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(Taken from a weekly publication of Hammaayan Institutes.
Translated by Rabbi Shabtai Teicher)


"...And this was what their father spoke to them and blessed them, each one according to the blessing that he blessed them" (Genesis 49:29).

The commentators have already asked the question which is obvious when reading this verse. "Each one" did not merit to a blessing. Shimon and Levi were cursed: "Cursed be their anger for it is fierce..." (ibid. 7). Reuven also did not fare too well from his father who called him, "Unstable as water...' (ibid. 3).

According to the commentators there are two ways to answer this question. Both of them are based on the same introduction.

The Hebrew word denoting traits of character is midot, which literally means measurements. The human powers which express themselves in traits of character are neither good nor bad. It is the place or the situation in which they are used which determines their quality. For example, mercy is a very good trait when it is used for those who are fitting for it. However, if a person is merciful with those who really deserve punishment, then it might be very bad. The same is true of its opposite -- cruelty. It is very bad when it bursts forth unjustly or needlessly, but it is correct if it is used with those who are themselves cruel, as our sages said, "All those who are merciful with the cruel will come to be cruel to the merciful." This is exactly the way it is with all the character traits of a person. When used improperly in the wrong situation then there is "too much" of it; and where it should have been used but was not employed, then there is "too little" of it.

Now, according to the Or Hachaim, it was the excess and exaggeration of the trait which their father Ya'akov cursed. By eliminating it, they were left with the good and the right amount. Thus, Chazal said that in the future the right of the first-born will be returned to Reuven when the first-born will perform the services in the Temple. Similarly, because of their trait, under Ya'akov's correction, Shimon and Levi became the scribes and teachers of Israel.

There is another explanation to the question of why Ya'akov's rebuke of Shimon and Levi is called a blessing. G-d does not create anything which does not have a purpose. If a person has a bad trait, then the formula to rectify this trait is to use it for the benefit of the community. Shimon and Levi were bold and fierce. Therefore, they were denied their own specific portion in the inheritance of the Land in order to disperse them among the nation. In this way their fierceness and boldness could be used for the benefit of the community because it is exactly this trait which is needed to make successful scribes and teachers for Israel.

There is a corroboration to this explanation. It is written, "...Each one according to the blessing which he blessed them." It should have said, "...Each one according to the blessing which he (Ya'akov) blessed him (i.e., each one)," instead of "blessed them." Why is the plural used?

The Or Hachaim answers that the blessing of each one was intended to be a benefit for himself and for all the tribes together. Thus, according to the Keli Yakar, when Ya'akov dispersed Shimon and Levi among Israel, he was not only dispersing and breaking their anger, but he was also transforming it into something good. He was channeling their fierceness and boldness into a positive way.


"...That I took... with my sword and my bow" (Gensis 48:22).

Chazal said that when Ya'akov said "my sword and my bow" he was refering to his prayer.

Chazal actually used two different words for prayer corresponding to the two words "sword" and "bow". The Degel Machane Efraim said that one refers to prayer itself, and one refers to will. Many times the will of a tzadik is fulfilled without prayer, as it is written, "He does the will of those that fear Him..." (Psalms 145:19).

According to the Maharsha, Esau was blessed with the power of the sword, as it is written, "You shall live by the sword..." (Genesis 27:40). Against that power Ya'akov can array the power of prayer. When that power is employed, then the voice is the voice of Ya'akov, and the hands are not those of Esau. (See ibid. 27:22.)

In the same way, Yishmael "...lived in the desert and he became an archer" (ibid. 21:20). Against this power Ya'akov can array the power of prayer which is equated to the bow of an archer.

The Rebbe of Kotzk asked why prayer is equated to a bow?

He said that the more a person pulls on a bowstring, the further the arrow will fly. It is the same with prayer. According to what he puts into it, that is its quality.

The more kavannah he uses, the deeper in his heart from which the prayer gushes forth, the less extraneous matters which interfere between his prayer and G-d -- these determine how high his prayer goes and how many gates of heaven it breaks through.


"...These are my children" (Genesis 48:9).

The Chofetz Chaim said that our father Ya'akov did not hurry to bless Yosef's children because they were his own grandchildren or because of their father. This was because he suspected that they were not educated according to the Torah, and they might not go in the way of their father and his ancestors.

Yosef answered him, "...They are my children;" they are going in my way.

Then Ya'akov said, "...Bring them to me and I will bless them."

This tremendous concern of the Chofetz Chaim for Jewish education can be observed through an incident which took place when Rav Issar Zalman Meltzer z"l asked Rav Shach shlit"a to travel to the Chofetz Chaim to ask for a blessing for a couple who had no children. Maran Hachofetz Chaim said, "Why do they need children? How will they raise them? Where in these days can they find suitable education for children?"

Nevertheless, he also said, "They will yet have children."

Another time someone asked the Chofetz Chaim for a blessing that his children will remain observant. The Chofetz Chaim retorted, "You want to accomplish a thing like that with a blessing. These days such a thing needs dedication - mesirat nefesh."

The Malbim: When Ya'akov concluded his blessing of the children of Yosef he said, "...They will be called by my name and the name of my fathers" (Genesis 48:16). In other words, they will remain with their Hebrew names that they were given at their circumcision, even when they are in exile - galut surrounded by gentiles, foreign cultures and different sounding names...."



The first letter was written by Rabbenu Ya'akov Yisrael Kanevski z"l (The Staipler), dated: The first day of the week Parshat Shelach, 5723 (1923).

Shalom and all good,

Your letter reached me, but because of my weakness and many cares I do not have the strength to answer correspondence. However, your letter troubled me, and I saw it as an obligation to answer your question about literature which is studied in that school from books which contain heresy and apostasy, may G-d have mercy.

You should know that concerning this material there is a severe and terrible prohibition. It is tantamount to being an accessory to idolatry for which the law prescribes that a person must suffer death rather than transgress. There is no situation and no condition in the world where this can be permitted in any way. Certainly, a person must strengthen himself with dedication and mesirat nefesh not to study these cursed books and not to read them, even if has to go begging from door to door all his life.

The truth is well known that in order to achieve a diploma it is enough to know 60% of the material, and a person will not lose a diploma if he refrains from reading this unclean material.

Furthermore, a person can fulfill his knowledge of literature by reading holy books: Hilchot Deot of the Rambam, Sha'arei Teshuvah of Rabbenu Yonah, Orchot Tzadikim, Mesilat Yesharim, Artzot Hashalom of the Malbim, and similar literature.

Also, it is a great mitzvah to influence your friends and acquaintances to refrain from these abominable books at any price. Let them study holy literature in its place.

May G-d protect our remnant from descending into the pit of impurity through these poisonous books which destroy body and soul....

The second selection is a public letter signed by both Rav Kanevski and Maran Eliezer Menachem Mann Shach.

...Concerning the teaching of children abominable and immoral things, it has already been clarified in the Code of Law, Orach Chaim 307, that it is prohibited from the proscript of the verse, "Do not turn to idols." The evil inclination grates upon the soul, and especially with children. It defiles their minds and obstructs it with evil imaginations, ruining their lives. May G-d have mercy.

The Talmud in Shabbat (p.33) was very scrupulous about the sin of using bad language. It causes many troubles, brings down evil decrees; the youth of Israel die, may G-d have mercy. Beneficial decrees seventy years old turn to evil and hell increases.... Certainly, it is prohibited for any Jew to send his children to a school where heresy and lewedness are studied.

We are not speaking here about any particular place since we do not know exactly what is going on and what is the character of any particular place. However, in general, it is prohibited to send any children to a school where part of the curriculum includes heresy and lewedness. In the case of any doubt, parents must clarify the matter absolutely....

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