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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Vayechi

Parshat Vayechi

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter

Parashat Vayechi                                                                                               Print Version
14th of Tevet, 5779 | December 22, 2018

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi Elchonon Zohn 
The Gift of Life

ויחי יעקב

And Yaakov lived… (Bereishit 47:28)

Tomorrow morning, when each of us wake up, the first action we are going to take is that of reciting Modeh Ani. As we open our eyes, we are going to thank Hashem for returning our neshama to us and granting us another day of life. Our very first thoughts are going to be directed towards the most basic yet most important aspect of life: life itself.

Yet, if you have ever thought of it, isn’t this slightly depressing? The phrase which is to serve as the start and foundation of our day prompts us to think of the transience of existence and the fleeting nature of our time in this world. Why would we want to begin our day on such a morose note?

Let me share with you a story I once heard from Dr. David Pelcovitz.

For a young boy whose father served as the groundskeeper at Fenway Park, the baseball stadium of the Boston Red Socks, it was always a treat to be taken along for a day’s work. And so, one day, the boy’s dream materialized. His father asked if he would like to come along to the stadium. Of course, the boy happily complied.

Now finding himself inside the stadium, the boy stood there mesmerized. To gaze at the perfectly cut green grass, smoothed-out infield and thousands of surrounding seats was overwhelming. And then the boy in fact stepped onto the field. Taking hold of a bat and ball, he walked towards home plate and stood there. He imagined himself as the greatest baseball player of all time. Tossing the ball up into the air, he clutched his bat tightly and swung his arms around in a forward motion. But he missed. The ball simply tumbled down to the ground.

Picking up the baseball again, he positioned himself, lightly threw the ball into the air, and swung with as much precision and strength as he could. But no contact. The ball rolled around in the dirt just a few inches away from where he stood.

Looking on from a distance was the boy’s father and his colleague. Having seen the boy toss the ball up and embarrassingly miss more than just a handful of times, they began to wonder what exactly he was trying to accomplish. His dreams of becoming a professional baseball player did not seem anywhere near realistic.

Making their way over to the boy, the father and friend saw the boy repeat the same process. Up went the ball, back and forth went the boy’s arm and down fell the ball. The same scene repeated itself over and over again. “Young man,” interrupted the father’s colleague, “what exactly are you doing? I don’t mean to squash your dreams, but the Major Leagues are not for those who keep on throwing up the ball and missing it.”

The young boy gently looked back at the man. “Sir, have you ever seen a pitcher like that?” The boy had pitched one ball after another to himself, and not once was it hit. He had indeed pitched a perfect game.

Life is all about perspective. When we deal with the realities of life and death, it is important that we recognize every day to be an invaluable gift. Reciting Modeh Ani is the furthest thing from depressing. To the contrary, the realization that every breath of life is a blessing not to be taken for granted is the biggest motivator and impetus to accomplish our dreams every day. We can look at life as disappearing little by little and look at our missed attempts as failures, or we can approach life with gumption and gusto and view the ball falling to the ground as the indication of a perfect pitch.

This is what Shlomo Hamelech reminds us of when stating, “Better to go to a house of mourning than a house of rejoicing… and the living should take it to heart” (Koheles 7:2). Shlomo Hamelech, the wisest of all men, encourages us to attend a funeral over a wedding for the former teaches a transformative lesson. But that transformative message that life does not last forever should not be one which makes us excessively somber and impair us from moving on with life. It should be one which inspires us to maximize every moment of every day, motivates us to dream about the limitless potential we have and encourages us to keep on swinging our bats until that one day when finally, just finally, we reach our true inner greatness.

Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller 
From Floundering to Flourishing

והשיב אתכם אל ארץ אבתיכם

And I will bring you back to the land of your fathers (Bereishit48:21)

With Avi growing up as a young irreligious boy, he had little exposure to the rich Torah lifestyle many other boys his age experience. Yet, life’s challenges for Avi were only that much more compounded as he was without either of his parents. And so, as it happened, he was admitted into Rabbi Yitzchak Dovid Grossman’s yeshiva, Migdal Ohr, located in Migdal Ha’Emek, Israel. Yet that didn’t mean all his problems were over with.

For Avi, learning Gemara was an arduous task. He and his Gemara were not the best of friends. Yet he pushed himself as much as he possibly could and persevered despite his many vicissitudes and little knowledge of Torah. When he later turned eighteen, he began thinking that maybe it was time for a little change. Perhaps it was time to enroll in a different yeshiva. Looking into his options of leaving Migdal Ohr, he finally made up his mind that doing so would in fact be the best decision. Yet before he could pack up his bags, he was asked to meet with Rabbi Grossman.

“You have a few options,” said Rabbi Grossman. “You are a wonderful boy, and I would think that given your talents, personality and future, you would thrive in a vocational school where you would be able to learn a skill and still seriously remain dedicated to learning Torah.”

But Avi had something else on his mind. “What about a full-time yeshiva?” While Avi had undeniably experienced difficulty studying Gemara, he was passionate about Torah learning. But Rabbi Grossman felt that going through with his plan would not be best at his stage of development. “You should definitely remain fully committed to your learning, but I think that given your circumstances, you would best fit into a more relaxed environment where you can as well study for a profession.”

But Avi had already set his mind elsewhere. Packing his bags as he had planned, he left the yeshiva and headed not for a school where he could dually learn Torah and for a career. He instead headed to a different yeshiva which was even more intense than his previous one. But, as time would tell, the hours and seriousness of learning was not something Avi was ready for yet.

It wasn’t long before he rarely opened his Gemara and his learning began to dwindle. Spending hours outside of the yeshiva, he soon found a group of friends who received a salary to travel around and fundraise for various causes. Traveling from one location to another, he raised a considerable sum of money. With more and more money trickling in, it was not long before he and the rest of his fundraising group were caught in mishandlings and brought to the police station.

Now Avi was nineteen years old, out of yeshiva, with no job and imprisoned in the middle of the night in Tel Aviv. “Is there anyone you would like to call?” asked the police officer. There stood Avi wondering who he could call. He couldn’t call his father nor his mother nor any of his relatives. He didn’t have anyone to call. But then he realized that he had someone as close to him as a father. “Yes, there is,” Avi said. And with that, he picked up the phone and dialed Rabbi Grossman’s phone number in the middle of the night.

“Rabbi? Sorry for waking you.” Before Avi could get out another word, Rabbi Grossman spoke up. “Avi? Is that you?” After Avi relayed his current situation, Rabbi Grossman said, “Avi, don’t worry. I am coming to pick you up.”

And so, there was Rabbi Grossman driving in the middle of the night from Migdal Ha’Emek to Tel Aviv. Avi went on to return to a yeshiva suitable for him and slowly grow in his learning and love of Torah. He was helped to find a job as well as a shidduch and continue learning at a happy and reasonable pace. Aside from Avi and his Gemara reuniting and now becoming best of friends, he was rerouted on a direction in life that would lead him to true meaning and fulfillment.

What children and students need more than anything else is the gentle love and care of a parent and teacher. For Avi, at a moment when he had no one to turn to, he finally found someone. And who was that individual? His Rebbe who had genuinely taken interest in him. It doesn’t take much. Sometimes just a simple smile and warm hello is all that is needed. And from there, the future life of a Jew who would otherwise be floundering is flourishing.

Rebbetzin Slovie Jungreis-Wolff 
Teaching Gratitude

Upon the joyous occasion of holding a newborn baby for the very first time, any parent’s mind begins to wander. Strollers, school, camp, after-school activities. And then they wonder to themselves, “Where should I begin?”

Yet there is another very important question that can easily be overlooked at such an early stage in a child’s life. Character. The question of, “How will I mold my son or daughter into someone with good character?” can quickly get lost in the shuffle of all the other issues and cares we provide for our developing child. Yet it is precisely this question which will influence the child most significantly. How will I teach my child gratitude, honesty, compassion and sensitivity? How will I teach my child to feel the pain of another, open their heart for another and give to another? A baby is born into this world with its fists clenched, and it is a parent’s job to open each finger one by one until a child learns how to give.

For the past fifteen years, I have had the privilege of teaching Hineni young couples about skillful and effective parenting. After all these years, I have come to one simple conclusion. We try so hard to give so much to our children, and our children have more than we could ever imagine. Especially in the realm of technology, the plethora of gadgets are endless. Yet still, children always want more and tend to never find satisfaction with what they have. There is always one more item that they need to make them happy.

Moreover, the technologically advanced age we live in today has most keenly impacted the modes of communication today within the home. As one article in The Wall Street Journal put it, when a father comes home at night, he enters a “dead zone.” Amid a world of swirling noise from computers to emailing to texting, the lines of verbal communication have been cut short and silenced.

The question which therefore occupies the mind of every parent today is how to go about successfully raising wholesome children? What can we do as parents to inculcate our children with refined character traits?

In one of the chapters in my book, Raising a Child with Soul, I mentioned what the foundation of every Jewish home ought to be based upon. What is the one outstanding trait which forms the framework of a Jewish home? In short, it is gratitude. Why is this so?

If a child grows up being grateful for everything they have, they will not take life’s pleasures and privileges for granted. “If I am grateful for my parents,” they will tell themselves, “I will speak to them respectfully and politely.” With such values inculcated at home, everyone and everything is respected and recognized. Why in fact, though, is it so difficult to teach our children gratitude?

It is because we live in a disposable and entitled society.

A few years ago, I made a little arts and crafts party for my daughter. When the children left, I noticed how quite a few coats still remained hung on hangers. Turning to the person in charge, I said, “I am so sorry we have to wait here a bit longer until all the parents come back and pick up the coats.” Do you know what he told me? “Oh, don’t worry Mrs. Wolff. Nobody is coming back; they just buy new ones. At the end of the year, I just have a big bag which I send to Good Will.”

We just throw away old items. Yet when children grow up in such a society, they can easily be led to overlook and value what you have. Items and clothing become disposable, and after a while, friendships and people become too. What was dear and precious one day becomes old and antiquated the next.

How do we therefore teach our children to feel true gratitude and be thankful? How can we instill good character into our children?

The first words out of our lips as we awake in the morning are Modeh Ani, which colloquially means, “Thank you.” The import and implication of this statement is extraordinary. It means that I have a gift and opportunity here. But, even more so, Modeh Ani does not just mean thank you, but means “I admit.” We must do more than verbally thank Hashem, but must feel in the deepest recesses of ourselves, “I admit.” I admit that I owe You, Hashem, my life. I must make the most out of this day, because my life is not something I am entitled to.

People may find it difficult to say thank you for a simple reason. Placing ourselves in position to owe something can be uncomfortable if not set against the appropriate backdrop of why we are expressing it. What we have is not disposable and neither are we entitled to what we have in life. Life is a privileged gift meant to be cherished and used to its fullest.

Imagine you tell your child, “Would you like some more food?” “Would you like to go to the store after school to look for sneakers?” If the answers to these questions are “Whatever” or “Fine,” at that time, capitalize on that very moment to correct them and redirect the way they express themselves “Yes, thank you, I would appreciate that;” “Please, can you take me to play soccer?” There must be an appreciation for everything, even the littlest things in life. How can it be that a child says to a parent, “You owe me twenty dollars”? A parent gives everything to a child, including the very gift of life; how can a parent possibly owe something to a child? Teach gratitude to your children for even the smallest things in life.

The teacher is supposed to teach and the doctor is supposed to check, but that does not mean that our children do not need to say thank you even for these expected services. It sounds so simple, but that is the first step. Teach, teach and reteach gratitude and appreciation. That is how we go about ingraining within our children this finest and most important of character traits.

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