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  • Rabbi Binyomin Halpern

“Nothing is forever.” “There are limits to everything.” We tend to hear such statements all the time. (This is especially true regarding an ice cream cone, on a sunny Florida day.)

Most things in this world are indeed finite. Time, money, even life. But what if I were to tell you that there is something that we have, that we can create that is infinite? No, I am not talking about mitzvos, or Torah learning, or even reward in olam haba.

I’m talking about the ability to give brachos to others, and specifically, to our children.

וַיְבָ֨רְכֵ֜ם בַּיּ֣וֹם הַהוּא֮ לֵאמוֹר֒ בְּךָ֗ יְבָרֵ֤ךְ יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ לֵאמֹ֔ר יְשִֽׂמְךָ֣ אֱלֹקים כְּאֶפְרַ֖יִם וְכִמְנַשֶּׁ֑ה וַיָּ֥שֶׂם אֶת־אֶפְרַ֖יִם לִפְנֵ֥י מְנַשֶּֽׁה׃

And he [Yaakov] blessed them on that day saying “With you, Israel shall bless saying ‘May Hashem make you like Ephraim and Menashe’ (Gen. 48:20)

Rashi explains this pasuk to be referring to the brachos that Jewish parents constantly give their children

הַבָּא לְבָרֵךְ אֶת בָּנָיו יְבָרְכֵם בְּבִרְכָתָם וְיֹאמַר אִישׁ לִבְנוֹ יְשִׂימְךָ אֱלֹקים כְּאֶפְרַיִם וְכִמְנַשֶּׁה:

One who comes to bless his sons, blesses them with [Ephraim and Menashe’s] blessing, and a man will say to his son ‘May Hashem make you like Ephraim and Menashe’

The famous question is: Why specifically these two? What was special about Ephraim and Menashe, that forever afterwards, parents bless their children with their bracha?

There are many answers to this question, but let me share with you the explanation of R’ Yeruchem Levovitz zt’l, famed Mashgiach of the Mir yeshiva.

The bracha that we give our children is not as much about the recipients, Ephraim and Menashe,as it is about the giver of the blessing, and the specialness of Yaakov’s bracha to them.

Anyone can give a bracha, but not all brachos are the same, or have the same power. Yaakov’s bracha at that moment, when he was leaving this world and passing on his legacy to his grandchildren, was unbelievably powerful. So powerful, that by merely invoking that bracha, all of klal yisroel forever after can tap into and access the bracha of Yaakov avinu to Ephraim and Menashe.

Where does the power of brachos come from and how can we make ours more powerful?

At the end of Parshas Vayeietzei, Lavan, gives brachos to his family; to his daughters, Rochel and Leah, and to his grandchildren. R’ Ovadia Seforno points out that even Lavan, who was surely not a tzadik, can give a powerful and meaningful bracha. The power of a bracha comes from the heart, and it comes from the soul. Often, we give and receive short standard brachos, however, every once in a while, especially at meaningful times, (eg. a wedding, a bris, or a tearful goodbye) we can conjure up brachos that can last forever. When we give brachos to our children on Friday night, or to anyone at any time, let us realize the power of the moment. In tapping into our deepest feelings of love and generosity, we can give and create something eternal.

Wishing everyone a beautiful Shabbos,

Rabbi Binyomin Halpern

  • Rabbi Binyomin Halpern

In all probability, someone did something wrong to you recently, and you are still waiting for them to admit their mistake. It is difficult to see, and definitely to admit, when we are wrong.

In Parshas Vayeishev, as the saga of Yosef and his brothers unfolds, Yosef is thrown into the bor, the pit, near Shechem. Reuvain returns to the pit, attempting to save Yosef, but unfortunately he is too late.

Where is Reuvain returning from?

Rashi tells us

עָסוּק הָיָה בְשַׂקּוֹ וּבְתַעֲנִיתוֹ עַל שֶׁבִּלְבֵּל יְצוּעֵי אָבִיו:

(רש"י בראשית ל"ז:כ"ט)

Reuvain had been doing teshuva, fasting and wearing sackcloth, for the sin of disturbing and disrespecting his father’s bed, [when upon Rochel’s passing, Yaakov placed his bed in Bilhah’s tent, instead of the tent of Reuvain’s mother, Leah.]

Interestingly, Hashem then declared the following: “until this time, no one had sinned before Me and done teshuva! It is only fitting that your descendant Hoshea, will be the one to bring up the topic of teshuva for Klal Yisroel, with the words שובה ישראל (Hoshea 14:2)

R’ Yaakov Yitzchak Ruderman, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Ner Yisroel, Baltimore posed the following question. Weren’t there many others who did teshuva before Reuvain? What about Kayin, and even Adam Harishon who did teshuva for 130 years for his sin of eating from the Eitz Hada’as, the Tree of Knowledge? What does Hashem mean that Reuvain was the first one to do teshuva?

Reuvain was definitely not the first person in the world to do teshuva. But he established a new type of teshuva, in a scenario in which no one had ever repented from previously. Adam’s sin was clear, and he knew it. G-d said ‘don’t eat from the tree, and he did. Kayin’s sin was clear and he admitted so as well. Reuvain’s sin was different because he was well intentioned. The gemara in Shabbos (55b) says that it is incorrect to categorize reuvain’s actions as a full sin at all. Although he shouldn’t have done what he did, but he did it out of כיבוד אם, standing up for the honor of his mother! When something you do is at least partially correct, and you have noble intentions, it is extremely hard to see any fault whatsoever. So much so that in the history of the world, it took approximately 2216 years (the Jewish year that Yosef was sold) for a well intended person to see his mistake and do teshuva.

Chanuka, as a time of gratitude, simcha and generosity, is a great time to take stock of our actions and relationships. In identifying situations where we may have been “partially wrong” we can reforge commitments and connections. Reuvain lit the flame thousands of years ago to start a legacy of teshuva, and we have the opportunity to keep it lit and pass it on to the next generation.

Wishing everyone a beautiful Shabbos,

Rabbi Binyomin Halpern

  • BYB Office

Updated: Dec 16, 2022

I have fond memories of attending day camp as a child. One of the more memorable activities was a game called “Let’s Make a Deal.” It was a game show where various contestants dressed in funny costumes would try to navigate guessing the contents of hidden prizes while negotiating with the game show host.

Dealmaking is part of life. We need to negotiate with service professionals, business associates and at times even with our children! What is fascinating is that we find in Parshas Vayeitzei, Yaakov Avinu making deals with G-d Almighty.

In the opening pesukim of the parsha our forefather Yaakov is going through a time of tremendous uncertainty. He is penniless, on the run from his murderous brother Eisav, and on route to his dubious uncle Lavan. Aside from worries of his own personal safety, he has dreams of marrying and starting a family dedicated to serving Hashem and continuing the legacy of his father and grandfather. Hashem appears to him with reassurances of Divine assistance and Yaakov falls asleep to the famous dream of angels and ladders. Yet, even upon awakening Yaakov still has fears and doubts.

So what does he do?

[1] וידר יעקב נדר לאמר

“Jacob took a vow saying”

This word לאמר, “saying”, is a funny word. It usually means that you are telling someone to repeat something to a third party. But here there would seem to be no third party as Yaakov is making a neder to Hashem. What then is the meaning of the word לאמר here?

The Midrash[2] says that Yaakov’s vow was in fact meant to be something that should be told over, לאמר לדורות כדי שיהיו נודרים בעת צרתן This was meant to be told over to all subsequent generations of the Jewish people, so they as well should know to take vows during times of difficulty.

What was the importance of this vow? If it was a good idea, why should it only be taken at times of difficulty?

In general we avoid taking vows. We have enough commitments already, and for most people it is irresponsible to take on extra obligations that they may not keep.

However during an eis tzara, a time of difficulty, it is actually a mitzvah[3] to take on additional spiritual commitments. This is true for a number of reasons.

Firstly, there is added divine merit and protection from successfully committing to something new.

However there is another reason as well. When you are worried and anxious it is difficult to have bitachon, trust in Hashem. By adding more mitzvos to your credit allows you to have more bitachon more trust in Hashem that He will help you out of it, in the merit of the mitzvah.[4]

The lesson here is that when we are concerned and it is difficult to have the faith that we would like, it is a good idea - and even a mitzvah - to find ways and perspectives to strengthen our bitachon.

What in fact was Yaakov’s neder?

Interestingly, Yaakov commits himself to two things with seemingly no connection- a House for Hashem, and tzedaka, charity.

וְהָאֶבֶן הַזֹּאת אֲשֶׁר שַׂמְתִּי מַצֵּבָה יִהְיֶה בֵּית אֱלֹהִים וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר תִּתֶּן לִי עַשֵּׂר אֲעַשְּׂרֶנּוּ לָךְ

This stone, that I have made a monument, shall be a house for Hashem, and everything that You will give me, I will tithe. (Gen. 28:22)

Houses for Hashem and the mitzvah of donating to tzedaka are of course both extremely important. Why though, did Yaakov choose these two particular things to commit himself to at this time?

I would suggest that both were ways of expressing Yaakov’s emunah and concretizing what he was hoping to gain from his vow.

A Shul, a Bais Yaakov of Boca Raton, or any mosad hatorah, are all places which we can use to serve Hashem as individuals through tefillah, and Torah learning. But equally important is the fact that these places are a matzeiva, a monument. They are places that broadcast Hashem’s existence and that there are people who recognize Him and appreciate all that He has done, and continues to do, for them.

The commentary of Rabbi Yosef Bechor Shor makes the same point in regards to Yaakov’s maaser.

Yaakov’ intention was לפרסם ששמרת לי הבטחתך, to publicize that Yaakov recognized that all that He was to receive was in fact orchestrating by Hashem, and demonstrated how He had kept his word to protect and take care of him.

In short, difficult times are bitachon opportunities and a great time to take on additional commitments. Yaakov’s examples of tzedakah and creating a mosad, were both great ways to express and enhance his bitachon in Hashem. (In fact, you can do both by giving tzedaka to BYB!) By capitalizing on our own bitachon opportunities, we can inspire ourselves, and those around us.

Wishing everyone a beautiful Shabbos,

Rabbi Binyomin Halpern

[1] Gen. 28:20

[2] BR 70:1.

[3] Eitz Yosef

[4] להיות נכון לבם בטוח בה' בזכות המצוה

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