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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Vayigash

Parshat Vayigash

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter

Parashat Vayigash 5781                                                         Print Version
11th of Tevet, 5781 | December 26, 2020

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rebbetzin Chaya Sora Gertzulin
Is My Father Still Alive?

It was a late Thursday night, twenty-five years ago. The week we read Parshas Vayigash, I was sitting at my father’s bedside in Sloan Kettering. There was a heavy silence in the room, a silence I had difficulty dealing with.

My beloved Abba was slowly slipping away, and my heart ached. I held back the tears, there was a lump in my throat. I couldn’t find the right words to say. “Abba,” I asked, “Can I read the parshah to you?” “That would be good”, Abba answered.

And so I began. “Vayigash eilav Yehudah…and Yehudah approached him (Yosef)…” (Bereishis 44:18)

I continued on, reading the story of Yosef’s long-awaited reunion with his brothers. It didn’t take long for me to reach the heart-wrenching passage, where Yosef reveals his identity. “And Yosef said to his brothers, I am Yosef, is my father still alive?” (Bereishis 45:3).

“Ha-od Avi Chai… is my father still alive?” My lips started quivering, my voice shaking… The tears started rolling down my cheeks.

It’s generations and generations after Yosef, and yet we have something in common, a child’s love for a parent. It doesn’t matter the age; even an adult child still longs for a father… still cries for a father, and still loves and needs a father.

Yosef’s words, spoken in the palace of Pharaoh, resonates with all of us. We all feel his anguish, we all feel his love.

The Rebbetzin, a”h taught that each week the parshah mirrors what is happening in our own lives. It has a personal message for each and every one of us, a message our neshamah needs to hear.

“And Yehudah said, how can I return to my father, if the child (Binyamin) is not with me?”
(Bereishis 44:34). The Piaseczna Rebbe, also known as the “Aish Kodesh, the Holy Fire,” perished in the Holocaust, but his writings on the Torah survived, and are still studied today. The Rebbe has a deeper explanation for this passage. “How can I return to my father?” – How can I stand before my Father in Heaven without my brothers, without my fellow Jews? Just think, these words were expressed by a man who had already lost his entire family, yet he spent the last days of his life mentoring, encouraging and teaching Torah in the Warsaw Ghetto.

We all carry a responsibility to be there for each other, and share the beauty of Torah with each other. When our time comes, each of us must be able to say, “Hashem, I cared, I tried, I did my very best.” Abba, zt”l cared. He gave his all to his family, as well as to his spiritual children at Congregation Ohr Torah.

As a student, I was a great procrastinator. After numerous phone calls to my friends, reading the newspaper, and munching on apples, I was finally ready to hit the books.

Of course, by then the hour was late, and my concentration level low. But Abba would come to the rescue. My father was at my side, helping me navigate through difficult Hebrew texts, always with a smile and endless patience. Abba was truly my “ovi, mori – my father, my teacher.” Abba had the love and the patience to study and learn with everyone. He was a modest and humble man, truly unassuming, never telling us of his time spent giving to others.

During the shivah, we heard many stories of Abba’s kind-heartedness. Stories that we were previously unaware of.

One evening, a young girl, about eight or nine years old, came with her parents, members of my father’s congregation. The little girl made her way to us and started crying, “Who will help me with my homework?”

At first, we didn’t grasp what she was trying to convey. Then her mother explained. “The Rabbi convinced us to give our daughter a yeshiva education, but who would help with the Hebrew homework?” Neither the woman nor her husband had a yeshiva background, and were unable to assist their daughter. The mother told us how the Rabbi would come and study with their daughter, always saying how it was his pleasure.

Abba reached out to so many, both young and old. He brought them closer to Hashem, Torah and mitzvos. He was able to say, “I brought them home”. “V’nafsho Keshurah V’nafsho – and his (Yaakov’s) soul is eternally bound with his (Binyamin’s) soul” (Bereishis 44:30).

To Abba, every Jewish neshamah was bound to his. So many told us that they felt like “they were the Rabbi’s best friend,” only to hear someone else voice the same sentiment.

The Rabbi had many “best friends.”

After the Holocaust, my mother and her family were in a DP camp in Switzerland. The children were separated from the parents, and it was an especially painful time for my mother. My zeide would come visit and bring letters of encouragement, always signed with the words “V’nafsho Keshurah V’nafsho,” one soul eternally bound to another. Words from this week’s parshah used to describe Yaakov’s love for Binyamin. Words my zeide used to describe his love for my mother. My mother continued on with zeide’s custom, choosing to end each letter she wrote to us children, as well as to her grandchildren, with the words V’nafsho Keshurah V’nafsho.

Parshas Vayigash sparks memories of both of my parents. Two souls that that are intertwined. Souls that worked together to bring their people closer to Hashem.

Yehei Zichrom Boruch. May their memories be for a blessing.

Rabbi Sruly Bornstein
R’ Eliezer, The Great

It is interesting to observe that the first opinion mentioned in the first Mishnah in Shas (Mesechta Berachos) is that of R’ Eliezer, who rules as to the time the evening Shema’s recitation extends. Yet R’ Eliezer is not only the first opinion cited in Shas, but as well the very last (in Mesechta Uktzin). [See commentary of the Tosafos Yom Tov who addresses how this remains true despite the oft-cited and printed final Mishnah in Mesechta Uktzin noting the opinion of R’ Yehoshua ben Levi].

The Chidushei HaRim explains such a phenomenon in light of R’ Eliezer’s comment (Succah 28a) that “no one ever preceded me in entering the Beis Midrash (study hall) to study… nor did I ever leave someone behind in the Beis Midrash and leave…” R’ Eliezer was always the first person to enter and begin learning and always the last one to exit. It is for this reason that R’ Eliezer merited being the first opinion to begin the entryway into learning Shas and merited being the final cited opinion in concluding the series of Mishnayos in Shas.

However, perhaps an alternative perspective can be offered in explaining why specifically R’ Eliezer is the one who begins the start of our learning of Shas, and why his teaching relates to the mitzvah of reciting the Shema.

R’ Eliezer was also known as R’ Eliezer Ha’Gadol (R’ Eliezer, the Great one), reflecting his unparalleled greatness among the leaders of his generation (Radal, intro. Pirkei D’Rebbi Eliezer). This fond appellation derives from the Mishnah (Avos 2:8) wherein R’ Yochanan ben Zakai remarked after enumerating the praises of his five prized students, “If all the wise Torah scholars would be placed on one side of a scale and R’ Eliezer would be placed on the other side of the scale, R’ Eliezer would outweigh everyone.” R’ Eliezer greatness was markedly unmatched.
But R’ Eliezer was by no means a child prodigy.

In fact, Pirkei D’Rebbi Eliezer begins with the backdrop to the story of R’ Eliezer’s rise to greatness. R’ Eliezer’ father was a wealthy man whose children worked alongside him in the family business. R’ Eliezer, however, was not particularly successful in his work in the field, nor did he know how to learn Torah. His father would often deride and mock him, adding insult to injury.

On one occasion, one day, Eliyahu Ha’Navi disguised himself as an ordinary person and approached R’ Eliezer, asking him why he appeared to look sad and downcast. In explaining his predicament, R’ Eliezer underscored how he felt down about his progress and lack of success, and how he lacked the rudimentary skills to learn Torah. Eliyahu Ha’Navi recommended that he enter yeshiva and begin to learn, in no less than the prestigious yeshiva of R’ Yochanan ben Zakai.

Yet R’ Eliezer was sorely underprepared. Eliezer, a 28-year-old unlearned man, informed R’ Yochanan ben Zakai that he had never in his life recited the Shema, nor prayed, nor recited Birkas HaMazon after eating. However, R’ Yochanan ben Zakai did not regretfully reply that the yeshiva he had entered was not for him, yet rather told him to stand up while he would teach him all three – how to recite the Shema, how to pray and how to recite the requisite blessings after eating.

This same R’ Eliezer, who had been mocked by his father and ridiculed by his peers, went from not knowing how to recite the Shema at age 28 to being the greatest leader of the generation.
It is for this reason that R’ Eliezer earned the honor and merit of beginning our cycle of learning Shas, specifically with the mitzvah of Shema. When Jews around the world begin the study of Talmud Bavli, the very outset of our learning commences with that of R’ Eliezer and Shema, the very individual who at 28 years old did not know himself how to recite the Shema.

The hidden lesson and message embedded in this subliminal allusion is the encouragement that no matter where we may be as it relates to our understanding and caliber of learning in life, it is not only never too late to begin, but never too late to rise to become one of the greatest leaders of our generation. We are to never sell ourselves short or underestimate our capabilities to grow and grow, despite what has gone on before. R’ Eliezer’s life is the greatest testament to that.

The 2,711 folios of the Talmud Bavli may be lengthy and challenging, yet we all can accomplish that which we may think we could never attain. It all begins with R’ Eliezer and ends with R’ Eliezer. He greets us at the start of our journey and awaits our completion to celebrate with us at the very end.

Mrs. Lisa Twersky
Are You Really Compatible?

It has always been curious to me when thinking about the world of dating and relationships, why our Sages draw an analogy to the Splitting of the Red Sea. “The bringing together of two people in marriage is as difficult as Splitting the Sea” (Sotah 2a). Why is a comparison made between something which involves splitting to something which involves joining?

The answer is that as important and relevant as it is talking about healthy relationships and finding the right spouse, talking about unhealthy relationships and staying away from the wrong person is just as crucial, if not more. You will know you have been brought together with your right spouse when you can identify what it is that you need to separate and split yourself from.

In general, when we begin searching for the right person, undue emphasis is placed on our personal list of who we believe we are compatible with. Many categories go into this composite list, which makes up our envisioned person with whom we can build a home. Most often, the list consists of concrete, tangible areas of compatibility – similar hashkafos (outlooks on life), same religious levels, comfortability with the other’s family and background, agreement on where to live, careers to pursue, children to raise and home environment to create. All these categories are rightfully so explored and discussed between the boy and girl meeting each other.

In truth, those areas of life are more or less straightforward and tangible and thus discussed. But, in my experience, a more undervalued area of similarity is that of emotional compatibility. And it is no less crucial to a real, long-lasting relationship than any of the above-mentioned areas, if not more. It is something which affects multiple facets of a relationship and steeply impacts the day-to-day living with another person.

In order to better understand this, you must first define what type of emotional person you are. To get started, ask yourself a few questions:

Am I more high-strung or laid back? Am I quicker to get upset about something and then forgive it easily or slower to get upset and then take longer to forgive? Am I more expressive or reserved?

Life attitudes and personalities like these are essential to define in oneself and then separately define in terms of who you believe you are compatible with. And that is because ultimately, in a relationship, emotional compatibility is what it boils down to. It is granted that it is important to marry someone in the same range as you religiously and spiritually and shares common goals and interests. But, after all said and done, you and your spouse are never going to be exact carbon copies of each other or on the same page to every last detail. Yet, when emotional compatibility exists, it helps relieve issues and differences that arise in all these areas of marriage. When you really fit with someone emotionally, you can negotiate conflict with them and weather any tumultuous challenge that your marriage will face.

The next question to address is how do you know who you are compatible with? You may not have any experience in relationships, so how can you know with comfortable certainty who you fit with? The reality is that a relationship is a relationship which is a relationship. It is not so important to have had experience in boy-girl relationships to know who you are compatible with as much as examining who your past healthy friendships in life have been with. Growing up, in school, in camp and everything in between, with whom have you developed healthy, emotionally satisfying relationships? When something comes up, is it very easy to negotiate your differences? Do you feel comfortable discussing personal matters with them? Are they someone you can express yourself to and easily listen to?

Think what type of friendships you have formed until now and consider what kind of people they have been. When you look at your innermost circle of a few friends, what are they like on an emotional level, and why do they fit with you as a friend? It is very helpful to look at your past healthy friendships and learn from them what type of future relationship will fit for you.

Let me give you an example.

Some time ago, a young woman came to see me. She and her sister, eight years apart, were both single and living at home. You might have assumed that it would be natural for them to be very good buddies. But they had a lot of conflict. There were times when they got along and had a good time together, but, more often than not, they just could not negotiate their differences and would give each other the silent treatment for weeks.

The young woman who had come to me began believing that there was truth to her sister’s words. Maybe she really was a difficult, unsympathetic and uncompassionate person. But, before I let her reach that conclusion, I asked her, “What are your other friendships like? Do you have that same struggle with your other friends? Do they also think you are insensitive and uncaring?” “No,” she said, “I have a bunch of friends and I have no problem with them.” “Oh,” I said, “and what are they like?” “Well, they are like me.” Right. That was exactly it. “And your sister?” “It’s the same thing. She also has friends.” “And what are they like?” I asked again. “They are like her.” You should be able to pick up something here.

These two sisters are trying to make each other into best friends because they are sisters and living under the same roof, but they are not on the same wavelength and not compatible. These sisters may want to have a good relationship, but they are plain and simply not compatible as friends. In marriage, the same applies. You can get married to someone who you are emotionally compatible with and can easily and naturally get along with or you can end up married to someone who is not really your type. A couple, in similar straits as the sisters, could go to couples counseling to help them through their differences, but ultimately it would be much more satisfying when you fit each other in the first place. And that comes down to emotional compatibility. This doesn’t mean that you cannot have differences, but just the opposite. Yes, you can have different views and opinions, but precisely when you fit emotionally, those differences will become much easier to work though.

Now, what happens if you do not have good friendships to draw upon as paradigm examples and models for what a healthy future relationship would be? The answer is that you can still draw from your bad friendships. In the case of the sister, she should think, what was the struggle I had with her? What is she like that I know doesn’t fit me? In another case, maybe you feel your friend wasn’t sensitive enough or as refined as you prefer. You can still draw from the negative experiences and encounters and discover why it was a less satisfying and more difficult friendship. Use that as a tool to figure out what would be better for you.

And so, now it should be clear what wisdom underlies the words of Chazal which compare finding a shidduch to the Splitting of the Red Sea. Putting two people together who are right for each other is also about keeping two people who aren’t quite right apart. Allow your past, whether it be positive or negative, to inform your perspective in the present and for the future. It is one of your greatest tools.

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