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PARASHAS VAYIGASHHe slaughtered sacrifices to the G-d of his father, Yitzchak. (46:1)
Yaakov Avinu was moving to Egypt. Although he knew quite well that his ultimate home would be Eretz Yisrael and that Egypt was a galus, exile, which he would have to endure - the move to Egypt was not an easy one. Galus has a transformative effect on a person. Some feel the need to adapt, to eschew past practices and beliefs. Otherwise, how can they survive in an environment that is foreign to them? Yaakov taught his children to remain focused on the future, on their return to the Holy Land, on their eventual redemption. With hope, one can survive the purgatory of galus. Without hope, one cannot even make it through the first day.
With this idea in mind, we may understand something that Yaakov did on his way to Egypt - an action that, on the surface, seems enigmatic: Va'yizbach zevachim l'Elokai aviv Yitzchak; "He slaughtered sacrifices to the G-d of his father, Yitzchak." It seems to me that Yaakov also had a grandfather, Avraham Avinu, who had achieved fairly notable distinction. Why did Yaakov offer sacrifices to the G-d of his father, Yitzchak, and not to (the same) G-d of Avraham?
This question appears in the Midrash, accompanied by an answer that is quite unusual. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi says, "I went around to all of the Aggadah (non- Halachah) experts of the Torah in the south of Eretz Yisrael, asking them to explain this pasuk to me, and no one provided me with an answer to my question." Nonetheless, the Midrash offers a number of answers to elucidate why Yaakov chose to offer sacrifices specifically to the G-d of Yitzchak.
The last answer given by the Midrash will serve as our point of reference. Chazal say, "We view the ashes of Yitzchak Avinu as if they are piled up on top of the Mizbayach, Altar." In one of his seudah shlishis shmuessen, talks, Horav Shlomo Freifeld, zl, explains the concept of ro'im, "we view." When we study the parsha, chapter, of the Akeidah, Binding of Yitzchak, through the lens of our physical, three-dimensional vision, we see that Avraham did not actually slaughter Yitzchak, but instead, he slaughtered an ayil, ram. Chazal teach ro'im, "we view/look" differently. The spiritual perspective is one of nitzchiyus; it is eternal, non-restrictive, without boundaries. Through the prism of nitzchiyus, Yitzchak was actually slaughtered, sacrificed as a Korban Olah, Elevation/Burnt Offering - and his ashes are laying on top of the Mizbayach! While this Midrash is both inspirational and poignant, how does it explain why Yaakov offered his sacrifices to the G-d of Yitzchak?
Rav Freifeld explains this most beautifully, employing his inimitable manner of getting to the point and focusing on what is important to the believing Jew. His divrei Torah were lessons in Torah-life and living. There is a phenomenon in history called galus, exile. We Jews have been experiencing the effects of galus, having endured it for the last two thousand years. Under normal circumstances, any nation that experiences galus becomes dismantled, broken down, to individuals living without direction, unfocused, divested of its pride, its unity dissembled. In short, a nation in exile is, for all intents and purposes, destroyed. This is axiomatic - without exception: Every nation that has been exiled has lost its semblance of nationhood. Its language, its customs, its traditions, its culture, are all absorbed, and eventually erased, by its surrounding host nation's culture. There is one exception to this sociological rule: Klal Yisrael. Throughout every galus that we have experienced, not only have we survived physically, but our culture, spiritual affiliation and Jewish religious identity have thrived! Why is this? Why are we the exception to the rule? Titein emes l'Yaakov; Our Patriarch Yaakov was concerned about the emes, unabashed truth. He knew what exile can do to a person, to a nation, and he knew very well that there was only one antidote to the allure of our host culture: emes.
Yaakov Avinu was acutely aware that, if we view galus through a three-dimensional perspective, we are finished. It is only when we live by the concepts relegated by nitzchiyus, eternity, that our world-view changes. We view reality through a different lens, the lens of eternal truth. Thus, our Patriarch made sure that our perspective was one of ro'im, eyes which penetrate far beyond the world of three dimensions.
We live in a world bound by the allure of Madison Avenue, which is the antithesis of emes. It is all about convincing the unassuming consumer that he must change; nothing is of value if it is a year old. Styles, both in clothing and lifestyle, are conjured up by an artist whose mood, affliction or addiction determines his ideas. It is all about what we see through our three-dimensional vision.
These attitudes present the antithesis of emes, the obverse of truth in the eternal sense. The Torah Jew looks beyond the temporal. He must view everything around him through the spectrum of nitzchiyus. This can only be achieved by connecting inextricably through emes. The pioneers who built Torah in America were visionaries who viewed this negative scenario surrounding them through the lens of nitzchiyus. True, based upon three-dimensional vision, Torah development in America was hopeless, an impossible dream, unachievable through conventional means. This did not faze them. They looked through the lens of emes, beyond physical appearances. Jewish children require a Jewish education. Nothing would stand in their way.
This is the Torah view. I had occasion recently to read an article by a member of one of the secular streams of Judaism who was proudly lauding another one of their religious travesties. While the repugnance of their insult to the Torah is too reprehensible to even commit to paper, my purpose is to paraphrase their opinion concerning why Judaism (their brand) has survived this exile: "Judaism is an evolving religious civilization… It is a faith in constant motion and ever-changing…We have survived because we have adapted and acknowledged that faith and religion must bend and respond to modernity." From a Torah perspective, the above statement is heretical. From a purely Jewish perspective, I wonder exactly what they are doing that is inherently Jewish.
When one lives with sheker, falsehood, he sees things the way he wants to see them, through the subjective lens of three-dimensional vision. Reality has nothing to do with eternity, and Jewish identity has nothing to do with Judaism. Yaakov Avinu saw the tragedy of secularism; thus, he offered sacrifices to the G-d of Yitzchak whose "ashes" we do not see - but we know are there!
An individual who viewed life through the lens of spirituality, to whom emes was a way of life - not an overused clich? was Horav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, zl, the legendary architect of Torah in America. Veritably, brief vignettes culled from his many aphorisms hardly do justice to this giant of truth. He would exhort his talmidim, students, "Put on the glasses of Torah, look at the world through the lenses of Judaism, for then you will see before you the world and events in an entirely different perspective."
Rav Shraga Feivel would note that, in Eastern Europe, there was a marked distinction between Jew and gentile. The gentiles with whom the Jew came in contact were, for the most part, illiterate drunkards who were uncouth peasants. Indeed, recitation of the morning blessing, "Who has not made me a gentile," was quite easy to make. In America, however, the gentile has become a friend, business colleague, refined and cultured. In such an instance, the distinctions blur. Here, Rav Shraga Feivel explained, the task is not to denounce the gentile, but to elevate the Jew, to reveal the richness of the Jewish soul. Indeed, we saw but seventy-five years ago how the German culture produced moralists, philosophers, poets, literary giants. Yet, it did not deter those "distinguished" statesmen, jurists, medical practitioners, scientists and industrialists, from committing monstrosities toward innocent, defenseless men, women and children - whose only "offense" was that they were Jewish.
A Jew learns Torah which edifies him, imbuing his soul with holiness. Torah is much more than a source of knowledge. A Jew who does not reflect his Torah advantage is not learning Torah! We would add that in a non-Jewish world a person who has achieved success in any area, who has distinguished himself in any discipline, will, regardless of his personal behavior, receive honor. Thus, a great mathematician will receive honor, despite his degenerate and perverted personal life. A philanthropist can expect to have his business ethics glossed over, because who cares, as long as he keeps on giving money? A talented artist's depravity is overlooked because of his genius with the brush. Not so, among the Jews. Of all the recognized and respected thousands of Torah leaders throughout the generations, one will not find anyone who was lacking in good character, without compassion, or who had succumbed to unbridled physical desire.
Rav Shraga Feivel often emphasized that a Jew is defined by his emotional responses no less than by his book knowledge. One may be proficient in the entire Talmud, but, if he turns to Shakespeare's classics as a source of spiritual sustenance, is apathetic to the needs of a fellow Jew, or is deficient in the kedushah, sanctity, that refines conduct, he has not yet acquired a Jewish heart.
Rav Shraga Feivel taught his students to view the world through a spiritual lens. In other words, just because an act "seems" appropriate and a law does not happen to prohibit it, it does not mean that the particular act upholds the standard of Torah. He once discovered that the Torah Vodaath Ladies Auxiliary had been raising money through the medium of card parties (a not unheard of practice in those days - I guess much like Bingo, years past), which generated funds for a host of institutions. He commented, "You probably think that money raised in this fashion will purchase bricks like any other bricks, and, with them, we will be able to build a building for Torah like any other building. If you put on spiritual glasses and view the building created by those bricks, however, you would see that it is filled with holes where those bricks have been placed."
He sent Yehuda ahead of him to Yosef, to prepare ahead of him in Goshen. 46:28
Rashi teaches that Yaakov Avinu dispatched Yehudah on a mission to Egypt for more than merely making arrangements for the family's arrival. The Midrash interprets l'horos as "to teach." This implies that Yaakov sent Yehudah to establish the first yeshivah in Egypt. The "Yeshivah Gedolah of Goshen" set a precedent for all time. Torah education must be a community's priority number one. A city without a makom Torah, place where Torah is studied, lacks the most critical component of its Jewishness. A Jewish community without a makom Torah is not Jewish!
Horav Moshe Yaakov Ribicov, zl, popularly known as the Sandlor/Shoemaker, derives another lesson from Yaakov. Every activity, endeavor, which a person takes on, must be focused on Torah. "What will this endeavor do for Torah?" should be one's primary question. If the Torah component is not integral to the endeavor, the entire endeavor is lacking. This may be compared to one who is building a house. Before beginning the project, he should imagine where he will place his study/room for Torah study, prayer, solitude for spiritual seclusion. This room, which will be used primarily for spiritual purposes, should take precedence in his house. Everything else should fit in around his study. The place for development in Torah has primary significance. When one prioritizes the Torah in his every daily endeavor, he elevates his life from the mundane to the spiritual. This is the meaning of focused Jewish living.
He sent Yehudah ahead of him to Yosef, to prepare ahead of him in Goshen. (46:28)
Chazal teach that Yaakov Avinu sent Yehudah to Goshen for the purpose of establishing the first yeshivah, from whence Torah and its teachings would be disseminated. Why did Yaakov choose Yehudah over any of the other brothers - especially Yissachar, who was the paradigm of Torah study and scholarship? The Midrash Tanchuma teaches a novel idea to explain why Yaakov made this choice. Apparently, for years, ever since the disappearance of Yosef, when Yehudah was the one who presented Yosef's bloodied tunic, the Patriarch had suspected Yehudah of culpability in (what he believed to be) Yosef's death. Now that he heard that Yosef was, indeed, alive and serving as viceroy in Egypt, Yaakov felt he had wrongly excoriated Yehudah. Thus, as a form of appeasement, he sent Yehudah to establish the yeshivah in Goshen.
The Midrash continues, presenting Hashem's conversation with Yehudah, "You aggrieved your father, making him think that his son was torn by a wild animal. By your life, you will know the pain of losing children." Furthermore, the brothers demoted Yehudah from his position of leadership over them, because he did not follow through on the plan which he had initiated. So, between Yaakov's suspicions of Yehudah and his brothers demoting him, the once proud leader, the "lion" of the shevatim, tribes, was going through a woeful period in his life.
When Yaakov observed Yehudah's willingness to sacrifice his life on behalf of Binyamin and later discovered the truth that Yosef was alive, he sent Yehudah to Goshen to represent the family in building a house of Torah study. While this is a poignant story, leaving one with a feeling of empathy for Yehudah, it still does not explain why he was the one to establish the first yeshivah. One does not become a rosh yeshivah as a result of empathy.
Horav Pinchas Friedman, Shlita, offers an insightful exposition into why it was specifically the leadership duo of Yosef and Yehudah that stood at the helm of the yeshivah in Goshen. Chazal teach that there are two nisyanos in life which present a difficult challenge for the individual who experiences either one of them. Wealth and poverty are opposites - each one presenting a difficult challenge to the person who falls into either category. Wealth comes with the challenge of haughtiness; power can go to one's head. A person who has been blessed with extraordinary material abundance must overcome the drive to horde his wealth: to share it with others who are in need; to use his money wisely; to give charity for the purpose of helping - not for personal acclaim and power. One who becomes wealthy might forget Who has given him his wealth - and why he is the one who has received this blessing.
The challenge of poverty can be debilitating, creating an overwhelming feeling of despondence, as one is filled with worry about from where his next piece of bread will come. The poor man need not fear arrogance. Instead, he fears the crushing weight of despair, helplessness, trying to make it in life with very few people who are willing to help him. Going from person to person, asking for a job and receiving a "polite," "nothing is available now," the poor man does not have to worry about becoming pompous, lording it over those less fortunate than he is. He is at the bottom of the heap with little hope of turning his life around.
The poor man whose faith is lacking questions G-d: "Why me?" His faithlessness may lead to dishonest behavior, stealing, extortion, etc. The poor man whose faith is strong, however, understands that this is all a test. Patience will prevail, and, if Hashem wants his life to turn around, it will. Likewise, the individual who is blessed with a healthy financial portfolio understands that it is in his possession for the purpose of helping others.
Yosef triumphed over both: the challenge of wealth; and poverty. Sold as a slave, living in a dungeon with the dregs of Egyptian society, a culture so depraved that moral perversion was a way of life for them. Clearly, he shared his time in prison with the lowest people on the Egyptian cultural scene. Yet, he maintained his strong convictions, his faith and hope in Hashem ever-present and ever-strong.
Rav Friedman points out that there is a greater element of challenge than the standard test of wealth or poverty. It is the challenge of the individual who was in the pits and has suddenly been elevated to the highest echelon of society, with its accompanying wealth, power and fame. Likewise is the individual who had reached the pinnacle of success, who had it all: monarchy, leadership, respect, admiration, and then lost everything, being relegated to the back of the line. Both incidents - the test of wealth coming on the heels of severe depression; and the demotion following great success and royalty - push the concept of nisayon to the extreme edge.
Yosef and Yehudah both triumphed in the arena of extreme nisayon. Yosef had been up there, doted on by his father, having achieved the status of private chavrusa, study partner, with Yaakov - then it all came crashing down. Sold as a slave, achieving a position of significance in the home of Potifar, only to lose it and be thrown into a dungeon. Just as suddenly as he descended to the pits of depression, he was elevated to the apex of power and leadership. During this entire roller coaster of events, Yosef maintained his bitachon, trust, in Hashem.
Yehudah did not fare much differently. The monarch of the shevatim, the leader to whom everyone looked up, was suddenly demoted. No longer trusted by his father, and suffering personal family tragedy, he, too was riding his personal rollercoaster of nisayon. Yet, despite the extreme ups and downs of his life, Yehudah held it together, his faith in Hashem never waning whatsoever.
Our Patriarch was acutely aware of the holiness of his two sons, how each one overcame his individual challenge: Yosef confronting despair and poverty, then rising to wealth and power; Yehudah falling from the pinnacle of respect that was the result of his royal position over the brothers, denigration and loss of respect, demotion and loss of favor. These two triumphed over the two greatest challenges at their extreme. Who better than Yehudah and Yosef to teach the future Jewish nation how a Jew should live? They had each triumphed over adversity, successfully confronting the challenges of wealth and poverty - and back again. They had lived the story of Jewish fortune - up and down - and everywhere in between: from riches and majesty to impoverishment and ignominy; from gloom and doom to rejoicing and exaltation - we have been there. The one constant in the life of a Jew is his belief in Hashem. This conviction may never waver.
Yosef harnessed his chariot and went up to meet his father in Goshen. He appeared before him, and fell on his neck. (46:29)
Rashi explains that neither did Yaakov Avinu fall upon Yosef's neck, nor did he kiss him, because, at the time of their meeting, Yaakov was preoccupied with reciting Shema. Yosef was not. This leads up to the obvious question: Was it the time for reciting Krias Shema -- or not? If it was not Krias Shema recital time, why did Yaakov find it necessary to choose this unique moment of their meeting to capitalize on Krias Shema? Could the meeting not have waited a few moments? The commentators grapple with this question, each offering his own insight into this seeming anomaly. I take the liberty of relating the Sandlor's explanation due to its remarkably innovative approach: Concerning the pasuk (Bereishis 37:33), "He (Yaakov) recognized it (Yosef's multi-colored tunic) and he said, 'My son's tunic! A savage beast devoured him! Yosef has surely been torn to bits!'" The Midrash explains: "This is a reference to the wife of Potifar (Zuleeka, who attempted to seduce Yosef - unsuccessfully)."
Yaakov was now confronted with a serious quandary. Did Yosef sin with Potifar's wife - or not? Chazal teach that once one has been involved in an immoral liason, he becomes disqualified from ever becoming a monarch. Thus, Rashi (ibid 49:7) explains that the tribe of Shimon never saw a king or judge descend from them as a result of their involvement with the Moavite women in Shittim. Accordingly, if Yosef had sinned he could not have risen to a royal position. The Talmud Chagigah 9b elaborates on the pasuk, Me'uvas lo yuchal liskon, v'chisaron lo yuchal limnos, "A crooked thing cannot be straightened, and a lack cannot be counted" (Koheles 1:15). Two interpretations are given. The first concerning an individual who omitted the reading of Krias Shema, in the evening or in the morning. Once the zman Krias Shema, time for the recital of Krias Shema, has passed, it cannot be rectified. The other case which represents an irreparable situation is one who cohabited with an ervah, an illicit relationship. Once the sin has been committed - even if there is no pregnancy (hence, no illegitimate child born of this sin), the woman is forever prohibited to return to her husband.
Now, let us determine what coursed through Yaakov Avinu's mind when he met Yosef - the viceroy of Egypt, sitting in his royal chariot, bedecked in his royal robes. Yaakov had a problem with chaya raah ahchalshu, "a wild beast devoured him," which he interpreted as - Yosef succumbed to Zuleeka, Potifar's wife's, blandishments. She seduced him, and Yosef had a liaison with her. If this would be true, then it was a crooked thing that could not be straightened: How, then, could Yosef have become viceroy? If his sin was irreparable, he could never have achieved a position of royalty. It makes sense that the crooked thing that cannot be straightened must be omitting Krias Shema.
When Yaakov realized that the meaning of "a crooked thing that cannot be straightened" was a reference to omitting Krias Shema, he was not taking any chances. The moment that the zman, time, for reciting Krias Shema arrived, he immediately began to recite Krias Shema.
Yosef, however, had nothing to prove. He knew that he had committed no sin with Potifar's wife. Thus, the "crooked thing that cannot be straightened" could be referring to illicit relationships. Krias Shema, on the other hand, can be made up later on. Thus, he had time to recite Krias Shema later on when he returned to the palace.
According to this exegesis, Yaakov's recital of Krias Shema was founded on the faulty assumption that Yosef had sinned. Yosef, who knew the truth, did not have to rush to recite Krias Shema at the time of his first meeting with his father.
Hashem sefasai tiftach u'fi yagid tehilasecha
Horav Tzadok HaKohen, zl, gives a powerful insight into the need for a Jew to entreat Hashem to open his lips - before he can begin to pray. What else, other than the physical aspect of the lips impeding our prayer, requires a prayer that our lips be opened? It is almost as if our prayer recited through our "closed" lips, is not nearly as effective as the prayer which emerges from our "open" lips. He explains that Hashem, the Omnipresent, is everywhere, and, yet, He took a chelek Elokai mimaal, an infinitesimal fragment of His spirit, and imbedded it within the human body. This fragment is called our neshamah, soul. This sliver of G-d seeks to realign itself to its Holy Source, but the human body impedes this relationship.
When the time for prayer arrives, however, the supplicant strips his body away and bares his soul, allowing it to embrace its Source. Accordingly, prayer is not man speaking to G-d, rather, it is G-d within man talking to G-d outside of man! Thus, the introduction to prayer is our plea to G-d that He open our lips and remove the physical impediments to the dialogue between the Divine within us and the Divine around us. Therefore, when our prayers seem to move with ease, and our concentration is clear without diversion, we may hope that our prayers are soaring unimpeded - from Divine to Divine.
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