Divrei Torah About Inclusion: Sefer Bereishit
This week we begin to read the Torah once again. We have just finished the Yom Tovim and have celebrated the glory of the Torah that Hashem has given us. All of Klal Yisroel begin fresh and are given the opportunity to not only accept the Torah and learn from its stories and mitzvot, but to love each person that Hashem has created. In Parshat Bereshit we find one of the basis of why we should include every person in Klal Yisroel and every person in the world. On the sixth day of creation the Torah says “vayivrah Elokim et hadam betzalmo” Hashem creates man(read people) in his own image. All people were created in Hashem’s image and we know that Hashem’s image is perfect. No matter what shortcoming a person might have, he is still created in Hashem’s image.
All of us have shortcomings and challenges. Some of our challenges are more visible then other ones. But we all have them. And we all are loved equally by Hashem despite the challenges we face.
We also all have assets and qualities that make us unique and special. We need to learn to appreciate the talents that each of us have and love and respect each other the way Hashem created us, in his image, betzelem Elokim, b’yachad.
The End of Parshat Noah talks about building the Tower of Babel. At the beginning of this Perek it speaks about how their was unity in the world. Everyone spoke the same language and worked together. They worked b’yachad, together. But the people had the opportunity to take this unity and use it leshem Shamayim- to glorify Hashem. They could have taken their work together and built a world that kept mitzvot and followed the Torah’s way of life. Instead the people of the generation after Noah did evil and sinned against each other. They stole, they murdered, they did not respect their fellow man. Hashem saw this and decided that this was not the way he wanted people to behave. Therefore he broke up their unity by giving each nation a different language. The people no longer understood each other and no longer could work together. What is the message we learn from this story? It is important for us to respect and care about every person that we come into contact with. We need to remember what we learned in Bereshit that each person, regardless of their talents or challenges, is created “betzelem Elokim” in Hashem’s image. Each person deserves to be treated according to the message of the Torah, and in the way of the mitzvot. Only then can we united everyone’s language again and have everyone work together, b’yachad.
In Parshat Lech Lecha we learn how Avraham (called Avram still) is told by Hashem to leave his homeland and go to Eretz Canaan (Israel). He takes his niece and wife Sara (called Sarai) and nephew Lot with him. They go and help him spread the ideology of belief in one G-d, Hashem. He takes responsibility for his family and all of the people who join him.
Later in the parsha, Avraham realizes that Lot and he should not be living together and he separates from Lot. Even though he still takes responsibility for Lot and his people (we see this when the five kings kidnap Lot and Avraham saves him and in next week’s parsha when Avraham argues with Hashem to save Lot’s family during the destruction of Sdom ) Avraham recognizes that sometimes it is better to separate than to stay together. But the responsibility remains.
What can we learn about inclusion from this? Separation but responsibility? Everyone should be included in every aspect in life but sometimes in order to be included we need to make the difficult decision to separate for a while. Sometimes we can grow through this separation period so that we can come back together again. But no matter what Avraham teaches us that we are always responsible for each other. We always need to look out for one another and take care of every person that we come in contact with. Only this responsibility will allow us to truly unite and be one nation, one Klal Yisroel, b’yachad.
In Parshat Vayereh Avraham is commanded to take his son Yitzchak and sacrifice him to Hashem. Yitzchak is not just any son as Hashem says. Abraham is told to take his only son, his son that he loves. His favorite son (Even though Avraham also has Yishmael, he is specifically told the take Yitzchak). As he gets ready to cut Yitzchak an angel comes and tells Avraham to stop and to sacrifice a ram instead of Yitzchak. Avraham asks if he can just make a small cut to prove that he was ready to listen to Hashem’s commandment even if it meant giving up his son. Abraham is told not to make any mark on Yitzchak, that Yitzchak is perfect in Hashem’s eyes.
We learn from this parsha that all people are perfect in Hashem’s eyes just the way Hashem has made them. They do not have to be changed, do not have to be improved in any way. ALL people. Every one of us. Hashem loves each of us exactly the way he created us. We should remember this as we interact with all of our friends, peers, and acquaintances. We should be treating everyone equally and with the same love that Hashem loves each of us. This is how to build our community and world, b’yachad.
In Parshat Vayereh we are told that Abraham argues with Hashem to save the city of Sdom. Hashem is ready to destroy the city and Abraham asks how many righteous people need to live in the city in order for it to be saved. He argues back and forth with Hashem to try to get a number that would be acceptable. Finally Abraham is able to save Lot and his family.
Why am I adding another dvar Torah this week about Vayereh? Abraham teaches us that each of us are responsible for all of Klal Yisroel. Abraham could have sat back and not tried to save the city. After all, Sdom is filled with evil people. Even Lot is not righteous and is only saved by the merit of Abraham’s goodness.
This past Shabbat a terrible tragedy occurred in Pittsburgh when 11 fellow Jews were Murdered during Davening, just because they are Jews. We all could be sitting back and not react to this event. But we as Jews, like Abraham, are responsible for each other. We are outraged and need to find ways to show our unity not just with the Jews in Pittsburgh but with Jews throughout the world that we are one nation, strong and determined to support and help each other, b’yachad
Parshat Chayei Sara starts with the death of Sara Emaynu. Avraham purchases land from Ephraim in the city of Chevron in order to bury Sara. We see Abraham performing the final act of kindness one can give another person-a proper burial and mourning period
This theme of kindness is special me. Of later in the parsha as well. When Eliezer goes to find a wife for Yitzchak he is told to go to the town well. At the well he meets Rivke who tells him not only will she give him water to drink but she will feed his camels as well. We learn that Kindness should be done not only to humans but to all of Hashem’s creations.
Acts of loving kindness is a foundation that keeps our world in existence. We need to respect and treat every individual through the same kindness that Hashem shows us, no matter their challenge or their assets. Respect is the first step in this process of treating all people the same way. Kindness is the result that makes us unite to be a better Klal Yisroel and a better world, b’yachad.
In this week’s parsha, Parshat Toldot, we meet Yitzchak and Rivka’s twin sons, Yaakov and Esav. Esav and Yaakov are quite different; Esav is described as a hunter, a man of the earth, not necessarily a keeper of mitzvot.
Yaakov on the other hand, is described as a Torah learner, someone engrossed in mitzvot. You might think that Yitzchak would therefore favor one over the other.
But both get brachot. Both are clearly loved by their parents. Why is this the case?
As we learn more about Esav we are told that indeed he excelled in one particular mitzvah- one Midah that we all should try to excel at, the Midah of kibud av v’em. Honoring your mother and father. Esav had tremendous kibud for his parents, even coming back to bury Yitzchak when he dies
What is the point of all of this? Each of us has a special quality, something that sets us apart and helps make us the person that we are. Esav was considered wicked yet Yitzchak saw the good in him.
We too need to look at each person and find the good and special quality in them.
At Yachad, we look at each individual and see the positive spark in each of our members. We use that spark to help them shine. We help our community see the uniqueness of every member within their midst. And by doing this we are successful in including each person within Klal Yisroel.
Over Shabbat, watch every member of your family and our greater Yachad community shine. Help each person here feel wanted and important. As we say in Yachad, because everyone belongs Shabbat shalom
In Parshat Toldot we learn about Yitzchak and Rivke’s twins and how they differ. Esav is a man of the earth and Yaakov is a man of the Torah. We see these qualities in their actions and in their speech. This comes to a head when Yitzchak is old and wants to give his son Esav the Bracha Of the first born. But Rivke understands that the Bracha is indeed intended for Yaakov. She dresses Yaakov in animal skins to trick Yitzchak so the rightful brother will get Yitzchak’s Bracha Yaakov enters the tent and Yitzchak, who is blind, feels his arms and listens to his speech. Yaakov speaks with respect, gently. Yitzchak says the famous words: the voice is like Yaakov but his hands are the hands of Esav.
What can we learn from this? There are many aspects that make up a person. How they look and how they speak are two of these qualities. When looking at a person we need to remember to look at the whole person and not judge them by one aspect. We need to see the good in each person and emphasize the good and who the person is as a whole. Inclusion comes when we can see all of the person, not just the person’s challenges, not just his “disability”. Let’s build a strong Klal Yisroel by remembering to look at the person, see the good in them, and accept everyone into your community it’s, b’yachad Shabbat shalom #NAIM2018. #NAIY2018 This dvar Torah is written in the memory of those who died at the hands of violence in the last few weeks. May their neshamot have aliyot.
Parshat Vayetzei opens with Yaakov Aveynu fleeing the home of his parents, Yitzchak and Rivka. As he journeys he decides to rest and places twelve small stones below his head as a pillow. There he has his famous dream where he sees a ladder with angels climbing up and climbing down. During the night the twelve stones fuse into one stone We can ask, why twelve stones? The rabbis teach us that the twelve stones represent the twelve sons of Yaakov, the twelve tribes. When they join together they become one nation, the nation of Israel.
But let us think about the lesson of the stones in a different way. There are many different type of people in the world, Jews,’non-Jews; men, women, and children; abled and people with challenges. We are all different, all unique, all special, all loved in the eyes of Hashem. Each of us is one of those “stones.” Each of us is an integral part of the world Hashem created and of Klal Yisroel. By joining together and including everyone, b’yachad, we can form a united nation of Israel and a united world for Hashem.
This week we read Parshat Vayishlach. Yaakov Aviynu is on his way to reunite with his brother Eisav. On the journey he meets an angel and wrestles the angel. His hip is injured and he walks with a limp. This is only one example of how many of our avot and leaders from the Torah have disabilities and challenges. We already learned that Yitzchak was blind, Leah had poor eyesight. Perhaps our prime example of this is Moshe Rabbaynu who has a speech impediment. Despite this challenge or “handicap” Moshe is still made our greatest leader. Despite the challenges of our avot, Yitzchak and here Yaakov are still our avot. Hashem did not tell them to be minor characters in the story - despite their short comings they are the fathers of our nation.
If Hashem sees the uniqueness and positive qualities In our avot and makes them our leaders then surely we should be conscious of seeing the uniqueness And positive qualities in each other. We need to emphasize the positives in everyone that we come into contact with and recognize that each person has the potential of becoming a leader of Klal Yisroel in the eyes of Hashem. Only By doing this we can build a strong Klal Yisroel.
This week’s parsha, Parshat VaYeshev, has so many stories and dreams in it. At its face value, it might be difficult to find a message of inclusion in the parsha. In fact Yosef is not included by his brothers- they are jealous of him, they hate him. Yaakov Aveenu sets Yosef apart- Yosef is his favorite son and therefore gets different privileges from Yaakov- and a beautiful multi-colored striped coat.
So where is our message of inclusion in this parsha? I think that it is one of responsibility towards one another, despite our differences. Yaakov sends Yosef out to look for his brothers and to make sure that they are safe. Yosef knows that his brothers are not his friends, may even be fearful of his brothers, yet he understands that he is responsible for them despite this. Yosef takes responsibility and finds his brothers. Later when the brothers want to kill Yosef, it is Reuven who takes responsibility for Yosef’s safety. Despite Reuven’s ill feelings towards Yosef he understands that as the eldest he is responsible for ALL of his brothers, including Yosef.
Our message here is despite the fact that we have differences, we don’t even always get along, we are still responsible for one another. We need to look at each person In Klal Yisroel and make sure that they are each included and part of the whole community. We need to reach out to those that need us, find them, protect them, and include them in our lives. The rabbis teach that “kol yisroel arevim Zev bazeh." Every person in Israel is responsible for each other. Only by fulfilling this can we become a nation of Israel and be a complete Klal Yisroel’.
In Parashat Miketz we see that Yosef has been made the second in command to Pharaoh. As we learned this week’s parsha we came across an interesting question: He speaks about missing his father. With all of his power and responsibility why didn’t he just send for his father or attempt to contact him? This is a question that has been asked in the past- (and my son Rabbi Ovi Jacob gave a shiur on this subject a few years ago in Teaneck).
I’m sure that there are many answers to this question but I wanted to discuss the answer that we thought of. Yosef has a mission a responsibility that was beyond his personal needs and desires. He had the Devine inspiration that told him to stay the course. He was chosen for a greater challenge- that of saving the people from famine both in Egypt and in Canaan. He also was laying the footprints for Bnei Yisroel to settle in Mitzrayim -a key for the formation of Klal Yisroel.
In life you are given choices but you are also given a path by Hashem. This path may not seem fair, it may not seem just, and you may not always understand the path Hashem gives you. But if you stay the course the rewards are so much greater. Yosef’s mission was to help the people in the area survive: collect and store food to have resources during the famine. That was his ultimate goal and potential. We too need to look at the person beyond his/her face value. We need to look inside at what their personal potential and goal is. This is unique to each person, whether or not they have challenges. There may be no greater reward for any of us than helping a person realize their ultimate potential. The joy it brings to you, the joy it brings to them and the accomplishments you celebrate together are beyond compare. As we continue to light the Chanukah candles, we are nightly reminded of this internal spark in each person. Let us remember the spark that helps ignite the flame bringing us all together as one nation, one people, Klal Yisrael, B’Yachad.
Another thought on Parshat Miketz: in the parsha the brothers are facing Yosef and speaking among themselves in Hebrew. They do not know that it is their brother Yosef in front of them and that he understands everything that they are saying We need to learn from this to guard our tongues- you never know who is next to you or what they understand. It is easy to assume that individuals with challenges don’t understand what is being said. But that is not true. They have understanding just like every other person. They have deep understanding on some subjects that a “typical” person may not have.
As we interact with each other be respectful of everyone you come into contact with. By showing respect you build Ahavat Yisroel and a strong Klal Yisroel.
In Parshat Vayigash Yosef is reunited with his brothers and father. When Yosef sees that the brothers have Repented for selling him, Yosef reveals that he is that very brother and asks them to bring his father Yaakov back to Egypt to live. Egypt has many benefits for the family- food during a famine and Yosef, their family member, as viceroy and second in command to pharaoh. But the down side is that the family is leaving the land of Yisrael, the land promised to them by Hashem. Is it worth the sacrifice? When will they be able to Return? At times, in life, there seems to be a “quick fix”, like going down to Egypt as we read here. But we know that it wasn’t a quick fix. Bnei Yisrael stayed in Egypt for another 210 years. They became slaves until we are finally redeemed by Hashem through Moshe Rabbeynu. We too are faced at times with challenges, even what seems like sacrifices to us. But we have learned that we need to invest in these challenges and all that we face in life. Like in Egypt there was an ultimate goal and outcome: leaving mitzrayim, forming the nation of Israel, and returning to Eretz Yirsroel. In our lives we too have ultimate goals and outcomes. We should strive to help each individual achieve their ultimate potential in all aspects of their lives. By enabling them to reach their potential, they will be a meaningful contributor to Klal Yisrael. We form a greater stronger nation through this process, working b’yachad to include everyone at their full potential.
Parshat Vayechi starts out with the blessings of Ephraim and Menashe. Yosef always thought that Menashe was the star of the family and would get the greater Bracha. But Yaakov gives the better Bracha to Ephraim, as if he is the first born. We learn from this that we cannot judge people on face value. Only Hashem knows who is the important one and what is important. It is not always obvious. We never know who the star really is. Hashem has the ability to see the inner potential and true nature of each person, despite their ability or disability. We need to try to emulate Hashem and look at each person and find their true potential and make each person an equal star. We see this idea of having everyone being an equal star in the other name of Yaakov. In the second pasuk Yaakov is referred to as Yisroel. This was the name Hashem gave him after his fight with the angel. Why Yisroel? The rabbis teach us that if we look at the name each letter represents a different one of our avot and emahot (fathers and mothers in the Torah). The Yud is for Yitzchak and Yaakov; the Sin is Sarah; the Resh is Rivkah and Rachel; the Aleph is Avraham; and the Lamed is Leah. The name Yisroel is the joining of all of our avot and it is that name that unites the avot and Klal Yisroel into one nation. The nation could not survive unless all were included. There would not be a Klal Yisroel If we were missing Rachel or Yitzchak, for instance. We too need to remember that Klal Yisroel cannot survive today without including all members. Whether they are “stars” or not “stars”; whether they are abled or disabled. Everyone is important In Hashem’s eyes and everyone is important in forming a strong United Klal Yisroel, b’yachad.