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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Vayechi

Parshat Vayechi

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter

Parashat Vayechi 5781                                                              Print Version
18th of Tevet, 5781 | January 2, 2020

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi Chaim Dahan zt”l
Life is Hidden

When looking into a Torah scroll, one will notice that between the end of one Parsha and start of a new Parsha there are empty spaces. The purpose of this open space (Parsha Petucha), explain our Sages (see Rashi, Vayikra 1:1), was to allow Moshe Rabbeinu, who was dictated and taught the Torah by G-d, to take pause between one Parsha and another and enable him to ponder and internalize the laws and lessons he had just learned. Practically speaking, these breaks in the Torah allow the Torah reader to more easily and readily locate the particular spot of the new Parsha, from which he will begin to read.

Yet there is one exception, that of Parshat Vayechi, the last Torah Portion in the Book of Bereishit. The beginning of Parashat Vayechi is Stumah, closed off, wherein no space is left empty between the end of the previous Parsha and it. While our Sages (Bereishis Rabbah 96:1) explain this anomaly to be related to G-d “closing off” the revealed date of Moshiach’s arrival, which Yaakov Avinu wished to reveal to his children, it furthermore creates the logistical challenge for the Torah reader to locate the beginning of the Parsha, from which he will begin to read.

There is a great message to be gleaned from this configuration. Many times in life, we are not privy to seeing the final end or understanding the full meaning of a particular matter, and we are therefore left with a mind full of questions and a heart obscured with doubt. Yet one of the greatest lessons we can ever carry with ourselves is that life, in its truest and ultimate sense, is hidden from our comprehension as human beings.

As an illustration, we would likely assume that the very last Pasuk in Sefer Bereishit would end with a reverberating and powerful climax, given the ever-important events and experiences which were detailed throughout the Book, inclusive of the Creation of the World and the lives of our Patriarchs and Matriarchs. We would have presumed that it would be a moving and resonating Pasuk.

Yet what does the Torah state?

“Yosef died at the age of one hundred and ten years; they embalmed him and he was placed in a coffin in Egypt” (Bereishit 50:26).

It is unusually strange. How can this be the end to such a beautiful Book of Bereishit, filled with the majestic and extraordinary description of the Creation of the world and mankind and the exalted lives of our ancestors? ‘Yosef died, he was mummified and placed in a coffin...’ That is how the Torah chooses to conclude Sefer Bereishit?

Truth be told, this verse is by no means a sad one. Quite to the contrary, it is a verse laden with special Divine promise and providence. The Pasuk is foreboding an exceptionally important future occurrence, which would prove to serve the Jewish people well. At first glance, we would look at this verse and make the foregone conclusion that it is conveying nothing but the sad event of Yosef passing away. But, in truth, life is Stumah, hidden, and at the times when events transpire, we do not always understand their true rhyme and rhythm.

Only with patience do we learn that many years later as the Jewish nation was readying to leave Egypt, Moshe Rabbeinu made his way to the Nile River, where Yosef’s metal casket had been lowered and laid to rest (in order to provide blessing to the Nile which would overflow and fertilize the land of Egypt), and prompted it to rise, from where it was taken out with the Jews from Egypt (Sotah 13a). And what then happened?

As the Jewish people found themselves standing before the Red Sea with the Egyptians behind them in fierce pursuit, they had nowhere to turn. Yet as we know, Hashem miraculously had it that the Sea parted. But on what account did it split? In Yosef’s merit. As the Midrash (Shochar Tov 114:3; Midrash Tanchuma, Vayeshev 9) explains, the Pasuk in Tehillim (114:3) states, “The Sea saw and fled.” What did it see that it fled? It saw the coffin of Yosef, of whom the Torah attests that he fled and ran outside to resist the temptations of the wife of Potiphar. In recognition and remembrance of that meritorious act, measure for measure, the Sea so-called fled by splitting itself.

And now we can understand and appreciate how and why the concluding verse of Parshat Bereishit is in fact one with immense positive implication. Yosef’s passing, embalming and laying to rest in Egypt was all the antecedent to the event many years later when his merit would be called upon to split the Sea for the entire Jewish nation.

We may not understand many things in life. Events may occur which appear to be nothing but sadness and tragedy. Yet the ever-lasting Stumah of Parshat Vayechi and its concluding Pasuk to the Book of Bereishit remind us that such matters only appear dreary and dismal because life is hidden and we cannot see the big picture. If only we can wait and have patience, one day, G-d will reveal to us why everything occurred as it did, and we will see that it was all with a particular Divine plan and providence in mind and meant to yield wondrous results.

Rabbi Maimon Elbaz
The Shabbos Break-in

It didn’t seem like this Shabbos would be any different than every other wonderful Shabbos for Rabbi Yitzchok Dovid Grossman, Rav of Migdal Ha’Emek, Israel. But then, something quite unusual and surprising occurred.

Hearing some noise in his home, Rabbi Grossman wondered who it could possibly be. Making his way over to where the source of the rummaging sounds were coming from, he soon stopped in his tracks. Taken aback, before his eyes stood a burglar. A Jewish burglar. Quietly tiptoeing backwards, Rabbi Grossman headed towards the front door and locked it. Yet he did not first walk outside and then lock it. Rabbi Grossman locked the doors while staying inside. He did not wish for the burglar to escape that easily. And so, there remained Rabbi Grossman and the burglar alone with locked doors.

Walking back towards the man shuffling through his house and looking for any valuables he could grab, Rabbi Grossman broadly approached him. “Can I help you?” asked Rabbi Grossman. “What are you looking for?” Perturbed, the burglar just stood there.

“I am going to give you a choice,” continued Rabbi Grossman. “I can call the police now and they will be over here in a few minutes to arrest you. Or, I will offer you an alternative option. You can come here and spend a Shabbos with me from Friday night through Saturday evening. If you choose the latter, I will forego calling the police and will forget about this whole incident.”

The burglar continued to stand there startled. Hearing the ultimatum he was being offered, he said, “That’s all I have to do? Just be your guest for the Sabbath?” “That’s all,” said Rabbi Grossman. “I just want you to see what a Sabbath is like.”
And so, a date was set, and with that the burglar was on his way out the door.

While the burglar could have easily overlooked the whole deal made, he in fact kept to his word. As an irreligious Jew, he had never before experienced Shabbos in his life. Yet now would be the first time he would.

Accompanying Rabbi Grossman to shul, he was mesmerized by the beautiful Friday night prayers, delicious food, inspiring zemiros and enlightening Torah thoughts. By the time Shabbos came to a close, he had just gone through a life changing experience. Extremely interested in learning more about Judaism, he abandoned his unlawful behavior and instead went on to study more about his beautiful Torah heritage and roots.
And today, he is a Torah observant Jew.

It all began with those words, “I just want you to see what a Sabbath is like.” Once this burglar experienced one Shabbos, it was the beginning of a new life. Its beauty and meaning penetrated his neshama, and no matter how far away he was from any semblance of Judaism and connection to Hashem was no deterrent. A new life he could never have imagined awaited him. All thanks to Rabbi Grossman and that one Shabbos. Yes, just one Shabbos.

HaRav Shmuel Kamenetsky shlita
The Shabbos Soul

Chazal (Beitzah 16a) tell us that Hashem grants each person a neshama yeseira at the commencement of Shabbos and takes it away at the end of Shabbos. The simple understanding of a neshama yeseira is that the neshama (soul) of each Jew feels different. Yet, interestingly, Rashi (ibid.) captures the meaning of this Chazal with a very unique and perplexing description:

“The neshama yeseira is a widening of one’s heart… which allows one to eat and drink and yet his soul does not despise himself.”

Rashi is essentially telling us that the neshama yeseira enables a person to not despise eating on Shabbos. Yet what does this mean? While it is true that one should strive to eat and drink l’shem shamayim, in order to have the strength to serve Hashem, at its most basic level, what does it mean that on Shabbos one is able to withstand eating?

In truth, a person would not need to eat if not for the fact that he is human. And if a person would not need to eat, doing so would be superfluous. When Moshe Rabbeinu ascended Har Sinai, he did not eat anything. He was being sustained and nourished by ruchniyus, spirituality.

On Shabbos, when we receive the neshama yeseira, we are elevated to a level of tremendous spirituality. Our physical life takes on additional holiness. The question therefore becomes how our bodies which are now on a higher spiritual plane can intake something which is so physical? How can something spiritual, our bodies, handle consuming food?

This is what Rashi means. Shabbos is so great that a person is able to withstand eating. While generally the consumption of food is a physical act, on Shabbos, that changes. Eating on Shabbos has a different quality. Even the gashmiyus, the physicality, takes on spiritual dimensions. Shabbos gives physical food a taste of spirituality. Our otherwise physical bodies are spiritually enhanced by the neshama yeseira, and with the infuse of Shabbos and the elevation of food to a greater spiritual degree, we can withstand it. We do not despite food in the least, but rather fully enjoy it. With our spiritually elevated body consuming spiritually elevated food, there is perfect harmony.
This is what Shabbos offers us. A day when we ourselves are uplifted and our food is uplifted. And together, true enjoyment of Shabbos is achieved.

Rabbi Yisroel Brog
The Tax Return

As a woman had moved with her husband from America to Beit Shemesh, life was not all too easy. Having been born and raised in America, the change of lifestyle she and her husband experienced in Israel was quite drastic. However, for the most part, they were able to make do with the bare minimum. The husband’s full-time Kollel earnings carried them through.

But then matters began spiraling downwards. Needing to take out loans and borrow money, they eventually reached a total of twelve-thousand dollars in debt. But that didn’t deter the husband and wife from remaining in Beit Shemesh. The wife decided that she would begin cleaning local homes in the vicinity in an attempt to bring home some extra money. It was not her ideal job, considering that she was forced to sell herself out for menial labor and minimum pay. But, for the meantime, that was the best plan the husband and wife could come up with.

And it worked. Their large debt began to decrease from twelve-thousand to eight-thousand. Slowly but surely, the wife’s extra side job paid dividends and significantly helped them. However, there eventually came a point where the wife could no longer take it. It was becoming too humiliating to frequent the homes of her neighbors and local friends in pursuit of meager pay. And so the husband and wife decided to ask their Rav if they should consider leaving Beit Shemesh and seek to live in another community. Were they to sell their house, they would likely be able to secure eight-thousand dollars and pay off their debt.

Hearing of their plight, the Rav replied that he felt they should stay put and remain in Beit Shemesh. Turning to the wife, the Rav said, “Do you have a father? Why don’t you ask your father to help you?” Although it sounded like a good idea, the wife responded in the negative. “I don’t have a father; he passed away when I was very young.” That was all the Rav needed to hear. “If that is the case,” he began to say, “then you have more of a father than I do. The Torah tells us that Hashem is “the Father of orphans.” If your father is no longer in this world, Hashem is more of a Father to you. I have my father as an intermediary, while you do not. You can go straight to Hashem and ask him as a Father for help.”

Taking in the words of the Rav, the wife was puzzled. “I don’t know what you mean. How do I talk to G-d as if he were my real-life father?” It sounded as if it was a foreign concept to her. But the Rav was not troubled in the least. Telling her to act as if she was speaking to her own real-life father, he said, “Sit down at a table and picture Hashem sitting opposite you. Then tell him what you need. Say, ‘Hashem, it is very hard for us. Can you please help?’” But she still had trouble grasping the idea. “I don’t know how to talk to a father because I never did so.” Reassuring her that there was nothing to be afraid of, she finally complied to try it. “And you don’t have to worry that it is a recession now,” added the Rav. “Hashem is taking back all the money from everyone else; He has plenty to give you.”

A few days later, the Rav returned home only to see that a message was awaiting him. It was the woman from Beit Shemesh he had spoken to a few days ago. Listening to the message, it was clear that there was a tinge of excitement coming from her voice. But he couldn’t make out the details as her words were garbled. But he knew there awaited good news.
Immediately phoning the woman, she told him the following. “You won’t believe what happened! Shortly after we spoke, my mother-in-law prepared our tax returns which indicated that we were to receive a refund of three thousand dollars. However, upon reviewing the returns more carefully, we realized that mistakes were made. My husband was not comfortable filing them this way, and so he contacted our rabbi. He told us that we should not accept the three thousand dollars in error. We then proceeded to contact our accountant and asked him to go over the forms and see how they should be fixed. After going through them, he discovered that we were actually due to receive a larger refund.

And now, as we speak, I am holding a check in my hand…for eight thousand dollars. Exactly the amount we were in debt.”
Sometimes we worry if and how everything will fall into place and work out. But we mustn’t feel too anxious. When our Father is looking after us, nothing is impossible. Even a debt and desperate set of circumstances can turn around and work to our betterment. All we must do is place our trust in Hashem and know that we are never alone in life.

Rabbi Dovid Kaplan
Dotting the i

A number of years ago, I had the opportunity of talking to a young man who had come to visit the yeshiva Ohr Somayach. After speaking with him for some time, I decided I would dive right into the heart of the matter and ask him a provocative question, which stumps many people. “What is your goal in life?” I asked in all seriousness. He looked back at me for a few seconds, and then said the following.

“I am a member of the Ohio State University marching band where I play the tuba. At one point during the biggest game of year, when Ohio State plays Michigan, the marching band lines up in formation and spells out the word ‘Ohio State.’ While the many musicians configure themselves here and there, the senior tuba player receives the singular honor and distinction to be the one who dots the “i” in the word Ohio. That, Rabbi, is my goal in life. I want to become the senior tuba player and earn the privilege of dotting the i.”

At the time I heard this, I began humoring myself, “Wow, that is very impressive. What is next? Maybe he will be asked to cross the t.” But then, after some time of contemplating the meaning behind his words, I realized that there was indeed a profound life message waiting to be extrapolated.

In Hebrew grammar, a dot is referred to as a dagesh, literally meaning “emphasis.” The soft letter chof, for example, turns into the hard letter kof when a dagesh is added. The same was true for this boy. He was merely serving as a spokesman for society.
In today’s day and age, undue emphasis is placed on “i.” It is about what I want, I like, and I need. The question we are meant to ask ourselves, however, is if we can take that “i” and turn it into “we.” Can we learn to reach outside ourselves and extend our individual world to include others? Can we emphasize not our own lives, but everyone else’s around us?

This does not mean that we should squelch our individuality and suppress our own personal lives. It merely requires that we ask ourselves, “What can I do for my fellow Jew? How can I help him or her? How can I shift the focus from i to we?”

To dot the i or not dot the i? That is the question.

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