שבת טעם החיים ויגש תשע”א
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Vayigash 5771
Wagons and Calves
וידברו אליו את כל דברי יוסף אשר דבר אליהם וירא את העגלות אשר יוסף לשאת אותו ותחי רוח יעקב אביהם, however, when they related to him all the words that Yosef had spoken to them, and he saw the wagons that Yosef had sent to transport him, then the spirit of their father Yaakov was revived. (Bereishis 45:27)
It is said (Bereishis 45:27)וידברו אליו את כל דברי יוסף אשר דבר אליהם וירא את העגלות אשר יוסף לשאת אותו ותחי רוח יעקב אביהם, however, when they related to him all the words that Yosef had spoken to them, and he saw the wagons that Yosef had sent to transport him, then the spirit of their father Yaakov was revived. Rashi cites the Medrash that states that when Yosef left Yaakov, they had been discussing the parasha of Eglah Arufah, the laws dealing with a corpse that is found between two cities. It is for this reason that it is said “and he saw the wagons that Yosef had sent,” and it does not say that Pharaoh sent them. The Daas Zikeinim MiBaalei HaTosfos add that when Yaakov sent Yosef to seek out his brothers’ welfare, Yaakov escorted Yosef and Yosef requested that his father turn back. Yaakov responded that escorting a person is important as we see that when a corpse is found in between two cities, the elders of the cities must declare, “our hands did not spill this blood.” Is it possible that the court elders are suspected of being murderers? Rather, with this statement the elders are declaring that they did not see the murdered person leave the city without escorting him. Had they seen him and not escorted him out of the city, they would have been akin to murderers. This is the meaning of the Medrash that states that Yaakov and Yosef were engaged in a discussion regarding Eglah Arufah. Alternatively, the Medrash means that they were discussing a calf that is drawing a wagon. The difficulty with these two explanations is that the Torah writes agalos, which means wagons and not calves. The Daas Zikeinim therefore writes that that Yaakov and Yosef had been discussing the wagons that were to be used in the Mishkan. It would appear that the opinion that maintains that Yosef sent calves would not agree with the opinion that posits that Yosef sent wagons. Upon further examination, however, we can reconcile these two ideas. First we must understand what the Medrash means when it states that ‘It is for this reason that it is said “and he saw the wagons that Yosef had sent,” and it does not say that Pharaoh sent them.’ How would Yaakov had known whether Yosef or Pharaoh had sent the wagons Furthermore, as the Yifei Toar on the Medrash points out, later on it is said (Bereishis 46:5) ויקם יעקב מבאר שבע וישאו בני ישראל את יעקב אביהם ואת טפם ואת נשיהם בעגלות אשר שלח פרעה לשאת אותו, so Yaakov arose from Beer-sheva; the sons of Yisroel transported Yaakov their father, as well as their young children and wives, in the wagons which Pharaoh had transported them. The Torah clearly states that Pharaoh had sent the wagons. Why, then, does the Torah state here that Yosef had sent the wagons?
The answer to all these questions is that Yosef was demonstrating to Yaakov that although he had been living in Egypt for twenty two years, he had not been influenced from the immorality and bad character of the Egyptians. The word Arufah is literally translated as “that was axed.” If we rearrange the letters of the word ערופה, however, we have the word פרעה, Pharaoh. Upon their liberation from the bondage of Egypt, HaShem informed the Jewish People of a mitzvah referred to as פדיון פטר חמור, the redemption of the first born donkey. The Torah requires that every first-issue donkey be redeemed with a lamb, and if one does not redeem it, then one is required to axe the back of its neck. The word used for axing the donkey’s neck is וערפתו, which is also an allusion to Pharaoh. A Jew knows that he cannot “turn his back” on his fellow Jew, whereas the Egyptians, who were the beneficiaries of Yosef’s wisdom and benevolence, ultimately turned their backs on the Jewish People and persecuted them for two hundred years. Thus, while Yosef may have been subservient to Pharaoh regarding the actual sending of the wagons, he was showing Yaakov that he had not been influenced by the Egyptians backstabbing. Rather, Yosef escorted his brothers upon their leaving Egypt and he made sure that they were well acre for throughout their stay in Egypt. We can now understand the opinion that maintains that Yosef was alluding to the wagons that were used in the Mishkan. These were the wagons that were donated by the Nesiim, the leaders of each tribe. Each leader had a different intention regarding his offering. Nonetheless, all the leaders brought identical amounts of gifts for the Mishkan, as this signified the unity of the tribes. Yosef also was reminding Yaakov and the brothers that despite being separated for twenty two years, he was still part of the family unit and that bond would never be severed.
Shabbos with the Sfas Emes and the Rebbes of Ger
It is said (Shemos 20:8) zachor es yom haShabbos likadsho, remember the Shabbos day to sanctify it. The Gemara states that one who finds choice food during the week should designate it for Shabbos. The Sfas Emes writes that this alludes to the idea that one should reserve the inner component of every matter for HaShem. This idea is reflected in Shabbos, as the source for every point of life in every matter is from HaShem and this is referred to as Shabbos. Similarly, Yosef HaTzaddik safeguarded Bris Milah, and that is also the inner component of every Jew.
Avigdor, a rich merchant from Brod, once came to the Baal Shem Tov and brought with him a large sum of money for charity. The Baal Shem Tov accepted the money and asked Avigdor, “Do you have a request?”
“No,” answered Avigdor.
“Perhaps you need a blessing for livelihood?” asked the Baal Shem Tov.
“No,” said Avigdor. “I’ve been in business for many years and I have no worries about livelihood.”
“Thank G-d,” said the Baal Shem Tov with emphasis, for is not every success from G-d? The Baal Shem Tov then inquired as to the man’s health and that of his wife and children, hoping to hear some expression of gratitude but again, no words of thanks to G-d were heard.
The Baal Shem Tov said to Avigdor: “There is a verse in the Book of Psalms that we repeat every day in our prayers: ‘You, G-d, are enthroned upon the praises of the people Israel.’ G-d waits for words of praise from Jews. When a Jew says `thank G-d’ or the like, it is dearer to G-d than the praises of the angels in heaven! Though G-d does not need us to praise Him or thank Him, we need to remember that everything we enjoy, good health, good fortune, good children, all come from G-d, the Source of all blessings.
“However,” cautioned the Baal Shem Tov, “just when one is most successful and thinks that it is all due to his wisdom, or that he deserves it all, he may think that this is the way it is going to always be. He may forget altogether that it is all due to G-d who has been very kind to him.
“So, G-d waits to hear how people respond. If one asks the other, ‘How are you, how is your family, how is business?’ and the person answers, ‘Thank G-d, well,’ then G-d bestows even more generous blessings.”
The Baal Shem Tov continued, “I would ask you to do me a favor since you come from Brod. Please deliver a letter to the president of the Jewish community.” The Baal Shem Tov then wrote a letter, sealed it, and handed it to Avigdor. “Please deliver the letter personally into the hands of the community president and to no one else.”
Avigdor took the letter, put it in his pocket, and took his leave of the Baal Shem Tov. On the way home, Avigdor thought about the Baal Shem Tov’s words and resolved to be more aware of G-d’s blessings in his life. When he returned home, he changed his traveling clothes and tucked the jacket he’d been wearing into his closet, forgetting about his resolution and the letter.
Years passed and the wheel of fortune turned for Avigdor. One deal after another went sour until he was left a virtual pauper. He even had to sell his household goods. Before long there was nothing more to sell, except an old used suit that hung in his closet. Avigdor went through the pockets before selling the suit. Suddenly, he came upon the letter which the Baal Shem Tov had asked him to deliver so many years ago! Avigdor stared at the letter. He remembered the Baal Shem Tov’s words about thanking G-d for all the good He bestows. “What a fool I was not to realize that the Baal Shem Tov was cautioning me,” thought Avigdor sadly. He resolved to heed the Baal Shem Tov’s words from then on.
The name of the addressee on the envelope was still clear. Reb Tzadok, the new President of Brod. Avigdor rushed out of his house and asked the first passerby, “Where can I find Reb Tzadok?”
“You mean, Reb Tzadok, the newly elected president?”
“Yes. This is the man,” said Avigdor.
“You’ll find him in the big study hall. Only this morning he was elected head of the community…”
Avigdor had been so immersed in his own worries he hadn’t even known that there was an election for a new communal president. “Do you know anything about the new president?” asked Avigdor.
“He started as a tailor’s apprentice. When he went out on his own, he struggled. But, he never complained. Whenever he was asked how business was, he always replied, ‘Thank G-d, I’m making a living.’ A few years ago, he began to prosper. But his success never turned his head. He gave charity generously and remained the same modest man. And, whenever people ask how’s business, he still answers, “Thank G-d, I’m making a living.”
Avigdor hurried to the study hall and handed Reb Tzadok the letter, apologizing profusely for the delay. Reb Tzadok opened it; it was a personal request from the Baal Shem Tov who had passed on a number of years ago! The Baal Shem Tov introduced the letter carrier as a once wealthy man who was now in need of financial help. He asked Reb Tzadok to help Avigdor get back on his feet. He added that in case Reb Tzadok doubted the authenticity of the letter, the following two “signs” should dispel his doubts: First, the letter would be delivered on the very first day he became president. Second, that on the same day he would become the father of a baby boy.
Reb Tzadok had just finished reading the letter when someone ran in, shouting, “Mazel Tov! Your wife just gave birth to a son!” For a moment Reb Tzadok was speechless. The saintly Baal Shem Tov had passed on several years ago, yet here was a letter he sent, which took so many years to deliver, yet was delivered just on time. Reb Tzadok turned to Avigdor and said, “I am very pleased to meet you. Be my guest this evening. We have some important business to discuss. I can use a man with your experience.” Avigdor stood there surprised and grateful. “Thank G-d! And, I will be at your house this evening, G-d willing!” (www.livingjewish.net)
Caught in the Middle
“May you celebrate your joyous occasions with a happy heart,” people bless each other. What I have to say is this: When you’re making a simchah celebration thank God that you can smile and be happy with all your heart. Yes, I stress the words “with all your heart,” because I can never be happy with all my heart at any simchah of mine.
When I was three years old, my parents separated. They didn’t even divorce, but simply separated without making any agreements. The pain it caused me has never healed.
I grew up without a mother, but knowing that I had one somewhere, and that my father was raising me because my mother couldn’t. No one ever explained why, even though I asked that question many times.
As I was growing up, I didn’t understand why my mother couldn’t raise me, when all of the other mothers could raise their children. I was jealous of my friends because they all had mothers and I didn’t. But that was only half of the problem. The other half was the hatred which my father and his family instilled in me against my mother’s family.
Now that I am an adult, I understand that everything could have been different. I know that a couple can separate without causing the terrible pain that this separation caused.
Today I realize that my father’s family blamed my mother’s for the break-up of the marriage. It seems incredible that I was never allowed to meet my mother or her family…
And to compensate me for not having a mother, my father spoiled me. I got everything I wanted: beautiful clothes, expensive shoes, gifts, surprises, trips. I lacked nothing.
My mother died when I was eight years old, but I didn’t even know that I had been orphaned until a number of years later. Sometimes I wonder, if my mother had lived, would I have remained estranged from her, or would I have demanded to know her when I got older? I think I would have insisted on meeting her.
My wedding was very lavish, and of course only my father’s family attended from my side. Because they are a huge family, no one sensed that another whole family was missing. It was then that I began to think a lot about the situation. I felt very bad.
I knew that I had aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents. And the fact is, Israel is such a small country that I did meet cousins from time to time. I once taught in a school with a cousin on my mother’s side, and we even became good friends before we figured out that we were related. When we did figure it out, we decided that the fights of the past generation didn’t interest us.
Later, I discovered that another cousin lived nearby. It took us two years to learn that we were related! When we discovered that we were cousins, we were delighted and regretted that we hadn’t gotten to know each other long before that. I also learned that one of my son’s teachers was a cousin.
When I tried to ask my father what had caused the rift between him and my mother, and why he was so bitter and angry, he would reply, “Your mother’s family ruined my life. If not for them, everything would have been fine. I don’t want to talk about the subject anymore. Why bring up bad memories and open old wounds?” But he never told me really what had happened.
I could never reconcile myself to the bitterness and hatred; however, I didn’t want to upset my father, who was devoted to me. With time, though, as my own family grew, so did my desire to make peace with my mother’s family.
I consulted a rabbi and he encouraged me to take a major step. I contacted my mother’s parents ― my own grandparents! ― by means of a third party. They were elderly by then, and they had not seen me since I was three years old. Our meeting, in their house, in another city, was indescribable.
“Now,” my grandfather said, “I can die in peace. Our family is complete. All these years one branch has been missing. Now the tree is whole.”
“Saba,” I told him, “you have to live for many more years, so that we can make up for all the lost time.”
My grandmother couldn’t stop crying. “You’re just like your mother,” she said, over and over, and she showed me many pictures of my mother. I too wept over my loss.
I began to visit my grandparents once a month, and I spoke with them on the phone every Friday and wished them a good Shabbos. It didn’t take long before all my aunts and uncles began to join our meetings, and I met their children as well ― my cousins.
The only factor that kept my happiness from being complete was that the meetings had to be kept secret from my father. As a result, we had to be very careful. My own children didn’t yet know that I was visiting my mother’s family; in fact they didn’t even know that this family existed. I was afraid that if my children knew, they might inadvertently mention a name here and a name there.
How I wanted my grandparents to be able to see their great-grandchildren and to get to know them, to be part of their lives!
As the children grew older and could be trusted to keep the secret, I finally told them that they had great-grandparents and lots of relatives whom they didn’t know. Before we took this step and told our oldest daughter, we consulted the same rabbi who had encouraged me to contact my grandparents. It’s not so simple to tell children such a story without exposing them to its unpleasant sides too. But by following the rabbi’s good advice, we managed to explain the situation to our children without drawing them into the conflict. At first, I took our oldest daughter to visit my grandparents, and then two children, and finally all four.
When my first son was twelve and we began to plan his bar mitzvah, the problem arose full force. Whom would we invite to the bar mitzvah? How could I not invite my mother’s family, whom I had grown to love? But how would my father feel if I invited them?
In the end, we decided to invite only my father’s family. But what would I tell my mother’s family?
With a heavy heart, I called each of my aunts and uncles and explained my dilemma and my decision. I apologized and begged their forgiveness. Those were painful conversations; it’s not easy to tell a person: “I can’t invite you to my simchah, even though I love you very much.”
All of them understood the situation and tried to make me feel better! One aunt asked for my address, so that she could send a present. Another said that even though she couldn’t come to the actual simchah, her heart would be with us the entire evening. When I finished the round of telephone calls I was exhausted. It wasn’t just that I’d been busy with bar mitzvah preparations. I knew that it was emotional fatigue, which stemmed from the sorrow and strain of all those conversations.
At the bar mitzvah, I greeted my guests with a friendly smile, but deep down I knew that my joy was mixed with sorrow. My family was split, and half of it was not sharing our joyous occasion. The hall was lovely and the food was delicious; the bar mitzvah boy was glowing; and my heart was broken. I couldn’t stop thinking about my elderly grandparents sitting in their house and not celebrating with us.
When we returned home, everyone went to bed, exhausted ― everyone except me. I kept thinking about the following year, when my next son would be bar mitzvah, and having to go through all that pain again. And then I made a decision.
The year passed by very quickly. Once again, we found ourselves reserving a hall, and hiring a caterer… but this time, we reserved two halls and two caterers ― one in our town, and another one in my grandparent’s town. One simchah was scheduled for the evening, the other for the afternoon, so that both would fall on the precise Hebrew date of the bar mitzvah. We printed invitations for the first and larger celebration, and invited guests by phone to the second and smaller one.
This time too, I received my guests with a smile. But when I looked at my father, I felt great inner turmoil. I thought to myself that if such bad feelings were still alive after over thirty years, the rift must have been terrible. But how long should one let wounds fester? Why should the pain go from generation to generation? Although I was the main victim, I was willing to forgive and forget.
The following day, we once more put on our best clothing, and set out to travel to the second bar mitzvah celebration.
I don’t know which bar mitzvah I enjoyed most. The first was so large that I barely sat down or ate. At the second party, I had time to speak with everyone, time to eat, time to enjoy myself thoroughly ― despite the circumstances that had led me to hold that celebration.
The children were told not to breathe a word about this party to my father. They understood, and they were old enough to understand the value of doing things to keep the family peace.
I know that ours isn’t the only family with long-lasting strife. I would like to say to readers in such situations: It’s easy to know why a dispute begins, but it’s impossible to know how it will end. Use the energies which are so easy to channel into destructive fights, for building, peace-making, forgiveness, and love. If you give in a bit, overlook a bit, and place your ego aside you will prevent the pain of generations. (www.innernet.org.il)
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Vayigash 5771
Is Sponsored by Beth & Avi Adler
in honor of the Bar Mitzvah of their dear son Noah
Mazal Tov to his siblings and Grandparents
Bernard & Lona Adler
Harvey & Elaine Sabbota
Have a wonderful and delightful Shabbos
Prepared by Rabbi Binyomin Adler
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