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Parashat Vayesse


Rabbenu Yaakov "Ba'al Haturim" zs"l notes that "sulam" (ladder) has the same numerical value as "mamon" (money) and as "oni" (poverty). He thus explains the ladder in Yaakov's dream symbolically: "A ladder standing on the ground" - referring to the depths of destitution, "with its top reaching the heavens" - alluding to the heights of prosperity. Clearly, he does not mean that financial success can be referred to as "the heavens." Evidently, he means that there are two sides to the coin. A person can use his money for the needs of "the land," exclusively for physical pursuits, spending more and more of his resources on luxuries and the pleasures of life. Alternatively, he can utilize his assets - or at least a sizable portion of them - for the needs of "the heavens," by not sacrificing his children's education to save money, by participating in charity campaigns, supporting the needs of the Batei Kenesset, yeshivot and Torah study groups. Obviously, one should not spend all his money on these causes, but he must ensure that his ladder is "standing on the ground with its top reaching the heavens." He must also realize that "the angels of God ascend and descend the ladder." Each penny one spends for the sake of a misvah, be it charity, kindness, education or Torah, yield angels who plead his case favorably in the Heavenly Court. They ascend the heavens to bring merit to him and his family, and they then descend in order to protect and defend. The power of charity, kindness and the support of Torah study is such that the individual reaps the fruits in this world, while the principal remains for him and his family in the World to Come.


The Eye

The functioning of the eye is among the most wondrous features of the human body. Anyone who has ever used a camera knows that the focus must be adjusted before the lens can absorb the rays of light. Amazingly, the eye adjusts its focus by itself and, in the course of a moment, it can change its focus for every object, near and far. Since the Almighty, in His infinite mercy, provided us with two eyes, we have three-dimensional vision. Meaning, a person can determine distance without the assistance of his sense of touch. Each eye revolves around its axis, if you will, through six muscles: up, down, right, left, upper diagonal and lower diagonal. For example, when a person wants to look upward, the upper muscle must tighten, and to that same degree the other muscles have to loosen in order to properly facilitate the movement of the eye. If the one muscle tightens too much or if one of the others fails to loosen enough, the movement of the eye becomes a squint. Equally as fascinating is the way the two eyes work together. Remember that the eye is capable of discerning between different colors, not just black and white. In order to determine color, the eye is equipped with about 130-million small dots on the retina. If even just a few of them are damaged, seeing colors becomes an impossibility. It is also noteworthy that the Creator provided the eye, which is particularly sensitive to foreign objects and dirt, and thus requires regular cleaning, a constant washing system through the eyelid, which descends over the eye to cleanse it.

As Jews, we understand that the Almighty blessed us not only with physical eyes but also with spiritual ones, with which the Jew comprehends lofty concepts and can thus distinguish between good and evil. Indeed, in Hebrew, the term "ro'eh" refers both to actual vision as well as comprehension. When a person understands a certain idea properly, it becomes clear and present as if he sees it with his eyes. In this sense we more fully appreciate the pasuk, "Do not place a stumbling block before a blind person," which refers not only to those who cannot see, but also to those who are spiritually blind, that one may not lead them to commit aveirot. One who does not understand that which he sees can see only with his physical eyes, not with the eyes of his spirit. For his spiritual eyes are different from his actual eyes, as in order to see accurately through his spiritual eyes one needs the appropriate "glasses." These glasses are the education which he receives from his parents and teachers. A person is not born with this unique sense of vision. He must receive the proper training in order to find the Divine Providence in every facet of life. But what exactly are these spiritual "glasses" which we wear? Obviously, they are the Torah and its missvot, as the pasuk states, "The missvah of Hashem is clear, illuminating the eyes."


Measure for Measure (17) Flashback: A wealthy man once, in his insensitivity, failed to feed a poor scholar who ultimately died of hunger. The scholar was denied entry in to Gan Eden, since the wealthy man was destined to be punished on his account. The poor scholar's soul was granted permission to appear to the wealthy man in order to direct him along the path of repentance, thereby avoiding punishment, which would then allow the poor scholar to enter Gan Eden. He instructed the wealthy man to dress up as an impoverished peasant and go study day and night in the Bet Midrash, without taking any food from anyone. Only when he was famished would he be allowed to go to his own home and ask for food. When he eventually went to his home and knocked, the maid slammed the door on him in a fury.

He knocked once again, and the door suddenly swung open. Now the other workers in the house joined the maid by the doorway. "It's him again," exclaimed the maid. The other servants jeered at the poor peasant at the door, and they angrily approached him and pushed him away. Already weak and faint from his intense hunger, the man fell like timber. "Get up!" they shouted, thinking that he was planning on sleeping there. They attacked him with a series of kicks and dragged him outside until the gate. He was left there writhing in pain, depressed and motionless, like a lifeless heap of bones.

He lied there, covered in dirt, and wished he were no longer alive. He sensed more strongly than ever the adage, "Against your will you are alive," as all his limbs reminded him ever so painfully of their existence and his head pounded from hunger. With the pithy remnants of his strength he sat up on his knees, took a stone and tossed it towards the window. The glass shattered with a loud crash, and the door immediately swung open. This time, the servants were accompanied by the family members, his dear, beloved children. Infuriated, they shouted curses at him, they kicked him and punched him, forcefully and scornfully. His darling, gentle children joined the action, showing the poor, annoying peasant a lesson by hitting him hard, again and again.

Once their wrath had been completely unloaded on to his aching body, they admonished him harshly, warning him never to show up again. They left him there, rolling in his blood. By now, his anger had been kindled, as well. Just as the door closed behind them, he supported himself on the fence, took hold of several stones and hurled them furiously, shattering one window after another, the sound of breaking glass now blending with cries and wails from inside. The door opened once again, and this time the woman of the house came out by herself. The man looked at her and decided to change his course of action. He hoped within the depths of his heart - his wife, his life partner, would she recognize him, would she break out in cries of joy and euphoria?

She stopped at a safe distance from the stranger and gazed at him in disgust. "I see that we cannot get rid of you," she said angrily and impatiently.

"For what did I ask? All I want is something to eat," he answered. Would she recognize his voice? Would she be able to identify the stranger speaking to her? No. She pointed with her jewelry-laden hands and said, "There is some bread, over there. Go and eat."

Indeed, in the direction where she pointed, there were some pieces of stale bread which was put there for the chickens. His hands trembling, he took a handful of fodder and restored his strength.

to be continued...


"And behold, angels of God were ascending and descending it [the ladder]"

These angels were the angels of heaven. It seems strange, then, that they would first ascend and then descend. They should first come down from the heavens and only thereafter go back up! Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra zs"l explains that the Creator runs the world in accordance with our actions. If we increase our missvot and good deeds, then the bounty of goodness in the world increases. But if, Heaven forbid, we increase our sinful acts, then calamity surfaces, God forbid. Therefore, the angels first ascend to give an account of our deeds. Only thereafter do they come down to carry out their divine mission, be it for good or, God forbid, for bad.

"And behold, angels of God were ascending and descending it [the ladder]"

The Midrash suggests that "bo" (it) here actually refers to Yaakov himself, rather than the ladder. The Alshich zs"l explains that upon Yaakov's departure from Israel to Canaan, the Almighty wanted to give encouragement, to tell him of his distinguished stature and thus he has nothing to fear. He showed Yaakov how the entire natural order subjects itself to the ssadik. As Hazal teach us, Mt. Moriah was uprooted from its place to greet Yaakov, the sun set early for him, angels came down from the heavens to escort him and even the Almighty Himself stood over him, as it were, to protect him. Therefore, he had nothing in the world to fear, for the entire world - the land, the heavens, the heavenly bodies, and even Hashem Himself - were helping him. Indeed, "the entire world was created only to accompany the ssadik!"

"And behold, angels of God were ascending and descending it [the ladder]"

Rabbenu Yaakov Hayyim Sofer zs"l, author of "Kaf Hahayim," explains this verse based on Hazal's comment that there exists a heavenly angel corresponding to every nation down on Earth. When this angel is raised and exalted in the heavens, then the nation enjoys success and prosperity. The Jewish people, however, do not have such an angel in the heavens, as Hashem Himself is their king. Therefore, Yaakov dreamt that "Hashem is standing over him," that Yaakov belongs to Almighty Himself, not to any other, secondary force. But if this is true, then how do other nations have the capacity, at times, to rule over Am Yisrael? The answer is, "angels of God were ascending and descending." The ascent and descent of these angels is determined by the actions of Am Yisrael. The nation itself causes, with its lack of proper observance, the other nations to be given strength to overpower us, and when we repent that strength is taken away from them.

"And behold, angels of God were ascending and descending it [the ladder]"

Rabbenu Bahyei zs"l cites the interpretation of Rabbi Yehudah Ibn Tibbon zs"l that the ladder symbolizes human achievement, whereas the angels represent human thoughts. Through Yaakov's dream, the Torah teaches us that one's accomplishments are not like a single road, extending for miles on end. A person should never attempt to cross every ocean and climb the tallest mountain. His primary focus must involve spiritual growth, rising to the greatest heights he can, while descending to the depths of his soul and inner being, working on his character and purifying himself for proper service of his Creator.


Rabbi Mordechai Abadi zs"l

Rabbi Mordechai Abadi zs"l, one of the great leaders of Aram Soba around a century-and-a-half ago, was a remarkable prodigy. He mastered the entire gamut of Torah knowledge, including both the "revealed" and hidden areas of Torah scholarship. He composed many works covering a wide range of topics, including halachah, agadah and Kabbalah.

His community showed tremendous honor to their distinguished leader, and they would invite him to sit at the head-table at every "se'udat missvah." Once, he was invited to participate in a Torah study program in memory of one of the late members of the community, and the session was followed by a festive meal. The great rabbi partook of all the delicacies on the table, except for the jalap ("sahlav"), a certain dairy dish which had been prepared.

The man who prepared the meal innocently asked the rabbi, "Why is the rabbi not partaking from this dish?"

The rabbi asked, "Oh, was jalap served at the table? I didn't see it." He thought for a moment and then continued, "I think the reason is because the milk used for the jalap was not "halav Yisrael," no Jew was present at the time when the milk was produced. Is this true?"

"Yes, this is true," confessed the man, somewhat taken aback. He quickly regained his composure and remarked, "But I really don't see what the problem is. After all, everybody knows that the only milk available here is goat's milk!"

The rabbi gazed at him sternly and admonished him. "Are you questioning the rabbinic decree prohibiting milk produced by gentiles? Call the one in charge of the milking. I have a question for him."

The Arab responsible for milking the goats was brought into the room. The rabbi turned to him and asked, "People say that this milk is the most delicious milk produced. What is the secret? What makes it so tasty?"

The Arab worker's face shone with pride. "I added some donkey's milk in order to enhance the taste. If the rabbi wants, I can provide him with some, as well."

Everyone in attendance was shocked, and the one who prepared the meal sat speechless, his face red with shame.


A Series of Halachot According to the Order of the Shulhan Aruch, Based on the Rulings of Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a

By Rav David Yossef shlit"a, Rosh Bet Midrash "Yehaveh Da'at"

Chapter 2: The Laws of Getting Dressed

Continued From Last Week

When putting on shoes, one should first put on the right shoe without tying it, and then proceed to put on the left shoe, tie it, and then go back and tie the right shoe. The reason given is the fact that from the Torah it is clear that special importance is afforded to the right side. For example, in several instances sprinkling is done on the right thumb and big-toe (Shemot 29:20, Vayikra 8:23, and elsewhere). However, since we find special significance afforded to the left with regard to tying, i.e., tefillin is tied on the right arm, the left shoe is tied first.

If one chances upon his left shoe first, he should wait until he finds his right shoe.

This halachah applies to all shoes, regardless of the material from which they are made.

One who wears shoes without laces should simply put on the right shoe first. If his shoes have straps instead of laces, he ties the left straps first, as he would with laces. But if they just have one simple piece with which to close the shoe, such as with a zipper and the like, he does need to close the left shoe first.

Even a left-handed person, who wears tefillin on his right arm, ties his left shoe first, like right-handed people. If, however, his left leg is stronger, and certainly if he is both left-handed and left-legged, he should first tie his left shoe.

This same procedure should be followed by women and children.

When taking off shoes, one should first remove his left shoe, thus showing respect to his right side. He should first untie his right laces, and only thereafter untie his left shoelaces.

Similarly, when washing one's hands, he should wash his right side before his left side. When washing his entire body, he should first wash his head, as it is the "king" of all limbs, so-to-speak. Likewise, one should put on his "kippah" before any of his other clothing.

It is forbidden to walk in too upright a manner, meaning, one should not walk in an arrogant, condescending way. Nevertheless, one should not lower his head too much as he walks, but should rather conduct himself somewhere in the middle so that he can see those opposite him. One should be careful in this regard even when walking less than four cubits.

Regarding this issue there is no distinction between a Torah scholar and a layman. Furthermore, it makes no difference with regard to this halachah whether the individual is in the Bet Kenesset, Bet Midrash, or anywhere else. However, one should conduct himself with an added degree of reverence when in a Bet Kenesset or Bet Midrash, as the verse states (Tehillim 58:15), "In the House of God we will walk with emotion."

It is an added degree of piety for a Jewish male to wear a hat or kippah which covers the entirety or majority of his head. However, strictly speaking, it suffices so long as the covering can be seen from all sides of the head - front, back and both sides - even if it does not cover a majority of the head.


Who would not want to go to sleep at night and wake up the next morning as a brilliant scholar, with the entire Torah fluent on his lips and packed away in his mind, with no effort whatsoever, rendering him a "Pillar of Torah," in every sense of the word? Or, perhaps, who would not want to simply recite the shema before he goes to sleep and then wake up several hours later as a proficient Kabbalist, a never-ending fountain of lofty and exalted intentions, familiar with all the hidden secrets of the upper worlds? We know, of course, that this is impossible, but if only we could just buy a spiritual lottery ticket, as it were, and win the jackpot!

In truth, who said this is impossible? There was, in fact, one personality in our history who won the lottery in this sense - Yaakov. On his journey to Haran, he chanced upon Mt. Moriah, he recited the arvit prayer, and dark set in. He needed to sleep right there, as the day ended early (as Hazal teach us). Without any preparation whatsoever, he dreamt the famous vision of the ladder, he saw camps of heavenly angels, he even saw "And behold, Hashem was standing over him." He also was privileged to receive Hashem's personal promise of eternal divine supervision and assistance: "Behold, I will be with you, I will protect you wherever you go...for I will never leave you." He was promised the eternal inheritance of the land and a multitude of offspring comparable to the sand of the Earth - how amazing!

Yaakov wakes up from his sleep and exclaims, "Indeed, Hashem is in this place, and I did not know. He was afraid and said, 'How awesome is this place!'"

Hazal comment, "...and I did not know - meaning, for would I have known, I would never have slept here!" What would he have done, then? Answers the Seforno zs"l, that would he have known how sacred that spot was, he would have prepared himself for prophecy. His comment seems, at first glance, very difficult. Yaakov received his prophecy with no advanced preparation whatsoever. He should have been elated! We never find a person who wins a lottery feeling troubled afterward over the fact that he won without investing any effort. So why was Yaakov so taken aback?

Obviously, there exists a qualitative difference between winning money in a lottery and achieving spiritual wealth such as prophecy. With regard to monetary acquisition, the exertion involved is but a means to the actual acquisition. Its significance lies only in the eventual achievement. If the money can be secured in any other fashion, such as a lottery, a gift or inheritance, then all the better, despite the fact that one feels somewhat less connected to money received effortlessly, and money easily made is easily spent. Regarding spiritual riches, however, the effort and exertion themselves transform the acquisition into an eternal source of inspiration, as without them the understanding achieved is but superficial and fleeting, like a dream. Therefore, Yaakov felt that he would have rather remained awake, preparing himself for the prophetic vision, rather than simply going to sleep and have it come to him with no effort invested.

In this way we can better understand the story in the Gemara (Avodah Zarah 17a) regarding Elazar ben Dordia who had plummeted to the lowest depths of spiritual contamination, indulging himself in all worldly pleasures. One day, he was aroused to perform teshuvah. He dropped his head onto his lap and cried to the point where his soul departed from him. A heavenly voice then declared that he was granted entry into the World to Come. The Gemara then concludes, "Rebbe[Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi, who compiled the mishnah] cried and said, 'There are those who acquire the World to Come in a single instant!'" Many have asked the obvious question, why did Rebbe cry because of this phenomenon? Did he lose any of his portion because of those who gain theirs in an instant? He should have been elated over the fact that a fellow Jew was able to correct his deeds to the point where he is allowed to enter Gan Eden and the World to Come!

The truth is, though, that Rebbe cried over that same Elazar ben Dordia. The World to Come which one acquires in the flash of a single moment is shallow and superficial. It lacks depth and substance, it is not absorbed into the inner recesses of one's being. Perhaps such a person can be compared to one stricken by a stomach virus who is given all the most luscious delicacies in the world. He is not equipped with the proper mechanism for digesting the food. How much compassion should we have for such an individual!

We all trust that we will, please God, merit our portion in the World to Come. Every Jew is guaranteed a place in the World to Come, but we will be unable to experience its sheer profundity and appreciate all its splendor beyond the extent to which we exert effort into our performance of missvot, acts of kindness, and, above all, the study of Torah, most importantly, by setting aside time to learn, despite the difficulty involved. But not "despite" the difficulty, but specifically BECAUSE of the difficulty, for our reward will correspond to amount of effort needed to perform, and in this way we will merit our true portion in the eternal world of spiritual illumination.


An awe-inspiring silence gripped the Bet Midrash during the speech of the Rosh Yeshivah, Rabbi Avraham Yaphan zs"l. He was a most exalted figure, his white beard dropping over his chest, his voice moderate but steady, speaking with the confidence and composure of royalty. For many years he filled the position of his father-in-law, the Saba of Nevarduk zs"l, sitting at the helm of dozens of renown yeshivot. He stood and cited a piece from the Midrash on our parashah. The Midrash describes how Rachel vented her frustration over her infertility before Yaakov, asking Yaakov why he did not pray on her behalf. She reminded him that his father, Yisshak, prayed on behalf of his barren wife, Rivkah, and Hashem answered his prayer. Why didn't Yaakov do the same?

Yaakov answered that Yisshak's prayer was effective because his only wife was barren. He, on the other hand, had children from his other wife, Leah. Therefore, his prayer would not have yielded results.

She retorted, "Your grandfather, Avraham, had a child from Hagar but still prayed that his wife, Sarah, should give birth, and his prayers were answered. You, too, can pray like Avraham!"

He responded, "Would you be prepared to do what Sarah did, to offer your maidservant to your husband as a wife?"

She answered, "If this is what it takes, then so be it. Take my maid, Bilhah, and my family will be built through her!" As we know, this is exactly what happened.

The great rabbi lifted his eyes from book from which he was quoting and asked, what does Yaakov want from his broken, desperate wife, Rachel? Unquestionably, he already prayed and cried on her behalf, but his prayers went unanswered. He realizes the reason for the ineffectiveness of his prayers - she is barren, and supernatural intervention is required to open her womb. His prayers are simply not enough, as he was already blessed with children. He came up with an idea. If Rachel would make the same sacrifice as Sarah, perhaps she will be blessed with children. The question begs itself, had Rachel not made any such sacrifice up until this point that she now needed to give her maidservant to her husband as a wife? Was it not enough that when her father replaced her with Leah on what was to be her wedding night, she gave the signals to Leah so she would not be recognized, and thus she would be saved from embarrassment? Was this voluntary gesture towards her sister, allowing her to marry Yaakov - was this not enough a demonstration of devotion and self-sacrifice? Was this any less than Sarah's giving Hagar to Avraham?

The question descended like a bolt of lightening upon the students of the yeshivah. Rachel had waited seven years for her wedding, only to allow her sister to take her place. What did Yaakov demand of her now? But Yaakov was correct, for just after Yaakov married Bilhah, Rachel conceived. How are we to understand this?

The Rosh Yeshivah continued and explained that Yaakov realized that his prayers went unanswered, even the proverbial "gates of tears" were closed and locked; they could not be penetrated. Rachel was barren, and, seemingly, there was no way of changing that. There was but one way - to operate according to the principle of "measure for measure." Hashem conducts the world in such a way that a person is treated in accordance with his behavior. One who has compassion for others is treated compassionately. One who forgets and forgives has his transgressions forgotten and forgiven. One who deals strictly with others, treating them by the letter of the law, is dealt with similarly by the Heavenly Court. Now Sarah was barren and infertile. She therefore brought Hagar into the home, allowing her the great privilege of bearing a child for Avraham. Therefore, measure for measure, she was given the same privilege.

Yaakov therefore told his embittered wife, there is clearly no way to describe the sacrifice involved in transmitting the signals to her sister. However, this was done not so Leah could bear children, but so that she would not be put to shame. Therefore, as exalted as such an action was, it could yield reward only measure for measure, that Rachel would be married to Yaakov, but nothing beyond that. If she wants to bear children, she would have to demonstrate her worthiness in this regard precisely, by giving her maidservant to bear children for Yaakov. This is the only way.

The Rosh Yeshivah then cited the comment of the Gemara (Sanhedrin 90a) that all of the Almighty's dealing with the world operates in this manner, measure for measure. This is thus the most assured method of achieving anything. One who strives to please his/her spouse will see that the blessing of peace and tranquillity will descend upon the household. One who works to help another secure his livelihood will find divine blessing in his own savings. One who teaches Torah to another will sense how his heart and mind are more capable of comprehending the Torah. It is worthwhile, then, to try the most guaranteed method. Instead of employing all types of frustrating means to achieve what we want, let us try to help others, and, God-willing, all the goodness for which we strive will reach us in plenty, with all the divine blessings of health and prosperity.

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