Tuesday, December 22, 2009


An Eternal Convenant
Rabbi Gustavo Surazski

Sibling rivalry is a common phenomenon in the Bible, especially in Genesis. Without any doubt this is one of the most complex and problematic relationships within the family framework. There is a certain logic here. Siblings feel they must compete for parental love and attention and so it is logical that there will be friction at one stage or another.

Midrash Tanchuma bears witness to the complexity of this relationship when referring to the verse in "The Song of Songs" (8, 1) "O that thou wert as my brother". Israel exclaims before the Lord, "O that thou wert as my brother" but in the Bible all brothers hate one another, Cain hates Abel...Ishmael hates Yitzhak...Esau hates Ya'acov...and Yosef is hated by his brothers, and so who is the brother that Israel refers to when speaking to the Lord? Israel is referring to Moses and Aaron as in Psalm 133, "Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity".

There is however a precedent in the Book of Genesis for the desirable relation
between Moses and Aaron, it is the relationship between Yehuda and Benjamin. We can say that in Genesis a circle is closed. The problematic relations between brothers begin with Cain's chance remark after the murder, "Am I my brother's keeper?" (Genesis 4, 9). The circle is closed in last week's Parasha. The same Yehuda that in the beginning of Parashat Va-Yeshev suggests selling his brother Yosef to the Ishmaelites is the one who is the guarantor for Benjamin. Yehuda's words to his father, "I will be a surety for him, and of my hand shalt thou require him" (43, 9), are the exact opposite of Cain's words.

In the beginning of parashat Va-Yigash we see for the first time in the Bible, a man who endangers himself for his brother's sake. Benjamin is held on Yosef's orders and Yehuda is willing to fight, as Rabbi Yehuda noted in a midrash in Bereshit Rabba (63, 6). Yehuda puts himself in danger. He may even end his life in the same pit that Yosef came out of, but he keeps his promise to his father and brings his son back to him. He does not let Benjamin remain in Egypt...

At this time, Yehuda and Benjamin sign an eternal covenant. They are the tribes that composed the kingdom of Judah and the same ones who survived destruction and exile. We are the offspring of this covenant of mutual obligation made by two brothers for the first time since the creation of the world.

And when the Lord searched for a place for His Shekhinah, He decided on the place where these brothers dwelt. The Temple was built on the border between the tribe of Yehuda and the tribe of Benjamin

Monday, December 14, 2009

Miketz - Chanukah

The Unknown Hero

by Rabbi Gustavo Surazski

Although Passover is regarded as the festival of questions, Chanukah has also earned a question of its own - the famous question known as "the Bet Yosef's question" which seems rather simple at first...

Chanukah is an 8-day festival in honor of the miracle of the jug of oil, which was supposed to last for only one day but burned for eight. But according to this, the miracle occurred for only seven days since there was enough oil for the first day. So one of the eight candles in fact lit up normally and therefore doesn't symbolize any miracle whatsoever! If so, why are we supposed to light candles for eight days on Chanukah? Perhaps Chanukah should really be a 7-day festival instead?

Many solutions have been offered to this puzzle and it is impossible to mention all of them. The "Bet Yosef" himself offers three answers in his book:

. The jug of oil was divided into 8 parts, each for one day. The miracle occurred because each eighth part was enough to burn for one day.
. On the first night the menorah was filled with all of the oil in the jug. The miracle occurred on the first night after the menorah which had burned all night long filled up with oil again, and yet again on each subsequent night.
. Each night, immediately after the menorah was filled with oil, the jug filled up again.

(We should note that, according to the last two answers, the question should then apply to the eighth day, when there was enough oil to light the menorah, and therefore no real miracle occurred).

One of the most brilliant answers I have heard on this subject is a new interpretation by the late Rabbi Shmuel Avigdor HaCohen Z"L. He claimed that this candle was lit in honor of the great priest who did not despair at the time of the desecration of the Temple by the Greeks and hid the jug of oil, fully expecting that the Temple would one day be rebuilt. This "cocktail" of foresight, hope and faith within this one man was a miracle in itself. He deserves an extra candle...

Many people think that the words "dream" and "vision" are interchangeable. But this is not the case at all. To dream and to be a visionary are not necessarily the same thing.

At the beginning of Parashat Vayeshev Joseph has a dream and builds his entire world (or rather, those parts of it under his control) around his vision. Pharoah, in contrast, also has a dream, but he awakens, falls asleep again and continues to dream...with cows.

He also dreams, we all dream, but he doesn't know what to do about his dream. He needs someone to interpret it for him and advise him what to do.

In Joseph's case it is different, The Torah describes him using two different words: he is a man of discernment (Navon) and a man of wisdom (Chacham). These words are also not interchangeable.

A man of discernment is one who can find an answer to any question. Ruling an empire like the Egyptian one during those years of famine requires great intelligence. Even a dreamer can be a clever man.

But wisdom is something entirely different. A wise man is one who does not only make the correct analysis, but also knows how to apply it correctly! It is true that Joseph was a man of discernment, but it was his wisdom and not only his discernment that saved Egypt. .
In the same way it can be said that it is true that a miracle occurred on Chanukah; but this miracle was not created from nothing. Behind this miracle is the unknown hero of the festival of Chanukah: that High Priest who happened to dream that the day would come when the Greeks would be banished from the Temple together with all of their gods. But it also occurred to him to save and hide the jug of oil, so that those who would follow after him could rekindle the menorah when the Temple was rebuilt.

That is the difference between a dreamer and a visionary.

Previous Drashot

Miketz (Chanukah) 5766 - Body and Spirit

Monday, December 07, 2009


Fathers and Sons

by Rabbi Gustavo Surazski
LeIlui Nishmat Bela bat Moshe VeLeah Z"L
"These are the generations of Jacob, Joseph..." (Bereshit 37:2)

Torah portion Vayeshev already in the second verse suggests the many implications of educating children. The very structure of the sentence creates the feeling of a son following in his father's footsteps.

In the Zohar it is said that the three patriarchs stand for the three pilgrimage festivals.
Pesach (Passover) stands for Avraham (who told his wife, Sarah, to "knead and make cakes" [Genesis 18:6]) Shavuoth (when we hear the shofar) stands for Isaac (as the shofar was made of the horn of the ram sacrificed instead of Isaac in the story of the akedah). Succoth stands for Jacob (who "made booths for his cattle" [Genesis 33:17] ).
The Zohar adds that Shmini Atzeret stands for Joseph, because as Shmini Atzeret is the continuation of Succoth, so Joseph is the natural continuation of Jacob, our patriarch.

Our sages remark on the similarities between Jacob and his son, Joseph. Perhaps we might expect the Torah to say: "These are the generations of Jacob, Reuven", who was the eldest son. But the Torah shows Jacob's imprint on the heart of Joseph, the son Jacob and Rachel.

Joseph is similar to Jacob, not only in things that happened to him, but also in characteristics. Jacob was born circumcised and so was Joseph. Jacob's mother was barren and so was Joseph's. Jacob's mother had difficulty in the sorrow of his conception, and Joseph's mother had difficulty in the hour of giving birth. Jacob's mother gave birth to two, and so did Joseph's. Jacob's brother wished to kill him, and so did Joseph's brothers.

The list is even longer.

Jacob married a woman out of the land of Israel, and so did Joseph. Both became self-important through their dreams. Both went down to Egypt. Both were embalmed and both were later brought for burial in the land of Israel (Bemidbar Rabbah 14:5).

When I read this midrash, I think of myself and my father. I have asked myself many times if my father influenced my way of life as an observant Jew in general and as a Rabbi in particular.

My father is a secular Jew. I have almost no memories of going to the synagogue, nor of kosher food in the house, nor of Sabbath observance. Until a few years ago, I thought that his influence in this respect was non-existent. I learnt from him to be honest, to love books…and I inherited his sense of humor.

But some weeks ago I remembered something that happened when I was in the fourth grade in the Jewish school in Argentina. We were putting on a show for the end of the year and were going to do a Hassidic style dance. We were told to wear black trousers and white shirts and to bring a talit for the costume.
I was the only child in the class that did not bring a talit from home. My father (whom I had never seen wearing a talit) said that a talit is not for dressing up and asked my grandmother to sew something similar for me to wear. I cried and tried to persuade my father that I would be the only child without a real talit, but he did not relent.

Only today, after almost thirty years, do I understand how strongly I was impressed by that tiny distinction between holy and secular, between an improvised make-believe talit and a real talit.

Many people with grown up children turn to me and say, "You know, Rabbi, time has proved that I brought my children up correctly."

There is a wonderful story about an old sailor who stopped smoking when he saw his parrot coughing madly. He at once thought that the coughing was a symptom of pneumonia as a result of the smoke from his pipe.

The sailor took his poor parrot to the vet who examined it thoroughly. At the end he found the parrot in good health. "Don't worry", said the vet to the sailor. "Your parrot's well. He just learned to imitate your coughing".

"These are the generations of Jacob… Joseph".

It is the nature of man. For better or worse, children imitate their parents.

As a famous saying states: "Whoever is concerned with days sows wheat; whoever thinks of years plants trees; whoever thinks of generations raises children".
Previous Drashot