Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Vayechi – A Proper Source For Blessing

My father-in-law, Rabbi Singer, attended one of the first Torah Umesorah conventions for day school principals. They had a major challenge. Many of the children came from homes that were not Torah observant. Those students knew very little, yet the learning curriculum was at a high standard, including in-depth meforshim (commentary) on the Gemara. The principals felt this was way too much to expect from the students and wanted to simplify the curriculum.

Many great Torah leaders spoke at the dinner, but all awaited the words of the generation’s leader, Hagaon Rav Moshe Feinstein. Rav Feinstein opened by stating that the bracha that parents give their sons at the beginning of Shabbos is based on Yaakov blessing Ephraim and Menashe: “With you, Israel will bless, saying, ‘May God make you like Ephraim and like Menashe.’” This is why we bless our sons with those same words.

Rav Moshe then raised his voice and asked, “Why not like Reuven, Yehuda, Yissachar or any of the other children of Yaakov? What was so unique about Ephraim and Menashe?” Rav Moshe answered it was because Ephraim and Menashe reached the highest level of Torah learning. Yaakov had taught all the complexity and secrets of Torah to Yosef, who then taught all of this Torah to Ephraim and Menashe. The blessing we give all our children is to reach the highest level of Torah learning. Sometimes the child can’t get there, but success can only be achieved if we strive for the highest level. Therefore, said Rav Moshe, the curriculum must be on a high level no matter what. The principals took in the message and felt comforted in continuing their policy.

An alternate explanation for using Ephraim and Menashe for blessing is offered by the Dinover Rebbe. Menashe was the older son, but Yaakov blessed Ephraim first as he felt he was more deserving of the blessing. Menashe did not gripe, complain or protest, nor did Ephraim gloat or act haughty over Menashe. Both brothers accepted Yaakov’s decision and maintained brotherly love for each other. From the beginning of time, there was sibling rivalry: Kayin and Hevel, Yitzchak and Yishmael, Yaakov and Eisav, and Yosef and his brothers. But Ephraim and Menashe were exemplary in maintaining their brotherly love without jealousy. For this reason, we bless our children to have this love, care and unity with their siblings

Another reason offered is that Ephraim and Menashe maintained their high level in Torah and mitzvos while living in Egyptian exile. Yaakov was blessing klal Yisrael that they too should succeed in maintaining their life of Torah and mitzvos even when living among foreign nations.

I would like to suggest yet another explanation. Usually, each succeeding generation is a bit lower in Torah knowledge than prior generations. Ephraim and Menashe were different. Even though they were the grandchildren of Yaakov, they reached the same level as their uncles—the shevatim. There was no decline in their generation. Yaakov made clear that Ephraim and Menashe were equivalent in Torah level to their uncles, Yaakov’s children. Thus in blessing our children with reference to Ephraim and Menashe, we are wishing that they remain at the same powerful level of Torah learning as their ancestors and not decline.

People love to receive brachos (blessings) from tzaddikim. But how do brachos work? Can I really give someone a blessing and it will come to fruition? Rav Yerucham Levovitz notes that brachos are not magic; they can only come to fruition if the individual is deserving or suited for that blessing.

There are different approaches to offering brachos. The Chofetz Chaim would tell people who would ask him for brachos, “The Torah is the source of all blessing. If you learn Torah, you will receive bracha.” Other tzaddikim give brachos freely, since a tzaddik has a close connection to Hashem, the Source of bracha, and by giving a bracha he is sharing Hashem’s blessing with others.

When Yaakov told Ephraim and Menashe, “With you, Israel will bless,” Yaakov was giving all parents a special ability to shower their children with blessing.

This past week was the yahrzeit of my paternal grandfather, Mr. Helmut Bodenheim, Naftali ben Avraham, z”l. He was born and raised in Manheim, Germany, and was fortunate to receive a visa to immigrate to America in 1938. As a single young man on his own in New York, he had many challenges to remain steadfast in his commitment to Torah and mitzvos, yet he never wavered. He was a man of truth. He held onto his family’s German minhagim, which we still follow. I vividly remember the brachos I received from him.

May all the Torah and mitzvos of my family be a merit for his neshama, and I daven that I can effectively pass on to my children and grandchildren the bracha that my grandfather gave to me.

Rabbi Yehoshua Lifshitz – Rashi, Ramban, Rabbenu Bechai On Parsha Vayigash And Asara Be’Tevet And Perush On Daat Tenuvot Of Rabbi Chaim Luzzato

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Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Asarah B’Teves: From Darkness To Light Through Torah Study

Jack was on a Birthright trip for the first time in Israel. The tour stopped at one of the largest yeshivos in Eretz Yisrael, Mir Yerushalayim. He was taken aback by the loud noise as he entered the huge study hall, with students talking in full voice, even screaming. Jack had been to many study halls where intense study was taking place. All of them were quiet like a library. Yet, he was taken in by how visibly excited and engaged the people were about the material they were studying. The guide explained that the Torah is studied in pairs, with two partners debating the concepts they are learning.

We’re barely finished Chanukah, celebrating victory over the Greeks, and now this Friday we observe the fast of Asara b’Teves, commemorating the day the siege began around Yerushalayim by Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylonia, during the time of the first Beis Hamikdash. The Selichos lists three tragic events that occurred in the month of Teves during different time periods. The Greek king Ptolemi ordered the Torah translated into Greek on the eighth of Teves, Ezra Hasofer died on the ninth of Teves, and the siege began around Yerushalayim, leading to the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash on the 10th of Teves. The Shulchan Aruch notes that darkness enveloped the world for three days when the Torah was translated into Greek, linking the eighth, ninth, and 10th of Teves to each other.

Although one would think that translating the Torah into Greek would breed clarity, it had the opposite effect, especially since the Greeks outlawed learning both the written and oral Torah law. It confined the infinite words and understanding of the Torah into a single interpretation. It also secularized Torah study, equating its study to all other disciplines, such as history, math and architecture.

The Greeks were intent to cause the Jews to forget the Torah in favor of Greek culture, and it seems they were extremely successful at that time. For a thousand years since the giving of the Torah at Har Sinai, there was no dispute on any halacha. When the Greek era began, the first dispute of halacha was between Yossi ben Yoeizer and Yossi ben Yochanan. During this period of Greek decrees forbidding the study of both the written and oral law, disputes on halacha multiplied. There are thousands of disputes recorded in the Mishnayos and Gemara. Until this very day, the effect of the Greeks is still felt. Even though the Chashmonaim won the physical war against the Greeks, our perfect clarity about Torah declined.

However, Rav Hutner says if we look at the situation from a different perspective, we will understand that the Greek era caused the opposite effect. The increase in disputes actually helped preserve and restore the Torah that might otherwise have been forgotten!

The Gemara describes all its conflicting opinions as “divrei elokim chaim”—all the opinions regarding an issue are correct, even if we only rule like one of them. How is this so? Each opinion can be considered and possibly used for halachic rulings in different situations. But even more fundamentally, the differences of opinion help crystallize the concepts involved. The back-and-forth arguments help reveal different angles on how to understand a topic, leading to deeper knowledge.

Typically, a day in yeshiva is spent learning with a chavrusa—a study partner—as opposed to individual study. The two individuals often have different approaches to understanding the topic, and together, using many different rabbinical authorities for guidance, they can come to a clear conclusion. Some of my own best chavrusos had entirely different ways of thinking and I enjoyed learning with all of them, since they helped me see the Gemara from an angle I might never have contemplated.

The increase in arguments of interpretation, starting from the Greek era, caused a major expansion of Torah. It’s noteworthy that the Mishnayos and Gemara are founded on the thousands of disputes that evolved from the era of the Greeks. These arguments continued through the centuries of the Rishonim and Acharonim until this very day. Each additional dispute adds greater clarity and understanding by detailing the respective arguments.

The Greeks did initiate confusion in our Torah learning, which is expressed by the three-day period of darkness. Let’s face it: Gemara learning is difficult. Many people tell me, “Rabbinical arguments in the Gemara are not for me. It’s all so confusing; I don’t get it.” I reassure them that one of the most rewarding feelings in Torah learning is the clarity achieved after sorting through all the confusion. Giving up is succumbing to the darkness, giving the Greeks a victory. But if we plug away, especially with a study partner, the Midrash promises that the apparent darkness of our not understanding will eventually turn into great light and clarity through the learning of our great Torah.