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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Vayigash

Parshat Vayigash

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter    Print Version

Parashat Vayigash
5th of Tevet, 5778 | December 23, 2017

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi Yoel Gold
A Dream Come True

It was February of 2011 when Rabbi Yotav Eliach led a trip to Israel for a group of fifty American high school students. The last stop of the trip before they went to the airport was the cemetery in Har Herzl. As you can imagine, walking through the cemetery and looking at the graves of the young soldiers who gave up their lives and hearing their heroic stories can be a very emotional and moving experience.

“The most difficult place to visit,” said Rabbi Eliach, “is Har Herzl. And that is because instead of the young burying the old, the old are burying the young.”

As Rabbi Eliach explained to the students the sacrifice that these young soldiers and their families had made, he suddenly noticed an elderly couple standing just a few feet away crying over a grave.

“Suddenly,” Rabbi Eliach noted, “everything I had been describing about what it means to parents and families and their loved ones, was right there. We saw a man and woman crying. It was very clear that this was a mother and father visiting their child’s grave.”

Rabbi Eliach observed how the tombstone included a picture of a young Israeli soldier named Erez Deri. Taken by the scene, one of the students leaned over and gently asked the mother, “Could you tell us a little bit about your son?”

Mrs. Deri began relating how Erez was a paratrooper in the Israeli army, yet was tragically killed in 2006. “I took a look at the kids’ faces,” said Rabbi Eliach, “and it was clearly discernable that they were all in pain.”

But then Mrs. Deri told the group of students something which left them speechless. “Last night I had a dream. Erez came to me and said, ‘You didn’t merit to lead me to down to my Chuppah in marriage. Instead, I would like you to dedicate a Sefer Torah in my name. If a Sefer Torah is written in my memory, it will be as if you are leading me down to my Chuppah.”

But that was not all Erez relayed to his mother. He had something even more surprising to say.

“Go to Har Herzl. There you will find good people who will help you write a Sefer Torah.” Those ‘good people’ who Mrs. Deri would meet the next day were these group of students.

“Something about this woman,” one student remarked, “just sparked a connection with us, and we as a cohort decided to take on this project. We were determined to fundraise for a Sefer Torah and dedicate it in memory of Erez. ‘Next year,’ we told Mrs. Deri, ‘we will return with a Sefer Torah and dedicate it in Erez’s memory, just like you dreamed.’”

These were a group of secular kids and religious kids, along with kids from day schools and public schools. They all felt so strongly passionate about taking on this momentous project.
The next year in February of 2012, the same group of students returned with a brand new Sefer Torah and headed to Ma’ale Adumim to write the final letters. They gathered in Erez’s room, noticing his uniform hanging pressed against the wall. On his desk, the Sefer Torah was laid down as the last few letters were written.

“I was in tears,” Erez’s mother later said. “I was so emotionally moved. I felt as if all of Am Yisrael was with us.”

Everyone felt the excitement as they concluded adding the last letters and began parading down the street. All types of Jews from all walks of life were there, dancing and singing in unison. Am Yisrael was there.

Such a story ought to make us feel proud to be a part of the Jewish people. Jews can meet anywhere in the world, whether it be in a cemetery in Israel, or in an airport in Beijing, China. It makes no difference where, but there is an immediate, warm feeling of connection regardless of how different we look on the outside.

Even if our homes are thousands of miles away, our hearts are so ever close. All of us are interconnected and inextricably bound to one other. We are one body and one soul.

Rabbi YY Jacobson
The Ninth Invisible Flame

I heard the following story from my brother, Rabbi Simon Jacobson, who in turn heard it from the man himself:

With the help of G-d, I survived the Auschwitz death camp. I still remember the day. It was the last Chanukah in Auschwitz, Chanukah 1944. All we were focused on day and night was survival. We tried time after time to get our hands on another morsel of food and stave off the starvation which was unbearable. We could not think of anything else but finding a little food and keeping ourselves alive. We could not calculate what day, week or month we were in. However, there were a few people in the camp who seemed to operate on a higher level of consciousness. Despite the horrors, they would remind us when it was Shabbos and when it was a holiday.

One morning, I tried stealing some balm from the infirmary to help my father who had horrible sores on his body. I tried to relieve him from his pain, and I managed to get some balm. Yet when I returned to the barracks where my father previously lay, he was not there. Until today, I do not know what happened. Perhaps it was a Nazi bullet, typhus or some other horrible ailment. All I knew was that my father was gone and I was frantic. I was holding onto life because I had my father, but now he was no longer with me.

An older gentleman approached me and tried comforting me. I did not know his name, but I knew that he would quite frequently converse with my father. He looked me in the eyes and said, “Son, I don’t know where your father is and I don’t know what happened, but I do want to tell you one thing. Today is Chanukah, and Chanukah represents the victory of the few against the many, the righteous against the wicked, the weak against the strong, and light against the darkness. We are in the thicket of the greatest darkness in history. Your father would be so proud knowing that you will live, and you will allow light to defeat darkness.”

The man’s gentle voice consoled me, and in excitement I said, “You know what? Let’s light the Chanukah menorah here in Auschwitz. The man smiled a smile which camouflaged deep grief, and he said, “It is too dangerous to try. This is not the place to light the Chanukah menorah.” But I was so enthusiastic and excited that I told him I would go look for oil. I would go to the factory and get machine oil, and we would light the menorah.

Miraculously, I ran to the factory and obtained a little oil, after which I came back to the barracks. For a few seconds, I forgot my grief and the horror I was in. The gentleman continued to make a few wicks from some old, tattered uniforms. Now we had wicks and we had oil. All that remained was fire. I saw that at the end of one of the buildings there were smoldering cinders. We decided that at the time for lighting the candles after dusk, we would get some fire and light our Chanukah menorah. At that time, it would also be more quiet, and less dangerous.

At the opportune time, my older friend and I left our barrack and carefully walked to the cinders. But we didn’t last long before an SS guard caught us. He was sadistic, ruthless and barbaric. He began hollering at us and snatched the wicks and oil.

But then, almost all of a sudden, it seemed like a miracle was happening. A superior of the SS guard barked a command and he was ordered to follow along. We were relieved, but not for long. He turned around and said, “I will soon be back to get you!” He then went on his way, leaving us both terrified. I trembled and thought life was over. The older gentlemen, however, was serene and calm.

We returned to the barrack, whereupon the gentleman looked at me and said words I never forgot and I will never forget for the rest of my life:

“Tonight we performed a miracle that was far greater than the Chanukah miracle. For the Chanukah miracle, they had oil which could not last for more than one night, though it burned for eight nights. But they had a menorah, they had oil, they had a wick and they had a fire. Here in Auschwitz we performed an even greater miracle. We managed to light a menorah without oil, without a wick and without a flame. I call it the ninth invisible flame. The Chanukah menorah consists of eight candles, but tonight we lit the ninth candle which is so deep and so real it is invisible. You are going to come out of here alive and wherever you go, I want you to tell the world what happened. In the deepest darkness of Auschwitz, the fire and the flame of the Jewish spirit could not be extinguished. My child, don’t think that we did not kindle a flame. We did. It was the ninth flame, and it was deeper than any flame that has been kindled in Jewish history.

And with that, the man concluded:

“I want you to hold onto this flame of home, of passion, of love and of light. Take it with you wherever you go and share it. Whenever you meet someone who is in despair, tell them about this flame that we lit in Auschwitz. Tell them about the flame that was inextinguishable and the fire that could never die.”

As he finished these words, the SS guard returned. He walked into the barrack, and shoved the gentleman outside. I never heard of him again. I myself, though, managed to escape. A few weeks later, on January 22, 1945, the Soviets liberated Auschwitz.

That is the story about the menorah we lit, Chanukah 1944, in the deepest darkness of the death camp Auschwitz.

Last Chanukah, during the cold Winter of 2016, I took a group of around sixty secular Jewish students from American campuses and universities to Poland. It was Chanukah time, and we made our way to Auschwitz. It was a freezing cold day, yet there we stood in front of one of the barracks. I asked two grandchildren of Holocaust survivors who had been in Auschwitz to please come light the menorah. It wasn’t easy to light the menorah in the stormy winds, but we managed to get two candles lit. The students then asked me to share a few words. But what words could I share in such a place? I then remembered this story that my brother heard from this survivor.

When I finished relating the story, I concluded, “My dear students, I am telling you this story because I want you to understand what type of people you come from. You belong to a people who managed to light a candle of hope and faith, and of commitment and passion, even in the darkest and thickest of nights. I want you to take this menorah wherever you go and share it with everybody. Share this hope and this light. Become ambassadors of Yiddishkeit to the entire world and teach every person, even those who look at their lives and see no wick, no flame, no oil and no menorah. To people who have been hurt and look at their lives and see no potential for illumination, teach them this lesson. The flame of a Jew never dies.”

Rabbi Daniel Staum
Seeing the Potential

In Parshas Vayigash, we read about one of the most climactic moments in the Torah. Yosef could no longer restrain himself from revealing his true identity, prompting him to ask everyone in the room to leave and allow him to remain with just his brothers alone. It is then that he stands before them and states, “I am Yosef.” The brothers were shocked, and became confused and unable to respond to Yosef.

The Midrash famously states in relation to this incident, “Woe to us from the Day of Judgement; Woe to us from the Day of Rebuke.” When we leave this world and stand before the Celestial Court, how will we be able to withstand the judgment and rebuke awaiting us? The brothers could not stand before the admission of Yosef; what will we say before Hashem when all the truth is laid out before us?

The Sfas Emes explains that the brothers were in such a state of confusion and disarray in response to Yosef’s’ statement for a very simple reason. They could not believe that Yosef had attained such greatness, and that they had missed seeing such potential years before. They were in disbelief that they had not recognized Yosef’s incredible inner greatness and passed judgment on him.

In light of this, comments the Midrash, what will be for us on the final Day of Judgment. We are often inclined to make quick judgments of people and form conclusions about who we believe they are. Yet concomitant to creating these impressions and judgments in our minds, we miss out on who the true person is and what potential greatness they can achieve. We often years later tell ourselves, “That used to be my classmate and look who he became! I don’t believe it! Look what he made of his life!” The brothers were in dismay that they had missed seeing Yosef for who he truly could become.

We tend to look at the world with our physical eyes and see what externally appears to us. Yet we must always remember to look deeper and further. As parents and teachers, we can never forget to recognize the potential awaiting each child and student. What we see at first in friends, neighbors, children and spouses must always be looked at again and again. Because ultimately, deep down within each and every human being, there is beauty and greatness awaiting to shine.

A Short Message From
Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky

Every stage in life brings with it new opportunity and potential to achieve something unique and special. Likewise, in the larger spectrum of Klal Yisrael, every individual plays an important role and can contribute to achieving great success at a community level and national level. In growing and developing as a Jewish nation, we need youth, youth and youth. We must pass down the Torah tradition to the next generation and allow the upcoming young adults to learn how to lead the Jewish people. But even as we grow older in years, we must always remember, we can be old and be youthful. So long as we are alive and breathing, we can achieve and accomplish that which we set our mind to.

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