Blog: November 2004

Most of these posts were originally posted somewhere else and link to the originals. While this blog is not set up for comments, the original locations generally are, and I welcome comments there. Sorry for the inconvenience.


I chanted torah Saturday morning and it went pretty well -- despite my forgetting to do my "lucky" read-through right before leaving for services. I can't believe I forgot to chant it once at home on Shabbat morning; that's the first time I've failed to do that final sanity check. So I was a little nervous, but it went ok. Made a couple mistakes, but that's what the checker is for and Bruce is a very good checker. (There is an art to delivering a correction without throwing the reader.)

When I got there someone had already rolled the scroll, but it wasn't in the right place. He got the aliya starting point from Hertz. I made a similar mistake a month or so ago, and assumed that I had somehow misread the chumash. Once I was willing to attribute to human error; twice makes me suspicious. So far Eitz Chayim, Trope Trainer, and the K'tav tikkun all seem to agree on where the aliyot begin, and the couple of times we've consulted Hertz we've gone wrong. I conclude that Hertz is using a different system, though I don't know what. I'll warn the other readers to steer clear until we find out what's going on.


We're reading the third aliya this year. This is the part of Vayeitze where Lavan tricks Yaakov into marrying Leah instead of Rachel, and then gets an extra seven years of work out of him for Rachel as well. Lavan cheated Yaakov -- that's the way we usually talk about this. But really, Lavan damaged more people than just Yaakov. For one, he damaged Rachel, who ended up being relegated to a secondary position while competing with her sister for the rest of her life. But the greatest damage, I think, is the wrong Lavan did to Leah.

Think about the message he sent her: you cannot succeed on your own; the only way you'll get married is to be deceptive. What a horrible thing for a parent to say to a child -- that the child is some sort of loser. And Leah obviously agreed with the assessment, because she went along with the deception.

But Lavan wasn't doing her any favors. She, too, ended up in a lifetime of competition with her sister. After each child she had she said "maybe now Yaakov will love me"; this clearly was not a happy marriage for her. So by violating the marriage contract, Lavan condemned Leah to an unhappy life.

Lavan had an obligation to help his daughter, and presumably he thought he was doing that. But as we see, his method of helping wasn't correct.

We all have the obligation to help those around us who are less fortunate -- in our families, in our local communities, and in the world at large. This is what tikkun olam is all about. But as we learn from Lavan, methods matter at least as much as intentions.

It's sometimes tempting to compensate for a deficiency rather than addressing it directly. Instead of dealing with the issues that made Leah unattractive as a wife, Lavan duped someone into marrying her. Sometimes we find it easier to give a financial hand-out than to train someone for a job with which to earn a living. When we have a slow learner, sometimes we lower the standards to let the student pass through anyway. We can all think of other examples, I'm sure.

The desire to help, while of course commendable, isn't enough. We also need to find ways of helping that lift people up with dignity instead of destroying their self-esteem and keeping them down.