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Rabbi's Corner


Rabbi Shmuel Lesches

Parshas VAYETZEI 5780

Leah named her fourth child Yehudah, declaring, "This time, I will thank Hashem!” At that point, she stopped bearing children. A number of commentaries (Ibn Ezra, Tur) explain that this was a simple case of cause and effect: Leah thanked Hashem for what she had, but did not ask for more, and that is why Hashem closed her womb. As important as it is to thank Hashem for all one’s prior achievements, one must remain focussed on the future, and never be satisfied when there is still so much more to achieve.


This very idea helps explain Rochel’s bewildering response upon giving birth to Yosef, “Hashem has taken away my shame.” The Midrash explains her intent as follows: As long as a woman has no child, she has no one to blame for her faults. As soon as she has a child, she blames him. “Who broke this dish?” “The child!” “Who ate these figs?” “The child!”


At face value, this seems extremely perplexing – was this the extent of Rochel’s desire for a child? The Nezer Hakodesh explains that Rochel wanted to thank Hashem, but in a way that would make it abundantly clear that she sought more and more children. That is why she thanked Hashem for having children who break things, for the blame game works only with young children and not grownups. She was thereby saying, “Thank you Hashem for Yosef, but please ensure that I have another little child by the time he grows up!” In this sense, Rochel’s declaration was the exact opposite of Leah’s: At the very moment Rochel thanked Hashem, she found a way to emphasise that she wanted more and more.


The lesson we derive is that being “happy with our lot’ applies only to mundane matters. When it comes to spiritual pursuits, we must always remain fixated on achieving more and more. As important as it is for our achievements to be recognised, we must remain focussed on the tasks that still lie ahead of us.


Nevertheless, the Rebbe explains the deeper – and positive – significance of Leah’s ceasing to have children: During Golus, we constantly advance from one achievement to the next, but each triumph is attained only through the pain of “pregnancy” and “childbirth”. When Moshiach comes, we will no longer undergo the hardship associated with fluctuation, for we will have already reached the summit. At that point, we will “cease to have children”, and instead enjoy the fruits of our hard work, in peace and tranquillity. May it happen speedily in our times.

Good Shabbos,

Rabbi Shmuel Lesches

Parshas TOLDOS 5780

The Midrash teaches that the opening phrase of this week’s Parsha, “Toldos Yitzchok” (descendants of Yitzchok), refers not to the pious Yaakov, but rather, to the wicked Esav. In other words, the Midrash maintains that Yitzchok’s legacy is manifest in Esav. This explains why Esav’s head ultimately came to be buried together with his father Yitzchok, even if in less than glorious circumstances. What are we supposed to make of this Midrash?


One of the main differences between Avraham and Yitzchok was the way in which they related to people. Avraham inspired all who came within his presence, lifting them to his level. However, the inspiration faded as soon as they left Avraham’s presence, because the people themselves had done nothing to deserve it. As a case in point, nothing is known of the fate of Avraham’s 75,000 followers; they literally faded away into oblivion.


In contrast, Yitzchok didn’t try to inspire people. Rather, as a well-digger, he drilled deep into the minds and souls of all whom he met, and then showed them what they could achieve on their own. He didn’t seek to raise anyone to his own lofty level, and instead preferred to see them develop and improve on their own. The people he interacted with may have not felt the same kind of spiritual majesty that Avrohom inspired. Nevertheless, their achievements lasted, because it was their own efforts that bore them.


Yitzchok saw every person for who he or she was. He didn’t write anyone off, and he encouraged them to achieve what they could on their own terms. Thus, Yitzchok’s legacy is indeed realised in Esav, and Esav’s “head” – the very best of his persona – remains eternally united with Yitzchok.

Good Shabbos,

Rabbi Shmuel Lesches

Parshas Emor 2018

 Published 3rd May 2018

The Rebbe does something fascinating and wholly unique with the name of this week’s Parsha, “Emor” which means “Speak!” Most of us would just see it as a single word part of the broader sentence, where it has meaning in context – Hashem is instructing Moshe to “speak” to the Kohanim about their entitlements and obligations. But the Rebbe explains that since the word Emor is the title of the Parsha, it must have a self-contained meaning of its own. When viewed in this light, the word Emor conveys a general directive: “Speak!”

Yet, it is well worth noting that many statements of our sages are clearly not in favour of constant yacking and prattling. “Say little but do much” is a classic, and so is “The best thing for a person is silence”. Malicious speech and slander is certainly taboo, whereas speaking words of Torah and Tefillah is a must-do. If so, what is Emor innovating? To speak about what? When? Why? And, to whom?

The Rebbe explains that there is tremendous power in praising and speaking well of people. If you truly pay attention to your peer, you will see the abundant positive within, be it his gifts, talents or potential. When you do see it, be sure to express it. For, it is one thing to notice it. It is entirely another thing to disclose it. The favourable words you share will awaken a desire in your peer to live up to your kind belief in him. Your words will ultimately bring his positive potential to the fore. This is the type of speech that Emor connotes. Speak positively about another and watch your words have its desired impact

Good Shabbos,

Rabbi Shmuel Lesches

Parshas Tazria Metzorah 2018

 Published 26th April 2018

Story time: The heavenly academy debated a certain type of questionable leprosy. Hakadosh Boruch Hu said it was pure, but all the other sages declared it impure. To decide the dispute, they sent the Angel of Death to summon Rabbah, due to his singular expertise in the laws of leprosy ("Yochid B'Negaim"). As Rabbah's soul departed, he pronounced, "It is pure; it is pure."

This story seems puzzling. If Hashem declared the leprosy to be pure, who were the sages to say otherwise? And, if they dared reject the opinion of Hashem, what made the words of Rabbah superior? Furthermore, how are we to explain the difference between Hashem and Rabbah – Hashem said "it is pure" (once); yet Rabbah said "it is pure, it is pure" (twice).

The Rebbe explains that when one confronts suspicious circumstances, his reaction will reflect where he himself stands:

1.    A very physical and materialistic being will immediately jump to conclusions and assume the worst; he will tell you that where there is smoke there is fire. For, from his perspective, the physical reality looms large, of which evil is unfortunately a very active part. Thus, the Sages of the heavenly academy, all souls who once lived this physical world and connected with it, declared the suspected leprosy to be impure. [This parallels Memale Kol Almin; the level of G-dliness which interacts with our world.]

2.    A more spiritual being will more easily give the benefit of the doubt. This is because he transcends the physicality of the world, and for him, evil is not such a reality. Thus, the level of Hakadosh Boruch Hu, synonymous with Sovev, gives the benefit of the doubt and assumes the suspected leprosy to be pure. Nevertheless, this is declared only once, without emphasis, because one can still fathom the other point of view, even if one does not agree with it. [This parallels Sovev Kol Almin; the level of G-dliness which transcends our world.]

3.    But then you have someone who is completely connected with Hashem's essence, and nothing exists outside of Hashem's goodness. When he encounters suspected leprosy, not only does he regard it as pure, but he cannot fathom any other possibility. Thus, Rabbah emphatically declares twice that it is pure, to indicate that it cannot be any other way. This is why Rabbah is called "Yochid B'Negaim", because for him, the level of "Yochid" (the Singularity of Hashem) was palpable even in an area as seemingly negative as Negaim (leprosy). [This parallels the level of Azmus; the very Essence of Hashem.]

This incisive explanation gives us a lot to think about. But one simple message is that the conclusions we draw about the people and situations around us merely reflect where we stand. Our judgement often says more about us than them. When it comes to the way we look at our fellow Jews, we should all strive to be like Rabbah.

Good Shabbos,

Rabbi Shmuel Lesches



Fri, 13 December 2019 15 Kislev 5780