Saturday, November 27, 2010

Cast Into the Pit

"And they took him and cast him into the pit."
(Genesis 37:24)
Kislev 18, 5771/November 25, 2010

What happens when an individual, a single soul, is torn from his father? When the wrath of his brothers is kindled and his own flesh and blood are set upon him, seeking his death? When he is thrown into a pit, abandoned to fate and the deadly caprice of the scorpions and snakes who slither and scamper over his naked body? When he is brought from the pit and sold to passing Ishmaelite merchants, mercenaries, dealers in human stock, who sell him again, at a neat profit? When he is ordered to be steward of his masters house, and gains mastery of all the possessions found in his master's house, whose master's wife attempts to seduce him, and unsuccessful, accuses him of rape, and he is arrested and convicted and thrown in the pit? Does his souls wither? Do his dreams perish?
The book of Genesis is the book of the patriarchs, Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya'akov. Yet more words are dedicated to the life of Yosef than are dedicated to lives of the three patriarchs, and more details are known about the life of Yosef, his trials and tribulations, than are known about the three patriarchs. For sure, Yosef's life was pivotal to the survival of the nation of Israel. But what is Yosef's life to us today?
G-d spoke to Avraham. He spoke to Yitzchak. He spoke to Ya'akov. Yet G-d never spoke directly to Yosef. At critical junctures in his life Yosef had no one to rely on but himself. He had to be his own guide, choose his own path. G-d didn't tell Yosef to go here or to go there. He didn't tell Yosef that He would protect him from harm. He didn't promise him seed or that his seed would prosper. Yosef was on his own. Completely.
On his own but never alone. Yosef never suffered loneliness for he attached himself always to G-d. He didn't require G-d's consolation or instruction for he acted always with the knowledge that the G-d of his fathers, the Creator of the universe, permeated His creation with His presence. Yosef was rejected by his brothers but he could never be estranged from G-d, for he understood that G-d, unlike man, was always there right by his side. A man's fate may seem cruel, but when seen through the eyes of Yosef, a man's fate ultimately is neither cruel nor capricious, but an expression of G-d's will, of His direct involvement in the life of the individual. G-d didn't appear to Yosef, nor did He talk to Yosef, but every moment of Yosef's life, every unforeseen development, every low point and high point of Yosef's life, was informed by G-d's will. Yosef knew this. This was the message of his own dreams, and this would be the message that he perceived in Pharaoh's dreams. And Yosef conducted himself always with this knowledge. This is why Torah calls Yosef tzaddik - righteous: despite every temptation he maintained his unbroken attachment to G-d.
Of all the patriarchs and sons of Israel who populate the book of Genesis, it is Yosef who most personifies the dilemma of modern man: man's isolation from his fellow man. Yosef, at any time could have fallen through the cracks, never to be heard from again. He could have been just another statistic, lost in the labyrinth of man's cruelty to man. But Yosef prevailed. He took upon himself what is the very heart and soul of Torah teaching: personal responsibility. In this manner it can be said that Yosef fulfilled G-d's expectations of man.
Yosef's soul neither withered, nor did his dreams perish. On the contrary, it was his indomitable sense of self and his fidelity to his dreams that carried him through his darkest moments. Ultimately, Yosef was the master of his own fate. We too can gain mastery over our own lives if we, like Yosef, accept upon ourselves the overriding teaching of Torah: personal responsibility for our own actions and an unbreakable bond to G-d.
Temple TalkTune in to this week's Temple Talk as Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven ponder American pressures and promises: Will we be guilty of selling Yosef again? The conflict between the righteous Yosef and his holy brothers is a conflict that still effects us to this very day. Will we ever fix the sin of the sale of Yosef? It's high time for the people of Israel to stop selling themselves short, and to stand up to the task that G-d appointed us for, no matter what is being used to bribe, threaten, cajole, intimate, or browbeat our people into giving up our Land and our legacy.
The Palestinian denial machine has determined, in the name of science, that the Western Wall is not Jewish. Everybody's upset, but they should have been upset long before this...
The Challenge of AdversityThis week features the new Bat Melech video teaching with Rabbanit Rena Richman, entitled, "The Challenge of Adversity: The suffering and adversity that are a part of life and that are so difficult to comprehend, are nevertheless an expression of G-d's love for us. If we can accept our suffering as a challenge, we can grow stronger and closer to G-d." Click here to view.
A Prayer for RainThis week also features the new Light to the Nations teaching by Rabbi Chaim Richman, entitled, "A Prayer for Rain: The rain that falls in the land of Israel represents and reflects our spiritual and physical well-being. G-d does right by Israel if Israel does right by G-d. If the rain is not falling, it is time for repentance and prayer." Click here to view.
Parashat HashavuaHave you ever felt utterly and completely alone? Yosef must have. He was separated from his loving father and his brothers wanted to kill him. Ultimately he was thrown in a pit filled with scorpions and snakes and then sold to some passing Ishmaelites, who in turn sold him into slavery. Yet we're never alone, and if our hearts are turned to G-d, we will identify His fingerprint upon our lives Click here to view Rabbi Richman's short teaching on parashat Vayeshev (Genesis 37:1-40:23).
Blessings from the holy city of Jerusalem,
  Yitzchak Reuven
  The Temple Institute

Friday, November 19, 2010

Your name shall be Yisrael

"Your name shall be Yisrael"
(Genesis 32:29)
Kislev 11, 5771/November 18, 2010

Looking back on the lives of the three patriarchs, Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya'akov, we can identify a certain pattern of growth and development. Avraham embarked on a voyage of discovery that began with an intellectual inquiry: Who created and informs all creation? When G-d responded to Avraham's query with the instructions "Lech lecha," "Go from your land... " (Genesis 12:1) Avraham's intellectual quest was superseded by a spiritual awakening which guided him throughout the rest of his life.
Yitzchak was born into this knowledge of G-d and on the eighth day of his life entered into the covenant that had been established between his father Avraham and G-d. Yitzchak's life was not one of spiritual searching, but rather a life of introspection and intimacy with G-d. It was Yitzchak who laid himself down on the altar on Mount Moriah, where his father Avraham had brought him. And it was Yitzchak who witnessed the angel who called out to Avraham and stayed his hand from striking him. Yitzchak never set foot outside the land of Israel nor did he ever question G-d as to the future of his own offspring, or the administration of justice in this world, as did Avraham. Yitzchak's life was the result and the culmination of all of Avraham's searching and questioning.
One might therefore assume, quite naturally, that Ya'akov's life picked up just where Yitzchak's left off. That is, that Ya'akov grew up and matured within a cocoon-like spiritual reality, impregnable and impervious to those less than sublime forces of every day life that conspire constantly to deflect us from out true course, to drag us down into despair, and to compel us to compromise on and lose sight of the spiritual truths which guide our life's journey.
Yet, Ya'akov's life, as we all know, was not a serene life of privilege, untouched by tempest and strife, but quite the opposite. Even while still inside his mother's womb, Ya'akov had to contend with violent forces of jealousy and greed aimed against him. This envy and antipathy toward Ya'akov only waxed stronger as he grew up alongside his brother Esav. Eventually Esav's anger became deadly in nature and Ya'akov literally had to flee for his life. But rather than granting Ya'akov some well-deserved respite from all his troubles, his troubles only seem to grow ten-fold. Ya'akov is forced to leave the land of Israel and then he is forced to work as a slave to his wily and rapacious father-in-law. He falls head over heels for Rachel, but is deceived into first marrying her sister Leah. Jealousy between sisters simply adds to Ya'akov's woes. Even separating himself and his family, at long last, from his father-in-law Lavan, in order to return home to the land of Israel, proves a stressful and dangerous task.
Why is it then, that even as the collective soul of the emerging nation of Israel seems to have reached maturation and even perfection in the personage of Yitzchak, it is immediately plunged into a "life-scape" so fraught with peril and threat of extinction, in the personage of Ya'akov? What is G-d, the shaper of the infant nation of Israel, intending to achieve? It would seem that even as steel, once refined and beaten into shape, needs to be plunged into a white hot fire in order to be tempered and strengthened, so too did the soul of Ya'akov. Already an alloy of the soul of Avraham, the outgoing man of loving kindness, and the soul of Yitzchak, the introspective man of quiet vision, the soul of Ya'akov was in need of tempering before this single patriarch could pass along his spiritual patrimony to his twelve sons, the eponymous fathers of the twelve tribes of Israel.
Already tempered through trial and tribulation, the soul of Ya'akov meets its ultimate test in his confrontation with an unnamed angel, just before stepping back into the land of Israel. It was by virtue of this confrontation, in which he bested this heaven-sent messenger, that Ya'akov was at last named - and transformed - into Yisrael - he who has "struggled with G-d and with men, and [has] prevailed." (Genesis 32:29) As Ya'akov - now Yisrael - reenters the land of Israel he immediately must confront new threats and challenges of a nature even more perilous than those he has faced before. But now, while still vulnerable as an individual, as the embodiment and progenitor of the up and coming nation which is to be called by his name Yisrael, the soul which merged the best of Avraham with the best of Yitzchak, has become an irresistible force for spiritual truth, to be reckoned with, by man and by G-d, throughout all the ensuing generations of the history of mankind.
No doubt we, the generation of Yisrael that lives in the land today, and all those who attach their souls to the soul of Yisrael, can take heart in the courage and the conviction displayed by Ya'akov our father. For we too, like Ya'akov, find ourselves constantly besieged and set upon by murderers and thieves, detractors, despoilers and deceivers, in high places and low, who seek to deny and defy us, to supplant and replace us. To all our brothers who bear an implacable envy in their hearts: This generation of Yisrael has returned, and all we want is what is ours - that which Yisrael earned by dint of his cleaving to G-d's truth, and bequeathed to his children and to his children's children.
Temple TalkTune in to this week's Temple Talk as Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven discuss the mysterious balance of light and darkness during the month of Kislev, and the eternal struggle between Ya’akov and Esav, as exemplified by Ya’akov’s wrestling with an angel in this week’s Torah portion of Vayishlach, even as the United States once again pressures Israel to freeze Jewish building in the Land of Israel. Also, the three irrevocable purchases in the land of Israel and the light of Queen Helena's golden lamp.
Please note: Israel National Radio is currently moving to a new facility and is experiencing temporary technical difficulties. The current (November 16th), Temple Talk broadcast, as well as recent broadcasts can be heard and downloaded on
Tying the Knot atop the

Temple MountTying the Knot atop the Temple Mount: This past week, a dear friend of the Temple Institute, and celebrated craftsman of Temple vessels, ascended the Temple Mount with his soon to-be-bride on the morning of their upcoming wedding. Ascending the Mount and being present in the place of the Holy Temple is an ancient tradition that has been renewed in recent years. Here, however, our story takes a romantic - and daring - twist. Click here to learn more.
Suppressing Iniquity, Part IIThis week also features the new Light to the Nations teaching by Rabbi Chaim Richman, entitled, "Suppressing Iniquity, Part II: G-d is neither an accountant nor a scorekeeper. He doesn't tally up our good deeds, subtract from them our transgressions, declare the balance and call it a day. G-d gathers up our good deeds, places them before Him, and does not allow our transgressions to diminish His delight with with all the good that we have accomplished." Click here to view.
Parashat HashavuaYa'akov avinu's (our forefather Jacob's) midnight encounter with a mysterious angel: Who was this angel, what was his purpose, and by what name was he known? Ya'akov overcomes the angel, and by doing so gains insight into all these questions. He also acquires for himself a new name, a new identity, and a new role to play in establishing the Divine presence here on this earth. Click here to view Rabbi Richman's short teaching on parashat Vayishlach (Genesis 32:4-36:43).
Blessings from the holy city of Jerusalem,
  Yitzchak Reuven
  The Temple Institute

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Stones of the Place

" ...and he took of the stones of the place... "
(Genesis 28:11)
Kislev 4, 5771/November 11, 2010

The sun set suddenly and Ya'akov avinu - Jacob our forefather - was compelled to pitch camp and stay the night. So Ya'akov "took of the stones of the place and placed [them] at his head, and he lay down in that place." (ibid) Now a person who has set out on a long journey knows that a good night's sleep is an imperative if he is to continue on his way in peace the following morning. Among other considerations to be made for a good night's sleep, comfort will surely be paramount. And anyone who has ever gone camping knows that the smallest pebble or bramble under one's bedroll will render utterly impossible a restful slumber. Yet Ya'akov, with great purpose, gathered up stones to employ as his pillow. Whatever was he thinking?
Midrash relates that the twelve stones that Ya'akov gathered up at that place were twelve stones that he pulled from the altar that his father Yitzchak had been bound upon one generation earlier. From this we learn that Ya'akov didn't stumble upon this place inadvertently. He knew exactly what this place was, that is, the place where his grandfather Avraham bound his father Yitzchak, the place where Adam first built an altar, the place known by our sages as the place of the world. That is, the place of the future Holy Temple.
Ya'akov deliberately dismantled the altar of Avraham and Yitzchak. Wasn't that disrespectful? Shouldn't he had stood off a bit in the distance, silently taking in the site of the great test of Avraham's faith? He could have meditated, contemplating the profundity of the site. But Ya'akov chose to do something else altogether. He chose, by deconstructing the altar and then reconstructing it as a pillow for his head, or should we say, a pillow for his consciousness, for his entire spiritual being, to opt into his father's and grandfather's experience of a direct and immediate relationship with G-d.
And Ya'akov took this paradigm of the man - G-d relationship not one, but many steps forward. He could hardly relive his father's experience by throwing himself down upon the altar. That was a onetime moment in the history of mankind. Instead, Ya'akov sought to take the intimacy of this moment and make it accessible to all. He removed twelve stones from the altar representing the twelve sons he was yet to have. He wanted to bequeath the Moriah experience of his father and grandfather to his children and to all further generations of man, through his children. This is the meaning of his exclamation upon awakening from his dream: "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of G-d, and this is the gate of heaven." (ibid 28:17) Just as Avraham's tent was open and welcoming to all passers by, "the house of the G-d of Ya'akov" (Isaiah 2:3) would likewise be a true house, accessible to all.
Ya'akov chose to not only honor the holy site where he spent the night, but to bring it to life and make it his, through his own active intervention. Those who today only view the Temple Mount from afar, insisting that we must not approach the Mount, may be paying respect to the place of the Holy Temple, but they are also, intentionally or not, rendering the place and all that it stands for, distant and irrelevant. The positive commandment that we fulfill by visiting the Temple Mount, (in accordance with halacha), is known in Hebrew as mora Mikdash - showing reverence to G-d on the site of the Holy Temple. The word mora - reverence - is derived from the same root as the word Ya'akov avinu uttered, "ma nora," "How awesome is this place!" (Genesis 28:17) Visiting and making our presence felt, as Jews and believers in the G-d of Ya'akov, on the Temple Mount is a direct continuation of Ya'akov's own actions which he took on this spot to lay his rightful claim to the spot and to the covenant between man and G-d that it embodies. We are unable in our generation to pull stones from the altar itself, but by being on the Mount where we are commanded by Torah to be seen by G-d, we can begin to remove the stones that have lodged in our hearts.
Temple TalkTune in to this week's Temple Talk as Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven are transfixed by this week's Torah reading of Vayeitzei, and its connection to the Holy Temple - past, present and future, and how Yaakov's prophecy on the Temple Mount, as expressed in the rocks he gathered, is being fulfilled today.
Tractate ZevachimWith great thanks to HaShem, the Temple Institute is proud to announce the historical, landmark publication of the Talmud Tractate Zevachim. This classic work deals intensively with the description and explanation of the Divine service of offerings, as it is performed in the Holy Temple. Now, for the first time in 2000 years, Tractate Zevachim has been published with an in-depth exploration and elucidation of all the commandments and traditions concerning the Temple offerings. Years in preparation, this work includes the "Sha'arei Heichal" ("Gates of the Sanctuary") commentary written by the Beit HaBechirah Kollel of the Temple Institute, whose scholars specialize and excel in the Torah knowledge of the Holy Temple and the Divine service, providing ground-breaking research, new insights, and, literally, hands-on investigation into the practical implementation of the commandments concerning the Temple offerings. To learn more, please click here.
Avraham & Sara, Part IIIThis week features the new Bat Melech video teaching with Rabbanit Rena Richman, entitled, "Avraham & Sara, Part III: United in their search for the One G-d, united against all the odds of a world hostile to the knowledge of the One G-d, and united in their love for one another, the source from which they drew their strength, Avraham & Sara are to be emulated by all who seek out the love and guidance of G-d in their lives." Click here to view.
Suppressing IniquityThis week also features the new Light to the Nations teaching by Rabbi Chaim Richman, entitled, "Suppressing Iniquity: G-d is neither an accountant nor a scorekeeper. He doesn't tally up our good deeds, subtract from them our transgressions, declare the balance and call it a day. G-d gathers up our good deeds, places them before Him, and does not allow our transgressions to diminish His delight with with all the good that we have accomplished." Click here to view.
Parashat Hashavua" ...and he took some of the stones of the place and placed them at his head, and he lay down in that place." (Genesis 28:11) What was "that place," and what was the nature of those stones that Ya'akov gathered together, and which, upon his awakening from his dream of a House of G-d, formed a single stone, which became the very "foundation stone" upon which all creation is established? And how could the "foundation stone" upon which the entire world rests find itself in that place and at that very moment when Ya'akov chose to take his sleep? It was Ya'akov's consecration of the stone with olive oil that made the transformation possible. Click here to view Rabbi Richman's short teaching on parashat Vayeitzei (Genesis 28:10-32:3).
Blessings from the holy city of Jerusalem,
  Yitzchak Reuven
  The Temple Institute

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Two Nations are in Your Womb

"Two nations are in your womb."
(Genesis 25:23)
Cheshvan 27, 5771/November 4, 2010

Even before they emerged from the womb, Ya'akov and his twin brother Esav were battling it out. Midrash tells us that whenever Rivkah, (Rebecca), would pass by a place of idolatry, Esav would strike out violently within her, and every time she passed by a place of Torah, (the tents of Shem and Ever, where Torah was taught), Ya'akov would stir with longing. The written words of Torah itself immediately note the nature of their differing world views: "And the youths grew up, and Esav was a man who understood hunting, a man of the field, whereas Ya'akov was a pure man, dwelling in tents." (Genesis 25:27) "Dwelling in tents," in Hebrew, "yoshev ohalim." The five Hebrew letters which make up the word "ohalim," "tents," are the same five letters which spell the name of G-d. In other words, Ya'akov was "a pure man who dwelled with G-d."
But who was Esav? Esav was a man who understood the chase, the ways of the world, and what it takes to get ahead, to get what you want, to take what you want, when you want it, and by whatever means necessary. Esav was a man of means, he "understood the hunt." The Hebrew word for hunt, tzayd, is related to the word for equipment, tziyud: Esav had the right stuff, all the necessary accoutrements, and then some. He wore a three piece suit, carried a leather briefcase, a laptop, a bluetooth, a gold watch, a silver cane. He was a "man of the field," outstanding in his field, the best at what he did. He was out there, in the limelight, in the news, in the gossip columns, the subject of paparazzis.
Yitzchak, (Isaac), loved Esav because "the hunt was in his mouth." (ibid 25:28) Our sages explain that Esav was a smooth talker, and his words could sway and persuade others. His words could slay hearts. His words could kill. Esav was a man of instant gratification. He returned from the hunt hungry and with a fire in his belly. He wanted food to fill it. He wanted it now and at any cost. He ate, he killed his hunger, he rose up and was off again, out to acquire more. (ibid 25:29-34)
Come to think of it, Esav possessed all of the qualities that modern society seems to lionize. We may not admit to admiring these qualities, but we are taught, and frequently experience first-hand, that this is what it takes to make it in today's world. Do unto others before they do it unto you. It may not be pretty, but it works. And what of Ya'akov? He lived in Esav's shadow.
"And Yitzchak loved Esau," (ibid), not because he admired or approved of Esav's aggressiveness or his possessiveness, or his sense of entitlement, or his crass worldly accomplishments, or his murderously violent nature, but because he, too, felt that this is what it takes to get by in this world. And if Esav lacked humility, if he had no room in his heart for his fellow man, if he had no faith in or need for G-d, well then, Yitzchak thought, Esav could, in time, acquire these traits. No, Yitzchak wasn't naive, but he was the man, who, when still a lad, walked hand-in-hand with his father Avraham to Mount Moriah, where, bound upon the altar, the heavens opened up above him, and the angels' tears dimmed his eyes. Yitzchak was cut from a different cloth.
Rivkah, however, grew up in a household of scoundrels not unlike Esav. She understood where he came from and she understood to where he was bound. Rivkah, we are told, "loved Ya'akov." (ibid)
Contrary to Esav's claim, to his bitter lament, to his heart-tugging cries, Ya'akov stole neither his birthright, nor his blessing. For both the birthright and the blessing always belonged to Ya'akov. He was the man of G-d. When Ya'akov was tired, as we shall see, (ibid 28:11) he lay down his head in a place of G-d. When Ya'akov was hungry, driven from his home, pursued by his murderous brother, he prayed to G-d that He would provide him with sustenance, with clothing and with shelter. And with these words he concluded his prayer: "And if I return in peace to my father's house, and HaShem will be my G-d. Then this stone, which I have placed as a monument, shall be a house of G-d, and everything that You give me, I will surely tithe to You." (ibid 28:22)
We don't need to live like Esav, from hand to mouth, always on the hunt, trusting no one and at odds with our brother. There is another way. The way of our father Ya'akov. If we determine that where we lay down our head will be a place of G-d, that our sustenance, our shelter, and all our worldly accomplishments will be expressions of our faith in G-d, then this world will be one of G-dliness, and not a G-dless hunting ground.

Temple TalkTune in to this week's Temple Talk as Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven discuss Yaakov's birthright & blessings, and the Torah's insistence that we all accept personal responsibility for the course of human events.
How do we understand the perplexing struggle between Ya'akov and Esav? What do these forces represent, and how is their struggle ultimately resolved?
Unesco, in a quintessentially Esavian manner, declares that Ma'arat HaMachpela in Hevron as well as Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem are mosques. Why is Rachel crying for her children (Jeremiah 31), and why is Rachel G-d's guarantor that her children will return to their land?

True to the Temple MountAmericans for a Safe Israel (AFSI): True to the Temple Mount: Americans for a Safe Israel (AFSI), established in 1970 to advocate for Israeli sovereignty over the historical biblical heartland of Israel, (Judea, Samaria and Gaza), have made it an annual commitment in recent years to include an ascent to the Temple Mount in their itinerary during their stay in Israel. Click here to learn more about AFSI's commitment to the land of Israel and to the Temple Mount, and to view photographs documenting AFSI's visit to the Mount.

Returning with MercyThis week also features the new Light to the Nations teaching by Rabbi Chaim Richman, entitled, "Returning with Mercy: G-d's love for every individual is unreserved and unconditional. We may distance ourselves at times from G-d, through our own selfishness, carelessness and short-sightedness, but G-d is ever ready to accept our return to Him, with "open arms," and an embrace that only grows stronger, in spite of, or perhaps even because of, our own human frailty. Have we the capability within ourselves to likewise be so magnanimous toward others?" Click here to view.

Parashat HashavuaThe work of the patriarchs, Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya'akov was to establish in this world an eternal bond between man and G-d. Toldot chronicles the struggle for supremacy between two radically different approaches toward leadership: the way of Ya'akov, and the way of Esav. Esav excelled in so many ways he seemed a natural for the part. And after all, he was the first-born. There was but one thing missing from Esav's understanding of life: the fear and the acknowledgment of G-d. Forever stymied by his own egotistical take on life, Esav languished, while Ya'akov assumed the mantle of leadership. Click here to view Rabbi Richman's short teaching on parashat Toldot (Genesis 25:19-28:9).

Blessings from the holy city of Jerusalem,
  Yitzchak Reuven
  The Temple Institute