Weekly Parsha Review Laced with Humor and Sarcasm from The Oisvorfer Ruv

Toldois 2014 – East Coast & West Coast

3It gives the Oisvorfer great pleasure to announce that this coming shabbis, Yoni Weitz, son of our dear friends Dasi and Moti Weitz will be called to the Torah in honor of his forthcoming marriage to Talia Felman, she the daughter of Rena and Nahum Felman of Englewood New Jersey.  We have known Yoni since he was a very young boy and have enjoyed watching him grow and mature into the fine young man he is today. The Oisvorfer will forever be grateful to Moti who stepped in like Chiro, a person we will be reading about in parsha Vayeshev. We look forward to dancing at this simcha.

And in late breaking news……a  hearty mazel tov to Daniella and David Liechtung upon the birth yesterday of a baby girl. Mazel tov to Barbara and Shimmy Schwartz and to Aliza and Shloime Liechtung, very proud and excited grandparents and of course a big mazel tov to all the great-grandparents.

Raboyseyee and Ladies:

East Coast and West Coast

In this week’s mailbag, a very interesting letter from a reader, let’s start there.

Dear Rabbi,
Always enjoy your posts, even though I am not Jewish and only see the writings passed back and forth by my coworkers here, so I get a chance to read up. I read the bible when I was younger but that’s just about the extent of my knowledge of all this…. quick question for you. I know that Abraham is considered a righteous person, tzadik I think it is called and yet we see that he lied several times when traveling with Sarah and calling her his sister.  How can this righteous person be a liar? What about his faith in G-d and knowing that he will be protected no matter what happens? So if he lied, he doubted that G-d  would take care of him, and was afraid for his life? We know that Isaac lied the same way later on…. this never really settled in my mind.

Thank you !
Ben Richards


Shoin, Ben taka asked a very excellent kasha. And is it not the case that just last week and two weeks ago Avrohom taka lied to two different kings about Soro being his sister? He did! And doesn’t this week’s parsha contain a similar story only this week it’s not Avrohom but his son Yitzchok lying to king Avimelech about Rivka being his sister? It does. What’s with our Ovois?

Ober such a sensitive kasha deserves a more serious answer, and this week the Oisvorfer reached out to a few rabbi friends looking for help.

We’ll begin then with responses from two very choshova (prominent) people, one on each coast. From New York City, Rabbi Benjamin Blech, a 10th generation rabbi who led from the pulpit for 38 years before his career really took off. He is, among many other things, an internationally well-known, highly respected  and  acclaimed author of 16 books and is a much sought after speaker. He spends most of the year on the road as a scholar in residence or keynote speaker for major organizations and shuls. His resume is way too long for this brief intro.  Find him here http://www.benjaminblech.com/ or here  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benjamin_Blech. And from over in Los Angeles, Rabbi and Esquire, Avi Leibovic, a very prominent health care attorney in his own right who represents indigent and disabled individuals by assisting them to apply for public benefits (SSI/SSDI/Medi-Cal, etc.), but who moonlights when not working, doing kiruv and chesed work lishmo (from the heart mamish) and whom the Oisvorfer had the great pleasure of listening to over two Pesachs.  He left an indelible impression. Rabbi Avi is a former 80’s heavy metal guitar player who has gone from “Rocker to Rabbi”, and uses his previous life experiences to relate to and inspire the most disenfranchised students and adults. He is the real deal. He founded several organizations, including Aish Tamid of Los Angeles which services “At-Risk” youth and their families, but is busy these days with Tzorchei Tzibbur (aka Community Essentials) – check them out at www.tzorcheitzibbur.org. Tzorchei Tzibbur/Community Essentials is mamish a one-of-a-kind organization that is desperately needed in all of our communities. It provides direct assistance and essential support to individuals and families in a respectful and sensitive manner by temporarily supplementing basic needs and/or providing a cadre of vital services for long-term relief.

Both are very active and busy people. The Oisviorfer is grateful that both quickly responded to my call for help on this issue between their workday schedules. Wrote (via email of course), Rabbi Avi, azoy:

“Heilige Rebbe,

I hope all is well…thank you for the email…I have a packed week and really won’t be able to customize a perfect response…but in short, here is something to nibble on. First, I would tell the writer of the email to check out this link: http://www.torahmusings.com/2011/11/truth-and-lies/

– In this link, Rabbi Gil Student, who is the founder, publisher and editor-in-chief of TorahMusings.com, expands on a Halacha brought down in Mishneh Torah, (Hilchos Dei’os 5:7) to defend the actions referenced in the email about the avos telling lies. Rabbi Student relies on the Rambam who states that “a Torah scholar does not alter the truth in his speech, not adding or subtracting, except for matters of peace and the like.

So, even though the Torah states “mi-dvar sheker tirchak/Distance yourself from lies” (Ex. 23:7), the fact that the Torah doesn’t explicitly state “do not lie,” but rather the words “distance yourself from lies”, it is enough for reliable halachic and rabbinic authorities to allow a person to tell a (“little tiny white”) lie in very limited circumstance (i.e. when your life is in danger)…which was exactly the case with Avraham, and arguably with Yaakov, as well. After all, we know from multiple places in Chazal, that a person cannot live life and simply rely on a miracle to save him.

Let’s look at the language used in the Torah to confirm that Avraham truly believed that his life was in danger: “And Avraham said, “(1) Because I thought, surely the fear of God is not in this place; and they will kill me on account of my wife. (2) But indeed she is truly my sister. She is the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife.” (Gen. 20:11-12). Avraham clearly states that he thought his life was in danger, and therefore was able to tell a “little white lie” (in this limited situation), even though he was a tzadik and certainly believed that Hashem had the ability to save him and resolve the matter.

Rabbi Student, in the link above, appropriately concludes that based on the Torah verse of “mi-dvar sheker tirchak/Distance yourself from lies” that “Truth is so important that even when running for your life, you need to remain as close to truth as possible”, meaning “a little white lie” when your life is danger may be permissible, but you certainly do not have the authorization (tzadik or not) under halachic rulings to spin outrageous tales and lies.

It should also be noted that lies (even “little white lies”) do come with consequences. The Ramban teaches us that Avraham, the tzaddik, did in fact get punished for the lack of faith, and that punishment, according to the Ramban, was that his ancestors would be turned into slaves and held in captive in Egypt. See Ramban on Genesis (12:10) for further discussion on this. In my humble and personal opinion, all of the above needs to be taken and understood with the following classical teaching by chazal:

A famous question is asked why  the Torah/Bible didn’t just start with Hashem giving the Torah right out in the first verse of the bible (similarly to the way he transmitted it to Moshe and the nation of Israel on Mt. Sinai) and just say “Here is commandment #1, and here is #2, here is #3, etc…” Instead, the whole 1st book of the 5 books of the Torah takes us through story after story after story starting with Adam and Eve and moving forward to our forefathers and their children…Moreover, we all know that not all of the stories have happy endings and many of the actions taken by the various personalities within the first book of the Torah often don’t show them in the best light…So, why tell the stories? Just start with the commandments and rules and get to the point…The answer is “Derech Eretz Kadma L’Torah.

This verse (although not literally translated as such) is understood to mean “appropriate behavior and good character come BEFORE the Torah.” As such, the reason the 1st book of the Bible is filled with story after story after story (as opposed to just jumping right into the Torah Commandments) is because the stories are there to teach us that “appropriate behavior and good character come BEFORE the Torah.” As the saying goes, “Frumkeit without menschlichkeit is not Yiddishkeit”. That needs to be crystal clear…all the stories in Breishis/Genisis are there to teach us how to act and behave amongst ourselves when dealing with other Jews, AS WELL AS when dealing with the people of the world.

With this better understanding of what “Derech Eretz Kadma L’Torah” really means, we can refer back to the statement above when the Ramban goes so far as to say straight out that AVRAHAM LIED….YES!!!….Yes, he is certainly a tzaddik, but he is also human!!!….Yes, he has faith and belief, but he made a mistake by telling a lie just like the rest of us do from time to time…Ok, we confess, we make mistakes…but perhaps this particular story of Avraham telling a “little white lie” (as well as from other incidents in the 1st book of the Torah, including the story about Yaakov also telling a lie to receive the blessing from his father instead of his brother) is included in the Torah in order to teach us that we probably should not be lying in our life or in our day-to-day affairs – even if Avraham did it under the most extreme circumstance of potential death.

This fits into the idea and answer that “Derech Eretz Kadma L’Torah/appropriate behavior and good character come BEFORE Torah.” A person can learn all 613 commandments and be a scholar of the Bible and Talmud, BUT, if you don’t have “appropriate behavior and good character” (i.e. you lie) which comes BEFORE Torah scholarship and knowledge, then you missed the whole boat about what the Torah is all about.  This reminds me of a story of a person who went to buy his lulav and esrog and standing in front of him was a man maybe in his upper-20’s, with a beard, peyos, nice black yalmukah and white shirt, and he was assisting his father, a slightly older clean shaven man wearing a little cap, a man who did not seem to be a baki in hilchos lulav, which is maybe why he had his son along. The conditions were crowded, it was late, and everybody seemed to be in a rush. So this young man quickly looked over every esrog out on display, grabbed the one he wanted, and then thrust it toward the seller and yelled, “Now make me a lulav to go with it” (or something along those lines), whereupon his father added in a loud voice, “Please”. The son, then in a slightly abashed voice added, “Yes, please”. Like we said above :“Frumkeit without menschlichkeit is not Yiddishkeit”…

And so, we can conclude from the above that there are two (if not more) approaches we can take to answer the email question: (1)  Yes, There are reliable sources that say it is ok to tell a “little white lie” under limited circumstances such as your life being in danger (even if you’re a righteous person/tzadik who has tremendous faith and belief in Hashem). But, we have to be prepared (according to the Ramban) that even our “little white lie” can have severe ramifications and consequences. Such an action, however, does not take away from the holiness of the person, since we are also taught not to wait for open miracles to happen on our behalf; and/or

(2)  Even though we have valid halachic sources to rely upon to distance ourselves from lies, we need to know, in our generation of 2014/5775 more so than in any generation before us (due to the internet and the ability of a “little white lie” to be disseminated all over the world with horrible and scandalous repercussions), and when it is possible or likely that a person can get out of hand with his lies, stories, exaggerations in so many areas of life (personal, business, family, religious practice, etc), that perhaps we always need to remember that “Derech Eretz Kadma L’Torah/appropriate behavior and good character come BEFORE Torah.” And, perhaps the reason all of these stories are recorded in the 1st book of the Torah was only to teach us what appropriate behavior is and how it should be practiced in our generation before we proclaim that we know all of the Torah. After all, “Frumkeit without Menschlichkeit is not Yiddishkeit”

I apologize to Rebbe that I can’t really get into it more now…I am off to a  meeting in the office, but the question is great and worthy of further discussion and development. I do want to highlight 1 last point….and it may be the most important thing I have said so far, this email that you received and the difficulties that the writer of the email has trying to work out these conflicts in his head is EXACTLY what Hashem wants from each and every one of us…to read the Torah and incorporate it into our lives today…the Torah is alive and vibrant and is not supposed to be read or understood like a book that was written in the past and viewed by some as archaic or no longer relevant.…the Torah is not a Shakespearian play or some other classical story piece that we can read and then move on from because it has no applicability to us today…If anything, the opposite…The Torah is absolutely applicable to each and every one of us, at all times, and for all occasion ….it is applicable to those who lived in the generations before us, it is applicable to those who are alive today in our generation, and it will remain applicable even to those that will live in the future after we are gone…The Torah is timeless…Our job, each and every moment of the day, is to work these types of religious, spiritual and faith-based conflicts (like the one presented in the email) out in our hearts and minds, and incorporate our findings and studies into our life…The author of this email should be applauded and praised for his sincerity and genuine desire to grow as an individual and strive for the truth…He stated that he was not Jewish….Halevai, all of us Jews, the chosen people, should be as sincere and genuine as this individual. I pray and yearn for that day b’mheira b’yomeinu.”

Nu, imagine if he had had more time to respond………………..

Ober said Rabbi Benjamin Blech very succinctly and pragmatically azoy:

“We are not permitted to rely on miracles. Faith that God will help us does not remove our responsibility to attempt all in our power to ensure our safety – one doesn’t go off to war without a gun just because he believes God loves him and will protect him. There is a biblical principle which teaches us that we are not permitted to rely on miracles. Hence Abraham pleaded to do whatever was possible to protect his life as well as the life of his wife. Jewish law teaches that in order to protect life one is permitted to lie, just as one may set aside the Sabbath restrictions or the laws of fasting even on Yom Kippur so that we might live and fulfill many more of God’s commandments in the future.. The stories in the book of Genesis where both Abraham and Isaac told an untruth were justified; married women were taken from their husbands and husbands were killed if the king desired them. If they were unmarried, it was customary for the king to seek permission from a brother or members of the family. The decision to tell an untruth was necessary act in order to save their lives.”

Shoin, this coming shabbis, as we read parshas Toldois, we will be half way through Sefer Bireishis and its very rich history of our forefathers, foremothers and their, at times, not so wonderful children. Efsher it’s time for a shtikel review, lommer unfangin (let’s begin).

Odom and Chava had two boys. Seemingly the world wasn’t big enough and one brother killed the other. Years later, they had a replacement child named Shase (Seth). Noiach and Mrs. Noiach had three boys, one of whom along with a grandson were involved in either rape, sodomy and or castration of their own grandfather; such nachas. They did have real nachas from their son Shaim, who opened perhaps the first ever yeshiva. More about that yeshiva soon. Avrohom had two sons, Yishmoel and Yitzchok from two different wives. According to many, Yishmoel’s descendants continue to antagonize the Yiddin ad hayoim hazeh (until today). Loit and Mrs. Loit had four girls. Two of them went on to rape their own father. Each of them gave birth and from each, a giant nation arose. These nations too would be a thorn to the Yiddin for many years.  And this week, in parshas Toldois, Yitzchok and his beloved wife Rivka, whom he married when she was either 3, 14 or maybe even 23, and after 20 years of marriage and lots of davening – separate seating of course- had twin boys. These two boys, following their bar mitzvahs, were seemingly quite different; their relationship is one of the main storylines in this week and also next week’s parsha.

And as we said mamish just above, this week Yitzchok will borrow a line used by his father with great success and will tell the king that his wife Rivka is really his sister. Why not? His father became a wealthy man trading his wife away twice. Yitzchok will not get any gifts; seemingly gifts from the king only come along with an overnight stay if you chap. He will though get his eishes chayil back, seemingly safe and unharmed. We have previously covered the major storylines of this amazing parsha and you will mamish enjoy previous editions. All you need to do is click here http://toirahruv.com/toldois-2013-the-first-ever-yeshiva/ or here http://toirahruv.com/toldois-2012/ . You will not be disappointed.

Earlier we also mentioned that the Noiachs had great nachas (joy) from their son Shaim who seemingly opened a yeshiva. Who attended this yeshiva? Hold that question, we’ll address it soon. And a few weeks back we learned how Yitzchok, at the very last second, survived the akeydo (binding) and that very shabbis, during the chumish shiur the Oisvorfer was attending over at Beth Sholom, the following question was asked: What happened to Yitzchok following his harrowing experience? Did he come back down the mountain arm in arm with his father? Did he come down alone? We don’t know. And why don’t we know? Because the heylige Toirah doesn’t tell us, it’s silent mamish. It tells us only that Avrohom and his assistants came down, yet another lacuna. And by now you all know that when the Toirah doesn’t tell us, either the heylige Gemora or the medrish will. They decided that Yitzchok did not come down the mountain with his father. Can you blame him? Nu, if your father took you up the mountain and tied you down and was ready to sacrifice you to the RBSO, would you come down the mountain with him? Would you ever talk to him again? Mistama not? Mistama you’d run for your life. Many of you don’t talk to your fathers for a lot less, nebech. Ober where did he go? Nu, to answer this question and others of this nature, specifically when the medrish cannot account for someone’s missing time, in more cases than not, the medrish will tell us that the missing person spent his missing years over in a yeshiva. And we’re not talking about a year or two over at the Mir or even at Reishit or even Netiv; we’re talking many shonos, many years. And what pray tell has this to do with this week’s parsha of Toldois? And the answer goes like this:

Nu, mamish as the parsha opens up, we will learn that Rivka, after 20 years of marriage without children, became pregnant; mazel tov! Ober she was having pains in her uterus, she felt extreme movement. What to do?  She went to yeshiva and not just any yeshiva; she went to the famous yeshiva started by Shaim ben Noiach to find out what was causing her such inner angst. Nu, just about now, efsher you’re wondering why Rivka, feeling physical pain, went to a Yeshiva. Doesn’t the word gynecologist or obstetrician come to mind? Vus epes a yeshiva? Was she without medical insurance? Ober says the Medrish: Rivka Emainu (our foremother) went to the bais ha’medrish of Shaim’s yeshiva because Shaim was a Novee (prophet) and she  figured that he would have givaldige insight into what was going on in her uterus. Ober there’s more to this story. Seemingly, Shaim was a great man, a spiritual giant who headed a yeshiva which catered to the people of that era who were actively seeking the word of the RBSO. Among the distinguished alumni of his yeshiva was none other than Yitzchok Oveenu (our forefather). He was? Does the heylige Toirah make mention of that factoid? It does not! Guy veys (go know).  Ober says   the Targum Yoinoson, he with an incredible imagination, azoy:  following Yitzchok’s near death experience on the akeydo,  the malochim (heavenly angels) whisked him away from the danger zone and  enrolled him into  Shaim’s Yeshiva, where he stayed for shono aleph, beit and gimmel (3 years). Years later, a yeshiva was also the safe haven venue for those wishing to avoid the Vietnam war and ad hayoim hazeh (until today) it remains a safe haven for those wishing to avoid life and live off their fathers’ credit cards.

And if you do the math, es ken zeyn (it could taka be). We know that Yitzchok was 37 years old at the akeydo and we know that he was 40 when he married Rivka. Ober where was he during the intervening 3 years? In yeshiva of course, where else? In Shaim’s yeshiva, where else? Gishmak mamish! And after seeing how well rounded and educated her husband was, Rivka, when she had an issue, went to the same yeshiva to get answers about her troubled pregnancy. Ober says the medrish (Bireishis  Rabba 56:11) azoy: Reb Berechya in the name of other rabbis explained that Avrohom was the one who sent Yitzchok to Shaim’s yeshiva in order to study the heylige Toirah. Veyter.

In any event, Shaim saw that the yeshiva business model wasn’t a terrible way to make a livelihood, and years later he took in a partner- his own grandson- by the name of Ever. Ever became a titled partner, the yeshiva underwent a name change to the yeshiva of Shaim  Vo’ever, a name it enjoys ad hayoim hazeh (until today).  Ober to tie this all together we need to skip ahead to next week where Yaakov went missing for 14 years. It’s mamish so gishmak, halt kup.

Rashi, in trying to account for Yaakov’s missing 14 years, will tell us that he also enrolled in the very same Yeshiva. He did? We will learn that at the age of 63, after leaving home with Eisav in pursuit, Yaakov enrolled in the yeshiva where he spent fourteen years. 14 years? Nu, let’s recall that the heylige Toirah tells us that Yaakov was an  “ish tam yoishev ohalim” (one who dwelt in the tents of Toirah, as Chazal understand it). Some say that it’s efsher possible that Yaakov was the very first Lubavitcher chosid. Did anyone go to the Oihel before him? And did anyone use the words U’forazto yomo vokaymdo before Yaakov? Shoin, case closed. What was he learning during his 14 years? Was there a Toirah, or even a siddur?  Anything to read? Not to worry because another rabbinic tradition will tell us that he was studying the seven  Noachide laws. And says the heylige Gemora (Sanhedrin 56b) azoy: the Noachide Commandments originated in the Garden of Eden, in effect the beginning of human civilization. Consequently, such a system of laws believed in by monotheists had been in existence long before the Toirah was Given on Sinai and needed to be studied daily.

Efsher we can kler that he was brushing up on his newly acquired birthright obligations and other life skills he would need, to disentangle himself and also finally escape the clutches of his shver (father-in-law) Lovon, Rivka’s own brother. Ober let’s not jump ahead; still plenty to cover in Toldois. As an aside, efsher you’re wondering what taka happened to such a famous yeshiva? Seemingly all was going well until some Rebbe got epes too friendly with one of the bochurim (students), invited him to explore the cave a bit deeper, if you chap, and many years later when the myseh became bavust  (the abused student went public) the shtick the fan, the rebbe was exposed, if you chap, and the yeshiva, after massive judgments were levied against it, nebech had to close its  doors. Not to worry, the real estate was quite valuable and it was soon thereafter taken over by a local branch of the NCSY.

And since Ben Richards’ letter also referenced the Yitzchok/Rivka and Avimelech story, let’s taka take one more look at this myseh and wonder aloud why the heylige Toirah made mention of these incidents three different times? The Toirah as we all know doesn’t have any extra sentences, words, or even letters; there must be a lesson in each of them. Let’s review what took place. Shoin it all started when Yitzchok and Rivka settled among the Plishtim (Philistines). What happened next? As mentioned, Yitzchok took out the old playbook used by his father and told King Avimelech that Rivka was his sister. His sister? Was this a logical plan? And how many times was Avimelech going to fall for this trick? Didn’t he already know that every time a Jew came to town with a beautiful woman who was taka his wife, he’d claim that she was his sister? Let’s read the heylige Toirah, it’s a good read.

, לְאִשְׁתּוֹ, וַיֹּאמֶר, אֲחֹתִי הִוא:  כִּי יָרֵא, לֵאמֹר אִשְׁתִּי, פֶּן-יַהַרְגֻנִי אַנְשֵׁי הַמָּקוֹם עַל-רִבְקָה, כִּי-טוֹבַת מַרְאֶה הִוא. 7 And the men of the place asked him of his wife; and he said: ‘She is my sister’; for he feared to say: ‘My wife’; ‘lest the men of the place should kill me for Rivka, because she is fair to look upon.’
ח  וַיְהִי, כִּי אָרְכוּ-לוֹ שָׁם הַיָּמִים, וַיַּשְׁקֵף אֲבִימֶלֶךְ מֶלֶךְ פְּלִשְׁתִּים, בְּעַד הַחַלּוֹן; וַיַּרְא, וְהִנֵּה יִצְחָק מְצַחֵק, אֵת, רִבְקָה אִשְׁתּוֹ. 8 And it came to pass, when he had been there a long time, that Avimelech king of the Philistines looked out at a window, and saw, and, behold, Isaac was sporting with Rivka his wife.

And what does Rashi say? Nothing! He’s heard this story twice before.  The heylige Toirah tells us, in clear language that Yitzchok was sporting with his wife. What’s pshat sporting? Whatever sporting was, it helped King Avimelech quickly figure out that he had been duped by Yitzchok . He summoned him and angrily berated him for identifying Rivka as his sister, when in reality she was his wife.

Seemingly, Avimelech understood that the average married man is not busy sporting  (being metzachake)  with his own wife; that happens rarely. Experience teaches that such sporting events only play out before marriage or with the pilegesh, if you chap. When was the last time you saw a married man laughing or sporting with his own wife near a window? Unheard of, unthinkable and mistama can’t be p’shat.

Ober (but) this is what the Toirah says and who are you to think otherwise, minuvil that you are?  Other midroshim don’t accept this answer and suggest that Avimelech wouldn’t possibly be fooled by seeing them laughing. They suggest, as quoted by many, that p’shat is azoy (like this). What they were doing by the window was having relations, if you chap. and what’s wrong with that? Seemingly Avimelech chapped that such behavior was abnormal for the average married couple and shoin, Yitzchok was busted.

Yitzchok, apologetically explained to the king that he was afraid the men in Grar would kill him because of Rivka’s beauty. Avimelech bought the story,  warned his people not to harm Yitzchok and Rivka, not even touch them. They all lived happily after.

Why were the Ovois so cavalier when it came  to putting their neshei chayil (wives) in harm’s way, ver veyst?  We are not told, though many rabbis including Rabbis  Blech and Leibovic gave of their time to proffer logical responses.

A gittin shabbis-

Yitz Grossman

The Oisvorfer Ruv

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