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Parashat Vayigash


We have been privileged with the establishment of our national, independent statehood and a country as developed as other nations. Settlement in Israel is no longer dispersed or sporadic, the days of settlements with just a tower and fortification have passed. We now have committees of urban development, councils looking after the construction of roads, highways, water, sanitation, electricity and phone lines. Town councils ensure the maintenance of public parks, educational institutions, health services, all that is needed for physical - but not spiritual - operation. Entire neighborhoods were planned and developed, though no space was allocated for the construction of a Bet Kenesset, no sketches were drawn for a mikveh, and no plots were designed in the buildings for Sukkot. Why? Because we are like other developed nations, as stated above, and these details are not taken into consideration in the development of other countries.

But Yaakov, leading his seventy-member family down to Egypt, made a point of sending Yehudah ahead to establish a Bet Midrash, an institution to produce Torah scholars (Rashi, 46:25). Yaakov understood - and taught us - that our attention must be focused, first and foremost, on the soul. We must be concerned with the building of religious educational institutions before anything else.

This must be, and always had been, the approach of the Jewish community. The first concern - a Bet Kenesset, a miniature Bet Hamikdash. And if the Bet Kenesset was not taken care of before all else, it should come together with everything else, and if not together, at least after everything else. But to eliminate this concern altogether, to ignore it completely - is this possible? In a "Jewish State"?!


Hunger and Satiation

In order to properly maintain his body, a human being requires food. Among the acts of Divine kindness from which we benefit are the feelings of hunger and satiation which we experience and which thereby regulate the amount of food in our bodies. "Hunger" refers to the desire for food. This sensation expresses itself not only psychologically, but physiologically, as well, such as through the contractions of the stomach, which begins after several hours of unresolved hunger. At times, these contractions can cause considerable pain. The sensation of satiation, by contrast, occurs when the storage of food, layers of fat and reservoirs of glycogen (producers of sugar) in the liver are all full. The centers of "hunger" and "satiation" are situated in the back section of the cerebrum. A disorder with the satiation mechanism causes an erratic urge for eating, and a defect in the hunger mechanism can lead to a severe loss of appetite. The locus of hunger operates by stirring within a person the desire to eat and search for food. In the surface of the brain there is a special area which receives stimuli which are caused by the inhaling of aromas. When this system, Heaven forbid, breaks down, a person loses the ability to discern between different types of food, and thus runs the risk of eating food of low quality. The controls of hot and cold in the brain also affect the mechanisms of hunger and satiation. In the heat people eat less while in the cold people generally eat more, thus supplying more fat for consumption to help overcome the cold. Among the other factors which influence hunger are the aesthetic quality of the food and physical activity. But perhaps the most important factor is a persons routine. One who is accustomed to eating three meals a day at specific times will experience hunger at those times, even when his storage of food in his body is full. As we know, the concept of hunger and satiation applies not only to food but to emotion, as well. Some people experience "hunger" for love, for a kind word or for lives of peace and tranquillity. Whereas feelings of hunger involve the absence of a given need, correspondingly, the experience of satiation relates to the feelings of satisfaction and contentment with respect to a given need. For a Jew, the need whose absence is the most serious and difficult to manage is the need for spirituality; this is the most painful hunger. It is no wonder, then, that a Jew who grew up without the soothing warmth of the Torah and its missvot finds himself searching for spiritual satisfaction in all different types of places, unable to experience a content feeling of satiation. For us, spiritual hunger can be resolved only through the learning of Torah, as the pasuk states, "Behold, I will cast a hunger in the land - not a hunger for food, not a thirst for water, but to hear the Word of Hashem."


Measure for Measure (21)

Flashback: A miserly rich man brought about the untimely death of a poor Torah scholar. To avoid divine retribution, he was instructed along a path of repentance whereby he was to dress up as a peasant and study Torah day and night, refusing to accept anything from anyone. Only when his hunger became unbearable was he permitted to go to his own home and ask for food. His family, not recognizing him, jeered at him and refused to give him anything until they finally allowed him to take some bread crumbs which had been left for the chickens. His odd behavior earned him the reputation of being a madman, and he soon became the laughing stock of the neighborhood, with his own family members using him as a game to help them forget their troubles, their missing father.

To the delightful joy of the children, the peasant was brought inside the house. He was taken aback at the sight of the magnificent hallway, the luxurious carpets and wallpaper decoratively stretched along the floors and walls, the sofas which encircled rooms - everything looked so familiar! But he had no time to indulge in memories and nostalgia. "Dance for us!" ordered his little son; "Clap your hands!" instructed the second. The third had a more creative idea, to ride on his back as if he were a horse. After all, he was insane, and it is permissible, they though, to make merry at his expense. He has no feelings, they assumed, no emotions, he cannot be insulted. And even if he does have certain sensitivities, thats his problem, not theirs. And so, he crawled on all fours as they pulled his tattered clothing like reins, until he eventually collapsed on the floor and could not move. "Take him out of here" cried their mother, his wife. "He might die right here!" They noisily brought him a small tin of leftovers from the kitchen. "Eat, eat" they insisted, as he lay there with no strength. "Hes not dead," they informed their mother, seeing his shoulders trembling as he cried intensely. His crying was more endearing to them than his dancing. They stood around him in a circle and tried to imitate him by crying out in a wailing growl, interrupted by intermittent laughter. Was the sight they beheld ever so entertaining! They watched the madman shake himself and sit up, his lips trembling uncontrollably and the tears forming strong currents down his cheeks. They could not contain their laughter as he brought to his mouth the disgusting crust of leftovers with urgent hunger. They laughed so hard until they were literally worn out from laughing. "Madman, come back tomorrow!" He served as a ray of light for them - they were so sad without him. How great it is for a person who has become embittered by crisis and sorrow to forget his personal turmoil by laughing at another. He could unload his own stress upon the shoulders of another by embarrassing him, to feel superior at the expense of the stupidity of those around him. It is permissible, people sometimes think, to turn the other into a laughing stock, especially if he is dependent upon them for food. "Come back tomorrow, madman, and well give you another little plate!"

to be continued


"Take everybody away from here"

Rabbenu Baheyei cites the comment of Rabbi Shemuel Bar Nahmeni in the Midrash that Yosef, by sending away all his attendants before revealing himself to his brothers, endangered his life. His brothers, at that point, were angry and prepared to fight. If they had wanted to kill him at that moment, there was nobody to save Yosef. He nevertheless decided to risk his life and seclude himself with his brothers, rather than embarrassing them in front of other people.

Similarly, Rabbi Yehudah Ssedakah zs"l once invited a student to his home for an examination. Upon the boys arrival, the rabbi said, "Lets go to the nearby Bet Kenesset." The family then asked, "Why do you have to leave the house?" He responded, "I now have to administer an exam. If he fails, he will be embarrassed. I may even have to yell at him. The Bet Kenesset is currently empty - there nobody will see him." The same applies to parents who need to punish their children or when one spouse needs to criticize the other. The proper place to do it is in private, where the other will not be embarrassed in front of others.

"Take everybody away from here"

Rav Mosheh Alshich, too, drives a critical lesson from this pasuk, albeit in a different direction. The pasuk states, "Yosef could not control himself, in front of all those standing around him, and so he called, Take everybody away from here." The Alshich explains that two groups of people stood there. There were "those standing around him," referring to noblemen and dignitaries, including those involved in the justice system, as the theft of the viceroys goblet was being addressed. But also present at the confrontation were Yosefs children and servants. Yosef wanted to reveal his identity to his brothers with tears, compassion and emotion, which would have been inappropriate in front of the aristocracy, and he therefore asked that they leave. In front of his own household, though, he felt no qualms about expressing his feelings - even through crying - towards his brothers, and was prepared to let them stay. However, he felt that by distinguishing between the different people he would arouse jealousy and resentment, and would in this way hurt one group or the other. He therefore ordered that even his dear children leave and not be present during this most intense moment, in order that he no insult anyone.

"I am Yosef, your brother, whom you sold me to Egypt"

Rabbi Ezra Etyah zs"l explains this pasuk based on the comments of the "Yearot Devash" regarding King Davids lament for his fallen son, Avshalom. In his eulogy, David said seven times, "Avshalom, my son - my son, Avshalom." Hazal tell us that each time David recited the word "beni" (my son) one of the seven levels of Gehinnom was eliminated for Avshalom. Asks the Yearot Devash, is this word "beni" as effective as a "kaddish," that it can save the departed from the fires of Gehinom? He answers that Davids intent with this word was to point out the irregularity of the situation of a son leading a rebellion against his father. If Avshalom did so anyway, it must have been caused through special divine intervention as a punishment to David. Avshalom was therefore not to be held liable, and was thus saved from Gehinnom. Similarly, Yosef told his brothers, "I am Yosef, your brother," emphasizing their fraternal relationship. Since it is unnatural for one brother to sell another into slavery, this must have been brought about by Hashem, so that Yosef would become the viceroy of Egypt and sustain the region during the devastating famine.


Rabbi Salmaan Mussafi zs"l

Rabbi Yehudah Sadakah zs"l told the following story which he heard from the one to whom this occurred, the great ssadik, Rabbi Salmaan Mussafi zs"l.

During the Second World War, as we know, there was a sense that the entire world was being taken over by the forces of evil, by the wicked leader of the enemy armies. They captured Poland with the blitzkrieg, swept through Austria, conquered Czechoslovakia, overtook the lowlands, infiltrated into France, took control over Romania and Hungary, captured Yugoslavia and struck a treaty with Italy and Spain. The armies infiltrated into Northern Africa where they defeated the British armies in one region after another. They gained control over Morocco, Algeria and Tunis. The Land of Israel was surrounded on all sides. The French rulers in Syria and Lebanon were allied with the Germans, a pro-Nazi revolution took hold in Iraq, and the Italians prepared an attack from the south. The Mufti of Jerusalem was in Berlin and promised the enemy leader the support of the Arabs in the Land of Israel for the murder of the Jews. The Jewish underground planned an ambitious fortification project in the forests of the Carmel, and the national leadership was busy trying to devise means of escape.

However, the religious Jews understood that ultimately the fate of their communities lies not in the hands of the military strategists but in the Hands of Hashem. Rabbi Salmaan Mussafi gathered masses of people at Rachels Tomb and at Mearat Hamachpelah to ask for mercy in the merit of our patriarchs and matriarchs. After the prayers, the rabbi returned to his home and went to lie down and rest a bit. Suddenly, he was shown in his dream the pasuk "The fathers did not turn on their faces, because of the weakness of hands" (Yirmiyahu 47:3). It was explained to him that although the people prayed at the graves of the ssadikim, the patriarchs, their merit cannot protect their descendants so long as their remains "weakness of hands," referring to laziness with regard to Torah study. Rabbi Salmaan told this story to Rabbi Yhudah Ssedakah who then reported this incident to his students, encouraging them to increase the diligence in Torah study, for only through Torah study can the merit of our patriarchs protect us!

EVENTS AND THEIR SOURCES This Erev Shabbat, 6 Tevet, marks one hundred years of the passing of one of the great leaders of Europe five generations ago, Rabbi Yehezkel Sheraga of Shinawa, the oldest son of the "Divrei Hayyim" zs"l of Sanz.

Rabbi Yehzekel Sheraga, a ssadik the son of a ssadik, did not depend upon the merits of his father and ancestors, but rather worked tirelessly in the study of Torah and complete service of the Almighty. One of the great leaders of his time said about him, "With this diligent effort, even the son of a farmer can become the head of the entire Jewish community in exile!"

Through his great sanctity and righteousness, he would bring about wonders and miracles. And, through is great wisdom and genius, he would find a source or allusion in the Torah for everything. We will cite here several wondrous events which found their source in the Torah, in the parshiyot which we read during these weeks, thereby fulfilling the expression, "Their words are their memeory," and his merit shall protect us forever.

Once, the Rebbi of Shinowa sat at a meal together with one of the other sages of the time. Someone brought wine to the table, and the wine was poured into the various glasses. The rebbi sat engrossed in his thoughts and did not drink right away. The other sage did not wait, and went right ahead and drank. Suddenly, the attendant who brought the wine came and informed them that his servant had made an error. He had been instructed to take a bottle from the part of the wine cellar which was kosher "mehadrin," but instead the servant took a bottle of wine from the part of the cellar whose wine was not under the strictest supervision. In this sense, the rebbi saw the fulfillment of the pasuk, "No misdeed ever occurs to the ssadik."

The rabbi who drank from the wine was very distressed over having potentially violated a prohibition, albeit unintentionally. He irritably remarked, "I see that the rebbi did not drink on purpose, having sensed a problem with the kashrut of the wine. Why, then, did he not prevent me form drinking, as well?"

The rebbi answered, "Believe me, I knew nothing about it. But regarding Yosefs brothers the pasuk states, They drank and became intoxicated with him. Rashi explains that both Yosef and his brothers had refrained from drinking wine since the day Yosef was separated from his brothers. The question begs itself, why did the brothers suddenly allow themselves to drink wine? Yosef drank because, as he realized, he was reunited with his family. But they were unaware that the viceroy of Egypt was their brother. So why did they drink? The answer is that, in truth, the brothers really did not consciously refrain from wine. But so long as they were separated from Yosef, their hearts did not allow them to drink. Only now did their instincts allow them to drink. Similarly, my heart did not allow me to drink, without my even knowing the reason why."

Another time, he was staying in somebodys home and the owner of a local wine-store provided a bottle of wine for the table. Someone at the table leaned over and told the rebbi, "The Hasidim in this community do not rely upon the kashrut of this persons wine." The rebbi quietly inquired, "Is the suspicion one which concerns halachah?" They answered in the negative, stating that their concern was merely a matter of being extra careful and meticulous. He said, "If so, then we will rely on ruah hakodesh." He gazed at the wine and said, "It is kosher!" He recited the berachah and drank. He then added, "When the brothers ate in Yosefs home in Egypt, Yosef told his butler to prepare the meal, which Hazal understood as an order to show the brothers that the animal had been properly slaughtered and the correct removal of the gid hanasheh. The question is, how would it help to show the brothers the severed neck of the animal? After all, many different factors can result in a non-kosher slaughtering, such as a groove in the knife or incorrect maneuvering during the actual slaughter. The answer is that the bothers were granted ruah hakodesh, and they would certainly be able to discern whether or not the animal had been slaughtered properly. But if so, why was there a need to show them anything? Either way they could determine the kashrut through ruah hakodesh! The answer is that one cannot rely on ruah hakodesh so long as the issue at hand relates to a clear-cut question of halachah. Only when just a humra, an added measure of piety, is at stake, may one rely on ruah hakodesh. Therefore, with regard to the gid hanasheh, and the very fact that the animal had been slaughtered, they had to be shown that everything had been performed correctly, for they had already been instructed not to eat the gid hanasheh and not to eat meat from a live animal. All other laws of shehitah, however, were instructed only once the Torah was given, and they observed these laws only as an added measure of piety. Therefore, regarding these issues they could rely upon ruah hakodesh." He concluded, "Everything is alluded to in the Torah. Study it and go through it thoroughly, for everything can be found therein!"


Events which transpired to our patriarchs serve as a sign for that which will occur to their descendants. Our national patriarchs were like the seeds of a tree, as from each seed grows a large tree, full of leaves, branches and fruit. However, the tree can produce only that with which it was provided by the seed. Everything which has happened, is currently happening and will happen to the Jewish people for all time already occurred in some form to our patriarchs, as they were the ones who paved the path which our nation follows. This is especially true regarding Yaakov, as our nation is known by his name, the Nation of Israel. If we carefully examine the progression throughout his life, we will see quite clearly that his life, in microcosmic form, is really the life of our people. We can look to our own reality and see where we are, to where are we turning, what awaits us in the years ahead. We look to the life of Yaakov the way a navigator looks at a map. He spent his first sixty-three years in the tents of the Bet Midash, studying Torah peacefully from his father and grandfather, transforming himself into a righteous man, an "ish tam." Afterwards the period of crisis surfaced, as his older brother set about to kill him, Lavan wanted to uproot everything he had, and then Esav threatens once again, this time with four hundred men with him. He emerged unscathed, only to deal with the episode of Dinah and the sale of Yosef. The tides turn, however, in our parashah. Yosef reveals himself to his brothers and, once again, Yaakovs family is united, with Yosef now as the family leader. Yaakov merits a period of old age in peace, tranquillity and happiness, living together with his children and grandchildren: "Yaakov lived well for seventeen years when he was in Egypt, and the Almighty considered it as if all his years were good, resembling the World to Come" (Tana Debei Eliyahu Rabbah, 5).

If we were to compare the life of Yaakov, the father of our nation, with that of the nation as a whole, we will discover that the first years, the period of undisturbed and peaceful existence in the tents of Torah, correspond directly to the time when our nation resided peacefully in the Land of Israel, with the Bet Hamikdash erect and functioning, prophecy guiding the way for our people, and the Shechinah residing among Benei Yisrael - the period of the first Bet Hamikdash. The interim period suddenly followed: Esav plots to overpower Yaakov. Yaakov, however, escapes to the yeshivah of Shem and Ever and studies Torah, parallel to the period of the second Bet Hamikdash, the majority of which was spent under foreign rule, the Greek and Roman Empires. But this was a time when the study of the Oral Law increased among the people, this was the period of the Anshei Kenesset Hagedolah (the Great Assembly), Bet Hillel and Bet Shamai, Rabbi Yohanan Ben Zakai and his students, and the four-hundred courthouses in Jerusalem alone! The third stage, the drawn-out, seemingly endless struggle with the threats of Lavan and Esav, undoubtedly correspond to the period of exile. Lavan tries to cheat Yaakov; Esav tries to kill him. Esav hugs Yaakov and attempts to bite his brothers neck; instead, Esav breaks his teeth as Yaakovs neck miraculously turns hard as lead. "Esav is Edom," and to this very day we find ourselves in the exile of Edom. Not for naught did the Torah list the progeny of Esav, Edom, in detail towards the end of Parashat Vayishlah, as these kings, comments the Midrash, allude to all the kingdoms which have risen against us throughout this long, bitter exile. The Torah introduces the list of the Edomite kings with the pasuk, "These are the kings who reigned in Edom, before a king ruled in Benei Yisrael." According to the Midrash, this refers to the period before the Moshiah ruled the Jewish people. The last Edomite ruler listed is "Iram," related to the Hebrew word "arom," which means naked or bare. The Midrash (Bereishit Rabbah 3:4) sees this as an allusion to the final king who will ultimately bare his treasuries before the Messianic King. All the riches of the world, all the scientific knowledge and technology, will become the property of the Jewish people at the time of the ultimate redemption.

After this confrontation, Esav suddenly makes peace with Yaakov. Unexpectedly and surprisingly, after dozens of years of hatred and animosity, Esav hugs his brother and ends the ill will. Then, oddly, "Esav took his wives, sons, daughters, his cattle, all his animals and possessions - and he went to another land from his bother Yaakov" (Bereishit 36:6). Esav and, correspondingly, the other nations of the world, suddenly recognize the right of the Jewish people to their homeland. The mandate abandons the territory, allowing the Jews to live in their land, to establish its independent state. A euphoric frenzy bursts forth among our people, throngs pour into the streets to dance on November 29th, the period of exile and crisis has finally ended. Has it? We know full well that it hasnt. "Yaakov wanted to live in tranquillity, immediately the anguish of Yosef surfaced upon him." Unquestionably, this is the period in which we live. The nation is torn apart, divided and split. Some see themselves as the "children of the main wives" and the others as the "children of the maids." This is a time when everyone seems concerned only about themselves, just as when the brothers went to take care of only their own needs (Rashi, 37:12). The brothers - then and now - are united only when it comes to the joint decision to destroy another brother who studies Torah with his elderly father. They join forces to defeat the one child who wears the special coat of distinction, who demands of them a higher standard of behavior and befriends specifically the children of the maids, the underprivileged. He goes as a messenger of his father to see how they are, to care for them, but they plot to kill him, to take away his rights and his freedom.

The elderly father suffers terrible emotional pain and anguish, the heart and soul of the nation has perished. His ruah hakodesh departs, he mourns the loss of his son and refuses comfort. The son, meanwhile, confronts and withstands the most difficult challenges. He is eventually crowned as king, nothing standing in his way. The others, however, are far less successful. Yehudah has lost his stature, Reuven has been stripped of his birthright and is involved in mourning and repentance, depression has overtaken the society. How will the brothers be reunited with Yosef, the ssadik, the powerful provider for the entire Egyptian Empire?

We dont have the answer. All we know is a famine brings them together. Perhaps a famine in the simple sense of the world, economic troubles, recession and unemployment, inflation and continuous crises. Perhaps the famine in this case refers to a spiritual famine, the hunger and yearning for the word of Hashem. Maybe both. In any case, we eagerly wait for the great moment of reunification, of renewed lines of communication and brotherhood, for the period of "And Yaakovs spirit was revived," lives similar to those of the World to Come.

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