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Haftarah: Shemuel I 20:18-42

DECEMBER 2-3, 2016 3 KISLEV 5777

Begin saying Barech Alenu on Sunday night, December 4 in Arbit.


"And Hashem said to her, 'Two nations are in your womb.'" (Beresheet 25:23)

Ribkah, who was pregnant, was suffering great pain, so she went to inquire of Hashem to find out why she was suffering so much. She was told that she is carrying twins who are very different. The Torah describes them as "two nations." However, Rashi, taking note of the unusual spelling, explains that the Torah is hinting to two great ones that will come from her in the distant future. They are Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi, who will come from Ya'akob, and the Roman Caesar Antoninus, who will come from Esav. There is an amazing story in the Midrash (Tosafot Abodah Zarah 10b) that reveals how these two great men became connected and accomplished great things together.

Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi (a descendant of King David) was born during a time when the Romans decreed that anyone who circumcises his son will immediately be put to death. Rabbi Yehudah (also known as Rebi) was born to the great Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel. Rabbi Shimon secretly circumcised his son Rebi. The Roman ruler found out and reported him to the Caesar. Rabbi Shimon was immediately summoned to come before the Caesar with his wife and the baby. When they arrived at the palace and were waiting in the vestibule to be summoned, the queen happened to see them. The queen, the Caesar's wife, know the wife of Rabbi Shimon, and asked her why she was there at the palace. The wife of Rabbi Shimon told her of the decree and her husband violated the decree and they were facing the death penalty.

Then the queen did an amazing thing. She brought the Rabbi's wife into her room. She told her that she gave birth ten days ago, to a baby boy. She told her to switch her circumcised baby for her own uncircumcised baby and show the Caesar that the charges are untrue. The Rabbi's wife agreed and temporarily switched the babies. It so happened that while they were waiting to see the Caesar, the baby started to cry, so the Rabbi's wife nursed him to quiet him down. When Rabbi Shimon met with the Caesar, he denied the charge and showed him the baby. The Caesar accepted the answer and executed the one who reported Rabbi Shimon, and allowed Rabbi Shimon to leave in peace.

Rabbi Shimon's wife returned to the queen and switched back the babies and thanked her. The queen's baby was Antoninus, and because he nursed from Rabbi Shimon's wife he was infused with a tremendous dose of holiness. As a result, Antoninus became a ger through Rebi and Rebi began teaching him Torah secretly. They became beloved companions all their lives. As a result of this friendship Rebi was empowered to compose the Mishnah. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Reuven Semah

"And Yitzhak was extremely frightened" (Beresheet 27:33)

When Yitzhak realized that he gave the blessings to Ya'akob, instead of to Esav, he grew extremely frightened. He realized that his whole life he was under the impression that Esav needs the blessings and not Ya'akob, and all of a sudden he sees that he is grossly mistaken. Through Divine Providence, it was shown to him that Ya'akob should get the blessings. The Midrash says that Yitzhak was more frightened when he discovered who took the blessings than when he was lying on the altar, ready to be slaughtered! Can we imagine a person ready to die, waiting for the blade to fall, and yet this is more terrifying? The answer is that when a person lives his life one way and then realizes his whole life he was mistaken, that is a terrible shock, as great if not greater than facing death. To realize that his whole approach was not correct is a difficult test!

We can understand why many people who are faced with this realization don't want to admit their mistakes. They would rather justify their previous behavior rather than confront the truth. We must ask ourselves if we are not guilty of this same human nature. Be it our misvah observance or our character development, or our total attitude towards life, are we avoiding change because we can't admit our past mistakes? We come from Yitzhak, who, although he was terrified by this prospect, nevertheless admitted that Ya'akob needed the blessings and he, Yitzhak, had not been correct in his perception. We also have this inner strength inside of our spiritual genes!

Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Shmuel Choueka


The mourners' mood was somber as they quietly exited the funeral chapel. The eulogies had been heart-wrenching testimonials to a community-active individual who exemplified so many of the qualities religious leaders advocate from their pulpits.

"I wish people would feel that way about me," thought David, as he solemnly stepped out into the bustling city street. "I wish I could accomplish even half of what the deceased did."

David's feelings were not unique. Many in the crowd felt similar envy, whether acknowledged privately or shared with others.

One purpose of eulogizing the deceased is to ignite sparks of positive motivation in the listeners - to prompt them to emulate the good qualities of the departed. Our Sages teach: "Kinat sofrim tarbeh chochmah - Jealousy directed toward people who study generates an increase in wisdom" (Baba Batra 21a). This is a "kosher" form of envy.

"Tov shem mishemen tov - better is a good name than fine oil" (Kohelet 7:1). The Midrash Kohelet explains: "Good oil decreases in value, while a good name gets better and better. The finest oil eventually runs out, but a fine reputation lasts for eternity. High-quality oil is expensive, while a good name can be acquired for free. The best oil can only be enjoyed by the living, while a fine name benefits the living and the dead. Premium oil can only be purchased by the rich; a good name can be acquired by anyone."

In order for kosher jealousy to work for you and to produce change in your character - in order for envy to benefit your personal growth and achievement and get you to do more misvot and acts of kindness - you must first realize that it is not a talented speaker who will independently compose your eulogy (after 120 be'ezrat Hashem). You will supply the writer of your eulogy with biographical details by living your life in an exemplary fashion. You set the tone of your eulogy by the life you live.

Why waste any more time? Wake up and start the composition. (One Minute with Yourself - Rabbi Raymond Beyda)

* * * * *

A quick tip to boost the power of your prayer. Hazal tell us (Masechet Baba Kama Daf 92A) that Hashem loves the tefilot of one Jew for another so much that anyone who prays on behalf of a fellow Jew with similar needs will have his prayer answered first. A special service has now begun to provide people with names of others who find themselves in a similar predicament. You can call with complete anonymity and get the name of someone to pray for and give the name of someone that needs our prayers. The name of the service is Kol Hamitpalel. Categories include: Marriage; Income; Health; To have children etc.

Call to 646-279-8712 or email (Privacy of email limited by the email address)

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