Sunday, December 20, 2015
After Yosef revealed himself to his brothers, he sent wagons to Cana'an to bring his father and extended family to Mitzrayim. The Torah enumerates all of Yaakov's descendants and ends with a tally of those mentioned: "All the person[s] of Yaakov's household who came to Mitzrayim numbered seventy."
Rashi, citing the Medrash, comments that while the Torah only enumerates six of Eisav's descendants, the Torah refers to them in the plural: "the people of his house" because the few people of his house all served different gods. In contrast, Yaakov had seventy descendants and, nevertheless, the Torah refers to them in the singular: "All the person coming with Yaakov."Since they all served a single G-d, they are referred to in the singular.
Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash, Vayigash 46:26) explains that the description of Bnei Yisrael as a singular unit was not meant to imply that they all had the exact same outlook on the world. A large group of people who all profess the exact same mindset in all areas of life is sometimes found among people devoid of spirituality. Those with a connection to spirituality will develop their individual talents and intellect into a unique approach to life which will determine the way they think and respond to any given situation.
Rather, Bnei Yisrael's quality of oneness was an expression of their living in harmony with one another (after making amends with Yosef). They loved each other and cared deeply about one another. Indeed, such solidarity is only possible if all those involved are serving a single G-d. When one finds a group of religious people who do not love and care about each other and are oblivious to the plight of those around them, it is a sign that they are not all serving a "single G-d." Such people must be serving the "gods" of desire, haughtiness and honor, for if they were truly serving Hashem then their service would breed love and friendship and not the opposite.
What is the secret ingredient that threads its way through all those who serve Hashem and fuses them into a single unit? It is precisely their common desire to serve Hashem - the single G-d - which unites them. One might be a fiery Chassid and his neighbor a mussar oriented Litvak, but as long as they are focused on the same goal, then love and friendship will reign. However, when personal desires sneak into their spiritual pursuits it will automatically promote animosity since every person has their own set of desires and preferences.
A difference in dress should not be the impetus for a lack of harmony. Distinctions such as wearing a velvet or knitted kippah, a white or blue shirt, a long or short jacket or a baseball cap or striemel, are not grounds for feelings of animosity. Nor should one's nusach ha'tefillah be a reason for enmity. If such differences irk a person, he must check his GPS to determine what life goal he is pursuing. For as Rav Meir Shapiro (the famed founder of Daf Yomi) put it, "Whether davening Nusach Ashkenaz, Sefard or Eidut HaMizrach, everyone joins together by Yehi chavod Hashem L'olam, because regardless of how one gets there the ultimate goal of every Jew is to bring glory to Hashem!"
One of the miracles that we commemorate on Chanuka is the incredible victory of the Chashmonaim over the Greek army. It is mindboggling how literally a handful of Jews vanquished a mighty army that numbered in the hundreds of thousands! How did they accomplish such a feat? More correctly, what did they do to merit such an overt miracle?
Rav Wolbe (Daas Shlomo) cites two statements made by Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai which shed light on this question. Just prior to his passing, his disciples came to visit him and they asked him for a bracha. He replied, "May you fear Heaven to the extent that you fear another human being." "Is that all that is expected of us?" they inquired. He responded, "If only [people would fear Hashem to that extent] - for we know that when a person sins he says, 'I hope nobody sees me'" (Brachos 28b).
In a similar vein, Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai explained why the Torah requires a ganev (a thief who steals when no one is looking) to pay double the principle while a gazlan (one who steals in broad daylight) only pays what he stole. "The gazlan equated the honor of the Master (Hashem) with the honor of the servant (human beings), while the ganev gave more honor to the servant than the Master. He made it appear as if Hashem does not see or hear what transpires on earth" (Bava Kama 79b).
With both of these statements, Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai sought to impress upon his disciples one of the most fundamental ideas of our emunah - that ruchniyus(spirituality) is a reality! Many people find that they have trouble praying properly. This difficulty is caused by the fact that we cannot see or feel Hashem and only the tangible is a reality for us. Our avodah is to appreciate thatruchniyus is no less a reality than the chair on which one sits.
This idea became apparent at the time of krias Yam Suf (the splitting of the sea). The Torah tells us that with the "breath" of Hashem, the water both formed into walls for Bnei YIsrael and also drowned the Egyptians. Additionally, when Bnei Yisrael stood by Har Sinai, Hashem "tore upon all the Heavens" and His reality became palpably clear as they "saw" and heard Him speaking to them via prophecy.
When the Chashmonaim risked their lives to fight a war for the sake of Hashem, they were in effect endeavoring to "make His Name great and holy in the world" (Al Hanissim). Hashem's "Name" denotes the revelation of Hashem as a genuine reality. When spirituality is revealed in its truest sense, it is more of a reality i.e. a mightier force than any physical power. When empowered by ruchniyus, even a handful of untrained Jewish fighters can defeat a mighty army.
Yet, the Chashmonaim had to first prove themselves worthy of meriting such complete spiritual assistance. Every miracle necessitates that there be a person who generates the miracle. This is accomplished when a person overcomes his natural tendencies for the sake of Hashem. Once he has proven that he is "above nature" Hashem reciprocates with a supernatural occurrence. Chazal tell us that the sea split when it saw the coffin of Yosef. In the merit of Yosef overcoming the natural (and tremendous) inclination to sin with his master's wife, Hashem caused the sea to split and disregard its natural tendency to flow evenly. Likewise, when the Chashmonaim put their lives on the line for Hashem, Hashem reciprocated with a miraculous revelation of spirituality which was more powerful than the mighty and well-equipped Greek army against whom they were fighting.
This idea gives us a greater appreciation for one who keeps his mouth shut in the midst of an argument or despite a temptation to speak lashon hara. Such a person has in effect propelled himself out of his natural state and into the realm of the supernatural. The result of such an occurrence is truly miraculous, for spirituality has no limitations. If we can ingrain in ourselves the knowledge that spirituality is the truest reality, then we will have learned the lesson of Chanuka, integrated it into our lives and succeeded in acquiring the most vital asset that a Jew can seek!
Yosef, a young lad of seventeen, was sold into slavery in Egypt, the most depraved society of the time, and shortly after his arrival he was tested. His master's wife was bent on seducing him to sin with her, and she even began torturing him to this end. Despite her attempts day in and day out, week after week and month after month, Yosef emerged from the lion's den as righteous as he entered. The Torah relates how Yosef was then thrown into a dungeon and ultimately ended up as the viceroy to the king and the second most powerful person in the world.
Chazal tell us (Bereishis Rabba 90:3) that all the greatness that Yosef attained, really originated from Yosef himself. In other words, his behavior generated a parallel reward. Yosef ensured that his mouth would not kiss in sin, and in turn Pharaoh declared "By the word of yourmouth shall all my people be sustained." His body which did not sin was eventually garbed in royal clothes. His neck which did not bend to commit a sin was adorned with a golden necklace and his hand which did not transgress was bejeweled with Pharaoh's ring.
Rav Wolbe comments (Shiurei Chumash) that it is amazing to see how Hashgacha Pratis responds and relates precisely to each and every detail. This idea also apparent earlier in the parsha when Yosef was sold by his brothers to a group of Arab wayfarers. The Torah makes a point of mentioning the merchandise carried by the camels in the Arab caravan: "Their camels, bearing spices, balsam and lotus, were on their way to bring them down to Egypt." Rashi explains that although Arabs generally carry foul smelling cargo, Hashem orchestrated that the caravan which carried Yosef would have good smelling spices so that he not suffer from a foul odor on his way down toMitzrayim. Even the smells we smell are all ordained by Heaven!
The above Chazal gives us much food for thought and things to work on. Firstly, it is clear that every action and nuance has the ability to generate great results. This knowledge brings with it not only great responsibility but also tremendous opportunity. We should never belittle even the smallest positive deeds because they have the ability to bring much blessing in their wake.
The story is told about the wife of the Vilna Gaon who made a pact with a friend that whoever passes away first will come to the other one in a dream and inform them about what awaits her in the World to Come. The friend passed away first and after a few days she appeared to Vilna Gaon's wife in a dream. "I cannot reveal to you what awaits you" she said, "but I can tell you that for even the smallest mitzvah there is great reward. Do you remember how we collected money for tzedakah and you pointed to a woman for whom we were looking? Well, in Heaven you were given much greater reward for the mitzvah than I was, because of the added effort involved in picking up your hand to point for the sake of tzedakah!"
Additionally, Chazal are conveying to us that all that occurs to a person really originates from the person himself. No matter what happens to a person, the first place for him to turn is inward to discover why he was deserving of that which occurred. Every piece of jewelry worn by Yosef can be traced back to his behavior in his master's house. Indeed, the search for the treasure chest of answers should begin in one's own backyard!
In anticipation of his meeting with Eisav, Yaakov sent a peace offering of numerous animals, with the hope that his generous gift would assuage any ill feelings that Eisav might have had toward him. After receiving Yaakov's present, Eisav tried convincing Yaakov to take back his gift since he was not lacking monetarily. In response, Yaakov pushed Eisav to accept the gift, "For Hashem has been gracious to me and I have everything (kol)" (Bereishis 33:11). While the simple translation of "kol" certainly refers to Yaakov's many materialistic acquisitions, Chazal explained Yaakov's response in reference to the spiritual arena.
The Gemara tells us (Bava Basra 16b), "Hashem gave three people a taste of the next world while they were still living in this world: Avrahom, Yitzchak and Yaakov. This can be deduced from that which we find that the Torah writes "bakol" in reference to Avrahom, "mi'kol"in reference to Yitzchak and "kol" in reference to Yaakov." The subsequent Gemara makes another statement regarding the above pesukim. "There were three people whom the Yetzer Hara did not rule over: Avrahom, Yitzchak and Yaakov. This can be deduced from that which we find that the Torah writes "bakol" in reference to Avrahom, "mi'kol" in reference to Yitzchak and "kol" in reference to Yaakov."
Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash, Vayishlach 33:11) explains that there is no reason to understand that these two statements of Chazal disagree with one another. Our aim in this world is to reach a level where we "taste" Olam Haba while still living in this world. How does one achieve such a goal? It is achieved when, not merely does one rule over his Yetzer Hara, but actually succeeds in causing hisYetzer Hara to become subservient to him. In other words, the evil inclination is channeled toward the positive and thus transformed into "good." This is the idea intended by Chazal when they said, "Love Hashem with all your heart[s] i.e. your good inclination and your evil inclination"since even the evil inclination can be transformed into a tool which is used to achieve love of Hashem.
Rav Wolbe related that when he would pass the Monastery of the Silent (in Latrun Israel), his heart would go out to them. They are simply misguided. Not only do they live their lives in celibacy and poverty, they also refrain from speaking. This is a degrading lifestyle, because not only do they not use their talents to actualize their potential, often the very opposite is true. Since many of them cannot overcome their base desires, their cravings find expression in less than noble fashions.
The purpose of Yiddishkeit is to take all our talents and desires and channel them toward avodas Hashem. We are meant to marry, enjoy our food, sleep and talk as long as the goal behind these actions is serving Hashem. There is nothing greater, more fulfilling and better "tasting" than living an otherworldly existence right here in on earth!
This week's parsha recounts the birth of theshevatim. When Leah gave birth to her fourth child, she exclaimed, "This time I will give thanks to Hashem; and she called him Yehuda" (Bereishis 29:35). Chazal tell us (Brachos 7b) that from the time the world was created, no one gave thanks to Hashem until Leah came along and gave thanks to Hashem. What prompted Leah to do what no one preceding her had ever done, and why did she wait until her fourth child to offer her thanks?
Rashi explains that our Matriarchs were prophetesses and they knew that Yaakov would beget twelve children. If they were divided equally, each of Yaakov's four wives would bear three children. Thus, when Leah gave birth to her fourth child, she realized that she had received more than her fair share, which inspired her to give thanks to Hashem.
Rav Wolbe (Alei Shur vol. II p. 282) elaborates on this idea. Regarding the mitzvah of bikkurim the Torah commands us to bring the first fruit to the Bais Hamikdosh and declare that the fruits are the produce of the land that Hashem promised our forefathers. Rashi (Devarim 26:3) explains that this declaration is necessary so that the farmer should not fall into the category of those who deny Hashem's kindness. Accordingly, we are obligated toacknowledge every kindness that Hashem bestows upon us. Yet, when He blesses a person with more than he deserves, he has an added obligation. He must now thankHashem for His great kindness.
Consequently, Chazal tell us there are four people that are obligated to give thanks to Hashem by offering akorban todah when the Beis Hamikdosh stands: one who survived a journey at sea, one who safely traversed a desert, a sick person who was healed and one who was freed from jail. These four people have received an added portion of Hashem's beneficence and therefore they must thank Hashem with a korban.
However, interestingly enough, we are witness to the fact that there are some sick people who, after being healed of their ailments, become weaker in theirruchniyos. Rav Simcha Zissel Ziv (The Alter of Kelm) writes that since the obligation to thank Hashem is so great at the time a person is healed, the yetzer hara does everything in his power to prevent the person from fulfilling this obligation. The yetzer hara contaminates this man's heart to prevent him from offering his thanks; thereby precluding any possibility for spiritual growth.
How many times a day are we the recipients of Hashem's kindness? The very least that we must do is to acknowledge these blessings. Truth be told, most of this kindness is more than we deserve. Thus, it is incumbent upon us to not only acknowledge His kindness but to thank Him for granting us more than is warranted by our merits. Indeed, every blessing is not only a kiss from Hashem, it is a test to see if we will ignore His benevolence, or fulfill our obligation and reciprocate by thanking Him for His lovingkindness!
In this week's parsha, the Torah introduces us to Yaakov Avinu and describes him as, "a wholesome man residing in tents" (Bereishis 25:27). While Rashi explains that the tents referred to here are the tents of Sheim and Eiver, Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash, Daas Shlomo) cites the mekubalim who explain that the Torah is referring to the tents of Avraham and Yitzchak. Avraham personified the attribute of chessed and Yitzchak personified the attribute of yir'ah/din (fear of Hashem/strict judgment).
In essence, these are two contradictory middos, since chessed implies overflowing kindness even to the undeserving, while din implies sticking to the letter of the law, and possibly even punishing those undeserving of kindness. Yaakov is referred to as the chosen of our three Avos because he took the attribute found in the tent of Avraham and the attribute found in the tent of Yitzchak and blended them together thereby creating within himself the middah of emes.
When Yaakov, disguised as Eisav, entered Yitzchak's tent in order to receive his blessings, Yitzchak declared, "The fragrance of my son is like the fragrance of a field which Hashem has blessed". Rashi explains that the fragrance of a field refers to the delicious smell of an apple orchard. How did the smell of apples personify Yaakov? Rav Wolbe explains that an apple is red on the outside and white on the inside. Red symbolizes din while white represents chessed. An apple combines bothchessed and din into a single entity, thus it parallels Yaakov who combined both these middos into a singlemiddah of emes.
The mixture of both chessed and yir'ah is imperative in a person's daily avodas Hashem. The Mesillas Yesharim writes that all aspects of this world are in reality various different trials to determine a person's level of Torah adherence: "Poverty poses a test and affluence poses a test, as Shlomo Hamelech stated, 'Lest I become satiated and declare 'Who is Hashem?' and lest I become impoverished and steal'... Thus whichever way one turns he is faced with a test. If he is a warrior and victorious on all fronts, he has achieved his goal and reached perfection."
Accordingly, perfection is a result of prevailing over the many challenges that come a person's way. How does one accomplish such a feat? He achieves this goal by employing both the middah of chessed and the middah ofyir'ah. Chessed - kindness - affects all of one's interpersonal relationships. A kind person will not steal from others - the test which faces the impoverished. On the other hand, yir'ah is the key to mitzvos bein adom laMakom since one who fears Hashem will do everything possible not to rebel against Him - the test which faces the affluent.
Unbridled chessed can be dangerous. Helping another person at the expense of one's bein adom laMakom, such as offering to shop for someone in a store which compromises one's religious standards, is not a truechessed. Conversely, yir'ah which prompts someone to double park in order to get to mincha, on time thereby causing another person aggravation, is not true yir'ah. Themiddah of Yaakov is truth because a combination ofchessed and yir'ah is the truest manifestation of both of these middos. We all have the ingredients needed, we just have to create the perfect blend.