Wednesday, January 14, 2015

458 - Vayechi

The parsha commences with Yaakov summoning Yosef and requesting that Yosef ensure that he not be buried in Mitzrayim. Rashi explains that one of the motives behind Yaakov's request was his fear that the Egyptians would make him into a deity. They recognized Yaakov's greatness, and hence, he felt that there was a real concern that they would turn his burial place into a shrine.

Certainly, Yaakov's sons recognized their father's greatness to a far greater extent than the Egyptians. Nevertheless, says Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash, Parshas Vayechi 47:29), Yaakov was not concerned that his own children would worship him posthumously. He wasn't worried about such a possibility because the Jewish People are accustomed to greatness. Despite his immense stature and the fact that his likeness is etched into the Kisei Hakavod, it was clear to his children that he was human. Likewise, even the greatest leaders of our nation were challenged and contradicted. Korach quarreled with Moshe and l'havdil the Ra'avad frequently disagreed with the Rambam. 

In contrast, the gentile nations are awed when they come in contact with spiritual greatness. Chazal relate (Sotah 47a) that Rebbi Yehoshua ben Prachya had a disciple (Yeishu) who once spoke in a very indecent fashion and Reb Yehoshua felt that such behavior warranted his eviction from Yeshiva. Subsequently, that disciple repeated before a group of gentiles one of his rebbi's discourses, and they were so amazed that they declared him a deity. Rav Yeruchom Levovitz said that if the other nations would have merited a person of the Rambam's stature they would have immediately made him into a god. In Prague there is a statue of the Maharal: The citizens were so impressed by his holiness that they immortalized him with a stone likeness. 

More recently, in the early twentieth century, there was a motion to pass a law that would seriously compromise the Jewish education of all the schools in Poland. The Chofetz Chaim, who was in his nineties at the time, made a trip to the minister responsible for the decree. He spoke to the minister in Yiddish and when his aides wished to translate his words into Polish, the minister said there was no need, for he had "understood" the rabbi and he would rescind the law. Furthermore, when the Chofetz Chaim blessed him, the minister broke down into tears. The Chofetz Chaim looked like a simple Jew and he did not have any regal trappings, and nonetheless, when the minister beheld his holiness he was awed into submission.

Let us take a moment to appreciate the greatness of our nation. Our gedolim and rabbanim have attained levels never dreamed of by gentiles. We are so accustomed to see and hear about these great people that we sometimes fail to appreciate just how tremendous they are! We should thank Hashem for our being part of His remarkable nation, and we should strive to reach those awesome levels attained by our leaders. If they could do it, we could too!

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