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Vayetzei 5776


Vayetzei (Genesis 28:10-32:3 )

by Kalman Packouz

GOOD MORNING!  Recently a friend of mine asked me, "Do you really believe in God?" When I answered "for sure" his response was "really?" Personally, I don't find it particularly hard to believe that a rabbi believes in God. However, he seemed to be amazed that anyone believes in God.

In our experience at Aish HaTorah (a major international Jewish educational outreach organization), if you ask the young people who come through the doors of our world center in Jerusalem if they believe in God, four out of five will say "no." What's fascinating is that if you don't ask the question directly, it's possible to demonstrate to them that they do believe in God. Why? They are influenced by the society, the educational system and their friends to think that they don't believe in God.

Do you want to demonstrate to someone that deep down they not only believe in God, but that they believe that God loves them? Here are the questions to ask: 1) Did you ever pray? (Do not be snotty and ask "to whom?") 2) Were your prayers ever answered? (most everybody says "yes") 3) What did you do to "bribe" God to answer your prayer? (In truth, one can't bribe God with anything; God has no needs. He doesn't need our prayers or our praises. Actually, prayer is to change us, not Him -- but that's another topic...) 4) If you didn't do anything to "bribe" God, then God did it just for you -- does that mean that God loves you? Most people are able to appreciate the concept and accept it.

What does it mean to believe in God? All good discussions must start with a definition or one ends up going in circles. Belief is a point on a continuum of knowledge from no knowledge to absolute knowledge. The more evidence that you have, the stronger the belief. (This is in opposition to "faith" which is an emotional leap to a conclusion). The Torah concept of God is that of Creator, Sustainer and Supervisor of the universe and all that is within it. We believe that God is all-knowing, all-good, all-powerful. He has a personal relationship with every human being; he loves us and wants only good for us.

Why do people not believe in God? 1) because there is evil in the world; bad things happen to good people ("Where was God during the holocaust?" -- by the way, "Where was man during the holocaust?") 2) they look at belief in God as a crutch for losers who can't make it on their own 3) if there is a God, it implies that there is purpose to creation, values to live by and ultimately restrictions. People do not like restrictions in their lives.

It is my experience that the third reason is the real reason -- people do not want restrictions on their desires. Think about it -- the existence of God is independent of our approval or disapproval of the way He runs the world (or what part he leaves to our free will) -- or whether people use God as an excuse or a crutch.

When a person says he's an atheist, you can point out to him that an atheist is one who has evidence that there is no God. Then you can ask, "What is your evidence?" Most people will back off and say, "Really, I am an agnostic." Then you can clarify that an agnostic is one who has evidence that a person cannot know if there is a God. You may then ask him, "What is your evidence that you cannot know?" More than likely the response will be, "Maybe I need to look into the question of whether God exists more deeply."

By the way, to prove that God does not exist, one would need to know all things that do exist and be able to search out the whole universe and all dimensions. It's impossible.

The truth? Many, if not most, of us have never thought that deeply or systematically about the topic. However, it is probably the most important question of our lives. If there truly is a God who created life with a purpose, doesn't it make sense to find out why and what He wants for us and from us?

How can one intelligently deal with the question of the existence of God? Start on and search the articles on "God" and "Evidence of God". Go to (search "evidence") and listen to the four lectures "Evidence of God's Existence" by Rav Noah Weinberg (the founder and head of Aish HaTorah and my teacher). Also, I highly recommend Permission to Believe by Lawrence Kelemen available at your local Jewish bookstore, at or by calling toll-free to 877-758-3242.


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Torah Portion of the week

Vayetze, Genesis 28:10 - 32:3

This week we have the trials and tribulations of Jacob living with and working for his father-in-law, Laban. Jacob agreed to work as a shepherd 7 years for Rachel only to have Laban switch daughters on him at the marriage ceremony. (This is why we have the bedekin, the lifting of the veil, at traditional weddings -- to ensure one is marrying the right bride.)

As Jacob tries to build his equity, Laban changes their agreement time after time. After 20 years, the Almighty tells Jacob the time has come to return to the land of Canaan. Jacob and his household secretly leave only to be pursued by Laban who has claims to put forth. The story ends with peace and blessings between Jacob and Laban.

* * *

Dvar Torah
from Twerski on Chumash by Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, M.D.

The Torah states:

"Jacob spoke up and said to Laban, 'What is my transgression? What is my sin that you have (so) hotly pursued me?' "(Gen. 31:36)

When Rachel left, she stole her father's idols and concealed them. Laban pursued Jacob and angrily demanded, "Why did you steal my gods?" (Gen. 31:30)

One of the Torah commentaries said that Jacob's statement, in addition to being a complaint against Laban, was also a self-reprimand by Jacob. In essence Jacob was saying, "Here Laban forms a search group to pursue me for seven days in order to retrieve his worthless idols. And am I, knowing the true God, exerting as much effort to come close to Him?"

How much we value something is indicated by how much effort we are willing to exert to acquire or retain it. A recovering drug addict may not attend a recovery group because he doesn't have a car. However, if he wanted to buy cocaine he'd walk miles even in icy weather to get his drug!

When Jacob saw the effort that Laban exerted to retrieve his idols, he took himself to task. Seeing the effort that some people put forth for things of questionable importance, we should do a soul-searching on how much effort we are ready to expend for clarifying our beliefs and observing the mitzvos.


Candle Lighting Times

November 20
(or go to

Jerusalem 4:02
Guatemala 5:12 - Hong Kong 5:21 - Honolulu 5:30
J'Burg 6:19 - London 3:47 - Los Angeles 4:29
Melbourne 7:57 - Mexico City 5:38 - Miami 5:12
New York 4:16 - Singapore 6:34 - Toronto 4:30

Quote of the Week

An atheist cannot find God for the same reason
a thief cannot find a policeman



In Loving Memory of

Avraham ben Kalman
Shayna bas Yakov

May their neshamos
have an aliya
Paul & Helaine Kurlansky


With Deep Appreciation to

Sebastian & Rachel


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