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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


And Yosef said to his brothers, "I am Yosef"…But his brothers could not answer him. (45:3)

The episode of Yosef and his brothers finally reached its conclusion when Yosef revealed his identity with the words, "I am Yosef." Everything that had occurred during the past twenty-two years the ambiguities and paradoxes, the strange, unexplained, unreasonable happenings suddenly all had rationale and meaning. It had all come together. Yosef was truly a Navi, prophet, whose dreams were spiritual visions foreshadowing the future, not mere images of grandeur.

There is an important lesson to be derived from this twenty-two year incident. Nothing stands in the path of the Divine. Hashem has a plan, and it will reach fruition at its designated time. It was Hashem's will that Yosef become the viceroy of Egypt and that his father and brothers come down to Egypt and bow down to him. It happened - regardless of the brothers' machinations to thwart the plan. Not only did it materialize, but the brothers themselves provided the medium by which it became a reality.

Shlomo Hamelech says in Mishlei (21:30), "There is neither wisdom, nor understanding, nor counsel against Hashem." Ralbag cites the episode of Yosef and his brothers as a paradigm of this idea. We conjure up ideas and prepare all kinds of plans, to no avail. Against Hashem's plan, our schemes are meaningless.

Horav Avraham Pam, zl, suggests that this concept has many practical applications. He cites one that is truly meaningful. An elderly parent becomes seriously ill. The children consult with a specialist to determine which course of treatment would be most beneficial. Two options are presented, each with its own risk and benefit potential. The family deliberates and makes a decision to follow one of the two approaches. Regrettably, the treatment fails, and the parent dies. The family is now besieged with guilt. They blame themselves for choosing the wrong treatment, the wrong doctor, the wrong hospital. They begin to blame one another, imposing the onus of guilt on anyone but themselves.

This scenario is not unusual. In fact, it is common. What we fail to realize is that the doctor, the hospital, the therapy - nothing - would have made a difference, because it was not part of Hashem's plan. The family should do whatever is in line with their best understanding of the situation, with the awareness that ultimately - if it does not coincide with Hashem's plan - it will not succeed.

Throughout the millennia, more than one wicked enemy has arisen to wipe us off the face of the earth. We are here today because it is part of Hashem's plan. It is a principle of our faith that this Divine protection will endure until the advent of Moshiach Tzidkeinu.

Then he fell upon his brother Binyamin's neck and wept; and Binyamin wept upon his neck. (45:14)

Rashi explains that the two brothers wept over the future destructions of the Bais Hamikdash, which was to be situated on their portion in Eretz Yisrael. The two Batei Mikdash were to be built in Binyamin's territory, and the Mishkon Shiloh was to be erected in the territory of Yosef's son, Efraim. This commentary is enigmatic. In the very next pasuk, Yosef kisses his other brothers and also cries over them. Why does Rashi not explain over here that Yosef also cried over the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash? If the weeping was for the future, what does the crying over his brothers represent?

The Piazesner Rebbe, zl, cites the Talmud in Rosh Hashanah 28a that says, Mitzvos laav l'hen'os nitnu, "Commandments were not given to provide enjoyment." They were given to us as a yoke around our necks. The mitzvos engender a sense of discipline. This explains why the brothers cried on each other's neck. They each were lamenting the yoke of the mitzvos that would be shrugged off at the time of the destruction of the Holy Temple.

Each and every Jew has a yoke around his neck - mitzvos. He has responsibilities and obligations that he has to perform and fulfill as a Jew. Moreover, his thoughts and his speech must be holy. Even when he is physically prevented from carrying out the mitzvos, he must brace himself and remember that he has a yoke, a pending obligation to fulfill the Divine mandate. In periods of catastrophe, when calamity and tragedy are a way of life, when suffering and pain overwhelm, and everything holy and Jewish is destroyed, people do not simply revoke their responsibilities due to the difficulty of observing the commandments. They even shrug off the yoke in response to all of the pain and degradation that they endure. Yosef and Binyamin cried, each on the neck of the other, because they lamented shrugging off the yoke of mitzvos which was a result of the destruction of the Batei Mikdash. Yosef did not fall on his brothers' necks; he merely cried over them.

With this idea in mind, the Piazesner explains another anomaly. In the subsequent text, the Torah relates that when Yosef met his father, Yaakov Avinu, he fell upon his father's neck and cried, whereas Yaakov did not fall on Yosef's neck. Rashi explains that Yaakov, instead of falling upon Yosef's neck, was reciting Krias Shma. The famous questions echoed by all the commentators are: Why did Yaakov choose that particular moment to recite Krias Shma? And why did Yosef not also recite Krias Shma?

Considering that which has been suggested above, we can now understand the text. When Yosef met his father, he once again became cognizant of the spiritual calamity that would befall Klal Yisrael with the destruction of the Temple. He once again wept over the future shedding of the yoke of mitzvos associated with the catastrophe. This is the reason that the Torah refers to Yosef's weeping on his father's neck. The Jewish people were now entering the Egyptian galus, exile. Yosef wondered how, under these circumstances, they would be able to maintain the yoke of mitzvos around their necks.

Yaakov responded by reciting the Shma, the symbol of self-sacrifice. With mesiras nefesh, self-sacrifice, we will endure the trials and tribulations, the pain and persecution, that has so much been a part of our long exile. When we recite Shma Yisrael, we return our souls back to Hashem, unconditionally and without reservation. The Shma recited in the morning sets the tone for the entire day. No one suggested that the exile would be easy, but, with mesiras nefesh, we can and will triumph over the many challenges that arise.

When we think of mesiras nefesh for mitzvah observance, when we associate total dedication to mitzvah performance during the most difficult moments in Jewish history, we think of those who served Hashem during the most devastating and painful period of our history - the Holocaust years. One individual whose mesiras nefesh for mitzvos comes to the fore is the Klausenberger Rebbe, zl, who was the paradigm of total dedication to mitzvah observance - regardless of the danger and pain inflicted upon him. His devotion went beyond mitzvah observance. Indeed, any custom or tradition had to be maintained in the ghetto under the most trying conditions. This was Yiddishkeit - it could never be forgotten!

One incident that stands out among the many is the Rebbe's devotion to observing the Festival of Shemini Atzeres. This day, when Hashem communes exclusively with the Jewish People, is the crowning jewel of all the Festivals. It is the climax of the Yamim Noraim, High Holy Days, the zenith of the festival of Succos. It is the day when Hashem says to the Jewish People, "Come, let us celebrate together."

Although the Rebbe was a prisoner and, therefore, subject to the work detail, the camp doctor, Dr. Greenbaum, a Jew by birth, had agreed to grant the Rebbe an exemption, so that he could rest. In this way, the Rebbe did not have to work on Succos. Shemini Atzeres would be no different.

The Nazi oberfuerher, senior commander, had different plans. He decided to visit the camp together with Dr. Plukan, an evil woman, who was infamous for her selections, in which she would "weed out" the sick and infirm, immediately sending them to the crematorium in Dachau. Anyone missing at roll call was immediately sentenced to death. Word spread throughout the camp, and everyone immediately became concerned for the welfare of the Rebbe. Dr. Greenbaum was asked to change the Rebbe's dispensation. He would have to report for work, after all.

The Rebbe, however, had other plans. "Regardless of what happens to me, I will not work on Shemini Atzeres," he firmly declared. He remained in the barracks and celebrated Shemini Atzeres in the spirit of the day, with Torah and Tefillah. The prisoners were counted, and it became apparent that one prisoner was missing. Guards were immediately dispatched to the barracks to see who the missing person was. They found the Rebbe standing in the barracks immersed in prayer, oblivious to anything going on around him. The guards proceeded to handcuff the Rebbe and drag him to the lineup. Then two guards beat him mercilessly in front of the prisoners. They first beat him with truncheons, and then they kicked him fiercely with their metal-tipped boots. The Rebbe just lay in a pool of his own blood, hardly breathing, barely alive. A few broken prisoners picked up their beloved Rebbe and took him to the camp infirmary for immediate medical attention.

The prisoners who witnessed the beating were distraught, certain that the Rebbe would not survive. When they returned at night, they were shocked to see that not only had the Rebbe survived, but he was back in his barracks. He was limping around a small stool, which served as a makeshift Bimah, holding onto a few pages from a torn Mishnayos in his hand. This was the Rebbe's Hakofos in honor of Simchas Torah! The sheer joy that illuminated the Rebbe's bruised face seemed to light up the room. This man epitomized a form of mesiras nefesh that our enemies could not destroy. This is specifically why we have endured and triumphed over every one of them.

He sent Yehudah before him to Yosef, to instruct ahead of him in Goshen. (46:28)

Rashi explains that l'horos lefanav, to instruct ahead of him, is to be understood as Targum Onkelos renders it, "to clear a place for him and to instruct how he will settle in it." In other words, Yehudah was sent to prepare housing for the family. In an alternative explanation, Rashi cites Chazal who say that Yehudah was sent to establish a house of study from which instruction would go forth. There are two meaningful reasons for sending Yehudah ahead of the family. It is especially noteworthy that Yaakov Avinu did not want to, even momentarily, be without his beloved bais hamedrash. Thus, he sent Yehudah ahead to pave the way. What would have been wrong if he had spent a few weeks in Yosef's palace? Yosef had already demonstrated and confirmed his righteousness. Would it have been inappropriate if Yaakov had "moved in" for a few weeks until permanent housing was made available? What lesson does this convey to future generations?

Horav Yosef Zundel Salant, zl, suggests a powerful answer that teaches us an important principle. Yaakov was aware that while Yosef had maintained his piety and virtue, he was still the viceroy of Egypt. As such, he was compelled to exhibit a lifestyle that was not necessarily similar to one to which Yaakov would ascribe. As a government figure, the language spoken in his home was the native tongue, Egyptian. The palace, far from austere, was probably filled with portraits and figures that depicted Egyptian culture. In other words, the lifestyle of Yosef's home did not reflect an atmosphere to which the Patriarch would want his family exposed. Yaakov, therefore, sent Yehudah to establish for him and his family a Jewish home, the type of home they were used to - back home.

We must add that, regardless of the outer trappings of Yosef's palace, it was still the home of Yosef Hatzaddik, the righteous, saintly Yosef, who had triumphed over religious adversity and the blandishments of the yetzer hora, evil-inclination. Since his position in the Egyptian hierarchy demanded it, however, he had to present a home that in some way conformed to Egyptian culture. What an important lesson for us to make sure that the morals of contemporary society do not permeate our homes through the various conveyances of the media. While we choose to live here - and without a doubt, America is a wonderful country to whom we as Jews owe very much - we do not have to bring its societal pollution into our dining rooms.

He sent Yehudah before him to Yosef, to instruct ahead of him in Goshen. (46:28)

In one explanation, Rashi cites the Midrash that says that Yehudah was sent to establish the first yeshivah in Egypt. Yaakov was not going down to Egypt until he was assured that there was a makom Torah, place set aside for Torah study, for his family. Why was Yehudah selected for this position? He was the king of the brothers. Yissachar was the Rosh Hayeshivah. He was the yeshivah man designate. Moreover, Levi, the individual to whom the transmission of our spiritual heritage was bequeathed, was also not asked to go establish the first yeshivah. Why was Yehudah asked as opposed to Yissachar or Levi? The Tiferes Shlomo explains that earlier Yehudah had exhibited a character trait that is necessary for successfully preparing the next generation. To build a yeshivah, to maintain its function, to be a Rosh Hayeshivah and establish talmidim, students, that will continue as students, one must possess this trait. When Yaakov Avinu was reluctant to send Binyamin to Egypt for fear something would happen to him, Yehudah stepped forward and assumed responsibility. He said, "I will personally guarantee him" (Bereishis 43:9). To establish talmidim, to maintain a yeshivah, one must have a sense of achrayos, take responsibility.

When it comes to educating our children, we must assume responsibility. We cannot pass it off to someone else, claiming that we are too busy, too involved, too preoccupied. The greatest roshei yeshivah would first spend time studying with their own children, fulfilling their personal obligation as parents, before going out to teach others. They were parents first and rebbeim second. How often are we too busy for our own children? We have shiurim to attend, chavrusos to study with - everything, but attending to our own children. The time we spend with our children engaged in Torah study is something that they will always remember.

Regrettably, some of us think that even playing a game with our children is too demanding. While he was in Bucharest, Romania, the Skverer Rebbe, zl, was the individual thousands came to for solace and encouragement following the devastation of the Holocaust. Yet, he found time to play with his daughters. He was acutely aware of the moral degradation of the "street." He could not expose them to the counter-culture of the gentiles. If they were to stay, they had to have someone with whom to play. He was that someone. This great tzaddik, who founded one of the most incredible communities in this country, who was father figure and mentor to thousands of chassidim, found time to play with his daughters. He knew what his responsibilities were, and he did not look for an excuse to renege from them. This was the root of his success.

Va'ani Tefillah

Birchos HaShachar - Preliminary Blessings

Al Netillas Yodayim - "concerning the lifting of the hands."

We begin our day with the Birchos Hashachar, Preliminary/morning Blessings. Although we do not recite brachos that are applicable only to the morning, since we routinely say them at the first opportunity- which is usually in the morning we refer to them as Birchos Hashachar. Every Jewish person is enjoined to wash his hands upon rising in the morning and to recite the brachah, Al netillas yodayim. The Rosh explains that during sleep one might have occasion to touch parts of the body which are usually covered. By doing so, he renders himself unfit for brachos or Tefillah. Hence, the reason for washing the hands.

The Rashba contends that the reason for the brachah is that each morning a person is granted a new gift of life, as Hashem returns his soul to the body. Every day we rededicate our "new" lives to the service of the Almighty. As the Kohanim in the Bais Hamikdash would wash their hands prior to performing the Avodah, Priestly service, so, too, do we wash our hands in preparation and anticipation of our daily calling. Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, posits that a practical difference between these two opinions would be presented if one were to sleep wearing gloves or fully dressed, such as on an airplane. Since he did not touch any covered body parts, he should be exempt from washing. According to the idea that a new day of Divine service is dawning, one is required to rededicate himself to Hashem by washing his hands. Rav Schwab suggests that in such a case, we follow the rule of Safek brachos l'hakeil, that - when in doubt - one does not recite the blessing to avoid uttering Hashem's Name in vain.

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