Yitzchak: ‘There is nothing wrong with being like your dad!’

31 10 2013


bikeAs people grow up and mature, they often become more and more like their parents and grandparents even though they may not realize it. Often it is family friends who make the comparisons and say things like, ‘ You look just like your grandfather’, or ‘ Your dad would have said that too’. One doesn’t need to have studied Freud to know that we are all products of our surroundings, upbringing and childhood experiences and relationships.

Sefer Beraishit is a book about the family unit. The interaction between personalities is fascinating- between grandparents, parents and children, siblings, spouses etc. In this week’s Parsha, we learn about Yitzchak and the effect his father had on him. Nechama Leibovitz sees Yitzchak as a mere funnel between Avraham and Yaakov. Yitzchak is seen as a passive medium who connects Avraham, his pioneering father and his son Yaakov, who is the father of the Tribes. Furthermore, Yitzchak is often viewed as ineffective and weak, in the way he couldn’t solve the problems between Esav and Yaakov and is criticized for coming down on Esav’s side.

I would like to suggest, that despite the way Yitzchak is portrayed by many, one of his greatest strengths is the way he follows in his father’s footsteps, yet at the same time retains his own identity and personality. Yes, we need leaders and idealists who are able to influence through their ideas and passion, but without having followers, leaders cannot make the impact they yearn for. Without their followers and a loyal support base, however persuasive and charismatic they are, leaders will get nowhere.

In Perek 26, Pesukim 1-12 we read how in a repetition of Avraham’s experience, Yitzchak was faced with a famine that forced him to leave his home. The Ramban comments that Yitzchak’s sojourn in Philistia portended the Babylonian Exile, just as Avraham’s earlier descent to Egypt had portended the Egyptian Exile. In Pasuk 3, Hashem recognized Yitzchak’s merit by reiterating the oath that was made with Avraham. The Ramban comments that even though Hashem renews the oath to Yitzchak, it is the same oath that he gave to Avraham. Again implying continuation between Avraham and Yitzchak. In Pasuk 5, when Hashem is speaking to Yitzchak, Hashem is repeating that it is in the merit of Avraham, that Yitzchak is being blessed. For this, Yitzchak has ‘Hakarat Hatov’ – appreciation and gratitude towards his father.

Furthermore, in Pesukim 6-16, when Yitzchak is living in Gerar, the reason why Avimelech does not show malice towards him is because of the covenant he made with Avraham, which again Yitzchak has Hakarat Hatov towards his father for. It was the residents, and not Avimelech himself who inquired about the identity of Rivka. As the Ramban points out, Yitzchak does just what his father did by identifying his wife as his sister. We see here how Yitzchak looks up to his father and sees him as a role model.

In Pasuk 15, we see that the Philistines block up the wells that Avraham had dug. By so doing, they violated the covenant that Avraham made with Avimelech. As Rav Hirsch explains, this act of filling up the wells that Avraham had dug shows the difference in the status of Avraham and Yitzchak. As long as Avraham is alive, the natives respect for him prevent them from tampering with the wells as we see they have done in Pasuk 18, but when the wells reverted to Yitzchak, the Philistines act with impunity and they fill them up, showing that Yitzchak has a public persona of being weaker, even though that isn’t necessarily fair or accurate.

But how does Yitzchak respond? Is he able to find the strength to re-dig the wells his father dug or does he stand passively by and do nothing?

We see in Pasuk 18 that Yitzchak DOES act – he DOSEN’T just stand by helplessly. He re-digs the wells of Avraham and stands up for himself and his father. At the same time he calls the wells the same names as his father did, but that doesn’t imply he was just following him and had no sense of creativity. On the contrary, it shows how he respected and loved his father. R’Bachaya, in Pasuk 18, on the phrase ‘Sheymot Ka’Sheymot’ – which means ‘By the same names’, says in giving the wells the same names as his father, Yitzchak was motivated by respect and love for him and we learn, that one should not deviate unnecessarily from ones father’s way of life. So, in this saga of the wells we see how Yitzchak wants to continue on the legacy of Avraham and keep his memory alive.

The Ramban sees these wells prophetically – that the three wells correspond to the three Temples, the two that were destroyed and the third yet to be built. The first well, names Esek – contention, alludes to the First Temple which fell victim to the strife of the nations that finally destroyed it. Sitnah – hindrance, refers to the Second Temple when the enmity of Israel’s enemies was longer lasting. Whilst the third well, Rechovot – spaciousness, alluded to the Third Temple, the era when strife and enmity will be things of the past.

Avraham was the spiritual father of all mankind and tried to show the world how much they could accomplish through a monotheistic faith. Wells represent a quest for spirituality that lay beneath the surface. The Philistines rejected his teachings, but Yitzchak persisted following on the path his father had shown him and for this he should be praised.

It is much easier and exciting to break away from one’s family and do your own thing. Internalising and perpetuating what our parents have given us is not at times easy, but often brings more blessings and satisfaction in the longer term. Yitzchak can be seen as a mere funnel between Avraham and Yaakov, but you need characters like Yitzchak in order for families, communities and societies to be stable, rooted and strong. Sometimes continuing on the traditions, values, customs and ideals of one’s grandparents and parents shows the greatest strength of character and courage.

Shabbat Shalom,

Benjy Singer.



The Klausenburger Rebbe and Avraham Avinu – Live life to the fullest and never give up!

24 10 2013
sanzSo what do the Admor M’Klausenburg and Avraham Avinu have in common?
They both used the trials and tribulations that Hashem put in their path of life as a way to deepen themselves and their relationship with Hashem and those around them. Neither of them had conventional or easy personal lives. After the Shoah, the Admor remarried in his forties and had 7 children, whilst Avraham was 100 when had Yitzchak and 137 when he remarried Keturah with whom he had 6 children.
Read more:
One of the most remarkable leaders of Jewry in the post-Shoah era was the Admor M’Klausenburg , R.Yekutiel Yehudah Halberstam (1905-1994). He was the founding Rebbe of the Sanz Klausenburg Chassidic Dynasty and one of the youngest rebbes in Europe, leading thousands of followers in the town of Klausenberg, Romania, before the Shoah.
His wife, eleven children and most of his followers and students were killed by the Nazis Y’SH. After the Shoah, he moved to the US and then to Israel, where he settled in Netanya in 1960. He re-establised his dynasty in the US and Israel, rebuilt Jewish communal life in the displaced persons camps of Western Europe, establised the Laniado Hospital in Netanya and in 1982 started the ‘Mifal Ha’Shas’ – learning Gemarah with Halacha and being examined every month which still runs. In 1947, at the age of 42, he remarried and had seven children. One of his two sons, Zvi Elimelech, is the current Rebbe in Israel.
The story goes, that as he was much older than his second wife, he promised her before they got married that he wouldn’t die before their last child was married. This in fact was what happened.
He dedicated his life to chessed and helping others. His determination and passion for life drove him to achieve heights that most cannot reach. Despite the horrific personal tragedy he experienced during the Shoah, he rebuilt his family and just kept on learning, teaching and sharing with others.
In this week’s Parsha we finish learning about Avraham Avinu. At the beginning of the Parsha we learn of Sarah’s death and Avraham’s desire to give her a proper burial in a place worthy of her greatness. In Pasuk 2, when the Torah says, ‘Avraham came to eulogize and to weep for her’, the letter kaf in ‘Velivkota’ is smaller than the regular sized script.
Why? The Hirsch commentary explains that this is to emphasize that the true sense of pain and loss was kept private and was concealed in his heart and privacy of the home.
Let’s not forget what Sarah meant to Avraham . She had accompanied him thoughout his journey of faith. They has responded to the call of G-d together, so he was never alone in his calling. They had started a nation together, based on the twin pillars of Ethical Monotheism and chessed.
Furthermore, they had experienced years of childlessness and davening together and through that reached a deeper connection to G-d and each other. Unlike Yitzchak and Rivka, Avraham and Sarah had grown up together and their relationship was deep and built on commonality.
Rashi explains in the first Pasuk of the Parsha when it says, ‘Sarah’s lifetime was  100, 20 and 7 years..’ that at the age of 100 she was as sinless as a 20 year old, and at the age of 20, she still had the beauty of a 7 year old. The Chizkuni adds, that Sarah never needed cosmetics due to her natural beauty. Rav Moshe Feinstein commented that part of Sarah’s beauty was that despite her breathtaking beauty as an adult, all who saw her recognized her purity and innocence.  So not only was Sarah Avraham’s spiritual partner and ‘Yedid Nefesh’, but she was also beautiful and youthful.
Would Avraham manage alone?
Yes, he carries on making the most of every moment of his life. He continues to build, create and love despite his inner pain and void. We see several examples of this in Parshat Chayeh Sarah:
1) To acquire a fitting burial place for Sarah he was forced to negotiate with the greedy Efron and gladly paid an exorbitant price. Furthermore, to purchase the grave site he needed the co-operation of the descendents of Heth, son of Canaan (10:15) who were the leaders of the region. This purchase, the Gemarah in Sanhedrin 111a records, was one of the tests of Avraham. So we see, however distressed Avraham is, he gets up and is able to deal with the transparent Efron – a sign of his strength of character.
2) We then see he looks ahead and turns to the responsibilty of finding a suitable wife for Yitzchak. Despite his pain, he goes on building and looks to the future. He dosen’t neglect himself and detach himself from normal life, despite his bereavement. Avraham makes an oath with Eliezer in 24:3, in case he dies before Eliezer returns. In making this oath, the Shemot Shmuel comments how driven and determined Avraham was to find Yitzchak a suitable wife with a fitting character. This oath would guarantee that Eliezer would persist in his mission, even if it seemed to have limited chances of success. Rav Hirsch explains that in Avraham saying that Yitzchak’s wife cannot be from,’Bnot Canaan’ shows that Avraham was concerned that she had the correct level of morality, ethics and modesty and that we see how ‘in touch’ Avraham was with what was important for Yitzchak. Again showing how Avraham carried on fulfilling his role as a caring father and living despite his loss.
3) At the end of the Parsha, in 25:1, we see that Avraham remarries Keturah, who Rashi based on the Midrash says was Hagar. In 25:2, the Torah tells us the names of the six children they had together. So again, we see how Avraham carries on living and never gives up. Not only only does he remarry but he has another six children. The Netziv, in Ha’emek Davar, explains how even though Avraham was much older than he was a the time of Yitzchak’s birth, his aged body had been reinvigorated in order to make the birth of Yitzchak possible and maintained that capacity throughout his life.
4) In 24:7, Avraham dies and the Torah uses the phrase,’Asher Chay’-which he lived. The Seder Olam comments that Avraham had lived his life fully-not one day was wasted. Like with Sarah, the Torah in 24:7, uses the phrase,’Shney Chaye..’- ‘100 years, 70 years and 5 years’ and like with Sarah, Rashi makes a similar comment that at 100 he was like 70 and at 70 he was like a 5 year old, without sin. Both Sarah and Avraham lived life to the full and made the most out of every moment.
So in this week’s Parsha we see that Avraham carries on, despite the painful loss of Sarah. Also, as we have seen throughout these Parshiyot, he never reglects his private and personal life, despite the fact he is a national leader and public figure.
So, two great leaders in our history, in very different contexts and time periods-Avraham Avinu and the Klausenburger Rebbe. Both teach us a very important lesson for life – never to give up hope in the ability of man to transcend his current reality and to carry on building and growing. The capacity  to refresh and recreate oneself is the key to happiness and a meaningful life.
Shabbat Shalom,
Benjy Singer.

What was unique about Avraham – His heart or mind?

17 10 2013

KindnessWhat was unique about Avraham Avinu? The Sfat Emet, Rambam, what the call ‘Lech-Lecha’ represents and his character trait of Chessed.

The Sfat Emet on the phrase ‘Lech-Lecha’ splits up the words ‘Lech’ and Lecha’ and explains that the uniqueness of Avraham is that he was able to listen to G-d’s call ‘Lech’, but at the same time, did not disconnnect himself from his surroundings and did not need to lose his sense of selfhood and individuality.

The Sfat Emet notes that  Pasuk 5 in Parshat Lech-Lecha mentions that he takes with him Sarai, Lot, his wealth, as well as ‘Hanefesh Asher Asu Vechanaran’ which either refers to the people whom he and Sarai had converted or their slaves. Either way, we see clearly in this Pasuk, that Avraham did not negate and reject physicality and ‘Gashmiyot’ in response to G-d’s call.

The Sfat Emet explains that Avraham was unique in that he was able to synthesis the ability to listen and act on G-d’s call, with a positive sense of selfhood and self identity. He didn’t lose his identity and need to forget who he was, as a consequence of his spiritual passion and yearning.

Using the terms of the Sfat Emet, Avraham was able to deal with the ‘Aliyot’ of ‘Ruchaniyot’ – ‘Lech’, with the ‘Yeridot’ of ‘Lecha’ of coming down back to earth afterwards and being himself again. This first understanding of the Sfat Emet describes Avraham’s approach to ‘Ruchaniyot’ and how he understood the importance of balancing between being a private, autonomous being and an Eved Hashem and national leader.

The Rambam at the beginning of Hilchot Avodat Kochavim describes the uniqueness of Avraham in that he went against the tide and challenged the belief of the times. As a result he risked being killed, but he stood up for what he believed in. This explanation of the Rambam focuses on the intellectual side of Avraham.

The Rambam describes in Hilchot Avodat Kochavim based on the Midrashim, how Avraham believed that Avodah Zarah didn’t make sense and even though he stood alone in his beliefs, he was respected and was able to start a whole new way of thinking about what the notion of there being a G-d means. Through Monotheism, Avraham changed the way people approached life, meaning and their existence.

I would like to suggest two more insights into why Avraham was so unique.

Firstly, through his Mesirut Nefesh – his self sacrifice. Twice the phrase ‘Lech-Lecha’ comes up in connection with Avraham, once at the beginnning of this week’s Parsha and also in the context of the Akeidah in Beraishit 22:2, when G-d says to him ‘Lech-Lecha L’Eretz Hamoriah’.

What do these two episodes of G-d telling him ‘Lech-Lecha’ – 1) to leave the unknown and go to Eretz Yisrael and, 2) the Akeidah, have in common?

They both demonstrate the Mesirut Nefesh (self sacrifice) that Avraham lived his life by and his willingness to listen to G-d’s call, even if went against normative human behaviour and would be so challenging and stressful.

I think according to the Pshat, Avraham was unique as he was willing to listen to G-d’s call, even if it went against the normal way of living. He was willing to put his fate in the hands of G-d, which is the ultimate expression of Emunah and Bitachon. This approach focuses more on Avraham’s personality and character, reflected in his values and life choices.

Secondly, we see that Avraham was an ‘Ish Chessed’ and cared about those around him, including outsiders and those different to him. We know that chazal compare Noach to Avraham – in that Noach was unable to influence those around him, whilst Avraham was. Whether in looking after Yishmael, welcoming in and showing hospitality to the three angels on the 3rd day after his Brit, or in trying to defend the people of Sodom, Avraham like Sarah was dedicated to helping, caring and teaching others. In fact, the Midrash says that the phrase ‘Et Hanefesh Asher Asu Ve’Charan’,in Parshat Lech-Lecha, refers to the converts and people whom Avraham and Sarah had taught and influenced.

However you see Avraham and whichever explanation you prefer as to why G-d chose him, one thing is for sure, he didn’t have it easy, and despite all he went through still remained loyal to G-d. In fact the trials and tribulations only deepened his relationship with G-d. Something we should all bear in mind.

Shabbat Shalom,

Benjy Singer.

Rav Benny Lau on Rav Ovadia: ‘Le’Hachzir Atara Le’Yoshna’ – To return Sefardi Jewry to their previous revered glory.

16 10 2013
rav ovadia - learningHere is a brief summary based on my own understanding of what Rav Benny Lau said last night, in his lecture about the Psak of Rav Ovadia Yosef ZT’L.
He made the point that he was talking about Rav Ovadia the Halachist, not Rav Ovadia the ‘politician’ and his involvement in Shas.
Rav Benny said that Rav Ovadia’s death completed a time period that started with Rav Yosef Cairo and his major work, the Shulchan Aruch. Why? Because Rav Ovadia passionately believed that we should Pasken like the Shulchan Aruch in Eretz Yisrael and that the Shulchan Aruch was the major, seminal Halachik work.
Rav Benny emphasized that it was until the age of 30 that the most significant and character building events happened to Rav Ovadia, which affected how he approached Halacha. In his most formative years, in his teens and 20’s, Rav Ovadia was immersed in Sefardi Halacha, literature and tradition and had little to do with Ashkenazim.
Rav Ovadia saw it as his duty to ‘Le’Hachzir Atarah L’Yoshna’ –  to return the glory to the revered previous generations of Sefardi Jewry. Rav Benny explained that this was the motivating factor behind Rav Ovadia’s career as a Posek Ha’dor and towering Halachik authority.
Rav Ovadia believed that his role was to rejuvenate and revive over a 1000 years of Sefardi Jewry and tradition. Between the ages of 13-17, Rav Ovadia wrote ‘Klalim of Rav Yosef Kairo’-an explanation of the general principles of Rav Yosef Cairo.
1) Rav Ovadia did not believe that all the Jews in Israel should follow one uniform authority and Psak (Halachik decision):
Rav Ovadia believed that Ashkenazim should follow Ashkenazi Psak and Sefardim should follow Sefardi Psak. This was something that Rav Ovadia fought for throughout his life. Rav Ovadia was against the Ashkenazi Rabbinate taking over Halachik decision making based on what he saw in his first years as a Dayan, and he thought that Sefardi tradition was able to provide it’s people with their own Psak.
This was a major issue in the 1950/60’s in Israel. In believing that each sector should follow their own Psak and not have one uniform Psak, he followed Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook. At that time, Rabbi’s Hertzog, Uziel and others believed that Ashkenazi Psak should be followed by all Jews in Eretz Yisrael, including Sefardim.
Rav Ovadia was completely against this and believed, like Rav Kook, that the different sectors – Ashkenazim, Sefardim, Teymanim etc should have their own Rabbanim deciding Halachik issues for their own communities, based on their own previous rulings, minhagim and traditions.
Rav Benny told various incidents involving the Ashkenazi Gaon in the 1950’s , Rav Reuven Katz of Petach Tikva and how Rav Ovadia gave Psak against him involving Gittin, Yibum and Chalitzah and other cases. Rav Ovadia did so as he believed he was representing Sefardi Jewry.
In Yabia Omer, Rav Ovadia explains why he was against Rav Uziel in having all Jews in Eretz Yisrael following one (Ashkenazi) Psak.
2) Rav Ovadia- An Independent Halachik Thinker: He went against the Psak of the Ben Ish Chai and others:
Once Rav Ovadia won the ‘war’ against having one uniform Ashkenazi Psak and tradition ruling all Jews, he then turned against the Ben Ish Chai. This was revolutionary in the Sefardi community in Eretz Yisrael, as their tradition was to follow the Ben Ish Chai!
Rav Benny spoke about how Rav Ovadia wrote a commentary to the Ben Ish Chai’s Sefarim highlighting how what the Ben Ish Chai wrote, contravened what the Shulchan Aruch ruled. Rav Ovadia saw Rav Yosef Cairo and his Shulchan Aruch, as the Halachik authority, and not the Ben Ish Chai.
Rav Ovadia disputed what the Ben Ish Chai ruled many times, which made his Bucharin community feel uncomfortable. For instance, in the Nusach for Shabbat candles, Rav Ovadia followed the Shulchan Aruch and went against the Psak of the Ben Ish Chai. Rav Ovadia also did not agree with the Ben Isha Chai over what you should say in the Asseret Yemai Teshuva if you make a mistake in your tefillah and you need to repeat the correct nusach or not.
Rav Ovadia went against the Psakim of many Halachik authorities. For instance, he went against the Psak of Rav Eliezer Waldenberg, the Ttitz Eliezer, over whether women can make a Bracha over Arbah Minim. Also in cases of Kashrut and Bishul Akum, Rav Ovadia went against the Psak of most Poskim and looked for leniencies when he could.  (As he did with Niddah questions- Rav Lau didn’t mention that).
3) Rav Ovadia and Zionism:
Rav Ovadia was seen as a revolutionary figure in the Sefardi world, not just because he went against the Psak of the Ben Ish Chai (unlike Rav Mordechi Eliyahu and Rav Yaacov Hillel and most others) but also because he passionately believed in Shivat Tzion and that the fact we live in a Jewish State has bearings on how we decide Halachik issues.
Rav Ovadia was responsible for Egyptian and Etheopian Jewry coming to Israel. He also said you could say Hallel on Yom Ha’atzmaut and that the army conversion were effective. He also did his utmost to free Agunot after the Yom Kippur War.
My own thoughts:
As I wrote about in my blog post after attending his Levaya, entitled, ‘Rav Ovadia – Humility Entrenched in Halacha’, I see the greatest contribution of Rav Ovadia, as well as having such an encyclopedic knowledge of Torah and Halacha, is that he had such a human and real element to his Psak. From the stories I have heard about him, this reflected his love and care for each individual Jew and his understanding of the human condition.
Benjy Singer.

Rav Ovadia Yosef: Humanity Entrenched in Halachah.

8 10 2013
ovadiaBeyond the pushing and shoving, watching kids annoying the police by standing on top of bus stops and seminary girls taking photos of each other seemingly unaware of where they were, last night was certainly an educational experience, being one of the alleged 800,000 people who came to pay respects to Rav Ovadia Yosef.
The one story that has stuck in my mind from the Hespedim last night was told by one of Rav Ovadia’s sons. When Rav Ovadia was told by his doctors he needed immediate bypass surgery, he asked if he could first go back to his study. Why? Because he was in the middle of writing a Teshuva dealing with a complicated case to free an Agunah. As is well known, Rav Ovadia invested a tremendous amount of time and energy in freeing Agunot, particularly after the Yom Kippur War. In his love for his fellow Jew, he was compared to Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach.
In his hesped, Harav Yisrael Meir Lau spoke of Rav Ovadia’s love of Torat Yisrael, Am Yisrael and his modesty and humility. Rav Lau also spoke of how he used his vast knowledge of Halacha and Shutim (Responsa) to find the more lenient psak to make Halacha more applicable and relevant to life. Rav Lau also mentioned that when Rav Zvi Pesach Frank first met Rav Ovadia, he said he would be the ‘Meyshiv Hador’.
One only has to reflect back on yesterday with regard to the media coverage and how Shimon Peres spoke about him, to see the impact Rav Ovadia had had and the esteem in which he was held. There were even an obituary for him in the British Daily Telegraph!
So why was Rav Ovadia so popular and what made him become a cult like figure in Israeli Society?
I would like to suggest the following factors:
1) Rav Ovadia had an encyclopedic and vast knowledge of Torah: Shas, Halacha, Rishonim, Acharonim, Poskim, Shutim etc. and like Rav Elyashiv, he had photographic memory. If you read through ‘Yabia Omer’ which he wrote, or ‘Yechavat Daat’ which was a record of the radio programme he answered questions on called ‘Aseh Lecha Rav’ or  ‘Yalkut Yosef’ which was written by his sons, or any other of his sefarim, it is evident that he had an encyclopedic knowledge of Torah, particularly Halacha. Also as Rav Lau said, Rav Ovadia’s hasmadah was tremendous – he never wasted a minute and dedicated his life to learning and teaching of Torah.
2) His approach to Halachah: Rav Ovadia believed ‘Koach D’Hetairah Adif’. He often was lenient in complicated and sensitive cases, dealing with marital issues/ shalom bayit, parnassah and kashrut licenses etc. Furthermore, he ruled against most other Poskim and said that Etheopian Jews are to be treated as Halachik Jews. He supported the Heter Mechirah in the Shmittah Year. He also ruled that the conversions done through the Israeli army are effective and the soldiers do not need to undergo another conversion. He also said that women can wear trousers.
3) He was a pioneer and original thinker with regard to Halacha. He believed as the Shulchan Aruch was written in Eretz Yisrael, unlike the Ramah and other Halachik works, that those living in Eretz Yisrael should follow the psak of the Shulchan Aruch. In going against the Psak of the Ben Ish Chai many times, Rav Ovadia did not follow the way of Rav Mordechi Eliyahu and Rav Yaacov Hillel and many other Sefardi Poskim, who held like the Ben Ish Chai.
4) Rav Ovadia spoke the language of the street and related to ordinary people: Rav Chadad said this morning that Rav Ovadia, spoke the ‘language of Machane Yehuda’ when he needed to. Rav Ovadia was able to relate to the simple, unlearned people through his personality and charisma. As a result, he was responsible for the Baal Teshuva movement in the Sefardi sector. Rav Ovadia insisted on saying the tefilah for T’zahal and also wrote in Yabia Omer that you can say Hallel on Yom Ha’atzmaut. In his role as the Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, he also demonstrated his ability to deal with broader Israeli Society.
5) His care and sensitivity to the individual Jew: It is said in this regard he is likened to Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach. In many of his Piskei Halachah, you see how he empathized and understood ordinary people.
6) Sefardi Jewry and dealing with assimilation in chutz la’aretz:  Rav Ovadia  rebuilt Sefardi Jewry and completely revolutionized their education and Yeshiva system. Rav Ovadia was also involved in supporting educational institutions and Yeshivot in the Diaspora and was concerned with stopping assimilation.
7) His modest roots and lifestyle: Rav Ovadia’s father was a grocer and when he was a child he helped his father in his shop. Unlike his wife, Rav Ovadia himself did not come from a Rabbinic family. Rav Ovadia raised his family in poverty. It could be his modest upbringing explains why he looked for the lenient psak.
After listening to the radio most of yesterday and hearing the hespedim, I realised that we can see Rav Ovadia in a different light, detached from Shas, politics and his outbursts during his Motsei Shabbat broadcasts.
In his psak, Rav Ovadia synthesized an encyclopedic knowledge and understanding of Halacha, with a profound understanding of the human condition and the challenges and difficulties that ordinary people go through in living a frum lifestyle committed to Halacha. In so doing, he made Halacha relevant and applicable to daily, routine life and for that, as well as all the Torah he dedicated his life to learning and spreading he should be remembered.
As Rav Yaacov Ariel said yesterday, Rav Ovadia, wasn’t just a ‘Gadol Hador’ he was ‘Echad Mi’gdoley Ha’dor’.
Benjy Singer.

Noach: Looking After Your Own.

3 10 2013
When I meet frum Jews, I generally can split them into two categories. Those who are concerned with their own families and communities and those who look beyond their own immediate circles and have a sense and awareness of the need to care about the broader community and here in Israel, society at large.
At the beginning of this weeks Parsha we learn more about Noach. The last Pasuk (10:8) of last weeks Parsha describes Noach as finding grace and favour in the eyes of Hashem. However on this phrase ‘Noach Matzah Chen’, the Sforno already points out that although Noach was righteous, he did not make an attempt to save his generation as a whole, and subsequently only him and his family would be saved from the flood. The Sforno remarks that had Noach made an attempt to make others righteous and do Teshuva, then G-d may have saved them for Noach’s sake- as they may have been hope that he could influence them to repent. So we already see that Noach was not able to influence and inspire others.
In the first pasuk of this weeks Parsha, Rashi raises the famous question as to whether Noach would have been greater and more righteous in the times of Avraham benefitting from his companionship and inspiration or if he would have been insignificant in the shadow of Avraham. Was it only in his generation relative to the corruption and immoral generation he shone or would he also have been as great in Avraham’s time?
I think the answer is to be found in Pasuk 14, when the Torah says, ‘Asey Lecha’, which means ‘Make for Yourself ‘ an Ark. On this phrase the Abarbanel comments that Noach is to build the Ark himself.
However, the Alshich sees this phrase ‘Asey Lecha’ homiletically – G-d told Noach,’Make an Ark to symbolize your own behavior. You remained aloof from your compatriots, instead of chastising them and trying to save them by improving their conduct. Now you will isolate yourself in an Ark with beasts and animals’.
The Zohar even goes a stage further and blames Noach for the Flood itself. The Zohar explains that Noach’s failure to try and influence his generation is why the Flood is called,’ May Noach’, the waters of Noach (Isaiah 54:9), implying that Noach was responsible for the Flood.
There is no doubt that the Torah views Noach as a righteous and G-d fearing person. Two examples from the text that demonstrate this, is firstly in 7:1, when G-d describes him as righteous and secondly, in 8:20, when the Torah describes Noah as bringing Korbanot . As Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer comments,’ Noach thought: G-d saved me from the Flood and brought me forth from the prison of the Ark. Am I not obliged to bring G-d an offering and an elevation offering?
The problem is that Noach was unable to influence and make an impact on those around him. Parshat Noach ends with the episode of ‘Migdal Bavel’, the ‘Tower of Babel’. Rashi asks the question-which generation was worse? The generation of the Flood, which did not plan a rebellion against G-d, or the generation of the Dispersion which did. I would like to suggest that even though the generation of the Tower of Babel was after Noach, it was a result of the inability of Noach to spread genuine faith in G-d outside his immediate family.
The next personality in Beraishit, Avraham fulfills this role. Already at the beginning of Parshat Lech-Lecha we are told 12:5, on the phrase ‘Ha’nefesh Asher Asu V’Charan’ – ‘the souls they had made in Charan’ refers to the people who they had converted to faith in G-d – Avraham converted the men and Sarah the women.
Another example we see of how unlike Noach, Avraham was conscious and aware of his surroundings and was able to be a catalyst for change, is in Parshat Veyara 18:23, when he pleads for the people of Sodom. The Gemarah in Berachot 10a describes that even though the angels had arrived to destroy Sodom, Avaraham still insisted on praying for its survival.
Rav Moshe Feinstein describes that Avraham had a passion for the truth and he believed that even if there were 10 good people in the whole of Sodom, they should be saved as they could influence and be an example to others. Rav Moshe Feinstein explains that Avraham believed in the ability of people to change and shape others, if they believe in the truth of their message.
There were 10 generations from Adam to Noach, giving mankind the opportunity to fulfill its responsibility to carry out the plan of Creation. They failed and the Flood wiped them away. Then the mission of humanity fell to Noach and his offspring and they also failed. The next 10 generations failed as well, but this time Avraham was able to prevent destruction.
The children of Noach were left with the ‘Shevah Mitzvoth Bnei Noach’ –  the Seven Universal Commandments, but Avraham would accept the Torah with the 613 Mitzvot.
Only a leader, who is able to shape and reach outside his comfort zone and narrow confines, is rewarded by G-d with the responsibility of transmitting the Torah to future generations. Unlike Noach, Avraham was able to guide and influence the people around him, beyond his immediate circle. Avraham was able to connect with all those around him and was so concerned with helping others, that he was able to save the world.
It’s not just people in positions of influence and leaders, but every single person, if they believe in themselves and what they stand for and represent, they can make a difference to those around them and shape and mould the society and community around them.
Shabbat Shalom,
Benjy Singer.