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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Yaakov settled in the land of his father's sojourning. (37:1)

Bikeish Yaakov leisheiv b'shalvah, kafatz alav rogzo shel Yosef. Chazal teach us that Yaakov Avinu sought to dwell in tranquility, but then, he had to cope with the ordeal of Yosef. The righteous seek to dwell in tranquility, but Hashem says, "The righteous do not consider that which is prepared for them in the World to Come to be enough for them, but they seek to dwell in tranquility in this world as well!" The lesson that Chazal are teaching is that this world is not a place in which the righteous can hope to have tranquility. This is a world of action where there is much to accomplish. Furthermore, we derive from here that this world is not what it seems. Yaakov's life was filled with challenge. He suffered one vicissitude after another. These challenges and ordeals became the foundation stones for the future nation of Klal Yisrael. What seems to be so is not always an accurate perception of the reality. On the contrary, it quite possibly might be the opposite.

Horav Yaakov Galinsky, Shlita, relates an anecdote which expresses this idea quite succinctly. Apparently, his mother had a subscription to the Agudath Israel newspaper in Poland, which was called the Tagblatt. It took some time until the paper reached their home. Indeed, by the time it arrived, whatever was in the paper was no longer news, but history. Nonetheless, it was a Jewish newspaper with a Torah-oriented slant on the news, so it was well worth the wait. His mother was the only woman in her immediate area who could read Polish and these women were starved to hear "news." Therefore, every evening a group of women would gather at the Galinsky home, so that Mrs. Galinsky could read the "news" to them.

One evening, one of the "regulars" arrived a bit early, while Mrs. Galinsky was still in the kitchen. With nothing to do, she picked up the newspaper and began to look at it. Since she could not read, she was unable to determine where the paper's headline began. She happened to be staring at an article about an English shipbuilding company which had just commissioned a new ocean liner. As she was staring at the paper, she suddenly gave a scream, "Devorah (Mrs. Galinsky), how can you stand there peeling potatoes when the paper is filled with an article about an ocean liner that sank?"

Mrs. Galinsky had not yet read the paper, and this bit of news came as a shock to her. She came running in from the kitchen, quite upset. She took one look at the paper which her friend was holding and began to laugh. "My dear friend," she said, "you are holding the paper upside down, making the ocean liner appear to be capsizing. It is about the launching of a new ocean liner. You looked at the right picture, but from the wrong angle."

Rav Galinsky explains that this story is an analogy to life. We often read the circumstances from an upside down or backwards angle, which causes us to develop an inaccurate impression of what is occurring. How often do we "think" we see a boat capsizing when actually it is being launched? We have no clue concerning the greatness of the Avos ha'kedoshim, holy Patriarchs. Thus, when we read about them, we often form our own impressions based upon the perspective from which we are viewing them. We are like the woman who saw, but could not read. The Avos were very capable of reading and perceiving, far beyond the ken of those who are making conjectures about them today.

Yaakov Avinu's tzaros, troubles, were the foundation stones of our glorious nation. His idea of tranquility and ours are very disparate from one another. When he was told that the righteous do not have it "easy" in this world, he accepted this with equanimity and faith, because he knew how to read. He understood. In contemporary times, we must learn to trust and keep our faith. The ship is not capsizing. Indeed, we are in the process of building the "vehicle" that will take us "home," with the advent of Moshiach Tzidkeinu.

It was at that time that Yehudah went down from his brothers. (38:1)

Yehudah did not just "go down." Rashi explains that Yehudah, who had until that time retained a position of leadership over his brothers, was deposed, because they blamed him for suggesting that Yosef be sold into slavery, rather than encouraging them to return Yosef to their father. Regrettably, Yehudah's punishment did not end with his descent from leadership. He eventually lost his wife and two sons. Chazal derive from here that one who commences performing a mitzvah, but does not complete it, will ultimately bury his wife and children, as Yehudah did. He began the rescue of Yosef, but did not complete it. Thus, he was punished. This is a punishment that is difficult to understand. Why should one who starts a mitzvah be judged more harshly than one who does not even begin it? The brothers, who had planned to kill Yosef, were not punished as harshly as Yehudah, who, at least, spared his life by suggesting that he be sold as a slave.

Horav Avrohom Pam, zl, explains this based upon an incident recorded in the Talmud Taanis 21A. Two great Torah scholars, Ilfa and Rabbi Yochanan, both struggled to study Torah amidst abject poverty. They made every attempt to keep their heads above water, to no avail. Finally, they decided to seek an opportunity to achieve financial stability. They were going to earn some serious money. They set out one day in search of their golden dream. Stopping along the way to eat their meager meal, they sat next to an old wall which, unbeknownst to them, was ay at the point of collapse. While they ate, two malochim, angels, came by and conversed. Rabbi Yochanan was privy to what they were saying. He heard the following: "Let us topple this wall on these people, because they are forsaking eternal life in the World to Come and exchanging it for temporary opportunities in a transitory world." Obviously, the venture these two scholars were attempting was raising concern in Heaven. The other angel replied, "Leave them alone, because there is one among them whose hour to achieve distinction is at hand."

Rabbi Yochanan proceeded to ask Ilfa if he had heard anything. When Ilfa responded that he had not, Rabbi Yochanan assumed that the angels were probably speaking about him. He decided to abandon his plan for striking it rich and return to the yeshivah. Shortly after his return, Rabbi Yochanan was appointed Rosh Yeshivah, and-- in accordance with the accepted tradition-- he was bestowed with gifts that greatly enhanced his financial status, much similar to the Kohen Gadol whose fellow Kohanim would give him great wealth when he was elevated to his exalted post. The Talmud concludes that when Ilfa returned after concluding his business venture, he was told that had he not left, it would have been he who would have been selected as Rosh Yeshivah, since he was a greater scholar than Rabbi Yochanan.

Rav Pam derives a number of lessons from this Chazal, one of them being the significance of responding positively to a shelichus, mission. Rabbi Yochanan heard the angel's conversation. He understood that he was being entrusted with a mission which he must carry out. Likewise, when one is inspired to do a mitzvah, this inspiration is a message for him: You have a mission to perform. See it through to fruition. Do not waste time. Do not do part of it. You must do the entire mission. This is why Yehudah was so severely punished for initiating Yosef's rescue, but not completing it.

An inspiration is more than a personal good feeling, a compulsion to act, to perform, to assist. The inspiration is something that has been planted in our minds. It is our mission from Heaven. When we carry out our inspirations, it should be with a feeling that we are performing Hashem's Will. This emotion catalyzes us to act tirelessly, demonstrating self-sacrifice and alacrity. We must leave no stone unturned in our quest to complete our mission.

Horav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, zl, was known as the shelucha d'Rachmana, agent of Hashem, to build Torah in this country. Indeed, he was the architect of Torah in America, planting the seeds of yeshivos and day schools, seeds that have flourished and grown into entire communities throughout the United States - which continue to grow. It was all the result of his inspiration. He understood the challenges: he factored in the toil and self-sacrifice; he built an army of soldiers prepared to go out and disseminate Torah to the masses; he infused them with courage and inspired them with hope; he sent them out on their mission - a mission that continues to produce results to this very day.

Not everyone is endowed with the ability and sensitivity to inspire others, to rally with him to reach out to the spiritually devoid and complacent, to illuminate their lives with the light of Torah. Nevertheless, each and every one of us has his own individual mission to complete. It is a mission that only he can accomplish. If he does not complete his own mission, it will be difficult if someone else does it. Rav Pam cites the Chida in his Shem HaGedolim that Horav Moshe Alshich, zl, sought to join a select inner circle of students who were privileged to study the innermost secrets of the Torah with the Arizal, the master of Kabbalah. The Arizal did not permit the Alshich to join the group, despite the Alshich's incredible distinction in Torah knowledge and sheleimus ha'middos, perfection of character traits. The Alshich was so upset with his rejection that he asked the Arizal for an explanation. The Arizal explained, "Your soul descended to this world l'tzorech Toras ha'derush, to produce profound homiletic discourses and interpretations of the Torah. This is your calling in life (not studying nistar, esoteric wisdom). Devote yourself to revealing the precious jewels of the Torah. That will bring ultimate fulfillment to your soul."

This vignette should give us all something to consider. How often do we get involved in various endeavors that just do not seem to go our way? This applies to a profession, a temporary undertaking or permanent vocation. We wonder why it just does not seem to work. Perhaps it is not part of our Heavenly script for life. Could it be that Hashem wants something else of us? Perhaps He views our talents differently than we and others view them. No one wants to return to Hashem with a mission "unaccomplished." What is worse is the individual who--due to complacency or stubbornness-- refuses to define what his mission in life really is.

He entered the house to do his work. (39:11)

In the Midrash HaGadol, Chazal maintain that "the house" was no ordinary house. The Torah is alluding to a very special house, a house that had a long history, a house that, due to its significance, played a critical role in Yosef's ability to triumph over Potifar's wife's blandishments. This was the same house to which Avimelech took Sarah Imeinu many years earlier. It was in this house that our Matriarch shed many bitter tears, fearing for her life and her morals. The Midrash Rabbah in Parashas Lech Lecha 41:2 relates that the entire night that Sarah was left alone, waiting for Avimelech, she prayed to Hashem: "Master of the world, Avraham left with Your assurance that he would not be hurt. I left with my faith and trust in You intact - even though You did not promise me anything. Avraham was able to leave the prison, and I am in the prison. Why?" Hashem replied, "Everything that I do is done for you."

What is the meaning of this ambiguous dialogue? Horav Chaim Zaitchik, zl, explains that the house in which Sarah was held captive by Avimelech was a house that was filled with our Matriarch's groans, her tears, her heartfelt prayers, when she was alone, separated from her husband. To whom could she turn? Hashem was her mighty rock, her hope, her Source of Salvation. Her tears suffused the "airspace" of the house and hung there, permeating the entire edifice. Years went by, and her great-grandson Yosef was also a captive in that house. He needed support and help. He needed something to help him in his time of need. Yosef "wrapped himself" in his grandmother's tears. These tears now ascended on high and stormed the Heavens, entreating Hashem to spare Yosef, to encourage him during his time of need. This house was no ordinary house. It was Sarah's house, a house of prayer, a house of tears.

No prayer is left behind. No tears are wasted. It may seem that the prayers did not achieve their goal; the tears did not accomplish their purpose. Actually, they did. Hashem stored the tears and prayers for a time when they would be needed by someone who either could not pray-- or just needed more prayer. How little we know; how little we are aware. We must trust and believe that no sincere expression that emanates from us is wasted. It will be used - perhaps not now-or for us personally - but it will be used one day.

The following is a moving letter of consolation that was sent to a bereaved family. It expresses the idea that we mentioned above. We say in the Selichos on Yom Kippur during the closing moments of the Neilah Service: "Yehi ratzon - May it be the will of the One Who listens to the sound of our cries, that You collect our tears so they are not lost, save us from all cruel decrees, for our eyes are turned to You alone." (Apparently, the father/husband had succumbed after a dreadful illness. Many people had prayed; many had contributed, but it "seemed" to no avail. The letter responds to this feeling of "rejection.")

"We all feel like soldiers who have returned from the battlefield, a battlefield where many of our people - men, women and children - all joined together to entreat the Almighty to revoke the decree. Regrettably, we did not succeed. I cannot recall a personality that merited such an outpouring of attention from gedolei ha'dor, Torah luminaries, teachers, and children, entire families, all committed, all concerned for the welfare of the choleh, terminally ill patient. Everyone shared in the prayer that he be granted a speedy recovery.

"But it was not to be. We prayed and we hoped, but Hashem had other plans. Have we returned from the battlefield in defeat? No! On the contrary, all those who cried out gained great merit for themselves; yet, even greater merit was gained by the one for whom we prayed. Our dear, departed friend had the merit of inspiring the community to draw closer to Hashem, to repent, to achieve a greater semblance of unity. The closeness they achieved with Hashem through the recitation of Tehillim and increased intensity in prayer has surely served as a merit both for them and the departed. The public fasts and increase in Torah study surely left an indelible impression on High. Who knows how much forgiveness has been granted to the world, and how many decrees have been averted and annulled in his behalf?

"All of the above are an indication of the triumph of good over evil. Faith has increased, and Hashem's Name has been sanctified. We can say with firm belief that if it was decreed upon him - and upon you - whatever it was decreed, fortunate is he for whom these merits paved the way for him to enter the gates of Gan Eden, to reach the place reserved for those who are mezakeh es ha' rabim and mekadesh Shem Shomayim, contribute to the public good and publicly sanctify Hashem's Name.

"It is quite possible that my words do not provide sufficient solace for your broken hearts. Let me add another important point. You wonder: What happened to all of the tears? Where are the heartfelt prayers? Did they disappear - just as the departed? The hot tears evaporated and became clouds of glory which joined together with his many merits. Together they will rise before the Kisei Ha'Kavod, Throne of Glory, to praise our unforgettable loved one, accompanying him to his final resting place in Gan Eden."

The tears are not wasted. In fact, nothing good is ever wasted. Hashem puts it away and stores it for a time when they will be put to use.

And he placed him in the prison. (39:20)

Yosef was alone, incarcerated, and held in a dreary dungeon. He was literally the lowest that one could be. How could he perceive anything positive about his predicament? For that matter, can one derive a positive note from his captivity to cope with being in prison, being in a hospital bed, or suffering an affliction which takes over his life? Horav Mordechai Mann, zl, cites Horav Leib Fine, zl, who clarifies this question, giving encouragement and sustenance to those who are alone, who are in need, who think that nobody cares.

He cites the pasuk in Yeshayah 63:9, B'chol tzarosom lo tzar, "In all these troubles, He was troubled." The kri-- the way the word lo is read-- and the ksiv-- the way it is actually spelled-- are contrastingly different. The Torah writes lo tzar with an aleph, which is thus translated as "not" troubled, but it is read lo tzar, with a vav, which is now translated as "His troubles." How are we to reconcile these two opposing meanings? On the one hand, we are saying that Hashem is not "troubled" with us, while it is actually written that He is troubled with us.

Horav Fine explained, citing a story that had occurred over a century earlier in the city of Brisk. One Friday night, a group of Orthodox Jews decided to protest the lack of Shabbos observance perpetrated by a number of secular-minded Jews. The police became enraged over this illegal protest and decided to arrest and incarcerate the rosh ha'kahal, lay head of the community. The jails in those days were certainly dreary, miserable places, but on Shabbos, without Kiddush and the Shabbos meal, the atmosphere certainly left much to be desired. The rosh ha'khal was extremely depressed.

Two hours of misery and loneliness went by and, suddenly, a guard opened the door to his cell and brought in another prisoner. It was none other than Horav Yehoshua Leib, zl, the Maharil Diskin, Rav of Brisk and later Yerushalayim. Apparently, the police felt it was not sufficient to arrest the president; they must also bring in the rabbi to suffer a little bit.

All of a sudden, the eyes of the rosh ha'khal began to shine, as his face became aglow with excitement and deep satisfaction. Everything was worth it. It was well worth being thrown into jail, so that he could have quality time with the distinguished Maharil Diskin. He was no longer alone; he was no longer incarcerated. This was heaven! What joy! What satisfaction! He could not ask for anything "better." It was all worth it to be able to spend a Shabbos alone with the Maharil Diskin.

This is the meaning of the pasuk, b'chol tzarosam lo tzar. "In all their/our troubles, "He is with them," the lo is spelled with a vav. Thus, since Hashem is with the individual, he is no longer alone. When he acknowledges this, he realizes that what he is experiencing is not a tzar, with lo spelled with an aleph, connoting a negative. The troubles change and disappear, because he is with Hashem.

I remember a number of years ago; I visited a woman in the hospital who was going through the ravages of the end stages of a terminal illness. I had been visiting her for awhile. Every time I met with her, I would somehow attempt to convey some form of optimism and hope. This time it would be difficult, and she knew it. "What are you going to say now, Rabbi?" she asked me. I thought for a few moments before saying, "You know that this illness is from Hashem, and that alone should serve as some form of comfort. He is doing this for a reason that is beyond us, but the mere fact that it is from Him and that He is with you in your time of need should alleviate some of your distress and fear. You are not alone - ever." I do not think that this thought decreased her pain, but it did give her the fortitude to withstand her ordeal.

Va'ani Tefillah

Tzadik Hashem b'chol derachav, v'chasid b'chol maasav.
Righteous is Hashem in all His ways, and magnanimous in all His deeds.

Hashem acts with us as He feels necessary. Thus, if the circumstances call for an expression of Din, strict Justice, He does so out of His boundless love for us, so that we will correct our ways. In other words, while it may appear that Hashem is dealing harshly with us, He is actually carrying out an act of love which ultimately is merciful and compassionate. Horav Avraham Figu, zl, distinguishes between derech, way, which is a reference to the medium one takes towards realizing a goal and maaseh, deed, which is the goal that he seeks to achieve.

This is the meaning of the pasuk, Tzaddik Hashem b'chol derachav, "Righteous is Hashem in all His ways," concerning the derech, vehicle, for applying His judgment. Hashem appears as a tzaddik, strict, pious, looking for the correct and just way. When we see what Hashem wants of us and the approach He wants us to take, we are overwhelmed with fear. When we see, however, the actual maaseh, the purpose, then we understand the goal of His demands; Hashem now appears as a chasid, benevolent and kind, filled with compassion. We follow His derech, because we believe in His maaseh.

l'zechar nishmas
R' Noach ben Yehuda Aryeh z"l
niftar 22 Kislev 5726
by his family

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