Thursday, November 30, 2006

Hilchot Shabbat - Grinding

I have just posted the latest shiur from my Hilchot Shabbat classes. It is on grinding (tochen). I have rewritten it substantially since last year (the shiur has now more than doubled in size). Click here for the pdf.
It is also posted on my other blogsite:


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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Parsha - Vayetze

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to download a pdf printable version of this d'var Torah click here

Exile and Presence

According to the tradition there is a gap of 14 years between the end of last week's Torah reading, when Ya'akov leaves his parents' home, and the beginning of this one, when he goes to Charan. The Rabbis tell us that he spent that time studying in the Yeshiva of Shem and Ever. Ya'akov had grown up in the house of Yitzchak, and had spent the first 63 years of his life immersed in study, as the verse states, "Ya'akov was a wholesome man, abiding in tents" (Genesis 25; 27). Yet he realised that his was not adequate preparation before going to face Lavan, the arch enemy of the Jewish people (As the verse says, "An Aramean [Lavan] tried to destroy my father" Deuteronomy 26; 5). In fact his study in this Yeshiva was so intense that he didn't sleep a proper night's sleep for the entire time that he was there.
So it seems strange that despite all this preparation Ya'akov makes a deal with G-d after he has the dream of the ladder and the angels. "Then Ya'akov took a vow saying, 'If G-d will be with me, will guard me on this way? and I return in peace to my father's house, then G-d (A-donai) will be a G-d (Elokim) to me.'" (Genesis 28; 20-21). What would the alternative have been? Can we deduce that had things not worked out so well Ya'akov would not have accepted G-d, despite all those years of study and preparation?

For the rest of the dvar torah, go to

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Parsha - Chaye Sarah

For the pdf link click here

Emunah and Bitachon

From the very beginning humans were expected to expend effort to attain their goals. When G-d created Adam and Eve and placed them in the Garden of Eden, He commanded them to "work it and to guard it" (Genesis 2; 15). Even though everything was provided for them, they were expected to earn their keep. After they were evicted from paradise one of the curses was that only through the sweat of their brow will they eat food.
In our Torah reading it is surprising to find that Yitzchak seems to make no effort to find himself a wife, but relies on his father to appoint someone as matchmaker for him. Furthermore, when Eliezer, Avraham's servant, arrives in Padan Aram he also makes no effort to find the suitable match, but tells G-d to show him the object of his quest. Compared with the actions of Ya'akov, when he arrives in Padan Aram to find a wife a generation later, Eliezer appears to expend no energy to find Yitzchak's prospective bride. When Ya'akov arrived (ibid. 29), and ascertains that he has reached the correct destination, he begins asking questions about Lavan and his family, to try and find the most suitable marriage partner. When he sees Rachel he realises immediately that she is to be his wife. Eliezer on the other hand simply tethers his camels, and tells G-d to do the rest.
Though we are supposed to have faith and trust in G-d, total reliance on Him is an abdication of responsibility. Eliezer seems to fail to act in a responsible manner. In fact the Midrash (Bereishis Rabba 60) criticizes Eliezer for his request in asking G-d to find the proper wife for Yitzchak.

For the continuation of this d'var Torah look at or for the pdf file click here

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Parsha - Vayera

Click here to download this file as pdf

When G-d tells Avraham that He is about to destroy Sodom and Gemorrah, Avraham pleads and bargains with G-d to save those cities and their inhabitants. During the negotiations, Avraham shows his humility by describing himself as “mere earth and ashes” (Genesis 18; 27). Rabbi Yonasan Eibschitz points out that with the double phrase of ‘earth and ashes’ Avraham is seeking extra merit for the people of Sodom. ‘Earth’ stresses the fact that people are only mortal, and their origin is in the earth. With such a background it is only natural that people are drawn to sin, since the base element of their physical body draws the soul away from G-d.
However, Avraham himself shows the futility of this claim. If he was able to surmount such humble origins, and elevate himself to the service of G-d, what excuse do the people of Sodom have? Elsewhere in the Tanach we find a similar claim. The Tzorfati woman asks Eliyahu to leave her home, saying: “Have you come to me to show up my sins, to kill my son?” (I ings 17; 18). Though she was one of the few righteous people of the generation, compared to Eliyahu she felt inadequate, and any shortcomings that she had were highlighted by his near perfection. Though Avraham was arguing on behalf of Sodom, his personal commitment showed up their faults. Therefore he added ‘ash’, as a reminder of the fact that he had survived being thrown into a furnace by Nimrod, in Ur Kasdim. Though he survived miraculously, he could have been burnt to ash. Since he personally experienced the miracle of surviving the furnace, he had a greater debt of gratitude to G-d. Therefore he describes himself as ash to plead on behalf of Sodom, that because they had not experienced this Divine salvation, G-d could not reasonably expect such a high level of behaviour from them.

To read the rest of the d'var Torah online go to

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Parsha - Lech Lecha

Here is the beginning of the parsha shiur for Lech Lecha. You can click on the link for a pdf version, or look at for all the parsha shiurim.

Click here to download in pdf format

“G-d said to Avram, ‘Go for yourself from your land, from your relatives, and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you’ ... Avram took his wife Sarai and Lot, his brother’s son, and all their wealth that they had amassed, and the souls they made in Haran; and they left to go to the land of Canaan, and they came to the land of Canaan.” (Genesis 12; 1-5). This was one of Avraham’s ten tests (Ethics of the Fathers 5). Because he hearkened to G-d, and left his home, relatives and family he showed his faith and trust in G-d. Yet this passage is remarkably similar to that immediately preceding. “Terach took his son Avram, and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of Avram his son, and they departed with them from Ur Kasdim to go to the land of Canaan; they arrived at Haran and they settled there.” The Torah is not merely telling us the travelogue of Terach and his family, but seems to be implying a parallel between Avram and his father. Both set out for Canaan with their families. However, Avram arrived at his destination, whereas Terach gave up en route, and settled in Haran. Surely G-d is as concerned with intent as with deed, therefore we should expect Terach to be praised for beginning the process which Avram was to complete.
Yet even from G-d’s instruction to Avram we see that this is not the case. “Go ... from your father’s house...”. G-d explains to Avram that he is not to continue in his father’s path, but to make a new beginning, abandoning his past. Similarly, as we read in the Haggada of Pesach, when Joshua gives his farewell address to the nation, he contrasts Avraham’s actions with those of Terach. “Your forefathers - Terach, the father of Avraham and the father of Nachor - always dwelt beyond the [Euphrates] river and they served other gods.” (Joshua 24; 2). Avraham, the founding father of the nation and the first to embrace monotheism, is contrasted with his father Terach who remained an idolater. Thus, rather than considering Terach meritorious for setting out for the Land of Israel, he became the epitome of an idol worshipper for his failure to reach that goal. In fact, it seems that Terach’s main failing was his inability to cross the river.

continued on the website or the pdf file (check the beginning of this post)