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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


It will happen when he sees the youth missing he will die. (44:31)

An elderly chassid, a follower of Horav Menachem Mendel, zl, m'Kotzk, came to the Kotzker complaining about his current financial straits. What disturbed him most was the fact that his grown children, whom he had supported with great mesiras nefesh, self-sacrifice, manifest no gratitude. They were all quite capable of helping him in his moment of need. Yet, they completely ignored his financial circumstances. At a period in his life when he should have been retired and relaxing, he was compelled to work hard to support himself.

The Rebbe listened intently to the chassid. After he finished his diatribe, the Rebbe said, "You should not be shocked by your children's behavior. It is not something new. In fact, a similar situation reigned in the home of Yaakov Avinu. This can be inferred from Yehudah's dialogue with Yosef concerning the release of Binyamin. Among his entreaties, Yehudah argued, 'it will happen when he sees the youth is missing, he will die.' Yehudah implored Yosef to take pity on Binyamin's aged father, who had suffered so much in his life. To sustain the loss of Binyamin would surely kill him."

"When we read this account, we are immediately confronted with a glaring question. While it is true that Yaakov would suffer greatly, what about Binyamin's ten sons, who would now be bereft of their father? Why does Yosef not have compassion on Binyamin's children, who would probably suffer irreparable emotional and physical damage with the loss of their father?"

"This teaches us," submitted the Kotzker with his head bowed down, "that parents feel their child's hurt -- and sense their child's pain -- much more intensely than children feel for their parents."

Horav Meir Yechiel zl, m'Ostrovze gives the following rationale for this phenomenon. All the generations since Creation follow in a chain from the earliest generations to the present. The various attributes, personality and character traits are transmitted from father to son and on. In other words, everything comes to us from Adam HaRishon, who bequeathed it to his offspring. This idea applies only to what has been transmitted from father to son. In regard to a son's compassion and sensitivity toward a parent, there is no precedent, because Adam HaRishon had no parents.

He [Yosef] cried in a loud voice. (45:2)

Chazal view Yosef's weeping as a portent for his descendants. They say, "Just as Yosef appeased his brothers only through weeping, so, too, Hakodesh Boruch Hu will redeem Klal Yisrael from its exile only through [their] weeping." As it is written in Yirmiyahu 31:8, "For with weeping they will come; with supplications I will bring them." Chazal's words are enigmatic.

If Hashem is waiting for tears, then our exile should have ended long ago. Have we not cried bitterly for thousands of years? Why did Hashem not respond to the tears of our ancestors and redeem them?

Horav Mordechai HaKohen explains that it is not merely the tears themselves that strike a chord. Rather, the reason for the tears distinguishes tears of redemption from the tears of pain. Why type of tears flowed from Yosef? What catalyzed Yosef's weeping? Yehudah said, "For how can I go up to my father if the youth is not with me, lest I see the evil that will befall my father (44:34)." Immediately thereafter, the Torah writes that Yosef could no longer restrain himself. What was there about Yehudah's statement that evoked such an emotional upheaval within Yosef to the point that he immediately began to cry uncontrollably?

When Yosef heard sensitivity and compassion emanating from Yehudah, when he heard that the brothers were prepared to risk their lives for the welfare of Binyamin, he realized that it was wrong for him to continue to distress them. He felt within himself boundless love for his brothers, and he began to cry for their pain. Yes, when he saw that they were concerned for Binyamin, he cried for the suffering he had caused them. This explains the uniqueness of Yosef's tears. He did not weep for his pain; he wept for his brothers' pain.

This is what Hashem is waiting for. As Yosef wept for his brothers' pain, so, too, is Hashem waiting for the tears that we cry for our brothers' pain. It is one thing to cry for one's own travail. It is altogether another thing, however, when one cries for the pain sustained by his friend. Hashem is waiting for our tears for Klal Yisrael's anguish.

Then Yisrael journeyed forth with all that he had…and (he) offered sacrifices onto theG-d of his father Yitzchak. (46:1)

Yaakov Avinu arrived in Be'er Sheva, a city glorified by the memory of his fathers. There he offered zevachim, sacrifices. He was in the happiest frame of mind that he had attained in his entire life. It was here at this zenith in his life, with his troubles and struggles behind him, that he felt capable of offering a Korban Shelamim, Peace-Offering. Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, notes that this is the first time that any of the Avos, Patriarchs, offered a korban other than a Korban Olah, Burnt-Offering. He explains that a Korban Olah expresses complete submission to Hashem. The Korban Shelamim/Zevach is in itself a family meal to be eaten by the baalim, owners. Thus, it consecrates the "family house," making it into a sanctuary and rendering the "family table" a veritable altar. A zevach denotes the concept of "Hashem comes to us." It is understood from that happy consciousness that in a place where the family unit lives in harmony and joy, with fidelity to the Almighty, sensing the Presence of Hashem in their midst, His Presence permeates that family circle.

Rav Hirsch adds that for this very reason, the Korban Shelamim is by its very nature a "Jewish" sacrifice. Peace-Offerings of family life, expressing the awareness of G-d's blessing in their circle are quintessentially Jewish. While it is true that the idea of being absorbed in G-d and devoted to G-d is also found in non-Jewish spirituality, it does not penetrate every aspect of life, as it does in Jewish theology. The essence of Judaism is represented in the idea that one's ordinary day-by-day lifestyle can be elevated and sanctified: that our table becomes an altar; our home a sanctuary; our children dedicated servants to Hashem; and every aspect of our daily routine a spiritual endeavor. One can either view the mundane as bitul ha'yeish, negatively nullifying everything that is not wholly spiritual; or he can fulfill kiddush ha'yeish, consecrating the mundane by transforming it in a spiritual and holy activity.

Yaakov brought a zevach because he finally felt joy; he felt himself complete in his family circle. The Patriarchs that preceded him, Avraham and Yitzchak, regrettably did not enjoy such "completion" in their family unit. Avraham had Yishmael; Yitzchak had Eisav. Thus, they were compelled to veer toward a complete break with this world. They could not offer a Shelamim. Their korban was an Olah, representing their commitment to negating olam hazeh. There was no room in their weltenshauung for the mundane. Yaakov was also hesitant in offering a Shelamim. He was not sure what would happen concerning Yosef. His travail did not allow for a Shelamim. As he was going down to Egypt to meet his long lost son, a son who had maintained his spiritual virtue throughout his terrible ordeal, he was able to offer the sacrifice that had eluded his forebears.

Then Yisrael said to Yosef, "Now I can die, after my having seen your face, because you are still alive." (46:30)

So ends the saga of Yosef's "disappearance" from home. After many years of bitter longing, Yaakov Avinu was finally able to once again embrace his son. We read about it, but unless one has undergone the travail of almost losing a child and then finding him alive and well, it is difficult to fully grasp the overwhelming joy that both Yaakov and Yosef experienced. Baruch Hashem, this experience is something that is a rarity. There was a time, not so long ago, during World War II, when families were separated, when children were torn away from their parents, when siblings were severed from one another, when the Jewish People as a family unit became something of the past. It took years after the war until news of loved ones became unraveled and after much searching, some remnants of families were reunited. There were also those cases where clearly it was Hashgacha Pratis, Divine Providence, that steered events and people to reunite with one another. The following is one such moving story:

Young Private Goldberg was a soldier in the U.S. Army as it marched through war-torn Europe at the end of World War II. His unit was assigned to a European village, with orders to secure the town, search for any concealed Nazis, and assist the villagers in any way they could.

One night, Private Goldberg was on patrol when he saw a figure darting through a field just outside the village. "Halt or I will shoot!" he exclaimed. The figure ducked behind a tree and hid. Goldberg saw this and patiently waited. Eventually, the figure came out and began digging. Goldberg waited until the figure had completed his digging and once again shouted, "Halt or I will shoot!" The figure ran. Goldberg decided not to shoot. Instead, he gave pursuit. After a few minutes, he succeeded in tackling the figure to the ground.

To his surprise, he discovered that he had caught a young boy. During the scuffle, an ornate menorah fell from the boy's hands. Goldberg lifted up the menorah and stared. "Give me back my menorah!' cried the boy. "It is mine," he pleaded. "Do not worry," responded Goldberg. "I am also Jewish, I will help you."

Regrettably, the boy had been the victim of several years of the infamous ghettos and concentration camps of the Holocaust, so he was mistrustful of anyone in uniform. He had been forced to watch the execution of his father. He had no idea what had become of his mother. He was all alone in the world, with nothing but his little menorah.

The Jewish people are rachmanim bnei rachmanim, compassionate sons of compassionate fathers. Private Goldberg slowly took the boy, whose name was Yaakov, under his wing. Goldberg took a strong liking to Yaakov and convinced him to return with him to America. After going through the necessary paperwork, Goldberg officially adopted Yaakov.

Goldberg was active in the Jewish community. One day, he met one of his friends who happened to be a curator of the Jewish Museum in Manhattan. He showed his friend the unique menorah that Yaakov had saved from the fires of the Holocaust. The curator told Yaakov that the menorah was a rare piece of art, and he immediately offered him $50,000 for it.

Yaakov was young, but very attached to the menorah. "I will never sell it," he said. "This menorah has been in my family for over two hundred years. I am not selling it to a museum. No amount of money can replace my feelings toward this menorah."

When Chanukah arrived, Yaakov lit the menorah and placed it in the front window of his newly found home. Tears streamed down his face, as he stared at the beautiful lights. This menorah, an ember from the past, symbolized hope - a hope for a better tomorrow.

Yaakov went upstairs to his room to read, while Goldberg remained downstairs with the menorah. A few minutes later, there was a feeble knock at the door, and Goldberg got up to answer. A woman with a heavy German accent stood at the door. She said that she had been walking down the street, when she had suddenly noticed the menorah in the window. She said that she had such a menorah in her family for many years and had never seen another one like it. Could she please come in and take a closer look at it?

Goldberg was happy to invite her to enter, saying that the menorah actually belonged to his son, who could possibly tell her more about it. Goldberg went upstairs and called Yaakov to talk to the woman - who was his long-lost mother! The little menorah, which Yaakov refused to give up, became the catalyst for helping him to piece his family back together. What a moving example of Hashgacha Pratis.


And now do not be distressed. (45:5)

Horav Yisrael zl m'Riztin was wont to say, "Whoever seeks to come closer to Hashem, it is forbidden for him to be in a state of depression. There is no greater deterrent to serving Hashem than depression."

Alternatively, Tzor Hamor emphasizes the V'Atah, "and now."

Now, do not be distressed, but in the future there will be ta'tzur, a reason for distress, when the Asarah Harugei Malchus, Ten Martyrs -- the greatest Torah luminaries of the generation -- will be put to death in the most heinous manner, as penance for the sin of selling Yosef.

¨¨¨ To each he gave changes of clothing…and five changes of clothing. (45:22)

Yesod v'Shoresh Ho'Avodah notes that it is a minhag Yisroel, Jewish custom, to change one's clothing in honor of Rosh Chodesh, Yom Tov, and Shabbos. He uses our pasuk as an acronym for this: Chameish, cheis - Chodesh: mem - Moed; shin - Shabbos, for these special occasions one must chalifor smalos, change [his] clothes.

¨¨¨ Then Yisrael said to Yosef, "Now I can die."

The velt, world, says that when a father is compelled to be dependent upon his son/children during his senior years, he tastes a form of death. Yaakov was alluding to the hardship a parent undergoes when he loses his independence and is relegated to his children's care.

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Peninim on the Torah is in its 11th year of publication. The first seven years have been published in book form.

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