JANUARY 5-6, 2001 11 TEBET 5761
- Rabbi Reuven Semah
"He appeared before him, fell on his neck and he wept" (Beresheet 46:29)
This week we read about the reunion of Ya'akob and his son, Yosef, after twenty-two years of painful separation. This moment, seeing that Yosef was still alive and as a pious Jew, was the high point of the life of Ya'akob.
There is a true story about Rav Shlomo (told by R.T. Heller), who also experienced a fantastic moment. He was an inmate at Auschwitz. Rav Shlomo was a great believer in Hashem, and the inmates with whom he shared his bunk knew it. The day came when they were informed that they were to gather into formation. Normal looking, well-educated people who had read Goethe and Schiller were on hand to facilitate the process. The Jews of Rav Shlomo's bunk were moved together with him. They were taken to the "shower" room and instructed to undress in preparation for their showers. There was no longer any pretense of hoping that somehow the showers were only showers. As they stood in the cold grayness of the day, the expected order came. They were to enter the gas chamber. As they stood there waiting for the Angel of Death, one of his fellow prisoners turned to Rav Shlomo, "Do you still believe that G-d can save you now?" He replied, "Even now. Even if there is a noose around your neck, you can still hope." The words had barely left his lips when the door that was never seen to move by the living, moved. The livid face of the commandant of Auschwitz, accompanied by the officer in charge of their barracks, faced them. "You can't follow instructions!" he screamed. At last an offense had been committed in Auschwitz that the commandant found necessary to protest. They messed up the numbers, and the "wrong" barrack was in the gas chamber. As the German was screaming, it slowly entered their minds that they were saved, with the noose around their necks. Today, Rav Shlomo is a lecturer to audiences to inspire them to Torah. He lives to walk to freedom once more.
We don't know what words were spoken in the gas chamber as they left. I probably would not have the words to say at that moment. When Ya'akob met Yosef, this experience at that moment was as close to redemption from death as was Rav Shlomo's. Ya'akob said, "Shema Yisrael." At that moment of happiness he was so grateful to Hashem that he said Shema, which means accepting Hashem as King.
It happens to me every once in a while, as it does to all Rabbis, that a person who was saved from certain death wants to know what to "read" or what to "do." I tell them to say Shema! Accept Hashem's laws fully. Become more religious. Make Him your King. Do His will completely.
"And Yehudah approached [Yosef] and he said, 'Please my master, allow your servant to speak in the ears of my master and do not become angry at your servant for you are like Pharaoh'" (Beresheet 44:18)
Yehudah was under the impression that this Egyptian leader, who was really Yosef, did not understand Hebrew and needed an interpreter. Why then did he ask to speak in his ears?
The late Rosh Hayeshivah of Brisk in Jerusalem explained this in two ways. One, even though Yehudah thought Yosef did not understand the language he was speaking, he wanted him to hear the depth of feeling behind his words. Even if one does not speak the language, sincerity will come through. "Words that come from a person's heart enter the heart of the listener." This happened to the Hafess Hayim once when speaking to a high government official to remove a harmful decree against the Jewish people. Even before the interpreter translated the Hafess Hayim's words from Yiddish, the listener said that no translation was necessary. He understood the language of feeling that permeated each word that came from a pure heart.
The second idea was that when you try to influence someone, it is imperative that he be open to what you have to say. If a person is close-minded and has made up his mind not to pay attention to you, nothing you say will influence him. You can give all kinds of rational arguments for your position, but the person will be as if deaf. Therefore, Yehudah asked Yosef to at least give him a fair hearing. "Keep your ears open to the possibility that what I will say has merit." These two ideas are important to keep in mind when trying to influence someone. Speak with sincerity. When you speak from the bottom of your heart, your words have tremendous force and power. Secondly, make certain that the other person is open to hearing what you have to say. (Growth through Torah)
"And they told him, saying, 'Yosef is yet alive, and he is ruler over all the land of Egypt'" (Beresheet 45:26)
Undoubtedly, the blow which disrupted Ya'akob's tranquil life and left him lamenting, was the tragedy that befell his most cherished son, Yosef. Thus, we can well imagine the exaltation and pleasure he experienced upon hearing the words, 'Od Yosef hai - Yosef is yet alive." Why did they add that "he is ruler over all the land of Egypt"? Surely for a father who yearned so deeply for his lost son, no position, regardless of its greatness, could be of any bearing. The only important thing was Yosef's life; his position was insignificant.
The sons of Ya'akob understood very well the feeling of their father. They realized that to merely say, "Yosef is yet alive" would not convey much. Many a Yosef who is torn away from Jewish surroundings can be said to live - technically speaking - but not within the Jewish interpretation of that word. Many descendants of Ya'akob live in an Egypt - Misrayim (which can be pronounced mesarim - the limits and boundaries of the mundane dominating society), but the price of that living is often death, Jewishly speaking.
Therefore, the sons of Ya'akob hastened to add that "he is ruler over all the land of Egypt" - "Egypt is not ruler over Yosef - Yosef is ruler over the land of Egypt. He did not permit the environment to influence him." (Vedibarta Bam)
This week's Haftarah: Yehezkel 37:15-28.
In this haftarah, the prophet Yehezkel, who witnessed the destruction of the First Bet Hamikdash, speaks about the future reunification of the twelve tribes. The Jewish nation had been divided to two separate kingdoms, Judah (together with Binyamin) and Israel (the Ten Tribes led by the tribe of Efrayim, descendants of Yosef). This is similar to our perashah in which Yosef and Yehudah confront one another, which leads to the reunification of the brothers.
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