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Copyright 1999 United Synagogue Publications Ltd.

Sidra Lite

* Isaac and Rebecca are childless. Hashem responds to their prayers. Esau and Jacob are born.

* Esau sells his birthright to Jacob.

* Due to famine, the family moves to the land of the Philistines. To protect themselves, Isaac states that Rebecca is his sister and causes a major upset.

* Jacob deceives his father and is blessed ahead of Esau.

* Esau swears to kill his brother, who flees to his mother’s family in Mesapotamia.



by Rabbi Yitzhak Sufrin, Highgate Synagogue

I want to talk about my great, great grandfather of many generations ago. He, Isaac, together with his father Abraham and his son Jacob were the forebears of our people, all of whom I am immensely proud. Curiously, though, Isaac only gets one Sidra to describe his life’s activities, whereas Abraham’s life story is spread over three Sidrot and Jacob dominates in no less than six! Furthermore, he lived the longest, 180 years, and undoubtedly had many accomplishments, yet the only one of his endeavours related in any detail in the Torah is a series of wells he dug.

The reality, though, is that therein lies Yitzchak’s major contribution. He tells us to dig and probe until we discover and uncover the soul and source. Be it the good that can be found in any Jew, the heart and moral of a story, or the lessons to be learnt from any experience in life.

Notwithstanding the brevity of Isaac’s life story, Toldot is a happy Sidra - the only one which covers the span of time in which all of our 3 forefathers lived together on this world. Probing deeper we realise that they had vastly different modes of service but that it was Isaac who provided the link to fuse and mould the apparent extremes of contrasting personalities.

In Abraham we see a fountainhead of Jewish generosity and social commitment. His home and heart were open to any wayfarer, regardless of who he was or where he was coming from, offering food, drink, companionship and guidance.

In Jacob we see a prototype of the Jew’s devotion to learning and, thereby truth. To quote this weeks Sidra he was "a dweller of tents (of study)" and "the voice is the voice of Jacob", he lives by the word. His first act upon arriving in Egypt was to establish a house of study. It was this attitude which enabled him to persevere under condition of exile and adversity. In the employ of deceitful Laban he built his family and fortune. In alien Egypt he created a lasting legacy for the future nation of Israel.

Isaac personified awe and ‘the fear of heaven’ and thus his efforts were directed towards revealing the inner core. When one digs a well, one penetrates beneath the external, earthy surface and taps the fountain of living water that lies hidden below. In every being there is a fountain, a G-dly core, a Neshama.

Each one of us share the same ancestors and are thus endowed with the hereditary love, awe and truth to be found in the DNA of our souls. The ‘Abraham’ within us reaches out to embrace the world, to extend friendship and support in a loving manner. But love, to be true, must be restrained and disciplined. The awe of our ‘Isaac’ is the source of such discipline. At the same time we are imbued with the capacity to reveal the hidden. In ourselves it is the potential to achieve, in others to seek and find only good. The outcome is truth and consistency.

Shabbat in Practice


By Rabbi Daniel Roselaar, Belmont United Synagogue

In the Biblical account of creation the Torah tells us "And it was evening and it was morning etc." Consequently, Jewish days begin in the evening and Shabbat commences on Friday evening. Opinions are divided about whether one day ends and the following day begins at sunset (the view of the Geonim), or whether the point that separates one day from the next is nightfall, which occurs some time later (the view of Rabbenu Tam). Since the observance of Shabbat is a Biblical mitzvah a stringent conclusion must be reached. Thus we commence Shabbat at the earlier time, but do not conclude it the following day until the later time, this way avoiding any doubt about whether Shabbat has been properly observed.

The Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 9a) establishes the principle of tosefet - that as well as the period of time that is automatically Shabbat, an additional period has to be added onto the sanctity of the day, both before Shabbat commences as well as after it terminates. Most halachic authorities regard the requirement to extend Shabbat as a Biblical one, and some even require one to verbally declare the start of Shabbat. (However, according to the Rambam the mitzvah of tosefet only applies to the prohibition against eating on Yom Kippur and not to a regular Shabbat.)

The Talmud and Shulchan Aruch do not specify how long the addition to Shabbat must be. The practice in London is to commence Shabbat at least fifteen minutes before sunset, and we do not conclude it until a short while after nightfall on Saturday night.

Hameforshim - The Commentators

Rabbi Dr Michael Harris, Hampstead Synagogue.

Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon (Rambam, Maimonides)

Moses Maimonides, born in Cordova, Spain, in 1138, is considered by many the greatest Rabbi of the Middle Ages.

Rambam’s monumental contributions to Torah literature are all the more remarkable when one considers the many upheavals that he had to endure. He was forced to flee Cordova from a fanatical Moslem sect at the age of thirteen. Rambam’s family wandered in Christian Spain for twelve years, subsequently emigrating to Fez, Morocco, and then to Eretz Yisrael. As a result of the Crusades, Eretz Yisrael was not safe for Jews, and Rambam’s family finally settled in Fostat (presentday Cairo).

Initially, Rambam was able to devote all of his time to writing, while his merchant brother David supported the family. After David’s untimely death, however, the responsibility of supporting the family fell to Rambam. He became a physician, ultimately being appointed chief physician to the Sultan. He was also named "Naggid", or "prince" of Egyptian Jewry.

Rambam’s colossal reputation rests primarily on three of his many works: his Peirush HaMishnayot, a comprehensive commentary on the Mishna; his philosophical work The Guide for the Perplexed, and his magnum opus, the Mishneh Torah, a fourteen-volume codification of all of Jewish law, also known as Yad Hachazakah - The Mighty Hand - the word Yad having the numerical value of 14.

While, for various reasons, some aspects of his works attracted bitter opposition within the world of Jewish scholarship, the verdict of Jewish history on Rambam stands inscribed on his tomb in Tiberias: "From Moshe (Rabbeinu) till Moshe (ben Maimon), there arose none like Moshe".


Today, we commence a new series on the anniversaries of signifant dates on our calendar, written by RABBI YISROEL FINE, Cockfosters & N.Southgate Synagogue

4th of Kislev

Today marks the anniversary of the death in 1939 of the Talmudic Scholar Rabbi Baruch Ber Leibowitz. Rabbi Baruch Ber, one of the founders of the Yeshiva of Kamenitz in Poland and one of the great lights of his generation was born in Slutsk in 1866. He was a loyal disciple of Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik of Brisk and inherited his distinct analytical methodology of Talmud study.

He was a loyal disciple of Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik of Brisk and inherited his distinct analytical methodology of Talmud study.

A hallmark of his teaching was a passionate search for the innermost truth of the Torah’s teachings. In this pursuit he applied the most rigorous intellectual honesty.

Once in the middle of a lesson, a student asked a question which completely refuted the hypothesis of the Shiur. At that point Rabbi Leibowitz in the presence of all his students stepped down and suspended the Shiur.

In 1929 he undertook an arduous fundraising visit to America, and, in spite of the depression years, raised substantial funds and was received as royalty.

In 1939 the Nazis entered Kamenitz on Erev Rosh Hashanah and handed over the territory to the Russians in accordance with the Stalin-Hitler pact. Rabbi Baruch Ber moved his Yeshiva to Vilna but he and most of his students perished.

In 1942, his students and family reopened the Kamenitz Yeshiva in Jerusalem, where it is situated in the Geulah district to this day.


by Simon Goulden, Agency for Jewish Education

Palm Springs in Park Canada

One of the many benefits which the Jewish National Fund gives to Israel is the many parks and recreation areas, well tended and now maturing. One of those is Park Canada which, you will easily guess, was sponsored by the Canadian JNF! The park actually stretches over the entire eastern edge of the Ayalon Valley and the foothills of the Judean Mountains. This area has had more than its fair share of battles and conquests, as it held a key position on the way to Jerusalem. Joshua, Judah Maccabee, Saracens and Crusaders all passed this way and the War of Independence left the area a 'no man's land' until after the Six Day War, which brought it finally into Israel. The park stretches over thousands of acres and includes antiquities, a ruined Crusader fortress, Castellum Arnold and a Bar Kochba period cave hideout.

The central part of the park and the prettiest is, perhaps, Emeq Hama'ayanot – the Valley of Springs – with remains of water channels and a tunnel which was dug nearly two thousand years ago which reaches the spring. In the rainy part of the year, the vegetation is lush and your walk will be accompanied by the sound of flowing water. Even in the height of the summer, the end of your walk will bring you to ma'ayan hatmarim - the palm spring - which waters the broad grassy area beside it all year round.

Even the entrance to the park has something of interest, with Byzantine and Crusader ruins, as well as the remains of a Roman house with a mosaic floor.

You reach Park Canada by drivng on the Tel Aviv - Jerusalem Highway, Route 1, turning north at mechlaf Latrun (Latrun Interchange) onto Route 3. The entrance to the park is less than one km from the interchange.


by Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis

Last week's questions:

1) What is the connection between Sarah and King Achashverosh?


Sarah died when she was 127 years old.

Achashverosh ruled over 127 provinces.

2) EXTRA CHALLENGE Where in the Siddur do you find Isaac’s name spelt yiSchak instead of yiTZchak?


In the prayer recited on the naming of a baby boy at a Brit Milah (New Singers Siddur Page 781).

This week's question:

1) set by Matthew Weiniger of Finchley.

Which Torah passage is read in Synagogue on three consecutive occasions, all within 24 hours?

2) EXTRA CHALLENGE Where in the Siddur do you find David’s name spelt DaYvid instead of David?



The Jewish Learning Network Email: learn@torah.org URL: http://www.torah.org/


"G-d in the Numbers"

This week's Dvar Torah is something of a digression. It starts with an email from a friend of mine, Robert (Chaim) Chesler, who is a serious student of Torah as well as a computer engineer. What he noticed will be appreciated by all the engineers and mathematicians among our readers, and I hope will be enjoyed by others as well.

We learned in last week's parsha that Sorah, whose name represents "s'rora", rulership, lived for 127 years. And in Megillas Esther we learn that King Achashverosh ruled over the entire world -- 127 kingdoms. So we see that there exists a connection between rulership and the number 127.

There are also numerous examples of the number seven representing malchus, kingship. First of all, 'malchus' is the seventh of the seven sefiros, types of G-d's revealed nature (there are ten sefiros, but three exist only in thought, in concept). There is a Sabbath Queen, who comes on the seventh day of the week; thus seven signifies dominance over the natural world. The seven "hakafos" on Simchas Torah and the 49 days of the Omer (seven cycles of seven, culminating in "malchus shebemalchus") all relate the idea of rulership, kingship, to the number seven.

Now, given his computing background, Chaim noticed that both seven and 127 are represented in binary (base 2) as strings of ones: 111 and 1111111. And he asked if there was a connection in Torah between these two numbers. While I couldn't find an immediate connection in Torah, I did see the same common thread as he, and wondered if it could be extended.

It turns out that both of these numbers are part of a limited class called the Mersenne prime numbers -- prime numbers whose values can be represented by 2^n -1, a string of ones in binary. They are the second and fourth such numbers.

The first Mersenne prime is the number three. Three, as we all know, are the fathers of the Jewish people, the leaders who created the nation.

The third of these Mersenne primes, on the other hand, is the number thirty-one. What is the connection between 31 and kingship? Is there such a thing?

Actually, the answer is a most emphatic yes. In Sefer Yehoshua, the Book of Joshua, we learn that Yehoshua was the leader of the Jewish People when they entered and conquered the entire land of Canaan -- defeating thirty-one kings. Rulership over the Land of Israel meant rulership over thirty-one kingdoms.

Is there a lesson here? All of these numbers are represented in binary as a row of ones. Interestingly enough, when 'n' is 3, 7, 31 or 127 in the formula 2^n -1, each of these produces another Mersenne prime. In other words, these numbers relate to the others -- a row of 3 ones produces binary 7, while a row of 7 ones produces binary 127. And all of them point back to and depend upon the number one, which even in the world of prime numbers is considered unique, in a class by itself.

One, of course, is Hashem, Melech Malchei HaMelachim, King of Kings. What do all these numerical hints tell us? Perhaps that all kingship and rulership points back to HaShem, it all depends entirely and only upon HaShem, "the hearts of Kings are in the hands of HaShem..."

And Chaim adds the following: "I have heard rabbis discuss 'one more than seven' to represent the next world. When seen as filling all the binary places of 7 digits it makes clear why saying 'one more than' becomes significant when applied to numbers which are one less than a power of 2, since they do bring us up to the next sphere or range of numbers.

"Perhaps achieving mastery over this physical world is the maximum we can do in this limited world, and we cannot advance to the next number of digits until we have mastered these digits for every 'bit' of reward we can earn in this world."

Well said!


It's Important To Know The Rest of the Story

The opening pasukim [verses] in this week's parsha read: "These are the offspring of Yitzchak son of Avraham -- Avraham gave birth to Yitzchak. And Yitzchak was forty years old when he took Rivka the daughter of Besuel from Paddan Aram, the sister of Lavan the Aramean to himself for a wife." [Bereshis 25:19-20]. Rashi comments that "The offspring of Yitzchak refers to Yaakov and Eisav who are spoken of in this parsha".

Rashi was bothered by a question. The parsha begins by announcing that it will be discussing the offspring of Yitzchak, but then the Torah goes off on a tangent -- discussing Yitzchak's father, his wife, father-in-law and brother-in-law. What happened to the "offspring of Yitzchak?" Rashi must explain: "Wait. Be patient. They will be discussed later in the narration. The Torah has to go through a little background information first."

Why is it necessary to go through all this background? Why doesn't the Torah start talking about Yaakov and Eisav directly? Rav Schwab makes a simple but very important observation on this narration: the history of a person does not begin with his birth on such and such a date in such and such a city. The biography of a person begins with who his parents were, how they got married, where they were from, and who their fathers were. If the biography of Yaakov and Eisav only began with the fact that they were born, it would be telling only part of the story. We need to know what happened during their mother's pregnancy and who their parents and grandparents were. Only then can we begin to understand them.

Rav Schwab's point is that people who are seeking mates for themselves or people who are seeking to help others find a proper mate should feel the full responsibility that is upon them. When two people get married, it is not merely a union that involves those two people -- there are many preceding generations that are being united. There are generations to come that will be impacted by this marriage. The responsibility of putting two people together is a tremendous responsibility.

Bride & Groom Fast To Atone For Sins Committed On Way To Chuppah

A related matter emerges from the last pasuk [verse] of the parsha: "So Eisav went to Yishmael and took Machalas, the daughter of Yishmael son of Avraham, sister of Nebaioth, in addition to his wives, as a wife for himself" [Bereshis 28:9]. Our Sages etymologically relate the name Machalas to the word Mechilah [forgiveness]. They say that we see from here that on the day a person gets married, all his sins are forgiven. It is a type of pseudo-Yom Kippur. That is why the groom and bride customarily fast on their wedding day. The Mincha [afternoon prayer] that a chosson [bridegroom] recites on the day of his marriage includes the confession [vidui] recited on Yom Kippur.

Rav Avraham Pam once offered an interesting explanation for why the couple fast on the day of their marriage. Specifically, for which sins do they need this special atonement? Rav Pam explained that the Chosson and Kallah [bride] fast on the day of their wedding to atone for the sins they committed while on the way to their wedding day. It is not uncommon for young men and women to hurt people's feelings very severely while involved in the process of making their way to the Chuppah.

At Least We Should Try To Act Like Eisav!

The Torah speaks of Eisav's special set of clothes in which Rivka disguised Yaakov [Bereshis 27:15]. Our Sages infer that this was a special set of clothing that Eisav reserved for serving his father. In spite of the fact that he was a thoroughly wicked person, he showed tremendous respect to his father and honored him in an extraordinary fashion. Whenever Yitzchak asked him to do something, Eisav would not merely appear in his street clothes or his hunting clothes. He had a special set of clothing reserved only for the service of his father. Rabban Shimeon ben Gamliel comments in the Medrash "all my life I tried to faithfully serve my father according to halacha, but I did not pay him 1% of the honor that Eisav gave to his father, Yitzchak."

At this point in time, Yitzchak was already blind, as we clearly see from the story of the blessings. So when Eisav would dress up in his special clothing, it did not even make a difference to Yitzchak. Yitzchak would have no way of knowing what Eisav was wearing. Therefore, this fact demonstrates that when Eisav was serving his father it was not merely an act. He put on his best clothes even when his father was not aware of it. That was the extent of the Kibud Av of Eisav.

Many people are blessed with parents who are older. Sometimes when people become old, they loose awareness of their surroundings Sometimes it is Alzheimer's disease. Sometimes there are other factors. The parents may sometimes not even recognize that the person in the room is their son or daughter.

We must learn from Eisav. Eisav dressed up for his father, even when his father would not have known if Eisav was wearing street clothes or Shabbos clothes or no clothes. His Kibbud Av was such that "It does not matter what my father knows or what my father realizes. I have a responsibility to honor my father." In this sense we all must try to emulate Eisav.

C). PARSHA PARABLES (Rabbi M Kamenetzky)


D) SfaT-EmeT

Copyright © 2003 by Torah.org and Dr. Nosson Chayim Leff.

Toldos, 5631

The Sfas Emes takes us back to the subject -- and the reality -- of "hester." That is, HaShem is at all times present, but is "hiding" behind nature and chitzoniyus (superficial appearances). Last week, in Parshas Chayei Sara, the Sfas Emes discussed hester in the context of zeman (time); i.e., in viewing history and current events. This week, the Sfas Emes discusses hester in more general terms. He also focuses on the responsibility that hester brings with it for us, namely, the task of penetrating the Hester to be aware of HaShem's Presence -- despite the hester.

Where in Parshas Toldos does the Sfas Emes find the issue of hester? He finds it in Bereishis, 26:18-22. Avraham Avinu had dug wells to give people access to water. Chazal see these wells, not only as real-life wells, but also as a metaphor for Avraham Avinu's activity in giving people access to HaShem, Whose Presence is manifest in the water of the wells.

After Avraham was niftar, the Plishtim -- the original Palestinians -- filled in the wells with earth. Again, viewing this real-world experience in metaphoric terms, we see this action of the Plishtim as blocking access to HaShem. I.e., they actively tried to block access to HaShem. Now came Yitzchok Avinu. He removed the earth that the Plishtim had used to close the channels to -- and from -- HaShem. Thus, the Sfas Emes sees Yitzchok's removal of the earth to reach the water in the wells as an act of penetrating the hester to renew contact with HaShem.

Why does the Sfas Emes return so often to the theme of hester? In his constant reference to HaShem's being hidden, the Sfas Emes may be addressing his own personal question of: where is HaShem? And out of his personal experience with this problem, the Sfas Emes drew a crucial insight. As he has often told us: the purpose of Creation is to give us the challenging task of penetrating the Hester; and thus to finding HaShem in nature (ma'aseh breishis). That is, our key responsibility is to make ourselves aware that despite appearences to the contrary, all existence comes from HaShem.

After Yitzchok Avinu encountered strife and hatred from the Plishtim in the matter of the wells, he dug a new well, over which there was no conflict. Accordingly, Yitzchok called that well "Rechovos," a name which connotes expansiveness and repose. The name Rechovos evokes for the Sfas Emes a posuk in Mishlei (1:20): "Chochmos bachutz barona, baRECHOVOS titein kolah." (ArtScroll: "Wisdom sings out in the streets; it gives forth its voice in the squares.") The message is clear: Once we remove the outer shell which hides HaShem, an awareness of His Presence will expand and permeate the world.

Continuing with this theme, the Sfas Emes tells us that the agent for this permeation is Torah Shebe'al Peh (the Oral Law). How does this process work ? The Sfas Emes explains. By extending HaShem's accessibility to all our activities, Torah Shebe'al Peh enables us to experience HaShem's Presence more thoroughly in our daily lives. Thus the posuk in Mishlei is telling us that by giving forth its voice (an allusion to Torah Shebe'al Peh ), wisdom -- Torah -- expands its domain.

The Sfas Emes continues. This specification of our role in life -- to expand awareness of HaShem's Presence -- helps answer a puzzling question. Why -- and how -- did Yitzchok Avinu misjudge his son Esav?

A posuk (Bereishis 24:62) tells us: "Vayeitzei Yitzchok lasuach basadeh." (That is: Yitzchok went out (ArtScroll: "to supplicate;" Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan: to "medidate") in the field.) As you see, translation of the word "lasuach" is not obvious. The Sfas Emes sees this word as related to the word 'sicha' -- spoken words. Thus, he reads 'lasuach' as; "to speak." Why did Yitzchok Avinu go out "to speak" in the field? The Sfas Emes answers: To expand awareness of HaShem in the world. Thus, the Sfas Emes sees Yitzchok Avinu as being engaged in kiruv (outreach).

Further, the Torah tells us (Bereishis, 25:27) that Esav, too, was known to be an "ish sadeh" (a person of the field). But for Yitzchok Avinu, the sole reason for going out 'to the field' was kiruv. Yitzchok thought that Esav, too, was engaged in kiruv. Thus Yitzchok Avinu misperceived his son Esav, viewing him as "a chip off the block." "Like father, like son."

Finally, Esav played on his father's misperception. He did this by asking Yitzchok Avinu questions that implied that he, too, was concerned to extend awareness of HaShem's Presence. Thus he asked his father: How does one give ma'aseir (tithe) from salt? How does one give ma'aseir from straw? The former question conveyed the impression that he (Esav) wanted to extend our awareness of HaShem even to the inanimate world (salt); and the latter question, even to the relatively unimportant part of the world (the chaff).


Three suggested take-home lessons from this Sfas Emes. Bear in mind:

1. The sheer evil of the Plishtim, expending resources to block access to HaShem.

2. The Sfas Emes's novel interpretation of why Yitzchok favored Esav; i.e., ish sadeh.

3. The fact that hester is not something that happens accidentally or that we bring upon ourselves. The Sfas Emes is telling us that HaShem built hester into creation -- to give us the challenge of seeing Him despite the hester!


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