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by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Ephraim of Sudylkov
The Baal Shem Tov taught that all that we have--servants and animals, and even our physical goods--are sparks that are related to the source of our soul, and we must raise them to their root. Degel Machaneh Ephraim
by Rabbi Israel of Rizhin
"And Yaacov lived in the land of Egypt..." (Genesis 47:28).
Rashi comments: "Why is this parshah closed?" That is to say, why--unlike any other parshah--is there no space to demarcate it from the previous parshah?
But beyond the simple meaning of the words, this verse and Rashi's comment can be read esoterically to yield a teaching about serving G-d.
There are two ways of serving G-d. One is to serve Him with Torah and prayer. But in addition, there can be a tzaddik, a saintly person, who transcends limitations and who serves G-d with all physical things: with eating, drinking, sleeping, and small talk.
And within serving G-d, there are various levels. A person may raise all the holy sparks contained within each physical thing to their source. But still, the remainder stays behind, like something dead. However, there is a true tzaddik who serves G-d with all physical things, and has no connection to or use of the physicality outside of the holy sparks that animate it. As the verse says, "You animate them all." With the remainder, which is as dead, this tzaddik has no connection.
Such a tzaddik is called "a living person." He raises the life-force of every single thing to its source.
It is for this reason that the sages state that "Yaacov our forefather did not die." In the course of his entire life, he had no connection to death: no connection to any level of death in any physical thing. Instead, he was only connected to the holy sparks in everything, in order to raise them up.
And so the opening verse of this parshah states, "And Yaacov lived in the land of Egypt." His whole life was on the level of "living in the land of Egypt": he lifted from every earthly thing, on the level of "Egypt," only the life-force within it.
And how can a person come to this level and not, heaven forbid, take pleasure from the remainder in every physical thing?
The verse states that "the beginning of wisdom is the fear of G-d." "The beginning of wisdom" refers to a the tzaddik who transcends limitations. This tzaddik serves the Creator, blessed be He, only with a "fear of G-d"--an inner fear, a profound awe, which is not related to fear of punishment.
However, a person whose service of G-d cannot be separated from the fear of punishment should only be engaged in Torah and prayer. He may not enter into physical things in order to lift them, for he might well come to stumble, heaven forbid.
And so Rashi comments: "Why is this Torah portion closed?"
That means: the way of service of "and Yaacov lived"--of deriving the life-force from everything and lifting it up--is closed to all other people.
May G-d help us to at the least serve Him with Torah and prayer and distance ourselves from all evil. Amen. So may it be His will. Irin Kadishin T'litaah
by Rabbi Chaim Meir Yechiel of Maglintzia
Once, when Rabbi Israel of Rizhin was travelling, he came to a certain town where he stayed in the house of a very wealthy person. The rooms of this wealthy person were extremely well- appointed. In particular, the floor was polished and beautifully constructed.
When the news spread throughout the town that the Rizhiner had come, men, women and children gathered from all corners of the town. This great crowd brought a great deal of mud into the house, and the wealthy man was very angry at them.
When the Rizhiner heard this, he called the wealthy man and told him, "I shall tell you a wondrous story. But hear me well.
"This is the story:
"Once there was a Jew who lived in a village. He was very crushed and poor, God have mercy. This Jew had six children and an old mother and father who lived with him, as well as his wife.
"It was close to Pesach time, and this poor person didn't have anything. In particular, he needed matzos for all of Pesach. The Jew was very upset, for all his attempts had brought him nothing, and he had absolutely no idea how to earn some gold coins.
"As Pesach came closer, he had the idea of trying again to travel into town, where perhaps Hashem would have mercy on him and give him some business to earn some gold coins. And so he went to the town, and he had some good fortune and earned six gold coins. And as can be well-understood, the joy of this Jew was beyond imagination. The Jew went and bought flour, and he brought the flour to the baker. The baker told him to wait for him to first bake the matzos for the wealthy men. The poor man waited for them. The baking of their matzos lasted until nightfall; and only then did the baker take his flour and bake his matzos.
"Now the poor man didn't know what to do. He was very afraid to go home with the matzos, because the road was treacherous with pits of water and mud, and he feared that he might fall into one of the holes. But the idea of remaining in the town until morning was very hard for him, because he knew that his family was hungry and in the dark, because they didn't even have a candle. Finally, he decided to return home. And so he trusted in Hashem and travelled homewards.
"On the way, the wagon fell into a pit of water and mud. The Jew toiled by the sweat of his brow for a very long time to upright the wagon and the horse, but in vain. And he cried a great deal in the bitterness of his soul.
"Meanwhile, a wealthy person was passing by with his servant, not far from where the Jew had fallen. When the wealthy man heard a man crying out, he sent his servant to investigate. The servant returned, saying that a Jew had been cast into the mud with his horse and wagon. The wealthy man hurried to the muddy pit and commanded his servant to extricate the poor man and this wagon from the filth. And so he did.
"When the wealthy man saw that the poor man's soul had almost expired from the cold and weariness, he quickly gave him vodka and cake and put him on the wagon. Then he accompanied the poor man home, fearing that he might again fall into one of the many holes on that road.
"When the wealthy man came to the poor man's house and saw the darkness and the terrible poverty, he was filled with compassion. He opened his purse and gave the poor man 600 red coins, telling him, "First of all, celebrate Pesach generously. And then build yourself a decent house with the rest of the money.'
"After this, the wealthy man returned to his home.'
At this point, the Rizhiner said again, "Hear me well.' And then he continued.
"After this, not many days passed, and the wealthy man passed away. As is usual, he was brought before the heavenly court. They began to ask him, "Did you engage in business honestly?' But before he could answer the first question, he was surrounded on every side by destructive angels. One cried out, "I was created from such and such a sin,' and another cried out, "I was created from such and such a sin.' And there were thousands of them.
"And as can be understood, he was sentenced to Gehinnom.
"But before the decree was sealed, an angel appeared before the heavenly court and cried out, "How is it possible to sentence him to Gehinnom? This man saved the lives of ten Jews. And the Torah states that whoever maintains one Jewish soul is considered as though he had maintained an entire world.'
"The heavenly court replied, "So defend him, by all means.' The defending angel said, "Take the sins and put them on one side of a scale, and place the mitzvah on the other side of the scale.' The heavenly court did so, and found that the side with the sins outweighed the mitzvah by a great deal.
"The defending angel went and brought the poor man, his wife, their children and his father and mother, and placed them on the side of the scale of the mitzvah. But still, they did not outweigh the sins. When the defending angel saw this, he went and gathered all the mud and filth into which the Jew had fallen, together with the wagon and the horse. And he placed them on the scale on the side of the mitzvah. Then this mitzvah outweighed the sins.'
When the Rizhiner concluded the story, he said to the wealthy man with whom he was staying, "Do you hear, my son? Sometimes even the mud of a Jew saves one from the judgment of Gehinnom. Therefore, for the sake of G-d, do not despise the mud of Jews.' Sichos Chaim, p. 37
by Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook
Exacting care in our actions inspired by the lower wellspring-- the fear of punishment--may contain small-mindedness and judgements.
Ultimately, this will rise. Ultimately, all its strictness will become a flame of holy might: with love and a fire that blazes with the pleasantness of divine friendship; with love of humanity; with grace and good wisdom.
Ultimately, this exacting attitude will arrive at the supernal wellspring of the light of life. There, the illumination of holy pleasures shines the might of its radiance upon life.
"G-d, how precious Your kindness is!
In the shadow of Your wing, People find sanctuary. They are gratified by the wealth of Your home. You give them to drink from Your river of delight.
The wellspring of life is with You. And so, in Your light, we will see light.
Extend Your kindness to those who know You, And Your justice to those who are honest" (Psalms 36:8-10).
Oros IV, p. 419
by Rabbi Nachman of Breslov
by Yaacov Dovid Shulman
Until they are white and still;
Let me in my thin-soled shoes
Walk the hard, cold soil.
Help me learn the details
Help me learn the grammar of my days.
All translations and original material. Copyright 1998