Toras Mikeitz – Chanukah – Thanksgiving

This is a glorious day. A day on which we say Hallel on Thanksgiving. Today took care of one of my bucket items, not saying nin the morning prayers and reciting Hallel on Thanksgiving. I davened this morning at Anshei Sholem and Rabbi Wolkenfeld was the Chazzan. His Hallel was full of song and joy. Thanksgiving is a Jewish holiday. A time to stop and says thank you to God for the freedoms that we have here in America along with the entire country. Joe Aaron eulogized his father at a public service at Bnei Ruvein. He told the story of his father and his uncle, both holocaust survivors sitting around at Thanksgiving dinner, enjoying the freedoms of America and talking Yiddish accented English. I related to this in my own background, when my mother would make Thanksgiving dinner and we would all eat a festive meal including my Bubi and Zaidy.


This week’s Torah portion is Mikeitz. Mikeitz continues the story of Joseph in Egypt, his rise to power, the famine, and his brothers making the trip to Egypt to purchase food. Questions on the Sedrah include:

  1.  The extra two years that Joseph had to stay in prison, did anything come of it. How or was history changed 

Chapter 40, Verse 23:

23.But the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph,כג.וְלֹא זָכַר שַׂר הַמַּשְׁקִים אֶת יוֹסֵף וַיִּשְׁכָּחֵהוּ and he forgot him:    

and he forgot him: afterwards. Because Joseph relied on him to remember him, he was compelled to be confined for two years, as it is said:“Praiseworthy is the man who made the Lord his trust and did not turn to the haughty (רְהָבִים)” (Ps. 40:5). He did not turn to the Egyptians, who are called רַהַב, haughty. [From Gen. Rabbah 89:3]Rashi on this Verse says:

and he forgot him” – Because Joseph relied on him to remember him, he was compelled to be confined for two years etc.

The very next verse in Chapter 41, Verse 1 says:

א.וַיְהִי מִקֵּץ שְׁנָתַיִם יָמִים וּפַרְעֹה חֹלֵם וְהִנֵּה עֹמֵד עַל הַיְאֹר: .

It came to pass at the end of two full years, that Pharaoh was dreaming and behold; he was standing by the Nile.

2) Joseph comes across as the efficient bureaucrat, serving almost without mercy.

3) Joseph named his first born Manasseh, as it says in Chapter 41, verse 51. And Joseph named the firstborn Manasseh, for “God has caused me to forget all my toil and all my father’s house. The Torah says that Joseph forgot his father’s house?

4) Why didn’t Joseph phone home? It appears that Joseph made no attempt to contact his father.


How do we view Joseph and what is our understanding of Joseph? He was one of the founders of the Jewish nation (Shiftai Kah) so he knew the destiny of his family. Therefore, his actions were governed by his understanding of his mission, to create the nation of Israel founded on holiness, justice, and charity. He knew that his two dreams had to come true. He knew that one day the his father and family would come back to him.

On a character side, Joseph seemed to be very effective ruler and administrator. He was able to run a prison, oversee the massive effort during the years of plenty, and subsequent distribution of food and feed the entire nation of Egypt and the world, amass great wealth for Pharaoh. Joseph was the person who when he walked into a business meeting, read everyone, knew how to negotiate, and always got what he wanted. He was cold and calculating. This is in all likelihood due not only to his nature, but also to his being sold, being a prisoner, and rising to power in the blink of an eye, ahead of all of Pharaoh’s advisors, which must have led to tremendous palace intrigue.

However, it seems that he governs without mercy. He sold food to Egyptians and when they ran out of money he purchased their land, and made them chattel of Pharaoh. He demanded that they circumcise themselves.

Chapter 41, verse 55 says:

נה  וַתִּרְעַב כָּל-אֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם, וַיִּצְעַק הָעָם אֶל-פַּרְעֹה לַלָּחֶם; וַיֹּאמֶר פַּרְעֹה לְכָל-מִצְרַיִם לְכוּ אֶל-יוֹסֵף, אֲשֶׁר-יֹאמַר לָכֶם תַּעֲשׂוּ. 55 And when all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread; and Pharaoh said unto all the Egyptians: ‘Go unto Joseph; what he saith to you, do.’

Rashi’s explanation based on the Midrash is shocking.  Rashi says:

When the entire land of Egypt hungered,” – For their grain, which they had stored, had decay, except that of Joseph.

(what he tells you, do” – Since Joseph had ordered them to circumcise themselves, and when they came to Pharaoh and said “This is what he said to us, “He (Pharaoh) said to them “Why didn’t you gather grain, didn’t he announce to you that years of famine were coming?” They replied “we gather much but it rotted” He (Pharaoh) replied “If so, do whatever he tells you. He issued a decree upon the grain and it rotted. What if he issues a decree upon us and we die?

 Wow!  Why did the famine have to be this harsh that the food rotted so fast. There is a Midrash that their food rotted immediately, one minute they had food and the next minute the food rotted. Why was it supernatural.  Why couldn’t it be normal, where after one or two years it got worse and worse.   So much so that look at Pharaoh’s response to the Egyptians, it is Joseph’s fault, Joseph controls nature,and he can kill at will.  Blame the Jew. This is similar to the communist revolution in 1917. The Jews where useful. Stalin and Lenin knew that the Jews would be harshest on their own religion and did much of their dirty work for the Communists.  Jews executed the Czar and initially made up most of the secret police.   Stalin and Lenin could then blame the Jewish people.

Why did Joseph have to force them to circumcise. additionally, in next weeks Torah portion it says that Joseph displaced the Egyptian, so that all Egyptians would be exiles, Chapter 47, verse 21 and when his family came they would not feel as the only strangers in the land.

Why didn’t Joseph give the food to the Egyptians, once they ran out of money. Did he set up soup kitchens? Imagine the scene. People are starving in the streets, begging and screaming for food. What does Joseph do. It seems to rank with the comment of Maria Antoinette, “Let them eat cake”.

This is what Joseph had to contend with – some of these are obvious and others have to be true:

1) Number 2 man in the Kingdom

2) Seven years of planning during the years of plenty

3) Feeding the country during famine

4)  Preventing revolt in Egypt and not having Egypt come apart by the seams 

5)  Dealing with palace intrigue.  Pharaohs advisors tried to  undermine Joseph all the time.

6) Working to fulfill his mission to build the foundations of the Jewish people and eventually reconcile with his brothers.

7) Suppress his natural urge to be generous and charitable.

Answer to Question 2:

We were not there so we do not know how the people felt and their reaction. However, society back then and throughout most of history was cruel, run by a king or other power, who did not care about the welfare of people. Pharaoh must have been very happy with the wealth Joseph was amassing. The people could not revolt as they were starving. Joseph was acting no different from any other king, Pharaoh, or ruler at that time or even throughout history. Ultimately Pharaoh had the final yes or no and Joseph could not just give away food that belonged to the kingdom. I would even suggest that all of Pharaoh’s advisors agreed with Joseph.

I doubt that Pharaoh believed that Joseph will kill us. After all the Egyptians had Joseph in prison for up to 10 years. Pharaoh was blaming Joseph for a harsh policy that Pharaoh was happy with  – the selling of food to his own people; or indifferent – the circumcision. He was able to appear to sympathize with his people, by blaming his second in command, but having clean hands. This is very typical in corporations, find someone else to blame. Unfortunately, he made it sound that Joseph is this master manipulator, able to change nature upon his will. Not good for Joseph and the Jewish people (perhaps this is why generations later, Pharaoh was able to convince his people to turn against the legacy of Joseph and his people.)

How did the people react to Joseph seemingly harshness? It could be that they were used to despots. They ultimately received food, survived, and after the famine prospered, so they bore no ill will towards Joseph.   Look at the Ranban Genesis, Chapter 47, Verse 14. The verse says that “Joseph gathered up all the money” – The Ranban says that Joseph gave everything to Pharaoh, Joseph got nothing. This was Joseph’s wisdom. The Ranban then concludes “Through this endeavor, he (Joseph) found grace even in the eyes of the people; for it is Hashem Who causes those who fear him to prosper.”

Why the circumcision and exile. Joseph knew that his family would one day settle in the land and he wanted to try to ensure that they prosper in their new setting and keep the commandments. What he did to the Egyptians may not have been considered cruel and unusual in terms of how people were treated and they fact that they had nothing, and could only survive because of Joseph. Look at what the communists in Russia and China did to their own people. Look at what circumstances have done to people over the last 150 years.

Answer to Question 1:

Why did the food spoil  so quickly? Joseph knew and God knew that eventually the brothers would have to face Joseph. At the end of the 7 years of plenty, Joseph was gone from his family for 20 years. The clock was ticking. What had to happen was for the brothers to run out of food and the recognition of the brothers that they erred in selling Joseph and correct a character flaw. Because of the 2 years that Joseph had to stay in prison, the years of famine started two years later. There was not enough time for the food supplies to be used up, for the brothers to come to Egypt,  go back, realize their mistake and regret selling Joseph in two years. Instead of having four years, there were only two years, so therefore the running out of food was sped up and the food rotted unnaturally. When there is a ripple in time, things have to change and this is what changed. Unfortunately, Pharaoh used it against Joseph, blaming Joseph and probably created ill will towards Joseph, at least initially or even years later when the Egyptians enslaved the jews..

Answer to Question 4 – Why didn’t Joseph phone home:

This answer is relatively simple. Joseph knew that one day the family will come together. On a strictly personal level there was nothing for Joseph to go back to his family other than re-connecting with his father, to tell his father that he is still alive and they he is very successful. His brothers would continue to hate him and there would be continued tension, further fracturing the family, where Yaakov would now have to take sides and perhaps cause much more anguish to his father. If he would move his father to Egypt the brothers would not have followed along, so he would have had to leave his father in Canaan, rarely see him, and dislike his own kids for letting him down.

On a national level – Klal Yisroel level – If he initiated going back to his father, then his brothers would have continued to hate him and there would not be a unified Klal Yisroel – nation. They would still have felt that they were right in their determination to kill Joseph and there would have not been a reconciliation. The brothers had to come to a realization that they wronged Joseph and that their approach was wrong. They had to be humbled. The only reason to go back is to reconnect with his father, however, Yaakov had to suffer for the greater good.

Answer to Question 3 – Did Joseph “forget his father’s house”:

One a simple level it means that he was able to put all of the pain and suffering caused by his brothers behind him, not that he gave up his rapprochement with his father and brothers. The correct treading should be “all that happened in his father’s house”.

There is a beautiful Reb Shimshon Raphael Hirsh on this. He says that the Hebrew word used to mean forget is נַשַּׁנִי . This word also means to be a creditor. RSRH says that the correct meaning is

That I am indebted to my family and Hashem because I now understand why I was sold and why I ended up in Egypt as a ruler, so that I am the one to save my family and create the Jewish nation.


Parshas VaYishlach

Chapter 34, Verse 1:

1. Dinah, the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to look about among the daughters of the land.

וַתֵּצֵא  דִינָה  בַּת  לֵאָה  אֲשֶׁר  יָלְדָה  לְיַעֲקֹב  לִרְאוֹת  בִּבְנוֹת  הָאָרֶץ:

  Rashi says on this Passuk:

 And not the daughter of Yaakov.  However, because of her going out she was called the daughter of Leah, since she {Leah} too was in the habit of going out, as it says, in Ve’Yetzi, Chapter 30, verse 16 –” and she came forth to meet him” from Tanchuma Vayishlach 7 (And concerning  her, they  devise the proverb : Like mother like daughter).   From Midrash Rabbah 80:1


When you read Rashi, there really is no criticism of Leah.  It is benign.  “Going out” could be good or bad.

Artscroll  writes the generally held view that spins Rashi negatively, Dinah was immodest and Leah was excessively outgoing.  What!   We are now criticising Leah.    Leah  was one of the “Eimohos” –  founding mothers of the Jewish nation, the one who cried until her eyelashes fell out not to marry Eisav.

In fact, I would say the opposite of Artscroll.  Rashi seems to be saying – in case you think  that the Passuk speaks harshly of Dinah,  because the Passuk says that Dinah went out to see the daughters of the land, Rashi says, this is not true.  Just as Leah was a righteous person and her going out was done out of holiness, so too was Dinah going out for holiness.    What does Rashi gain by criticising Leah, one of the founders of the Jewish people.      Has Rashi turned into a Bible critic?   impossible.

Artscroll’s interpretation  seems to be based on Midrash Rabbah, Chapter 80, Section 1, copy attached.  In fact, all the Chumashim add that the source of Rashi is from this Midrash Rabbah.   The Midrash actually says that the end of Section 1, that Dina and Leah were dressed as Zona’s (harlots).    How can an Amorah, who lived in the second generation after the destruction of the Second Temple say this interpretation.   Can you imagine if this was said today?   Impossible!

I said an explanation a few years ago and my brother-in-law showed me that I was in line with the explanation of the Lubavitcher Rebbe  This year I saw it in the Gutnick Chumash, in the portion that says Toras Menacham,  copy attached.

I want to say the Rashi actually means the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s explanation.  Rashi is not being critical of Leah and Dinah, but rather he is praising them.

The Rebbe writes that Dinah had a tremendous ability to bring spirituality to the world.  In a sense, she was the first Lubavitcher Shiliach.  She went out into the world to positively impact the “daughters of Shechem”.  Leah had the same  ability, the ability to go out to the world and bring people closer to God.  After all, Dinah was a descendant of Avrohom.  Proof of this is that Yaakov was criticized for hiding Dinah from Eisav.  Only if Dinah had this tremendous ability to bring people to Hashem and had it within her to positively influence the evil Eisav, is Yaakov criticised.

Rabbi Lichtman this morning at our Daf Yomi Shiur added to my explanation.  There is a Midresh  that says the Yosef’s wife was Dinah.  If so, this is beautiful.  Yosef is the epitome of the Jew who is involved in the general world, maintained his Jewish soul, and had a positive impact on the world.  It is fitting that Dinah should marry Yosef.

I will add another indication, similar to Rabbi Lichtman.  Dinah, per the Midrash was initially a boy;  however, Leah, prayed to Hashem to make the fetus into a female.  I saw somewhere that Dinah had the Neshama of Yosef.  If so, just like Yosef had the ability to intermingle with the world, Dinah had the same ability, and bring people closer to Hashem.

The question is, how you explain the Midrash because clearly the Midrash appears to be critical of Leah.  Is the Lubavitcher Rebbe and the Abarbanal arguing on the Midrash.

The answer is no, no, no.  The source of Rashi is not the Midrash.  Rashi is positive and not negative.  The people who printed the Chumash who added that the source of Rashi is the Midrash Rabbah 80:1 were wrong.   I have proof of this.  Look at Rashi again.  Notice, the words in Rashi (And concerning  her, they  those that say parables, say: Like mother like daughter)  is in parentheses. These words are very similar to the Midrash and this is what seems to anchor Rashi to the Midrash.  However, we  do not read parenthesis.  Per Reb Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, words in Rashi that have parentheses around them, are words that were not in Rashi’s manuscripts.   They were added later by others.    The answer is that Rashi is not based on the Midrash, so parentheses were used on these words, to tell us not to read these words because that there is no connection between Rashi and the Midrash.  These words were put into Rashi in later generations who got it wrong.

How to understand the Midrash:

Look at the Midrash, pages 5-7 of the attached.  Although the Midrash at the end says that Leah and Dinah were dressed as harlots, Reb Yosi said this only in the context of a response to Reb Yehuda Nesia.  It was not said as the explanation of the Passuk.   The story in the Midresh is that Reb Yosi publicly insulted the house of the Nasia saying that they are unethical.  Finally at the end, Reb Yosi insults Reb Yehuda Nesai to his face via insinuation, allusion, and intimation.  Reb Yehuda Nesia did not realize he was being insulted.  Reb Yosi was in fact alluding to the Reb Yehuda Nesia and the house of the Nasi, saying that they sold themselves for money and they are animals.  .As the cliché goes, “the Empower has no Clothes”  Meaning, we cannot use a story to say the actual Pshat in the Pasuk.

Post Script:

A few years later I told this Torah to Rabbi Meir Pilchik.  I farbrenged with him one late December Friday night.  He  responded to me with a Torah from the Dhizicover Rebbe who said a Pshat in a Rashi.  Rashi then appeared to him that night and Rashi thanked him for interpreting a Rashi that on the surface seems to be critical of Chanoch, into a positive.  Rashi told him that before your Pshat whenever I passed Chanoch we did not look at each other, however, once you said your Pshat we talk to one another.   I saw the same Torah in a Kotzker, who lived before the Dhizicover.  I was overjoyed.   Look up on on my January/February2020 Yahrzeit  Shiur on the Kotzker.
Post Script December 12, 2022:
Rabbi Meir Yehuda Lichtman added to my Torah that Yoseph married Osnas, who was the daughter of Dina. It is fitting that the daughter of Dina and grand-daughter of Leah, both of whom were יַצְאָנִית to teach Torah and bring people closer to G-d married Yospeh who also was a יַצְאָנִית.
On December 12, 2022 I found the source that states that Osnas was the daughter of Dina.  It is a beautiful Perkei R’Rabbi  Eliezer 38:1 and 38:2:


VeYatzah Dinah

Parsha Vayeitzei

Notes for Chumash Shiur to be given at Anshe Sholom on 11/7/13 at 4:50 PM and hopefully at the Bais Ment at the Glenners.

Thanks to Rabbi David Wolkenfeld for giving me the time to give a Chumash Shiur.  I plan to speak on four Verses:

Torah Thought #1:

Chapter 28, Verse 19:

Source:  Beautiful Dvar Torah heard from Rabbi Abner Weiss, Rabbi of the Village Shul in Westwood, LA, Martin Brody’s Shul.

יט. וַיִּקְרָא אֶת שֵׁם הַמָּקוֹם הַהוּא בֵּית אֵל וְאוּלָם לוּז שֵׁם הָעִיר לָרִאשֹׁנָה:

19. And he named the place Beth El, but Luz was originally the name of the city

Question – What is the significance that Luz was the original name?

Answer:   Luz is mentioned in Sotah 46b as a place where people lived forever and when the old men became tired of life,  they go outside the wall and then die.

Luz represents stagnation, lack of growth.    Yaakov brought the concept of growth, that we must all grow in our service to God, in spirituality, and in life.  This is behind the name change.  Yaakov taught the world the we must became   a   בֵּית אֵל – a house of God, always growing in our connection to God, our learning, and our helping others and in spirituality.

Torah Thought #2:

Chapter 29, Verses 10 and 11:

Source:   Mitch Morgenstern in LA at Aunt Florence’s house after a beautiful Friday night Shabbos meal at Madeline and Martin’s house.

י  וַיְהִי כַּאֲשֶׁר רָאָה יַעֲקֹב אֶת-רָחֵל, בַּת-לָבָן אֲחִי אִמּוֹ, וְאֶת-צֹאן לָבָן, אֲחִי אִמּוֹ; וַיִּגַּשׁ יַעֲקֹב, וַיָּגֶל אֶת-הָאֶבֶן מֵעַל פִּי הַבְּאֵר, וַיַּשְׁקְ, אֶת-צֹאן לָבָן אֲחִי אִמּוֹ.

10 And it came to pass, when Jacob saw Rachel the daughter of Laban his mother’s brother, and the sheep of Laban his mother’s brother, that Jacob went near, and rolled the stone from the well’s mouth, and watered the flock of Laban his mother’s brother.

יא  וַיִּשַּׁק יַעֲקֹב, לְרָחֵל; וַיִּשָּׂא אֶת-קֹלוֹ, וַיֵּבְךְּ.

11 And Jacob kissed Rachel, and lifted up his voice, and wept.

Question:      Why did Yaakov give water to sheep before he kissed Rochel?

Observation:   The Hebrew words for “watered” and “kissed” are the same letters.

Answer:  When Yaakov saw Rochel for the first time, he was bubbling with emotion.  Yaakov sees Rochel and knows that this is the person he is to marry; this was why he was in Choren.  Yet while seeing Rochel, he also takes note of the sheep.  He understands that he cannot take care of his own needs (introducing himself to Rochel) until the sheep are watered.  They are innocent animals that rely on their shepherd to take care of them.    So, he rolls the stone from the well, waters the sheep, and only then does he let his emotions flow, he kisses Rochel.   This is what a righteous person does, and this is what is expected from every Jew.

The Hebrew word for watering is       וַיַּשְׁקְ       and the Hebrew word for “kiss” is  וַיִּשַּׁק   ,  Both are the same letters, albeit with different punctuation.  Yaakov’s love for Rochel was, what can I do for Rochel.  It is not about me, it is about my future wife, Rochel.

Perhaps this is why the Torah used the word    וַיִּשַּׁק – and he kissed.  The question is asked did Yaakov actually kiss Yaakov.  If you do not want to say that Yaakov actually kissed Rochel, perhaps you can answer that the Torah uses the word kissed to mean, that he loved Rochel, with a love that she was the center of his universe.  They were together to start a family life and start the nation of Israel.

It is the same idea noted by Rabbi David Wolkenfeld in last’s week Sedra and in my post from last week.  Yitzchok prayed for his wife to have children because she was barren.   It was not about him, it was about his suffering wife.

Torah Thought #3:

Chapter 29, Verse 17:

 Source – Mitch Morgenstern explains the meaning of the word  רַכּוֹת ;  and the Kotzker Rebbe.

Chapter 29, Verse 17 says the following:

 יז  וְעֵינֵי לֵאָה, רַכּוֹת; וְרָחֵל, הָיְתָה, יְפַת-תֹּאַר, וִיפַת מַרְאֶה

17 And Leah’s eyes were weak; but Rachel was of beautiful form and fair to look upon.

Observation – Onkalys and Rasbam seems to argue with Rashi.

Onkalys and Rasbam  explain the word       רַכּוֹת;     to mean “nice”.    She has beautiful eyes and eyes are the window of the soul.

Rashi  understands the word  רַכּוֹת;   to mean just the opposite based on the Gemorah in Baba Basra 123a.  The Gemorah says that     רַכּוֹת;    means “weak” or “cried out”. The Gemorah says that her eyelashes fell out due to her crying and she was not pretty.  The Gemorah later on seems to say that her prettiness was that she was worried about her spiritual future and did not want to marry an evil person.  This is her beauty.

Kotzker Vort – on Rashi

 Page 14 of the attached Notes for Chumash Shiur .  It is worthwhile to read the Kotzker Vort in Hebrew.  The Kotzker said:

“One should always take note of what people are saying, proof of this because of this Passuk and Rashi.  “Leah’s eyes are weak, because she cried, she heard that people were saying the she would  marry Eisav.  Who was saying this, Lavan and friends, so why should she cry about this” (meaning, why cry because someone says something.  They were just pointing out something that may happen because Lavan’s mother married Yitzchak and maybe theirs sons will marry Lavan’s children, Leah and Rochel, not that this would necessarily happen.  The Kotzker concludes, “but you have to be aware of what people are saying”, especially someone who has control.

The Kotzker is saying listen and observe what people are talking about to protect yourself, to be prepared to have a response when that thing happens and you do not want it to happen to you.     You have to control your life; do not let others dictate to you.  They may or may not be acting for your benefit.  Only you can decide.

Torah Thought #4:

Chapter 31, Verses 36 – 43:

 Source:    Mayer Chase was given a copy of a speech by his seatmate on a flight approximately 10 years ago.  She found it in her seat pocket and said to Meir, you would be interested in this speech.   It was a Shabbos Drasha from Rabbi Jack Riemer.   I  called him at the time and thanked him for his beautiful speech.  I just called Rabbi Riemer again to thank him for his powerful speech.

 Observation – Yaakov explodes at Lavan, verses 36 – 42,  and notice Lavan’s unrepentant response in Verse 43.

Read the power of the words in Verses 36 through 42.  It is powerful.  For 20 years Yaakov has said nothing to Lavan.  He took and took and took the abuse.  Finally after suffering the indignity of being powerless in front of his family, as Lavan ransacks through Yaakovs belongings, Yaakov explodes in anger.  He  has held it in for 20 long, hard-suffering years, and 20 years of abuse comes out of Yaakov:

36. And Jacob was angry (livid), and he quarreled with Laban, and he said to Laban, “What is my transgression? What is my sin, that you have pursued me?
37. For you have felt about all my things. What have you found of all the utensils of your house? Put it here, in the presence of my kinsmen and your kinsmen, and let them decide between the two of us
38. Already twenty years have I been with you, and your ewes and she goats have not miscarried, neither have I eaten the rams of your flocks.
39. I have not brought home to you anything torn [by other animals]; I would suffer its loss; from my hand you would demand it, what was stolen by day and what was stolen at night.
40. I was [in the field] by day when the heat consumed me, and the frost at night, and my sleep wandered from my eyes.
41. This is twenty years that I have spent in your house. I served you fourteen years for your two daughters and six years for your animals, and you changed my wages ten times ten times.
42. Had not the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, been for me, you would now have sent me away empty handed. God has seen my affliction and the toil of my hands, and He reproved [you] last night.”

After Yaakov finally confronts Lavan, Lavan responds:

43. And Laban answered and said to Jacob, “The daughters are my daughters, and the sons are my sons, and the animals are my animals, and all that you see is mine. Now, what would I do to these daughters of mine today, or to their children, whom they have borne?

Lavan has zero empathy for Yaakov; and says to his son-in-law,  nothing is yours, not your wife, not your kids, not your money.  It is all mine.  Lavan does not have the humility to acknowledge Yaakov; he only lashes back with the arrogance of a man who is corrupt through and through, without a shred of decency.

Rabbi Jack Riemer looked around his congregation and said.  How many people here have lived the life of Yaakov, where we work for years for a boss who has no appreciation for his employees,  does not compensate properly, makes us work long hours and on our days off.   We work for these people for years negatively affecting our health, or self-worth, our family lives.

לו  וַיִּחַר לְיַעֲקֹב, וַיָּרֶב בְּלָבָן; וַיַּעַן יַעֲקֹב, וַיֹּאמֶר לְלָבָן, מַה-פִּשְׁעִי מַה חַטָּאתִי, כִּי דָלַקְתָּ אַחֲרָי.

36. And Jacob was angry (livid), and he quarreled with Laban, and he said to Laban, “What is my transgression? What is my sin, that you have pursued me?

לז  כִּי-מִשַּׁשְׁתָּ אֶת-כָּל-כֵּלַי, מַה-מָּצָאתָ מִכֹּל כְּלֵי-בֵיתֶךָ–שִׂים כֹּה, נֶגֶד אַחַי וְאַחֶיךָ; וְיוֹכִיחוּ, בֵּין שְׁנֵינוּ.

37. For you have felt about all my things. What have you found of all the utensils of your house? Put it here, in the presence of my kinsmen and your kinsmen, and let them decide between the two of us

לח  זֶה עֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה אָנֹכִי עִמָּךְ, רְחֵלֶיךָ וְעִזֶּיךָ לֹא שִׁכֵּלוּ; וְאֵילֵי צֹאנְךָ, לֹא אָכָלְתִּי.

38. Already twenty years have I been with you, and your ewes and she goats have not miscarried, neither have I eaten the rams of your flocks.

לט  טְרֵפָה, לֹא-הֵבֵאתִי אֵלֶיךָ–אָנֹכִי אֲחַטֶּנָּה, מִיָּדִי תְּבַקְשֶׁנָּה; גְּנֻבְתִי יוֹם, וּגְנֻבְתִי לָיְלָה.

39. I have not brought home to you anything torn [by other animals]; I would suffer its loss; from my hand you would demand it, what was stolen by day and what was stolen at night.

מ  הָיִיתִי בַיּוֹם אֲכָלַנִי חֹרֶב, וְקֶרַח בַּלָּיְלָה; וַתִּדַּד שְׁנָתִי, מֵעֵינָי.

40. I was [in the field] by day when the heat consumed me, and the frost at night, and my sleep wandered from my eyes.

מא  זֶה-לִּי עֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה, בְּבֵיתֶךָ, עֲבַדְתִּיךָ אַרְבַּע-עֶשְׂרֵה שָׁנָה בִּשְׁתֵּי בְנֹתֶיךָ, וְשֵׁשׁ שָׁנִים בְּצֹאנֶךָ; וַתַּחֲלֵף אֶת-מַשְׂכֻּרְתִּי, עֲשֶׂרֶת מֹנִים.

41. This is twenty years that I have spent in your house. I served you fourteen years for your two daughters and six years for your animals, and you changed my wages ten times ten times.

מב  לוּלֵי אֱלֹהֵי אָבִי אֱלֹהֵי אַבְרָהָם וּפַחַד יִצְחָק, הָיָה לִי–כִּי עַתָּה, רֵיקָם שִׁלַּחְתָּנִי; אֶת-עָנְיִי וְאֶת-יְגִיעַ כַּפַּי, רָאָה אֱלֹהִים–וַיּוֹכַח אָמֶשׁ.

42. Had not the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, been for me, you would now have sent me away empty handed. God has seen my affliction and the toil of my hands, and He reproved [you] last night.”

מג  וַיַּעַן לָבָן וַיֹּאמֶר אֶל-יַעֲקֹב, הַבָּנוֹת בְּנֹתַי וְהַבָּנִים בָּנַי וְהַצֹּאן צֹאנִי, וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר-אַתָּה רֹאֶה, לִי-הוּא; וְלִבְנֹתַי מָה-אֶעֱשֶׂה לָאֵלֶּה, הַיּוֹם, אוֹ לִבְנֵיהֶן, אֲשֶׁר יָלָדוּ.

43. And Laban answered and said to Jacob, “The daughters are my daughters, and the sons are my sons, and the animals are my animals, and all that you see is mine. Now, what would I do to these daughters of mine today, or to their children, whom they have borne?

Toras Anshe Sholem

Parshas Toldos, November 2, 2013:

This Shabbos morning I walked to Anshe Sholem because I needed the walk and the beautiful davening at Anshe Sholem.

1)   David, a member whose family goes back over 50 years at Anshei Sholem, and I were walking to the Kiddush.  We passed the area for strollers, which had close to 30 strollers, and I said to David, isn’t is great to see all of these strollers   David told me that when Rabbi Lopatin first came to Anshei Sholem, there were more funerals than Bar Mitzvahs.  Rabbi Asher Lopatin built up the Shul, and now they have far more Bar Mitzvahs than funerals.  This does not include Bat Mitzvah’s, numerous Brisim, and naming of girls at the Shul.  Rabbi Lopatin has moved on to run Yeshiva Chovevi Torah, and has turned over leadership to Rabbi David Wolkenfeld, a worthy successor.

Many institutions can learn from Rabbi Asher Lopatin.  May Rabbi Asher Lopatin continued success in his new position and continue to teach Torah.

2)  Rabbi Wolkenfeld said a beautiful insight on this Passuk.

21. And Isaac prayed to the Lord opposite his wife because she was barren, and the Lord accepted his prayer, and Rebecca his wife conceived.  

כא. וַיֶּעְתַּר יִצְחָק לַיהֹוָה לְנֹכַח אִשְׁתּוֹ כִּי עֲקָרָה הִוא וַיֵּעָתֶר לוֹ יְהֹוָה וַתַּהַר רִבְקָה אִשְׁתּוֹ:

The word       לְנֹכַח      according to the Rashbam is  “for” so the Passuk is saying that Yitzchok prayed for his wife, because she was barren.   Yitzchok did not pray for himself, he prayed for his wife.  His needs were not important; he prayed that his wife’s needs should be taken care of by God. Rashi adds another dimension.  Rashi used the common translation of       לְנֹכַח        “opposite” saying that Yitzchok prayed in one corner and Rivka in another corner.  

 The following is from Rabbi Wolkenfeld’s speech.

“And Yitzhak pleaded with Hashem because of his wife, for she was barren.”  Rivka’s infertility is a reason for Yitzhak himself to approach God. It’s relevant to him!  He doesn’t take a second wife or a concubine – he’s the only one of our patriarchs who was able to successfully remain monogamous – instead he understands that Rivka’s infertility is his problem too. The significance and relevance of Yitzhak’s behavior should be obvious. When a spouse is suffering, that isn’t his or her problem – it’s my problem. And the same is true for a sister or a brother or a parent or a child. Indeed, each member of a sanctified community, a Kehila Kedosha, a shul community, has a covenantal responsibility to each other. The problems of the other are my problems too.

But there’s a further level of significance and further level of relevance. Yitzhak is described as praying, “l’nokhah,” his wife. This word, “l’nokhah,” is most commonly understood to mean “on behalf” or “for” – Yitzhak prayed for Rivka. But it can also mean, and indeed its most literal meaning is, “in the presence of” and this meaning was picked up by the Midrash and later quoted by Rashi. Yitzhak prayed in the presence of Rivka. In Rashi’s words, “Yitzhak stood in one corner, and Rivka in another corner, and they prayed.”

We are very often praying “l’nokhah” someone who isn’t actually right next to us. They are in our mind’s eye and at the forefront of our consciousness when we pray, even though we are in one corner, and they are someplace else. Sometimes we pray l’nokhah a close relative suffering from a serious illness. Sometimes we are praying l’nokhah a friend who is unemployed or facing financial challenges. Sometimes we pray “l’nokhah a parent or grandparent who has been dead for many years, yet whose memory inspires and infuses our relationship with God.

 Nobody else can possibly know with whom or for whom one is praying in this internal way.

Rabbi Hershel Cohen a’h was the associate rabbi at Lincoln Square Synagogue in New York when I first began attending shul regularly in high school. He taught the five-minute Halakhah lesson between Mincha and Maariv each day and the seriousness with which he prayed and the care with which he cultivated a life of careful observance of mitzvot remain inspiring. He once told us about being approached by a mourner during shivah with the following question: Last week, when my parent was alive, fighting for life, I came to shul to pray on behalf of my parent, to plead with God for more time – and specific individual– who sits near me in shul – talked throughout the Misheberakh for Holim, distracting me from my prayers and demonstrating absolutely no sensitivity to my intense need to pray at that moment.  Now my parent is dead and this person wants to visit my home and offer condolences and I don’t want to see that person!

 Yitzhak teaches us that when we pray, we can have the intense existential distress of someone else, or of ourselves, in mind, and so we need to have the highest possible level of sensitivity when in the presence of someone at prayer. They could be struggling with a heavy burden.

Yitzhak taught us something else by praying “l’nokhah” – in the presence of Rivka. The Midrash and Rashi explain that Rivka and Yitzhak both prayed, and prayed with an awareness of each other, but did so in their own space. Prayer requires cultivating a sense of inwardness, interiority, and personal authenticity. Even when we are together as a congregation, we need to be able to generate the privacy that can enable true prayer – the encounter between an individual and God.  That isn’t easy to accomplish.

 3)  The scholar in residence was Sargent Benjamin Anthony.   Sargent Benjamin Anthony founded Our Solders Speak,  He was excellent.  He was articulate, confident, and clearly stated why he fights, to protect Jews.   I wish I could capture the emotion in his speech, the Ahavas Yisroel.   Sargent Anthony is a combat reservist for the IDF and is from Leeds, England.  Our Soldiers Speak brings front line Israeli troops to speak on college campuses and to high school kids in 5+ countries.    He emphasized that kids in college defending Israeli are also front line troops.  We have to educate our kids to be able to speak up for Israel on college campuses.    His toughest campus was Brandeis University, a Jewish oriented university.   Unfortunately, many Jewish kids support the Palestinian cause.  In high school they love Israel emotionally, and are never taught the underlying reasons for the State of Israel on an intellectual basis, to refute the distortions from the left and the Palestinians.   Our kids have to be taught before college why Israel is the Jewish homeland, why we are entitled to Israel.   He said that in 2006 while he was in the second Lebanon war and in an open troop carrier, heading to an Arab Village that was full of Hezbollah troops, he focused on two things.  The deserted town of Kiryat Shimonah and the 23rd Psalm,   “Thou I walk in the valley of death, I will not fear because God is with me.”   While the truck was moving, they passed between houses and were in the valley of death.   A barrage of fire opened up on them.  A bullet passed between Sargent Benjamin Anthony and his fellow soldier sitting inches apart.  He can still recall the whirling sound of that bullet going past his ear.   Three soldiers sitting across from him, told him to get down.  He couldn’t because he was loaded with gear.  They sprang up, exposing themselves, and laid down a barrage of fire to protect him.  This is why he fights for the IDF and there is no distinction between secular and religious soldiers.  

4)  Introducing Sargent Benjamin Anthony was Jack Berger.  Jack Berger is a pleasure to listen to and takes no prisoners.  When he speaks about Israel, he is like Hart Hasten, and others, who are not embarrassed to call out anyone speaking who says a distortion about Israel.  Sargent Anthony is a young Jack Berger and a Hart Hasten.

5)  At Kiddush, I met my cousin Amy’s neighbor from New Rochelle, NJ.  He and his family had driven into Chicago for his brother-in-law’s son’s Bris.  His wife is from Teaneck, NJ ground zero for Modern Orthodoxy.  His older Bocher in Yeshiva was Rabbi Sholem Baum, Rabbi at Keter Torah in Tenack, NJ,   I had the privilege of sitting next to Rabbi Baum at my cousin’s wedding in Philadelphia.

 He has a cousin in Boca Raton Synagogue (It seems that everyone at Boca Raton Synagogue has a relative in Teaneck, NJ) who is a doctor.  This doctor has a brother-in-law from Chicago and this brother-in-law’s father was my classmate at Arie Crown Hebrew Day School in the 1960’s and is still a friend.  I bounce my Chiddushi Torah off this friend for comments.  He has a very Litvish approach to Pshat in Chumash, taking the plain meaning of the Torah, and if you deviate from the plain meaning you better justify your reasoning.