on Sunday, 26 June 2011. Posted in Breishit

The names of Yosef’s two sons.


Menasheh received his name because, “God has caused me to forget (NaSHaNi) all my hardships and all that was in my father’s house” (41:51). This expressed how Yosef was pained by the fact that he found himself in a place which made him forget his father’s house. Efrayim was named, because “God has made me fruitful (hiFRani) in the land of my subjugation” (ibid. 52), expressing how Yosef had succeeded in Egypt.

Menasheh and Efrayim thus represent the two different reactions that a Jew has to being in exile. On the one hand he longs to leave the exile and return to “his father’s house.” But, on the other hand, since he finds himself—by Divine Providence—in exile, he realizes that there is a mission to be carried out there and he toils to succeed.

Menasheh was the firstborn because first of all a Jew needs to feel “out of place” in exile, to ensure that he does not assimilate. But the primary purpose of being in exile is to succeed in Divine service there—which is why Ya’akov wished to bless Efrayim first.

(Based on Likutei Sichos vol. 15, pp. 432-4)


on Sunday, 26 June 2011. Posted in Breishit

Yosef does not seek revenge against his brothers.

We can learn from the example of Yosef towards his brothers that one should never seek revenge against a person who causes him any form of distress or damage. Rather, one should repay even a guilty offender with kindness (Tanya ch. 12).

Why should we be kind to guilty offenders?

Because whatever that person did to you ultimately stems from God. The person was merely an agent from God, Who decreed that this thing should occur to you. Thus, since “everything that God does is for the good” (Brachos 60b), you must repay the person—who brought this “good” to you—with kindness.

(Based on Likutei Sichos vol. 5, p. 247)


on Sunday, 26 June 2011. Posted in Breishit

Ya’akov’s comment to his sons.


Why did Ya’akov say, “Now you lack nothing but prayer,” after the brothers had prepared gifts and money? Surely the correct approach would be to pray first to God for success, and then seek a natural means by which God might send salvation? (see 32:9, above)

However, it could be argued that this, precisely, was Ya’akov’s complaint to his sons. Yehudah had suggested that returning Shimon was an entirely straightforward matter that could not possibly go wrong: “For if we had not delayed (due to your hesitation), we would have already returned by now twice in this (time, and you would not have been troubled all these days by Shimon’s absence)” (43:10). Therefore, Ya’akov warned his sons, “Even if it is true, as you say, that there is no danger here, you still need to pray to God. Don’t just pray to God when you feel it is an emergency. You need His help for a natural plan to succeed too.”

From this we can learn that a person should not only turn to God when he feels he is lacking something. He should also ask God for things which he perceives will inevitably come his way. For, in truth, God is the only provider, whether the blessing comes naturally or supernaturally.

(Based on Sichas Shabbos Parshas Mikeitz 5745)


on Sunday, 26 June 2011. Posted in Breishit

Yosef interprets the dreams of the chief butler and chief baker.


The natural reaction for Yosef, after being wrongly imprisoned, would be utter contempt for Egypt and its government. Thus, when Yosef was joined by the chief butler and chief baker—two of Pharaoh’s high-ranking ministers—it would only have been natural for Yosef to shun them and hate them.

Yosef, however, did the very opposite. Not only did he bear no grudge against Pharaoh’s ministers, who were key members of the corrupt regime that had wrongfully imprisoned him, but he took an active interest in their welfare. In fact, he was even sensitive enough to notice that they had been troubled by their dreams, inquiring, “Why do your faces (look) so down today?” (v. 7).

In hindsight we see that from this single act of kindness Yosef was eventually saved, leading him to save the entire Egyptian people from starvation!

This teaches us: a.) How important it is to be caring about other people. And, b.) Never to underestimate the power of one single good deed. Yosef’s sensitivity to another’s distress, a person whom he had every right to despise, led to the salvation of Egypt.

(Based on Sichas Shabbos Parshas Mikeitz 5734)


on Sunday, 26 June 2011. Posted in Breishit

Ya’akov’s fight with the angel.


According to Ramban, Ya’akov’s fight with the guardian angel of Eisav alludes to the suffering of the Jewish people during the times of Exile.

The fact that Ya’akov was later healed completely (see below 33:18 and Rashi ibid.) indicates that when the exile finally ends there will be no remnant whatsoever of Jewish suffering. In other words, the key emphasis here in Ya’akov’s battle with the angel is not the injury that Ya’akov suffered, but rather, the fact that it was only a temporary injury.

Thus, when we observe the prohibition against eating the sciatic nerve (gid hanashe), our emphasis too should be a positive one. Namely, that rather than focusing on Ya’akov’s injury to the sciatic nerve, we should stress the fact that later he was totally healed, representing the ability of the Jew to withstand all the tribulations of exile and emerge unblemished.

(Based on Likutei Sichos vol. 25, p. 174; Sefer Hasichos 5751, p. 263)


on Sunday, 26 June 2011. Posted in Breishit

Ya’akov’s flocks of sheep.

The Midrash describes the Jewish people as God’s “sheep” (Shir Hashirim Rabah 2:16), as an expression of their total dedication to God, like sheep that follow their shepherd unquestioningly.

Ya’akov exemplified this level of dedication while he worked for Lavan, remaining loyal to God’s commands despite the spiritually alien environment. Thus, to hint to Ya’akov’s dedication, God rewarded him with wealth that came about through amassing sheep.

However, when Ya’akov returned to confront Eisav, he did not stress sheep as his most important acquisition, but rather, oxen (32:6). Ya’akov was hinting, “Because I am dedicated to God like a quiet sheep, therefore I have God’s might behind me, so I will be as strong as an ox against you!”

This teaches us that, in our observance of mitzvos we should be utterly humble towards God like a sheep; but when fighting the forces that oppose Judaism in the outside world, we cannot stand by sheepishly and watch Jews be drawn away from their heritage. Rather, we must fight for Jewish values with the strength of an ox.

(Based on Likutei Sichos vol. 15, p. 252ff.)


on Sunday, 26 June 2011. Posted in Breishit

The three wells dug by Yitzchak.


According to Ramban, the three wells dug by Yitzchak allude to the three Holy Temples. The analogy of digging a well precisely describes the process of building the Temple: First there is a phase of intense physical effort to dig the well, followed by the actual filling of the well with water which does not require any direct effort, it simply floods in. Similarly, the building of the Temple requires tremen­dous human effort, but the indwelling of the Shechinah (Divine Presence)—which is the very purpose of building the Temple—is an effortless consequence of the Temple’s construction

This analogy appears to break down, however, in the case of the Third Temple which, according to the Zohar (III 221a), will be built by God, and not by man. It seems at first glance that Ramban’s analogy for the Third temple of digging a well is inappropriate.

However, even according to the Zohar, the Third Temple is built through human effort too. Not through the physical effort of working with stones and mortar, but rather, by the dedicated acts of supra-rational mitzvah observance by Jewish people, in defiance of the challenges of exile. The cumulative effects of these acts are thus described by the Zohar as a “building made by God,” though in fact, it is a building made by human mitzvah acts that are totally dedicated to God.

Thus, the building process of the Third Temple consists of mitzvos perform­ ed out of simple obedience to God. Therefore, they are eternal.  

(Based on Likutei Sichos vol. 30, p.116ff.)


on Sunday, 26 June 2011. Posted in Breishit

“Abraham approached God” (18:23)


Since Avraham excelled in the attribute of kindness, it is somewhat surprising to find that he “spoke harshly” with God, arguing aggressively for the salvation of Sodom (Rashi v.23).

This teaches us that, when faced with the task of saving another’s life, a person may be required to overcome his natural disposition and personality, and take radical action. Thus Avraham, whose nature was to be only kind and polite, managed to gather the courage (“he entered himself”) to act in a manner of harshness and severity, in an attempt to save lives.

This also applies to the spiritual life of our fellow Jew. If one sees another Jew “drowning” spiritually, due to a lack of Jewish education, one should make every effort to help him—even if this entails an act which is out of character with one’s personality.

(Based on Likutei Sichos vol. 10, pp. 58-59)

Lech Lecha

on Sunday, 26 June 2011. Posted in Breishit

Avraham’s first two tests.


The Mishnah states that Avraham was tried by ten tests (Avos 5:3). First, Nimrod sought to kill him because of his belief in the One God, which forced Avraham into hiding for 13 years. Secondly, on refusing to bow down to an idol, Avraham was thrown into the fire by Nimrod, only to be saved by a miracle.

Why is there no mention of these two tests in the written Torah? Surely, they were truly remarkable acts of courage?

A person’s connection to God can be based on either ration­alization or revelation. If a person’s worship is essentially rat­ ional, it is bound by human limitations. A person who serves God based on Divine revelation enjoys an unlimited form of worship, since the parameters are determined by God, who is unlimited. For this reason, Judaism is based on the latter approach.

Consequently, Avraham’s first two tests were omitted from the written Torah—the most fundamental text of Judaism—since they preceded God’s first revelation to Avraham, the system on which Judaism is primarily based.

(Based on Likutei Sichos vol. 25, p. 47ff.)


on Sunday, 26 June 2011. Posted in Breishit

“They did not see their father’s nakedness” (9:23)


When a person sees another stumble in an inappropriate act, there are two possible reactions: a) one is disgusted by the act, or b)one thinks what can be done to help the person.

Cham took the former approach, “he looked at his father’s nakedness” (v. 22) i.e. he focused on the inappropriateness of the situation. Sheim and Yafes, on the other hand, “did not see their father’s nakedness,” i.e. they did not become disgusted at what had occurred. They simply took action to correct the situation.

What leads people to react in these two different ways? The Ba’al Shem Tov taught that a person who is himself unclean sees and is frustrated by the uncleanliness of others. A pure person sees only that his fellow is in need of help.

(Based on Likutei Sichos vol. 10, p. 24ff.)


on Sunday, 26 June 2011. Posted in Breishit

God’s completion of His work.

Why did God deem it necessary to continue working all the way up to Shabbos, and even to extend His work by a hairs­breadth into Shabbos? What was gained by this feat of precision?

God was teaching a lesson to mankind about the preciousness of time. So long as a person has the opportunity to carry out his Divinely ordained mission in this world, he should utilize every moment in order to realize its fullest potential, pushing every allocation of time to its utmost limits.

Alternatively: a person might bemoan the fact that we are living in such a spiritually desensitized generation. Gone are the days of the prophets and Talmudic sages, when the Jewish people served God with the utmost fervor! What could our lowly generation possibly achieve beyond the accomplishments of our ancestors?

The answer to this question can be derived from God’s conduct when creating the world. Just like we see that every moment was precious to God, to the extent that he continued working to the very last opportunity—likewise the final work of the very last generations is of paramount importance.

(Likutei Sichos vol. 5, p. 24ff.)