“There is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9) This of course also applies to the topics we humans love to fight about. For millennia we’ve been arguing about the ideal temperature in the house in winter time, and an entirely different argument about the ideal temperature in summer time. We argue about the benefits of window seats vs aisle seats, we argue about mild vs hot salsa, beach vs ski vacations, and we argue about disciplining our children with punishment vs. prizes.  We argue about politics, we argue about sports, we argue about the definition of happiness, we argue about the meaning of life, and we argue about nature vs nurture.

Are people born a specific way, with precise proclivities, preferences, and personality, or are they born a blank slate, and their lived experiences are what create their proclivities, preferences and personality? Are people born with anger or do they become an angry person because their parents always yelled at them? Are people born generous, or are they generous because their friends all shared their Legos openly? What determines the jobs we choose, the type of cars we like, or our favorite subjects in school?

If you’ve already made up your mind, I won’t try to convince you, but if you are still not sure, allow me to tell you a story that might sway you to the nature side of the argument. (By the way, what determines if we are open to changing our mind or if we stick to our opinions at all cost despite mounting evidence to the contrary? Nature or Nurture? Hmmm..)

In 1940, a young mother came into a hospital in Ohio and gave birth to twin boys, one more baby than she was expecting, (this was before ultrasounds) and a bit too much for her to handle. Three weeks later, she put them both up for adoption, but the adoption agency didn’t have anyone asking to take a pair of babies home, so they gave the boys to the next two families on their lists. They told each family that their child was one of twins, but the other twin “didn’t make it.”

The first baby was adopted by the Lewis family from Lima, OH and the other one was adopted by the Springer family of Piqua, OH. By chance, both of their families named them James, and as they grew up they were both called Jim. The mother of Jim Lewis went to the Miami County, OH courthouse to settle some final adoption paperwork, when her adoptive son was 16 months old. The clerk reviewed the file and then mentioned, “oh, they named the other one Jim too!” and she immediately realized that the other twin didn’t die and was somewhere out there. She encouraged her son to seek out his birth brother, but it took 37 years for that to happen. Jim Lewis corresponded with the court for a few months until finally they gave reached out to the Springers and gave them Jim Lewis’s contact number

On Feb 5, 1979, Jim Lewis came home from work and found a message to call Jim Springer. He did and as soon as Springer picked up, Lewis blurted out, “Are you my brother?” Springer answered with a simple, “Yup,” and their lives changed forever. They met four days later, and found that they had been living almost identical lives despite having never met, and they had been just 45 miles from each other the whole time. Here is a list of just a few of the ways they were similar:

Both married girls named Linda

Both divorced girls named Linda

Both then got married to women named Betty

Both had one son

Both named that son James Alan (although the Springers spelled their son’s name James Allan)

Both had a dog they named Toy that they were super attached to

Both of them drove the same car, a Chevrolet

Both of them experienced frequent tension headaches

Both of them were chain smokers

Both smoked the same brand of cigarette

Both of them excelled at math in school, and hated spelling

Both of them enjoyed woodworking as a hobby

Both of them were nail biters

Both of them worked in the security industry, one as a security guard one as a deputy sheriff

They even both vacationed at the same beach in Florida!

When Dr. Thomas Bouchard, a noted psychologist who conducted many studies of twins separated at birth, heard about the Jims, he arranged for them to come to his lab at University of Minnesota within two weeks so that he could study them, before their memories would be contaminated by conversations and reminiscing. Remarkably, not only did share an almost identical medical history, and not only were the results to their personality test uncannily similar, they even had brain waves that almost perfectly matched!

You can think whatever you want about nature vs nurture, but the Jim twins are one of the strongest indicators that there’s more nature than people would think. Identical twins don’t only share DNA, they share almost everything! The Jims weren’t nurtured the same way, the Lewis and Springer homes were not identical, but they were, because at the end of the day, you are less about how you grew up and much more about who you are.

This week, I saw a story that showed the same message, that you are less about how you grew up and more about who you are, and it brought with it tremendous hope and solace in this difficult time for the Jewish people. The story was a video of three people telling over their story from October 7. Roi and Yona Oseroff are a young couple with two little children from Israel. They were not raised religious, and were the furthest thing from religion, Roi is covered in tattoos all over his body and Yona dresses more Tel Aviv than Mea Shearim, and they spent their Simchat Torah going to a rave, not going to synagogue to dance with the Torah.

On October 7th they went to the Nova rave and for some reason as they parked their car, one of the guys they were with took out a milk carton and put it on the roof of the car, to make it easier to find the company when they party was over.

But at 6:28AM the rockets started raining down and Roi just knew that something terrible was brewing. He looked at his wife and said “Look at me… we are running straight all the way to the car.” They were able to find their car easily among the hundreds of cars because it had that milk carton on top, and as they get closer to the car, Roi takes a selfie video with some grim humor, saying, “I don’t know if this is the last video we ever take, but if it is…” when his wife cuts in, “Stop talking silly, the Creator of the World is with us!” And boy was she right.

They get into their car, Roi, Yona, and two others they came with and they start driving out. A few minutes down the highway, they see on the right side of the highway what looks like a military stop, with a few vans full of heavily armed men, but as they get closer, Roi sees that they have the green headbands of Hamas and suddenly Nati from the back seat screams “ROI SLAM ON THE GAS THEY’RE SHOOTING AT US!” He pushes Yona’s head down puts his own down yells out Shma Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad on the top of his lungs and slams on the gas. Yona prays to herself, “Creator of the world, please bring us back to our daughters!!”

The car goes hurtling forward and the whole group of Hamas monsters start firing at their car. Dozens of bullets go shrieking through the car, the glass is all shattered everywhere, their car has tens of bullet holes, but somehow the people inside made it through without getting touched! Like Yona said, the Creator of the World was with them. As soon as they passed the Hamas slaughter zone, Roi looks in his rear view mirror and sees that there is a huge group of monsters heading back toward the rave. Roi calls his brother Edan who is still there, and tells him what he saw, and says, “you need to get out of there right now!”

Edan went over to where a policeman and policewoman were standing and he says to them, “Quick, you’ve got to evacuate the place! Terrorists just opened fire on my brother as he was leaving here and they are headed this way!!!!!” The policeman looked at him, and says “Are you ok? Do you need some water?” and his partner the policewoman says, “I think you may be having a bad trip, do you want us to call medical?” He says to them, “I’m not on drugs, I’m telling you, my brother just called me, terrorists are about to attack us!!” But by then the gunfire started…

Edan was running and a group of people were about to peel away in a car, and they called to him and said “Come on! Get in!” But something told him not to get in that car, so he told them to just go without him. Soon the bullets were spraying everywhere and all he could do was try to hide and run to the next hiding spot. For five hours he hid and moved and hid from the monsters when suddenly a Jeep showed right in front of his hiding spot and everyone with him ran and jumped into the jeep.

The hardest thing for Edan was driving out of the area of the festival through dozens of burned out cars filled with victims, including his friends car, from which he learned later only one person survived.

In the video, you can see Yona emotionally saying, “Anyone who survived that, it was only through the Creator of the World…” and her husband, the tatted up young secular Jew with the died hair, says, “we need to give Him so much thanks, He watched over us that day, and we need to accept upon ourselves something, so we accepted that we would start honoring the Shabbos Queen!” Edan, similarly tatted and dyed hair, says “It’s now been my fifth Shabbos, and I keep learning so I can keep it fully.” Roi chimes in, “we are strengthening our Judaism,” Yona, “I started covering my hair on Shabbos,” Edan, “I wear Tzitzis now, thank G-d, and tefillin every day, we just keep trying to strengthen ourselves in the merit of the miracles we experienced…”

It’s not how you are raised, it’s who you are. We all have the Nishmas Yisrael, the Jewish Soul, and even if we are raised in a home where it isn’t expressed, even if we grow up with no positive Jewish experiences, that Neshama is who we are, and all it takes is for an experience to shake it loose and it comes out roaring, seeking to connect to the Creator of the World, looking to receive more, to do more.

In the past six weeks we’ve heard hundreds of stories of miracles from October 7th. But even more importantly, we’ve watched a nation come alive, wake up out of ithe Stupor of Exile that allowed infighting to tear us apart and indifference to forget who we are. We now know who we are, and we know what we are here to do. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers started wearing tzitzis for the first time in their lives, Jews of all stripes and backgrounds came together to feed and equip the 340,000 reservists who were called up hastily, millions of prayers are lofted heavenward every day, challah bakes are held all over the world, synagogues are seeing new people show up for services, the whole Jewish world woke up.

At the end of the day, you are less about how you grew up and much more about who you are. 

Am Yisrael Chai!

Parsha Dvar Torah

 Of all of our forefathers, Yaakov is the one classified as an “Ish Emes,” a man of truth. The prophet Micha, when asking G-d to return Israel to its former state of glory, says, “give truth to Yaakov, kindness to Avraham” (Micha 7:20). In this verse, he mentions truth in connection with Yaakov and kindness with Avraham, because these were their unique strong points. However, a cursory glance at this last week’s and this week’s parshiot makes us wonder if Yaakov is indeed the man of truth he is made out to be.

 In last week’s Parsha Yaakov tricked his father into believing he was Eisav in order to get the blessings that Yitzchak gave out before his death. In this week’s parsha we learn of a new scheme of Yaakov’s. While working for his devious father-in-law, Lavan, Yaakov seems to unfairly attain extra wages.

  While Yaakov was shepherding Lavan’s flock, he worked out a deal with Lavan that he would be entitled to any sheep that had a particular wool pattern, sometimes speckled, sometimes ringed, and sometimes spotted. In order to get more sheep Yaakov would take twigs and carve onto them the designs to which he was entitled, and then put those twigs by the troughs. When the animals were in heat they would see those twigs while drinking, and the sheep born from the subsequent cohabitation would have the coat Yaakov desired. I don’t know about you, but to me that seems like a pretty devious way to get extra wages, and one you certainly wouldn’t expect to see from someone classified as an ish emes, a man of truth.

 But the truth is (no pun intended) that we need to better understand what exactly is it that makes someone the pillar of a particular virtue. Is it someone who uses that virtue all the time? No. It is someone who knows exactly when to use the virtue and when to hold it back. It is not the person who takes the virtue to the extreme because extremism is dangerous in any character trait. Rather, it is the person who has perfect control over the trait, always knowing whether to use it or hold it back, that is considered a pillar of a trait.

 We see that Yaakov tells Lavan how he guarded his sheep for twenty years, “These twenty years that I was with you, your ewes and she-goats never miscarried, and I did not eat any rams of your flocks. I never brought you a mutilated animal, I took the blame for it. You demanded compensation from my hand whether [an animal] was stolen from me by day or whether it was stolen from me by night. I was consumed by the burning heat by day and ice at night. My sleep was taken from my eyes.” (Gen. 31:38-40) Even though other shepherds would occasionally eat a sheep of their master, or go into a hut to protect themselves from the elements, Yaakov never engaged in these practices. His watchfulness for the sheep in his care was exemplary. This was so even after Lavan cheated him by giving him a different daughter than the one for whom he had worked for seven years!

However, when it came to dealing with liars and miscreants who wanted to rob him of everything he deserved, Yaakov knew how to withhold his integrity. Even though he bought the firstborn rights from his brother, Eisav still passed himself off before his father as the firstborn in order to merit the blessings Yitzchak wanted to give his firstborn. Yaakov fired back with a salvo of trickery and got back what he deserved. Lavan also played games. He switched Yaakov’s salary terms one hundred times in an attempt to ensure that his son-in-law Yaakov would leave penniless after working faithfully for twenty years! Yaakov pulled another trick out of his hat, and ensured that he did get his proper wages.

This helps us understand why Yaakov is the Ish Emes –  he was generally extremely truthful but, when necessary, he knew how to suppress his natural honesty in order to prevent others from destroying him. A classic example I always use to describe this idea is the guy who comes home from a long day of work, and is greeted by a gorgeous candlelit dinner that his wife spent 5 hours preparing. If the roast tastes like earth and his wife asks, “so honey, how do you like the roast?” and he answers with a truthful “I’d much rather eat my hand,” he is not a man of truth, but an insensitive ingrate!

Kindness is a virtue, but there are times we need to hold back our kindness in order to help someone grow. Discipline is a virtue, but we need to be flexible at times. Honesty is much the same. So, let us take a lesson from Yaakov, and use each of our character traits with a perfect balance, using it when it’s proper, and not when its not!

Disclaimer: I feel this Dvar Torah, while being true can put us on a slippery slope. It is obviously not a carte blanche to be dishonest with anyone who is also dishonest. The purpose of the Dvar Torah is to demonstrate that even a good character trait must at times be restrained, as is made so clear in the example of the pot roast. However, I trust the reader will exercise great caution before holding back a trait as fundamental as honesty.

Parsha Summary

This week’s Parsha begins with Yaakov going to Charan to find himself a good non-Canaanite wife. As he heads down, he spends the night in the location that would, years later, be the site of the Holy Temple. He has a dream in which he sees angels going up and down a ladder. The angels of Israel were leaving him, and the angels of Chutz La’aretz (literally “outside the land” meaning anywhere out of Israel) were coming down to accompany him. In this dream G-d promises Yaakov that he will be guarded and protected in the house of Lavan, that he will come back to Israel in peace, and that eventually the whole Israel will be given to his offspring.

When Yaakov reaches Charan, he sees the shepherds waiting around the well, and asks them why they don’t let their sheep out to pasture. They answer that they all gather around the well until they have enough people to be able to push off the boulder resting on the mouth of the well. When Yaakov sees Rachel, Lavan’s daughter, coming he sees with Divine Intuition that this will be his wife, and he is filled with strength.  He flips the boulder off the well, and waters Rachel’s sheep. Upon going back to Lavan’s house, Yaakov stays with Lavan for a month and works as his shepherd before Lavan asks him if he wants some sort of remuneration for his work. (Yep, Lavan the no-goodnik had Yaakov, his guest and relative, watching his sheep for a month without pay before finally offering him some pay.)

Yaakov tells him that he would like to marry Rachel, Lavan’s younger daughter. Lavan gives him his blessing on the condition that Yaakov shepherd his sheep for seven years, which Yaakov gladly does. However, Lavan the Lowlife switches the daughters and gives him Leah. Yaakov had been anticipating this, and gave Rachel certain signs which she was to give him on their wedding night. However, Rachel, fearing the incredible humiliation that Leah would undergo when Yaakov realized he was being given the wrong bride, gives Leah the signs even though that meant she would be left to marryYaakov’s brother the Evil Eisav. This teaches how far one must go to prevent someone from being humiliated.

Yaakov is not happy with Lavan upon realizing that he has been duped, but Lavan offers a quick and easy solution – work another seven years for Rachel. Yaakov does so. Leah has four children, Reuven, Shimon, Levi, and Yehuda, after which she stops having children. Rachel has none, so she decides to give her maidservant, Bilhah, to Yaakov in the hopes of building a family through her children. This works, and Rachel names Bilhah’s two children Dan and Naftali. Leah, seeing that she stopped having children, also gives her maidservant, Zilpah, to Yaakov as a wife and she gives birth to two children, Gad and Asher.

 Soon Leah has two more children, Yisachar and Zevulun, and finally, after many years of praying and yearning, Rachel has a son, whom she calls Yosef. After Yosef (who is destined to quash Eisav) was born, Yaakov is ready to head back to his land. However, after 14 years of devoted service Lavan is finally ready to cut a deal. If Yaakov stays, he will let him keep certain sheep based on their coats (i.e. ringed, speckled, spotted, or brownish). Over the next six years Lavan changes the agreement 100 times, but Yaakov manages to devise a system in which he still gets some sheep. G-d blesses his flocks, and in six years Yaakov becomes very prosperous.

 Realizing that Lavan and his family are getting jealous of and angry with him, Yaakov tells his family that its time to leave their villainous Zeidy, and Rachel and Leah answer that they are only too happy to leave the father who didn’t treat them as daughters but as strangers. Yaakov leaves while Lavan is on a business trip, and Rachel steals her father’s idols. When Lavan hears about the exodus of his daughters and grandchildren, and the theft of his idols, he becomes enraged and chases them down with the intent to seriously harm them. But G-d comes to Lavan in a dream and tells him that he better not do anything, neither good nor bad (as the saying goes, not from your honey and not from your sting), to Yaakov and his family.

Instead, Lavan comes and plays the hurt and abandoned grandfather, complaining that he wanted to see them off amid great fanfare. Then he accuses Yaakov of stealing his idols. Lavan searches all the tents, but Rachel hides them in her saddlebag and tells her father that she can’t get off her camel, because she is sick. In the end, Lavan makes a treaty with Yaakov and then peacefully departs in the morning. That’s all Folks.

  Quote of the Week: If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else. – Booker T. Washington

 Random fact of the Week: Only 20% of diamonds are considered high enough quality to be classified as a “gem,” the rest are used in industry.

 Funny Line of the Week: Free advice is the kind that costs you nothing unless you act upon it.

Have a Prodigious Shabbos,

R’ Leiby Burnham

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