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Vayetzei 5767

Vayetzei (Genesis 28:10-32:3 )

by Kalman Packouz

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GOOD MORNING! What is the value of a life? If the situation arose, should you murder one person to save a million lives? What if that person were a 99 year old person who had already lived out the prime years of his life? If we value life, this would seem to be the right decision.

Yet, most of us intuitively know that this can't be right. It is wrong to murder an innocent 99 year old person, even if it would guarantee the cure for cancer. Unfortunately, this dilemma is not just theoretical. In the Holocaust and Halacha, a concentration camp inmate asked a rabbi the following question: "The Nazis have imprisoned one hundred children who they plan to murder tomorrow morning. My son is among them. I can bribe the guard to free my son, but if I do, the Nazis will grab someone else's son to replace mine. Rabbi, may I bribe the guards to free him?"

The rabbi refused to answer. From his silence, the father derived the rabbi's answer -- he was forbidden to free his son at the expense of someone else's life.

The Talmud, discussing a similar predicament, states, "How do you know your blood is redder? Maybe his blood is redder?" Rashi, commenting on the Talmud, elucidates: "Who knows that your blood is more precious and more dear to your Creator than the blood of someone else?" How can one weigh the value of one life against the value of another? How can one know which person is more precious? Each individual is an entire world.

This makes sense when dealing with one life versus another. However, how does it explain saving one life at the expense of a million? Can't we say with confidence that in God's eyes millions of lives are more precious than one?

At the heart of this issue is how one measures the value of life. Every person is born with a unique personality and set of circumstances and a certain amount of potential for growth. Where we begin is beyond our control. However, we are responsible for where we end up and the choices we make along the way.

A person's real worth is the result of the choices he makes in his effort to grow. To determine the value of his life we must take every factor and detail of his existence into account. The complexities involved in making such a judgment are staggering -- which is exactly why no human being is in the position to judge the worth of another. No one knows the challenges of another person or his potential or what the Almighty expects from him. We can never measure someone's true value. That is God's business alone. And it is never a good idea to play God.

We can judge another person's actions, but not his worth. These two judgments are separate, the former belonging to man and the latter belonging only to God. Therefore, whether it is a million lives or millions of lives versus one 99 year old person, maybe that one life is more precious and dear to the Almighty. How can we know? The issue has nothing to do with numbers. The judgment is not ours to make, no matter how many lives are involved.

The Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 37a, teaches us "If a person destroys a life, it is as if he destroyed an entire world. If a person saves a life, it is as if he saved an entire world." Each and every life has value, tremendous value!

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(The above piece is based on a chapter in the Aish HaTorah book, Shmooze -- A Guide to Thought-Provoking Discussions on Essential Jewish Issues by Nechemia Coopersmith. It was created for students returning from their studies at Aish in the Old City of Jerusalem to have discussions with their college roommates. It is excellent for discussion with your children if you would like to discuss love, friends, marriage, free will, happiness, self-respect, intermarriage, intolerance, faith and knowledge, gossip... and more. It is 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

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.

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Dvar Torah
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

The Torah states:

"And (Jacob) had a dream and in his dream there was a ladder standing on the ground and its top reached the Heavens" (Genesis 28:12).

What insight into life can we learn from this dream?

The Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Yisroel Meir Kagan, cites the idea expressed by many commentators that the ladder Jacob saw in his dream symbolizes the situation of every person in this world. There are two actions a person performs on a ladder. Either he goes up from the bottom to the top, or else he goes down from the top to the bottom. A person faces new challenges every day of his life. If he has the willpower and self-discipline to overcome those challenges, he goes up in his spiritual level. If, however, a person fails to exercise the necessary self-control, he lowers himself.
This is our daily task, to climb higher every day.

There is no standing in one place. When challenges arise, you will either behave in an elevated manner and grow from the experience or you will fail. Learn to appreciate the daily challenges that face you. Every difficulty is a means of elevating yourself. Every time you overcome a negative impulse you grow as a person. When a person climbs a ladder, he feels his progress with each step. So, too, with your daily victories over your negative impulses. Feel your progress and you will have the motivation to continue climbing.

Whenever you see a ladder, let it serve as a reminder of Jacob's ladder.
When passing near a ladder ask yourself, "Am I presently climbing in my spiritual level or am I going down?" If you ever answer that you are going down, do not despair. Rather, strengthen yourself and start climbing from where you are.

... and one additional Dvar Torah to give encouragement and strength in these trying times:

The Almighty told Jacob in a dream: "And your descendants will be like the dust of the earth." (Genesis 28:16).
What kind of blessing is this?
Everyone tramples upon the dust of the earth!

The Almighty foretold to Jacob the many trials and travails that the Jewish people would face throughout history -- the exiles, the persecutions, the confiscations, the pressures to deny our heritage. The Almighty also shared with Jacob an important point of consolation -- in the end, in the final days of redemption, in the time of the Moshiach (Messiah), the Jewish people will overcome our tormentors and prove victorious -- just as one who tramples the dust of the earth is in the end covered by that very same dust of the earth.

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Never confuse movement with action -- Ernest
-- Lily Tomlin

With Great Appreciation to
Michael Green
Hong Kong
for his friendship & support

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