GOOD MORNING! Last week I shared with you four Torah prophecies charting Jewish history: 1) that the Jewish people will be eternal though 2) we will be few in number and 3) scattered to the four corners of the earth and that 4) the host nations were ultimately inhospitable to us. This week, 2 more prophecies!
One would think, if the Jewish people were so reviled to be persecuted and killed, that we would have little impact upon those nations persecuting and killing us. Yet, the Torah prophesies that we will be:
5. A LIGHT UNTO THE NATIONS
"I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make your name great. You shall become a blessing. And I will bless those who bless you, and curse those who curse you. Through you all the communities of the earth shall be blessed" (Genesis 12:2-3). The prophet Isaiah (42:6) states, "I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness, and will hold your hand and keep you. And I will establish you as a covenant of the people, for a light unto the nations."
Despite our small numbers, the Jewish People seem to occupy a disproportionate place as a focus of world attention. As Mark Twain wrote of the Jew: "He is as prominent on the planet as any other people, and his commercial importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk. His contributions to the world's list of great names in literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine, and abstruse learning, are also way out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers."
Despite being the most hated people, few in number and dispersed across the globe, Jews are the most influential people the world has known. Jews are responsible for the idea of ethical monotheism and the absolute moral standard that comes from a belief in one God.
Before the Jews, the ancient world thought that infanticide was morally correct (even Aristotle wrote in favor of it.) Before the Jews came along, the world thought that "might was right."
It was the Jewish people that gave the world the ideas of respect for life, peace, equality, justice, love of neighbor, social responsibility, and holiness of human purpose.
Today, on the wall outside the United Nations, the hope of the world is emblazoned, using the words of the Jewish prophet Isaiah: "And they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks, nations shall not lift up sword against nations. Neither shall they learn war anymore." (Isaiah 2:4)
6. INTERDEPENDENCE OF THE NATION AND THE LAND
It has been prophesied in the Torah that the land of Israel was rich and fertile while the Jews were living there: "I have come down to rescue them from Egypt's power. I will bring them out of that land, to a good, spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey..." (Exodus 3:8). And when they were exiled, it would become barren and desolate: "So devastated will I leave the land that your enemies who live there will be astonished... Your land will remain desolate, and your cities in ruins (Leviticus 26:32-33)."
During the two thousand years of Israel's exile from its Land, numerous empires have conquered the Land and countless wars were fought for its possession. And yet, astonishingly, no conqueror ever succeeded in permanently settling the Land or causing the deserts to blossom.
Mark Twain, who visited Israel in 1867, describes the Land of Israel:
"We traversed some miles of desolate country whose soil is rich enough but is given wholly to weeds -- A silent, mournful expanse ... A desolation is here that not even imagination can grace with the pomp of life and action. The further we went the hotter the sun got and the more rocky and bare, repulsive and dreary the landscape became" ("The Innocents Abroad" Vol. II).
The "land of milk and honey" turning into a desert, is a phenomenon unique in the annals of history. Now that the Jews are returning to the Land, it once again has begun to bloom!
Next week: The final prophecy -- the Return from Exile ... and what does it all mean?
Torah Portion of the Week
Vayechi, Genesis 47:28 - 50:26
The parasha, Torah portion, opens with Jacob on his deathbed 17 years after arriving in Egypt. Jacob blesses Joseph's two sons, Manasseh (Menashe) and Ephraim (to this day it is a tradition to bless our sons every Shabbat evening with the blessing, "May the Almighty make you like Ephraim and Manasseh" -- they grew up in the Diaspora amongst foreign influences and still remained devoted to the Torah. The Shabbat evening blessing for girls is "to be like Sarah, Rivka, Rachel and Leah.") He then individually blesses each of his sons. The blessings are prophetic and give reproof, where necessary.
A large retinue from Pharaoh's court accompanies the family to Hebron to bury Jacob in the Ma'arat Hamachpela, the burial cave purchased by Abraham. The Torah portion ends with the death of Joseph and his binding the Israelites to bring his remains with them for burial when they are redeemed from slavery and go to the land of Israel. Thus ends the book of Genesis!
* * *
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
When Jacob was on his deathbed blessing his sons, he said to Reuven:
"Unstable as water, you shall not have pre-eminence" (Genesis 49:4).
What is this all about and what does it mean?
Our sages explain that Reuven was punished -- he lost his rights as the firstborn son -- because he interfered in his father's personal life after Rachel died. Yet the Talmud states, "Whoever says that Reuven sinned is making an error" (Talmud Bavli, Shabbos 58b). How can that be?
Answers Rabbi Aryeh Levine, "Reuven had a bad character trait -- he was 'unstable as water'. He was not bad by nature or personality; he just had the one unfortunate trait that he was quick-tempered. As the eldest son he should have had certain privileges. He should have been the ancestor of the kings of Israel, not his brother Yehudah. However, because of the defect in his character, he was not qualified to fulfill the tasks and enjoy the privileges that were destined for him.
Rabbi Yeruchem Levovitz commented that "the Torah does not usually give metaphors as it does here. The Torah's metaphor is showing us the living reality of the trait of impulsivity. Just as water flows quickly, so is the behavior of a person who acts without carefully thinking about the consequences of his actions.
"If you do not weigh the consequences of your behavior, you will make many harmful mistakes and will cause much damage. The Torah's metaphor of water serves as a constant reminder of the dangers of being impulsive. Always take a moment to think before you act" (Daas Torah: Braishis, p. 275).
CANDLE LIGHTING - December 13
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QUOTE OF THE WEEK:
The fastest way to lose an argument
is to lose your temper
-- Dr. Mardy Grothe
Rabbi Kalman Packouz
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