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Angel for Shabbat

The Source of Wisdom: Thoughts for Parashat Mikkets, December 20, 2014

By Rabbi Marc D. Angel

When Joseph was summoned to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams, Joseph said: “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh an answer of peace” (Bereishith 41:16). Later, when Joseph did interpret the dreams—seven years of abundance to be followed by seven years of famine—he not only explained the dreams but offered a practical plan of action. His plan was so impressive that Pharaoh appointed him to implement it. “And Pharaoh said to his servants, can we find such a one as this, a man in whom is the spirit of God?” (41:38)

Clearly, both Joseph and Pharaoh detected God’s role in the interpretation of the dreams. Yet the text makes no mention of God intervening by giving Joseph a prophetic message. What role did God play in this story?

Guilt and Redemption: Thoughts for Parashat Vayeshev, December 13, 2014

By Rabbi Marc D. Angel

In his play, “All Our Sons,” Arthur Miller portrays a family coping with a deep secret. The head of the family, Joe Keller, was a manufacturer of engines for airplanes. During World War II, the government needed war materiel and Keller’s business boomed. In the midst of heavy production, a batch of engines came out with cracks. These cracks were covered up superficially, and the engines were sold to the government. The defective engines led to the deaths of 21 pilots.

When the government investigated the matter, Keller managed to get exonerated, shifting the entire blame on to his partner—who was imprisoned. Keller and family continued to live well; Keller’s son Chris totally believed in the innocence of his father.

The Mitzvah of Accepting—not Rejecting—Converts to Judaism: Thoughts on Parashat Vayishlah, December 6, 2014

By Rabbi Marc D. Angel

“And the sister of Lotan was Timna” (Bereishith 36:22).

This seemingly irrelevant piece of genealogy has an important underlying message according to the Midrash. Timna had wanted to convert--to become part of the people of Abraham, Isaac and Israel. Yet, our forefathers did not accept her into the fold. The rejected Timna then became the concubine of Elifaz, son of Esau, and gave birth to a son: Amalek! The arch-enemy of the people of Israel was the child of a rejected convert! Had Timna been accepted into the Israelite nation, there would have been no Amalek.

This ancient lesson has continuing meaning in our days, when the conversion crisis in the Orthodox world is a burning issue. The following is drawn from an article I wrote, published in Hadassah Magazine, November 2008.

Confronting Our Enemies: Thoughts for Parashat Vayetsei, November 29, 2014

By Rabbi Marc D. Angel

“And Jacob went on his way, and angels of God met him. And Jacob said when he saw them: ‘This is God’s camp.’ And he called the name of that place Mahanaim” (Bereishith 32:2-3).

These concluding verses of this week’s Torah portion raise several questions. The angels that met Jacob are not reported to have said or done anything, only to have appeared. What was their mission? What did their presence accomplish? Jacob acknowledged that the visit of the angels made this spot “God’s camp;” why then did he name the place Mahanaim, camps, in the plural?

Isaac's Laughter: Thoughts for Parashat Toledot, November 22, 2014

By Rabbi Marc D. Angel

“…Abimelech king of the Philistines looked out a window, and saw, and, behold, Isaac was sporting with Rebecca his wife…(Bereishith 26:8).”

Rabbi Harold Kushner, in a shiur for the New York Board of Rabbis, offered keen insight into what this verse might actually mean. Instead of translating metzahek as “sporting,” Rabbi Kushner suggested going to the root meaning of the word: laughter. Isaac was making Rebecca laugh! (See also Targum Onkelos on this verse.)

The verse relates to a difficult time, when Isaac and Rebecca were in a precarious position vis a vis Abimelech. Isaac feared for his life. Rebecca was posing as Isaac’s sister, and was in a vulnerable state. At this time of crisis, Isaac makes Rebecca laugh. He attempts to soothe her.

Love and Consolation: Thoughts for Parashat Hayyei Sara, November 15, 2014

By Rabbi Marc D. Angel

“And Isaac brought her [Rebecca] into his mother Sarah’s tent, and took Rebeccah, and she became his wife; and he loved her. And Isaac was comforted for his mother (Bereishith 24:67).”

The great medieval Bible commentator, Rabbi David Kimhi (known popularly as Radak), noted: “Although three years had passed between Sarah’s death and Isaac’s marriage to Rebeccah, yet he was mourning her [Sarah], and was comforted in that [Rebeccah] was good as his mother was.”

It appears, then, that Isaac mourned his mother inconsolably for three years. But once Rebeccah entered his life, “he was comforted for his mother.” Rebeccah had those qualities and virtues which characterized Sarah, and Isaac finally found consolation from the loss of his mother.

What is consolation?

Passion for Compassion: Thoughts for Parashat Vayera, November 8, 2014

By Rabbi Marc D. Angel

The opening paragraph of the Amidah, recited as the central prayer of our daily liturgy, refers to the “God of Abraham, God of Isaac and God of Jacob.” And yet, when the blessing is actually recited at the end of this passage, it praises God as “the Shield of Abraham.” Only Abraham’s name is mentioned. Why?

One explanation is that Abraham is identified in rabbinic tradition with the quality of Hesed, compassion. While both Isaac and Jacob had other important qualities associated with them, Abraham is the special exemplar of kindness. By singling out Abraham in the first blessing of the Amidah, our sages were thereby underscoring the unique importance of Hesed.

Being True to Oneself: Thoughts for Parashat Lekh Lekha, November 1, 2014

By Rabbi Marc D. Angel

(Much of this essay is excerpted from my book, Losing the Rat Race, Winning at Life.)

During the course of a lifetime, a person may wear many masks. In order to curry favor with others, one adopts their attitudes, opinions, styles and behavior patterns. Above all, one wants to belong, to play an acceptable role. At the same time, one also has a separate individual identity within, the hard kernel of one’s own being. When one loses sight of his separateness from the masks he wears, he becomes the masks; i.e., a superficial, artificial human being. A person may go through life without examining carefully who he really is. One simply becomes an assortment of ever-changing masks, living life on the surface.

Noah's Advice: Thoughts on Parashat Noah, October 25, 2014

By Rabbi Marc D. Angel

In sorting out the genealogical information in the early chapters of Genesis, it turns out that Noah and Abraham were alive at the same time. Abraham was 58 years old at the time of Noah’s death. (Interestingly, the numerical value of the name of Noah is 58!)

Did Abraham and Noah know each other? The Torah does not so indicate, and Midrashic literature sheds little light on this question.

Here are some of my speculations on this topic.

On Becoming Human: Thoughts on Parashat Bereishith

By Rabbi Marc D. Angel

God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and gave them the following instruction: “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat of it; for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Bereishith 2:16-17). It did not take long, though, for Adam and Eve to eat of this forbidden fruit, having been tempted by the serpent to do so.

But they did not die upon eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.