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Reconciliation

Genesis Fiction: Chayei Sara

Reconciliation

Though Ishmael was thirteen years Isaac’s senior, he still looked more muscular, more vigorous than the scholarly-looking half-brother. Ishmael’s decades as a marauder had done nothing to lessen his vitality. The enormous assembly opened a path for Ishmael as he strode confidently, making his way to meet Isaac at the entrance to the Machpela cave, nestled in the Hebron hills.

Isaac had thought about this meeting for some time. He would show the traditional honor to his estranged, exiled older brother.

Ishmael stopped within two paces of Isaac with an unreadable expression on his face. The assembly seemed to be holding its breath, waiting to see how this reunion of the sons of Abraham would unfold.

Isaac outstretched his arms to Ishmael, giving him a light embrace and perfunctory kisses on either cheek. Ishmael reciprocated instinctively, but still held himself tightly.

“Brother,” Isaac said formally, bowing his head lightly.

“Brother.” Ishmael mirrored the motion.

“It is a great honor to our father that you came to participate in his burial ceremony,” Isaac announced.

“Isaac, it is you who honor me, by allowing me to participate.”

“How could it be any other way? You are his Eldest. Please lead us into the cave to commence the ceremony.” Isaac beckoned to the narrow cave opening.

“No Isaac. You should enter first.”

“Father would have wanted me to honor you and let you start the proceedings.”

“You honor me by having waited for me and allowing me to participate at all. I am not even deserving of this honor. I have been a disgrace and a blemish to our Father’s name. You are his true heir. The world knows this.” Ishmael looked Isaac in the eye and then lowered his head.

Isaac reached out to hold Ishmael by the shoulder. “It is true that Father might have been disappointed with your lifestyle, but do not doubt that he ever loved you any less.”

Ishmael looked up, his voice heavy with emotion. “That is what is perhaps most painful. He loved me, yet he still exiled me.”

“You left him no choice. You threatened to ruin his mission and everything he stood for.”

“Now I know. I was too headstrong. I did not understand what he kept telling me. He kept giving me second-chances. I presumed there was no line I could not cross.”

“I think that if it had been solely up to Father, he never would have banished you. God gave him a direct command.”

“Yes. Father probably should have been firmer with me at an earlier stage, before he had to take such drastic measures. I almost died in the desert.”

“God has been with you, in His own way. I do not believe He ever abandoned you, even in the depths of your trouble.”

“God has indeed been with me, and He has given me great wealth, children and success in all my undertakings. However, I was not always with God.”

“Come then my brother.” Isaac tried maneuvering Ishmael towards the entrance. “Lead us into the cave. I can see clearly see you have repented from your ways. God loves the penitent and it would give Father great pleasure for you to initiate the ceremony.”

“No.” Ishmael said with quiet finality, not budging from his place. “Of this I am adamant and have given much thought. You have been and always will be Father’s true heir, son of his beloved soul-mate Sarah. Whatever claim I might have had as Firstborn, I renounced by turning my back on Father’s teachings and ways. While I deeply regret what I have done with my life, and will try to make amends with what remains of it, some things cannot be changed. Some wrongs cannot be righted. The blemishes may never completely heal. You are the true and only heir. Father’s faith and mission will run true in your bloodline.”

“Are you certain that you wish to relinquish this honor?” Isaac asked tenderly.

“Yes, my brother. Besides, it is disrespectful to both our Father and the assembled multitude for us to debate further.”

Isaac squeezed Ishmael’s shoulder, and then suddenly embraced him in a strong and long embrace. Tears flowed down both their eyes.

Without another word, Isaac turned around and led the way to the narrow cave entrance, followed closely by Ishmael.

For the first time in their relationship, Isaac felt that his back was not in danger from his brother. In fact, he felt safer.

* * * * * *

Biblical Sources:

Genesis Chapter 25:

8 And Abraham expired, and died in a good old age, an old man, and full of years; and was gathered to his people. 9 And Isaac and Ishmael his sons buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, which is before Mamre; 10 the field which Abraham purchased of the children of Heth; there was Abraham buried, and Sarah his wife.

Secondary Sources: (from Eshai HaTanach)

Since his father Abraham doted on him and did not rebuke him, Ishmael embarked on an evil course, so that eventually Abraham came to hate him and banished him from his house empty-handed. Shemot Rabbah 1:1

After his father had banished him, he sat at the crossroads and robbed people. Shemot Rabbah 1:1

His mother sent to her father’s house and took for him a wife by the name of Fatimah. Three years later Abraham again went to see his son. He arrived at midday and found Ishmael’s wife at home. “Give me a little bread and a little water, for my soul is weary from the road,” he asked. She took it out and gave it to him. Abraham stood and prayed before the Holy One, Blessed is He, and Ishmael’s house became filled with all good things. When Ishmael came, his wife told him about it, and Ishmael knew that his father still loved him. Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer 30

“These are the years of Ishmael’s life” (Genesis 25:17). Why did Scripture trace the years of a wicked person here? Because he came all the way from the middle of the desert to perform an act of kindness – burial of his father. Bereshit Rabbah 62:5

His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him (Genesis 25:9). Here Ishmael the son of the maidservant showed honor to Isaac the son of the lady, by giving him precedence. Bereshit Rabbah 62:3

Since the older Ishmael gave precedence to his younger brother Isaac, we infer that he repented. Tractate Bava Batra 16b

Is your child a bully?

Genesis: Chayei Sara

Is your child a bully?

Most of you will answer “no”. However, many of you will be wrong. It is curious that parents are often the last ones to realize or find out that there child is either physically, verbally or emotionally bullying someone. Such parents are then naturally shocked and/or defensive when confronted with such reports.

Bullies come in all shapes, sizes, ages, tactics and situations. The child (or adult) that is well-behaved, considerate, conscientious, helpful and an all-around darling at home, may be an entirely different animal in the playground or at the office.

Rabbi Hizkiyahu ben Manoach (Hizkuni) was aware of this potential duality and brings this psychology to bear when analyzing the courtship strategy of Abraham’s servant.

Abraham’s servant (who is often identified as Eliezer) travels a significant distance to find the home of his master’s family. Instead of asking directions (maybe it’s a male thing), and going straight to Betuel’s or some other relative’s home, he first goes to the local watering hole and hangs out, watching the young girls for a potential match for Isaac.

Hizkuni explains that Eliezer had a very specific purpose. He wanted to see the girl (Rebecca as it turned out) outside of her home environment. Observing Rebecca anonymously in a public place where she is not surrounded by authority figures would give a truer indication of her nature.

Thankfully for us, our Matriarch Rebecca turned out to be as kindhearted outside the house as in it.

May we all be as fortunate in our children, in our friends and in our children’s friends.

Shabbat Shalom,

Bentzi

Dedication

To the staff and administration of Orot Etzion Boys School. They do a noteworthy job on controlling bullying.

Escape from Sodom

Genesis Fiction: Vayera

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Escape from Sodom

“Get your hand off of me!” Edis shrieked at Archangel Michael.

Michael did not pay any attention to Edis. With an inhuman single-mindedness Michael took the hand of Lot and his wife Edis and proceeded to walk them briskly out of the city of Sodom, under the darkly overcast sky.

Archangel Gabriel was doing the same with Lot’s youngest daughters. Madis, the older of the two was on his right and Atis, the youngest, on his left. Each girl was firmly in hand, unable to escape the iron grasp and unable to do anything but keep pace with the rapidly moving angel.

Lot’s two older daughters, standing beside their husbands looked on in disbelief as the strange procession quickly moved away from them, from the courtyard of Lot’s house.

“Where are you going?” Shutis, the oldest called out.

“We are leaving. Now.” Lot called back hastily, “Sodom will be destroyed any minute.”

“I just need to gather a few more things and I will catch up with you.” Shutis promised, while her husband could be heard still giggling in incomprehension.

“No!” Lot demanded, “There is no time. Come with us right now or you will be lost!”

“Remember to bring my jeweled hairpin!” Edis offered hopefully.

Shutis quickly ran back into the house and was out of earshot.

“We are going to destroy the entire plain.” Gabriel explained in a neutral tone, keeping up the fast pace.

“Please. Please wait for the rest of my family.” Lot pleaded.

“It is too late.” Gabriel said with a firm finality. “They are more interested in their material possessions than in their lives.”

“What are you talking about?” Edis asked angrily. “They are coming right along. And the things they are bringing are important.”

“You do not understand, woman. The sins of these cities are so great that God could not wait any longer to destroy them. And destroy them we shall. Utterly. Nothing shall remain of what you knew as Sodom. If it were not for the merit of your uncle Abraham, you too would now die in the city.”

And then they were outside the gates of the city.

Michael and Gabriel simultaneously released their captives.

Gabriel raised his hands to the sky. The dark clouds poured fiery stones and acidic rain. Lot and his family heard a crescendo of screams from inside the city. An acrid smell of burning flesh filled the air.

Michael spoke with a booming voice that resonated to the heavens.

“Flee for your life! Do not look behind you or stop anywhere in all the plain; flee to the mountain lest you be swept away.”

Michael raised his hand and a beam of light erupted from his fingertips. The light reached the side of the mountain. Rock and earth exploded sending fragments in all directions. The mountain was shrouded by a cloud of debris. After moments, the dust settled. To their complete astonishment Lot and his family saw the contours of a road. The road was the straightest and smoothest road they have ever seen. It led straight up the mountain. To Abraham.

Lot loved his uncle, but could never return to him again. In his uncles’ shadow he would always be lesser. The sinner. The bad one. Repugnant. Worthless. He would die before he returned to Abraham. No. He needed to escape elsewhere. Now.

Lot fell to his knees and begged. “Please, no! My Lord – See, now, Your servant has found grace in Your eyes and Your kindness was great which You did with me to save my life; but I cannot escape to the mountain lest the evil attach itself to me and I die. Behold, please, this city is near enough to escape there,” Lot pointed further up the plain, “and it is small.” Lot’s voice started to break. “I shall flee there. Is it not small? – and I will live.”

Michael stood pensively for a moment and then replied:

“Behold, I have granted you consideration even regarding this, that I not overturn the city about which you have spoken. Hurry, flee there, for I cannot do a thing until you arrive there.”

Michael raised his hand towards the city that would be called Zoar. Light radiated from his hand and tore through the rolling fields of grass and pasture. On the uphill slope to Zoar, Michael had again created a road.

Michael then vanished into thin air, while Gabriel continued to rain down fire and brimstone on Sodom.

The heat behind them increased. Lot grabbed his daughters and yelled to Edis: “Edis. Let us go. Let us save at least these two children.”

The family walked briskly but mechanically up the hill, through a thickening fog of ash. They were in shock, not understanding what was occurring.

The girls were the first to start crying. They slowed down.

Lot continued to pull them by the hand. “Madis. Atis. Let us go. We must keep on moving. And whatever you do – do not look back.”

The wails from Sodom were reaching a fevered pitch. The scent of fire and burned flesh was overwhelming. Then the screams quieted down. Finally it was silent. Ominously quiet.

Edis had been crying quietly, tears flowing down her soot-covered face, slowing repeating: “My babies. My poor babies.”

She looked at Lot, walking in front of her with the two girls. Her anguish turned to confusion and then to anger.

She lunged for Lot knocking him to the ground. She punched him on the back with her fists.

“It is all your fault!” Edis sobbed hysterically. “My babies are dead! My jewels gone! Why did you have to invite those beings in! You are always trying to be better than everyone else. Superior! You and your morality! You are a filthy lustful leech just like everyone else! But look at what you have done! Look at what you have done!!”

Madis and Atis quickly grabbed their mother from either side and gently lifted her off of Lot. Lot got back on his feet and looked at Edis tenderly.

“I am sorry Edis, but it is not my fault. The Sodomites were so immoral that it was inevitable that they would be punished. I did would I could, but it was not enough. The chiefs of Sodom sneered and threatened me when I raised even a hint of kindness.” Lot bowed his head. “I am sorry for our children. They too would not listen. We tried.”

“Sorry!? Tried!?” Edis asked, mad with grief. “You sniveling excuse of a man. I will go back and find them.”

“Edis.” Lot said very firmly, clasping her arm. “We cannot go back. We cannot even look back or we will surely die.”

Instinctively, Madis and Atis positioned themselves behind their mother, to prevent her from going backwards and to block her view if she turned.

Edis abruptly ripped her arm out of Lot’s grip. “How dare you tell me what to do? My wealth is destroyed. My babies are laying, maybe dead back home, or they might be following us right now, and you are too cowardly to save them, to even turn around and see? I will go myself if I have to.”

“Mother! No!” Madis grabbed her mother from behind. “Did you not hear the angel? Everyone is dead. I can feel the heat getting closer. If we do not continue, if we even look back, we will die. We will!”

“How can I go on?” Edis was sobbing uncontrollably. “My babies are dead. My husband is no husband. Where will we go? What about my house? My jewelry? My friends? I must return.”

Edis started to slip out of Madis’ embrace. Atis saw the movement and she tried to grab her mother and block her view. But Edis was quicker. She turned around now embraced on either side by her loving daughters and took a full frontal look at the destruction of Sodom.

She could not believe her eyes. The lush fields. The strong walls. The rich houses. The colorful courtyards. They were completely destroyed. The entire plain was blackened and distorted. Thick black smoke covered the entire sky. The only color in the world was the red of angry flames consuming the dead remains of a once proud civilization.

Then she understood. She understood that Sodom was completely evil. She understood that she was an active participant and she knew that she too deserved to die.

Salty tears poured freely down her face, pooling around her feet.

The tingling started in her toes. They became numb. The feeling spread quickly up her legs. Edis gasped in shock and looked down at her legs. Madis and Atis jumped backed and stared in disbelief at what seemed like salt replacing her skin. Edis could taste the salt in her mouth as the metamorphosis worked its way up her torso. Edis’ feeling of horror was mirrored on the faces of her daughters.

“MOTHER!!” they cried in unison, grabbing her again, as if by embracing her they could stop the process.

Edis had time for only three words before the transformation was complete.

“I am sorry.” she whispered with her last tears.

And then she was a pillar of salt.

* * * * * *

Sources: compiled, organized and translated in “Encyclopedia of Biblical Personalities” of Yishai Chasidah (i.e. “Ishai HaTanach”), Shaar Press 1994

“Lot’s wife was called Edis.” Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer 25

“She was a native of Sodom.” Targum Yonatan, Bereshit 19:26

“He had four daughters: two betrothed and two married.” Bereshit Rabbah 50:9

“The angel Gabriel went to overturn Sodom, and Michael to save Lot.” Bava Metzia 86b

“The angels urged Lot on” (Genesis 19:15). An angel leveled the road before them to expedite Lot’s flight.” Bereshit Rabbah 50:10

“I cannot escape to the mountain.” (Genesis 19:19) While I was in Sodom, the Holy One, Blessed is He, saw my deeds and the deeds of my town and I was righteous in comparison. If I now go to Abraham, whose good deeds are more numerous than mine, I will be unable to withstand his burning coal [i.e., I will be considered wicked in comparison and will be punished]” Yalkut Shimoni, Vayeira 84

“The compassion of Edis, Lot’s wife, welled up for her married daughters in Sodom, and she looked back to see if they were following her.” Midrash Hagadol, Bereshit 19:26

“She went to the neighbors under the pretext of borrowing salt and said, “We ourselves do not need salt; guests have come to us.” In this way the people of Sodom knew about the angels. Therefore, she was turned into salt.” Bereshit Rabbah 51:5

The Blessings of Aging, Tribulations and the Death-Bed

The Blessings of Aging, Tribulations and the Death-Bed

According to the Midrash, the physiology of Man during the time of our Forefathers was very different from what we know today. Rabbi Yaakov ben Manoach (Hizkuni) gives the details, as well as why things changed.

It seems that ancient Man did not show outward signs of aging. This troubled Abraham greatly, as it made things difficult to determine who was older and to whom to show the proper respect because of age. The problem became even more acute when sons would look identical to their fathers and they could not be distinguished. Abraham prayed to God about this problem, God enthusiastically agreed with Abraham, and in response, God made Abraham the first man to visibly age.

Isaac noted that man didn’t necessarily suffer tribulations before his death, and therefore the attribute of Justice would take a complete accounting of ones life. Isaac argued that if there were some tribulations, then absolute Justice would be softened by the attribute of Mercy (whatever that means) and man would not get as full and absolute a punishment as he deserves (presumably in the afterlife). God enthusiastically agreed with Isaac, and in response, God made Isaac the first man with tribulations (poor eyesight) before his death.

Perhaps most dramatic of all, is that Man did not die slowly or of disease. A person would suddenly sneeze and he literally expired (“exhaled his life force out”). This is one of the theories why we say “God Bless You!” or something similar since antiquity. Jacob prayed to God that there should be a slower process to give a person time to get his affairs in order as well as for the family and loved ones to prepare for the eventual death. God enthusiastically agreed with Jacob, and in response God made Jacob the first man to become “deathly ill” allowing everyone to prepare for his actual death.

Aging, tribulations and a death-bed are never easy to bear, but it is both surprising and somewhat comforting that according to Hizkuni our Forefathers actually prayed for such phenomena. What is even more significant is that God actually granted these “gifts” to the Forefathers themselves.

May God take his time in granting us such “gifts” and when he does have to bestow them upon us – may they be with grace.

Shabbat Shalom,

Bentzi

Dedication

To the memory of Tziporah Harari and Shula Suede of Alon Shvut, who both got their fair share of illness and tribulations. May their families be comforted amongst the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

Oath-Brothers

Genesis Fiction: Lech Lecha

Oath-Brothers

“I shall not go with Abram on this crazed campaign,” Eshkol stomped his long but lithe feet on the intricately tiled floor of Mamre’s home, “it is suicide!”

“How can you even think to abandon us, Eshkol,” Mamre responded as forcefully from deep in his barrel chest, “you would sunder our sacred covenant with Abram, out of cowardice?”

Aner, the eldest of the three, who had been watching the debate with growing concern, stood up to intercept Eshkol before he got within striking distance of Mamre.

“Now, now, Mamre,” Aner stated in soothing tones, as he grabbed on to Eshkol, “there is no need to speak so disparagingly of our brother.”

“Mamre, we have fought side by side with Abram on previous skirmishes and small raids,” Eshkol said more tersely, standing a bit taller, “where I was very much in danger and threatened personally. But what Abram proposes now is nothing less than suicide. To attack Amrafel’s legions, after they successfully destroyed the combined armies of Sedom and Gemorah is simply insane. We are speaking of pitting our workers and slaves against Amrafel’s professional soldiers.”

“Do not try to frighten me,” Mamre answered angrily, “I am loyal to the death to Abram, and more importantly to the God of Abram, who visibly protects him like a favored child. Abram must rescue his nephew from Amrafel, and we, his oath-brothers must go with him. The God, who protects and blesses Abram, will continue to protect and bless us as well.”

“I too believe in his God,” Eshkol explained, “however, against such a formidable foe, we might as well take our own lives here at home and save ourselves the journey, and Abram’s God the hassle.”

Aner cleared his throat, getting both Mamre’s and Eshkol’s attention. “I too am fearful of such a momentous undertaking. However, we cannot in good conscious forsake our brother Abram.”

“By placing us in such an impossible position,” Eshkol retorted, “Abram is the one who is forsaking us. I shall not in good conscious throw away my life against all reason.”

“First of all,” Mamre said, his voice getting louder again, “Abram has not called us to help him, though it should be clearly understood. Second, Abram, our great brother, would not think any less, of any of us, for not joining him. Third, and most importantly – you are lacking in faith. Faith! If you do not have the faith that the God of Abram, the One and Only God, as Abram has taught us, the Creator and Ruler of the Earth, can perform miracles beyond our imagination – then perhaps you are better off staying home. Though I think it would break my heart and perhaps our friendship.” Mamre then sat down heavily looking away from his guests.

Eshkol stood speechless. His mouth hung open at Mamre’s statements. He too sat down morosely. After a few silent moments he uncomfortably explained:

“It may be true that my fear is greater than my faith. However I cannot live with my friendship being questioned. I just require some more tangible hope, something concrete that will let some reason rule over trepidation.”

Eshkol’s confession was greeted with uncomfortable silence.

“Then let me suggest a thought you just inspired,” Aner broke the quiet, “that encourages me and may give you the concrete loadstone you require. Amrafel has just re-conquered and ransacked the entire plain of our very wealthy neighbors of Sedom and Gemorah. If by some miracle, the God of Abram were to place Amrafel in our hands, the spoils of this war would be beyond anything we have ever seen.”

“That is indeed a more tangible goal,” Eshkol stated more excitedly, “though equally suicidal.”

“The spoils would be ours by convention,” Mamre added, “and they would indeed be monumental. Though that is not what draws me, and I am sure it holds little allure to Abram.”

“But it is agreed then,” Aner looked meaningfully at Eshkol, “we are in this together, with the explicit understanding that we get our fair share of the spoils.”

Eshkol looked pensively at Aner and then at the brooding Mamre. He was in mortal fear of attacking Amrafel’s legions. The image of facing Amrafel’s army made his legs wobble and his stomach turn. But he could not face the possibility of being branded a coward. Such a mark would ruin him. And the thought of disappointing Mamre, and even worse, the holy Abram, was more than he could bear. How could he abandon his friends, his oath-brothers? They had always been there for him, especially Abram. Abram, so kind and gentle and wise. Yet so strong and firm and courageous. He knew in his heart he would follow Abram to the ends of the earth.

Aner was right. The idea of the spoils was a good distraction and lessened the dread. And Mamre was right too. The God of Abram had performed miracles for him against all odds. He was indeed powerful.

“I am with you.” Eshkol declared emotionally. “I was wrong to even sow doubt in our friendship.”

Mamre leapt up with a tear in his eye. “My dear Eshkol,” Mamre almost cried as he grabbed Eshkol’s forearm, “I am sorry I even questioned your friendship. This will be a grand adventure.”

As if by divine inspiration, at that very moment, Abram walked in to Mamre’s house.

Aner was the first to greet him and quickly pulled Abram into the embrace of Eshkol and Mamre.

“All hail Abram!” Aner exclaimed, “Prince of God!”

“All hail Abram! Prince of God!” Eshkol and Mamre responded.

“We are with you in all your troubles. Be strong and of good courage!” Aner sang.

“We are with you in all your troubles.” Eshkol and Mamre rejoined in unison.

“Be strong and of good courage!”

* * * * * *

See Genesis Chapter 14 “The War of the Kings”

From Bereshit Rabbah 42:8:

When the Holy One, Blessed is He, told Abraham to circumcise himself, he went and consulted his three friends…

Eshkol said to him, “Why will you put an end to yourself among your enemies, (weakened by circumcision, you will be unable to ward off their attack)?” Said the Holy One, Blessed is He, “By your life, I will not appear to Abraham in the residence of Eshkol…”

Aner said to him, “You are already a hundred years old, and you are going to inflict pain on yourself?”

Mamre said to him, “Your God Who stood by you in the fiery furnace, in the battle with the kings, and in famine – will you not obey Him when He tells you to circumcise yourself?” The Holy One, Blessed is He, said to Mamre, “You advised him to circumcise himself – by your life, I will appear to him only in your residence.” Then God appeared to Abraham in the plains of Mamre (Genesis 18:1)

Tower of Egotism

Genesis Fiction: Noach

Tower of Egotism

Tower of Babel

Nimrod jumped the steps of The Tower three at a time, with powerful, energetic strides. He stood at the top of The Tower just as the first rays of sunrise shone on it. The entire populace for miles around saw his large, muscular frame capping the monstrously imposing structure. He ushered in the new day and formalized his status as King and God.

Nimrod’s priests offered conventional sacrifices and libations. He strode to a room below the top of The Tower Nimrod where he consumed a sumptuous breakfast with a savage appetite. Satiated and surveying his empire, Nimrod allowed his lieutenants to report on activity and issues of the day.

“Your Majesty,” Mebtah, his Chief Lieutenant reported, “all the workgroups are falling behind on the scheduled milestones. I have personally investigated each group and witnessed that their productivity has indeed deteriorated. My concern is that their efforts will deteriorate further and we may not complete the full structure of The Tower before the autumn rains.”

“This is highly disturbing,” Nimrod stated in a menacing voice, “what do you propose?”

“My conclusion, your Majesty,” Mebtah continued unperturbed, “is that we permit the requested weekly day of rest. Let me provide an example. This brick,” Mebtah held out in his right hand a solid and attractive looking brick, “was produced early in our construction. I took the liberty of keeping it as a model for future construction. However, this brick,” and now Mebtah held out his left hand, demonstrating an ugly, ill-shaped and frail looking piece, “this brick, was produced yesterday.”

“I see. And how will a day of rest solve this problem? I would think it would delay us further.” The King asked, the frown on his ruddy face growing.

“Yes, your Majesty,” Mebtah replied, “a day of rest does seem at first to go against reason. However, I believe that the main cause for the poor effort is that we are pushing the workers too hard. If they have a chance to recuperate on a consistent basis, I am certain we shall see an improvement in productivity.”

“What happens if you are wrong, Mebtah?”

“I am not. But even if I were, we would at most lose a day of work, your Majesty.”

“And what solutions could we try then?”

“We would need some way to work them harder, motivate them further.”

Nimrod sat pensively for a few minutes, looking at Mebtah, looking at the distance, looking at the workers doing their tasks up and down The Tower and on the ground below.

He stood up suddenly, like an animal about to pounce on his prey, having arrived at a brilliant solution.

“Mebtah, I cannot take the chance that you are wrong.”

“I understand your Majesty.”

“We must complete The Tower before the rains.”

“I agree completely.”

“To show softness at this critical time would have a negative effect on morale.”

“Um, perhaps, your Majesty.”

“Mebtah, you have been a loyal and dedicated Lieutenant.” Nimrod stated with an ironic grimace on his face.

“Yes, your Majesty.” Mebtah was suddenly confused, not following his lieges’ thinking as he usually did.

“You would give your life at my command without hesitation.” Nimrod asked, his grin getting broader.

“Why of course, your Majesty.” Mebtah replied slowly, feeling as if a trap had been sprung on him, but still not seeing its contours.

“Then you will understand what I am about to do.”

And without further delay, Nimrod vigorously grabbed the tall but thin Mebtah. Nimrod held on to the belt by Mebtah’s waist and the garment by the shoulder and hoisted Mebtah over his head. To Nimrod, Mebtah was as light as a puppet in a child’s hands. Nimrod then climbed with Mebtah to the top of The Tower. Mebtah his eyes wild and confused held on tightly to the bricks in either hand, almost in a death-grip.

At the top of The Tower, with Mebtah over his head, Nimrod called out in a booming voice.

“My people!”

“My people!”

“Heed the words of your ruler!”

“The man I hold in my hands is Mebtah, my loyal Chief Lieutenant.”

“He feels that we cannot complete our Tower in time.”

“He is wrong, and his lack of faith is offensive to the Gods.”

“This is what happens to those that do not work hard, or do not obey the Gods.”

Nimrod with great flourish and drama proceeded to throw Mebtah from the roof of the tower. The eyes of every single worker were on Mebtah’s body. The descent seemed to take forever, however the resounding, sickening thud occurred all too quickly.

Within moments, the workers started scurrying like ants, back to their tasks with renewed vigor and energy.

Nimrod nonchalantly turned to two of his other lieutenants and said:

“Make sure to bring up Mebtah’s two bricks for me.”

They raced down, each eager to get the bricks first.

* * * * * * *

From Genesis 10:8-10:

“And Cush begot Nimrod. He was the first to be a mighty man on earth. He was a mighty hunter before God; therefore it is said: ‘Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before God.’ The beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh in the land of Shinar.”

From Tractate Chulin 89a:

“God gave greatness to Nimrod, yet he said, ‘Let us build us a city and a tower with its top in the heavens.’ (Genesis 11:4) “

Carnivores Unite!

Carnivores Unite!

Once, during my more foolish and perhaps idealistic youth, I decided to be a vegetarian. There were the purported health reasons. There was also a slight vague sense of guilt for the butchering of harmless, innocent creatures to merely satisfy my gastronomic urges. I was spending the summer in the Far East and kosher meat would be hard to come by in any case. It seemed like a good and noble idea.

As fate would have it however, the day following my momentous decision, there was a kosher community barbecue at the Hong Kong Jewish Center. The smell of roasting meat, of hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken wings, cutlets, shish-kebab and steak was more than I could handle. I attacked the meat with renewed gusto, questioning my sanity with each sumptuous bite in giving up such God-given (and permitted) delicacies.

I have good friends who are devoted vegetarians and I have tremendous respect for their dedication and persistence in keeping true to their diet. However, according to Rabbi Hizkiyahu ben Manoach (Hizkuni), ever since Noah’s Ark, there is no ethical reason to avoid eating animals.

Shortly after Noah exits the Ark, God commands Noah that all animals are fair game (pun intended):

“Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; like the green herbage I have given you everything.”

Genesis 9:3

Hizkuni explains that because animals are in existence thanks to human efforts (i.e. Noah), they owe humanity an eternal debt that is payable in at least “a pound of flesh”. Hizkuni goes even further in saying we can make any use of animals, not only for food, but in any fashion that we deem fit. Pharmaceutical and drug companies would also seem to be permitted to perform animals testing according to Hizkuni.

I’m not sure where Hizkuni would draw the line between practical uses of animals and frivolous mistreatment or cruelty, but in the meantime, I will keep on enjoying my steaks.

May we partake of meat for joyous and celebratory occasions and enjoy the sacrifice that these animals are making for our nourishment, health and contentment.

Shabbat Shalom,

Bentzi

Dedication

In memory of my childhood pet, Kiki. Kiki was a beautiful, loving, Golden Labrador Retriever, who was our regular companion at our home in Rio de Janeiro. To this day we still mourn her untimely death.

I’m grateful that Noah rescued Kiki’s ancestors, as well of those of chickens, turkeys, cows and the occasional lamb descendant that we partake of.

Animal Intimacy

Animal Intimacy

One of the more educational aspects of reading the Bible and the more challenging aspects when reading it to kids is the lack of censorship. The Commentators also had no qualm about tackling sensitive topics or issues that would be politically incorrect in our day.

According to Rabbi Chizkiya ben Manoach (Hizkuni) there are three species that naturally face each other in the act of procreation: Humans, fish and snakes.

Hizkuni comes to this startling conclusion by the simple fact that there are three different creatures in the Bible that are directly addressed by God. The snake is cursed by God for his ensnarement of Eve into partaking of the forbidden fruit. An unspecified Big Fish is given instructions by God to release the runaway prophet Jonah after having given him underwater sanctuary. Finally, Man is the primary audience of God’s word.

Hizkuni implies a parallel between the great honor of a creature having communicated directly with God (even if it was being told of its punishment) and that species being able to face its significant other during intimacy.

There is another related lesson we can extrude from the Hizkuni regarding the snake vis-à-vis the rest of the animal kingdom. Child psychologists have been saying for years that some children would prefer to be cursed and verbally abused by their parents than to be ignored (not that I’m recommending either act, of course). Cursing implies some type of attention, while ignoring or not even facing a child may give them the feeling of non-existence or at best non-importance (hence often engendering problematic attention-seeking behavior).

Was the snake like a petulant child seeking God’s attention?

By the way, if anyone can confirm or deny the animal physiology business, it would be interesting to have it verified.

May we know how to give the people in our lives the proper positive attention and may we be recipients of such attention ourselves.

Shabbat Shalom,

Bentzi

Dedication

To my children. They often give me the opportunity; if not outright force me, to see the world through their young and no less valid point of view.

Animal Intimacy

One of the more educational aspects of reading the Bible and the more challenging aspects when reading it to kids is the lack of censorship. The Commentators also had no qualm about tackling sensitive topics or issues that would be politically incorrect in our day.

According to Rabbi Chizkiya ben Manoach (Hizkuni) there are three species that naturally face each other in the act of procreation: Humans, fish and snakes.

Hizkuni comes to this startling conclusion by the simple fact that there are three different creatures in the Bible that are directly addressed by God. The snake is cursed by God for his ensnarement of Eve into partaking of the forbidden fruit. An unspecified Big Fish is given instructions by God to release the runaway prophet Jonah after having given him underwater sanctuary. Finally, Man is the primary audience of God’s word.

Hizkuni implies a parallel between the great honor of a creature having communicated directly with God (even if it was being told of its punishment) and that species being able to face its significant other during intimacy.

There is another related lesson we can extrude from the Hizkuni regarding the snake vis-à-vis the rest of the animal kingdom. Child psychologists have been saying for years that some children would prefer to be cursed and verbally abused by their parents than to be ignored (not that I’m recommending either act, of course). Cursing implies some type of attention, while ignoring or not even facing a child may give them the feeling of non-existence or at best non-importance (hence often engendering problematic attention-seeking behavior).

Was the snake like a petulant child seeking God’s attention?

By the way, if anyone can confirm or deny the animal physiology business, it would be interesting to have it verified.

May we know how to give the people in our lives the proper positive attention and may we be recipients of such attention ourselves.

Shabbat Shalom,

Bentzi

Dedication

To my children. They often give me the opportunity; if not outright force me, to see the world through their young and no less valid point of view.

Future Israeli Gold Rush

Future Israeli Gold Rush

They came by boat. They came by wagon. They traversed oceans and jungles and deserts. They died by the hundreds before ever seeing their destination. By 1849 (hence “forty-niners”), tens of thousands of people from every single continent made their way to California in search of gold.

Before the advent of the American trans-continental railway, the journey from the East Coast of the U.S. to the West Coast took many months and was dangerous and uncertain. They sailed around the tip of South America; or they sailed to Panama, crossed the jungle and took another boat on the other side; or they took their chances with wagons across the entire continent.

Those who survived the journey dug the ground and sifted the streams. The fortunate early arrivals did indeed make handsome profits. The late-comers often spent more than they ever made.

In the poetic swansong of Moses, at the very end of his biblical narrative, he blesses the tribes:

“Of Zevulun he said: Rejoice, O Zevulun, in your excursions, and Yissachar in your tents. The tribes will assemble at the mount; there they will offer offerings of righteousness, for by the riches of the sea they will be nourished, and by the treasures concealed in the sand.”

Deuteronomy 33:18-19

Rabbi Ovadia Sforno predicts a future rush to the tribal territory of Zevulun and Yissachar.

Sforno claims that in the future, all the nations of the world will come to Israel for the unique and precious items that only the tribes of Zevulun and Yissachar will possess. Sforno explains that these will be items drawn from their waters and found in their sands.

While there may be many theories as to what these treasures may be, I suspect that we have yet to discover, create or successfully market that truly exclusive and highly prized commodity that the world will rush to us for.

In the meantime, may we all continue searching, exploring, creating and developing the unique treasures we can each bring forth to the world.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,

Bentzi

Dedication

To Rabbi Ovadia Sforno. He has guided me and inspired me in my studying of the Torah this year. His words have been as precious as hidden treasure. Goodbye Sforno. We shall return to you.

The Forge of Music

Genesis: Bereshit

The Forge of Music

“Yuval! Cease that infernal noise!” Lemech bellowed in the tool-filled smithy.

“My apologies, Father,” Yuval responded meekly, “the spirit of music possessed me again.”

“Nonsense,” retorted Lemech, “are you a man? Or are you an animal that cannot control itself? Your constant banging is driving me mad.” He continued angrily. “Besides, it will ruin our tools and is a distraction from our work.”

“Yes, Sir,” Yuval mumbled, looking down as he examined the molding he was setting. They were preparing for the production of cooking pots.

Lemech eagerly returned his attention to the molten copper in his furnace, making sure the color reached a precise reddish hue. Lemech, had the broad build and darkened skin of a master blacksmith, and could practically manufacture metal by instinct. Nevertheless, he still needed to inspect the coloring. The specific hue of red signified the ideal moment for pouring the flowing metal into the mold.

Suddenly Lemech heard a tapping sound with an unfamiliar rhythm. As he realized the source of the disturbing noise, his blood began to boil. He could not believe his son would continue banging after the strong admonition.

Through clenched teeth, Lemech turned to Yuval and whispered in a deadly tone: “By the Cursed One. Your disruptions are becoming unforgivable. ”

Lemech then started to pour the copper from the furnace into the mold, but it was too late. The copper had passed the right color. Lemech’s anger became explosive. “Fool of a son!” he roared, “You have cost us good metal and an entire day of work!”

“You are good for nothing!” he continued, his anger overcoming his senses, and menacingly raised the molding with the liquid metal still in it, “You add nothing but distress and troubles”.

Yuval stepped back from his father’s threatening moves and grabbed a nearby pan to afford him some protection.

Lemech tripped and the molding with its red hot contents went flying towards Yuval.

Instinctively Yuval raised the pan to cover his face from the molten copper. The copper fell on his shoulders and chest, immediately combusting his clothing. However, part of the copper bounced right into Lemech’s face.

Primal screams erupted from Lemech’s workshop.

* * * * * *

Lemech’s eyes had not been burned completely, but enough so that he could barely see shadows. It took several weeks before Lemech, now the Blind Blacksmith, would enter his forge again.

Yuval had recovered quickly from his superficial burns and had dedicated himself exclusively to the blacksmithing. There were already rumors going about that Yuval’s creations were even better than Lemech’s renowned work. It was reported that Yuval also started producing many more wooden tools and not predominantly metal, as Lemech had. However, there were also rumors that Yuval was creating tools that no man had ever made before and that apparently served no purpose.

Lemech’s youngest son, Tuval-Kayin, became his eyes. Over the course of a few weeks at home, they had developed a rapport. With minimal guidance by Tuval-Kayin, Lemech could move around and function again. The big test however, would come in the smithy.

As Lemech approached the workshop, he already knew something was wrong. Sounds were emanating from the forge that were not natural to metalworking. Not the sound of the roaring furnace, nor that of a hammer on an anvil, nor even the sound of delicate metalwork. It was a sound unlike any Lemech had ever heard, and it was not produced by man.

It had the rhythm of clapping or even whistling or song, but it was not man-made. It sounded as if it were made by a tool.

Lemech, in hand with Tuval-Kayin, rushed to the smithy.

“Yuval!” Lemech asked in a mixture of anger and confusion. “What is that sound?”

“What sound father?” Yuval asked taken aback by his father’s sudden intrusion.

“That sound I just heard.”

“Nothing, Father. Just the wind rattling some of the hanging tools.”

“Do not play the fool with me, son. I ought to kill you for your insolence.”

“You tried that already father,” Yuval said quietly, with both fear and resentment in his voice, “and it did not turn out so well for you.”

Lemech was about to charge towards the sound of Yuval’s voice, but froze mid-stride. After a moment’s pause he said:

“My intention was never to hurt you,” Lemech explained haltingly, “my temper got the best of me, and the rest was an unfortunate accident.”

Yuval remained silent.

“Hmph,” Lemech breathed out, breaking the silence. “Let us move on then. Show me what you have been working on.”

Yuval placed a new pot in Lemech’s hands.

Lemech touched, caressed, and weighed the pot in his thick hands as a jeweler would examine a diamond.

“Give me one of my old pots.” Lemech requested.

Lemech went through the same procedure. After having inspected all of the new items with silent admiration Lemech inquired.

“Is there anything else you have been working on?”

“Like what?” Yuval answered defensively.

“Enough Yuval! Stop playing games with me. Just show me what you have.”

Out of instinctive obedience, Yuval handed him an instrument.

Lemech inspected the instrument with his hands for a long time before speaking. He perceived a wooden frame covered with plated bronze on the edges. Within the frame Lemech counted with his seeing fingers ten strings drawn across the frame. The combination of wood, metal and string was one he had never dreamed of, let alone understood.

“What is it?”

“I call it a lyre. It plays music.”

Lemech started to laugh from surprise. It was a deep rumbling laugh that radiated from his torso.

“No. Truly Yuval. What does this contraption do?”

“Father. The instrument you are holding when touched a certain way makes musical notes that cannot be copied by man. When played in certain sequences it can be quite beautiful.”

“Show me.”

Yuval took the instrument back and ran his fingers across the strings.

At first he played a soothing melody, followed by a dramatic piece full of anger and love and passion. He ended with a light wistful score that spoke of dreams unfulfilled.

Lemech was dumbstruck. For several moments he did not move at all. Then big salty tears streamed down his scarred face. He started crying. He sat his large bulk down on the smithy floor and began to sob uncontrollably.

After a few minutes he composed himself. He raised his towering figure up again, to stand facing Yuval.

“Yuval,” he said, with a voice no one had ever heard before.

“Yes, Father,” replied Yuval in apprehension.

“What you have created is magical. I was a blind and arrogant fool not to appreciate your musical inclination before.”

“I am sorry as well father, for being the cause of your physical blindness.”

“Do not be. I am finally able to see clearly. My wounds are self-inflicted. But that is enough time spent on self-remorse. We have work to do.”

“Yes, Father. What would you like to do?”

“Why, we have lots of pots and pans, and hammers and hoes, and spears and arrowheads and many more things to make.”

Yuval was crestfallen at the verdict. He died a small death, but walked back to the furnace with resignation.

But Lemech continued: “And I would also like you to show me how you make those clever musical instruments of yours.”

* * * * * *

From Genesis 4:17-21

“And Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch. He became a city-builder, and named the city after his son Enoch. To Enoch was born Irad, and Irad begot Mehuyael, and Mehuyael begot Metushael, and Methushael begot Lamech.

Lamech took to himself two wives: The name of one was Adah, and the name of the second was Zillah. And Adah bore Yaval; he was the founder of those who dwell in tents and breed cattle. The name of his brother was Yuval; he was the founder of all who handle the harp and flute.”