Rabbi Yossi's Blog

Welcome to Rabbi Yossi's Blog; where you can expect to find thoughts on current events, Torah learning and Jewish spirituality. And of course, some good Jewish humor.


Donkey (2).jpg Photo by Daniel Burka on Unsplash 

When we read about Moses embarking on his historic Exodus mission, the Torah includes a seemingly random and irrelevant detail: he placed his family on a donkey. At first glance it seems like this may be a classic example of TBU - true but useless - information. What’s the relevance in knowing his family’s mode of transportation?

Strangely enough, the Torah doesn’t mention many seemingly central stories of our forefathers; they’re only discoverable by studying the Midrash and other sources. But this donkey is mentioned?


Taking into account a fundamental principle of Torah study that every detail in Torah is instructional, (as implied by its name - Torah meaning instruction), it only serves to create more confusion. The Torah is trying to communicate something by mentioning this detail - what could it possibly be? How is a donkey key to the Torah’s Exodus message? Or any message for that matter?

To thicken the plot even more - this donkey is described as The Donkey, i.e. the known and recognized donkey. A known donkey? A particular donkey?

When describing the final test that our forefather Abraham underwent, the Torah also mentions a donkey. And it gets even more strange: Moshiach, the ultimate redeemer who will usher in the utopian era of redemption, is described as arriving riding on a donkey. 

Is that The Donkey that Moses used to transport his family? What’s with this donkey that it keeps appearing??

With minimal investigation one can see a slight difference too - Abraham used his donkey as a mode of transportation for his supplies. In Moses’ case, he used the donkey to transport his family. And Moshiach himself will be riding on the donkey.

There’s an insightful and instructional message embedded in this distinctly and Divinely destined donkey. And in truth it doesn’t necessarily have to do with an actual donkey at all. The Hebrew word for donkey, chamor (חמור), uses the very same letters as the word chomer (חומר), meaning tangible, physical, matter.

Our role in this world is to elevate the physicality and corporeality of matter and transform it into something that displays the Divine. In other words, our world in its current state conceals the G-dly life-force that causes it to exist. Our role is to use the physical world for holy work, thereby elevating it and transforming it to holiness.

This work began with Abraham, in his time the “donkey”, i.e. the physical matter of the world, was only able to be used to transport tools and supplies. It wasn’t yet ready to be used for anything higher. By the time Moses was on the scene, the world had been refined to the extent that he could place his family on the donkey. 

Moshiach’s arrival will mark the completion of this process, that’s why Moshaich himself will ride on the donkey. 

Turns out that this donkey detail is much more than a passing reference to an ancient mode of transportation, it’s an insight into our very purpose in life: To transform and elevate the very physical nature of the world we inhabit.

And you thought this detail was simply TBU? Oh no - that’s never the case in the Torah!


Border Control

Border wall.jpg Photo by Max Böhme on Unsplash 

Yesterday I had the opportunity to meet with someone who works for the CBP, Customs and Border Protection, department within DHS. Over the years borders seem to have become a political issue - don’t worry, we’re not going to discuss politics today. But we are going to consider the concept of borders.

Many argue that borders are simply a social construct designed to divide and discriminate. They say that borders are unnatural and unnecessary and we’d be better off without them.

Without going in to the various sides of the political discussions, I’d contend that in fact the concept of borders is built into our very existence.

Think about it; there are natural, clearly defined and enforced (beyond our control, I might add) borders in our daily life. Take time. That’s a very clearly defined border. Today cannot be yesterday or tomorrow. Place, too - if you’re in California, you cannot simultaneously be in New York.

Borders are so much a part of our lives that we don’t even notice them. Night and day, male and female, the list goes on and on.

While these borders don’t depend on our involvement, they simply exist whether we like it or not. There are many borders that should be in our lives, and that do depend on our creating and enforcing them.

Often we need to enforce our personal borders; certain things simply don’t belong in our life. We each have the authority and agency to choose what to include in our lives and what not. Just because it’s out there, doesn’t mean it’s for us.

In addition to dividing from the outside, a border creates the space to create something within it too. This is true in our lives that when we don’t enforce our personal borders, we lose the ability to develop our personal identity. Enforcing our personal borders, choosing what to include in our lives and what not, provides us with the space to grow and become a true human being, living in tune with our soul.

News Year's Frustration


Photo by Erwan Hesry on Unsplash 

Have you found this week to be frustrating? If you answered yes, you’re not alone. So many people have all sorts of admittedly irrational high hopes for this time of year. Somehow they’re convinced that somehow everything would suddenly change due to being in a new calendar year.

Of course overnight change doesn’t get any easier; whether it’s a random night of the year or a night when we turn the page to a new year. Change remains hard. Life remains laden with the same baggage as before and it seems that our path is strewn with the same things that bogged us down before.

Is there any solution to this endless treadmill of life? Or are we destined to endlessly repeat the narratives of the past? How can we redirect this cycle?

There is a fascinating understanding of the narrative of Judah meeting his long lost brother Joseph described in this week’s Torah portion. Our portion begins with the words, “Then Judah approached him (Joseph).” 

Judah and Joseph are understood as representing two world views, two approaches with regards to how to engage the physical world we inhabit. Joseph was viceroy of the superpower of the time, Egypt. Joseph represents engagement with the world, with the intention of improving and elevating it. Judah, whose very name means submission to G-d, represents a complete dedication to G-d; conscientiously avoiding engagement with the surrounding physical environment.

Each mode has a strength and weakness. While Joseph has more chance of positively influencing the world, his mode of engagement also poses risk of being distracted and derailed by the concealment of the physical world. While Judah has less chance of being distracted or diverted by the world, his mode is less likely to elevate the world.

While they generally would represent two opposing worldviews, in this week’s portion, Judah approaches Joseph; they engage with each other. The secret to true success in life is embedded here in this first verse describing this historic meeting of the two brothers.

Life is heavy, it wears us down. Habits are difficult to break and it’s easy to get disillusioned. In order to successfully navigate our physical lives we need to be engaged spiritually as well. Judah approaching Joseph informs us regarding our attitude toward our physical lives; while we live physical lives, we need to ensure that we engage with and nourish our spiritual side. In fact, it can be argued that the spiritual side is even more important.

This is the secret to overnight change, whether tied to a significant date on the calendar or any other day of the year. Engage with your soul, tap into the spiritual and G-dly; this is the secret to incorporating significant and lasting change.

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