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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Vayetzei

Parshat Vayetzei

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


   "The TorahAnyTimes"

Parashat Vayetzei                                                             Print Version
9th of Kislev, 5783 | December 3, 2022

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi Elazar Meisels
Final Goodbyes

One Friday, I picked up the phone to call somebody I know. He is a very kind and good-hearted man in his seventies. Though not Jewish, I've worked with him a lot. He's a college professor and a prestigious one, nonetheless. During my call, he told me that he was recovering from surgery, and that for the last three years, he's been suffering terribly from a medical issue of a somewhat delicate nature, making sleeping very difficult. And The prospects of how to deal with it were not very encouraging either. He went to quite a few doctors and everyone said the same. “We can do surgery, but the surgery is going to be radical. There will be lifelong consequences that you’ll need to live with. He wasn't ready for all that. But at the same time, he asked the doctors, isn't there some way to help me that I don't have to go through all this? Their answer was no, there was nothing else. Medication didn't help, and all that now remained was surgery. He didn't want to do it, so he was holding out.

In the meantime, his mother-in-law was not doing well. She was an elderly woman, over one hundred, and not entirely clear-headed. Though he didn’t live near her, he and his wife would often visit her. And then they got a call. It became fairly clear that she was living out her final months of life and they didn't know how long it would be. She would be entering hospice care.

“We need to take care of your mother,” Tom told his wife. “Spend time with her, show her our love, and be there for whatever she needs.” They weren’t sure how they’d financially sustain cutting back from work and their other obligations, but that’s what Tom and his wife decided. “This is what we've got to do. This is your mom and we've got to take care of her because she deserves it.” “How long are we going to go away and stay with her?” “As long as she needs. We're going to be with her as long as she needs,” he emphasized.” His wife was beyond appreciative. And in fact, the extent of kindness that he showed her was unbelievable.

“Did your mother-in-law know you were there?” I asked. “Most of the time she didn't, but it didn't matter.” “And how long were you there?” I inquired further. “Three weeks.” Both he and his wife had taken off work for three weeks. He held a senior faculty position, so he could take the time off, but his presence hadn’t seemed to have done much for his mother-in-law, given her state of mind.

“She ultimately passed,” Tom said. “But before she did, there was a hospice nurse who stood out as exceptionally caring. She noticed that I was suffering a lot of discomfort and was constantly excusing himself. One day she said to me, “Tom, what's going on with you? You don't look like you're doing so well yourself.” He then shared with her what he was going through medically. “Tom,” she said, “I know a doctor who is a big expert in this particular area. I don't know if he has a better solution, but if anybody would, he's the one who knows what to do. I'm going to make you an appointment with him. Would that be okay?” Tom agreed.

The drive to this doctor was quite distant, but he made the trip. Now with the doctor, Tom received his prognosis. “Look, your problem is very clear. The solution, as you now know, is not a very great one. But it happens to be that there is a procedure that can be done where we can do the surgery and it can be far less radical. And it will allow you to go back to living your life as before. The problem is, Tom, I don't do it on adults. I do it on children. I do pediatrics. But I do have a friend and he is one of the only doctors who performs this surgery on adults. Let me see if I can get you in touch with him. Let me see if I can talk to him and he can take you on.”

“That is exactly what happened,” Tom now told me. “Now I am doing much better. I feel like a man with a new lease on life. I can't believe how this worked out.” I too was moved. “Tom, that’s something. Here you thought you were going to help your mother-in-law, when you were also, through that act of kindness toward her, helping yourself too.”

Tom hadn’t thought of that. This perspective was eye-opening to him.

When there's a master plan, when you know that there is a G-d who is planning and orchestrating your best, you don't have to worry. If you put your dollar into a machine, you can be confident something will come out. If it doesn't come out on this machine, it’ll come out from some other machine. You're not going to lose. Very often, what you get is what you gave. Maybe it takes some time. Maybe it’ll come back to you when you're older and you need help, and your friend will remember what you did. Maybe in years from now when you need a little bit of extra help, your children will remember what you did for them when they had their first child and will remember how much support you gave them, and now they will want to do the same to you.

And so while you might be wondering why things happen as they do, and could arguably be disturbed, there’s more often than not something around the bend. And you’ll get there. Just hold tight.

Rabbi Eliyahu Maksumov

Letters of Truth

In Hebrew, the word Emet is spelled aleph-mem-taf, revealing an important secret. The first two letters – aleph and mem – spell the word for “mother.” The last two letters spell the word for “death.”

This is a metaphor referring to the moment we enter this world until it's time for us to reunite with our Creator. Throughout our entire life, our purpose is to find the truth. Our goal is to discover the truth of why we’re here in this world and to live up to that reason and fulfill that mission. And if we do that, then we are living a life of truth.

Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair
Life Between the Dances

The most certain thing in life is also the most frightening. Nothing else is as sure as death, and we fear death as nothing else. In truth, for a Jew who believes in a future world where all the mitzvot that we do will breathe life back into us, dying is like walking into a room and taking off your body like a coat. I once wrote a short story about this idea. It goes like this.

Neshama was a water being. Neshama breathed in the life-giving fluid in which she floated. She turned on her side and her life support cable gently undulated like a sea snake in the dark liquid in which she lived. She had spent her days here in deep communication with her spirit guide, who had taught her all the secrets of the universe. But now she was alone. Now she knew that her life was coming to an end. Like all other water beings, she would be drawn down the tunnel of death, like a vortex, vanishing into infinity. Like a puny raft, circling on the edge of a giant whirlpool, she felt herself being drawn down inexorably. Panic rose in her throat. “I don't want to die… I want to live forever…” Her ears filled with the most sublime music. A single chord of all the water voices singing one wordless chord rippling through every known scale. The sound grew and grew, down and down. She went down and down the tunnel… And then it was over.

It wasn't a particularly busy night in the delivery rooms at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. A new life had just entered the world, crying and gasping for breath. The nurse cleaned the liquid from the baby's mouth, wrapped her in swaddling, and placed her in her mother's arms. The mother looked down at the baby and said, “You’re so beautiful, neshama. You’re so beautiful.”

Life and then death, death and then life. In truth, then, it would best to sum this up into: Life after life.

What would do we do with our life after life?

July 1956. Saturday afternoon, a taxi leisurely turns off Dizengoff street into a side turning. Next is a close up on the taxi driver’s face, he's wearing a blue baseball cap, and he says, “They went to their deaths like sheep. They asked their rabbis, ‘Rabbis, should we run away to Israel or should we stay here in Europe?’ And you know what all those great rabbis said, ‘Don't leave. Don't go to Israel. In Israel, your souls will be in mortal peril. Jews drive down Dizengoff Street on Shabbos afternoon in Tel Aviv. You're better off here in Lodz.”

So I ran away in 1937. I came here. I got a job as a taxi driver. I used to be religious, but I gave it up. Those poor fools and their ashes. And I'm alive and driving around Dizengoff on Shabbos afternoon.

The picture freezes on the laugh of the driver … Dissolve …

We hear the music of Shostakovich's eighth string quartet as a large hearse is seen leaving a graveyard, pulling away. Cut to a freshly filled-in grave in the mid-distance. We track in … on the grave marker, there's a blue baseball cap. The camera starts to track backward, back and back. All around are gravestones and other gravestones. The camera keeps tracking back through what seems to be like hundreds and hundreds of identical gravestones. They're all identical. And suddenly the camera stops and slowly tracks in on one of these gravestones lingering on one of those thousands of identical stones, and at the top of the gravestone, there's a carving. Six pieces of barbed wire arranged in the Star of David. The camera tracks downward, and we read the inscription:

For one of the 6 million, a place in the earth, for someone whose ashes were blown on the four winds.

No one gets out of here alive. We all make our exits one way or another. The question is, what are we going to do with this brief walk between two dances? Are we going to live our lives like heroes and die like martyrs with the name of G-d on our lips? The world sees our martyrs as passive, as lambs to the slaughter. We see them as gigantic heroes of the soul. Heroes who never allowed their fiendish enemies to make them falter in their trust and in G-d's ultimate justice. They were quick to do the will of their Father in Heaven, and in death they are not separated. Who is like your people, Israel, one nation in all the world?

Our lives are founded on the ashes of the millions. They gave their most precious gift to us. Their dedication, their faith. They were not sheep. They were lions of the soul.

Th first service of the day in the Holy Temple and the basis for the service of the whole rest of the day was called the Terumat Ha’Deshen, the separation of the ash. In this, the Kohen took ashes from the innermost parts of the altar and placed them on the floor of the courtyard to the east of the ramp that led to the altar’s top. These ashes had to come from the previous day's offerings. Every day, the Kohen would remove the ash and place it by the base of the altar, and miraculously, that ash would become swallowed up in the ground and become the base of the altar.

Our service of G-d is built on the ashes of those who were prepared to give up their lives to sanctify His name.

May we be worthy of their sacrifice.

Rebbetzin Chaya Sora Gertzulin
A Tale of Two Matriarchs


def. A woman who is head of a family or a tribe.

An older woman who is powerful and leads her family.

This week, the 6th of Kislev, November 30, marked the yahrtzeit of my beloved grandmother, Rebbetzin Miriam bas HaRav Tzvi Hirsch HaKohein, a”h. It is also the week we read Parshas Vayeitzei, and learn life lessons from our matriarch Leah.

We know there are no coincidences. Even the parshah that is read the week of one’s yahrtzeit is reflective of their life.

Leah, matriarch of our nation, and Mama, matriarch of our family, two matriarchs from different eras. Yet, each one left behind a common, meaningful message.

Our mother Leah understood the power of tefillah. With the birth of each child, she opened her heart and turned to HaShem. Each name came with a prayer, a bakashah, a plea to G-d.

Reuven – HaShem “ra-ah, has seen my pain.” Shimon – HaShem “sha-mah, heard that I wasn’t loved. He has given me this one also.” Levi – “ha-pa’am yee-la-veh ishi, this time, my husband will become attached to me.” 

And then, Leah is blessed with a fourth son, Yehudah. “Ha-pa’am odeh es HaShem, this time I will thank HaShem” (Bereishis 29:35)

Leah proclaims her thanks to HaShem, for the gift of a beautiful son which meant the world to her. Yehudah, from the word odeh, meaning to appreciate, to show gratitude. Odeh, also means to acknowledge, for when saying thank you, we admit to a good that was bestowed upon us.

Four sons. Four future shevatim, tribes. Amongst them, Levi, from whom the kohanim emerged. And Yehudah, the tribe of royalty.

Leah realizes how truly fortunate she was. She could have been depressed or disheartened, walking around with a chip on her shoulder. After all, she was living in Rochel’s shadow, knowing that Rochel was Yaakov’s first choice as a life partner.  Yet, Leah looked at the blessings in her life, and was appreciative. Instead of comparing her life to Rochel’s, she concentrated on the gifts HaShem blessed her with.

Rabbi Yochanan says, “From the day that HaShem created the world, no one thanked Him, until Leah came and thanked HaShem upon giving birth to Yehudah. (Talmud Berachos, 7b). Though there were others before Leah who in fact did express gratitude to HaShem, it was Leah who lived in a state of constant thankfulness, with an “attitude of gratitude”.

Despite all the difficulties and the pain she endured, Leah chose to say “ha-pa’am odeh es HaShem – This time, I thank HaShem. I appreciate all the good things in life.”

In our own lives, we can take an important lesson from Leah. To live a life of thankfulness. To want what you have. There will always be someone with more, better, nicer. Someone with a more luxurious home, a more up-to-date kitchen, a more extravagant wardrobe, a more impressive car, or taking more exotic vacations. It’s toxic to be measuring and comparing to others. Count your blessings, and be grateful for what you do have.

As a nation, we are called Yehudim – Jews, derived from the name Yehudah – Judah. A nation for whom expressing gratitude is intrinsic to our very being.

We wake up every morning, with the words “Modeh Ani – Thank You HaShem” on our lips. Thank you HaShem for the gift of another day. Thank you HaShem for all of life’s blessings.

Like our Matriarch Leah, Mama was appreciative of everything around her. She didn’t have the easiest of lives, yet saw every day as a gift from HaShem.

Mama loved children, all children. To her, each one was special. Each one a proof that, even after the Holocaust, our nation is resilient, strong and thriving. For each yiddishe neshamah, Mama, just like our matriarch Leah before her, would say “Ha-pa’am odeh ess HaShem, this time let me thank HaShem.”

During the summer months, Mama often joined us at our bungalow upstate. At that time, our bungalow was quite small – one bedroom (which I shared with three children) and a kitchen. Mama would sleep in the kitchen, and get up early in the morning, with the biggest smile, ready to take my baby out for a walk. She was happy just to look at HaShem’s world around her. To listen to the birds, watch the sun rise and take in the scent of the pine trees. Mama’s greatest pleasure was watching the children in the colony, especially all the babies. She had true yiddishe nachas just seeing a new generation. Mama didn’t see a small bungalow; she saw a beautiful world. She taught me a lesson in appreciation.

I remember Mama joining me and my children on a trip to FAO Schwartz. She didn’t know where to look first. Mama loved the stuffed animals, the dolls, the toy cars and trucks, the likes of which she had never seen while growing up in Hungary. It was only a trip to a toy store, but for Mama it was a grand experience. Mama loved life, and the world around her. Every day brought a new experience to be grateful for. Mama couldn’t stop thanking me.

I was sharing Mama memories with my aunt, who told me of a time that she was driving on Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn with Mama in the car. “How beautiful the street is”, Mama exclaimed. Ocean Parkway… beautiful? my aunt thought.

As if reading her mind, Mama added, “Just look at all the trees lining the street. It’s truly beautiful”.

To look at the world with Mama eyes. To see its beauty wherever you go.

King David, Dovid HaMelech tells us in Tehillim, “Hodu L’HaShem ki tov….” (Tehillim 118:1). While it is literally translated as “Give thanks to HaShem, because He is good….”, perhaps we can also understand this to internalize the powerful message that giving thanks to HaShem, expressing gratitude is also good for us. Saying thanks elevates us, it lifts us to a higher level. It is good for mind, body and soul.

From our matriarch Leah to Mama, the message is constant. To be a Yehudi, means to see the blessings in life, and understand that all is a gift from HaShem.

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