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Bereishit 5764


Bereishit (Genesis 1:1-6:8 )

by Kalman Packouz

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GOOD MORNING!  What is the value of keeping your word? What is the value of keeping Shabbos (the Sabbath)? Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with Morris Engelson, a stalwart of the Kesser Israel (the Meade Street shul) that my great-grandfather helped found close to 100 years ago in Portland, Oregon. In our conversation, Morris mentioned that he was a Holocaust survivor. I expressed my surprised since Morris is relatively young that he survived the Holocaust.

Morris smiled and said, "You're right. Few children survived the Holocaust. My family was hidden for several years by a non-Jewish family and even that was relatively rare. The Nazis rewarded those who turned in Jews with a bag of flour or sugar and "rewarded" those who hid Jews with a bullet. Non-Jews were generally not keen to hide Jews unless they had money, but when the money ran out they would often turn in the Jews. How we survived really goes back to the story of my grandfather."

Morris continued, "My grandfather was a grain merchant. Generally, he would buy grain from the feudal lords in Poland and sell it to the mills. However, he had one farmer who owned his own land with whom he had a good relationship. One day a flour mill became available for purchase. My grandfather had no money of his own, but he had a plan to present to the farmer to loan him the money for a very substantial return."

"The farmer agreed to the plan and gave my grandfather his whole crop to sell and then to use the proceeds to buy the mill. My grandfather stored the farmer's grain in a silo in order to sell it. The next Shabbat there was a fire in the silo (they suspected the other mill owners, but nothing was proven). Since there was no danger to human life, the halacha (Jewish law) is clear. The fire may not be put out. All of the grain was burnt.

"My grandfather went to the farmer and explained what had happened; he reassured him that he would repay every zloty that he had promised in the original deal, he just needed time. There was no way the farmer could have collected from my father; there really was no recourse for the farmer. Yet for the next 20 years my grandfather paid the farmer until the debt was finished. He never bought the mill.

"Then along came Hitler, yimach shmo v'zichrono (may his name and his memory be blotted out) and started killing the Jews of Poland. My father went to the two sons of the farmer and made them this proposition: 'Hitler will not win this war. I have lost almost my whole family already, many brothers and sisters. If you will hide me and my family, whatever I inherit from them will be yours.'

"The brothers conferred. Then one of them told my father, 'Over 20 years ago your father made a promise to our father and he kept it. We know you will keep your promise. We will hide you.' "

One can look at this story and learn the value of keeping one's word to one's fellow human being, the value of integrity. However, there is even a deeper lesson. When the Jewish people were at Mt. Sinai, we accepted upon ourselves to keep the Torah. We said, "We will do and we will understand." Rashi, the great commentator, tells us that all of the souls of the Jewish people for all times were there at Mt. Sinai and agreed to the covenant with the Almighty to observe His Torah.

When Morris' grandfather didn't extinguish the fire in the silo that Shabbos, he was expressing perhaps even a greater level of integrity to keep the covenant of the Almighty by not breaking the Shabbos. His grandfather could have put out the fire. He knew the consequences of his action, the great loss financially, the loss of his dream of owning a mill and perhaps being a rich man. It is likely that Morris' grandfather's commitment to the farmer was rooted in his understanding that there is a God Who has set forth standards for us to keep in relating to our fellow human beings and keeping these standards is as an important part of the covenant as is keeping the Shabbos.

Torah Portion of the Week

The Five Books of Moses begins with the Six Days of Creation, the Shabbat, the story of the Garden of Eden - the first transgression, consequences and expulsion, Cain & Abel, the ten generations to Noah, the Almighty sees the wickedness of man in that generation and decrees to "blot out man" (i.e.. the flood).

One of the most profound verses in the whole Torah is "And God created man in His own Image." Since God does not have a physical being, this means that we are endowed with free-will, morality, reason and the ability to emulate God Who bestows kindness. Also, if we really appreciate that we are created in the image of God, we realize that we have intrinsic worth. Therefore, there is no need to be depressed wondering if you have intrinsic worth!


Dvar Torah
heard in the name of Rabbi Isaac Bernstein, o.b.m.

The Torah states regarding the creation of fish and fowl on the fifth day of Creation:

"And God blessed them saying, 'Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas and the fowl shall increase on the land.' " (Genesis 1:22)

Rashi explains that the Almighty gave the fish and the fowl this special blessing because man will catch them for food. Man was not created until the sixth day. Why was the blessing given here?

The Ramban, Nachmanides, teaches us an important lesson about life from the Almighty giving a blessing before the actual need arises. We must learn to be sensitive to others and to anticipate what their needs will be - to give them a blessing beforehand and to help them before it is a crisis situation.


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Jerusalem  4:23
Guatemala 5:18  Hong Kong 5:33  Honolulu 5:41
J'Burg 6:01  London 5:31  Los Angeles 5:49
Melbourne 6:23  Miami 6:27  Moscow 4:52

New York 5:45  Singapore  6:34


Adversity introduces a man to himself.
--  Albert Einstein

With Special Thanks to
Bruce & June Kamins
for dedicating this edition

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