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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


And someone said to Yosef, "Behold!" - your father is ill. (48:1)

If someone had not informed Yosef that his father was ill, he would not have known. During the entire seventeen years that Yaakov Avinu resided in Egypt he was never alone with his long lost son, Yosef. They had been separated for twenty-two years, their hearts yearning for one another; yet, they were never alone together, never saw one another, until the end, when Yaakov lay on his deathbed. Pesikta Rabbasi explains that Yosef was afraid to be alone with his father, lest he ask him the big question: "What happened?" Yosef was acutely aware of his father's supernatural powers. A single word with a negative connotation that left his mouth would have disastrous ramifications. When Lavan was searching for his idols, and Yaakov claimed that they were not in his possession, the Patriarch had added, "Whoever has them will not live," and Rachel, Yosef's mother, had died. If Yosef were to relate the story of the sale which led to his captivity to his father, it might catalyze a negative reaction; an impugning word might cause his brothers to be cursed. The world was created for the Shevatim who would produce Klal Yisrael. Without them - there would be no world. Yosef was not prepared to assume such an onerous responsibility. So he stayed away, his heart yearning for his father.

The Tzidkas HaTzaddik writes that this is a remarkable tribute to Yosef. Father and son had been separated for twenty-two years; the love burned so passionately between father and son that nary a minute went by during those twenty-two years that they did not think of one another. Yet, when the opportunity to meet, to talk, to be with one another, became available, they did not take advantage of it. Why? Because Yosef knew he would be asked the "question," and his response would include lashon hora against his brothers; therefore, rather than submit to lashon hora, he suffered.

Horav Shlomo Harkavi, zl, views the lesson of the Pesikta from a different vantage point. For twenty-two years, Yaakov yearned for his son. Finally, he heard that he was alive and well, living in Egypt, and acting as its viceroy. He had a multitude of questions to present to his son: "What? Why? How?" Human nature dictates that he would demand to hear and absorb each and every detail concerning his son's disappearance, but Yaakov did not question. He looked toward the future. Whatever happened - had happened. The past was final. The less he knew - the better. It was now time to forget the past, to look forward.

The Tzidkas HaTzaddik describes Yosef's extreme sacrifice in not going to visit his father. Chazal (Kallah Rabbasi 3) teach that Yaakov did not kiss Yosef, because he feared that, after all of those years exposed to the hedonistic Egyptian culture -- and given his extraordinary handsome countenance -- Yosef might have fallen prey to the allure of its women. Yosef, on the other hand, was certainly aware of his father's reluctance - and the reason for it. Yet, despite his ability to remove the cloud hanging over his head with one visit, he chose not to do so. Yosef withstood temptation; he overcame every challenge. Yet, he did not vindicate himself to his father, because it meant answering questions which would result in needing to offer difficult answers that were likely to incur devastating ramifications. He stayed away. He discounted his own feelings in deference to those of his brothers.

The Belzer Rebbe, Horav Yissachar Dov, zl, would gather his sons together once a week and listen to the chiddushei Torah, novel ideas in Torah, which each had innovated that week. His son and successor, Horav Aharon, zl, was also present, but he refused to speak. He neither added his novellae nor offered an opinion concerning the novellae of the others. It was truly an anomaly, because he certainly was not lacking in the ability to communicate. A number of years went by, and, one time, he spoke up, articulating a brilliant dvar Torah, for once entering into the conversation with the others. Afterwards, his father questioned him concerning his sudden involvement in the family Torah discussion. He explained that, in the past, he had kept silent because his stepmother, who was the mother of his step-brothers, was always in the house during the discussion period. He felt that it was appropriate that she should hear the novellae of her sons without his "contributions" to the conversation. Her sons were her pride and joy; how could he diminish her satisfaction? The day that he joined in the conversation was a day when the Rebbetzin was visiting out of town.

This is an example of the extent to which the saintly Belzer Rebbe went in order not to deprive another person of her fullest degree of satisfaction.

But as for me - when I came from Paddan, Rachel died on me… and I buried her there on the road to Efras, which is Bais Lechem. (48:7)

Rashi explains that Yaakov Avinu was excusing himself for not having buried Rachel Imeinu in the Meoras HaMachpeilah. Here he was asking Yosef to make a special effort to take his body out of Egypt in order to bury him in the Meoras HaMachpeilah - when he had not done the same for his wife - Yosef's mother. Apparently, Yaakov sensed that Yosef might have been harboring ill will against him for not making that extra effort to bury his mother in what he might have felt was her rightful place. Yaakov explained that the decision concerning Rachel's final resting place had been taken out of his hands by Hashem. The Almighty wanted Rachel buried by the side of the road, so that she would serve as a "mother" to the tormented, hungry and exhausted Jews being led into captivity by Nevuzaradan - following the destruction of the first Bais Hamikdash. Rachel emerged from her grave and pled for Hashem's mercy on behalf of the Jewish People. Her entreaty made a difference. As a result, until this very day, the gravesite of Rachel Imeinu -- the Momma Rachel-- serves as a source of comfort and succor for the tired, the hungry, the needy Jews who beseech her to intercede on their behalf during personal and national crises.

Rashi uses the words: She'thei ezra l'baneha, "So that she should serve as a (source of) support for her children." Throughout the generations, the Tomb of Rachel has been just that, a source of support. There are many "Momma Rachel" stories. The following incident was related by the Minchas Elazar, the Munkatcher Rebbe, zl, thus establishing its source as impeccable.

The Russian government, not known for its unabiding love for its Jewish citizens, imprisoned Horav Mordechai Tchernobler, zl. The judge was a rabid anti-Semite, and he refused to listen to the pleas of his friends and relatives to release the saintly Rebbe. After much pressure, he finally permitted them to bring him his Tallis and Tefillin and some kosher food. Furthermore, since it had been the Tchernobler's custom to disburse tzedakah, charity, to the poor before Shabbos (so that they could purchase the basic necessities for Shabbos), they allowed him to continue doing so from prison. The poor and needy would line up outside his cell, and he would pass money to each one by way of a small window in his cell. He would pass it to the men, and, for the women, he left it on the windowsill.

One time, a woman appeared at the Rebbe's window and said, "I did not come for money. I came to ask a question. Chazal relate (Bava Kamma 50a) that the daughter of Nechunyah Chofeir Sichin (he dug wells to provide water for the Olei Regalim, pilgrims who came to Yerushalayim for the Three Festivals) fell into one of the wells. The people notified Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa. He told them, 'She has risen' (in other words, she had been rescued). They asked him, 'Are you a Navi, prophet?' (How could he have known that she had been saved?) He replied, 'I am neither a prophet, nor am I the son of a prophet I simply said (thought to myself) something for which that tzaddik, righteous person (her father Nechunya), goes to such trouble (digging wells is difficult work, and it was done purely altruistically), should his offspring stumble over it? (How could Nechunya's daughter be hurt in the well that her father had dug for the sake of the pilgrims?)

"Rebbe, your holy father (Rav Nochum Tchernobler, zl) was heavily involved in pidyon shevuim, redeeming captives, and you also occupy yourself with this noble mitzvah. How could you be the victim of the mitzvah for which you and your father have sacrificed?"

Rav Mordechai replied, "You are asking a good question - one over which I, too, have ruminated." The woman declared, "I bless you (the royal you) that you be immediately released from captivity and returned to your chassidim."

That same day, the warden released the Tcheznobler from prison. The Rebbe was acutely aware that what he had experienced was not an ordinary occurrence. He prayed to Hashem for guidance concerning what had happened. Finally, he was told that the "woman" was none other than Rachel Imeinu who had appeared so that she could ask the question which served to arouse Divine compassion for the Rebbe. Her blessing (together with Divine compassion) catalyzed his release.

Then Yisrael saw Yosef's sons and he said, "Who are these?" And Yosef said to his father, "They are my sons whom G-d has given me here." (48:8,9)

Rashi quotes the Midrash which explains that, although Yaakov Avinu's vision was impaired, he would still have been able to see the two young men standing before him. Instead, they explain that, Mi eileh? "Who are these?" is a reference to descendants of Menashe and Efraim, whose nefarious activities precluded them from deserving blessing. Yaakov wondered - "How did they get into this family? They certainly do not have a reason to warrant blessing." Yosef assured his father that his two sons had been begotten through a marriage of sanctity with a kesubah, kosher marriage contract, and that, indeed, they were worthy of blessing. They would have wicked descendants, but they themselves were holy and pure.

After all is said and done, what did Yosef gain by showing his kesubah to Yaakov? If his sons were going to produce a posterity that was evil and unworthy of blessing, does it make a difference who they presently were? The Chida quotes the Ri Galanti, who expounds on a well-known question concerning Yishmael. The Torah (Bereishis 21:17) teaches us that Hashem listened to the cry of the young Yishmael. The angel of Hashem told Hagar, Yishmael's mother, "Fear not, for G-d has heeded the cry of the young - ba'asher hu sham, in his present state." Rashi explains (based upon the Talmud Rosh Hashanah 16b) that Yishmael was judged according to his current actions - now he is righteous. He would not be judged according to the future - but according to the present. The question is asked: This is inconsistent with the fate meted out to the ben sorer u'moreh, wayward and rebellious son - who is put to death at a young age, while he is still innocent. The Torah does not want us to wait until he sits at the crossroads, prepared to kill anyone who would not hand over their money to him. Why does the maxim of ba'asher hu sham, which applies to Yishmael, not apply to the ben sorer u'moreh, as well?

The Chida explains that it all depends on a person's yesod, foundation. The ben soreh u'moreh is the product of a marriage that was permitted only because of a unique Halachic dispensation permitting a yefas toar, beautiful captive. His father forced the issue due to his unbridled lust for this woman. Rather than have him act wantonly, he is provided with a one-time dispensation. The child born of this union is a child born of a dispensation, born by forcing the hand of Halachah. Thus, he is judged in accordance with his future. He has no present to speak of, and certainly no future; thus, he is executed.

Yishmael, however, was the errant son of Avraham Avinu. The Patriarchal pedigree coursed through his veins. The fact that, later in life, he and his descendants would undo all the good in his bloodline does not alter the fact that now he was the product of a good foundation, thus, presently undeserving of punishment. Indeed, Yishmael repented later in life, indicating that something was to be said in respect to his lineage.

Applying this principle, which distinguishes between one who has a strong, proper foundation and one who does not, Horav Shmuel Yaakov Rubinstein, zl, Chief Rabbi of Paris, explains Yaakov Avinu's quandary. He asked Yosef, "Who are these?" When the Patriarch saw the two sweet, pure sons of Yosef, contrasting with their future progeny who were to be idolaters, who did everything to take down the Jewish People, he wondered, "From where did these come?" What was their foundation, their roots, their origin? If their origin was as negative as their future was to turn out to be, then they were even now unworthy of blessing. If their roots were firmly anchored in faith, commitment and devotion to Hashem, then they should be judged ba'asher hu sham, according to the present, and were, therefore, worthy of blessing.

A charming son is Yosef, a charming son to the eye. (49:22)

The Talmud Berachos 20a teaches that Yosef HaTzaddik and his descendants were impervious to the nefarious power of the evil eye. They derive from the above pasuk that the evil eye had no power over them, because Yosef refused to feed himself from anything that was not his. The evil eye is the product of envy, which results from an individual's character deficiency. He is jealous of others, because he is insecure with himself. Why should a decent person suffer because an individual with a jaundiced character is jealous of his success?

In his Michtav MeiEliyahu 4, Horav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler, zl, explains that, unless a person is a nosein, has a giving nature, people will be jealous of his success. Therefore, the reason for the envy is the subject's lack of giving. People are envious of "takers" who succeed; they have no issue with one who is a "giver." In fact, they wish him well!

Rav Dessler supports this with the Talmud's exegesis concerning the pasuk, V'yidgu lerov b'kerev ha'aretz, "And let them multiply like fish in the midst of the earth" (Bereishis 48:16). "As fish in the sea are covered by water and the evil eye has no power over them, so the evil eye has no power over Yosef." Fish are unique in two ways: they are covered by the water - thus not seen. They live in the water, thus having no interaction with the inhabitants of the land. When one lives alone and does not pierce the eyes of those around him, he does not incur jealousy. Keep to yourself and no one will bother you, is a simple and beneficial maxim by which to live. Furthermore, when one lives by himself, he demonstrates that he is secure in his own skin and does not require public adoration to keep him going. When one's ego is not based upon the whims of others, he will not be susceptible to their evil eye. He rises above them.

Yosef went up to bury his father, and with him went up all of Pharaoh's servants… they came to Goren Haatad… and they held a very great and imposing eulogy. (50:7, 10)

Chazal teach that this name (Goren Haatad) is not the name of a place; rather, it is a name given to a singular event and the image it projected, which determined the name of the area. The Kings of Canaan and the Princes of Yishmael worked together to prevent Yaakov Avinu's burial and, in order to once and for all, eliminate the Jewish People. They conjectured that following the loss of their holy father, the brothers and their families were at their lowest emotional point. What better time to attack them than at a time in which the Jews were depressed. When they came to attack, however, they noticed that Yosef had removed his crown and placed it on Yaakov's coffin. They relented, and, they likewise, placed their crowns on Yaakov's coffin out of respect for the Patriarch. With a total of thirty-six crowns hanging from it, the Patriarch's coffin resembled a field surrounded by thorns. Thus, the area was named for the unique event.

Clearly, this Chazal (Sotah 13a, cited by Rashi) is teaching us a profound message. Our enemies look for every opportunity to destroy us. What better opportunity than when we are down, mourning the loss of our irreplacable Patriarch, who has guided us through the exile. At such a moment of heightened grief - during the funeral, when the loss is felt the most, when the grief is overwhelming - now is the time to attack, to once and for all destroy the symbol of truth in the world. With no Yaakov to protect them, the Jews would be finished. So our enemies thought.

When our enemies arrived, armed to the teeth, prepared to wipe out every Jew, they suddenly stopped when they saw Yosef's crown on Yaakov's coffin. It dawned on them that, while Yaakov had died, his legacy would live on in Yosef. Indeed, it was not Yaakov himself who guided the people, but the power that G-d vested within him that gave him the ability to see through life's ambiguities and offer the solution to their problems. As long as each generation rests their "crown" on the one preceding it, the chain of Heavenly guidance -- the power that Hashem invests in each generation's leadership -- remains unbroken. It is when "today's" generation breaks with the past, dons its own crown, and refuses to associate itself with the crown of leadership of past generations that our enemies have the power to destroy us.

Indeed, when the gentiles around us see our stalwart and inextricable bond with the past, our affinity with-- and respect for -- those who preceded us, they realize that such a connection not only empowers us, but it also grounds us in our relationship with Hashem. This was the primary mistake of the various forms of Liberal/ Progressive/ Reform/Secular Movements within the framework of Jewish belief: they broke with the past. In fact, to them, the past was an anathema, the cause of all their problems. As long as each generation rests its "crown" on the one preceding it, the chain of Heavenly guidance, the power of Hashem, which is an inherent component of the leadership of each generation, remains unbroken. When "today's" generation severs its connection with the past -- by donning its own crown, thus refusing to associate itself with the crown of leadership of past generations - our enemies will have the power to destroy us.

It supposedly began as a reaction, a response to the imaginary needs of the German community, resulting from the inroads and incursions made by the intellectual movement that swept Europe, the Enlightenment. The Haskalah, which was inspired by the European Enlightenment, was a movement based upon rationality. Everything had to fit into the limited parameters of reason/rationale in order for it to be acceptable. The movement empowered Jews to think outside their circle of conviction, which had blocked anything that was beyond their realm of comprehension. Jews were encouraged to study secular subjects and to enter the fields of agriculture, crafts, science and the arts. Spending time studying archaic religious tomes of Talmud and the Codes was totally nonsensical. During the late eighteenth century, a number of middle class German Jews had already begun to shake off what they perceived to be the intellectual fetters of the ghetto by assuming positions in German society. One important note: There certainly was intellectual activity in ghetto life. What greater cognitive challenge can there be than learning a blatt Gemorah? This form of intellectual cognition has been our lifeblood from time immemorial. For those "enlightened" Jews who had managed to acquire somewhat of a secular education, this was insufficient. After all, how could they be accepted into the hedonistic salons of upper European society with knowledge of a blatt Gemorah?

This break with the religion of the "past" still recognized the richness of the Hebrew language and the Bible, thus relegating Judaism to the status of ethical culture, rather than a faith-based religion. The manifesto of the Haskalah distinguished between the "law of man" and "law of G-d" or suggested, "Be a Jew in your home and a man outside it."

With this culture in their background, the reformers were able to metastasize their breaks with their Jewish past into a philosophy of Jewish belief and practice. Judaism was to become an evolving religion, transforming in accordance with the times, societal culture, and personal proclivities. In other words: "Do whatever you want; you are still Jewish."

Their first break with the past was accomplished by abrogating the Divine authorship of the Torah, declaring that only those laws addressing the ethical conduct of man were binding. The rest of Halachah, they emphasized, need no longer be viewed as normative. Zionism was renounced, and Yerushalayim was displaced as the center of hope and aspiration for the Jews. Germany became the Jews' new Zion. This, sadly, was only the beginning.

Did the break with the past help them? Did their immersion in the alien culture, selling their souls to Satan, make a difference in their being accepted by the German goy? No! The acculturated Jew did not belong in German high society, regardless of: how much Kant he expounded and regardless of how much of Schiller's philosophy he had adopted or how much of Beethoven was part of his entertainment culture. He was, first and foremost, a Jew. Indeed, the German blamed all of the decadence in their "pristine" society on the filthy Jews who were less than wholesome, thus undermining their pure Christian values. While the negative reaction did not prevent the Jew from continuing to debase himself, it sent a message: A Jew should act as a Jew and only then will he achieve respect.

When the goyim that came to attack Yosef and his brothers saw that Yaakov had passed his legacy on to his sons and that Hashem still reigned supreme, they acquiesced and even put down their own crowns. You cannot fight a people that is bound to its past, that carries the same banner from generation to generation.

I conclude with an inspirational Yalkut, quoted by Horav Chaim Zaitchik, zl, in his commentary to Parashas Vayeishev. "And he (Yosef) came to the house to do his work" (Bereishis 39:11). Rabbi Eliezer says, "It was Shabbos (so what kind of work did Yosef perform on Shabbos? The Torah uses the word melachto, his work, and we are exhorted to observe Shabbos because, ki vo shavas mikol melachto, "He (Hashem) rested from all His labor" The two melachto's, Yosef and Shabbos, imply that it was on Shabbos that Yosef came to the house of Potifar.) "What was the nature of his work? Shoneh v'korei mah she'aviv lamdo, "He (Yosef) would review and study what his father had taught him years earlier." Yosef had never forgotten his father's lessons! His father's Torah continued to guide him even as he reigned as viceroy over the land of Egypt. This is why Yosef was Yosef - and why the goyim respected him! The more we remain distinct, we are respected; the more we attempt to be like them, we are resented. Just peruse history to support this hypothesis.

Va'ani Tefillah

Hashem sefasai tiftach u'fi yagid tehilasecha

When one takes a moment to think about the greatness of Hashem -- as opposed to the insignificance of man -- he should be awestruck. Articulation at such a time should be impossible. The truth is that we never really think about it. If we would, silence would reign; we would be speechless. Thus, we begin our prayer with an entreaty that Hashem give us the power to open our mouths in praise to Him.

We take the power of speech for granted - as we take everything in our lives for granted. Hashem's greatest gift to mankind is the power of intelligent speech. Adam HaRishon was turned into a ruach memaleca, creature of speech, when Hashem blew the breath of life into him. Without that ability to speak intelligently, we are no different than a simple animal. The miracle of speech can be provided for anyone - or anything. Thus, Sforno (Bamidbar 22:28) observes, "The gift of intelligent speech which was given to Bilaam's donkey reminds us of the words of David Hamelech, "Hashem sefasai tiftach u'fi yagid tehilasecha." It is all the same miracle.

Horav Yaakov Yitzchak Ruderman, zl, explains that Sforno is teaching us that the miracle of human speech is no less a miracle than that of a donkey's speech. Speech is a miracle, and man should never just assume that it is intrinsic to him like everything else. Man should regard that every word that comes out of his mouth is a renewal of Hashem's blessing of verbal communication; it is a miracle. Therefore, we take a moment to ruminate over this idea (before we begin Shemoneh Esrai). It will improve our communication.

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