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Angel for Shabbat

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.

Above Tragedy: Thoughts for Simhat Torah

By Rabbi Marc D. Angel

(This is the first sermon I delivered from the pulpit of Congregation Shearith Israel, Simhat Torah 1969. Forty-five years have passed since that first sermon, and yet the ideas within it continue to ring true.)

We have spent many months reading about the life of Moses. Today, in one of the most dramatic episodes of the Torah, we read about his death—a very agonizing scene. Moses, the great leader, teacher, and prophet, climbs to the summit of Mount Nebo and looks out over the horizon at the Promised Land. As he stands silent and alone, God tells him: “You are beholding the land that I have promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob saying, ‘I shall give it to your descendants.’ See it with your eyes. You shall not cross into the land.”

Happiness: Thoughts for Succoth

By Rabbi Marc D. Angel

The Torah informs us that the festival of Succoth commemorates God’s providence over the Israelites during their years of wandering in the wilderness. An old question is: why was this holiday scheduled to begin specifically on the 15th day of Tishri? The dates for Pessah (15 Nissan) and for Shavuoth (6 Sivan) are clearly linked to historical events—the day of the Exodus and the day of the Revelation at Mount Sinai. But the wandering in the wilderness was ongoing for 40 years, with no particular historic connection to Tishri 15?

Thoughts for Yom Kippur

By Rabbi Marc D. Angel

Fasting and praying are important ingredients of Yom Kippur and are signs of repentance for our transgressions against God. But, as is well known, Yom Kippur does not provide atonement for sins committed against human beings.

Maimonides teaches (Laws of Repentance, 2:9): “Repentance and the Day of Atonement only atone for sins between human beings and God, but interpersonal sins are never forgiven until a person has made restitution and appeased the one whom he has wronged….Even if he merely belittled a person with words, he must appease him and go to him until he is granted forgiveness.”