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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Vayeishev

Parshat Vayeishev

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter

Vayeishev Newsletter                                                                           Print Version
23rd of Kislev, 5780 | December 20, 2019

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein
The Most Important Words

The Mishnah in Pirkei Avos (3:18) tells us, “He [Rabbi Akiva] used to say: Beloved is man who was created in the image of G-d. It is an even greater love that it was made known to him that he was created in the image of G-d.” What does this mean?

Imagine a poor man who has a bank account with just a few dollars deposited. He has not looked if he has made any money in thirty years. One day, a friend of his secretly goes to his bank and deposits one million dollars into his account. The poor man, however, has no idea that his friend just made him a millionaire. He still roams the streets and wears dirty clothing. He never considers checking his account because he never dreams that someone would ever give him so much money.

Now comes the question. Is this man a millionaire? He has no idea he has the money, he is living like a beggar and he will continue to live like a beggar for the rest of his life. The answer is that he may be worth a million dollars, but he is mentally a poor man.

The Mishnah teaches that Hashem not only showed us His love because He created us in His image, but he displayed extra love by telling us that He did so. If G-d would have created us with the potential of reaching such lofty spiritual levels, but never informed us of such potential, we would never live up to that greatness.

The same is true, continues the Mishnah, about the Jewish people at large. “The Jewish nation is beloved by G-d for they are called His children. It is an even greater love that it was made known to them that they are His children.” It makes the greatest difference when we are not only loved, but are told that we are loved.

A number of years ago, a very affluent, elderly gentleman approached me after I had spoken in Florida. I took one look at him and noticed that his eyes were full of tears. “Rabbi Wallerstein,” he said, “let me tell you something. My mother had eight children before the Holocaust. But then, so abruptly, she lost them all along with her husband. Her entire family was gone. She was devastated.

“Following the war, she came to America and married my father and had me. I was raised as a single child, but that only went so far. Never in my entire life did I ever hear my mother tell me, ‘I love you.’ I always wished to hear those loving words escape from her mouth, but they never did.

“Three days before she passed away, I sat with her in the hospital. Unexpectedly, she turned to me and said, ‘Hershel, there is something I never told you.’ As she said those words, I leaned over in my seat, waiting so eagerly to hear what she had to say. ‘Hershel, I am so proud of you.’

“Rabbi Wallerstein,” the man continued, “there was one day in my life where I made close to one hundred million dollars on a deal. I thought it was the most important day of my life. But in fact, it was nothing compared to the day my mother told me, ‘I am so proud of you.’ Those few words which my mother uttered to me before she passed away were more valuable than anything else I’ve ever had in my life. That was my biggest and best day of my life.

“Whenever you get up to speak,” this man said to me, “tell mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers to tell their children and grandchildren that they are proud of them and they love them. When children know that, then no matter what happens in a child’s life, those feelings will warm their heart and carry them through.”

R’ Akiva, the author of this Mishnah, lived a very difficult life and experienced an even more painful death at the hands of the Romans. Yet he is the one who tells us about love. “You want to know what love is?” says R’ Akiva. “Love is when you tell somebody how you feel about them.”

The most important words which can be said to a spouse, a child or a grandchild are “I love you” and “I’m proud of you.” Especially in a marriage, even if your spouse knows that you love them, it makes all the difference when you express it to them. When a wife tells her husband, “I am so proud of you. You work so hard for our family and we all so greatly appreciate it,” he skips into his car and heads off to work elated and energized. And when a husband tells his wife, “Thank you for everything you do for our family; I love you,” she feels happy, cared for, valued and beloved.

The same is with our children. When a parent’s love and belief in their child is felt so deeply, the child is capable of weathering any challenge which comes his or her way. Just consider the life of Yosef HaTzaddik.

Nobody in the entire Torah had a better reason to give up on life than Yosef. First, his brothers tried to kill him. Then they sold him into slavery into the lowliest land of Egypt and into the most decadent home of Potiphar and his wife, who libeled him. Yosef is all by himself without any care or support and nobody knows where he is.

Yet, despite all odds stacked against him, he didn’t give way to the pressures and advances of Potiphar’s wife. “Va’y’maein Yosef,” “But Yosef adamantly refused…” He emphatically rejected anything and everything Potiphar’s wife did to try to seduce him. But how did he do it? How was he able to so firmly repulse her with unwavering resolve when nothing was going for him?

In Parshas Vayeshev, there is one other instance where the word Va’y’maein is used. “Va’y’maein l’hisnachem,” “And Yaakov refused to be comforted…” Yaakov Avinu refused to believe his sons when they returned with a jacket full of blood and reported that Yosef had been attacked by an animal and torn to pieces. “I invested so much into Yosef, and now you are telling me he is dead! I won’t believe it until you show me his dead body!” Yaakov would not give in to believing that Yosef was dead.

And there was Yosef, hundreds of miles away, alone, lonely, and facing threats from the wife of Potiphar. But, he did have one thing. He had the knowledge that his father believed in him and loved him. “I know that my father, Yaakov, will never give up on me! I don’t know what my brothers are telling him, but I do know that until I am dead and he sees my body, he will refuse to be comforted!”

The Va’y’maein expressed by Yaakov was echoed by Yosef because Yosef knew that if his father refused to be comforted, he could refuse to give way to any pressures and challenges he faced in life.

Parent and grandparents must never underestimate how important it is for a child to hear the words, “I love you.” Let your children know, “No matter how far away you are and how deep you are in your darkest corner and darkest moment, you have a mother and father who will never, ever give up on you.” When a child hears those words, you can rest assured that the child will make it. They will come out from underneath against all odds and weather through the toughest and roughest of life’s challenges. And it is all because their parents love them, believe in them, and refuse to give up on them no matter what ever happens.

Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky
An Extraordinary Life

When it comes to the lighting of the menorah, the custom accepted by Klal Yisrael is to light mehadrin min ha’mehadrin, in the most optimal way. The source of the obligation to light the menorah in this manner can be found in the Gemara (Shabbos 21b):

Our Rabbis taught: The basic mitzvah of Chanukah is to light one candle per household. For those who enhance the mitzvah, each family member lights one candle per night. Those who go above and beyond in performance of the mitzvah…Beis Hillel says, for every passing night an additional candle is lit.

As explained by the Gemara, lighting the Menorah in the most ideal fashion – mehadrin min ha’mehadrin – dictates that with each passing night of Chanukah, another candle is lit. On day four, for instance, four candles will be lit. And indeed, it is hard to imagine walking into the home of a Jewish family on the fourth night of Chanukah and seeing only one candle.

Yet why exactly on Chanukah do we go above and beyond and practice the mitzvah in the most ideal way?

The reason is because Chanukah is a time when we are forced to confront a very important question: what type of life would we like to lead? The truth of the matter is that deep down we all want to live exceptional lives. We do not want to lead lives which we will be embarrassed to be remembered by. Even a mafia hit man would like people to say of him at his funeral, “Vinney was a good friend; Vinney was loyal; Vinney was good to his mother.” He would want them to find something good to say because ultimately that is what we all want. We want to be remembered as living exceptional lives.

On Chanukah, we are reminded of this message as we stare at the letters on the Dreidel, which stand for, “Neis gadol hayah sham – A great miracle happened there.” While such a phrase was coined by those living outside the Land of Israel in reference to those who experienced the miracle in Israel, a deeper lesson is embedded within these words. The miracle of Chanukah took place because people were not content to live “poh,” here, but they wanted to live “sham,” there. Their goal was not to live average lives, but to live exceptional lives. They desired to be great and accomplish something in the world. It is this message which the Dreidel sends with the phrase “Neis gadol hayah sham – A great miracle happened there.” The miracle of life is “there.” If you are going somewhere, then you are on your way towards an extraordinary life.

It is not coincidental that the first Jew, Avraham Avinu, is not introduced in the Torah when he throws himself into a fiery furnace or when he discovers Hashem. He is introduced with the words “Lech lecha – Go for yourself.” You are going sham; you are not staying poh. You are on a journey and are going somewhere. Likewise, the Maharal writes that this world is represented by the number six, and the point in the middle which brings them together is seven. Anything which is outside of this world, however, is shemonah, eight. It is, so to speak, “over there;” it is some place else. The eight candles of Chanukah represent exactly that: we are heading some place above and beyond.

When Chanukah comes our way and we light the menorah, as most people do, a little water is added along with oil. Looking closely, it is possible to discern how the oil and wick float above the water. And just above the oil rests a burning flame. The candle is sham, over there. And whenever you see the flame pointing upwards, you think to yourself, “That is me. I have the potential to achieve greatness in this world.”

It cannot go unnoticed that the word sham appears quite often throughout Chanukah: shemonah (eight), Chashmonaim (the Maccabees), shemen (oil). In fact, altering the pronunciation, the word sham can also be read as sheim, meaning name. R’ Yeshaya Horowitz, known as the Shelah, writes that a person should recite a Pasuk which includes the first and last letters of his or her name at the conclusion of Shemonah Esrei, because otherwise when one gets up to heaven, they will forget their name. Imagine the scene: “Next! What’s your name?” “Oh, wait a second. I used to know this. Hold on a second. Happy birthday to… Happy birthday…” And for the rest of eternity, they will sit on a bench saying, “Phil? No. Bob? No. Harry? No.”

How many us realize that part of our name is a Pasuk in Tanach? That means that our name is not just a name, but is essential to the entire creation. Why would a person therefore be content to live a mediocre life when Hakadosh Baruch Hu put him or her in the Torah?

But the question then becomes who we really are. What is our real “name”? “Well,” we say, “I am somebody’s brother and sister and father and mother. I work here and live there; I have this house and drive that car.” But that only answers what we do; it does not define our true essence.

Years ago, there was a Doctor Pepper commercial which went along the lines: “I drink Doctor Pepper and I’m proud; I used to feel alone in a crowd. Now if you look around these days, there seems to be a Doctor Pepper craze. Oh I’m a Pepper, he’s a Pepper, she’s a Pepper, he’s a Pepper, we’re a Pepper; wouldn’t you like to be a Pepper too?” People used to have these little pins which said, “I’m a Pepper.” Basically, they were saying that their identity is dependent on what soft drink they consume. “I’m a Pepper. How about you?” “I’m a Coke.” “Hi Coke? I’m a Pepper. Who’s that guy over there?” “I’m a Mountain Dew!” But that is not your real identity. Who are you really if everything would be stripped away and there is nothing left but your core essence? A neshama. And when you arrive in heaven after one hundred and twenty years, Hashem will take out a replay of your life and you will get to watch it. You, your parents, your grandparents and your great-grandparents along with Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov will together watch the life you lead.

And then another movie will be shown to you. It is the life you could have lead had you actualized your potential. You will not recognize it, but the truth is that such is the life you could have created for yourself. That is what your life could have been and the greatness you could have achieved.

The first Shabbaton I headed was in Big Bear, California in 1978 where I lead a beginner’s minyan. Amongst those who attended were two boys who noticeably stood out from the rest of the crowd. They were clearly serious about skiing in the snow considering that they were clothed in army gear. At some point during Shabbos, I mentioned how man was created from the dust of the earth and Hashem breathed into him a spirit of life. In essence then, a person is half G-d and half dirt. Considering this, a person has to decide what direction he is going to take in life.

Six months later, I was in a yeshiva and a man dressed in respectable yeshiva clothing approached me. “Rabbi Orlofsky, how are you? You don’t remember me, but I am the boy who came for that ski weekend of yours in Big Bear.” “Really,” I said, “you’re the guy with the army gear? What are you doing here?” “I thought about what you said at that beginner’s minyan,” he began to say. “When I came back home after the weekend, I looked myself in the mirror and said, “I can be G-d or I can be dirt. Am I dirt? I’m not dirt. If there is G-d inside of me, then I’m going to find it.’” And the next thing you know, he enrolled in a yeshiva.

We all have tremendous potential waiting to be unearthed and used to achieve something special. All it takes is a vision to reach sham, above and beyond our current position, and strive to live a life that is mehadrin min ha’mehadrin. As we light the candles on Chanukah, we are meant to look at the flames and say to ourselves, “I want to live an exceptional life. I want to know that when I turn around at the end of my life, I will be able to say, ‘I lived the best life that I could. I reached beyond poh, beyond the here and now, and attained my greatest dreams which where sham, there. Yes, indeed, I found the G-d inside of me.’”

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