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Lessons on the Weekly Parsha from Ohr HaChaim

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Lessons on the Weekly Parsha from Ohr HaChaim

Sunday 1:00PM
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Course Description

Join us as we explore and learn the weekly Torah portion from the perspective of the Ohr HaChaim, Ḥayyim ben Moshe ibn Attar.

About Rabbi Dr. Stuart Fischman
Rabbi Stuart Fischman graduated from Yeshiva University in 1980 and the dental school of Columbia University in 1985. Since 1989 he has been studying and teaching at Yeshivat Hamivtar in Efrat. He has rabbinic ordination from Rav Zalman Nechemia Goldberg.

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November 6, 2016 1:00PM - 2:00PM
Lessons on the Weekly Parsha from Ohr HaChaim

Hello Everyone,

    Yesterday we began the first shiur in our series of classes based on the commentary of the אור החיים הקדוש זצ"ל.

   The commentary of the אור החיים is based on the text, hewishes to explain individual pesukim in a given parsha.  In this respect the commentary of the אור החיים is different from the commentary of the שם משמואל which we  studied over the course of this past year. The שם משמואל wished to convey to his listeners ideas about עבודת ה'  and he made use of the parsha as a springboard for his drashot.

    In yesterday's class we studied how the אור החיים explained one episode from פרשת לך לך. In this parsha there is the story of how אברהם אבינו defeated the armies led by כדרלעומר.  Following Avraham Avinu's victory two people came out to greet him.  The first person who went out to greet him was the king of Sodom, whose own army was defeated by כדרלעומר. The king of Sodom was followed by a certain מלכי צדק who is described as being כהן לא-ל עליון. In the Torah's narrative the meeting between these two people with Avraham Avinu is related in an unusual fashion. We are told first that the king of Sodom went to meet with Avraham Avinu and in the next pasuk we are told that מלכי צדק went to greet Avraham Avinu, bearing a gift of bread and wine. But then the Torah reverses the order and tells us first  about the conversation between מלכי צדק and Avraham Avinu. Only afterwards are we told about the conversation of the king of Sodom with Avraham Avinu.

    Why doesn't the Torah give us a more "linear" description of the two meetings? In other words, we should have heard everything about the king of Sodom (his going to meet Avraham Avinu and what they said to each other) and then we should have been told everything about מלכי צדק.

   The אור החיים explains the matter as follows. The Torah wants to demonstrate for us the difference between a צדיק and a רשע. The Torah already described Sodom as a city of very wicked people:

בראשית פרק יג

(יג) וְאַנְשֵׁי סְדֹם רָעִים וְחַטָּאִים לַה' מְאֹד:

Let us look at the description of the meeting between these two people with Avraham Avinu:

בראשית פרק יד


(יז) וַיֵּצֵא מֶלֶךְ סְדֹם לִקְרָאתוֹ אַחֲרֵי שׁוּבוֹ מֵהַכּוֹת אֶת כְּדָרְלָעֹמֶר וְאֶת הַמְּלָכִים אֲשֶׁר אִתּוֹ אֶל עֵמֶק שָׁוֵה הוּא עֵמֶק הַמֶּלֶךְ:

(יח) וּמַלְכִּי צֶדֶק מֶלֶךְ שָׁלֵם הוֹצִיא לֶחֶם וָיָיִן וְהוּא כֹהֵן לְאֵל עֶלְיוֹן:

(יט) וַיְבָרְכֵהוּ וַיֹּאמַר בָּרוּךְ אַבְרָם לְאֵל עֶלְיוֹן קֹנֵה שָׁמַיִם וָאָרֶץ:

(כ) וּבָרוּךְ אֵל עֶלְיוֹן אֲשֶׁר מִגֵּן צָרֶיךָ בְּיָדֶךָ וַיִּתֶּן לוֹ מַעֲשֵׂר מִכֹּל:

(כא) וַיֹּאמֶר מֶלֶךְ סְדֹם אֶל אַבְרָם תֶּן לִי הַנֶּפֶשׁ וְהָרְכֻשׁ קַח לָךְ:

(כב) וַיֹּאמֶר אַבְרָם אֶל מֶלֶךְ סְדֹם הֲרִמֹתִי יָדִי אֶל ה' אֵל עֶלְיוֹן קֹנֵה שָׁמַיִם וָאָרֶץ:

(כג) אִם מִחוּט וְעַד שְׂרוֹךְ נַעַל וְאִם אֶקַּח מִכָּל אֲשֶׁר לָךְ וְלֹא תֹאמַר אֲנִי הֶעֱשַׁרְתִּי אֶת אַבְרָם:

We see immediately the contrast between the attitude of מלכי צדק who was the כהן לא-ל עליון and the attitude of the king of Sodom. מלכי צדק went out to greet Avraham Avinu with gifts to honor him, even though מלכי צדק was not a victim of כדרלעומר. Furthermore, מלכי צדק blessed Avraham Avinu and Hashem.

   The king of Sodom behaved in a completely different way. Even though he was rescued by Avraham Avinu he did not offer him any gifts. He did not even thank Avraham Avinu for coming to his aid. As soon as he sees Avraham Avinu he began to bargain with him about the division of the spoils of the war. It was with the aim of drawing the sharp distinction between the king of Sodom and מלכי צדק that  the Torah weaves the two dialogues together.

   What became of מלכי צדק? The אור החיים points out that the Torah says "...והוא  כהן לא-ל עליון..." which emphasizes that he was the כהן but his descendants were not. Chazal say that the priesthood was taken from him because he blessed Avraham Avinu before blessing Hashem.

    The blessings said by מלכי צדק  are explained by the אור החיים. Avraham received two types of blessings from מלכי צדק. He received a material blessing that Hashem would aid him against his enemies and a spiritual blessing that it would be through his efforts that Hashem will be acknowledged as the true God.

    This is the essence of what we discussed yesterday. Thanks to everyone who attended the class and I hope you found it enjoyable. If anyone has questions or suggestions please feel free to write to me. Stuart Fischman <fish9999@gmail.com>

plainמלכי צדק.docx
plainמלך סדום.docx
plainברית מילה.docx
plainמלכי צדק.docx
plainמלך סדום.docx
plainברית מילה.docx
November 13, 2016 1:00PM - 2:00PM
Lessons on the Weekly Parsha from Ohr HaChaim

Hello Everyone,

    In yesterday's class we saw how the אור החיים explained two of the difficult points in the opening of פרשת וירא. Specifically, we saw how he explained the ambiguous opening of the parsha, "וירא אליו ה'..." and he explained Avraham Avinu's  treatment of the three mysterious visitors to his tent.

    The parsha opens with the words:

(א) וַיֵּרָא אֵלָיו ה' בְּאֵלֹנֵי מַמְרֵא וְהוּא יֹשֵׁב פֶּתַח הָאֹהֶל כְּחֹם הַיּוֹם:

(ב) וַיִּשָּׂא עֵינָיו וַיַּרְא וְהִנֵּה שְׁלֹשָׁה אֲנָשִׁים נִצָּבִים עָלָיו וַיַּרְא וַיָּרָץ לִקְרָאתָם מִפֶּתַח הָאֹהֶל וַיִּשְׁתַּחוּ אָרְצָה:

   Avraham Avinu  received some sort of revelation from Hashem, but what was its content? The Rambam in Moreh haNevuchim says that the words "וירא אליו ה'" are the introduction to a prophetic vision which is spelled out starting with פסוק ב. In other words, according to the Rambam, the entire story of Avraham receiving the three guests was a prophetic vision. It never happened.

    The Ramban says that not only is the Rambam wrong, but his interpretation is heretical:[1]

רמב"ן בראשית פרק יח

"... ואלה דברים סותרים הכתוב, אסור לשומעם אף כי להאמין בהם: "

   The Ramban explains that  "וירא אליו ה' " was not a prophecy with a content. Rather  the appearance  of Hashem to Avraham Avinu was in the nature of a blessing. Hashem appears to people in order to express His pleasure at their performance of His mitzvoth. Hashem appeared to the Jews in the desert when the Mishkan was erected:

ויקרא פרק ט

(כג) וַיָּבֹא מֹשֶׁה וְאַהֲרֹן אֶל אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד וַיֵּצְאוּ וַיְבָרֲכוּ אֶת הָעָם וַיֵּרָא כְבוֹד ה' אֶל כָּל הָעָם:

Here too, Hashem appeared to Avraham in order to show that He appreciated Avraham Avinu's  performance of the mitzvah of ברית מילה.

   The אור החיים gives a different explanation of ".וירא אליו ה'" In the Midrash we encounter the phrase,  האבות הן הן המרכבה"." This phrase can be interpreted on many levels, but its simplest meaning is that the אבות brought the presence of Hashem into our world by virtue of the way that they lived their lives. The presence of Hashem, the שכינה, rested upon Avraham Avinu. This is why the pasuk says "וירא אליו ה' "   and not  as is usually the case, ".וירא ה' אליו"  This phrase was written to emphasize that that Hashem appeared to Avraham in order to elevate him. The אור החיים points out that this is the last place where it written that Hashem appeared (וירא)  to Avraham Avinu. From this moment on, Hashem's presence was always with Avraham Avinu.

   Another puzzling issue in this chapter is the nature of the three mysterious visitors. The Torah describes them as three men, "שלשה אנשים"  and Avraham Avinu actually prepared a meal for them as if they really were men. However they do not behave as regular men. They provide a prophetic blessing for Sarah Imeinu:

בראשית פרק יח

(י) וַיֹּאמֶר שׁוֹב אָשׁוּב אֵלֶיךָ כָּעֵת חַיָּה וְהִנֵּה בֵן לְשָׂרָה אִשְׁתֶּךָ...

and in the next chapter they are described specifically as angels:

בראשית פרק יט

(א) וַיָּבֹאוּ שְׁנֵי הַמַּלְאָכִים סְדֹמָה בָּעֶרֶב וְלוֹט יֹשֵׁב בְּשַׁעַר סְדֹם וַיַּרְא לוֹט וַיָּקָם לִקְרָאתָם וַיִּשְׁתַּחוּ אַפַּיִם אָרְצָה:

   So we have a few questions to ask. Did Avraham Avinu realize they were angels? From Rashi's commentary we get the impression that he thought they were wandering pagans:

רש"י בראשית פרק יח

ורחצו רגליכם - כסבור שהם ערביים שמשתחוים לאבק רגליהם והקפיד שלא להכניס עבודה זרה לביתו.....

But if they took the form of wayfarers (and pagans at that) why did Hashem rebuke Sarah Imeinu for not taking their blessing seriously? And if they did take form of angels, why did Avraham Avinu prepare a meal for them?

   The אור החיים explains this issue with his mixture of fealty to the wording of the text and appreciation of the hidden meaning of the text. The אור החיים expresses his approach with these words:

כי התורה יש בה בחינת הפשט ובחינת הפנימיות

When we read the words of this פרק we read about three men. But at the deeper level we know they were angels. Avraham Avinu certainly knew that he was being visited by three angels (as the אור החיים  says: כי צורת המלאך לא תתעלם ). So why did he offer them water to wash their feet? Why did he prepare a meal for them?

   The אור החיים explains this issue as follows. Avrahm Avinu  understood that if these angels are making their appearance in the guise of people then he, Avraham Avinu, must treat them as human guests. The question is why did Hashem send him three angels in the guise of humans? The answer is that Avraham Avinu was meant to teach a lesson on how the spiritual meshes with the physical.

  Bathing and eating are physical activities. However these activities can be elevated if we engage in them for a higher goal. Avrahm Avinu gave water to the angels to wash their feet. The feet are the lowest parts of the body. Water can be understood to be a metaphor for the plain meaning , the exoteric Torah. Avraham Avinu was teaching the angels that even when they are enclosed in human garb they can be made pure with the water of Torah. Bread on the other hand is a metaphor for the mystical teaching of the Torah.[2] Avraham Avinu offered them bread in order to provide them with the nourishment that need as angels.

    This is the lesson that Avraham Avinu provided for us and that the angels agreed to take part in. Ordinary people see eating as a necessity. People with more refined esthetic sensibilities (epicureans) look forward to meals which they can enjoy. But people who understand that we were created to serve Hashem understand that even something as mundane as eating can be part of their service of Hashem. The אור החיים quotes the pasuk from Mishlei:

משלי פרק יג

(כה) צַדִּיק אֹכֵל לְשֹׂבַע נַפְשׁוֹ וּבֶטֶן רְשָׁעִים תֶּחְסָר:

    Thanks to everyone who took part in the shiur, Stuart Fischman

    P.S- The shiur was cut off due to a technical problem at the 55th minute of the class. I was told by the technical people of Web Yeshiva that this hopefully will not happen again.



[1] I am not sure why the Ramban took such strong exception to this particular idea of the Rambam's. The Ramban defended the Rambam during the debate over the permissibility of studying the Rambam's  philosophical writings when other figures demanded that they be banned or even burned.

It may be that the Ramban was troubled by the fact that the Rambam took the liberty of saying that what seems to be a real event never actually happened. This denial of the simple meaning of the text could lead to other re-interpretations of the Torah in allegorical fashion. It was this tendency among people who saw the Rambam as their role model to interpret the Torah allegorically which brought about the famous ban of the Rashbah against the study of philosophy.  See for example the excerpt from The Rashbah's ban:

שו"ת הרשב"א חלק א סימן תיד


ע"כ =על כן= מקצתם לא הניחו מקרא שלא הפכוהו ויאמרו הלא ממשל משלים הוא. ועשה לנו אברהם ושרה חומר וצורה. ועקרו כל הגבולות לפרש שנים עשר בני יעקב י"ב המזלות ועמלק יצר הרע ולוט השכל ואשתו החומר והוא שנאמר עליה שהיתה נציב מלח. ודעת אנשים אלו מהשם ומעבודתו נגרע וחוזרים לסורם הרע.

[2] Since I am not a mystic I cannot explain these metaphors in any depth.


plainאור החיים בראשית פרק יח.docx
plainבראשית פרק יח.docx
plainרמבם הלכות יסודי התורה פרק ז.docx
November 20, 2016 1:00PM - 2:00PM
Lessons on the Weekly Parsha from Ohr HaChaim

Hello Everyone,

   In yesterday's class we saw how the אור החיים explains the first two  פסוקים in פרשת חיי שרה.

בראשית פרק כג

(א) וַיִּהְיוּ חַיֵּי שָׂרָה מֵאָה שָׁנָה וְעֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה וְשֶׁבַע שָׁנִים שְׁנֵי חַיֵּי שָׂרָה:

בראשית פרק ה

(ו) וַיְחִי שֵׁת חָמֵשׁ שָׁנִים וּמְאַת שָׁנָה וַיּוֹלֶד אֶת אֱנוֹשׁ:

   The אור החיים opens his discussion by comparing our parsha to the list of genealogies at the beginning of ספר בראשית. In that list we encounter over and over again the verb "ויחי" but here the account of the life of שרה אמנו begins with the verb ".ויהיו" What are we meant to learn from this?

    The  אור החיים  suggests several lessons that we can learn from this word. The ideas put forth by the אור החיים are based on a Midrash[1] which says that שרה אמנו died as a result of being told about the עקידה. Her premature death is alluded to by the word "ויהיו"  which is an expression of grief.[2]  Had Sarah not been shocked into an early death she would have lived longer. According to the אור החיים, the words "ויהיו חיי"  need to be understood as follows. "ויהיו"  is the verb of being, if not for the untimely death of שרה אמנו there would have been a new existence, one that would have been different from the one-hundred and twenty seven years that are mentioned in the פסוק. The years of Sarah's  life are attributed to her, they are     ".שני חיי שרה" The reason for this choice of words ( as opposed to the usual expression of "ויחי...") is that:

כי הצדיקים מחיים ימיהם, והרשעים ימיהם מחיים אותם:

    The אור החיים says that there is another lesson in this פסוק. שרה אמנו died prematurely. A person might think that this is an injustice to שרה אמנו  because having died early, she lost opportunities to perform mitzvoth which would have given her an even greater reward in the World to Come. The אור החיים quotes a Midrash which teaches that a person who dies at a young age is given a reward for all the mitzvoth she or he could have fulfilled had they lived to old age. This why the pasuk says  ",שני חיי שרה"Sarah was rewarded for all the mitzvoth that she would performed had she lived the complete ".שני חיי שרה"

    The אור החיים  goes on to explain the pasuk in the parsha.

(ב) וַתָּמָת שָׂרָה בְּקִרְיַת אַרְבַּע הִוא חֶבְרוֹן בְּאֶרֶץ כְּנָעַן וַיָּבֹא אַבְרָהָם לִסְפֹּד לְשָׂרָה וְלִבְכֹּתָהּ:

This verse gives three geographic details informing us where Sarah died; קרית ארבע, חברון, ארץ כנען. What are we being taught here?    

    The first place mentioned is קרית ארבע, "The City of the Four."  Rashi, based on the Midrash, says that "the Four" either refers to four giants who lived there, or to the four couples buried there. The אור החיים  says that "the Four" are the four elements of Aristotelian physics.[3] In most cases people's lives are governed by their pursuit of earthly pleasure. When they die their bodies decay and break down to these four elements from which they were made.

    Rarely, there is a צדקת like שרה אמנו . She successfully took all of these four elements and used them in the service of Hashem. This is the idea behind the second place-name in our pasuk, חברון, which is based on the Hebrew word לחבר which means to unite. שרה  אמנו  united the four elements in her lifetime and that is why her body never decayed after her death. Quoting a remarkable story in masechet Shabbat[4] the אור החיים says that the righteous elevate and transmute the material into the spiritual by means of their absolute devotion to the performance of mitzvoth and the study of Torah. The absolute devotion to Hashem enables the righteous to convert the material into the spiritual.

    The final place-name mentioned in the pasuk is ארץ כנען. Quoting the Zohar, the אור החיים says that ארץ כנען actually means "Earth.[5]" The earth is the domain of the יצר הרע. Life is full of spiritual challenges and obstacles. It is a great challenge to serve Hashem in this world. However if we try hard and persevere we can achieve great things. This is the lesson of the life of שרה אמנו.

Thanks to everyone who attended the shiur. Stuart Fischman


[1] מדרש תנחומא (ורשא) פרשת וירא סימן כג


....באותה שעה הלך השטן אצל שרה ונזדמן לה כדמות יצחק כיון שראה אותו אמרה לו בני מה עשה לך אביך, אמר לה נטלני אבי והעלני הרים והורידני בקעות והעלני לראש הר אחד ובנה מזבח וסדר המערכה והעריך את העצים ועקד אותי על גבי המזבח ולקח את הסכין לשחטני ואלולי שאמר לו הקדוש ברוך הוא אל תשלח ידך אל הנער כבר הייתי נשחט, לא הספיק לגמור את הדבר עד שיצאה נשמתה….


[2] תלמוד בבלי מסכת מגילה דף י עמוד ב

ויהי בימי אחשורוש. אמר רבי לוי ואיתימא רבי יונתן: דבר זה מסורת בידינו מאנשי כנסת הגדולה: כל מקום שנאמר ויהי אינו אלא לשון צער.

[3] Medieval Jewish thinkers adopted the Aristotelian system which included a theory that our world is composed of four elements; earth, water, fire and air.

[4] דף קנב עמוד ב

[5]  I don't know of this interpretation/definition is limited to this pasuk or is true in other places a swell.


plainקרית ארבע חברון.docx
plainויהיו חיי שרה.docx
November 27, 2016 1:00PM - 2:00PM
Lessons on the Weekly Parsha from Ohr HaChaim

Hello Everyone,

   In yesterday's class we saw how the אור החיים  explained two passages from פרשת תולדות.

בראשית פרק כה


(יט) וְאֵלֶּה תּוֹלְדֹת יִצְחָק בֶּן אַבְרָהָם אַבְרָהָם הוֹלִיד אֶת יִצְחָק:

The commentators offer various explanations for the strangeness of this verse. If it opens with the words "יצחק בן אברהם"  why does the Torah need to say,  "אברהם הוליד את יצחק ?"

  The אור החיים  offers several ideas to explain the פסוק. One explanation is based on the fact that the Torah tells us rather little about the events of Yitzchak Avinu's life.  Even what may have been the greatest moment of his life, the עקדה where he offered his life to Hashem, is related as a story about his father Avraham and not about him. Therefore the Torah emphasizes that Yitzchak was the son of Avraham and followed in his father's path of righteousness.

   Then the אור החיים offers two contradictory suggestions. The אור החיים says that one could legitimately say that Yitzchak was not as great as Avraham. Avraham blazed a new trail that all of humanity followed. Avraham taught the world that there is but one God. Yitzchak Avinu was of course a great tzaddik, but he was only the son of a great father. "אברהם הוליד את יצחק" emphasizes that Yitzchak's position was only that of the heir of Avraham Avinu.

    The אור החיים goes on to say that the opposite may be true. Chazal says that the prayers of a צדיק בן צדיק  are worthier than the prayers of a צדיק בן רשע. This idea is learned from the pasuk which says:

וַיֶּעְתַּר יִצְחָק לַה' לְנֹכַח אִשְׁתּוֹ כִּי עֲקָרָה הִוא וַיֵּעָתֶר לוֹ ה' וַתַּהַר רִבְקָה אִשְׁתּוֹ:

Hashem answered the prayers of Yitzchak Avinu, not those of Rivkah Imenu. The words "אברהם הוליד את יצחק"  teach us that יצחק אבינו was a צדיק בן צדיק unlike his father.

   The second פסוק  which we saw was at the end of the parsha:

בראשית פרק כח פסוק ה

וַיִּשְׁלַח יִצְחָק אֶת יַעֲקֹב וַיֵּלֶךְ פַּדֶּנָה אֲרָם אֶל לָבָן בֶּן בְּתוּאֵל הָאֲרַמִּי אֲחִי רִבְקָה אֵם יַעֲקֹב וְעֵשָׂו:

This pasuk gives us biographical information that is apparently redundant. We know already that Lavan was the brother of Rivkah, and we know that Rivkah was the mother of Yakov and Esav. Why does the Torah tell us this? Rashi was puzzled by this and wrote:

רש"י בראשית פרשת תולדות פרק כח פסוק ה

(ה) אם יעקב ועשו - איני יודע מה מלמדנו:

The אור החיים  gives us a Kabbalistic explanation for this pasuk. Avraham Avinu chose as a wife a woman who despite being born into a pagan family had a soul full of holiness. When the time came for Yitzchak to marry, Avraham Avinu sent for a wife from his home town. It was apparent that his town was the place where holiness could be found. That is why Yitzchak in turn sent Yakov to find a wife in the town of Avraham Avinu. The concept of discovering holiness in profane places is a very powerful one in Kabbalistic thought. The פסוק is telling us that despite unlikelihood of finding holiness in the town of לבן הרשע Yakov was not being sent on a fool's errand. The proof of that is in the fact that רבקה אמנו not only was born in that town but she was the sister of לבן הרשע. And one cannot say that it is unlikely that a woman from the family of לבן הרשע  could have righteous children because רבקה אמנו  gave birth to יעקב אבינו .

   The אור החיים  goes on to warn us against thinking that the אבות were setting an example for us. Many people have drawn catastrophic conclusions from the mystical lessons of the Torah.[1] If there are holy souls among the non-Jewish nations which need to be brought into the Jewish people, then, one could ask,  perhaps it is permitted, on certain occasions, to marry a non-Jew?

   The אור החיים says this is no longer the case. When the אבות lived they were the only Jews so of course they needed to find wives from non-Jewish backgrounds. But now there is a large and far-flung Jewish people. If there are holy souls which need to be "discovered" these souls can find their redemption by undergoing conversion to Judaism. There is no justification for intermarriage based on the Kabbalistic idea of seeking out holy "sparks."

   This is the essence of what we studied yesterday. Thanks to everyone who attended the shiur. Stuart Fischman


[1] Shabbatai Tzvi is of course the most well-known example of such a person.


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December 4, 2016 1:00PM - 2:00PM
Lessons on the Weekly Parsha from Ohr HaChaim

Hello Everyone,

    In Sunday's  class we saw some very interesting insights of the אור החיים in ויצא.

   יעקב אבינו entered into an agreement with his uncle, לבן הארמי, to work seven years in exchange for receiving his cousin רחל as wife. As we know יעקב אבינו  was tricked, and  was married to לאה. It was only after agreeing to work for another seven years that he was allowed to marry רחל.

    So where did this leave לאה אמינו ? The Torah describes her state with these words:

בראשית פרק כט

(לא) וַיַּרְא ה' כִּי שְׂנוּאָה לֵאָה וַיִּפְתַּח אֶת רַחְמָהּ וְרָחֵל עֲקָרָה:

(לב) וַתַּהַר לֵאָה וַתֵּלֶד בֵּן וַתִּקְרָא שְׁמוֹ רְאוּבֵן כִּי אָמְרָה כִּי רָאָה ה' בְּעָנְיִי כִּי עַתָּה יֶאֱהָבַנִי אִישִׁי:

(לג) וַתַּהַר עוֹד וַתֵּלֶד בֵּן וַתֹּאמֶר כִּי שָׁמַע ה' כִּי שְׂנוּאָה אָנֹכִי וַיִּתֶּן לִי גַּם אֶת זֶה וַתִּקְרָא שְׁמוֹ שִׁמְעוֹן:

(לד) וַתַּהַר עוֹד וַתֵּלֶד בֵּן וַתֹּאמֶר עַתָּה הַפַּעַם יִלָּוֶה אִישִׁי אֵלַי כִּי יָלַדְתִּי לוֹ שְׁלֹשָׁה בָנִים עַל כֵּן קָרָא שְׁמוֹ לֵוִי:

(לה) וַתַּהַר עוֹד וַתֵּלֶד בֵּן וַתֹּאמֶר הַפַּעַם אוֹדֶה אֶת ה' עַל כֵּן קָרְאָה שְׁמוֹ יְהוּדָה וַתַּעֲמֹד מִלֶּדֶת:

The  אור החיים makes the following observations:

a) Why does the Torah say that it was Hashem who  noticed that לאה was hated? How did לאה see her situation?

b) לאה named her first two sons saying about her first son that now her husband will love her, and her second son was given to her by Hashem because she is hated. The אור החיים finds this puzzling. If לאה realized that she was hated, shouldn't she have noticed this with her first son, and only afterwards hope that once the hatred has disappeared could she then express hope that her husband will love her?

   The אור החיים explains these points as follows.  לאה אמינו was a צדקת, and while she knew that יעקב אבינו did not love her,  she could not believe that יעקב אבינו  felt hate towards her. She was aware , as the Midrash says, that everyone who knew the families of Rivkah and Lavan thought that it would only be natural for the two oldest cousins to be married and then the two youngest cousins to be married. This would mean that Leah would be married to Esav and Rachel to Yaakov. Leah therefore thought that having Yaakov's first child would show that she was meant to be the wife of Yaakov.

   But this was not to be. She realized that Yaakov actually hated her and she acknowledged this when she named her second son. But was she meant at all to be Yaakov's wife? This doubt plagued her until her third son was born.

(לד) וַתַּהַר עוֹד וַתֵּלֶד בֵּן וַתֹּאמֶר עַתָּה הַפַּעַם יִלָּוֶה אִישִׁי אֵלַי כִּי יָלַדְתִּי לוֹ שְׁלֹשָׁה בָנִים עַל כֵּן קָרָא שְׁמוֹ לֵוִי:

When Hashem gave her a third son, this demonstrated that she was indeed meant to be the wife of Ya'akov. The Ohr Hachaim adds a mystical comment to the name לוי. It means that Leah will accompany Ya'akov not only in this world, but in the World to Come as well.

   The Matriarchs all had the gift of prophecy. Leah knew that Yaakov would have twelve sons. When she had her fourth son which was more than her "fair share" she realized that this was a gift from Hashem and acknowledged this by naming him Yehudah.

 The Ohr Hachaim discusses the love of Yaakov for Rachel. In English there is a saying, "familiarity breeds contempt." The Ohr Hachaim expresses this idea with the words:

כי כפי הטבע ההתמדה תמעיט האהבה

Even if this is human nature it did not apply to Yaakov and Rachel. The Ohr Hachaim sees this in the language used by the Torah:

(ל) וַיָּבֹא גַּם אֶל רָחֵל וַיֶּאֱהַב גַּם אֶת רָחֵל מִלֵּאָה וַיַּעֲבֹד עִמּוֹ עוֹד שֶׁבַע שָׁנִים אֲחֵרוֹת:

Why does the pasuk use the word "גם"   twice? It is meant to teach us that even though Yaakov spent more time with Rachel than he did with Leah, his love for Rachel never waned.


This is a summary of the shiur on the Ohr Hachaim. Thanks to everyone who participated. Stuart Fischman



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December 11, 2016 1:00PM - 2:00PM
Lessons on the Weekly Parsha from Ohr HaChaim

Hello Everyone,

   In yesterday's class we saw how the אור החיים explains the opening of פרשת וישלח. The difficulty that the commentators work to explain is why did יעקב אבינו feel so troubled by his encounter with his brother עשו?  It is certainly true that when יעקב אבינו left his home it was to escape the threat that עשו would murder him.

בראשית פרק כז

(מא) וַיִּשְׂטֹם עֵשָׂו אֶת יַעֲקֹב עַל הַבְּרָכָה אֲשֶׁר בֵּרֲכוֹ אָבִיו וַיֹּאמֶר עֵשָׂו בְּלִבּוֹ יִקְרְבוּ יְמֵי אֵבֶל אָבִי וְאַהַרְגָה אֶת יַעֲקֹב אָחִי:

(מב) וַיֻּגַּד לְרִבְקָה אֶת דִּבְרֵי עֵשָׂו בְּנָהּ הַגָּדֹל וַתִּשְׁלַח וַתִּקְרָא לְיַעֲקֹב בְּנָהּ הַקָּטָן וַתֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו הִנֵּה עֵשָׂו אָחִיךָ מִתְנַחֵם לְךָ לְהָרְגֶךָ:

(מג) וְעַתָּה בְנִי שְׁמַע בְּקֹלִי וְקוּם בְּרַח לְךָ אֶל לָבָן אָחִי חָרָנָה:

(מד) וְיָשַׁבְתָּ עִמּוֹ יָמִים אֲחָדִים עַד אֲשֶׁר תָּשׁוּב חֲמַת אָחִיךָ:

(מה) עַד שׁוּב אַף אָחִיךָ מִמְּךָ וְשָׁכַח אֵת אֲשֶׁר עָשִׂיתָ לּוֹ וְשָׁלַחְתִּי וּלְקַחְתִּיךָ מִשָּׁם לָמָה אֶשְׁכַּל גַּם  שְׁנֵיכֶם יוֹם אֶחָד:

But as יעקב אבינו fled to חרן, he received a promise from Hashem that He would protect him.

בראשית פרק כח

(טו) וְהִנֵּה אָנֹכִי עִמָּךְ וּשְׁמַרְתִּיךָ בְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר תֵּלֵךְ וַהֲשִׁבֹתִיךָ אֶל הָאֲדָמָה הַזֹּאת כִּי לֹא אֶעֱזָבְךָ עַד אֲשֶׁר אִם עָשִׂיתִי אֵת אֲשֶׁר דִּבַּרְתִּי לָךְ:

So, having received a Divine guarantee of safety, why was יעקב אבינו afraid of meeting עשו?

    There are two answers given to this question.

   The Rambam, in his introduction to his commentary to the Mishnah, quotes the תלמוד בבלי :

תלמוד בבלי מסכת ברכות דף ד עמוד א

כדרבי יעקב בר אידי, דרבי יעקב בר אידי רמי, כתיב: והנה אנכי עמך ושמרתיך בכל אשר תלך וכתיב: ויירא יעקב מאד! אמר: שמא יגרום החטא

When Hashem makes a promise via a prophet, Hashem will keep the promise regardless of whether the recipients are deserving of the promise. However this is only true for promises made by Hashem to others, via the prophet. If people's sins could cause Hashem to "revoke" a promise, then there would be no way to establish the integrity of a person claiming to be a prophet. This however is not the case of a promise made by Hashem to a prophet. יעקב אבינו  was correct in thinking that perhaps he had sinned since receiving Hashem's promise and the Divine promise may have been withdrawn.

    Rashi, based on the Midrash, provides a different explanation for יעקב אבינו fearing his meeting with עשו .

(ח) וַיִּירָא יַעֲקֹב מְאֹד וַיֵּצֶר לוֹ וַיַּחַץ אֶת הָעָם אֲשֶׁר אִתּוֹ וְאֶת הַצֹּאן וְאֶת הַבָּקָר וְהַגְּמַלִּים לִשְׁנֵי מַחֲנוֹת:

רש"י בראשית פרשת וישלח פרק לב פסוק ח

(ח) ויירא ויצר - ויירא שמא יהרג, ויצר לו אם יהרוג הוא את אחרים:

The Torah tells us with two different verbs how יעקב אבינו felt in anticipation of meeting עשו; the verbs are ויירא (he feared( and ויצר (he felt afflicted). Why do we need two different verbs? Rashi explains that יעקב אבינו faced a horrible choice- to kill or to be killed. This is a very important lesson. Often people blithely dismiss as cowardly the objections that people make towards "just wars." The people who speak with self- righteous enthusiasm about the necessity to go to war say that we ( the good ) cannot allow ourselves to be concerned about the suffering of the other (the bad) side. This is not the way that יעקב אבינו  thought about war. It seems clear that any battle that יעקב אבינו would have ended up fighting with עשו would have been morally justified. עשו had threatened to kill his brother and he was coming to meet him with 400 men. Despite his right to act in self-defense, יעקב אבינו agonized over the possibility that he may kill members of Eisav's band.

    The אור החיים sees signs of Yakov's internal tension throughout the opening of the parsha. Yakov does not know if he is about to meet Eisav, the man who promised to kill him; or perhaps he is going to meet  his "brother" who wishes to be reconciled with Yakov. This is why Yakov instructed his angelic messengers to address Eisav as his master. Yakov was willing to flatter Eisav if that would prevent a battle. This explains why Yakov goes to great length to explain to Eisav how he spent the past twenty years. It is the way for brothers who care about each other to bring each other "up-to-date" after long periods of separation. Yakov tried all the means at his disposal to have a peaceful meeting with Eisav.

    Despite his efforts, the messengers returned to Yakov with the message that Eisav was coming with 400 men. This caused Yakov great anxiety as we saw. The אור החיים also addresses the use of two different verbs to describe Yakov's feelings. According to the אור החיים what troubled Yakov so greatly was the possibility that he may inadvertently cause a conflict that Eisav wishes to avoid.

    Yakov was faced with a difficult choice. He could prepare for peace or prepare for war. Preparing for war might be safest  option, but if Eisav's intentions were peaceful then  Yakov's  going to meet Eisav with weapons would provoke the battle that he was hoping to avoid. War or peace, life or death; neither of the two options were without risk and that is why the Torah uses two verbs to describe Yakov's feelings.

    Thanks to everyone who attended the class. Stuart Fischman


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December 18, 2016 1:00PM - 2:00PM
Lessons on the Weekly Parsha from Ohr HaChaim
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January 1, 2017 1:00PM - 2:00PM
Lessons on the Weekly Parsha from Ohr HaChaim

Hello Everyone,

   Welcome back to the shiur on the אור החיים after our break for Chanukah.

   In פרשת ויגש we reach the resolution of the crisis which threatened to tear apart the nascent Jewish people. Joseph's brothers were so filled with jealousy and hatred towards him that they sold him into slavery and told their father that he was dead. Yakov Avinu mourned for his lost son and refused to be comforted in his mourning.

   Meanwhile, after being sold as a slave in Egypt , Joseph first rises to the position of overseer in his master's house, then he is tossed into prison and finally rises to the position of chief minister to Pharoah.  In this week's parsha Joseph finally reveals his true identity to his brothers and there is a reconciliation within the family.

   In yesterday's class we studied parts of the Ohr HaChaim's commentary to the parsha.

   The אור החיים asks a question which presumably troubles anyone who reads the story of יוסף. Why didn't יוסף send a letter to his father telling him where he is? יוסף  must have known that his father would be mourning his loss, why didn't he take this simple step of telling him that all was well?

   Before we studied the אור החיים we discussed the explanation given by Rav Yoel ben Nun who teaches Tanach in many institutions in Israel. Rav ben Nun says that to understand Yosef's behavior we need to keep in mind his family's history. In every generation, starting with Avraham Avinu's family, one son left the family. Avraham Avinu had two sons; Yitzchak Avinu and Yishmael. Yishmael was sent away by Avraham Avinu when Hashem told Avraham Avinu that Yitzchak is the son who will inherit the promise of founding Hashem's nation. Yitzchak Avinu in turn also had two sons, Yakov Avinu and Esav. Esav had no interest in being a part of Hashem's nation so he left and Yakov Avinu inherited the covenant with Hashem.

    When Yosef was sold into slavery by his brothers he had to wonder if perhaps his fate was to be the one that befell his uncle and great-uncle. If we wonder why Yosef never wrote to his father, Yosef may very have been wondering why didn't Yakov come to rescue him?[1] As the years passed with no sign that Yakov Avinu was trying to find him Yosef came to the conclusion that he was cast out of the family, just as Yishmael and Esav were before him. That is why he never sent a message home. He saw himself as the one who is cast aside in every generation.

   Now Yosef was faced with a truly fateful decision, if he was abandoned by the family chosen by Hashem does that mean he should abandon Hashem? Neither Yishmael nor Esav chose to remain true to the path of Avraham Avinu. But Yosef chose a different path, he remained loyal to Hahsem despite his being alone in Egypt. Whenever he spoke, he spoke about Hashem. To Potiphar's wife, in the prison with the baker and the wine –steward and finally to Pharaoh himself, Yosef declares his loyalty to Hashem:

בראשית פרק לט

"...וְאֵיךְ אֶעֱשֶׂה הָרָעָה הַגְּדֹלָה הַזֹּאת וְחָטָאתִי לֵא-לֹהִים:

בראשית פרק מ

"...הֲלוֹא לֵא-לֹהִים פִּתְרֹנִים סַפְּרוּ נָא לִי:

בראשית פרק מא

(טז) וַיַּעַן יוֹסֵף אֶת פַּרְעֹה לֵאמֹר בִּלְעָדָי אֱ-לֹהִים יַעֲנֶה אֶת שְׁלוֹם פַּרְעֹה:

Yosef's steadfast faith in Hashem when he had every reason to think that Hashem abandoned him was what made him special.

 The אור החיים gives a different explanation for Yosef's behavior. Simply put, Yosef was afraid that his brothers would come to kill him in Egypt. When we think back to וישב we remember that originally the brothers did plan to kill Yosef. It was only Yehudah's idea to sell Yosef into slavery. Yosef's thinking went like this: if he was to send a letter home the brothers might very see it before Yakov Avinu and then what would  happen? Would they share the letter with their father? Of course not. Sharing the letter with their father would lead to their father eventually finding out the truth that the brothers sold Yosef into slavery and then Yakov's fury would be boundless. The brothers would never let Yakov see this letter. The brothers would track down Yosef and kill him.

   After Yosef became the chief minister to Pharaoh he still did not write to his father. One reason for this is that he still had reason to think that his brothers would try to kill him out of sheer desperation. But he had another reason as well. The Halacha rules that it is preferable to be tossed into a furnace than to cause someone embarrassment. Yosef knew that if his letter would reach the hands of Yakov Avinu this would of course cause them terrible shame. Yosef felt that he could not cause them that shame even though it was at the expense of Yakov mourning  the loss of Yosef.

   So why did Yosef finally feel it was safe to reveal his identity to the brothers and to tell Yakov Avinu that he was actually alive?

   Yosef had two worries, that his brothers may still want to kill him and that his father may punish his brothers when he learns the truth about his abduction. Yosef delayed revealing himself until he could safely eliminate those two worries. He did this first by demonstrating to his brothers that he bears no ill-will towards them. By showing that he was willing to care for them during the famine he showed that he had love for them. He addressed his concern for Yakov's reaction to hearing the truth by showing that this entire episode was Hashem's plan for bringing the Jews to Egypt:

בראשית פרק מה


(ח) וְעַתָּה לֹא אַתֶּם שְׁלַחְתֶּם אֹתִי הֵנָּה כִּי הָאֱ-לֹהִים וַיְשִׂימֵנִי לְאָב לְפַרְעֹה וּלְאָדוֹן לְכָל בֵּיתוֹ וּמֹשֵׁל בְּכָל אֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם:

(ט) מַהֲרוּ וַעֲלוּ אֶל אָבִי וַאֲמַרְתֶּם אֵלָיו כֹּה אָמַר בִּנְךָ יוֹסֵף שָׂמַנִי אֱ-לֹהִים לְאָדוֹן לְכָל מִצְרָיִם רְדָה אֵלַי אַל תַּעֲמֹד:

   Once Yakov Avinu would realize that the sale of Yosef into slavery in Egypt was directed by Hashem he would no longer blame the brothers for their betrayal.

    This is part of yesterday's shiur. Thanks to everyone who participated. Stuart Fischman


[1] Yosef of course had no way of knowing that Yakov Avinu was told that Yosef was dead


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January 8, 2017 1:00PM - 2:00PM
Lessons on the Weekly Parsha from Ohr HaChaim

Dear Everyone,

   It is a commonplace that among the methods of interpreting the Torah are  פשט and סוד. In English I would translate this as explaining the Torah based on the "plain meaning" of the text as opposed to seeking out mystical ideas within the text.

   The commentary which we are studying together on Sundays is the Ohr HaChaim of Rabbi Chaim ibn Attar. His commentary is a combination of פשט   and סוד. By examining the text and seeking odd expressions he finds allusions to mystical ideas.

   A very good example of his approach is the Ohr HaChaim's commentary  to the beginning of פרשת ויחי.

   The  פרשה   opens with these words:

בראשית פרק מז פסוק כט

וַיִּקְרְבוּ יְמֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לָמוּת וַיִּקְרָא לִבְנוֹ לְיוֹסֵף וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ אִם נָא מָצָאתִי חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ שִׂים נָא יָדְךָ תַּחַת יְרֵכִי וְעָשִׂיתָ עִמָּדִי חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת אַל נָא תִקְבְּרֵנִי בְּמִצְרָיִם:

This verse is translated as follows:

And the time drew near that Israel must die; and he called his son Joseph, and said unto him: 'If now I have found favour in thy sight, put, I pray thee, thy hand under my thigh, and deal kindly and truly with me; bury me not, I pray thee, in Egypt.[1]

    Based on the context of the verse, this translation is very reasonable. Yakov Avinu realized that he was close to dying, so he made plans for his burial. The Ohr HaChaim is not satisfied with this translation . The phrase וַיִּקְרְבוּ יְמֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לָמוּת is an odd way to describe death. Death is an instantaneous process, why is it described even poetically as "ימי/days"? Why is death described as something that takes place as "days?"

   This is the point from which the Ohr HaChaim departs to bring us into the world of Kabbalism. The curious use of the words "days" to describe death is not to be understood literally. Of course the פשט/plain meaning is true. This verse does indeed relate a conversation which took place at the end of Yakov Avinu's life. But it describes something else as well. It describes what happens when a צדיק  dies.

   The word ימים  refers to the "sparks of souls" which we are all called upon to redeem in the course of lives. When a צדיק is close to dying Hashem gathers all of these "redeemed sparks" and the צדיקcan sense this.

   This is the key that the Ohr HaChaim uses to begin his interpretation of ths pasuk.

    Thanks to everyone who participated in the class. Stuart Fischman

[1] http://www.breslov.com/bible/Genesis47.htm#29


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January 15, 2017 1:00PM - 2:00PM
Lessons on the Weekly Parsha from Ohr HaChaim

Hello Everyone,

   In yesterday's shiur on the אור החיים we saw how he explains several ideas in פרשת שמות  .

   In this  parsha  Moshe Rabbeinu meets Hashem. When Hashem calls upon Moshe Rabbeinu , Moshe Rabbeinu is told:

וַיֹּאמֶר אַל תִּקְרַב הֲלֹם שַׁל נְעָלֶיךָ מֵעַל רַגְלֶיךָ כִּי הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה עוֹמֵד עָלָיו אַדְמַת קֹדֶשׁ הוּא:

There are two commands in this statement; that Moshe Rabbeinu should not come any closer to the burning bush and that Moshe Rabbeinu needs to remove his shoes. The אור החיים wrote that the sequence of the commands is puzzling. It seems that at that moment was acting against Hashem's will by wearing shoes. This being the case we would expect that first Hashem would instruct Moshe Rabbeinu to remove his shoes, and only afterwards tell him to avoid the possible future infraction of coming closer to the burning bush.

   So why are commands ordered in this fashion?

   The אור החיים explains the matter as follows. The מצוות of the Torah fall into one of two categories, positive and negative. The אור החיים  says that these two categories have different spiritual purposes. By observing the negative commandments we avoid spiritual harm. Observing the positive commandments yields spiritual gain. In determining what course to follow, the priority must be to minimize harm before considering the possibility of earning spiritual rewards. Therefore Hashem warned Moshe Rabbeinu against coming closer to the burning bush ( which was prohibited) before He told Moshe Rabbeinu to fulfill the mitzvah of honoring this holy site by removing his shoes.

   In the beginning of the parsha, Pharaoh tells his people that they need to make a plan to combat the Jews:

וַיֹּאמֶר אֶל עַמּוֹ הִנֵּה עַם בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל רַב וְעָצוּם מִמֶּנּוּ:

Why was Pharaoh so terrified of the Jews? How could a minority be described as "רב ועצום ממנו?"

   The answer to this question seems to me the answer to the timeless question of anti-Semitism. The אור החיים says that what provoked (and I think still provokes) this antipathy was our reversal to assimilate into the broader societies in which we live. Pharaoh was afraid of our unity. Should a war break a unified Jewish force would be a formidable enemy. As the אור החיים says:

ואומרו רב ועצום פירוש כי באמצעות היותם עם אחד ומיוחד הגם שיהיו מעטים בערך שאר האומות יחשבו לרבים ועצומים מהם לצד שהם כל אחד נותן נפשו על אחיו, וזה ידוע ליודעי ערך מלחמה.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the shiur. Stuart Fischman


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January 15, 2017 12:55PM - 1:55PM
Lessons on the Weekly Parsha from Ohr HaChaim
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January 22, 2017 1:00PM - 2:00PM
Lessons on the Weekly Parsha from Ohr HaChaim

Hello Everyone,

  In Sunday's class on the אור החיים we focused on the explanations that he provides for the opening verse of פרשת וארא.

   Parshat וארא opens with the words:

(ב) וַיְדַבֵּר אֱ-לֹהִים אֶל מֹשֶׁה וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו אֲנִי ה':

What message was Hashem trying to get across to Moshe Rabbeinu? It had to be more than just saying, "I am the Lord."

    As we have seen the אור החיים often gives several answers to a single question and he does that here as well. His answers are based on the idea that Hashem's names are more than just names, they reflect how He regards a situation and how He will act. The most common names of Hashem which we encounter in the Torah are the שם הויה which we represent as ה' and pronounce "Hashem" and the name א-להים . Chazal teach that the שם הויה indicates Hashem's mercy- מדת הרחמים while the name א-להים indicates Hashem's justice- מדת הדין. In this pasuk we see both names   א-להים as well as  ה' and this juxtaposition leads the אור החיים to his interpretation of  Hashem's  statement to Moshe Rabbeinu.

    At the end of parshat Shmot, Moshe Rabbeinu has to deal with the failure of his mission to Pharaoh. Having accepted Hashem's charge he goes to Pharaoh and demand that he free the Jews. Pharaoh, to put it mildly, was unimpressed with Moshe's cry for justice. He mocks Moshe and refuses to acknowledge Hashem. Instead of freeing the Jews he makes their burden even harsher. Moshe was attacked by the Jewish overseers of having made a bad situation even worse.

   In frustration turns to Hashem and asks:

(כב) וַיָּשָׁב מֹשֶׁה אֶל ה' וַיֹּאמַר אֲ-דֹנָי לָמָה הֲרֵעֹתָה לָעָם הַזֶּה לָמָּה זֶּה שְׁלַחְתָּנִי:

Our pasuk is the essence of Hashem's reply to Moshe. Hashem tells Moshe that He rules the world with a mixture of justice and mercy. These two traits are referred to in His names of א-להים and ה'. Moshe wanted to know why the Jews were not freed immediately. Hashem replied that the Egyptians will be punished and the Jews will be freed but Hashem never rushes to punish. Hashem's mercy has thirteen attributes, one of them being patience- ארך אפים. By speaking to Moshe as both      א-להים and ה' , Hashem was explaining to Moshe how He manages the world.

   Hashem was also telling Moshe that in his complaint to Hashem he took certain inappropriate liberties. Moshe needed to be reminded that when speaking to Hashem he needs to keep in mind that he is speaking with God. Therefore Hashem opens his response to Moshe with the name א-להים , God as Judge. But then He reminds Moshe that He is merciful and Moshe was wrong to think that Hashem would make things worse for the Jews without reason. In the second half of the pasuk Hashem refers to Himself with the שם הויה to emphasize that His mercy is always present.

   The אור  החיים  gives another explanation for the use of both names of Hashem in the pasuk. The Ibn Ezra  and Ramban  debate whether or not any of the ten plagues affected the Jews as well as Egyptians. The Ibn Ezra says that by simply reading the parsha we must say that the Jews were affected by the plagues. This is borne out by the fact that in the case of certain plagues the Torah specifically states that ארץ גשן was not stricken.

   The Ramban disagrees. He says that the plagues never affected the Jews. The Torah emphasizes that the Jews were not affected by plagues such as דבר and  ערוב because they were mobile.

    The אור החיים adopts the view of the Ramban. Hashem punished the Egyptians as א-לוהים but at the same time He had mercy on Jews as ה'.

    This is a summary of Sunday's shiur. Thanks to everyone who participated. Stuart Fischman




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January 29, 2017 12:55PM - 1:55PM
Lessons on the Weekly Parsha from Ohr HaChaim
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February 5, 2017 12:55PM - 1:55PM
Lessons on the Weekly Parsha from Ohr HaChaim

Hello Everyone,

    In yesterday's class on the אור החיים we studied two sections of his commentary.

In the beginning of פרשת בשלח  we read about the pursuit of Pharaoh and his army after the escaped Jews. Eventually the Jews found themselves trapped; the Red Sea was before them and Pharaoh's army was behind them. A part of the Jewish people cried out to Hashem for help, another segment of the people complained to Moshe Rabbeinu that he should have never taken them out of Egypt since now they will all die.

   Hashem responds to the people's cries with a surprising command:

(טו) וַיֹּאמֶר ה' אֶל מֹשֶׁה מַה תִּצְעַק אֵלָי דַּבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְיִסָּעוּ:

Why did Hashem say, "מה תצעק אלי"? Aren't we expected to pray to Hashem when faced with a crisis? Also, what did Hashem mean by "ויסעו" ? Towards where were they supposed to march? Did Hashem expect them to march into the sea?

    The אור החיים explains Hashem's meaning. According to the Midrash, when the Jews were trapped between the sea and Pharaoh's army, Hashem wished to perform the miracle of splitting the sea. However, at that moment, the prosecuting angel pointed out that both the Egyptians and the Jews were idolaters, so why do the Jews deserve to have a miracle done on their behalf?

    Hashem had to acknowledge the objection raised by the prosecuting angel. Hashem's רחמים depends on our performing mitzvoth which make us deserving of His mercy. That is why Hashem told Moshe Rabbeinu, " מה תצעק אלי." When the Jews are not worthy of having their prayers answered the need of the moment is not  prayer but mitzvoth. The Jews needed to do mitzvoth which would defeat the prosecuting angel. So Hashem told the Jews to march into the sea. This act of faith would make them worthy of having their prayers heard and having a miracle performed on their behalf. The Jews until a moment ago displayed a total lack of faith. Despite there just having seen the ten plagues they came to Moshe Rabbeinu and said:

(יא) וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֶל מֹשֶׁה הַמִבְּלִי אֵין קְבָרִים בְּמִצְרַיִם לְקַחְתָּנוּ לָמוּת בַּמִּדְבָּר מַה זֹּאת עָשִׂיתָ לָּנוּ לְהוֹצִיאָנוּ מִמִּצְרָיִם:

Walking into the sea would prove that they have faith that in Hashem's salvation and they were in the end saved.

   The second passage from the אור החיים dealt with the story of the manna and Shabbat. The manna came down from the sky every day, and every day the people were given a day's supply of food. Any attempt to collect more than one day's supply of manna failed. The surplus manna would spoil. On Friday something strange happened. The people collected one day's worth of  manna but the manna miraculously doubled in quantity. The leaders came to Moshe Rabbeinu and asked him what is happening? Why did the  manna double in size? Moshe Rabbeinu explained that this miracle within a miracle is honor of tomorrow, which is a special day:

(כג) וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם הוּא אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר ה' שַׁבָּתוֹן שַׁבַּת קֹדֶשׁ לַה' מָחָר אֵת אֲשֶׁר תֹּאפוּ אֵפוּ וְאֵת אֲשֶׁר תְּבַשְּׁלוּ בַּשֵּׁלוּ וְאֵת כָּל הָעֹדֵף הַנִּיחוּ לָכֶם לְמִשְׁמֶרֶת עַד  הַבֹּקֶר:

(כד) וַיַּנִּיחוּ אֹתוֹ עַד הַבֹּקֶר כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּה מֹשֶׁה וְלֹא הִבְאִישׁ וְרִמָּה לֹא הָיְתָה בּוֹ:

(כה) וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה אִכְלֻהוּ הַיּוֹם כִּי שַׁבָּת הַיּוֹם לַה' הַיּוֹם לֹא תִמְצָאֻהוּ בַּשָּׂדֶה:

(כו) שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים תִּלְקְטֻהוּ וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי שַׁבָּת לֹא יִהְיֶה בּוֹ:

Moshe Rabbeinu told the leaders that Hashem had told him that in honor of the Shabbat no manna will fall on that day. Rather, on Fridays the people will receive a double portion of manna.

   There is a question about Moshe Rabbeinu's behavior. The Halacha states that a prophet may not remain silent when given a prophecy, he must tell it to the people. This being the case, why didn't Moshe Rabbeinu tell the people about the manna as soon as he was told about by Hashem. Why did he wait with the prophecy until Friday?

  The אור החיים explains that Moshe Rabbeinu did this for a sound educational purpose. There is a difference between things that we learn about from a teacher and things that we learn about through our own experience. Lessons learned by experience are more powerful. The Shabbat is one of the foundations of Judaism. If the Jews would have been told about Shabbat by Moshe Rabbeinu their "internalizing" of this lesson would not have been as effective as their learning about Shabbat via the miraculous doubling of the manna. Once the Jews saw the doubling of the manna they understood that Hashem views the Shabbat as His very special day.

   This is a synopsis of yesterday's class. Thanks to everyone who participated. Stuart Fischman


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February 12, 2017 12:55PM - 1:55PM
Lessons on the Weekly Parsha from Ohr HaChaim
Hello Everyone,
   Here is a summary of yesterday's shiur on the אור החיים.
   The highlight of the parsha, which can fairly be considered to be the highlight of our nation's history, is the giving of the Torah. When Hashem told Moshe Rabbeinu that he will be Hashem's intermediary, He told him as follows:
שמות פרק יט 
(ט) וַיֹּאמֶר ה' אֶל מֹשֶׁה הִנֵּה אָנֹכִי בָּא אֵלֶיךָ בְּעַב הֶעָנָן בַּעֲבוּר יִשְׁמַע הָעָם בְּדַבְּרִי עִמָּךְ וְגַם בְּךָ יַאֲמִינוּ לְעוֹלָם וַיַּגֵּד מֹשֶׁה אֶת דִּבְרֵי הָעָם אֶל ה':
    Hashem seems to be promising Moshe Rabbeinu that fulfilling this role will cement his place in the Jewish tradition as Hashem's prophet. This is indeed how we have developed as a religion and nation. There is however a question that many commentators raise. In פרשת בשלח we read about the Jewish people's response to the miracle of the Red Sea and Moshe Rabbeinu's role in saving them:
שמות פרק יד 
(לא) וַיַּרְא יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת הַיָּד הַגְּדֹלָה אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה ה' בְּמִצְרַיִם וַיִּירְאוּ הָעָם אֶת ה' וַיַּאֲמִינוּ בַּה' וּבְמֹשֶׁה עַבְדּוֹ:
   If at the parting of the Red Sea led to "ויאמינו בה' ובמשה עבדו" what was different by the faith described at Mount Sinai "וגם בך יאמינו לעולם"?  It is essential to understand faith and its role in Judaism.
   The Ibn Ezra compares בשלח and יתרו. He says that at the Red Sea most, but not all, of the people believed that Moshe Rabbeinu was a prophet. As the Ibn Ezra explains, many cultures simply deny the possibility of a human receiving communications from God. It was only at Mount Sinai when the entire people beheld Hashem speaking with Moshe Rabbeinu that prophecy is real and that Moshe Rabbeinu was God's messenger.
    The Ramban strongly disagreed with the Ibn Ezra's interpretation of events. The Ramban puts forth that the Jewish people would never doubt the reality of prophecy. As a people we are the descendants of the אבות ואמהות who were prophets. Prophecy would never have been doubted by the Jews, even after all the years of slavery in Egypt. The Ramban explains the unique significance of הר סיני  by  emphasizing the "לעולם" aspect of the people's response to Moshe Rabbeinu's role at Mount Sinai.  Hashem wanted the entire nation to hear for themselves that he  spoke to Moshe Rabbeinu. The reason for this was that Hashem wished to establish as a fact for all eternity that the Torah was given by God to the Jewish people. Any person who will ever claim that Hashem has חלילה changed or nullified the Torah, or substituted some other text for the Torah will be rejected by us. We know that Moshe Rabbeinu was the greatest prophet whoever was and that no other prophet can legitimately claim to be his superior.
     The Rambam also wrote about the significance of the people's experience at הר סיני. The Rambam writes that faith cannot truly be based on miracles. The person whose faith is based on having seen a miracle can always harbor a doubt that perhaps the miracle was a sham, and that the miracle-worker is actually a fraudster. That is why Hashem insisted that the entire nation hear Him speak to Moshe Rabbeinu.  All the people were prophets at מתן תורה . This "mass prophecy" established firmly the knowledge that Hashem does indeed speak with people.
   The אור החיים comments on the Rambam's explanation of the peoples' experience at מתן תורה. He wonders why the Rambam felt that it was only by actually hearing Hashem's voice that the people were definitely convinced that Moshe Rabbeinu was a prophet. Our ancestors witnessed spectacular events which could only have been brought about by God Himself. No magician could have produced anything like the Ten Plagues or the splitting of the Red Sea. How could the Rambam say that those miracles could not dispel all doubts regarding Moshe Rabbeinu's kegitimacy?
    The אור החיים explains the issue along the lines (or so it seems to me) of the Ibn Ezra. The Jews certainly knew that Moshe Rabbeinu had a connection with Hashem. That is what the פסוק  tells us in פרשת בשלח. The Jews believed that Moshe Rabbeinu's prayers were answered by Hashem. However (and this recalls the Ibn Ezra's view) the Jews did not believe that Hashem spoke with people. By having the people hear for themselves that He spoke with Moshe Rabbeinu, Hashem demonstrated that prophecy exists.
   This is a partial summary of yesterday's class. Thanks to everyone who participated. Stuart Fischman
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February 19, 2017 12:55PM - 1:55PM
Lessons on the Weekly Parsha from Ohr HaChaim

Hello Everyone,

  Yesterday was our final shiur on the commentary אור החיים על התורה. In the beginning of this series of שיעורים I said that the אור החיים is a rare combination of פשט  and סוד. His commentary to the opening  of פרשת משפטים is a tour de force which demonstrates his method of linking the mystical to the prosaic areas of the Torah.

   פרשת משפטים  opens with the laws regarding institution of indentured servitude. The אור החיים takes these laws into a completely direction . The laws of עבד עברי become an exposition on the relationship of the soul to the body and תחיית המתים . The laws of אמה עבריה are a dialogue between the Jewish people and Hashem regarding the גלות וגאולה.

   Usually I summarize the אור החיים but in this case I do not feel that I can do justice to the depth and breadth of the אור החיים by "abridging" his words. So I ask that everyone study the pages that I posted and if it helps to listen to the shiur on the archives.

   Thanks to everyone who participated in the שיעורים. Starting next week we will be discussing Purim and Pesach.

 Bye, Stuart Fischman. 

plainעבד עברי.docx
plainאמה עבריה.docx
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