Past Weekly Shabbat Message
Jewish Heritage
Rabbi Dovid Saks
(Torah Portion Vayechi) Hand in Hand

At the onset of my recent trip to Israel, the El Al security detail at Newark airport asked me a list of standard questions. His final question was, “Are you carrying a weapon of any type?” I said, “Yes.” He was quite surprised by my response, and before he was able to ask what it was, I said, “Halshon Sheli – my tongue / words.” He smiled and shook his head in agreement.

We think of words as being a weapon for destroying someone through spreading gossip, slander or lies. Surprisingly, words are considered weapons in the positive sense as well. Our forefather Yaacov describes his prayers and supplications to G-d as “My sword and my bow.”

Commentators explain that there are two types of prayers; one is like the sword which is intrinsically sharp and can inflict injury merely by touch; the other type of prayer is compared to an arrow, which injures through the strength and force of its thrust.

The set and established prayers that we recite are compared to a sword – they are intrinsically potent whether one has specific concentration or not. Then there are personal prayers and supplications that can be potent only if one has concentration. Prayers recited with concentration have boosters and thrusters which deploy them to the Heavens like an arrow - these prayers can be most effective.

Because of our forefather Yaacov’s extreme righteousness he was deeply connected with the spiritual workings of the Heavens. He was a prophet and thus aware of future happenings. Just before Yaacov’s death, he called his twelve sons to gather around him to give his last will and testament. Yaacov also wished to inform his children the time of the final redemption. When they gathered around Yaacov, the time of the redemption slipped his mind and he became frightened because he felt that it must have happened because there was a spiritual flaw within his children.

His children alleviated his fears when they proclaimed the statement of allegiance to the Almighty, “Shema Yisroel Hashem Elokainu Hashem Echad.”

Actually, G-d withdrew the information from Yaacov because he was afraid that if they knew the redemption would arrive way past their lifespan, his descendants would give up hope.

Yaacov gave each of his children a specific blessing and directed them on their mission in life. He then gave them all a general blessing. The reason for this cumulative blessing was so that they would each get a share of the blessings of the other tribes, thus solidifying all the tribes of Israel with a unified mission.

Yaacov also blessed two of his grandchildren, Yosef’s sons, Efraim and Menashe. The Torah tells us that Yaacov stretched out his hands laying them on the heads of Efraim and Menashe and blessing them. We eternalize the blessing Yaacov gave to his grandchildren by bestowing it on our children while we rest our hands on their heads. What is it about channeling blessings through one’s hands? The great Kabalist, Rabainu Bechaya explains that Yaacov introduced the concept of transferring wisdom and energy through one’s hands!

In fact throughout our tradition, we find that hands accomplish many things. They are the conduit of bestowing blessings; the symbol of belief in G-d; and they transmit and pass on, our wisdom, leadership, sanctification and regret. A Kohain – priest, when he blesses the congregation from the Bimah, raises and outstretches his hands (in a specific manner).

When the Jews battled with our hateful nemesis, the nation of Amalek, in the desert, the Torah relates that in the battlefield Moshe’s held his hands towards the Heavens as a symbol of their faith in G-d, and they were thereby victorious. When Moshe transferred the mantle of leadership of the Jewish people to Yehoshua, he laid his hands (Semicha) upon Yehoshua. When a person offered an animal as an atonement sacrifice in the Temple, he would admit his guilt and thus transfer his sins while resting his hands on the animal.

Before a Kohain entered the Temple to perform the service he was required to wash his hands (and feet). We borrow this same concept each morning upon awaking, when we wash our hands with a cup alternately three times on each hand. We begin our day by sanctifying our hands, similar to the way a Kohain began his service in the Temple, to demonstrate that our daily living will be one that is sanctified and faithful. The washing also removes any impurities that rested upon one’s hands during his sleep.

Getting back to parents conferring blessing upon their children. Through our expression of blessings while our hands are upon our children’s heads, we transmit onto our children the wellsprings of our belief in G-d and the principles of the wisdom of Torah and tradition that we’ve acquired. We genuinely hope that they will do the same to their children. These genuine parental prayers have much power attached to them and they are the kind that reaches the high Heavens!

Wishing you a restful, peaceful and inspirational Shabbos!
Rabbi Dovid Saks