Saturday, 7 December 2019

Parsha: Vayishlach, "Ben Ish Chai, Criticising Avot"

In year two, the Ben Ish Chai (BIC) on Vayishlach criticizes Yaakov Avinu for putting off fulfilling his pledge, his Neder....

 I want to offer a sympathetic way of understanding the BIC here, and a way to understand criticisms of the Avot in general without dwelling on the specific topics of promptness and the seriousness of N'darim. The BIC uses a Key word here, "mussar."

BIC makes a classic Mussar point: if Yaakov were chided for his procrastination - kol shekein - should we blush. Yaakov "takes it on the chin" to teach us a lesson; but it's NOT meant to take Yaakov "down a peg."

Readers of BIC or of other similar criticisms of Avot should realize that the intended message is to use the
Avot as a foil or as a strawman to teach an ethical lesson. The BIC's critique isn't meant to impugn Yaakov's reputation at all. Rather, it is to teach us, the readers, a lesson in mussar. This story is meant to serve as an ethical lesson, not a factual account.

Sometimes, I've used this technique.  Unfortunately, however, with the unexpected result of the listener then going on to chide me for criticizing the Avot and so tuning out my message! Yes, I guess I need Mussar, too! :-).



Parsha: Vayishlach, "Yaakov and the Taryag"

In this parsha, Yaakov says something which seems very innocuous, "Im Lavan Garti." (Beraishit: 32:5)

Rashi's interpretation, "V'taryag Mitzvot Shamarti" raises at least one question: How can any one Jew perform all 613 mitzvot? For instance, how can a person be both a Kohen Gadol and a Levi? It's physically impossible!

The answer may lie in the unique nature of Yaakov Avinu, patriarch of all the tribes of Israel. Yaakov, progenitor of Am Yisroel, contained the DNA of every future Israelite. His unique potential encompassed every possible Mitzvah. 



Parsha: Vayishlach, "Do Shimon and Levi = Nadav and Avihu?"

An interesting Rashi notes that Shimon and Levi acted recklessly in attacking Shechem without consulting their father, Yaakov. In "Sh'nei B'nei Yaakov",  Rashi writes that "They [Shimon and Levi] failed to act like sons in that they didn't seek advice from him [Yaakov, their father]." (Bereishit 34:25)

Nadav's and Avihu's case seems comparable. They were two "righteous" brothers who brought an "eish zarah" into the Sanctuary without consulting their elders, their father, Aharon, and their Uncle Moshe. The parallels are striking.

Shimon and Levi were castigated with fiery words.  Nadav and Avihu were incinerated. Had they consulted with their elders, as they should have done, their recklessness could have been prevented. Both improper behavior and a kind of insubordination or usurping of authority should be considered in this equation.


Parsha: Vayishlach and Shavuos, "Taryag Mitzvos Shamarti"

I originally gave this Dvar Torah at the Teaneck Carlebach Minyan for parshat Vayishlach. So this may be said either on Shavuot due to its content or on Vayishlach where the passuk and  the Rashi are found.
Im Lavan garti
RashiV'taryag mitzvot Shamarti

Q: Was Ya'akov Avinu a kohen gadol? A Yabbam? How could he possibly have observed 613 Mitzvos?

A: (bekitzur). Ya'akov-Yisroel was the last of the avos the last to be "kolel" the entire nation. I.E. he included every one of the eventual am Yisroel. Once the shevatim separated, levi'i'm and kohanim had separate mitzvos from others. There would never again be one individual who would encompass all 613. 

This point was most applicable to Ya'akov Avinu: That he keep all 613 mitzvos. No other individual could ever do this again.