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Hanna's Dvar Torah

Our best years - Vayechi

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How would you react if someone told you that this corona period is the best period of his or her life?

In this week’s Parasha Vayechi, the Torah describes the last years of Jacob, which he lived in Egypt. Rabbi Jacob ben Asher (also known as the Baal Haturim) notes that these years were the best of Jacob’s life! How is this possible? Egypt is described a land full of lewdness and sins. Spiritually, Egypt represents everything that is an obstacle to our good deeds. Why weren’t the years Jacob spent in the Holy Land his best years?

The Third Rebbe of Chabad had the same question when he was a child, which he asked his grandfather, the First Rebbe of Chabad. His grandfather explained to him that when Jacob’s family was in Egypt, they studied the Torah and kept their Jewish faith. The Torah gave them the necessary strength in order not to be influenced by the negative environment of Egypt.

This nice explanation answers the question about how it is possible that Jacob had good years in Egypt. But it does not answer the question about why his best years were there…

In truth, the Rebbe’s explanation indirectly answers the second question. Because when we succeed in acting correctly and ethically in difficult circumstances, this is more special and significant than doing it in ideal circumstances. This is why Jacob’s best years happened in corrupted Egypt.

Yet, the Rebbe did not clearly tell this to his grandchild, who was still a kid, because we should not actively search and try to put ourselves in difficult and challenging situations. It is best to act morally in a secure and good environment. But when G-d brings us to a difficult situation, we need to remember we can turn this challenge into an opportunity. Through studying the Torah and caring for our fellow people, we can transform the darkness into light.

All of us have difficulties in this corona period. Let us study Torah and this will give us the strength to be able to say that finally, this period, where we transformed the challenge into an opportunity, was the best of our lives.

Shabbat Shalom,

Hanna

A strange gift - Vayigash

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How do you choose a gift for a loved one? Getting the perfect gift for them is not easy at all. We need to think about something that the receiver will enjoy and utilize. There is no point in giving expensive chocolates to someone who has diabetes…

In this week’s Parasha Vayigash, Joseph, now viceroy of Egypt, reveals his identity to his brothers. After 22 years of painful separation, with Jacob thinking that his son is dead, Joseph tells his brother to hurry to his father, give him the good news and bring him to Egypt to be reunited. Joseph sends with the brothers gifts for Jacob. Our Sages have different opinions as to the nature of these gifts. Some say that he sent aged wine, others say that he sent split peas. Why would Joseph send such strange gifts?

Joseph did not simply send foods, he wanted to transmit a message.

Joseph knew that the news that he is still alive would not bring only joy to his father, because he would suddenly understand what his children, Jacob’s brothers, had done to him in the past. Even if he did not discover all the details, just hearing the news would awaken the pain. Joseph was trying to ease the anguish of his father by sending the split peas. These were a traditional Egyptian dish, which was made of crushed beans. It was symbolic: the tremendous agony that they had to go through was finally what brought Joseph to the position of viceroy, giving him the possibility to feed his family in the years of famine. The difficulties turned into something good.

In addition, during the 22 years that Jacob mourned for Joseph, none of them drank wine, which gladdens the heart of man. Joseph sent his father aged wine to give him the message that he never lost his hope to be reunited. This is why he kept away the wine for the joyous day of their reunion.

Our lives are not always easy. Let us internalize the messages of the split peas and the aged wine. Let us remember that the difficulties are for our good and let us not lose hope! Those difficulties will pass.

Very soon, G-d will bring us Mashiach and pain and troubles will disappear from the world.

Shabbat Shalom,

Hanna

The early bird catches the worm - Miketz

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In this week’s Parasha Miketz, Pharaoh makes two strange dreams.

In the first dream, Pharaoh sees seven fat good-looking cows grazing in the Nile. Then, seven lean cows arrive and after a while, they swallow the fat cows, but nevertheless stay lean!

The second dream was similar to the first one, but it had earls of grain instead of cows. A group of seven fat earls of grain and a group of seven lean earls of grain grow near each other, and the lean ones swallow the fat ones, nevertheless staying thin!

Pharaoh’s advisors could not give him a satisfactory interpretation. In his anguish, Pharaoh orders to bring Joseph from the prison to interpret his dreams. Joseph’s interpretation is simple. Egypt would go through seven years of plenty, which will be followed by seven years of such terrible famine the years of abundance will be forgotten. Joseph concludes that the Egyptians need to take advantage of the years of abundance and store food for the years of hunger.

We also have in our lives, cycles of “hunger” and abundance. There are periods where everything goes well: we are healthy, successful and our bank account is full. Sometimes, in good periods, we forget to invest time and energy in cultivating our relationships with our spouse, our friends and develop a deep connection with G-d.

But then, when the times of “hunger” and of various difficulties come, and we suddenly feel the need for help, we may not know how to communicate it. If we do not cultivate our relationships in the times of abundance, we may not have the tools that will help us go through the difficult times…

The secret is during the times of abundance to have in mind the times of “hunger”. Keeping the right set of priorities and investing in what is really important, such as the relationships with our loved ones and our connection to G-d, is what will help us go though the difficult times when they come.

Shabbat Shalom,

Hanna 

Is there something really empty in the world? - Vayeshev

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This week’s Parasha Vayeshev tells about the children of Jacob who were jealous of their brother Joseph. They hated him so much that once, when they were in the pasture, they decided to kill him. But Reuven, the firstborn, stopped them and proposed to throw him in a pit instead, having in mind to come later to save him. But until Reuven came back, the brothers had taken out Joseph from the pit and sold him as a slave to itinerant merchants. Joseph ended up in Egypt, and later brought the rest of the family there, thus setting the stage for the story of Pesach to unfold.

The Torah describes Joseph’s pit as “an empty pit where there was no water”. This sounds harmless, doesn’t it?  But, as we know, the Torah never uses words without a purpose. Why did the Torah have to precise that there was no water? It is self-understood. Our Sages explain that the Torah hints here that there is no such a thing as an empty pit. If it had no water, it means that it had inside snakes and scorpions…

This rule applies to us as well. Our mind is always busy, it is never empty. If it is not busy with positive matters, it is necessarily busy with nonsense and less positive matters… We need to fill it up with water, symbolizing Torah.

This rule works the other way around as well. When a negative thought sneaks into our mind and does not want to leave, we need not fight it. It is better to study some Torah, to occupy our mind with something positive. In this way, the negative thoughts will leave on their own.

This is also connected to the holiday of Chanukah which is starting today. How can we chase away the darkness? We do not need to fight it. It is enough to open the light.

Let us always occupy our thoughts with positive matters. Let us study some Torah, let us think of whom we can help and how. When our mind with will full and bright, darkness will not be able to enter.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Chanukah!

Hanna

How to confront our inner “Esau”?

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The story of this week’s Parasha Vayishlach is perplexing. As we remember from the previous Parashiyot, Jacob took his father’s blessings instead of Esau, who became very angry with him and decided to take revenge. Jacob then flees to Charan where he works, gets married, has children, and becomes wealthy.

After 20 years in Charan, Jacob returns to the land of Israel. Before confronting Esau, he wants to know if his brother is still angry or if the years that passed have appeased him. For this purpose, Jacob sends angels to Esau. Yet, we know that G-d does not do pointless miracles but only when there is a real need and meaning. Why did Jacob’s messengers need to be angels and not mere mortals?

The answer is simple and is found in what we know about Esau’s character. He was not an honest and good man… he had committed his first murder when he was only 15 years old. To survive an encounter with Esau, the help and power of angels were needed.

We all have inside us a symbolic “Esau” that prevents our spiritual growth. It is our tendency to focus only on egoistic and material endeavors. In order to confront it and to occupy ourselves with altruistic and spiritual endeavors, regular forces are not enough, we need angels – enforced powers.

Our powers are our mind and our heart, which have the ability to keep us higher than the everyday difficulties. But in order to confront the “Esau” inside us, we need to enhance them. For our mind and our heart to conduct us in this fight, we need to fill them up with G-dly and positive content. A Torah class, a book or an article on spiritual matters give us inspiration and “fill up the batteries” of our powers so we can succeed!

Let us take advantage of the angels inside us, filling up our heart and mind with the right content.

Shabbat Shalom!

Hanna

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