and grandmother. He only saw part of the picture. That is not a way to truly build a תולדת. 


Vayigash - Becoming close again

The term ויגש is generally translated as “and he approached,” while Onkelos renders it as וקרב, “and he came close.” The opening of the parsha marks a dramatic approach by Yehuda toward the vizier of Egypt. It signifies the beginning of the climax of the story of Yosef and his brothers. The brothers had sold Yosef into Egypt, and they had been separated from one another for more than twenty years. The Jewish people have never fared well when they were divided. We are a nation that must be united in order to have any chance of success. The parsha of ויגש is precisely that: the beginning of the reunification of the Jewish people. Yehuda was not simply approaching Yosef; he was unknowingly taking the first real step toward reuniting the brothers and thus making the Jewish people whole again. He was bringing them all closer together as they once had been.

After Yehuda’s impassioned speech, Yosef was no longer able to repress his emotions. What was it that caused Yosef to break down specifically at this moment? What did Yehuda say that made Yosef realize that now was the time to reveal his true identity? My Rebbi, Rabbi Avrohom Zucker, suggested that perhaps it was because Yehuda said כי עבדך ערב את־הנער - “For thy servant became surety for the lad.” Yehuda mentioned that he was taking full responsibility for Benyamin. This is very significant to Yosef because Yehuda was one of the children of Leah and Benjamin is the remaining child of Rachel. The fact that one of the children of Leah takes responsibility for the child of Rachel showed Yosef that the brothers were ready to come together and put aside their petty differences. This is the true meaning of ויגש - becoming close again. Yosef then continued:

ויאמר יוסף אל־אחיו גשו־נא אלי ויגשו - “Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come forward to me.” And when they came forward...”

The same root word of coming close is again used here. After seeing the willingness from Yehuda to unite, Yosef told his brothers that the crucial thing is that they remain united and close to each other. This parsha is a parsha of reunion and reunification of the Jewish people, and it begins with the brothers reuniting. Here Yosef asked the brothers to do this, and they complied.

At that point, Yosef requested that the brothers send word back to their father that he was now a ruler in Egypt and that Yaakov should come down to him. Yosef then instructed them to relay the following message:

וישבת בארץ־גשן והיית קרוב אלי אתה ובניך ובני בניך - “You will dwell in the region of Goshen, where you will be near me—you and your children and your grandchildren”

It is fascinating to note that the location that Yosef chose for his father and all of his brothers to live in, is גשן! The root of the word ויגש is “נ-ג-ש” – the very same letters as the location that the reunited brothers were all to live! Moreover, in the pasuk itself, we see that there is a clear connection to the name of the city גשן and to the idea of being close. וישבת בארץ־גשן והיית קרוב – “You will dwell in the region of Goshen, where you will be near me.” Yosef’s idea was for all of the brothers to be close – not just geographically, but in spirit. In order for the Jewish people to survive, we need to be united. Looking ahead to what was to come in their exile and enslavement in Egypt, the Jewish people would need this attitude of togetherness just to even attempt to survive.

As soon as Yosef finished giving over his message:

ויפל על־צוארי בנימן־אחיו ויבך ובנימן בכה על־צואריו. וינשק לכל־אחיו ויבך עלהם ואחרי כן דברו אחיו אתו - “And he fell on his brother Binyamin’s neck, and wept; and Binyamin wept on his neck. And he kissed all his brethren, and wept on them: and after that his brethren talked with him.”

Yosef first reunited with his only full brother and then kissed all his half-brothers. The reunion and reunification of the twelve sons of Yaakov was now complete. They would now be able to move forward. They first reunited and then they were able to talk. The Torah does not tell us what exactly they talked about, but we can safely assume that only once there was a reunification was there room to begin talking and mending and moving forward. (Interestingly, when Pharaoh spoke about the brothers coming down to Egypt, he said ואתנה לכם את-טוב ארץ מצרים ואכלו את-חלב הארץ - “I will give you the good of the land of Egypt, and you shall eat the fat of the land.”, he did not mention the word Goshen, but rather just said Egypt. It is Yosef who realized the importance of being united, not Pharaoh.)

As Yosef sent his brothers on their way he had one last message for them: אל־תרגזו בדרך - “ See that you do not fall out by the way”. Don't argue. The brothers were finally reunited. Yosef was concerned that his brothers might argue with one another on their journey home. The last thing Yosef wanted was for there to be an argument. Yosef simply wanted to move on with all of his brothers together as one. No arguments. 

Upon their arrival at Yaakov’s abode, the brothers informed him that Yosef was alive. Yaakov was naturally uplifted: ותחי רוח יעקב אביהם - “the spirit of Ya῾aqov their father revived”. This was Yaakov’s destiny. Of all the Avos, he was the only one whose children were united. Aside from being lifted of the obvious excruciating pain of losing a child, perhaps Yaakov was also revitalized by the thought that he was fulfilling his duty in life by having all of his children united and serving Hashem.

After hearing the amazing news that Yosef was alive and that the brothers had all been reunited, Yaakov brought a sacrifice to Hashem who told him not to be afraid to go down to Egypt. Perhaps Hashem was telling him that when the Jewish people are together, they have nothing to be afraid of. With that message from Hashem in mind, the Torah lists Yaakov and each one of his sons and descendants that headed down together to Egypt to join Yosef and his family.

The very first thing that Yaakov tasks Yehuda with is setting up an institution to study Torah:

ואת־יהודה שלח לפניו אל־יוסף להורת לפניו גשנה ויבאו ארצה גשן - “And he sent Yehuda before him to Yosef, to show the way before him to Goshen; and they came into the land of Goshen.”

Rashi quoting a Midrash comments:

ומדרש אגדה להורות לפניו – לתקן לו בית תלמוד שמשם תצא הוראה: - “A Midrashic comment is: להורת לפניו (in the sense of, “that there might be teaching before him”) — to establish for him a House of Study from which Teaching (הוראה or תורה) might go forth”

It is noteworthy that it is Yehuda, the very same Yehuda that started the reunification of the brothers by approaching Yosef all the way back in the first verse of the parsha, who is given this task. It should not be surprising that the verse specifically tells us that it is in גשן - with its connotation of togetherness - that Yehuda is tasked with setting up a place for study and teaching. Torah is always best taught with a full heart and a sense of unity and inclusion. Teaching Torah by pushing people away has never been a praiseworthy thing. (This topic is vast and is beyond the scope of this particular essay) Teaching Torah and rendering important Torah decisions is ideally done with a mentality of inclusion. The brothers were all quite different from each other (as evidenced by the vastly different blessings Yaakov gave them before he died) but the Torah doesn't care how different a person is. The Torah cares that they are בני ישראל. Not just in the literal sense in this case, but also in the sense that we are all בני ישראל. We are all different but we should all be together. That is the ideal. Different but treated equally. That is when the Torah truly shines. That is why it was at that time specifically that Yaakov wanted an institution of Torah study set up.

With Yaakov being witness to the brothers all being together, he weeps and declares אמותה הפעם - “Now let me die”. In today’s vernacular he may have said “Now I can die in peace” This was Yaakov’s destiny. Seeing all of his children together and following in Hashem’s way. As a Jewish parent, that is all most of us really want. Yaakov is the example that we look to. Yaakov is described in the Midrash of Shir Hashirim as מטתו שלמה - Having a complete bed. 

After Yosef informed Pharaoh of the brothers' intention to live in Egypt, Yosef instructed them in the proper protocol and etiquette to follow in their communications with Pharaoh. When Pharaoh asked the brothers about their occupation and reason for coming to Egypt, the brothers replied with a single statement:

לגור בארץ באנו כי־אין מרעה לצאן אשר לעבדיך כי־כבד הרעב בארץ כנען ועתה ישבו־נא עבדיך בארץ גשן - “They said moreover to Par῾o, To sojourn in the land are we come; for thy servants have no pasture for their flocks; for the famine is severe in the land of Kena῾an: now therefore, we pray thee, let thy servants dwell in the land of Goshen.”

They simply wanted to live together in the land of גשן. The place whose very name would remind them to be together and united. Pharaoh agreed to allow them to settle in this land.

The parsha ends by telling us:

וישב ישראל בארץ מצרים בארץ גשן ויאחזו בה ויפרו וירבו מאד - “And Yisra᾽el dwelt in the land of Miżrayim in the country of Goshen; and they took possession of it, and grew, and multiplied exceedingly.”

The Jewish people - united together as one - settle in the land of גשן. Now that they are united and together and finally settled, they were able to grow and multiply as the nation that they were destined to be. 


Vayichi - Life Lessons

Sefer Bereishis fittingly ends with a parsha titled ויחי literally translated as “and he lived”. Just as Parshas Chayei Sarah is the parsha that Sarah died in and yet the title is one that conveys life, so too in this parsha. Parshas ויחי is the parsha that Yaakov died in, but the title is a title of life. It is fitting that the title be one of Yaakov living as the Gemarah in Taanis 5b tells us that יעקב אבינו לא מת - “Our patriarch Jacob did not die”. The Gemarah goes on to explain that מה זרעו בחיים — אף הוא בחיים - “Just as his seed is alive (when redeemed), so too, Jacob himself is alive”. Perhaps we can understand this Gemarah through the lens of our parsha and its name.

The parsha begins by stating that Yaakov was one hundred and forty-seven years old, and as he was approaching death, he called his son Yosef to give him some final instructions. After Yaakov fell ill, Yosef brought his two sons, Ephraim and Menashe, to their grandfather Yaakov. We have seen blessings bestowed in the Torah before, the most obvious being the blessings that Yaakov himself received from his father Yitzchok. However, the blessings that Yaakov would bestow in this parsha are different. Whereas the blessing that Yaakov received was one of material wealth and promises of what would happen in the future, the blessings that Yaakov bestows in this parsha seem less like blessings (in fact, some of them do not seem like blessings at all) and more like life lessons. ויחי יעקב - Yaakov desired to impart life lessons and instruct the coming generation on how to truly live, how to carry on the torch that Avraham and Yitzchak had passed to him. Yaakov was unique among the forefathers in that he merited to have מטתו שלמה - a complete bed, i.e., all his children were to follow Hashem's holy ways. In this parsha Yaakov gives his advice on the best way for each of them to achieve that life.

Before Yaakov blesses his own children, he addresses Yosef’s two sons Ephraim and Menashe. Yaakov is the first of the forefathers we see interacting with his own grandchildren. This is significant, for It signals Yaakov’s interest in keeping the chain of tradition alive. Yaakov’s death did not occur before he was able to make this vital connection. He needed to ensure that the tradition was kept alive in a multi-generational way. As the verse in Kohelet 4:12 tells us החוט המשלש לא במהרה ינתק - “a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” Yaakov is all about keeping the tradition alive.  ויחי יעקב. In fact, the blessings given to the two grandsons are blessings that are still recited today! The first blessing in this parsha is actually given to Yosef while Yaakov’s hands are on the heads of Ephraim and Menashe. The blessing of המלאך הגאל אתי , which was given at that time, is a blessing that we recite every night before we go to sleep. The blessing had a lasting effect on the Jewish nation, which was Yaakov’s intention. The second blessing given was a blessing that fathers traditionally bless their children with. ישמך אלהים כאפרים וכמנשה - “God make thee as Efrayim and as Menashshe”. To this day, when we bless our sons, our prayer is that the blessing will endure. It is a blessing that reminds us that the chain was continued, that the torch was passed from Yaakov to his children and grandchildren, and that we must live our lives in the same manner as Yaakov lived his. This blessing reminds us that just as the tradition was passed from Jacob to his children and grandchildren, so too, it is our greatest wish that we will do the same. We must make Yaakov proud by living our lives in the same manner. From father to son and on through the generations. This is our greatest hope. That we take Yaakov’s life and all the lessons that he passed on and carry it through to our own children. In that way יעקב אבינו לא מת - Yaakov will never die. He will continue to live. ויחי יעקב 

ויקרא יעקב אל־בניו ויאמר האספו ואגידה לכם את אשר־יקרא אתכם באחרית הימים - “And Ya῾aqov called to his sons, and said, Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you that which shall befall you in the last days.”

Before Yaakov blesses his children he calls them to tell “what will befall them in the last days”. Rashi comments based on a midrash:

ואגידה לכם. בקש לגלות את הקץ ונסתלקה ממנו שכינה והתחיל אומר דברים אחרים - “THAT I MAY TELL YOU — He wished to reveal to them the end of Israel’s exile but the Shechinah departed from him and he began to speak of other things ”

It is possible to offer an alternative interpretation of this verse. Perhaps what Yaakov told his children here is what will actually happen in the end. Perhaps Yaakov was simply instructing them on how they should live their lives from this point onward until the end of time. It is noteworthy that the blessing of each child is different from the other. This, of course, is part of Jewish life. We are all different, but we are all part of Yaakov’s children. We are all part of Yaakov’s complete bed. We are all responsible for ensuring that Yaakov lives on in our own way.

While the scope of this essay does not allow for a detailed examination of the blessings of Yaakov, I would like to present each blessing with a small lesson that we can learn either on a personal or national level. The blessings of Yaakov have been written about extensively by many great minds. The following is merely a cursory observation of each blessing.


ראובן בכרי אתה - “Reuben, you are my first-born”. Reuvein was the first born and as Rashi points out ראוי היית להיות יתר על אחיך - “Since you were the first-born it was proper that you should be superior to your brothers”. Reuvein , by virtue of his birth order, could have been the one to obtain the priesthood, but greatness cannot be inherited. It is not something that one is born into. In truth, we already know this from Yaakov and Yitzchak , who were both not firstborn children. Although modern studies have shown that firstborn children have naturally more leadership abilities, the lesson here is that this is not necessarily true. It is something that must be obtained through patience and hard work. As Rashi points out: פחז כמים. הפחז והבהלה אשר מהרת להראות כעסך כמים הללו הממהרים למרוצתם, לכך - “The impetuosity and the precipitance with which you so hastily showed your wrath, just like water that rushes headlong in its course — therefore

אל תותר. אל תרבה לטל כל היתרות הללו שהיו ראויות לך - “you will not receive all these many prerogatives that were proper to you”. 

Life lesson: Greatness is not something that one inherits. It must be obtained through patience and hard work.

שמעון ולוי

שמעון ולוי אחים כלי חמס מכרתיהם - “Simeon and Levi are a pair;Their weapons are tools of lawlessness.” Rashi points out that אמנות זו של רציחה, חמס הוא בידיהם – מברכת עשו היא זו, אמנות שלו היא – ואתם חמסתם אותה הימנו: - “This business of murdering is חמס, not rightly theirs; it is part of the blessing conferred upon Esau; it is his business and you have usurped (חמסתם) it from him” We are not a people who thirst for blood. We cherish life, not death.  ובחרת בחיים - “Choose life”. This is who we are. While there may be exceptions, as a general rule, we choose life, not death and destruction, in how we live our lives. Yaakov would be aware of this more than most, as his father had told him years earlier, הקל קול יעקב והידים ידי עשו - “The voice is the voice of Jacob, yet the hands are the hands of Esau”

Life lesson: Be a nation that loves life, not death


One of the more lengthy and complex blessings is that given to Yehuda. On a simple level, Yaakov is passing on the role of leadership to Yehuda. יהודה אתה יודוך אחיך ידך בערף איביך ישתחוו לך בני אביך - “You, O Judah, your brothers shall praise; Your hand shall be on the nape of your foes; Your father’s sons shall bow low to you”. This pasuk provides significant information about the qualities of a leader. A leader is someone who is looked up to and praised by others. (אתה יודוך אחי). A leader also has to be strong (ידך בערף איביך). A leader has to be respected. (ישתחוו לך בני אביך). Indeed, the tribe of Yehuda would produce many great leaders throughout the generations, from Nachshon ben Aminadav and all the way through Mashiach ben David. Here Yaakov lays out what will be required of them.

Life lesson: A true leader must be looked up to, respected and strong.

זבולן ויששכר

זבולן לחוף ימים ישכן - “Zebulun shall dwell by the seashore” Rashi comments: שאניות מביאות שם פרקמטיא, שהיה זבולן עוסק בפרקמטיא וממציא מזון לשבט יששכר, והם עוסקים בתורה. הוא שאמר משה שמח זבולן בצאתך ויששכר באהליך (דברים ל"ג), זבולן יוצא בפרקמטיא, ויששכר עוסק בתורה באהלים - “For Zebulun was engaged in business and provided food for the tribe of Issachar whilst these engaged in the study of the Torah. It is to this that Moses alludes, (Deuteronomy 33:18) “Rejoice Zebulun in thy going out. and Issachar in thy tents”, — Zebulun goes forth to trade and Issachar studies the Torah in the tents ”. Balance is essential in life, as is practicality. Yaakov is telling us that in order to live life we must have an infrastructure conducive to business. There must be a way for people to work and earn money. Once that infrastructure of זבולן is in place, then Yissachar can go about in his holy service of serving Hashem through the study of His Holy Torah. As Yaakov tells Yissachar וירא מנחה כי טוב ואת־הארץ כי נעמה ויט שכמו לסבל - “When he saw how good was security, And how pleasant was the country, He bent his shoulder to the burden” Rashi comments: ראה לחלקו ארץ מברכת וטובה להוציא פרות - “He chose (ראה) as his portion a land that was blessed and well-fitted to produce fruits ”. Then he was able to: ויט שכמו לסבול על תורה - “AND HE INCLINED THE SHOULDER TO RECEIVE THE BURDEN namely the burden of tracking the Torah.” Perhaps these blessings not only apply on a national level but on an individual level as well. We must all be practical. We must provide sustenance for ourselves and our families before we can have the proper mindset to study Torah.

Life lesson: Balance is essential. We must be able to both make a living and learn Torah.


דן ידין עמו - “Dan shall govern his people”. On a rudimentary level, Yaakov is conveying the significance of establishing a system of justice in a society. Individuals must be held responsible for their actions, and individuals must have a place to seek justice. This is a fundamental element of any thriving society. Of course, judges can mete out judgment as they see fit but they must always remember לישועתך קויתי ה - “I wait for Your deliverance, O ה”. Hashem is the true judge and we will all eventually face His judgment.

Life lesson: While we must remember that Hashem is the Ultimate Judge, a court system of fair judgment is essential to have in a society. 


גד גדוד יגודנו - “Gad shall be raided by raiders”. Other translations have the meaning as “A troop will come out from Gad”. The word גדוד is still used in modern Hebrew to mean battalion or regiment. We mentioned earlier that we are not a blood thirsty nation but we are a nation that knows we must arm ourselves and be ready. Yaakov is telling us that we must be a nation that is capable of defending ourselves and fighting for ourselves.  

Life lesson: In order to be a sovereign nation we must be prepared to arm ourselves and defend ourselves.


מאשר שמנה לחמו - “Out of Asher his bread shall be fat”. It is of interest to note that the resource Asher was blessed with was specifically olive oil. Olive oil was used in foods and was a rich and flavorful oil, so being able to produce this oil would seemingly bring them wealth. However, there is more to olive oil than simply providing good food and sustenance. Olive oil was also used for many religious rituals and in sacred anointments. Perhaps this blessing of Yaakov was a way of telling us that it is important to have balance in life. We must have sustenance, but we must also live a religious lifestyle.

Life lesson: Do not let wealth distract us from carrying out our religious duties. 


נפתלי אילה שלחה הנתן אמרי־שפר - “Naphtali is a hind let loose, Which yields lovely fawns.”

Targum Onkelos translates the verse as follows: נפתלי בארע טבא יתרמי עדביה ואחסנתיה תהי מעבדא פירין - “The lot of Naftali will fall on a good land. His inheritance will yield fruit,”  יהון מודן ומברכין עליהון - “they will give thanks and blessings over them”. One of the fundamental principles of our faith is the giving of thanks and blessings for the good things that happen to us. Here, Yaakov makes clear that this must be a part of our everyday life.

Life lesson: Always remember to be grateful for the good in our lives.


The blessing bestowed upon Yosef is a complex and multifaceted one, the full meaning of which is difficult to decipher. However, on a basic level, I believe we can learn a very valuable lesson from it: do not allow outside influences to deter you from becoming great.  וימררהו ורבו וישטמהו בעלי חצים - “the archers fiercely attacked him, and shot at him, and hated him”. Rashi explains: וימררוהו אחיו, וימררוהו פוטיפר ואשתו, לאסרו; - “His brothers dealt bitterly with him; Potiphar and his wife dealt bitterly with him, putting him into the dungeon. ”Yosef faced many external challenges from people who did not want him to develop or succeed. From his youth, when his brothers sold him into slavery, through his young adulthood, and in his encounter with Potiphar and his wife, Yosef faced consistent challenges from people who sought to undermine him. In the end, however, Yosef rose to the top. ותשב באיתן קשתו ויפזו זרעי ידיו מידי אביר יעקב - “but his bow abode in strength, and the arms of his hands were made supple by the hands of the mighty God of Ya῾aqov”. By the strength of Yaakov and his adherence to Hashem’s ways, Yosef emerged strengthened.

Life lesson: Don’t let other people stand in your way of becoming great.


בנימין זאב יטרף בבקר יאכל עד ולערב יחלק שלל - “Binyamin is a ravenous wolf: in the morning he shall devour the prey, and at night he shall divide the spoil.” Rashi explains the words בבקר יאכל עד as  על שאול הוא אומר שעמד בתחלת פריחתן וזריחתן של ישראל - “with reference to Saul who rose as Israel’s champion in the period when Israel began to flourish and shine” and לערב יחלק שלל as -  אף משתשקע שמשן של ישראל על ידי נבוכדנצר, שיגלם לבבל, יחלק שלל, מרדכי ואסתר שהם מבנימין יחלקו את שלל המן - “even after the sun of Israel will have set through Nebuchadnezzar who will exile them to Babel, יחלק שלל HE WILL DIVIDE THE SPOIL, viz., Mordecai and Esther who will be of the tribe of Benjamin will divide the spoil of Haman”. Perhaps the lesson here is that while sometimes life is good, we should also strive to find the good in every situation, even when things are not going well. Even after being exiled, there can still be some good, and that is okay. We sometimes have a hard time finding the good, or feel guilty for acknowledging the good, when things are going badly. Perhaps Yaakov is telling us that it is acceptable to look for the silver lining.

Life lesson: It’s ok to look for the silver lining, even in dark times.

The greatest lesson of all may come from the verse following the conclusion of the blessings of the brothers.

וזאת אשר־דבר להם אביהם ויברך אותם איש אשר כברכתו ברך אתם - “this is that which their father spoke to them, and blessed them; every one according to his blessing he blessed them.”


Each child is unique, and every child requires their own "blessing," or path in life. Every person needs to feel as if they are receiving exactly what they require from their parents. Yaakov gave each of his children the life lessons they would need as individuals in order for them to reach their full potential and, in turn, elevate everyone around them. In this manner, Yaakov was instructing his children to strive to be the best they could be and to accept that everyone else around them is also striving to be the best they can be. Each person has their own unique talents. The key is to take these life lessons and the lessons that others have learned on their own journeys and live together as a nation that is as great as it can be.