Vayishlach: Inspired by Lavan

Sometimes inspiration comes from the most unlikely sources.

This week, we learn about Yaakov’s encounter with his brother Eisav, after 22 years spent apart. Yaakov told Eisav that despite having lived with a wicked uncle for 22 years, he had never learnt from his evil ways.

Why did Yaakov tell Eisav that?

Rav Elchonon Wasserman explains in the name of his mentor the Chofetz Chaim, that Yaakov was using that moment to chastise himself. Lavan wasn’t merely cruel; he was zealously cruel. He persevered in his quest to hurt his nephew. It was his life’s purpose. And it made Yaakov ponder his enthuasism for his life’s mission. Was that same passion present in his Service of G-D?

Please do not take this next statement the wrong way:

Great people in our times have commented that we have much to learn from those who blow up train stations and ram cars into pedestrians.

The passion and self sacrifice that our enemies show when destroying innocent lives for their ideology can be emulated and channelled for the good. We could use those same strengths to build the world. when others are passionately murderous and godless, we are passionately kind and G-D fearing.

Let’s learn from Lavan’s ‘bad ways’, and use what we learn in good ways!


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Parshas Chayei Sarah: The Satan’s backup plan


What was Avrohom feeling after passing the test of the akeida, the sacrifice that (thankfully) wasn’t?
Exhilarated? Relieved, knowing that he didn’t have to sacrifice his son?
No doubt he probably left the mountain on a high. He had passed the test set for him by G-D.

And then he arrives home to find his beloved wife Sarah. Dead.
The Satan had shown her live graphic coverage of Avrohom plunging the knife into her son’s body. As a mother, this was too much for her.
Not exactly a happy ending to the story.

When I last checked, I understood that the Satan’s role was to create obstacles for us to overcome. Murdering old ladies surely wasn’t part of his job description!

The explanation given is beautiful.
The Satan knew the power of what Avrohom was about to do. He tried every trick in the book to stop him. Eventually, the Satan was forced to retreat and let Avraham go on his way.
But the Satan had a plan B. Get Avrohom to regret his good deed, and the merit accrued to him would be destroyed. Knowing that Sarah’s alloyed time was up, the Satan attempted to (half literally) ‘kill two birds with one stone’.
But Avrohom wasn’t fooled. When the Torah speaks about Avrohom’s mourning period, the word בוכה has spelt with a very small letter ו. He disciplined himself to limit his crying to a few days, so that he wouldn’t feel any shame over what he had done. When the world around him used the incident as proof that G-D was some cruel demon, Avraham proclaimed that Sarah’s passing had nothing to do with his sacrifice. Her time in this world was up, and she would have been taken by some other means. He didn’t feel any need to apologise for doing the right thing.

In the Maariv service, we ask G-D to ‘remove the Satan from in front of us and behind us’. Even after doing a mitzvah, the Evil Inclination is able to attack from behind, simply by planting the seeds of self doubt. Society may scorn us or consider us to be backward. But when your actions are right, you have no reason to apologise for them.


Parshas Lech Lecha: going to….yourself!

Once upon a time, in an idolatrous town called Charan, there lived a rather inquisitive little boy named Avraham (Abraham). Actually, ‘inquisitive’ is an understatement. He questioned everything. Where the sun got its power from, who made the birds sing, why it snowed in the winter. That didn’t make him very popular in a city of idol worshippers. As he got older, his family grew more and more frustrated with their rebellious son. There were heated arguments with Avraham, with Terach desperately trying to convince Avraham to keep on the straight and narrow. One day, Terach entered his Idol shop, that he took such pride in, to find all the idols in smithereens. One idol was left intact, holding a stick in his hand. He looked at Avraham furiously. “Don’t look at me” Avraham shrugged, “that idol had a fit this morning and smashed all the others.” “You expect me to believe that?!” Terach bellowed. “yup” Avraham replied, “the same way you expect me to believe that he created me and can be worshipped!”*
In short, Avraham was not afraid to go against the grain. and that is why G-D decided to test him by telling him to leave town. Hashem commanded him very specifically. In the Torah, Hashem is quoted as saying not just “lech-go”, but “ lech lecha– go for yourself”. Moreover, He then elaborates, “from your birthplace, from your father’s house”.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch points out that the word ‘lech’ is related to ‘chelek’ which has 2 meanings:
a) Portions, or halves, separate from each other
b) Smooth, unable to be connected to other things.

G-D was commanding Avraham to cut himself off completely from the culture and home he was raised in. This was a tough order even for Avraham. Despite everything, he still had an appreciation for his surroundings and his family. G-D was giving him his first major test. To separate himself from everything familiar to him and make his own way in life.

We all need community and family. We are advised by Chazal “not to separate from the community”. Avraham himself made a point of interacting with others around him, via acts of kindness. However, that does not mean being a sheep and following the flock. When the general crowd takes a laisse faire attitude to certain areas, a courageous and principled person will swim against the tide to do what’s right.

The stories of fathers are a sign for the children. Avraham Avinu (Abraham our father) modelled courage, the strength to stand apart from the world around us. And in doing so, he showed an example to the whole world of what G-D is about.

That is our responsibility today.

*based on Midrashic sources

Parshat Noach: It’s all in the plans

G-D has His plan for you. And it’s a good one!

Why do good people suffer while bad people prosper?

That’s a question that’s been asked over and over, throughout the history of the world.

It’s even possible that even Noach had voiced this question. The Torah tells us that he had to wait 500 years before having his first child, after watching everyone else in the world have children at the young age of 100.

This was the man who was the only righteous person in his time. The man remained completely cut off from the falsehood and corruption of the world around him. He surely didn’t deserve this!

One couldn’t blame him for asking the question.

But G-D, of course, had a plan.

Giving Noach children at a normal time in his life would have been disastrous at worst and very troublesome at best. Had they grown up to be wicked, they would have reached the age of a ‘bar onshin’, a person liable for Heavenly punishment, long before the flood. Thus, they would have drowned with the rest of that generation. If they would have turned out righteous, Noach would have had several generations of descendants to consider in his ark building plans. Considering how long it would take him to build one ark, he certainly wouldn’t have fancied the headache of building a fleet of them! In His infinite kindness, G-D timed the arrivals of Noach’s kids to take place within 100 years of the flood to prevent either of these outcomes.

If Noach had indeed asked the question, the flood was G-D’s answer to him.

During World War II, the British ‘treated’ some of their German Jewish refugees to a free trip to Australia, along with other ‘enemy aliens’ (many of them were Nazis). The boat was the cheapest they could find, manned by a crew of the lowest criminals in Brixton Jail. One day, the bored crew thought it would be fun to attack their passengers. The poor Jews, who had lost family members to Hitler, now had to watch their only possessions being carelessly tossed into the ocean.

Unbeknownst to them, a German U-Boat in the area had the ship in its sight. Just before the captain gave the order, he noticed what appeared to be suitcases floating in the water. The luggage was retrieved and opened. Lo and behold, out came piles of books in…German! Clearly the British were transporting a group of POWs somewhere.

And thus, the Jewish refugees arrived safely in Australia, escorted by a German U-Boat that had nearly torpedoed it.

Challenging life situations often make no sense to us human mortals. But in Hashem’s unlimited perception, it’s all part of the Grand Plan for us and the world.


(Idea heard from Rabbi Yissochor Frand. Based on Rashi, Bereishit/Genesis Ch.6, V.9. Story heard from Rabbi YY Rubinstien.)

Parshat Vezot Habrachah/Simchat Torah/Sukkot: The common denominator is OUR common denominator!

In recent years, we have heard the protestations of different groups, in various forms. ‘Judaism is prejudiced’ they say. And on the surface, they would seem to be right. Some groups of people have more mitzvos than others. There are commandments for women or men only. Certain mitzvos are the domain of the kohanim, the priests. And some commandments can only be done by farmers in Israel. It doesn’t seem fair.

Unless there is a ‘back door’ option, by which one can receive the reward for mitzvos done by other people.

According to the Ktav Sofer, the final Parshah in the Torah, which will be read on Simchat Torah in 2 days’ time (outside of Israel, where Simchat Torah and shemini Atzeret are both celebrated tomorrow) reveals that such an option does exist.

Moshe now gives his final parting blessings to his people before leaving This World. He recalls the willingness and love with which we accepted the Torah all those years before

“The Torah that Moshe commanded us is the heritage of the Congregation of Jacob”

The numerical value of the word Torah is 611, the number of commandments that Moshe gave over (the first two were given by G-D Himself). Looking at the verse, the solution to our problem is clear. “The Torah that Moshe Commanded us” can only be considered a “heritage” and be achieved by every Jew if we are a “congregation”.

When we put aside our differences and care for each other, we all get a share in the reward for each other’s spiritual accomplishments.

In a way, this theme has been a focus for the last week. Our sages tell us that the 4 species taken on Sukkot represent different types of people. There is the Etrog, the lemon-like fruit which has a fragrant smell and taste. The haddasim the myrtle branches, have a smell but no taste. The Aravot, the willow branches, have a taste but lack any scent. Finally, the Lulav, the palm branch, has neither a scent nor taste. They are all taken together in service of Hashem.

As Jews, we are a TEAM. Together, Everyone Accomplishes More.

Shanah Tova

As the year 5777 comes to a close, I thank all of my readers for coming on this journey with me. Researching and writing these ideas inspire me greatly  for that alone it’s worth the time and effort. If these ideas do the same for even one of you, I’m even happier.

Wishing everyone a healthy, happy, prosperous and growth filled 5778.

See you next year 🙂


Parshat Nitzavim/Vayelech

In the final run up to Rosh Hashanah, the first day of the 10 day period that determines our fate for the coming year, Jews around the world are taking stock of their spiritual growth over the last year. And the truth is, we all have our weak areas, habits we’d like to kick, practices we’d like to adopt. We want to change. We want to take that big leap.

What’s stopping us?

There are a few possible reasons. This Parshah addresses one of the biggest factors: the fear of failure. The worry that we might mess up again at some point.

Moshe Rabbeinu has now begun his final speech to the Jewish people. ” לא אוכל עוד לצאת ולבא – I am unable to come and go” he says (דברים ל״א: ב׳/Deuteronomy 31:2)

The Grand Rabbi of Izhbitz OBM gives a very deep explanation. Moshe was telling us: I am now stuck in one place. I cannot go up. But neither can I go down. As long as Moshe was still growing, he could have fallen at any moment. And he did.  Once that risk had gone for good, he knew that he had reached his goal in life.  Falling is a part of the process. It means that we are on the right path.

Rabbi Chatzkel Levenstien OBM compares spiritual growth to building a tower. The builder is always at risk of falling off. But even if that happens, the building he has built thus far is still standing. He just needs to climb back up and complete it!

May we all merit a year of joy, health and growth.

(Parshah idea heard from Rabbi Shimon Semp Click here to see his original short video)

(Special thanks to my friend Chaim Sonnenfeld for telling me Rav Chatzkel’s parable)

Parshat Ki Tavo: look at yourself!

We always knew that happiness enhances your quality of life. But did you know that not being happy is a sin?

The Torah gives us a list of curses and ends off by telling us what sins cause them.

(תחת אשר לא עבדת את ה’ אלוק’ך בשמחה ובטוב לבב מרב כל (דברים כ”ח: מ”ז

‘Because you did not serve Hashem, your God, amid gladness and goodness of heart, when everything was abundant’ (Deuteronomy chapter 26, verse 47)

According to this literal translation, the simple understanding is that G-D brought hard times upon you when He saw that we took His blessings for granted during the good times.

The Ohr Somayach has his own interpretation of the verse:

‘Because you did not serve Hashem, your God, amid gladness and goodness of heart, from seeing another person for whom everything was abundant

The problems in life come when one looks over one’s shoulder at other’s successes.

A man once came to his rabbi with a tale of woe. His business had thrived for several years. A year ago, a new competitor had opened shop nearby. Since then, the man’s sales had dropped drastically, while the new shop stole it’s success.

The rabbi looked at him and smiled. “I’m not surprised you’re doing so badly. You have your head in two businesses at once!”

Happiness is a state of mind that we can all get to, a choice we can all make. How? By focusing on our own blessings.

(As heard from Rabbi Chaim Rosenfeld. Hear the original lecture here)

Parshat Ki Teitzei: The enemy is NOT invincible!

Having trouble with your Evil Inclination? Read on…

It’s the month of Elul. Time for serious reflection and change. time to check that we are on the right spiritual path.

The trouble is, Hashem has given us a Yetzer Harah, an evil inclination, to try and throw us off track. And clearly the Yetzer Harah is an absolute master of his craft. Battling him can be demoralising!

Luckily,  Rabbi Yechezkel Abramsky OBM has an amazing observation from the parshah that will hopefully give us the power boost we need to deal with this threat.

The verse (Deuteronomy 21: 11) tells us that a soldier is PERMITTED to have relations with an attractive female prisoner of war. The Talmud (Kiddushin 21b) explains that the permit applies even if the woman is married.

This is an action that would normally be considered one of the three cardinal sins, which one must avoid doing even at risk of getting killed!

As an analogy, the Talmud states that even though it is considered repulsive to eat the meat of a dangerously ill animal, if he has to do so he should at least slaughter it in a manner permissible by Jewish Law. Similarly, a soldier could find the temptation of a female captive to be too strong for him. Therefore the Torah allowed him to follow his desires in this case (with certain restrictions), so that he shouldn’t come to disregard the Torah by caving in to sin.

Rabbi Abramsky expounds: If there is any proof of Hashem’s kindness and desire to see us succeed, this is it. Clearly, every obstacle that G-D puts in our path can be scaled.

The following email arrived in my inbox some time ago from, of all people, the Yetzer Harah himself (well, it could have been from him!)!

To my star pupil, I am writing this letter to let you know what I think of you. Up here in heaven things are not like they are down on Earth. Over there, people only know what they can see. If they see a person is “successful”, they think that he is the greatest guy. When they see somebody struggling, they think he might be one of the weaker elements.  

Let me tell you something. Hashem gives every person certain abilities that nobody knows about down where you live. Some people are capable of tremendous things, while others were put there for much smaller purposes. Only Hashem in His infinite wisdom is able to give every person exactly what he needs, to reach his potential.   

I am very misunderstood. Most people hate me, and I don’t really blame them. Most people think that my job is to make sure that they fail in all aspects of Mitzvos (good deeds), and that I rejoice every time they sin. This is the furthest thing from the truth. Did you ever watch a boxing coach train his student? It is really a funny sight. The coach will put on gloves, and fight against his student. At first, he won’t hit him so hard, or throw his best punches. But, as the student gets better and better, the coach will start to fight him harder and harder. He does this so that the student will improve his skills, and become the best boxer he can be. 

This is where it gets strange. Every time the coach knocks down the student, the student gets yelled at!! But finally, when the coach threw everything he has at his student, and not only does he withstand the beating, but he knocks the coach down, there is nobody in the world happier than the coach himself! This is exactly how I feel. If you fail right away, and don’t even try to fight back, I see that there is not much talent to work with, and so I take it easy on you. But if you get back up swinging, I realize that I may have a real winner here, and so I start to intensify the beating. With every level that you go up, I increase the intensity of the fight. If you finally deal me a blow that knocks me out, I will get up and embrace you and rejoice with your success.

Sometimes my job is very disappointing I see a person with a lot of potential and I start right in on him. He fights back for a while, but when the fight gets too tough, he quits and just remains on whatever level he was on. (And he usually ends up going down!) I feel like yelling at him, “Get up you fool! Do you have any idea how much more you could be accomplishing?!” But I am not allowed to do so. I just leave him alone, and go try to find another promising candidate.   If I have chosen you to be the target of my more fierce battles, it was not for no reason! You have tremendous ability! You were born into a very special family, you have Rabbeim (mentors) who really care about you, and parents who would help you grow in Torah and Mitzvos. You are a very respectful and kind person.   

I am writing to you now, because I have a very serious request to ask of you. Please don’t step fighting! Don’t give up! I have been beating too many people lately, and I am losing patience, Believe in yourself, because I would not be involved with you as much as I am if I didn’t think you could beat me. Know what your strengths are! A great Rabbi once said: “Woe is to he who doesn’t know his weaknesses. But, ‘Oy Vavoy’ (double woe) to him who doesn’t know his strengths – for he will not have anything with which to fight.”  

Always remember one thing: you have a secret weapon at your disposal. I shouldn’t really be telling you – but I will anyway. Hashem himself is watching our “training” sessions very closely. I’m pleased to inform you that He’s rooting for you! If things should ever get tough, almost too tough to bear, just call out to Him with a prayer, and He will immediately come to your aid. I wish you the best of luck, and I hope that after 120 years when your time is up in that world of falsehood, you will come up here to the world of truth, where I will be waiting for you with open arms, to congratulate you on your victory, and personally escort you to your place next to the Throne of Glory..

Sincerely, and with great admiration I remain,

Your Yetzer Hara

(Adapted from Sefer Lekach Tov.)


Parshas Shoftim: self-check time

8This week, Moshe Rabbeinu speaks about the recruitment process for the Jewish army. People at certain pivotal life stages- people who just got married less than a year ago, planted a new vineyard without tithing it, built a new house without consecrating it- were exempt.
The Torah has a reason: that the person might be replaced. That his wife will remarry. That another man will take over his house or vineyard. That, says Rashi, causes great anxiety to a Jewish soldier.
But why was that explanation necessary? surely the fact that he might arrive home in a coffin is reason enough!
Rabbi Shimon Schwab OBM answers that these soldiers were truly righteous men. They knew that their chances of survival were small. But they had made investments for the sake of Torah. They wanted their vineyards to be tithed, their houses to be consecrated, their children to be raised as committed Jews. Those dreams could be ruined if the wrong man takes over. That is what a Jewish soldier concerns himself with.
We all have dreams and aspirations for our homes and our possessions. But sometimes life gets in the way and distract us. ‘Another man’-in the form of personal daily struggles and temptations- can easily replace the real ‘us’. Now that we have entered the month of Elul, the last month of the year, we have a golden opportunity to go back to being the people we want to be. To return to Hashem.

(as heard from Rabbi Daniel Staum. View the original lecture here)