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October 8th, 2015
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Torah Parsha


Parshas Bereishis - Work Around

Parshas Bereishis - Work Around

But of the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat of it, for on the day that you eat thereof, you shall surely die." (Bereishis 2:17)

From the story itself it seems as if immortality was an option. Until man ate from the Aitz HaDa’as Tov v’Ra—the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil—he was free of death. Had he not eaten, seemingly, he would have remained that way forever and death would have been only a potential, not a reality.

The Midrash says otherwise:

“Go and see the works of God, awesome in deed toward mankind” (Tehillim 66:5): Go and see how when The Holy One, Blessed is He, created the world, He created the Angel of Death on the first day as well . . . Man was created on the sixth day and yet death was blamed on him! To what is this similar? To a man who decided that he wanted to divorce his wife and wrote her a bill of divorce, after which he came home holding it, looking for a pretext to give it to her. He told her, “Prepare me something to drink.”

She did, and taking it he said [to her], “Here is your Get.”

She asked him, “Why?”

He told her, “Leave my house. You made me a warm drink.”

She said, “You were able to know [before coming home] that I would prepare you a warm drink that you wrote a bill of divorce in advance and came home with it?”

Adam said something similar to The Holy One, Blessed is He, “Master of the Universe! The Torah was with You for 2,000 years before You created the world . . . and what is written in it, ‘This is the law when a man will die in a tent’ (Bamidbar19:14). If You had not decided that Your creations should be able to die, would You have written this? Yet You blame death on me!” (Tanchuma, Vayaishev 4)

As Adam HaRishon astutely pointed out, death is an integral part of the Torah. There are all kinds of laws to do with death, from laws of mourning to laws of ritual purity. It’s not as if they did not have to exist and God only later included them to adapt Torah to man’s changed reality. The mitzvos are eternal, including the laws to do with death and dying.

There is however an interesting idea that provides direction for this discussion. The Talmud says the following:

Jewish sinners who transgress with their bodies . . . go toGehinom and are punished there for twelve months. What does “Jewish sinners who transgress with their bodies” mean? Rav said: This refers to the head which does not put on Tefillin. (Rosh Hashanah 17a)

If the person is involved with Torah learning then it is as if he put on Tefillin, as the Mechilta says: One who is involved with Torah learning is not obligated in [the mitzvah of] Tefillin . . . (Tosfos)

On the surface of it, the wearing of Tefillin and the learning of Torah seem to be two separate mitzvos. Though both share the goal of bringing a person closer to God, each is a unique way of doing so and seems to compliment the other. Otherwise, why would they be two different mitzvos?

The discussion becomes even more difficult to put into perspective when one considers another “replacement” for Tefillin.

The Torah tells us that Ya’akov Avinu served his uncle and father-in-law, Lavan, for 14 years. During that time he did little to increase his own personal wealth, which he took the next six years to do. Though he made his uncle rich in a conventional manner, he seemed to use less conventional means to speed up the process of acquiring his own wealth:

And Ya’akov took himself moist rod[s] of trembling poplar and hazelnut, and chestnut, and he peeled white streaks upon them, baring the white that was on the rods. He thrust the rods that he had peeled into the gutters in the watering troughs where the animals would come to drink opposite the [other] animals, and they would come into heat when they came to drink. The flocks came into heat by the rods, and the animals bore ringed, spotted, and striped [young].

And Ya’akov separated the sheep, and he turned the faces of the animals toward the ringed one[s] and every brown one among Lavan’s animals, and he made himself flocks by himself, and he did not place them with Lavan’s animals. It came to pass that whenever the animals that were bearing their first would come into heat, Ya’akov would place the rods in the troughs before the eyes of the animals, [in order] to bring them into heat by [means of] the rods. If the animals would delay he would not place them, so that the ones that delayed were Lavan’s, and the ones that bore their first became Ya’akov’s. The man became very wealthy, and he had prolific animals, and maidservants and manservants, and camels and donkeys. (Bereishis 30:37-43)

Again, on the surface of it, it would seem that this episode has nothing to do with the mitzvah of Tefillin. On a deeper level though it turns out that it has everything to do with Tefillin. When Ya’akov placed the sticks into the gutters he accomplished the same thing as the mitzvah of Tefillin. What? How?

An analogy will help.

When a person winds a watch he is only aware of the small dial that he can barely turn with his fingers. If he is changing the time then he will also notice the hands of the watch move as well as he turns the dial, though not at the same rate as the dial he is turning. But, he probably won’t even think twice about how that works.

If he opens the watch he will be surprised to learn that the dial he turned is not directly connected to the hands of the watch. Rather, there is an intricate system of large and small gears that mesh together to make it possible for the watch to be wound and with accuracy. Furthermore, he will find a coiled spring that allows the watch to tick at a consistent rate and to keep relatively accurate time. The more expensive the watch the more intricate and refined the system will be.

The average person does not open watches to see how they work. Whether they are wound or battery-operated digital watches, most people do not give much thought to what makes an item work. As long as they function well, or can be repaired by an expert when they don’t, then people are satisfied.                 (


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