Who would you expect  to win in a battle of good vs. evil?

Based on childhoods of reading fairy tales and watching Disney movies, we would like to believe that the “good guys” are supposed to come out on top. And yet, in Al HaNisim we thank Hashem for all the miracles and wonders – including the victory of the heroes – as if it was unnatural! Certainly, rabim b’yad m’atim (the many in the hands of the few) is miraculous, as the larger army would figure to have a major advantage. But why is r’sha’im b’yad tzadikim (the wicked in the hands of the righteous) so surprising? Would we have expected evil to have the upper hand?

What does it really mean to be a shomer Torah u’mitzvos? 

As Yaakov Avinu prepared for their showdown, he sent Eisav a critical message: im Lavan garti, with Lavan I have lived (B’reishis 32:5). Rashi points out that the Hebrew word garti has the numerical value 613, hinting to taryag mitzvos shamarti. In other words, Yaakov was warning Eisav that despite the decades he spent living in the house of the evil Lavan, he had remained observant of all the mitzvos. This merit would protect Yaakov from any attacks Eisav may have been planning.

 For Jews, grappling with the physical and spiritual presence of Israel is not optional. Why is this relationship crucial? Israel is part of an unbreakable, interdependent triad that includes G-d and the Torah. All Jews are the Children of Israel. We are united as the offspring of Jacob/Israel, whose children formed the 12 Tribes, the progenitors of our extended family. Furthermore, we are all connected with Eretz Yisrael, the geographic entity of the Land of Israel. This tiny country is not just another global travel destination for Jews; most feel a palpable sense of holiness there and awareness that they are “home.”

If I were to ask you, “What is the wealthiest place in the universe?” – what would you answer? You might suggest the banks, the diamond mines, or something along these lines. But in a sense, the wealthiest place in the world is the graveyard. Why?

 Chanukah

There was once a public debate between a rabbi and an astrophysicist regarding the nature of our universe. The astrophysicist, representing the atheist perspective, confidently approached the podium and began addressing the audience: “I don’t know much about Judaism, but I believe I can sum it up in a few words: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” With that, he went on to detail how physicists could now adequately explain the nature of our universe, without the need for religion. When he finished his speech, it was the rabbi’s turn to address the audience and represent the religious approach. With a sparkle in his eye, he turned to the crowd, and said: “I don’t know much about astrophysics, but I believe I can sum it up in a few words: Twinkle, twinkle, little star, / How I wonder what you are!” With that, he went on to deliver the rest of his speech.

What makes something a “real” experience? 

After marrying two sisters a mere week apart, the Torah says that Yaakov loved Rachel even more than he loved Leah (29:30). The clear implication is that he loved Leah, as well, albeit to a lesser degree. Surprisingly, the very next verse states that Hashem saw that Leah was hated, so He blessed her to bear Yaakov’s first children to gain his affection.