MidrESHET Hayil

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Parashat VaYehi- Ephraim and Menashe's Sticky Switchuation

Parashat VaYehi- Ephraim and Menashe's Sticky Switchuation

14. But Yisrael stretched out his right hand and placed [it] on Ephraim's head, although he was the younger, and his left hand [he placed] on Menasheh's head. He guided his hands deliberately, for Menasheh was the firstborn.

יד. וַיִּשְׁלַח יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת יְמִינוֹ וַיָּשֶׁת עַל רֹאשׁ אֶפְרַיִם וְהוּא הַצָּעִיר וְאֶת שְׂמֹאלוֹ עַל רֹאשׁ מְנַשֶּׁה שִׂכֵּל אֶת יָדָיו כִּי מְנַשֶּׁה הַבְּכוֹר:

Every Erev Shabbat Kodesh, there is a concept or Birkhat haBanim, whereby parents bless their children 'Yasimekha E-lokim ke'Ephraim ve'ke'Menashe', that HaKadosh Barukh Hu should bless our children as Ephraim and Menashe were blessed. But what about the rest of the twelve shevatim? How come we are given a blessing according to the two peripheral shevatim but not the main ones? Why did Yaakov Avinu give most attention specifically to Ephraim and Menashe, giving them the primary berakha? Even further, even between the two sons, why did Yaakov Avinu favor one over the other?!

If anybody knew the effects parent favoritism plays in sibling rivalry and jealousy, it is Yaakov Avinu with his own sons who sold Yosef. One would think that the last person to do such a thing would be Yaakov. Why would Yaakov Avinu feel so compelled to overlook these consequences yet again in order to bless Ephraim and Menashe? Even between the two sons of Yosef, why does Yaakov Avinu favor one over the other?! We see him blessing Ephraim over Menashe even though Menashe was the firstborn! It can't get any more exclusive than that.

Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky, in Emet le'Yaakov, calls our attention to the difference of names that Yosef gave to his sons. Both were born in Egypt. When the oldest one was born, he called him Menashe, 'ki nashini E-lokim' translated by Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch 'because HaShem has made my trouble and all my paternal house into creditors to me.'  When his second son is born he calls him Ephraim, 'ki hifrani E-lokim', 'because HaShem has made me blossom in the land of my affliction'. There is a remarkable difference between these two names. When giving a name to Menashe, Yosef referred to his pain having to live in a foreign country with strong feelings of nostalgia for his paternal home. Although he was living in and even ruling a foreign land, yet his whole personality objected and protested against the culture of Egypt. Even though he was really involved in its governmental administration, he took no part in it. But, by the time that he had to decide on a name for his second son Ephraim, something had changed. While he was still aware of his unusual position as a Jew in a strange land, Yosef had somehow come to feel at home in this new country called Egypt.

While there is little doubt that Yosef was able to stay connected to HaKadosh Barukh Hu his entire life, the anti-Jewish surroundings of Egypt evidently had some influence on him based on how he named his children. He had to adapt himself towards his new environment and this may have had an effect on his identity…. and the identity of his children. Ephraim and Menashe were the only two grandchildren who were not born in Yaakov's proximity. While the other grandchildren were raised in his own home and in Eres Yirael, Menashe and Ephraim were born in a foreign country and never had seen their grandfather. The question how these grandchildren would stay frum in such surroundings must have been constantly on Yaakov Avinu's mind.

It is for this reason that he proclaims to Yosef: 'Now your sons who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you to Egypt, are mine, Efraim and Menashe shall be mine like Reuven and Shimon'. Despite their surroundings, Ephraim and Menashe were still able to maintain their strong connection to HaShem Yitbarakh.
We can now understand why Ephraim and Menashe might have been considered the most important; they represent a strong commitment to HaShem and Kedusha regardless of the impurities that surround them. However, what gave Ephraim more leverage over Menashe? Why was Ephraim more deserving of a berakha especially when he was the younger son?

Looking closer, we must conclude that there was a major difference between the kind of education these two sons received. When Menashe was born, Yosef was not yet fully involved with the administration of Egypt and still more of a foreigner, his mentality somewhere along the lines of: 'Although I am the second ruler in this country, remember, that this does not affect my loyalty towards my God and my people. We are Jews and we will wait for the first opportunity to leave this country and return to our homeland.' But, by the time Ephraim was born matters had changed. The feeling of being a foreigner had somehow faded, leaving him and his father, Yosef, more exposed to external influences.
It was for that reason that Yaakov Avinu was much more worried about the education of Ephraim than that of Menashe. Ephraim was much more vulnerable to the effects of the Egyptian religion and culture than Menashe was. Yaakov Avinu gave more attention to Ephraim, placing his right hand on Ephraim rather than to Menashe in order to strengthen him and encourage him; he needed it more. Menashe still came from a strong Jewish background and hence needed less special attention.

It is for this reason that it is most appropriate that parents give their children this berakha on Erev Shabbat Kodesh. We must realize that we are all vulnerable to the forces outside of us and must ensure to keep resistant against them in order to emerge kedoshim and connected to HaShem just like Ephraim and Menashe were able to do. When Yaakov Avinu switched his hands, placing his right hand on Ephraim and his left on Menashe, he emphasized the value of maintaining these high levels of purity and commitment even when our environments are not so. If HaShem is everywhere, then we must be connected to Him everywhere we go are as well; it shouldn't matter what the external environment is like.

May HaKadosh Barukh Hu bless each and every one of us with the special power both Ephraim and Menashe had to keep strong regardless of where we find ourselves and in this zekhut to build the Beit HaMikdash bimehera beyamenu so that we can serve HaShem Yitbarakh in our own land with an environment of pure kedusha and tehara.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom uMevorakh!!
Ariella Samimi

Adapted from the teachings of Rav Nathan Lopes Cardozo

Make Your Neshamah Fly!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Parashat VaYigash- You Are Alive, But Are You Living?

Parashat VaYigash- You Are Alive, But Are You Living?

8. And Paroh said to Jacob, "How many are the days of the years of your life?"

ח. וַיֹּאמֶר פַּרְעֹה אֶל יַעֲקֹב כַּמָּה יְמֵי שְׁנֵי חַיֶּיךָ:
9. And Jacob said to Paroh, "The days of the years of my sojournings are one hundred thirty years. The days of the years of my life have been few and miserable, and they have not reached the days of the years of the lives of my forefathers in the days of their sojournings."

ט. וַיֹּאמֶר יַעֲקֹב אֶל פַּרְעֹה יְמֵי שְׁנֵי מְגוּרַי שְׁלֹשִׁים וּמְאַת שָׁנָה מְעַט וְרָעִים הָיוּ יְמֵי שְׁנֵי חַיַּי וְלֹא הִשִּׂיגוּ אֶת יְמֵי שְׁנֵי חַיֵּי אֲבֹתַי בִּימֵי מְגוּרֵיהֶם:
What a random question to ask. Yet, the Midrash notes the manner in which Yaakov responds to Paroh formulates an amazing calculation. Yaakov lived to the age of 147 while his father lived until the age of 180. This is a difference of 33 years. The Midrash explains that Yaakov lost 33 years of his life due to the 33 words that were used as he cursed his life's struggles.

Wow, that's harsh. Imagine what would be if we were held accountable for every word we complained about our lives. HaShem Yerahem….

In order to understand the Midrash one must understand HaRamban (Nachmanides) on rules of diplomacy: World leaders do not normally greet each other with ordinary questions such as, "How old are you?" I am sure President Obama does not question Queen Elizabeth of her age when they get the chance to speak, (she may be too old to remember her age anyway). Yet that is the only conversation the Torah records about Yaakov's encounter with Paroh    The Ramban explains that Yaakov looked so aged and distraught that Pharaoh could not comprehend this. He therefore was hinting as to why there is a discrepancy between Yaakov's appearance and his actual age. And Yaakov explained why.

Do we have more life to our years or years to our life?

How do we look at our lives? Do we live days of emptiness or do we live fulfilled and productive days? Does it take us a year to achieve something that could be done in a week, or do we complete a year's work within a single day? How do we make use of our time and how do we value it? Are we optimistic and embracing of what life has to offer us or does it bring us down and hinder our development? Do we live diluted lives or do we lead lives of vivacity and exuberance? We must realize that it is not necessarily the years in our life that count; it is the life in our years that matter.

 It is quality, not quantity that counts. Once we internalize this, we can consider what is the means by which to live a fulfilled life.

When Paroh sks Yaakov how old he is, Yaakov contends that his years have not reached the years of his father's years. Why is this reason to be upset about? How does he know he will not reach that age? Nobody ever put a limit on his life; Yaakov could well live over 180 years old! Who was to stop him?? Often times, we do the same thing. We put ourselves down even before we encounter some failure. Even if we have the potential to excel, we automatically set ourselves up to fail before we have even begun.
To live a fulfilled life we must believe we are capable of anything. Nobody puts a limit on what you can do. Nobody can stop you. If you want something that you know is good for you, go seize it. If HaKadosh Barukh Hu sees it fit for you, consider it yours. Nobody can stop you but yourself. It is all in our mindset; keep a positive one.

We must stop counting numbers and weights and start feeling and appreciating instead. Set your own reality and chase it, don't waste your time sitting idly until it finds you.

Be'ezrat HaShem may we all have the clarity and the rasson (will) to make the best of each passing day feeling only the depth of its quality instead of keeping count of the time that goes by. May each day be more fulfilling and beautiful than its preceding day!

Wishing you all a beautiful, spiritual, uplifting and of course, fulfilling Shabbat Shalom uMevorakh!
Ariellah Samimi

Make Your Neshamah Fly!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Parashat Mikets Turn Your Weakness Into Your Biggest Strength


Parashat Mikets-Turn Your Weakness Into Your Biggest Strength

Kim Peek was born with severe brain damage. His childhood doctor told Kim's father to leave him in an institution and forget about the boy. The doctor believed that Kim's severe developmental disabilities would not let him even walk, let alone to learn anything. Until this day, Kim struggles with ordinary motor skills and has difficulty walking. He is severely disabled, cannot button his shirt and tests well below average on a general IQ test. It seems like Kim is left weak with no hope.

But Kim's father disregarded the doctor's advice.

What Kim can do now is astonishing. He has read 12,000 books and remembers everything about them. Not only that, he reads two pages at once - his left eye reads the left page, and his right eye reads the right page. It takes him about 3 seconds to read through two pages…and he remembers everything written on them. Kim can recall facts and trivial matters from over 15 subject areas. If you tell him a date, Kim can tell you what day of the week it is. He also remembers every piece of music he has ever heard. There is a reason why they call him "Kimputer".

Kim's biggest weakness, his mental disability, became his strongest characteristic, stronger than that of most people. He didn't let his weakness take over him; he never gave up.


Last Parasha, Yosef HaSadik goes from being his father's most beloved son to being abandoned by his own brothers because of one thing: his ability to interpret dreams. Had it not been for the incidents where he attempted to interpret his own dreams, his brothers would not have felt animosity towards him and he would have been able to live peacefully as home together with his family. But instead, he ends up in some dungeon in Egypt waiting for the day he will be set free.


In this Parashah, Parashat Mikets, we see Yosef HaSadik promoted from prisoner to prince. But what suddenly got him there? Yosef interprets one set of dreams about seven fat, healthy cows being consumed by seven thin cows, and a second set about seven healthy, full stalks of corn being consumed by seven unhealthy, thin stalks. Yosef explains to Pharaoh that the dreams mean that there will soon be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine, and that Pharaoh needs to appoint a minister to take care of this. Of course, Pharaoh appoints Yosef to take care of the grain during the expected famine, and Yosef goes from being the second from the bottom among his brothers to second from top of an entire civilization. It was Yosef's very ability to interpret dreams that rewarded him this pristine position- the same ability that got him into trouble and sent away in the first place.


The Torah HaKedoshah is making a very powerful statement here.


Our weaknesses have the potential to become our biggest strength. If you want to know what the biggest strength you have is, look at what you consider to be your biggest weakness; it lies beneath, it just needs to be unleashed. For instance, if I have a supposed weakness of forgetfulness, that is where I then tend to focus my most attention and try to develop; I finally end up with an astounding memory. If I know I have the predisposition to answer people impulsively, I develop exactly that trait into one of patience and consideration. Remember, Yosef HaSadik used his exact 'weakness' as his primary strength. Sure, interpreting dreams got him into prison but this exact ability also got him out of prison—and a spot as prince in Misrayim.


We must learn to embrace our weaknesses. When we deem something as a weakness and push it aside, we don't focus on developing it so we ignore it and it goes unnoticed. But we can use this exact power to develop ourselves further, we just never properly realized the need for it. Within our specific weakness is a reserve that is untapped. Until now, it was never look at or considered. We must realized that this very characteristic we consider weak is fresh, brand new, untouched—and can be turned into something more. The very fact that we have a weakness forces us to look inside ourselves. A weakness is an alarm, a bell, it gets your attention, it is clay in your hands—you can squeeze it out of frustration or you can sculpt it into a masterpiece. If we didn't have any weaknesses, or if we didn't acknowledge them and considered ourselves just to have strengths, then we coast through life and remain stagnant, we don't grow this way.


Once we can acknowledge what our weakness is, we can begin the process. Anytime we are faced with an experience depending on that weakness of ours, view it as an opportunity for GROWTH, not as an obstacle! If you are open to change, use every chance you get to allow you to hone this character and sharpen it. If you let it go and brush it off as a small imperfection, you are missing out on your greatest potential.


Weaknesses give us the momentum to move forward. Since we find ourselves on one extreme ('weakness'), we are brought to a point where we must put ourselves on the other extreme (strength) to counter it. The farther on one extreme of the spectrum, the more potential there is to flip it to the other end.


 I was once washing cherry tomatoes. They were all average in their cleanliness- they looked pretty clean to me, so I gave them a general rinse and scrub and set them out to eat. As I was arranging these cute little tomatoes, one fell to the floor before I was able to catch it. I quickly picked up the tomato and realized it was very dirty, and despite the 'five second rule',  I sprayed it with vegetable wash and began to scrub frantically for a few minutes until I was positive it was completely clean. In fact, it was cleaner than any other tomato on the plate.


Okay, other than getting you to crave tomatoes, what is my point here? When we realize something has a deficit, we work harder to fix it and emerge with something even greater than when we started. Yeah, that last tomato had a fall and got the dirtiest, but it also ended up becoming the most clean out of the entire bunch. When we realize we may have a deficit, we work harder to compensate for it and we end up with a strength we never had to begin with.


Be'ezrat HaShem, may we all be given the strength to develop our strengths and embrace what we consider weaknesses with the understanding that beneath them lays tremendous power for growth.


Wishing everyone a Shabbat Shalom uMevorakh, Hanoukkah Sameah, and a Hodesh Tevet Tov uMevorakh!

Ariella Samimi




Make Your Neshamah Fly!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Parashat VaYeshev- Picture Perfect


Parashat VaYeshev- Picture Perfect

When Reuven, the eldest of the twelve shevatim hears that his brothers are devising a plan to kill their youngest brother Yosef, he tries to convince them out of it. The Torah writes of him:

21. But Reuven heard, and he delivered him out of their hands, and he said, "Let us not deal him a deadly blow."

כא. וַיִּשְׁמַע רְאוּבֵן וַיַּצִּלֵהוּ מִיָּדָם וַיֹּאמֶר לֹא נַכֶּנּוּ נָפֶשׁ:

On my most recent trip to Eres Yisrael, while spending time at the Tahana Merkazi in Yerushalayim, I walked by a photo store and noticed mounted on a display was a large eye-catching photograph. Naturally, I drew nearer and observed the photograph closely. I realized that this large photo was made of hundreds of smaller photos that came together to create one uniform image. I surveyed each picture closely and considered its relevance to the main picture. I realized that no matter the content of each picture, if it was shifted even a little to the right or the left, it would ruin the continuity of the big picture. Each picture belonged exactly where it was put, and if it was missing, the big picture would no longer make sense.
Life is all about seeing the bigger picture, even when the small pictures do not seem to relate- they all belong there, they are all necessary. Sometimes, we go through an experience and we cannot fathom how it could possibly contribute to our lives, we cannot understand where this piece fits in, but know that if this piece was missing, the grand picture of our lives would be distorted.
We must embrace each experience in our lives….even if we don't understand them. They all belong where they are put.
The Midrash Raba on Sefer VaYikra tells us that had Reuven known that the Torah would write about him, "And Reuven heard it, and he delivered him out of their hands," he would have loaded Yosef on his shoulders and carried him back to his father.
What is the significance of this Midrash?
As part of human nature, we perceive an experience differently during the experience itself than after the experience, when looking at the big picture. We must understand that Reuven has no idea that his life will be recorded in the Torah, but if he knew that his whole life would be written down as one continuous story, one with a beginning and an end, he would have acted differently and carried Yosef home on his own shoulders. Why?
While he is with his brothers, he has no concept of what the big picture is at that point. He makes a simply decision to save his younger brother, he does not know what will come next. However, if one is granted the privilege of an overview of their life from beginning to end, they can understand exactly where this 'picture' fits in and why they must be experiencing it.
Just think, if our lives were written down, what would our story look like? What would our big picture be? Would it have vacant spots? Consider your actions in the big picture of your life, not only within its passing moments.
If I go through life with an open mind that, even though I do not understand why I might be going through this but I know I have to be, things become more endurable. We find relief knowing the very fact that we are meant to go be going through this. HaKadosh Barukh Hu is the artist of our life portrait. Could we ask for a more meticulous painter than that? Rest assured, He leaves out no details.

It was because Yosef understood this concept that he was able to reach the level that he did. Just imagine to yourself what Yosef had to endure. Just imagine the thoughts going through his head as he sat in the pit his brothers threw him in. Imagine the shame and betrayal he felt as he was standing there waiting for his brothers to sell him to Yishmaelim. What was Yosef feeling as he sat in the back of the caravan on his way to Misrayim alone, with absolutely no concept of where he is being taken to. What did this seventeen year old boy tell himself when Potiphar's wife accused him of violating her by which he was thrown into prison? Yosef realized that each of these small instances were vivid strokes of color in his beautiful portrait of life.
All that Yosef endured was not for nothing. What was his reward? He was called Safnat Pa'aneah, 'Revealer of Secrets'. Yosef was given the ability to see further, he was able to reveal the big picture.
The Midrash Rabbah (85:1) offers a glimpse into the heavenly orchestration that accompanies our earthly actions:
'Rabbi Shemuel Bar Nahman, when expounding on our Parsha would open his words with the following verse from Yirmiyahu (29:11): 'The thoughts that I'm thinking on them, says HaShem, are thoughts of peace and not evil, in order to give a future and a hope.' The tribes were involved in the sale of Yosef, Yosef was involved in his sackcloth and his fasting, Reuven was involved in his sackcloth and his fasting, Yaakov was involved in his sackcloth and his fasting, Yehuda was involved in finding himself a wife whileHaShem was involved in creating the light of the Mashiah.'
While we are mourning that which appears to be destruction, HaKadosh Barukh Hu is busy constructing the light of Mashiah!
This message is extremely powerful. At times when we feel that the picture does not belong, it could become the picture that defines our lives; we do not know what is behind it. Maybe we do not understand why that specific picture is there, but when we take a step back, we can see how it complements the overall picture.
The Maggid of Dubna explains that there are two means through which HaKadosh Barukh Hu delivers His goodness to us. Sometimes, HaShem sends down good in the form of honor, success and wealth. Other times, the berakhot come filtered through situations which appear to be the opposite, yet they are all necessary, and therefore all for the good.
This is comparable to a tailor producing a garment. Upon receiving elaborate pieces of expensive silk, the tailor 'attacks' the silk with large scissors, cutting it into different sizes and shapes, seemingly tearing it apart. An unknowledgeable onlooker would think that he has performed an act of destruction. A wiser person understands that these preliminary 'destructive' actions are necessary in order to produce a garment that will far surpass the silk material in both beauty and function.
Be'ezrat HaShem, may we all develop the understanding that each and every experience we endure has been beautifully orchestrated in the grand scheme of our lives and is most necessary to complete a beautiful portrait we can be proud to display in front of HaShem Himself.
Wishing each and every one of you a Shabbat Shalom uMevorakh!

Make Your Neshamah Fly!