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THERE IS ALWAYS HOPEAnd Yosef died at the age of one hundred and ten years, and they embalmed him, and they put him in a coffin in Egypt. (Bereishis 50:26)
Adapted from my seforim Trust Me! and Chizuk!
Thus ends Sefer Bereishis. With those words the entire congregation rises in unison and calls out, "Chazak! Chazak! V'nischazek!" ("Be strong! Be strong! And may we all be strengthened!")
However, this enthusiastic shouting seems somewhat out of place here. First, Bereishis ends in a state of limbo. Yosef is not even buried; he lies in a box through the entire ensuing exile. Before his death he had asked his brothers to remember him and eventually bring his bones with them upon their Exodus. Why did he not seek immediate burial in Canaan like his father Ya'akov?
Second, the entire juxtaposition seems inappropriate. The final verse states: "Yosef was put in a coffin in Egypt" (50:26). Are these somber words a proper lead-in for the acclamation, "Be strong... And may we all be strengthened!"? Would it not have been more fitting to end the book with the passing of Ya'akov, his burial in Canaan, and the reconciliation of Yosef and his brothers? This would have provided a morally uplifting ending, and also would have left the congregation with a sense of closure.
Yet, it seems that there is a definite purpose in ending Bereishis with Yosef's state of limbo. What is it?
Alexander the Great (356-322 B.C.E.), king of Macedonia and ruler of most of the civilized world, died at a young age. Before embarking on his conquest of Asia, he inquired into the welfare and stability of his loyal troops, lest their dependents fall destitute during the long campaign. After assessing their needs, he distributed almost the entire contents of the royal treasury among them. His friend General Perdiccas was surprised.
"What have you reserved for yourself?" he asked the mighty ruler.
"Hope," answered the king. "There is always hope."
"In that case," replied his soldiers, when they learned of the king's answer, "we who share in your labor shall share in your hope."
And with that, they refused the wealth that Alexander allotted them.
Perhaps there is great meaning behind the Torah's abrupt conclusion, which leaves the congregation pondering as they hear the words "and they put him in a coffin in Egypt" juxtaposed with shouts of rejuvenation.
Yosef's goal was to leave this world with more than memories. He wanted to declare to those who would survive him that he, too, would not attain his final rest during their years of suffering. Yosef, the first of the sons of Ya'akov to die in a foreign land, understood that with his passing the long and bitter exile would slowly emerge. The children of Ya'akov would slowly and painfully be transformed from saviors to visitors, and then from visitors to strangers. Finally, their hosts would consider them intruders, who were worthy of enslavement. But Yosef also knew that one day the exile would end, and that his people would once again be free. By remaining in a coffin, Yosef declared a message of hope and solidarity to the multitudes that simultaneously awaited his final burial and their redemption. Silently, in an unburied coffin, he waited along with them, as the echoes of his pact rang in their memories: "When God will indeed remember you...bring my bones up with you" (Bereishis 50:25).
Never Give Up!
Poalei Agudas Yisroel had recently yielded on the issue of Sherut Leumi (National Service for women). This was a very disconcerting decision, because in the opinion of the Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah, Sherut Leumi was absolutely prohibited. Moreover, as the new elections approached, the Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah decided to run for the Knesset together with Poalei Agudas Yisroel against the opinions of Rav Shach and the Steipler Rav. Rav Shach was absolutely devastated and beside himself.
At that time, Rav Lorincz visited the Steipler. The Rav asked him how Rav Shach was faring. "He's very broken and beside himself. He has been so tremendously disappointed he says he doesn't have the strength to go on."
The Steipler felt Rav Shach's pain. He then turned to Rav Lorincz and said, "I want you to go to Rav Shach and in my name tell him the following: "The Torah describes at length how Avraham Avinu davened over and over again trying to save S'dom. It takes up a whole parsha of the Torah. Avraham started to appeal that perhaps there are fifty tzaddikim in the city. Then he went down to forty, thirty, twenty. But there weren't even ten. Being there were not enough tzaddikim, the decree was sealed. 'And the Lord went his way, as soon as He had left talking with Avraham; and Avraham returned to his place.' (Bereishis 18:33). What is the import of these words, 'Avraham returned to his place'? It seems unnecessary and extraneous.
"The answer is," explained the Steipler, "that the Torah is coming to teach Rav Shach that after doing everything in his power to save the situation, and yet failing to reach the goal, he has to be like Avraham and "return to his place." He has to go back and continue executing his obligations as if nothing had happened. Lack of accomplishment never justifies, under any circumstances, that the person become broken and unable to continue his holy work. Give this over to him word-for-word in my name. He did everything he could; he left nothing out. Therefore he must now fulfill 'and Avraham returned to his place' and continue leading the people as before."
Rav Lorincz performed his task and gave over the message to Rav Shach, word-for-word. Rav Shach breathed deeply and said, "Go, this time in my name, and tell the Steipler I accept his words and I will continue, with Hashem's help, in my service to Klal Yisroel."
Never Give Up!
A Letter by Rebbe Nachman of Breslav
You should know, my beloved son, that a person's life is full of hard and bitter tests. Crises, troubles, torments, and various mishaps happen to a person every day. Many people get discouraged, losing all hope. It seems as if they will never get out of all their problems. They fall into depression and despondency, and this destroys them more than all their troubles. Loss of hope is the most severe of all torments that a person can experience. As long as one has any hope, as long as he sees some light in his life, as long as he feels that somehow he will get out of this, then he will try all means in the world and not give up. Eventually he will get out of his predicament, get away from all the troubles.
One who has given up, however, feels abandoned. This is what destroys him.
Actually, everyone can get out of all the predicaments he is in, if only he would realize that it is forbidden to give up! Therefore, my beloved, my son, see what is in front of you. Even though I know how hard life is for you, how the bitterest of bitter is passing over you; you are suffering tremendously from the troubles you have become entangled in, you never dreamed this would happen to you. Still, you must know that it is forbidden to give up! Giving up will not help you. It will only increase your resentment and torment until you finally face a dead end. Then you won't be able to turn to the right or the left. Sometimes one even contemplates thoughts of suicide, God forbid.
Therefore, if you will think about what I have said, you will see that it is not the end of the world. Take yourself in your hand, and pull yourself together today; then you will see that you really are able to pull yourself out from all these problems. How? By turning to HaKadosh Baruch Hu. Even though all your melancholy has driven you far away. Even though you have complaints. Still, you must know that all this came from your flawed mind. One who truly knows God's deep love - how He cares for all His creatures, and how He wants to bestow good upon them all - will never fall into despair.
The main reason for despair is when it appears as if Hashem doesn't care and doesn't want him anymore; as if He wants to take revenge. This brings one's mind to manufacture all sorts of foolish thoughts, to embroider all sorts of hatred. Finally, most people, when they give up, mix themselves up with all sorts of complaints against the Ribono Shel Olam, as if He is to blame for all their troubles; as if He caused their predicament. Really, He is a merciful Father; He wants to take the person out of all his confusion. The person, however, through his misconduct, has soiled his thinking and his mind, until thoughts of heresy and apikorsus harass him constantly. With this HaKadosh Baruch Hu leaves him, allowing him to become even more ensnared and mixed up. Therefore, it is forbidden to give up!
Shema Yisrael Torah Network