Many students and even rabbis are familiar with numerous interpretations on the Torah portion of the week, but do not know how to express the literal callings revealed to our Forefathers in the Torah * The series of books ‘Be-darka Shel Torah’ (‘In the Path of the Torah’), which indeed is intended for children, holds a great blessing in that it presents the words of the Torah in their literal meaning, and emphasizes the main messages of the Torah itself * The recurring message in the stories of our forefathers is their destiny and that of their seed, to be an example and a blessing to all the families of the earth
This year, Rabbi Yair Weitz shlita, a rabbi of the Har Bracha Institute, merited finishing the five book series of ‘Be-darka Shel Torah’ on the Five Books of the Torah. The series is intended for children, but teenagers, parents and teachers can benefit from it as well.
Rabbi Yair Weitz’s objective is to focus mainly on the peshat of the Torah (the literal meaning), and the way the Torah clarifies the most important and fundamental values in it. Indeed, the fundamental words of our Sages are also presented, clarifying the Torah and completing the picture, but in a way that it is clear they are an addition of our Sages.
In this way, the central values of the Torah are highlighted, such as the mitzvah of Yishuv ha-Aretz (settling the Land), which is equal to all the mitzvahs combined, as well as the role of the People of Israel to bring blessing to all nations, which is mentioned in all the founding, divine revelations to our Forefathers. This is evident in comparison to other books written for children, none of which mention that one of the main missions of the People of Israel is to bring blessing to all nations. This is striking when compared to other books written for children, none of which mentions that one of the main callings of the People of Israel is to bring blessings to all nations. This is because the revelations to the Forefathers, in which the mission God gave to Israel is expressed, do not receive the proper place they deserve. For example, no book expresses the founding revelation of God to Isaac when he asked to go down to Egypt, which conveys the value of the Land and the People, and the vision to bring blessing to all nations.
Similarly, the great majority of books ignore the words of God’s angel to Abraham after the binding of Isaac, which of course also contains the blessing for the People of Israel and their destiny to inherit the Land, and bring blessing to all nations. Indeed, one book did mention the revelation of the angel who promised Abraham his seed would multiply, but without mentioning the Land of Israel and the mission of the People of Israel to bring blessing to all nations. Instead, it mixed in the Midrash, writing that God told Abraham that when his sons blow the shofar their sins would be forgiven, without the readers being able to distinguish between what is written in the Torah, and the interpretation of our Sages. Indeed, each book has its own merits – some touch the hearts of children better, and others emphasize the fascinating stories. However, it seems that when the most important foundations are omitted, the main point is missing from the book, and in order to emphasize the main idea, or at least complete it, it is worth studying ‘Be-darka Shel Torah’.
For those who don’t understand how big and glaring a disadvantage this is, try asking people who have heard the weekly Torah portion for years, and even studied in yeshivot, what God said to our forefathers, Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, and you will find that many do not know. There are circles whose rabbis also do not know how to answer this. They are well versed in numerous interpretations, but they did not pay attention to the great destiny that God gave to Israel, His People, to live a Torah life in the Land of Israel, and thereby bring blessing to all families of the earth. When this basic introduction is missing, the understanding of all the halakhot and Midrashim is lost.
The First Revelation to Abraham Our Forefather
God’s first revelation to Abraham is of special importance. In one book, it is not mentioned at all. Others mentioned the instruction to go to the land of Canaan, without mentioning the blessing that the People of Israel would gain by doing so, or the blessing that the People of Israel should bring to all nations, and without the promise of the inheritance of the Land that Abraham received after arriving there. In contrast, this is what is written in ‘Be-darka Shel Torah’: “Leave your country and your family, to the Land I will show you. There I will make you an important person, and bless your seed that it will multiply greatly, and merit great blessing. Whoever helps you there – I will bless him as well. In addition, whoever tries to harm you – will be cursed. And when I bless you – the blessing will be upon all the nations of the lands as well… God appeared to Avram at Elon Moreh, saying: ‘I will give this Land to your seed.’ When Avram heard this, he built an altar and offered sacrifices on it, to thank God for the joyful news God told him, that his descendants are the ones who will be privileged to live in the most special Land of all lands.”
God’s Oath after the Binding of Isaac
There are books that did not mention the binding of Isaac, and others mentioned it while emphasizing the Midrash about the Satan who hindered Abraham and Isaac on their way to Mount Moriah, without mentioning the blessing to the People of Israel that God swore to them after the binding. Even those who mentioned the blessing to the People of Israel did not mention the oath about the Land of Israel, and Israel’s destiny to bring blessing to all nations. In contrast, in ‘Be-darka Shel Torah’, God’s oath is given in its entirety: “After that, God’s angel once again called Abraham, and said to him in God’s name: ‘Since you stood the test and did not refuse to offer Isaac before Me as a sacrifice, I swear by My great name, that I will bless your descendants and make them like the stars of the heavens, and like the sand on the seashore. I will also help them defeat their enemies in wars, and inherit the Land I gave them, and all the nations will be blessed in their merit.” By writing the conclusion that all nations will be blessed in their merit, the readers will be able to better understand the meaning of the binding of Isaac, and the meaning of all the mitzvot that God gave to Israel, all of which aim to bring blessing to the world.
The Story of Abraham’s Servant sent to find a Wife for Isaac
The story of the oath Abraham swore to his servant is not mentioned in most children’s books. In one, it is indeed mentioned, but it was only written that Abraham swore to his servant that he should not take a wife from the daughters of Canaan, and that if he did not find a woman who would agree to come, he would be free from the oath without noting that the Torah emphasized that it would be better for Isaac to marry a wife from the daughters of Canaan, but most importantly, not to leave the Land and go to Haran. Abraham’s words that God, who swore to give the Land to his seed, would send an angel to help him find a suitable wife for Isaac were also not mentioned there. In ‘Be-darka Shel Torah’ this matter is presented in detail: “The servant asked: ‘And if the woman I find in Haran does not want to leave her family and move to live in a land she is not familiar with, should I return Isaac to Haran, to the land from which you came?’ ‘God forbid’, Abraham said, horrified. ‘Be careful not to return my son there! I hope and pray that the God of Heaven, who took me from Haran, and promised and swore to me that He would give my children the good Land, will send an angel help you find a good wife who will come with you to Israel. But if God does not want Isaac to take a wife from there, and she does not agree to leave her country – you may look for a wife from the daughters of Canaan for Isaac, but the main thing is not to take Isaac out of the Land.”
God’s Command to Isaac to Remain in the Land
In the other books, there is no mention at all of the famine in the days of Isaac and his desire to go down to Egypt, as well as God’s instruction that he should remain in the Land. Consequently, the promise of the blessing of the People and the Land, and the mission to bring a blessing to all non-Jews is missing. In contrast, in ‘Be-darka Shel Torah’, this story is presented in its entirety: “When he arrived in the land of the Philistines, which is on the way to Egypt, God appeared to Isaac and said: ‘Do not go down to Egypt, continue to live in the good Land. Remain in the land of the Philistines at the border of the land of Canaan, because this land belongs to you and your seed, as I swore to Abraham. Do not fear the severe famine, for I will watch over you and send my blessing that the land will bring forth its fruits for you in a good way, and you will not feel hunger. God continued to say, ‘”I will bless your seed that it shall multiply like the stars of the sky, and they will fill the entire good Land, and all the nations will also be blessed by the blessing I will bless your descendants.”
Jacob’s Dream in Bet El
In some of the children’s books, God’s promise to Jacob at Bet El that his seed would multiply and inherit the Land is not mentioned. Even in those books that do, Israel’s great mission to bring blessing to all nations is not mentioned. Other books that mention the essential promises to Jacob are drowned in a sea of Midrashim, such as the Midrash about Eliphaz pursuing Jacob, or that Jacob studied Torah for fourteen years in the Beit Midrash (learning hall), or that the sun hastened to set and he prayed the evening prayer, as well as the Midrash about the stones that quarreled over who the righteous man would lay his head on. However, the matter of Israel’s great destiny, which is explicitly explained in the verses of the Torah, is mentioned only briefly, and partially.
In ‘Be-darka Shel Torah’, the promise and destiny are mentioned in full: “Jacob then heard in a dream, God standing there, saying: ‘I am the Lord, the God of your fathers Abraham and Isaac. Do not be afraid that you have taken the blessings from Esau by deceit. Because they are meant for you, and to your seed I will give the Land on which you are now lying – the Chosen Land. I will also bless your seed that they will multiply greatly like the particles of dust, and thus, they will spread to all the Land, to its length and breadth, and in their merit, all the nations will be blessed as well.”
In the rest of the books, there is no reference of the fact that Jacob our father was a diligent and faithful worker. Incidentally, teachers once visited me from a Talmud Torah. One of their questions was how to teach about Jacob our father working diligently. Seemingly, they said, this is bitul Torah (a waste of Torah learning time); wouldn’t it be more appropriate if Yaakov our father had spent all his time learning in the Beit Midrash? I answered: On the contrary! In order to eradicate this mistake, we have to teach about the diligence of our father Jacob, and mention the words of our Sages about Jacob: “Work is cherished more than zechut avot (ancestral merit), because the merit of his ancestors saved property, while the merit of Jacob’s dedicated work, saved his life.” (Bereshit Rabbah 74:12).
This essential concept is completely absent from all the other books, but in the book ‘Be-darka Shel Torah’ this matter is, of course, mentioned: “Jacob continued to prove Laban, to the point where he suspected him of being a thief: ‘For twenty years I faithfully worked for you; the sheep or goats never aborted because I didn’t take good care of them. I also never ate one of the rams as the other shepherds do. If an animal preyed on one of the flock, or a thief came and stole a sheep or a goat from the flock – I always paid you for it. I worked for you even at the height of the heat of the day, and at the height of the cold of the night, and I stayed up late to take care of your sheep. I did all this for you faithfully.”
These are some examples of stories and fundamental elements absent from children’s books, or told in such a way that the main point is missing from the book. In the books ‘Be-darka Shel Torah’, emphasis is placed on these messages, which are the heart of the Torah and its values.
This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.