Author Archives: Rabbi Menachem Evan-Israel

About Rabbi Menachem Evan-Israel

Rabbi Menachem Evan-Israel previously served Hillel at SUNY Stony Brook.

From Far And Near

Provided by Hillel’s Joseph Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Learning, which creates educational resources for Jewish organizations on college campuses.

"And the Lord spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, When they came near the Lord, and died.  And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Speak to Aaron your brother, that he come not at all times into the holy place inside the veil before the covering, which is upon the ark; that he die not; for I will appear in the cloud upon the covering.’"

Your Torah Navigator

1. Why did the sons of Aaron die?

2. Why were they punished for coming close to the Lord? Isn’t that a good thing to do?

3. Why does God warn Aaron about approaching the holy of holies?

4. What is the cloud of God?

Talmud–Tractate Sukkah 28a

They said of Jonathan b. Uzziel that when he used to sit and occupy himself with the study of the Torah, every bird that flew above him was immediately burnt.

Midrash Rabbah–The Song of Songs I:53

Once as Ben ‘Azzai sat and expounded, the fire played round him. They went and told R. Akiba, saying, ‘Sir, as Ben ‘Azzai sits and expounds, the fire is flashing round him.’ He went to him and said to him: ‘I hear that as you were expounding the fire flashed round you.’ He replied: ‘That is so.’ He said to him: ‘Were you perhaps treating of the secrets of the Divine Chariot?’ ‘No,’ he replied. ‘I was only linking up the words of the Torah with one another and then with the words of the prophets, and the prophets with the writings, and the words rejoiced as when they were delivered from Sinai, and they were sweet as at their original utterance.

Your Midrash and Talmud Navigators

1. What is the meaning of the fires in these two texts?

2. Are these fires good or bad?

3. What are the differences between the fires?

4. Are these fires a result of enlightenment?

A Word From Near And Far!

There are many ways to reach God and to reach "inner peace" for one’s self. One may think that by devoting all his life to God and disconnecting completely from the world, he will achieve enlightenment. One may think that sitting at home complacently when the world around us is collapsing is a solution. One must know this isn’t the way of God.

We are all created in God’s image, thus we have the power and the obligation to make the world around us an active place to live and work in. We have the obligation to use the most mundane things to make this place an inhabitable world. A place where we feel a connection between us and the world and between us and God!

I is important to realize that the same concepts of caring and connecting with the people around us and the land around us apply to the Land of Israel and the people of Israel, even though it seems so much easier to close our eyes and be oblivious to the needs and struggles of our brothers and sisters. We must wake up and say, "Enough is enough!" For 2000 years, we have been persecuted for no reason. We cannot afford to stand by idly and allow persecution in our own land. It is our obligation to our heritage to our people to stand up from far and near, to get together and say: "Enough!"

When Choosing Between Man And God, Choose Man!

Provided by Hillel’s Joseph Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Learning, which creates educational resources for Jewish organizations on college campuses.

Parashat Vayera begins:

“God appeared to him (Abraham) in the groves of Mamrei, and he was sitting at the door of the tent in the heat of the day. He lifted his eyes and saw, and behold three men were standing near him. He saw them, and ran from the door of the tent to greet them, and he bowed down to the earth. He said, “My master if I have found favor in your eyes please do not bypass your servant.” “Let a bit of water be brought and wash your feet, Rest yourselves under the tree.” (Bereshit (Genesis) Chapter 18, verses 1-4)

Your Torah Navigator

1. When God appears to someone in the Bible, it is always to convey a message. Here we find that God came just to “visit” Abraham. Why? Appreciate the fact that this is the only place in the entire Bible in which God “visits” someone.

2. Why does the Bible go into such detail in describing where this meeting took place?

3. Why is Abraham sitting outside, on a scorching hot day, three days after his circumcision? Why are people walking from Damascus to Alexandria on such a hot day?

4. Who is Abraham addressing when he says, “My Master, if I have found favor in Your eyes, please do not bypass your servant.” Is he speaking to God or to the visitors?

5. Abraham seems to have a very strange way of showing hospitality; first, he gives the visitors water to wash their feet and only then does he offer them a drink. Second, he seats them outside, near the tree while he goes inside to his cool, shaded tent! How can we explain this?

Your Midrash Navigator

“In the plains of Mamrei”: Why does this occur in Mamrei’s place?

“May the name of God be blessed that He does not deprive any creature.” Abraham had three good friends, Aneir, Eshkol, and Mamrei. When God told Abraham to circumcise himself, Abraham went to his friends to ask their advice.

He asked Aneir his advice regarding God’s command to circumcise himself. Aneir answered that circumcision would disable Abraham and leave him open to attack by the relatives of the kings whom he had just fought.

Abraham then went to Eshkol and asked the same question. Eshkol answered that circumcision brought with it the threat of bleeding to death for an individual in Abraham’s physical condition.

He then went to Mamrei and asked the same question. Mamrei answered that he should not even consider asking whether or not to follow God’s command, for God had all ready performed numerous miracles for him. God took Abraham out of Haran, saved him from the pit of fire, saved him from the kings, and saved every single one of his 248 limbs. Mamrei was in disbelief that Abraham would be concerned about one of his limbs after God had repeatedly saved them all. God was so pleased with Mamrei’s answer that He said that He would reveal Himself to Abraham on Mamrei’s property, hence “the plains of Mamrei.” (Midrash Tanchumah 18:1)

1. Is Abraham, who usually does whatever God tells him to (e.g. leaving his homeland and sacrificing his son) suddenly doubting God?

2. What kind of relationship has Abraham developed with his acquaintances: a real friendship, or perhaps a teacher-student relationship?

3. Abraham had just fought wars, trekked through the desert and had otherwise subjected himself to a multitude of hardships. Why would Aneir and Eshkol suddenly be concerned about Abraham’s ability to endure this relatively minor hardship?

4. Why is Abraham not satisfied with the advice of his two friends, Aneir and Eshkol? Why does Abraham follow the advice of his third friend, Mamrei, whose opinion is in the minority?

5. God reveals himself to Abraham on Mamrei’s property. How is this Mamrei’s reward?

A Word

Abraham talked directly to God while sitting comfortably in his house. However, we see that the moment the guests arrive, he attends to their needs, and seemingly puts aside the service of God.

Is it possible that Abraham is putting his guests before God? It is precisely from here that we learn how to properly worship God. Abraham served God by showing kindness and acceptance to man.

Abraham believed that the only way for him to attain Godliness was through acts of goodness and kindness to his fellow people. We see that he was unconcerned with the identity or status of his guests and focused on their needs. We see that kindness needs be extended to all regardless of their personal creeds and lifestyles.

The lesson for us is clear. We, as Abraham’s descendants, have inherited this trait of kindness and can attain Godliness by showing goodwill to our fellow man. I believe that this is the message that we must all take from this week’s parashah.