Begin, Rabin to appear on new Israeli bills

The images of the late Israeli Prime Ministers Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Rabin will appear on new Israeli currency.

The late writer S.Y. Agnon and poet Rachel Bluwstein Sela, who was known simply as Rachel, also have been chosen for the honor.

The Bank of Israel announced the new series of banknotes, and its honoring of the political and cultural history of Israel, on Sunday.

Begin and Rabin were chosen for signing peace treaties with Israel’s neighbors—Begin with Egypt and Rabin with Jordan and an interim agreement with the Palestinians—Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer said.

The image choices require Cabinet approval.

The new currency, in the form of 20, 50, 100 and 200 shekel bills, is scheduled to be issued in 2012 and will include advanced anti-forgery methods.

Listen, will you?

You are driving, looking for an address, when your wife tells you to ask someone. You refuse, but you finally make it to your destination — two hours late. Are you familiar with this scenario?

When it happened to me, we were going to our first Shabbaton in Pennsylvania, got lost somewhere in Cherry Hill, N.J., and barely made it to the hotel before Shabbat.

It seems like an international rule. Men don’t ask for directions. Now we have been saved by the all-knowing GPS. The only problem is, when it starts giving you directions, for God’s sake, you realize it’s a woman’s voice.

In “You Just Don’t Understand” (William Morrow, 1990), Georgetown linguistics professor Deborah Tannen’s essential guide to the different ways men and women communicate, she analyzes the case of a woman who was recovering from surgery at a hospital. She kept complaining and asked to be moved to her home. But after a while she told her husband that she was not comfortable there either and was still suffering. Her husband suggested she should return to the hospital, and to his great shock, she burst into tears, accusing him of not loving her and wanting her out of the house.

What happened here?

The ailing woman wanted her husband to empathize with her, not offer solutions. Tannen explains that when women are faced with a problem, they first seek understanding and compassion, to know that the other side commiserates with them and listens to them. But men equate the inability to solve a problem with weakness, so when men are in the same situation they feel that they must solve the problem.

This communication gap is demonstrated very sharply in this week’s parsha. When Rachel, Jacob’s beloved wife, sees that her adversary Leah keeps delivering one child after another, she turns to him with an impossible request: “Grant me children or I will die.” The enraged and perplexed Jacob answers: “Can I replace God? He is the one who prevented you from having children.”

Rachel then goes on to offer him her maidservant as a surrogate mother and the issue seems to have been settled, but the sages of the Midrash don’t let Jacob off the hook that easily. They read into that conversation much more than meets the eye. Jacob, they say, was punished for his behavior by the sibling rivalry that tore his family apart and eventually humbled his children from Leah, as they had to bow down to Rachel’s own son, Joseph.

Let us reconstruct the full exchange.

Before Rachel comes to speak to her husband, she is engulfed in feelings of sadness and frustration. She has no children, whereas Leah, the once rejected wife, now has a seat of honor as the mother of Jacob’s growing family. She feels estranged and alienated. She doesn’t see in her husband’s eyes the same sparkle that was there before. She then tries to convey her emotional turmoil to him. If I have no children, she says, I am dead. She either threatens to commit suicide or she is saying that she is as good as dead, without her husband’s love and outdone by Leah.

What Jacob should have said was something like, “I know how you feel.” Sure, she would retaliate with: “No you don’t. You have your children, and you’re not a woman so you will never know what it means to be barren.” But to that he could have answered: “You are right, but I remember how my mother’s eyes would fill with tears when she spoke about her sterility.”

Then he could have segued into her thoughts on what should be done, and she would probably say that he should pray for her, spend more time with her, or (as she eventually did) consider adoption or a surrogacy.

Instead, Jacob got angry.

Angry? With your beloved wife? A woman in distress?

Yes, because he felt threatened.

Here is a problem he cannot solve; a baby he cannot deliver. And he answers accordingly: “This is not my role; it is God’s role.” And as if this was not enough, he adds: “He has not granted you children.”

Now, Jacob might have emphasized the word He to indicate that it is God’s responsibility and not his. But Rachel hears the emphasis on you, and understands that he is not concerned because he has his own kids, it is you — Rachel — who has a problem.

What a terrible misunderstanding and miscommunication. And what an important lesson to all of us, especially men, to be better listeners and to try first to understand our conversational partner and only then offer, if applicable, a solution.

Haim Ovadia is the rabbi of Congregation Magen David of Beverly Hills (, a Sephardic Orthodox synagogue. You can reach him via e-mail at

VIDEO: Rachel Somekh teaches two classic Iraqi Jewish recipes — potato chops and cigars

Rachel Somekh teaches two classic Iraqi appetizers, potato chops and cigars


Divine Listening

“This is the story of Isaac, son of Abraham. Abraham begot Isaac. Isaac was 40 years old when he took to wife Rebecca, daughter of

Bethuel of Paddan-aram, sister of Laban the Aramean. Isaac pleaded with the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord responded to his plea, and his wife Rebecca conceived. But the children struggled in her womb and she said, ‘If so why do I exist?'” (Genesis 25:19-22).

How do we answer those in pain?

This week’s Torah portion begins with an issue that is a recurrent one for our foremothers — difficulty conceiving. As Sarah before her and Rachel after her, Rebecca has trouble getting pregnant. After her husband Isaac pleads with God, she does conceive. But the pregnancy is a painful one — so much so that Rebecca cries out with words to the effect of, “Would that I did not exist!” Out of this depth of despair she approaches God.

She went to inquire of the Lord, and the Lord answered her: “Two nations are in your womb, two separate peoples shall issue from your body; one people shall be mightier than the other, and the older shall serve the younger” (Genesis 25:23).

God’s response is profound and gives us great insight into how we can help those in pain. The most noteworthy element is that God does not seek to take away Rebecca’s pain. Rather God listens to her with no interruptions. While such listening does not cure Rebecca of her pain by removing it, it heals her because it helps overcome some of the isolation and loneliness that often accompanies those who are suffering.

In addition, God points out that her pain is due to the nature of the fetuses that she carries and is indicative of the way they will be as both individuals and even as kingdoms. In essence, God informs Rebecca that her pain is not random and pointless but that it has meaning and significance. After being heard, Rebecca is able to motivate herself and endure her suffering until the end of her term.

So often when we encounter those who are in pain we make several mistakes. Our natural reaction is to want to take their suffering away. While understandable, it is also highly impractical since we cannot really do it (nor by the way do people expect us to do so). But since we cannot directly relieve them of their suffering, we search for the right thing to do or say in an attempt to make everything OK.

Another error we make in our desire to help is to talk. We either say that they should not worry and that everything will be all right. Or we hear their pain and then tell them of our own experiences in an attempt to show that we empathize with them.

But these responses make us feel better and not those who we are seeking to help.

When someone is hurting, there truly are no right things to say or do. It’s sometimes enough merely to be present, to show people that they are heard and hence not alone. We must acknowledge where they are so that they know we have heard them in all their pain. Furthermore, we must help them see that their suffering is not for nothing, but has meaning and purpose; for these two things allow them to bear that which would otherwise be unbearable.

To be able hear someone’s pain and give meaning to his or her suffering are the most important things we can do when we approach those in difficulty — and in doing so effectively we act divinely.

Jonathan Jaffe Bernhard is a rabbi at Adat Ari El, a Conservative synagogue in Valley Village. He can be reached at


Marital Strife

Every marriage has painful moments. Even the most loving marriages
do. This fact of life is confirmed by the opening of chapter 30.

There is only one marriage in the entirety of the Bible that is explicitly
described as being based on romantic love. This is the marriage of Jacob and
Rachel. Upon first sight of Rachel, Jacob is inspired to single-handedly
roll the capstone off the mouth of the well, so that he can provide water
for her flock. After that, he kisses her, and cries (what a real man!).

Jacob loved Rachel — so says Genesis 29:18. He loved her so much that the
seven years of labor he endured in order to win her hand “seemed to him but
a few days in his love for her.” But even such a marriage, the Torah
purposefully reveals, has its share of conflict and pain.

By the beginning of chapter 30, Rachel’s sister Leah has already borne four
children to Jacob, while Rachel has borne none. Anguished, pained and
tormented by the fear that Jacob would stop loving her (or worse), Rachel
finally cries out, “Give me children, Jacob. If not, I die.” To our alarm,
Jacob does not respond with the words of soothing reassurance that we would
anticipate. He responds instead with anger. “Do you think I am God?,” he
fires back. “It is God who has denied you fertility.”

We, the readers, are left to feel Rachel’s searing pain, as her beloved’s
words enter her heart as daggers. She had cried out for his love. She
received his wrath.

The Midrash imagines God’s reaction to Jacob’s words. “Thus you speak to the
oppressed?!” In a word, God is shocked.

Jacob was not a bad husband. He was a good husband. His love and concern for
Rachel persisted throughout their life together, and he never fully
recovered from the profound grief he felt at her untimely death. But this
was a bad moment — a really bad moment in a good marriage. But “come and
learn” from it, the Torah says. Ask and think.

Perhaps Jacob, though he chose to suffer in silence, was just as
worried and just as frustrated as Rachel. And the effect of her scream was
to release all the tension that until now he had kept penned up inside
himself. Or perhaps, after having actually worked not seven, but 14 years to
secure her hand, he was enraged by Rachel’s implicit threat to somehow bring
about her own death were she not to conceive. These explanations or others
we could imagine, can all open new windows of self-awareness for us. For
each of us has become inappropriately angry at a loved one.

And if we were to take just one step back from the details of Jacob and
Rachel’s particular situation, and try to extract a broader teaching from
it, that teaching would go to the core of what entering the covenant of
marriage means. The great Talmudic sage Rav, perhaps inspired by this story,
taught that the central mitzvah of marriage is that most famous of
mitzvot, the one that reads, “Love your friend as yourself.”

Rav understood that sometimes we forget why we got married to begin with.
There are times at which we mistakenly think that we got married primarily
in order to receive. Before marriage we had felt incomplete. We had
unsatisfied emotional needs. But now, we have someone who makes that all
better, who gives us what we lacked. Rav reminds us of our error. We did not
marry primarily in order to receive, but primarily in order to give. It was
the giving that generated the love. And in marrying the person who we loved
giving to, we acquired the best realistic chance we’d ever have to actually,
literally fulfill that mitzvah — to truly love someone else as ourselves.
When Rachel cried out in distress and despair, Jacob needed to be a giver.
He needed to be a lover. He needed to see it as the moment for which he had
married Rachel to begin with. It was the moment that he could give her what
no one else on earth could the reassurance that he loved her still and
forever. From his misstep, first Rav, and then we, are enlightened.

Every marriage has painful moments. The Torah wants us to know this. And
through giving we have more power than we think to ease the pain of those
moments. And the Torah wants us to know that too.

Yosef Kanefsky is rabbi of B’nai David Judea in Los Angeles.