Thursday, November 19, 2015

Parshas Vayaitzay 5776, November 2015; Inclusion

At the beginning of this week's parsha, Yaakov flees from his brother Aisav, but Aisav (according to Midrash Tanchuma) or his son Elifaz (according to most sources) pursued him, stole all the goods he carried and even his mount and clothing, and left him naked and completely destitute.

He encounters Rochel and through her, her sister Leah, whom we are told (Bereishis Rabbah) had weak eyes and poor eyesight due to her years of prayer and crying to G-d to save her from marrying the even Aisav. Further, in next week's parsha (jumping ahead just a bit) we read how Yaakov encountered the protective angel of Edom, the nation of Aisav, fought with the angel, and was injured permanently in the leg.

We know that gifts given to G-d as karbanos in any form must be perfect. Yet we learn here that the father of the entire nation and the first wife and mother of fully half that nation each had specific disabilities. What can this tell us?
Those with invisible, intellectual and/or developmental disabilities
can be included in the community. It's dependent and incumbent
on the community and its constituent members to be inclusive.
It teaches us that humans are not the same as things, and that every single human of any ability is precious in G-d's eyes as any other. If anything, they are especially precious given this precedent. It is incumbent on all of the nation of Israel therefore to ensure that those with any form of disability should feel as honored as the mother or father of our entire nation. Surely theirs are the most special neshamos and they are the most like Yaakov and Leah we will find in our lifetimes.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Parshas Chayei Sarah

Dedicated to Kayla Rus Bas Bunim Tuvia
For L’iluy Nishmas


The name of our Parsha this week is, Parshas Chayei, the life of Sarah and yet it begins with her death. The light from the candles of Sarah’s tent went out, but not forever. They would glow once again when Rivkah comes and marries Yitzchak. Thus, her life is the focus for this week’s D’var Torah.

Rivkah Immeinu [our mother] teaches what it means to be a frum Jewish woman in a world that is not. Thus, this week I am writing for women and hope that men too can appreciate the beauty of the King’s daughters.  Although there are many excellent sources from which to learn about what it means to be Tzinius/modest, my references are from a small book entitled,

Beautiful Within: Modesty In Conduct and Dress As Taught By The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson,
[Sichos in English, 1995].

This book is about two particular mitzvot, Tzinius and Kisui HaRosh [head covering] but I see them reflected in the life of Rivkah in a manner that is very much alive for us today.

THE GEMARA AND ZOHAR elaborate in many places that strengthening one’s conduct of tzinius is an infallible way to be blessed with good health, sustenance, and much nachas---true nachas---from children and grandchildren [p.11]

The Torah teaches us that even when the Jews were captives in Egypt, they kept their distinctive modest dress and this led to Hashem’s blessing then and it still does today. Although every frum community may have slightly different standards for length of sleeve, neckline and skirt or dress hem, modesty is the unifying theme with the clear understanding that we are not to be conformed by the world’s standard’s, but as the Rebbe teaches, we are to elevate the world to holiness; which is indeed our standard. [p. 13-17]

But what if the world, or more specifically other women simply do not care? My thought is that the strength of true inner beauty always shines outward.  It encourages and inspires others to want the same dignity. Ladies, we are daughters of the King, let us present ourselves as royalty, not to hold ourselves above anyone else, but to give confidence to others to be their best. Notice, I’m not talking about style; style is a personal choice, rather I’m talking about creating an atmosphere that rejoices in purity and strengthens us to pull Moshiach into our very desperate world. But is being Tziniusdik just about clothing?

The entire beauty/glory of the king’s daughter is within [Ps. 45:12]. From this we learn that modesty is about our thoughts, the way we speak, act, and dress. And this is where we meet up with Rivkah at coming toward Eliezer with a water pitcher on her shoulder [24:17f].As most of us are familiar with this parsha, I will be touching on the points that our germane to our conversation.  Immediately we see that Rivkah’s life is about serving others, Eliezer is a stranger accompanied by camels and men and yet this young girl pours out all of her water for him to quench his thirst and then runs to get more for the animals and the others who are with him.  This is what Tzinius looks like.  Yes, there will be great reward for her fine character Rivkah will be adorned with gold, but she is not a magpie following after every shiny object, rather it is both the reason for Eliezer’s journey and her own precious neshamah/soul that compels her to leave her mother and home. Truly, it is her decision whether she stays or goes, but the blessing for her choice is monumental:

“Our sister, may you be [the one] to produce tens of millions,
and may your descendants take possession of the towns
of those who hate them.” [24:60]

I know that we are of Rivkah’s lineage and therefore share in this blessing, but I am still in awe that it actually does apply to us as well. My sisters, may this reality permeate our lives in tangible ways. As we move on to the mitzvah of Kisui HaRosh, we see that by taking on this mitzvah of covering our hair that it draws down blessing from above.

I am not concerned with the “debate” over sheitel [wig] vs. wrapping with scarves, only with hair covering and the blessing that ensues. 
From the book, Beautiful Within, the Rebbe quoting several sources wrote,
Her children will enjoy increased stature over other children; moreover, her husband shall be blessed with all blessings, blessings of above and blessings of below, with wealth, with children and grandchildren, etc.” [p. 20]

I know many Jewish women who do not cover their hair as well as non-Jewish women who do. I can only speak from my own experience as a Ba’al Teshuvah who has taken on this mitzvah. The blessings really have come into my mishpocha/family life just as the quote above speaks. No, we aren’t gazillionaire’s but there have been shidduchs, grandchildren, Yiddishe nachas, and simcha that far outweigh our struggles. Boruch Hashem. For those of who are frum, it is my sincere hope that this mitzvah is something we proudly share with others that they too will experience the revealed goodness that we have seen. Now, let us turn back to Rivkah Immeinu.

Yitzchak went out towards evening to pray in the field. He looked up and saw camels approaching. Rivkah looked up and saw Yitzchak, and she leaned down from the top of her camel…so she took her veil and covered herself. [24:63-65]

Just as we saw Rivkah’s innate middos/character to serve others when she met Eliezer, here we see humility and modesty before the man who would become her husband. And to this day, the following lines fill me with joy and profound hope,

Yitzchak brought her into the tent, [and she was like] Sarah his mother. He married Rivkah, and she became his wife and he loved her, and Yitzchak was comforted after [the death of] his mother. [24:67]

May we all embrace the Tziniusdik life style of Rivkah Immeinu and be the ones to bring comfort as well as be the conduit of find blessings for our families, Eretz Yisroel, our nation, and the world.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Chayei Sarah 5776, November 2015; Facing adversity

In a well known commentary, Rashi explains why the beginning of the parsha enumerates the years of Sarah Imeinu's life separately by digit, stating that all her years were equally good. Rabbi Steven Pruzansky asks, by what standards were they equally good? During her life, among the experiences enumerated by the Torah, Sarah has suffered infertility for decades, been kidnapped from her husband twice, left her home and family behind, opened her home to all who asked to visit, dealt with Hagar with whom she had a negative relationship at least part of the time, and ultimately saw in a vision her beloved son bound to an alter about to be sacrificed. Her behavior may always have been above reproach, but how were her years all intrinsically good and moreover equally so?
Even helping in the yard can be joyful and good when you
are at an age when you can appreciate the good in everything easily.

He quotes R' Dovid Hofstadter that good means spiritually successful; that Sarah may have had more tests from HaKadosh Baruch H- and passed them all due to her inherent goodness. Also, living through a negative experience but triumphing over it may better the one who experiences it. It leads ultimately to the perfection of the soul.

The good Rashi discusses here then is not just that which is given to us, for we know that everything G-d does is for the best; but also our own responses and behavioral learning have the opportunity to improve over and over, becoming more and more spiritually perfect. No matter what trials befall us--and we certainly can agree that even if Sarah's experiences had to be good because they came from G-d, they none the less were stressful, troublesome, with a strong potential to be appreciated as negative--they may be negative, they may be difficult, they may be painful. Our responses can fairly be negative, angry, sad. Yet simultaneously we always have the opportunity to turn each moment into a positive in some way in our soul and our heart.