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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Vayechi

Parshat Vayechi

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter

Vayechi Newsletter
14th of Tevet, 5780 | January 11, 2020                                               Print Version     

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi Moshe Tuvia Lieff
Like Father, Like Son

For one father whose work had been going well and a decent income was coming his way, the tables turned when he was informed that he would no longer have a job. Without any other option, he returned home downcast with only a sliver of hope that he would sooner than later rebound and find a position to support his ever-growing family.

But as time passed, the father remained jobless. Matters became increasingly difficult as the family struggled to subsist. Until one day when the father received a phone call. It was a headhunter asking if the father would like to receive an interview with a certain corporation. Of course, the answer was yes.

The interview went very well. It was only towards the last few minutes that the interviewer turned to the father and very bluntly said, “Let me ask you something. Nineteen other people are vying for this position. Why should you be given the job?” The father, unsure exactly what to answer, kept quiet. No answer was given as the interview came to a close.

11pm later that night the phone rings. The father picks up. It is the interviewer who clears his throat and optimistically says, “The job is yours.” Elated, the father relays the news to his wife, asking if she would be able to head to the local supermarket tomorrow and buy some of the family’s favorite foods so they can celebrate and enjoy a nice meal. For the past while, the family had just barely gotten through the week with enough. “And please,” added the father, “make sure to also buy a seven-layer cake.”

The following day was a busy one. Trips were made to various supermarkets as a sumptuous meal was prepared and thoroughly enjoyed by the family. Now it was time for dessert: the seven-layer cake. “Everyone should know,” exclaimed the father, “that the cake is for Shlomi.” With the children unsure what their father meant by this remark, he went on to relate the real story.

“Last night I received a phone call at 11pm. It was my job interviewer informing me that I had received the job. Why did he choose me out of all the other applicants? The interviewer proceeded to tell me the following:

After I finished a long day of interviewing applicant after applicant, I closed the office’s doors and went to daven Maariv. As I neared the shul, I noticed that the parking lot as well as the entire side street was parked with cars bumper to bumper. There simply was no place available. It was only after much circling around and around that I found one. I was by then exhausted and without any energy.

As I opened the shul’s doors, I was greeting by a packed room. Scanning the area, there was literally no seat available. With no other option and without the strength to start searching high and low for somewhere in the corner to sit, I leaned against the back wall. But just then a little boy came up to me. “Here,” he said, “you look like you could use a break. You must be tired; take my seat.” I was pleasingly taken aback. Here was a little boy who acted with such consideration and kindness. I then asked for his name, which he told me.

Thinking that this boy must be the rabbi’s son as I had just donated a fair sum of money to the shul, I took a seat. But then I began to think to myself, “This boy’s last name sounds very familiar…”

And then it hit me. This boy must be the son of one of my interviewees. Touched by the boy’s thoughtfulness, I rushed back to my office after davening. Looking though the list of everyone I had interviewed that day, I discovered that I was right. The boy who had offered me his seat was the son of one of the applicants.

“And so,” concluded the father, “the interviewer called me right then and told me I have the job. He said, ‘If your son acts that way, it must be because he got it from you. And if you act like that, I want you to work for me.’”

Sometimes we think that a small little act only goes so far. But in truth, it goes farther than we ever could have imagined. Putting a smile on another’s face, acting with thoughtfulness, and yes, offering them our seat even when we are already comfortable goes a long way. When we do so, we not only infuse our own lives with happiness, but the lives of so many others as well. And you never know, maybe that little gesture will land you a wonderful job.

Rabbi Ephraim Shapiro
Small Steps

A few years ago, I headed off to shul one Shabbos afternoon with my seven-year-old daughter, Gila. Despite the heavy hurricane-like winds blowing and pelting rain, my daughter enthusiastically trailed alongside me, eager to attend the Torah class I was planning to give.

It was about halfway to shul that I turned to her and said, “Gila, do you realize that we are taking steps to hear the word of Hashem? Can you imagine how in Heaven they are counting every step we take. Each one is a mitzvah!” Looking back at me with a glowing smile, Gila had clearly heard the message. We continued briskly walking with a tinge of excitement accompanying our every step, until Gila turned to me. “Tatty, can I ask you a question then?” “Sure,” I replied, “what is it?” “If every step we take is a mitzvah, maybe then we can take smaller steps?”

The same is true on a broader scale as it relates to our journey in life. Spiritual growth and development takes place by taking small steps and making incremental changes and improvements. Big and grandiose accomplishments result from measured and minor growth. Once this is realized, we have already taken that first step along the road to greatness.

Rebbetzin Ivy Kalazan
Our Personal Exile and Redemption

The Gemara (Berachos 3a) records how R’ Yossi once entered into a churva, a demolished and uninhabited hovel to pray. Having noticed R’ Yossi’s entry, Eliyhau HaNavi chastised him for endangering his life by standing in a near-collapsing shack. “You should have prayed on the road!” said Eliyahu. “I acted as I did,” R’ Yossi explained, “because I was afraid of wayfarers distracting me.” “If you were worried about such disturbances,” replied Eliyahu, “you should have recited a short prayer instead.”

What is the deeper meaning behind this Talmudic passage?
R’ Yossi and Eliyahu HaNavi were delving into the philosophical issue of churban, destruction. While R’ Yossi prayed to Hashem that he be extricated from the troubles plaguing him in life, Eliyahu argued that he was taking the wrong approach. “If you are trying to understand why you feel stuck in life and constricted, the way to deal with it is not by asking Hashem why you are in it. These very struggles are a road to your ultimate greatness and what you need is heavenly assistance to grow from them instead of being floundered by them.”

Hearing Eliyahu HaNavi’s advice, R’ Yossi answered that he was afraid that living a life fraught with challenges and exposure to negative influences would prevent him from spiritually thriving. “If that is the case,” said Eliyahu, “you should have offered a small prayer to Hashem that He help you along your path of struggles. Ask Hashem to give you the strength and wisdom not to be overwhelmed by your surroundings, but grow from them.”

We often wish that life would be care-free without so many challenges and impediments which derail us. Yet, in truth, those very difficulties do no less than form the path towards our ultimate destination. The extra effort we must make will bring us to attain our accomplishments, which we otherwise may have fallen short of.

This is the story of Klal Yisrael in slavery and at the threshold of Exodus. The Jewish people’s exile in the land of Egypt mirrored their inner exile of constriction and limitation. Ensconced in a spiritual wasteland, they doubly struggled to spiritually develop and become the great Jewish nation. But those very trials and tribulations are what built them into Am Yisrael. The same applies to us all. When we are forced to tap into our inner resources and muster resilience to overcome our challenges, we discover our true potential which lead us down the road to greatness.

In one of my Ateres Naava seminary classes, I asked the girls to think about somebody they respected and admired. Asking that they list two qualities of this person, I received answers such as, “She is so selfless and giving,” “She is such a good listener,” “She has such integrity and truly lives up to her values.” I expected to hear all of these answers. But I didn’t expect one particular girl’s response. “I respect her because she is so normal.”

As I listened to what this girl said, I began thinking that it is especially nice to meet someone who is spiritually uplifted and engaged in the world of Torah, yet at the same time very grounded and relatable. One who uses his or her unique personality to serve Hashem holds true potential for greatness. Such a person will be able to look at the galus in his or her life and know how to bring out the geulah within the worst of predicaments. They will live normal lives yet achieve extraordinary heights.

Rabbi Dovid Kaplan
One Word, Unlimited Effect

Dovid Hamelech in Sefer Tehillim (22:7) tells us, “I am a worm and not a man.” In this self-description, it is quite interesting to see what Dovid Hamelech chooses to highlight. Sharing similar qualities to a worm does not seem particularly complimentary. What then did Dovid mean with this statement? In what way was he, representing the individual Jew, similar to a worm?

The Midrash offers the answer: “Just as a worm has only a mouth, so do the Jewish people have only their mouths.” Our most potent method of reaching our Father in Heaven is through our mouths – through prayer. Just as the worm digs into a tree with its mouth and penetrates little by little, so do we with our tefillos. They penetrate the Heavens and reach Hashem directly.
But the comparison to the worm goes further.

Imagine staring at a large oak tree which has rotted and fallen to the ground. “How did that occur?” you wonder. The answer is that one worm opened its tiny mouth and began chipping away at the bark, as did another worm and another worm and so on. Eventually, the tree rotted and collapsed.

If we would look to identify the effect of any individual worm, it would be hard to pinpoint. But without question, every single time each worm opened its mouth, it impacted the tree. Not once did its effort go to waste.

The same is true of each time we pray. As the Midrash underscores, “Just as a worm has only a mouth, so do the Jewish people have only their mouths.” Every time we open our mouths in prayer, it has an effect. There is no such thing as a wasted tefillah. The results may not always be apparent, but unquestionably, every word we utter is listened to by Hashem. Our comparison to the worm reminds us to never underestimate the power of even a single word of prayer.

Let me share with you an example.

For one nine-year-old boy, life at school was not the greatest. It wasn’t due to his poor academic work, but something else. Unfortunately, he was the boy who was made fun of, insulted and teased quite often. It wasn’t all too easy to get through a day of school, although he managed.

One day, the boy’s Rebbe called home to speak to the father. “Your son is a wonderful boy,” began the Rebbe, “but as you may know, he is often picked on.” Although the father was already aware of this fact and was in the process of making improvements, the Rebbe had something else to add. “I have noticed lately, however, that every time someone insults him, he mutters something under his breath. I am not sure what exactly he is saying or if it is something to be concerned about, but I just wanted to mention it to you.” As the father listened to the Rebbe relay this added information, he wasn’t surprised.

“Every once in a while,” replied the father, “when one of his siblings says something not so nice to him, I have also noticed that he whispers something under his breath. I have not asked him about it, although now that you bring it up, I will make a point of doing so.”

A few days later, when the father found an opportune time, he gently approached his son. “Tell me, your teacher and I have noticed that whenever someone hurts your feelings, you mutter something under your breath. Would you be able to tell me what it is?”

Looking back at his father, the boy explained. “Abba, there is a statement in the Talmud (Yoma 23a) which highly praises one who is insulted and does not insult back. At the very moment a person is humiliated and remains silent without replying, their prayers have a special effect in Heaven. What I have therefore done is go around to the local shuls where they have a list of all the sick people in the community and memorized their names.

Whenever I am insulted, I recite a special tefillah for those people whose names I have seen on the list, asking Hashem that He grant them a refuah sheleimah (complete recovery).”
Every word we say in prayer, every person we ask for a refuah sheleimah, and every tear we shed for a fellow Jew has an impact. And even when we ourselves are undergoing a difficult time, imagine if we would channel those moments of our own discomfort to thinking about someone else’s distress. The power of those thoughts and words are beyond compare. And what is the age requirement for achieving such results? There is none. Even a young child can shake the Heavens.

Rabbi Avrohom Asher Makovsky
Thinking about You

R’ Yehudah HaChassid in his classic work Sefer Chassidim (#553) writes, “There are some who pray and Hashem answers them; and there are some who pray and are not answered. What is the distinction? If one takes to heart the pain and shame of his friend. It is for this reason that the Anshei Knesses HaGedolah (Men of the Great Assembly) instituted Shemonah Esrei to be said in the plural so as to include all of Klal Yisrael within one’s prayers.”

Now let me tell you how two families put this into practice. As I was once preparing to speak on the topic of nosei b’ol im chavero, commiserating with the burden of a fellow Jew, a friend of mine told me a story about his brother-in-law.

Having four daughters all of marriageable ages – 27, 25, 23, 21 – and none of them finding their spouses, the father was understandably distressed. Besides this concern, he was also facing hard times financially. But that didn’t mean that he and his family gave up on ever seeing the circumstances improve.

Hearing of another man who also had four daughters involved in shidduchim, the idea was suggested that each one of the girls daven for another girl in the other family. And so they did. Accepting upon themselves this practice, of which Chazal say, "One who prays for his friend when he himself has the same problem, he will be answered first” (Bava Kama 92a), the initial results were quite positive.

Not too long afterwards, the second daughter from the other family was engaged and got married. And not coincidentally, on the very same night of the wedding, the second daughter of my friend’s brother-in-law became engaged.

Such are the paradigm characteristics of the Jewish people: “Compassion, self-effacement and kindness” (Yevamos 79a). Here were two families who did not turn away from each other and care only about their own personal concerns. They identified with one another situation and looked to lift the burden off each other. And once that occurred, the beginning of a brighter future was just around the corner.

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