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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Vayeshev

Parshat Vayeshev

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter

Parashat Vayeshev 
23rd of Kislev, 5779 | December 1, 2018                                           Print Version        
                                                                                                             Spanish Edition

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi Benzion Klatzko 
My Dear Student

For several years, I have had the humbling and eye-opening opportunity of taking college-age students to Poland. Our visit incorporates up-close views of the harrowing experiences and tragedies of the Holocaust, and offers inspiration and encouragement that will hopefully leave the students inspired to carry on the torch of Jewish destiny and tradition.

Some time before one of these trips, a dear student of mine, who had sadly lost her mother just months before, got engaged. Unfortunately, this was not the only tragic incident she had experienced in her life thus far, but one of many. I therefore knew that it would be most meaningful if I would attend her vort in Brooklyn, which I happily did.

Months later, I received a call from her. “Rabbi Klatzko!” this same girl exclaimed in a chipper tone. “Are you available next Thursday?” The truth was that I wasn’t. “Well, I will be in Poland with a group of students,” I replied. “Oh…” mellowed out her voice. “What is ‘oh’?” I asked, getting the sense that something was amiss. “I am getting married next Thursday.” I was caught off guard. For one, I hadn’t received any invitation, and moreover, even if I had, a trip to Poland had already been scheduled. Fifty students had signed up and thousands of dollars had been laid out. “I am so, so sorry,” I said, nearly choking on my words, “but I cannot cancel the trip. If I can make it up to you though, I would really love you and your chassan to come to my house the first Shabbos I return home…” The phone conversation soon thereafter ended, but I was just about broken.

I knew how much it would have meant for her if I would attend the wedding, but it was simply impossible for me to be in two places at once.

The following day, her chassan called me. “Rabbi Klatzko, I could be mistaken, but I’m not sure if my kallah was clear. She was hoping that you and your wife would walk her down to the chuppa.” My heart immediately dropped. I then realized what we were dealing with. Her mother had passed away, and she was therefore not merely asking me to attend the wedding, but fill the special role of walking her to the chuppa. I was torn. I sincerely wished to be there for her, but I also needed to be there for my other students on their trip. It would not be fair to them to cancel anything. And so, reluctantly, I reiterated to the chassan how much I would have loved to be at the wedding, yet I was deeply sorry I would be unable to make it.

A few days later, there I was in the Majdanek Concentration Camp in Poland. Standing in the same place that so many of our brothers and sisters once did, I and all the students were shaken to the core. Our hearts dropped as did tears from our eyes, leaving our cheeks wet and cool. The tour guide then spoke up. “You cannot imagine how many parents cried for the loss of their children here, and how many children cried for the loss of their parents here.”

It then, suddenly, hit me. There I stood, at the very place where young children who would never again see their parents shed endless tears. And thousands of miles away was my own student, who as well cried over the loss of her mother as she prepared to walk to her chuppa. “How could I not be there for her?” I asked myself. If I were to leave her alone and disappointed, I would be failing to act on the lesson I stood to learn from that concentration camp.

And so, later that evening, I stood up in front of the students and said, “Dear students, I hope you will understand, but I will need to leave you for a short while. I am going to fly back to Brooklyn on the next flight and walk one of my students down to her chuppa. I will soon return after the wedding. I am doing this because I must be there for her.” And that is exactly what I did. 

Some time later, one of the students who had gone along on the trip approached me. “Rabbi Klatzko, I just wanted to tell you that you leaving to attend that wedding was the biggest lesson you taught us this trip. It demonstrated the importance and extent we are to care for our fellow brothers and sisters. That is something we will never forgot.”

That trip was one which I too will never forget. Not just the flight to Poland, but the flight from Poland. It forced to me to realize that our mission to eternalizing the legacy of our nation is championed when we not merely learn about the past, but live the past. As I heard how children cried for their parents, I realized that the same was happening for my student in the present. And I would only be fulfilling my responsibility as a teacher, a role model and a Jew were I to be there for my student. If I had only traveled all the way to Poland for that one lesson, it would have been all worth it. Yes indeed.

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. There were, however, 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 successfully 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, the 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, as 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 quieter 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 gentleman, 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 reflects the Chanukah miracle, but in a slightly different way. 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 a miracle too. But it was great in its own special way. 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 hope, 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.

In December 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 Avraham Nissanian 
Never Falling

The Gemara (Berachos 4b) makes an insightful observation that we likely would have otherwise missed. Why are all letters of the Hebrew alphabet present in the acrostic recital of the Ashrei prayer except the letter nun? Why is that the only letter which is omitted?

The Gemara explains that it is because the letter nun contains an allusion to the downfall of the Jewish people, as referenced in the Pasuk, “She has fallen and will no longer rise, the maiden of Israel" (Amos 5:2). In deference to this verse, the prayer of Ashrei follows with the letter sameach after the letter mem, and omits the nun.

Yet, what oddly stands out upon considering the implication of the Gemara is the poetic hymn sang every Friday night, Eishes Chayil. Calling upon the virtues and qualities of the Jewish wife, the husband of the home serenades his wife with praise after praise. However, in Eishes Chayil, unlike Ashrei, the letter nun is included. The question thus begs: are there no fallings and descents in the life of the Jewish wife? How can it be that we include the letter nun?

For 365 days a year, a wife stands at her husband’s side, and all the while looks after the house and the children. As the hymn describes, in her incredible strength, she diligently performs countless household tasks, prepares clothing and provisions for her children, and arises early before dawn and cares for the poor. The true Eishes Chayil accomplishes the extraordinary. 

Yet amidst such beautiful accolades praising the Jewish wife, the hymn adds in the line, “Distinctive in the councils is her husband, when he sits with the elders of the land.” In this acrostic of the letter nun, its author, Shlomo Hamelech, highlights the husband. But it is puzzling. The entire Eishes Chayil is devoted to singing the praises of the wife, and now all of a sudden, it switches to speak of the husband’s stature and position? What place does he have?

The answer to this conundrum is the answer to the original question. It is no coincidence that the husband of the Eishes Chayil is specifically alluded to in the letter nun. It is because he is the one who gives her strength, encourages her and fortifies her. When she needs him, he hurries home from his work with the prominent elders and stands by her side. The Eishes Chayil may be on the verge of falling, but she never completely falls, for her husband is always there to pick her up.

The letter nun thus alludes to the wife and her husband’s support. Despite being a hard-working, distinguished individual in the workplace, the husband knows where his true priorities and deepest love lies. And that is with his wife and his home. They are what he rushes home from work to take care of. And it is precisely that devotion and dedication which uplifts and carries the Eishes Chayil all the days of her life, and never allows her to falter.

A Short Message From 
Rabbi Yom Tov Glaser

We are all looking to palpably sense and experience G-d. We are eager to come in close contact with spirituality, with what we could deem, “the G-d experience.” Yet, in all honesty, we must question such a premise. When exactly do we plan on having this “G-d experience”? At the Kotel this Shabbat? Next Tuesday afternoon as we walk down the street? Can we even prepare for such an “experience”?

The answer is that however we would like to describe this encounter with G-d and spirituality we may be seeking, it is happening right now. Nothing magical and sublime occurs by simply counting to three and snapping our fingers. It is happening this very moment, and in fact has always been occurring. We may just have been unaware and unattuned to it. The truth is that we can be anywhere at any time, and experience G-d.

Many individuals are what we may call, “Peak experience thrillers.” They thrive and live off those high moments when they feel a rush of adrenaline flow through their body. Otherwise, they feel empty and dead inside. It is only when they do something extreme that they feel “alive.” But the real testament of spirituality and a genuinely spiritual person is quite the opposite.

Remember this line, “Spiritual people sensitize themselves to the subtlety of G-d in the moment.” That real spiritual, G-d experience occurs every moment of your life so long as you are in touch with yourself and with Hashem. It is about seeing and feeling beyond the superficial space of our physical world and attuning our thoughts and feelings to our purpose in life, our Torah study and performance and the G-dliness within us and our surroundings. Once that is internalized, the “G-d experience” is most certainly happening. And that moment is this moment.

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