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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


If I have found favor in your eyes, please place your hand under my thigh and do kindness and truth with me. (47:29)

Placing one's hand beneath the thigh was the means of taking an oath. Yaakov Avinu insisted on an oath, because he knew that Yosef would be under intense political pressure to bury him in Egypt. He now had a reason to justify his actions, having made a promise to his father, which he was obligated to keep. Horav Yehudah Asaad, zl, renders this episode homiletically, thereby teaching us a practical and inspiring lesson.

Rav Assad begins by defining the words and underlying implied homiletical meaning of: yerech, thigh; yad, hand; chesed, kindness; emes, truth. In Devarim 15:8, the Torah addresses the mitzvah of tzedakah, giving charity, by saying, Ki pasoach tiftach es yadcha lo, "Rather, you shall open your hand to him." Clearly, the pasuk is not speaking about a physical act in which one opens his hand. "Opening the hand" implies giving tzedakah. Thus, yad, hand, denotes tzedakah.

When the Torah mentions the word yerech, thigh, it is alluding to Torah study. This is seen clearly in Bereishis 32:26, when the angel who wrestled with Yaakov realized that he could not overcome the Patriarch, Vayiga b'kaf yireicho; "He struck the socket of his hip." Chazal teach that the angel's crippling blow to the hip is symbolic of the weakening of financial support of Torah education.

Emes, truth, refers to Torah, as it says in Sefer Mishlei 23:23, Emes k'nei v'al timkor, "Purchase truth and do not sell it." This is a reference to the truth of Torah. Last, chesed, kindess, denotes tzedakah. Thus, we have yad - tzedakah; chesed - tzedakah; yerech - Torah; and emes - Torah. Let us now turn to our pasuk to help us understand the meaning of Yaakov's command to Yosef.

Yaakov analyzed his life introspectively. He had devoted the major part of his life to Torah study. From the beginning, he was an ish tam yosheiv ohalim, perfect man who dwelled in tents, with "tents" serving as a reference to the ohalah shel Torah, "Tent" of Torah. This was followed by fourteen years in the Yeshivah of Shem and Eivar, when he did not even lay down to sleep. In short, he felt that, from the perspective of "Torah," he had done quite well.

Yaakov continued ruminating. What about the area of tzedakah? Had he given enough? Could he have done more to help those in need? He thought to himself, "I have a son who is the greatest baal tzedakah, philanthropist, in the world. Surely, this counts for something. There is one problem, however: Yosef is on salary. As viceroy of Egypt, he is paid for his work. On the other hand, why should this detract from his being considered to be a baal tzedakah? If he devotes his life to caring for people, does this mean that his wife and children should starve, because there is no money at home?" Obviously, it all depends upon one's intentions. If one's intention is to give charity for the purpose of carrying out chesed, acts of lovingkindness, what difference does it make if he is paid? It is the intention that determines his actions. Certainly, a bus driver who greets everyone with good cheer and wishes them well when they alight the bus is a kind person. Does receiving a salary diminish his act of kindness? Certainly not! It is all about intention.

Thus, Yaakov Avinu decided that he had a son who was an incredible baal chesed. The problem is that, due to his overwhelming obligations towards chesed, he had very little time left for Torah study. What should he do? Yaakov decided to make a "suggestion" to Yosef: establish a Yissachar/Zevullun partnership, in which a person shares his Torah study with a partner from whom he receives material remuneration.

Yaakov intended to suggest such an option to Yosef. He called for Yosef and said, "Place your hand (tzedakah) under my thigh (in place of the Torah in which you are deficient), I will share with you my merit of Torah study, and you will share with me your merit of chesed. Thus, V'asisa imadi chesed v'emes, "And do kindness and truth with me." Tzedakah/charity instead of Torah; chesed instead of emes; yad placed beneath the thigh implies the transposition of chesed for Torah and Torah for chesed.

And now, your two sons who were born to you in Egypt before my coming to you in Egypt shall be mine. (48:5)

Horav Moshe Feinstein, zl, derives from this pasuk that the symbol of the pertinacity of a Torah education; its staying power, and ability to overcome challenge, is whether it is still perceived in later generations. An education that endures generations is a good education. This idea is gleaned from Yaakov Avinu's statement concerning Yosef's children who were born prior to the arrival of the Patriarch in Egypt. Li heim, "They are mine!" has meaning only if they had been born and raised in the moral filth of Egyptian society without Yaakov Avinu to serve as a positive influence, as the barometer of the family's moral compass. When Yaakov remarks, Li heim, "They are mine!", we see the overarching significance of the chinuch, education, that he gave Yosef. It had endured, and now he sees it reflected in his grandsons.

In Footsteps of the Maggid, Rabbi Paysach Krohn quotes a story that he heard from the Mashgiach of Beth Shraga, Horav Mordechai Schwab, zl, which demonstrates the long range impact of a pure education on children. The parents, as we will see, obviously were not concerned with the amount of time, effort, or money that had to be expended in order for their children to have a good Torah education. In the following story, we witness the sacrifice on the part of parents and the way that it paid off throughout the years.

Reb Zevullun was a German National who had emigrated to Lucerne, Switzerland. Rav Schwab knew him well. Reb Zevullun was in the tailoring business. His son, Daniel, was an intelligent young man who was very mature for his age and possessed the type of charisma that seemed to succeed in the business world. Therefore, at the young age of seventeen, Daniel entered his father's business. Before long, Daniel was taking business trips for his father. These trips were day trips, in which he left in the morning and returned that evening. Since he was progressing so well, his father felt comfortable to send him to Locarno, Switzerland, located near the Italian border, which was a five-hour rail trip. The plan was for Daniel to spend a week in Locarno, since it was an important deal that could not be rushed.

The morning after Daniel left, Reb Zevullun had occasion to be in Daniel's bedroom, where, to his chagrin, he noticed that his son had left his Tallis at home. The custom of much of German Jewry is for young men, even prior to getting married, to wear a Tallis gadol during Shacharis, their morning prayers. Noticeably, the Tefillin were gone, because his son would never forget his Tefillin. The question that gnawed at the father was: Did his son carelessly forget his Tallis, or did he leave it on purpose? He was traveling to a new town where, quite possibly, the custom for a young man to wear a Tallis was not popular, so that his son would feel self-conscious. He could also have been so preoccupied with preparations for the journey that taking the Tallis had just slipped his mind. In any event, Reb Zevullun was not about to allow this to go by unnoticed.

Reb Zevullun immediately looked for someone to tend to his business, while he proceeded to the train station to purchase a round-trip ticket to Locarno. He wasted no time. Immediately upon arriving in Locarno, he took a taxi over to the hotel where son had reservations and went to his room. Shock and fear coursed through Daniel, when, answering the knock at his door, he opened it to meet his father. "Father, is everything all right?" was the immediate question on the young man's lips. "Everything is fine. Do not worry." Reb Zevullun replied. "I came because I think that you must have forgotten something at home. Do you remember what you forgot to pack with your essentials?" his father asked.

"No, I think I took everything with me. I cannot think of what I could have neglected to bring along." He really could not think what he might have overlooked to bring along with him.

Finally, Reb Zevullun could no longer contain himself: "Do you think that, among the different items in your suitcase, you could locate your Tallis?"

Daniel was incredulous. He had not forgotten to take his Tallis; he had not taken it on purpose! He could not believe that wearing a Tallis was so important to his father that he would take a ten-hour train trip just to bring him the Tallis, which he really did not want to wear.

Reb Zevullun said no more. He removed the Tallis from his briefcase, gave it to his son and bid him goodbye.

Years passed, and Rav Schwab had occasion to speak with the Mashgiach of Yeshivas Kaminetz, and he related this story. When he concluded the story Rav Schwab said, "I am sure such a thing never happened again. What we do not realize is that Reb Zevullun was not going out of his Sunday afternoon comfort zone simply for one Tallis. No! He was going out for the future generations. From this day on, not one of his descendants would ever forget a Tallis. Their father taught not just his son, but he taught all future generations the importance of not forgoing wearing the Tallis.

I dared not accept the thought that I would see your face, and here G-d has shown me even your offspring. (48:11)

Yaakov Avinu is overjoyed as he shares his innermost feelings with his long lost son, Yosef. For twenty-two years he had mourned a son who supposedly had been mauled to death by a wild animal. Little did he dream of ever seeing Yosef again. Now, not only does Yosef stand before him, but even Yosef's children are there waiting for his blessing. Lo pilalti - "I dared not accept/I dared not dream"; after all, it was impossible. Yosef was dead! What is there to dream about? In this vein, pilalti means resignation, a lack of acceptance, an unwillingness to hope, to dream. The Patriarch was resigned to a life without Yosef - and surely without his children. Now, he expresses his gratitude to Hashem.

Horav Shlomo Levinstein, Shlita, suggests that pilalti maintains its relationship with the word tefillah, prayer. Yaakov is expressing his incredulity over seeing not only Yosef, but his children as well. This occurred despite lo pilalti; "I did not pray." He was so consumed with grief, so enveloped with mourning, that he never thought about praying. Why? Yosef was dead! For what could he have prayed? Nonetheless, Hashem was so good to him. Despite his lo pilalti, lack of prayer, Hashem "listened" and sent a dual salvation - Yosef and his children!

The world was established on the principle that prayer is effective. Not only is it effective, but, without it, one simply will not see his requests answered. Heavenly bounty does not simply appear from nowhere without a formal request on the part of man. Hashem wants to hear from us. The vehicle for achieving this relationship, our medium of conversation with Hashem, is prayer. This idea is underscored by Rashi in his commentary to Bereishis 2:5.

Rashi teaches that plant life had already been created, but it was waiting beneath the surface for the creation of Adam, who would recognize the utility of rain and its critical importance for crop production. As long as man was not present to work the soil, acknowledge and appreciate the gift of rain, the crops remained beneath the surface in their potential for growth. When Adam was created, he prayed and was answered. Hashem provides for the needs of man, but man must request them by using the vehicle of prayer as his means of communication. Prayer is our conversation with G-d. We pray; Hashem responds. We are unaware of the magnitude of the wealth of spiritual and material bounty that is reserved for us, and, if we do not pray, we may never know what we are neglecting

Yaakov Avinu realized the tremendous chesed that Hashem performed for him. He did not pray because he did not know for what to pray. Hashem knew this, and granted him the wonderful gift of a long-lost son and grandsons. At the bar-mitzvah of his grandson, Horav Yaakov Galinsky, zl, expressed a similar feeling of gratitude. He began by remembering the almost idyllic life he had experienced as a yeshivah student in the Novaradoker Yeshivah in Biyalastok, Poland. "We were sitting and learning - not bothering a soul. We kept to ourselves. Our only life, our only care, was Torah study. The Communists thought otherwise. They decided that we were a dangerous threat to the world. Without warning, and without due process, we were herded into a train bound for Siberia. After days of travel under the most inhumane conditions, with no concern for our physical needs, we arrived in Siberia. The cold was bitter, and what little clothing we had was hardly sufficient to keep us warm. Added to this was the news that we had been given a twenty-five year sentence at hard labor. This punishment was meted out to enemies of the state.

"Hard labor in Russian parlance meant working at back-breaking labor from early in the morning until late at night, outside in the bitter cold, under the watchful eyes of sadistic guards who looked for every opportunity to "punish" offenders who were slacking off on their job. There was no hope of escape. In his "welcoming address," the labor camp's supervisor shared with us that no one had ever escaped from Siberia. Indeed, where would he go in the frozen tundra?

"Confronting such miserable conditions, the only prayer that coursed through my mind was to ask Hashem for a piece of bread, or at least the privilege of burial in a Jewish cemetery. I was beyond hope. There was nothing else for which to pray. Anything else was absolutely unrealistic. We were all going to die here.

"If someone would have informed me that, sixty-five years later, I would be standing proudly and speaking at my grandson's Bar-mitzvah, I would have looked at him as if he had lost his mind. Indeed, I have been blessed with a large family, with simchos, joyous occasions, on a regular basis. I never dreamed that such experiences would be a part of my life.

"I now understand David Hamelech's prayer in Sefer Tehillim 22:2, Rachok m'yeshuasi divrei shaagasi, which is usually translated as, 'Why so far from saving me; from the words of my roar?'

"Simply, this means that a person requests twenty thousand dollars and, in the end, receives only one dollar. Now, I think the pshat, interpretation, of the pasuk should be just the opposite. I asked Hashem that He at least provide me with a Jewish burial. In the end, He gave me so much more than I had asked for. My salvation far exceeded my request!"

So that my name and the names of my Fathers, Avraham and Yitzchak, may be called in them. (48:16)

Yaakov Avinu blesses his grandsons with a blessing that has become the standard for parental blessing throughout the ages. V'yikarei bahem shemi v'shem avosai, Avraham, v'Yitzchak, "So that my name and the name of my fathers, Avraham and Yitzchak, may be called in them." The commentators wonder why the Patriarch placed his name first in the sequence of the Avos, Patriarchs. Simply, I would venture to suggest that he was alluding to the sorry state of affairs that exists when one must revert back to the previous generation to find someone whose spiritual repute is worth emulating. Sadly, we find parents who have been lax in their Torah observance. This applies even to those who received a solid Torah education, but, after leaving the yeshivah, discovered a world of materialism which was too tempting to resist. Now, when they seek blessing for their children, they must turn to their own parents and grandparents as symbols of adherence to Torah, as individuals who represent blessing, whom they want their children to accept as models.

Thus, Yaakov mentioned his name first. He prayed that he be worthy of being the first one whom his grandsons would emulate, and then l'maalah ba'kodesh, to ascend in sanctity, to his father and grandfather.

The Sefer Bais Yisrael HaShalem offers another explanation which provides us with a window into understanding the true meaning of serving Hashem and executing acts of lovingkindness. The Mishnah in Pirkei Avos 1:2, states, "The world stands upon three things: on Torah (study); avodah (service to Hashem through prayer, etc.); and gemillas chassadim (performing acts of lovingkindness). It is these three activities that maintain the world. Without continued effort towards Torah study, prayer to Hashem, and reaching out with kindness to our fellowman, the world would cease to exist. Indeed, it would lose its very purpose for existence.

When we peruse the pesukim of the Torah, it is apparent that the first person to perform an act of avodah was Adam HaRishon, Primordial Man, when he offered a korban, sacrifice, to Hashem. Likewise, the first one to carry out an act of chesed was Noach, when he spent day and night serving the various creatures that were his fellow travelers on the Teivah, Ark. The Torah, however, was not given to Klal Yisrael for another two thousand years. If so, why does the Tanna of the Mishnah mention Torah first - before avodah and gemillas chassadim?

In his commentary Ruach Chaim to Meseches Avos, Horav Chaim Volozhiner, zl, derives an important principle from this Mishnah. It is possible that, without the Torah as our guide, a person could have spent his entire life engrossed in performing acts of avodah and chesed and be certain that everything he is doing - every action, with every activity - he is performing at the optimum level. Once the Torah was given and we study its halachos, we discover, to our dismay, that we were wrong! What we were certain was consummate chesed is not! What we assumed was avodah was deemed invalid!

Why is this? Because the Torah not only serves as our blueprint for life, but it is also our guide for daily living. Its halachos, code of Jewish Law, determines what is appropriate and what is not, what is valid and what is not. For example, if someone lends a person in need one million dollars to start a business, pay up accrued debt, etc. and he charges him half of one percent as interest to cover the expenses of the loan, one might think it is chesed. The Torah, however, considers this loan sinful! One may not take ribbis, usury. One may not charge a premium on a loan. The Torah defines chesed - not society.

The Talmud (Meseches Smachos 4) relates that, prior to studying Torah (and becoming aware of the law), Rabbi Akiva (who was not yet the great Torah luminary) discovered a meis mitzvah (dead body which had no one to take care of his burial). There was no burial place in the immediate area, so Rabbi Akiva carried the dead weight over his shoulders for a number of miles until he located a suitable burial place for the deceased. At first glance, Rabbi Akiva's actions may be perceived as a noble mitzvah; the Torah, however, has another take on this. The halachah is clear that a meis mitzvah koneh mekomo, acquires the place where he is laying. Thus, the deceased may - and should - have been buried where he was found. Carrying the body was not only unnecessary - it is considered k'ilu shofeich damim, as if (Rabbi Akiva) had spilled blood! The Torah determines what is chesed and what is avodah. It is not defined by human emotion.

Having said this, the Bais Yisrael HaShalem explains Yaakov's blessing. One might think that he is serving Hashem (avodah); one might feel that he is a wonderful baal chesed; if his actions are not able to pass the Torah's litmus test for chesed and avodah, however, he is neither a baal chesed nor an oveid Hashem.

Avraham Avinu was the amud hachesed, pillar of kindness, exemplified by his constant endeavor, empathy and love for his fellowman, which he infused into the genes of his descendants. Yitzchak Avinu personified avodas Hashem, service to the Almighty, on the highest level of spirituality. As the Olah Temimah, perfect sacrifice, he represented an unparalleled level of devotion to Hashem that has become a DNA marker of the Jewish psyche.

With his blessing, Yaakov was intimating a profound message to his grandsons and ensuing progeny: Avraham's mitzvah of chesed is great; Yitzchak's mitzvah of avodas Hashem is profound; unless they are held up to the Torah represented by Yaakov, however, they are invalid. Our idea of chesed and avodah is defined by the Torah - not by contemporary society. This is the principle which Yaakov sought to convey in his final moments.

In what proved to be his final shmuess, ethical discourse, to his talmidim, students, my Rosh Yeshivah, Horav Chaim Mordechai Katz, zl, made a similar statement. He quoted the Mishnah in Shabbos 127a, "These are the precepts whose fruits a person enjoys in This World but whose principal remains intact for him in the World to Come." The Mishnah goes on to provide an impressive list of social welfare precepts which run the gamut from acts of lovingkindness to daily timely shul attendance, etc. The Mishnah concludes with the phrase v'talmud Torah k'neged kulam, "And the study of Torah is equivalent to them all."

The Rosh Yeshivah questioned the use of the word k'neged which is normally translated as opposite/in opposition. Had the Mishnah merely wanted to teach that Torah is superior to all other activities, it would have said v'talmud Torah oleh al kulam, "and the study supersedes them all." Why does it use the word k'neged? He explained that, with regard to each of these activities, they must stand up opposite the Torah and questions must be answered: How does the Torah view this activity? Is it appropriate? Is it valid? Is it proper? Once the answers have been given in the affirmative, one can move on with the activity.

The Rosh Yeshivah was delivering his final message to his beloved students. Whatever you do in life, it must stand up to Torah perspective. The Torah must rule accordingly: Is this activity sanctioned by the Torah - or not? If it is not, it loses its chesed/avodah status.

He saw that serenity is good… He bowed his shoulder to bear. (49:15)

When one peruses the brachah, blessing, given to Yissachar, it appears as a lesson in contradiction. Yissachar symbolizes the ben Torah who devotes himself to Torah study under all circumstances. One would think that, if he is confronted with peace and serenity, it would be an opportunity for relaxation and rejuvenation; rather, the Torah tells us that the peaceful repose is not Yissachar's reaction to serenity. Instead of rest, Yissachar girds himself for hard work. Is this not counterproductive?

Horav Yeruchem Levovitz, zl, explains that, if one wants to raise a healthy, content and happy child, showering him with material bounty and giving in to his every whim and fancy are ineffective; these approaches will succeed in actually hindering the desired goal which he seeks to achieve. Catering to a child's desires creates a dangerous dependence, because the child becomes accustomed to getting what he wants - or he will not produce. The moment that he is not satisfied, that he feels lacking, he experiences pain and turmoil, and he becomes disjointed.

The road to contentment is achieved by becoming accustomed to not getting what one wants, to not having much of anything. The less one needs to survive, the easier it is for him to endure. This lack of neediness makes life peaceful. This is how soldiers are trained to survive under adverse conditions, under the most difficult circumstances. War is not fun. A soldier must focus on the battle, ignoring everything else.

The ben Torah must learn Torah without distractions. Yissachar observed that serenity allows one to study Torah unimpeded, giving him the opportunity to grow and thrive in Torah. In order to realize this, he must bend his shoulder and tolerate any annoyance. Additionally, he must avoid material pleasure and be oblivious to pain and discomfort. Once such self-control is achieved, he is able to sit and learn, in serenity and happiness, for nothing fazes him. He has transcended the hindrances to his success.

In his hesped, eulogy, for Horav Yechezkel Levenstein, zl, Horav Elazar M. Shach, zl, said, "I have never met an oveid Hashem, one who served Hashem (with such extreme devotion) as Rav Chatzkel, the Mashgiach (Mir, Ponevez)."Afterwards, his students asked him, "Did the Rosh Yeshivah not meet the Chafetz Chaim, zl, and Horav Chaim Ozer Grodzenski, zl?" (Certainly, their service of Hashem was without peer).

Rav Shach replied, "Every tzaddik, righteous person, has his individual unique approach to serving Hashem. The Mashgiach had an approach that was unlike any other I had ever seen. His avodah was such that, when he wanted something, he did not do it; when he did not want something, he did it." In other words, Rav Chatzkel went against his own will. Those endeavors which went against his grain, which he did not enjoy doing - those he did. Conversely, those endeavors which he did enjoy doing - those he did not do. He refused in any way to defer to his desires.

Va'ani Tefillah

Ani Hashem Elokechem. I am Hashem, your G-d.

The phrase, Ani Hashem Elokechem, I am Hashem, your G-d, is repeated at the end of Krias Shema. Rashi explains that the repetition of this phrase is an indication to Klal Yisrael that our relationship to the mitzvos is not optional. A Jew cannot say that he is willing to forgo the reward inherent in mitzvah observance. While it is true that mitzvah observance is associated with reward, Jews are not free to absolve themselves of their obligation to observe the mitzvos. Klal Yisrael as a nation became committed to the service of Hashem at the time of yetzias Mitzrayim, the exodus from Egypt. That service is its destiny. It is not a choice. It is an obligation.

The Krias Shema commences with the seminal words: Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu, Hashem Echad, "Hear O' Yisrael, Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is One." It concludes with a chasimah k'ein pesichah, conclusion similar to its opening statement. Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, observes that this is very much like brachos, blessings, which require a chasimah k'ein pesichah, a conclusion, similar to that with which we commenced. Ani Hashem Elokeichem is a reaffirmation of our belief that Hashem Elokeinu, Hashem Echad.

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