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Torah Attitude: Parashas Vayechi: The power of the pointed finger


We are going through some very challenging times. Our strength as a people does not depend on the power of the Israeli army, but upon us finding favour in the eyes of G'd. Only with Divine assistance can we hope to find a solution to end the conflict. Just one strike of a tiny match will create enough light to dispel the darkness. The Vilna Gaon's wife received additional merit when she raised and pointed her finger. If pointing their fingers was sufficient to save the Canaanites from their punishment, how much more does the Jewish people, who performs acts of lovingkindness with both their hands and feet, deserve to be saved? Especially in these difficult times, we must all be aware that each of us can help and make a difference.

Challenging times

We are going through some very challenging times. Just over a month ago, the world witnessed in horror as terrorists attacked innocent people and killed them in cold-blood, as they prayed in a synagogue in Jerusalem. This is but one of many attacks both in Jerusalem and many other cities in Israel, as well as worldwide. Our hearts go out to the victims, and our thoughts are with mourning families who valiantly try to put their lives together after their great loss.

Ability to make a difference

At the same time we wish we could do something to change the situation. The truth is that we have the ability to make a difference. Every prayer we say and every word of Torah we study accumulates the national merits of the Jewish people. In addition, every act of lovingkindness we perform as well as any improvement in our observance of the Torah commandments adds weight on our communal scale. Our strength as a people does not depend on the support we get from other nations, and not even on the power of the Israeli army. It depends upon us finding favour in the eyes of G'd. As we quote from Tehillim (20:8) in our daily prayers: "These with chariots and those with horses, and we call upon the name of HASHEM our G'd."

Power of prayer and deeds

We are dealing with an enemy that has neither interest in truces nor in a lasting peace. King David already describes this in Tehillim (120:5-7): "Woe unto me for my drawn out sojourn, for my dwelling with the tents of Keidar. My soul has dwelt for a long time with those who hate peace. I want peace, but when I speak about it, they want war." The Radak and Ibn Ezra explain that Keidar is referring to the Arabs, who we have suffered from throughout our long and bitter exile. Only with Divine assistance can we hope to find a solution to end our conflict with them. This Divine assistance depends on our prayers and deeds. We must realize the power of every word we utter and every deed we perform. Every minute detail makes a difference.

Small light in darkness

Rabbi Chaim Vital (Shaar Hagilgulim 62b) quotes his master, the great Kabbalist known as the Arizal, who explains that in ancient times, a lot of effort was needed to make a difference. But in our days, since we live in a time contaminated with impurity, every minor good deed has a tremendous impact. This can be compared to a small light. In daytime, when everything is clear, a small light does not make much difference. As the Talmud (Shabbos 63a) says: "What difference does a candle make at the middle of the day?" But when everything is shrouded in darkness, even the minutest light makes a huge difference. As the Chofetz Chaim used to say, the mightiest army cannot dispel the darkness, but even one strike of a tiny match will light up the darkness.

Vilna Gaon's wife

The venerable Rosh Yeshiva of Ponevezh Yeshiva, Rabbi Eleazar Schach, once spoke at a meeting he attended with members of the Joint (American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee). He concluded his speech with a story. He related that once when he visited Vilna he was shown the records of the local Jewish community. A large portion of these records dealt with the life of the Vilna Gaon, and one of the stories concerned the Gaon's wife. She used to go collecting funds with another lady every Friday to support the needy and supply them with their Shabbat requirements. The two ladies became very close friends. They made a pact between them that the first one who would pass away would appear in a dream for the surviving friend to give over what takes place at the Heavenly Court. The wife of the Vilna Gaon survived her friend and true to her word, her friend came to visit her in a dream not long after her demise. She told her that she was not at liberty to disclose the details of the Heavenly Court (see Pesachim 54b). But since she had made a vow to come and tell her what was going on, she had received special permission to reveal one detail. She reminded her about one of their weekly collection tours when they had gone to visit a certain lady to solicit some funds. The lady had not been home and they had continued on their mission. A little while later, they saw her coming towards them on the other side of the street. In the dream the friend went on and said: "At that point you raised your finger and said, 'Let's go over and speak to her.' We crossed the street and managed to obtain a donation. You should know that the funds collected are recorded as a merit for both of us. Every step of our walk is also recorded as a merit for both of us. However, there is one merit that only appears in your records. That is when you raised your finger towards the lady that was coming towards us." Said Rav Schach, "Nothing is lost. Every word that we utter, and everything that we do is recorded above and has an impact for eternity." As King Solomon (Koheles 12:14) says: "For G'd will bring every deed to judgment."

Pointed fingers

We find a similar idea in this week's Parasha. Towards the end of the Parasha, we read about the demise of our patriarch Jacob. All twelve sons escorted their father back to the land of Israel with a large entourage of the elders of Egypt. On route to bury him in the Cave of Machpeilah, they stopped at Goren Ha'atad. The Midrash (Bereishis Rabba 100:6) points out that there is no such place mentioned anywhere else in the Torah. The Midrash continues that the literal meaning of Goren Ha'atad, "a field of thorns", does not make any sense either. For no one would plant a field just of thorn bushes. The Midrash goes on to explain that Goren Ha'atad is referring to the Canaanites who deserved to be cut down like thorns, but were saved due to their act of lovingkindness. The Midrash discusses what act of lovingkindness they performed. The Midrash quotes Rabbi Yehuda Bar Shalom who said that the Canaanites pointed with their fingers and said, "This is a major mourning for Egypt" (see Bereishis 50:11). Concludes the Midrash: "These people did not go anywhere and did not move their feet and hands. All they did was to raise one finger. If that was sufficient to save them from their punishment, how much more does the Jewish people, who performs acts of lovingkindness with both their hands and feet, deserve to be saved?"

Everyone can make a difference

No word and no act is too small to go unnoticed by the Heavenly Court. Every effort we make to do right and get closer to G'd adds to our merits, as individuals as well as a community. In these difficult times, we must remember that each of us can help and make a difference. The Talmud (Kiddushin 40b) teaches that we should always look upon our personal situation and the situation of the entire world and realize that our actions can tip the scale and make all the difference. It is up to us to rise to our challenge and utilize our power and ability to make a real difference. If we do what we can, then we may trust that our Merciful Father in Heaven will accept our efforts and put an end to our suffering and bring the final redemption with the coming of Mashiach. Amen.

These words were based on notes of Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.

Shalom. Michael Deverett

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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel