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PARSHAS VAYEISHEVYaakov settled in the land of his father's sojournings. (37:1)
Rashi teaches that, after enduring the many trials of his life - Eisav, Lavan, the premature passing of Rachel Imeinu, and the violation of Dinah - Yaakov Avinu sought tranquility, leisheiv b'shalvah. Immediately, Kofatz alav rogzu shel Yosef, "The trial of Yosef tumbled suddenly upon him." This world is one of continual striving. Although the Patriarch was near perfect, his work was not complete. The question that confronts us is simple: Does it have to be this way? Does life have to be a constant struggle? Would it have been so bad if Yaakov could spend his twilight years in tranquility, without having to mourn the loss of his son?
Parashas Vayishlach concludes with a detail of Eisav's lineage. Parashas Vayeishev begins with Yaakov's lineage. Rashi compares these pesukim to those detailing the generations both from Adam to Noach and from Noach to Avraham Avinu. Eisav's lineage is written quite briefly, providing no details concerning the people and events involved; Likewise, the generations from Adam until Avraham. Concerning Yaakov's lineage, the Torah goes into detail. Why? Rashi compares it to one who has lost a diamond in the sand. He sifts through the sand until he discovers his diamond and then throws out the sand. Likewise, the generations from Adam until Avraham are like sand to be discarded once the diamond - Avraham - has surfaced.
The comparison between Eisav's lineage and the generations that spanned from Adam until Avraham appears incongruous. The history leading up to Noach and Avraham has significance in that it teaches us about the family tree from which Noach and Avraham heralded. What, however, do Eisav's princes have to do with Yaakov? What impact did they have on his life?
The Sefas Emes explains that the Torah is teaching us a significant lesson. Evil was created to provide a training ground for the righteous. In order for a tzaddik to thrive and grow, he must battle the evil worldly influences whose goals are to undermine his ability to achieve success. As we read earlier in Parashas Toldos (Bereishis 25:23), u'le'om mi'le' om yeematz, "And one nation (either Yaakov or Eisav) will be stronger from the other nation." In order for the Jewish people, represented by their spiritual elite, to supersede the forces of tumah, impurity, represented by Eisav, it is essential for Yaakov to struggle with Eisav. Thus, Eisav had much to do with Yaakov's spiritual elevation. If not for Eisav, Yaakov would not achieve as much. Thus, Yaakov's perfection is a direct outgrowth of Eisav's malevolence.
Indeed, much of Yaakov's life involved confrontation and struggle. The Sefas Emes cites the Zohar which underscores the importance of struggle in the life of a tzaddik. Rabos raos tzaddik, u'mi'kulam yatzilenu Hashem. "Many are the ills of a tzaddik, and he shall be saved from all of them by Hashem" (Tehillim 34:20). Tehillim does not say that ills will happen to a tzaddik, but rather, the pasuk states, the ills are a tzaddik. This means that the ills which a tzaddik experiences are brought upon him by Hashem, and the Almighty saves the tzaddik from them all. The ills define the tzaddik; he is elevated by them.
The Zohar is teaching us that only by coping with affliction, while maintaining an unaltered course of commitment to Hashem, does a Jew earn the appellation of tzaddik. A tzaddik wants to grow with every opportunity. He is not satisfied with remaining on his current level. Striving to improve, seeking to grow, he is always aware of the presence of the yetzer hora, evil inclination, and its constant schemes. This awareness strengthens the tzaddik and tempers his resistance.
Yaakov Avinu's entire life was a struggle against the physical and spiritual dangers of the world. Every time he triumphed over one challenge, he was immediately confronted with another - and yet another. Just when it seemed that things had quieted down and perhaps now he could finally seek a respite, the trial of Yosef was tumbled upon him. A tzaddik cannot rest if he wants to grow.
And they sold Yosef to the Yishmaelim for twenty pieces of silver. (37:28)
Twenty silver pieces amounts to five shekalim, the same amount we use to redeem our firstborn sons. Chazal teach us that this amount of money atones for the brothers' sin of selling Yosef. Additionally, since each brother's share of the "take" amounted to two dinarim, the equivalent of a half-shekel, Jews annually give a half-shekel for the upkeep of the Bais Hamikdash. Since we no longer have the Bais Hamikdash, the Machatzis hashekel, half shekel, is contributed annually on Purim to charity.
The Shivtei Kah, brothers who sold Yosef, represent Klal Yisrael. Thus, the onus of their guilt is on the heads of each and every Jew. It thus makes sense that we all contribute a half shekel annually. According to the first opinion, however, that only one who has a firstborn boy gives five shekalim, it would seem that a small minority of Jews are obliged to carry the weight of guilt for everyone else. Is this right?
Horav Chaim Zaitchik, zl, explains that there is a different aspect to remembering the sale of Yosef, specifically at such a heightened moment of joy as a Pidyon Haben. A family is blessed with a firstborn boy. Everyone is ecstatic, their hearts filled with joy. It is especially at this moment that one should take a step back and think. It really is not all that good. Although we may be happy with this present simchah, in the large picture of life it is not that good. The Jewish people are still suffering in galus, exile. We no longer have the Bais Hamikdash. When did the origin of our troubles begin? With Yosef Hatzaddik. Had we not sold him, we would not have been relegated to go down to Egypt. One thing led to another, but, it started with a few silver coins for which we traded away a brother. This will minimize the joy, because, as long as we do not have our Temple, there is no real joy. There is always something missing.
David HaMelech writes in Sefer Tehillim 137:6, Tidbak leshoni l'chiki, im lo ezkireichi, im lo aaleh es Yerushalayim al rosh simchasi. "Let my tongue adhere to my palate, if I fail to recall You, if I fail to elevate Yerushalayim above my foremost joy." At the moment of intense joy and uplifted happiness, it is incumbent upon us not to forget Yerushalayim, which is in mourning for its Temple and its people. As the chassan, bridegroom, is about to take his first step to the chuppah, when it is the most climactic moment of his life, ashes are placed on his forehead as a remembrance of Yerushalayim. Do not forget.
Rav Zaitchik implores us never to forget the plight of the unfortunate, those who have less, those who have lost, and those who never had. It is so easy to forget the pain when our mind is drunk with joy. The Talmud Megillah 28a states that Rabbi Zeira was asked, Bameh he'erachta yamim, "Why (for what merit) did you achieve longevity?" He replied, "I never showed anger in my home; I never walked in front of one greater than I." He concluded, "I never rejoiced in the stumbling of my fellow." This statement is enigmatic. Is not rejoicing in a fellow Jew's misfortune sufficient reason for longevity? It is forbidden to rejoice in another's misfortune. Shlomo HaMelech writes in Mishelei 24:17, B'nefol oyivcha al tismach, "When your enemy falls be not glad, and when he stumbles be not joyous." This is what is written concerning an enemy! Imagine how one should act toward a friend.
Understandably, the various commentators elucidate this statement. Rav Zaitchik explains it practically. Certainly, Rav Zeira was not speaking about rejoicing over his fellow's misfortune. There is, however, another way that might be misconstrued as callous joy at another person's expense. A man marries off his only child; his daughter had become engaged to an excellent Torah scholar from a distinguished lineage. After a number of years of waiting patiently, a couple is finally blessed with a healthy child. These are wonderful reasons for celebration, and one should celebrate with abundant joy and share his good fortune with others. What if his neighbor has not merited to share in a similar wheel of good fortune as he? What if they just could not marry off their children; or, perhaps, their children had "issues" and nachas had eluded them; or, perhaps, they had no children? Can we imagine what is going on in his home as the block is overrun with cars, people going to and fro to wish mazal tov? In the neighbor's house, it is Tishah B'Av. Perhaps he does not show it as a result of his tremendous self-control, but his heart is hurting. He is in pain.
Rabbi Zeira was acutely aware of this. Thus, he never celebrated in such a manner that it would have a negative effect on his friend or neighbor who was less fortunate than he was.
Rav Zaitchik cites a Yalkut Shimoni that supports this idea and teaches us wherein lies the responsibility of a Torah leader. When Miriam Ha'Neviyah died, the well that had sustained the nation in her merit dried up. No more water from this well. The nation was thirsty. They needed water - soon. Moshe Rabbeinu and Aharon HaKohen were sitting shivah, mourning their late sister. It was the low point in their lives, considering that the three had worked together, 24/7, for the last forty years. Now, Miriam was gone. One would think that they could take "time off" to reflect upon and mourn their loss. Chazal teach that the Almighty said to them: Bishvil she'atem misablin aveilus, yamusu batzama? "Because you are in a state of mourning, should the nation die of thirst?" Incredible! A leader does not have the "luxury" of sitting shivah when the nation has no water.
What about Miriam? She was the first catalyst that ultimately brought about Moshe's birth. She convinced her father to remarry Yocheved. She stood by the water and later encouraged Bisyah, Pharaoh's daughter, to employ Yocheved as Moshe's nursemaid. Did she not merit uninterrupted shivah? Why should her two brothers not have been permitted to mourn and weep over the tremendous loss which they had just sustained?
There is a time and place for everything. Moshe and Aharon's pain was personal; Klal Yisrael's needs were general and immediate. The nation's needs took precedence. We do not mix the two. One ends where and when the other begins.
Horav Avraham Grodzenski, zl, was the Mashgiach in Slabodka prior to World War II. He was a brilliant scholar and an exceptional person. The empathy he had for his students was legend. He was left a widower at a young age, relegated to raising a large family of young children by himself. It was the day that they arose from shivah. After sustaining a debilitating, crushing tragedy, he had to go forth and address the many needs of his family. His mind was overwhelmed. A knock was heard at the door. The Mashgiach opened the door to welcome a student who stood there, his smile brimming from one side of his face to the other. Unaware of his Rebbe's tragedy, the student came to notify him that he had just passed the semichah, ordination, test and was now ordained. Rav Avraham invited him in, and they began to dance. The joy emanating from the Mashgiach's face was palpable and sincere. Questioned later as to how he could do this, after just getting up from shivah, the Mashgiach answered, "It was his time of joy. How could I spoil it for him with my troubles?"
Then Yaakov rent his garments and placed sackcloth on his loins; he mourned for his son many days. (37:34)
Rashi teaches that yamim rabim, many days, amounts to a period of twenty-two years. This time frame coincides with the twenty-two years that Yaakov Avinu was away from home, thereby preventing him from properly carrying out the mitzvah of kibud av v'eim, honoring one's father and mother. While we certainly are not in a position to understand the underlying reason for Yaakov's behavior, there is clearly a powerful lesson to be derived from here. This is despite the fact that Yaakov's decision to leave home was originally suggested, encouraged and approved by his mother, Rivkah Imeinu. Yet, Yaakov is held accountable for his lack of kibud av v'eim. This demonstrates the value and significance of this mitzvah.
An indication of this significance may be derived from none other than Terach, the father of Avraham Avinu. When we peruse the list of generations from Noach until Avraham, we note that in giving names to their offspring, the only one who cared to name his son after his father was Terach, Avraham's father, who was the son of Nachor and who named his son Nachor. No other person saw fit to eternalize his father's name by naming his son after him, except for Terach. I wonder if this is not why Terach, who, despite being an idol worshipper, merited to father Avraham, the individual who was blessed by Hashem to become av hamon goyim, the father of many nations. Naming a child after a parent demonstrates one's respect for the parent and his affinity with the past. The past plays a pivotal role in shaping the present and determining the future.
A reverence for the past allows one to study and learn from the highs and lows of a previous generation. This guides him to avoid the same errors in his own life. It also helps to set a standard upon whose foundation he is inclined to build the future. To disregard, with complete disdain, the events preceding the present and the lives of one's forebears is not only foolish, it is downright disrespectful.
As we see from the above, Yaakov Avinu, whose lack of Kibud av v'eim was inadvertent, was still punished, even though he was following his father's and mother's wishes. Kibud av v'eim is a complex mitzvah, one which seems to be the result of common sense, yet is Divinely decreed. A human being is the product of earthly parents and a Heavenly Father, with each one contributing a component to his creation. The mere fact that Hashem selected to partner with one's parents is sufficient reason for the mitzvah of Kibud av v'eim.
Horav Gamliel Rabinowitz, Shlita, quotes the famous anecdote that is often included upon blessing one with longevity. "You should live many years and see your children doing to you what you did to your parents." He quotes his father, shlita, who would apply this interpreting the pasuk in Tehillim 128:6, U'rei banim l'vanecha, shalom al Yisrael. "And may you see children born to your children, peace upon Yisrael." He explains that when one is privileged to see his grandchildren, peace abides between father and son. Why? When the son/second generation, sees how his son/third generation, acts towards him, he begins to realize how his own father must have felt years earlier, when the son was still a youth. This sense of deja vu will create a sense of remorse over one's own actions and a renewed respect for his father, the grandfather. This catalyzes a heightened sense of peaceful coexistence between the generations.
Once we begin to appreciate the incredible reward due to one who properly fulfills the mitzvah of Kibud av v'eim, we can develop an understanding of the punishment due to he who does not carry out this mitzvah, or worse - deprecates his parent, denigrates the mitzvah of Kibud av v'eim. Who knows, asks Rav Gamliel, if much of the adversity one sustains throughout life is not the result of his lack of Kibud av v'eim? Look at Yaakov Avinu. He experienced twenty-two years of mourning for a lost son, just because he was not there for his parents - and his separation from them was at their behest! Clearly, Yitzchak Avinu forgave him. Nonetheless, he was punished. How careful must we be in observing this precious mitzvah.
The reward for Kibud av v'eim is unparalleled, as would be suggested from the above observation that Terach fathered Avraham because he named his son after his father. I just returned from being menachem aveil a dear friend who had just lost his father. A Holocaust survivor, who suffered untold tribulations in Europe, he came to these shores and built a Torah community in the Pacific Northwest. The shul, mikvah and day school may all be attributed to his efforts, as he and his wife were moser nefesh, dedicated their lives, to perpetuating the Torah life they knew in Pre-World War II Europe. They raised a beautiful family of banim u'bnei banim oskim ba'Torah, four generations of commitment to Torah, its scholarship and dissemination. I commented that I marveled at the incredible z'chusim, merits, the niftar, deceased, had amassed during his life. These merits will surely sustain him in the Olam Ha'Emes, World of Truth.
His son responded with a frightening exposition he had heard quoted in the name of Horav Don Segal, Shlita. We both felt it was worth publicizing, with the hope that it would serve as an eternal z'chus for the neshamah of his father, Reb Dov ben Meir, zl. Rav Segal gives an unexpected depicture of Olam Habba, the World to Come. Once a person leaves this world he is an omeid, standing still, since he is unable to move forward. Movement is for the living. Whatever positive deeds we have performed in our lives will be reckoned for us, but, once we "arrive" in the World of Truth, there is no longer any movement. This may be compared to a long line of people, almost frozen from the bitter cold, who are standing in single file, in the frigid tundra of Siberia. The bitter cold and howling wind envelops them as the line moves slowly. They are all waiting to enter the one community post office. Each one waits to see if he has received any mail. Does anyone care, or am I forgotten?
As they inch closer to the postal window, their hopes are high with anticipation. Perhaps I received a letter, a package, a warm coat. As each one steps up to the window, he might be lucky to have received a letter, another, a small box, yet another, a fur coat. Likewise, it is with life - or its aftermath. We move as the result of our children. A son who recites Kaddish will earn his father a letter. He stood in the frigid cold for hours, but at least he obtained a letter. The next one was even more fortunate: His son studied Mishnayos, Gemorah, thus enabling the father to receive a large box filled with goodies. The father whose son not only recited Kaddish, studied Mishnah and Talmud, but even undertook upon himself to perform a special mitzvah, to endeavor to carry out a special act of chesed, kindness, has hit the Heavenly jackpot; he receives a fur coat.
There is one other neshamah, that of he whose son did nothing: no Kaddish, no learning, no mitzvos. He sustained the arctic chill, and, upon stretching out his hand to receive something - anything - a letter, a package, anything, he received "nothing," relegated to returning "home" with nothing. His son did not bother, so the father will not receive anything. We carry our parents on our shoulders. When they are gone, they are gone. We are their only link to reward. As I said, it is a disquieting analogy, but clearly inspirational.
One more story - this one daunting, but no less inspirational. Rav Chaim of Worms was himself a great tzaddik who lived during the fifteenth century. He was blessed with three brilliant sons: the eldest, Betzalel, followed by Yaakov and Helman. A father's dream, these young men exemplified the epitome of devotion to Torah scholarship. People would observe how fortunate Rav Chaim was to have his three sons follow in his footsteps.
The community of Worms regrettably did not offer the young men an opportunity to achieve the outstanding Torah scholarship which they sought. Thus, they appealed to the father that they be allowed to travel to Poland to study under one of its preeminent Torah leaders, Rav Shlomo Luria, zl, reverently known as the Maharshal. The father understood his sons' yearning and gave permission for the younger two - Yaakov and Helman - to leave immediately for Poland. He insisted, however, that Betzalel remain at home. "You are my eldest and, while I might be overstepping my rights as a parent to ask this of you, I still implore you to remain at my side here in Worms." What is a son to do when his father asks? He says yes, and he is happy about it. This was Rav Betzalel's nature.
A few years passed, and the brothers returned to Worms, accomplished scholars, having imbibed Torah at the feet of the Maharshal. While Rav Betzalel was overjoyed with the return of his brothers, he was even more enraptured with the knowledge they had accumulated. He was truly happy for their success in Torah. He regretted his lost opportunity and would, at times, ruminate out loud, conveying his sadness at not having been given the opportunity to study Torah on an elevated level.
His son's emotion did not escape Rav Chaim who felt bad for him: "How sad it is that my son is so despondent over his lost opportunity to have studied under the Maharshal. How can I appease him, make things better? He served me so well. He doesn't deserve to be unhappy."
Rav Chaim said to his son, Betzalel, "In reward for your noble act of remaining home and serving me, at great cost to yourself, I would like to grant you a blessing. I cannot pay you back for your exemplary Kibbud av, but I can entreat Hashem on your behalf that you be blessed with four sons that will illuminate the Torah world with their scholarship and righteousness."
And so it was that the father's blessing was realized. To Rav Betzalel were born four sons: Rav Chaim who became Chief Rabbi of Friedenburg and the distinguished author of Sefer HaChaim; Rav Sinai, Rosh Yeshivah in Mehrine; Rav Shimshon, Chief Rabbi of Kremenitz. The fourth and most distinguished son was Rav Yehudah, the legendary Maharal m'Prague, a name which, until this very day is synonymous with the highest levels of Torah scholarship. All of this was as a result of the mitzvah of Kibbud av v'eim.
Es kol divrei salmud Torasecha b'ahavah.
The word "tradition" is loosely thrown around, especially by those who view their Jewish observance as part of tradition, rather than the result of diligent study and comprehension of the intricacies and profundities of the Torah. Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, interprets this idea into this prayer. We ask Hashem that He grant us the privilege to observe the mitzvos as a result of learning about them in the Torah. Perhaps this is why we accentuate salmud Torasecha, "Your Torah's teachings." We do not wish to observe Torah and mitzvos as part of a "tradition." Indeed, this suggests that Jewish observance is akin to superstition and folk culture. We study Torah; we delve into its veracities; we toil in its dialectic. It is not something we do merely because it is a tradition of observance. It is a very vibrant part of our lives, without which we cannot survive. A mitzvah performed out of a sense of tradition can never be properly performed.
I met someone earlier in the supermarket. A "traditional" Jew who prides himself that he keeps kosher, he complained that the symbol of hechsher, kosher certification, was hardly noticeable on the package. He added, "When the symbol is missing, I simply read the ingredients." Regrettably, he knows very little about the kashrus laws and the many misleading ingredients.
Last, we pray that Hashem grant us the "entire package" with love. Our frame of mind concerning mitzvah observance should be one of love for Him and His Torah - not the result of compulsion and restriction.
Dr. and Mrs. Herbert Taragin
l'zechar nishmas his parents
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