Thursday, January 19, 2012

Vayigash - Living for Nachas

Parshat Vayigash is my favorite parsha in the Torah. I wait from year to year to read the emotional reunion of Yaakov and his son Yosef. Few things are as sad as the separation of parents and children. So, what could be happier than their reunion?
First we face the moment Yaakov is told that Yosef is still alive. Jacob's sons tell him, "'Joseph is still alive,' also that he is ruler over all the land of Egypt." But his heart rejected this news, until he was shown the wagons (agalot) to bring him to Egypt, and he realized their symbolism. The Eglah arufah was the last topic that Joseph and Jacob studied together before Yosef was sold.
And what happens right after that? HaRav Sholom Gold says, Jacob turned into Israel. He was revitalized, because he discovered that not only is Joseph alive, his son Joseph, who believed in the Torah and was G-d fearing, was still alive..."then the spirit of their father Jacob was revived...And Israel said."
The Yiddishe Nachas that Yaakov gained because of his children, rejuvenated him to the point that he could even have a vision of Hashem - something that hadn't happened since he left Charan.
I know that I live for the opportunity to be together with my children and grandchildren. And when we are together, I do feel younger, more alive and much happier. I know the same goes for my dearest Mother ad 120. 
If you are ever faced with a situation of "Should I" or "Shouldn't I", think of how the right decision will bring nachas to your parents and grandparents. That will actually give them a renewal of physical and spiritual strength. And isn't that worth a good thought.

Mikeitz - Think Before You Speak

One of the most difficult habits to teach ourselves is to think before we speak, watch what we say. Words are not ping pong balls to be batted around without thinking. The world was created with words. Words are alive and meaningful. 
That is why Yaakov's curse came true, even though he had unknowingly cursed his beloved wife, "With whomever you find your gods, he shall not live." (Bereishit: 31:32)
This is why Joseph's interpretations of the baker's and the wine steward's dreams were fulfilled just as Joseph said.
B"H, Joseph knew this. And B"H he was wise enough to learn from the past and correct the failures of our ancestors, and to teach his sons how to incorporate these teachings into their lives as well.
After Joseph "discovers" that his chalice is missing, he sends his officers to chase his brothers and arrest them. Yehuda says foolishly, "Anyone among your servants with whom it is found shall die, and we also will become slaves to my lord." (Bereishit 44:9)
Yosef is wiser than his brother. He above all others has learned the lesson of his father's rash words. They cost Joseph the loss of his mother Rachel.
So, even his officer (his son Menashe) understands the lesson. He corrects Yehuda's rash words "What you say now is also correct. The one with whom it is found shall be my slave..." (Bereishit: 44:10)
There is a lesson to be learned here. Never utter rash words. Think before you speak. And if someone says something foolish to you, reword it to something more positive and less hurtful.
We are all granted a finite amount of words in our lives. Use them carefully.

Parshat Mikeitz - Meet Pharoah

My dvar Torah for parshat Mikeitz is dedicated to the women of the Efrat/Gush Etzion Raise Your Spirits Summer Stock Company, a performance company that I had the zechut to found exactly ten years ago.
Ten years ago Israel was plagued by what it called "The Second Intifada". Arabs were bombing restaurants, buses, city streets and just random places. They were shooting people in their cars, in their homes, wherever. It was a frightening time and one where we all asked ourselves seriously, who shall live and who shall die.
Everyone I knew was broken hearted and it seemed our communities would never heal. I thought that perhaps if we had something happy, exciting, positive to think about and work towards then I would be able to give people the will to go on.
I founded a women's community theater company in June 2001, and I planned a show for September, so that there'd be something to do all summer and something to look forward to that would take everyone's mind off the Arab violence and murder all around us.
Our show was to be JOSEPH and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat - the story of Yosef HaTzaddik and his brothers, Yosef's rise and greatness in Egypt, and the fulfillment of his dreams.
I produced the show and played Pharoah.

In this week's Parsha, Mikeitz, we meet Pharoah, the ruler of Egypt, the most powerful man in the world. While I might have played him comically, Pharoah was wise enough to admit that he himself couldn't solve the mystery of his troubling dream. And once its meaning was revealed, he was wise enough to know that there was one wiser than he, who could and should handle the challenge of the upcoming plenty and famine. And he accepted him on his merits, even though he was a youth, even though he was a Jew, even though he was an ex-prisoner. He was wise enough to do what was best for Egypt, and not what was best for his own ego, or "what will the other countries think..."
“Can there be another person who has G‑d’s spirit in him as this man does?” Pharaoh asks his advisors. “There is none as understanding and wise as you,” he says to Joseph. “You shall be over my house, and according to your word shall all my people be ruled; only by the throne will I outrank you.” (Bereishit 41:38-40)
If you weren't sure that Pharoah is very brilliant, take a look at the upcoming dialogue in next week's parsha, Vayigash, when the king of the physical world meets the king of the spiritual world. It is fascinating, and you will surely agree that Pharoah deserved his kingship.
A last note about this Pharoah. Unlike Moshe's Pharoah who said, "Who is Hashem that I should heed His voice to send out Israel? I do not know Hashem, nor will I send out Israel!", Joseph's Pharoah acknowledges Hashem. When Pharoah summons Joseph to interpret his dream, Yosef says, "This is beyond me; it is G-d Who will respond with Pharoah's welfare."
Pharoah never says, "G-d!! What are you kidding!!!?? Who is your G-d? I've never heard of Him." In fact, when speaking to his courtiers, Pharoah recognizes Hashem, when he says the quote above, “Can there be another person who has G‑d’s spirit in him....?"
That was Pharoah's strength. He was not afraid to recognize the wisdom and abilities of others, or acknowledge the power of G-d. 

Vayeishev - Hands Across Time

The hand of Gd is in everything that happens in the world. Sometimes it is as visible as it was during the Plagues and the Exodus from Egypt.
Sometimes the Hand of G-d is hidden, but still working through the hand of man. Other times perhaps Hashem sits back, so to speak, and watches as His children use their hands for good, or chas v'shalom for evil.
The way we use our hands has positive or negative effects on ourselves, those around us, and even the entire nation.
At the Shabbat table at Seudah Shlishit, my husband gave an fascinating Parshat Vayeishev dvar Torah about hands.
When the brothers wanted to kill Yosef, it says, "Reuven heard and he rescued him from their hand...Reuven said to them, 'Shed no blood!...lay no hand on him!" (Bereishit 37:21,22)
Judah unfortunately had a different idea. "Come let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, but let our hand not be upon him." (Bereishit 37:27)
When Judah's sons Peretz and Zerach were born, the parsha states, "And it happened that as she gave birth, one put out a hand. The midwife took out a crimson thread and tied it on his hand, saying, 'This one emerged first'. And it was as he drew back his hand...afterwards his brother on whose hand was the crimson thread came out; and he called his name Zerach..." (Bereishit 38:27-30)
Fast Forward:
The Jewish nation has just entered the land of Israel. It will have to fight its way through the country in order to conquer it. But B"H until now Hashem has always been on their side. Unfortunately, after the battle of Jericho, a descendant of Zerach also put forth his hand, and he reached for forbidden booty. This sin caused Hashem to become angered with the entire people, and allow Jewish soldiers to be defeated for the first time.
"Achan the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took of the consecrated thing; and the anger of the Lord was kindled against the children of Israel." (Yehoshua 7:1)
Zerach caused the Jewish people to lose a battle - the first battle they ever lost - the battle of Ai. And that is because he put his hands on the spoils.
While Peretz had an ancestor who fought the battles of G-d and the Jewish people. "A Psalm of David. Blessed be the LORD, my rock, Who trains my hands for war, And my fingers for battle;" (Psalm 144:1)

PS - There are more examples, like all those where Yosef is given the responsibility of everything of his master's in his hand. And because he had everything in his hands, and dealt honestly and truthfully, Hashem made Yosef second to the king.

Look at the responsibility of every single thing that is placed in your hands. Your can reach for forbidden things, G-d forbid; you can push ahead of others; you can chas v'shalom harm someone with your hands; you can help others and reach out with your hands. 
Honor your hands, and choose to do good. Not only will you help yourself and others, and perhaps the nation, you will influence your descendants for generations to come.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Vayeishev - Separate and Not Equal

After the fiasco in Parshat Vayeishev that occurred to Joseph and his brothers because of that striped coat, you're probably thinking that I'm going to write about not showing favoritism among children, or perhaps about the need to treat all one's children exactly alike.
I'm not.
We learned from Yitzchak Avinu that we cannot treat each child the same. Perhaps if our Patriarch Yitzchak had given Esav a more appropriate education, sending him to archery school in the morning and then learning a little in the afternoon, all of human history would have been different. All children are different. They have to be educated differently, spoken to differently and simply raised differently. Even though children are raised in the same house, a parent is and must be a different person to each child, according to his needs.
This is something that I have learned from my Dearest Mother, ad 120. And she always says that she's heard the same from her long-time friend Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis.
I learned from my mother to treat each child as the most special, but to give to each what he particularly needs, and not necessarily the same thing as his brother. This is a parent's challenge, and it doesn't end when a child grows. It continues in even more complex ways. Combine this with the fact that one day IY"H if we are blessed, there are grandchildren who must also be treated uniquely and differently, and you see the role of a grandparent is even more complicated than that of a parent.
Forgetting the deeper meanings that we know come from the coat (i.e. each letter of Pasim stands for a terrible event in Joseph's life - Potifar, Socharim [merchants], Ishmaelim and Midianites), do I think that Yaakov should have given Yosef the striped coat? I don't know, but I'm willing to learn more about it.

Vayeishev - Forever Young

This blog is in honor of the good health of our Dearest Mother/Bubby/Great-Grandmother who is always "upbeat" and just got a pacemaker. May she live and be well until 120.
In last week's parsha we met Yosef, little Joseph, who stood up before his mother Rachel to shield her from the eyes of his uncle Esav. This week in Parshat Vayeishev, we meet him once again.
This time we are told that he was 17 years old, "but he was a youth".
The Artscroll Torah Treasury tells us that Reb Aharon (II) of Karlin "suggests that youth is a state of mind, not a chronological period." In fact, the Treasury explains that while King David says in Psalms 37:25, "I have been a youth and also aged," he means that he remained youthful in spirit.
The Treasury adds that the Jewish people are compared to the moon because the moon has found the secret of the "fountain of youth" as it renews itself every month.
It continues with a story about Rabbi Yisrael Shimon Kostelanitz, who when in his mid-80s traveled from Jerusalem to New York for his granddaughter's wedding. "On the same place was Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner, who asked him how he found the strength to make such an arduous journey at his age." The Rav explained in a fascinating way. He quoted the portion of the Akeida when Avraham took with him "his two youths." The Hebrew words are "Shnei Ne'arav". Rav Kostelanitz said that Chassidim translate this, not as his two youths, but as "his younger years." Avraham took with him his younger years.
B"H every Pesach and usually on Chanukah, if not even more often, my Dearest Mother/my children's Bubby/my grandchildren's great-grandmother takes the plane from New York to Jerusalem. The trip is very strenuous. Truthfully, very often, she doesn't feel well for a few days after the trip. Unfortunately sometimes she doesn't feel well on the flight itself, but B"H bli ayin hara, Bubby has done everything she could to come for the holidays and BE"H never to miss a simcha. And we always pray that Hashem should bless her, watch over her and help her feel well enough to make the trip.
People ask, "Bli ayin hara, how does your mother made this difficult trip twice a year?" And now I understand the answer. As a member of the Matmid Club and the King David Club or whatever the names of her special traveler clubs are, Bubby is entitled to bring extra things to Israel. And what does she bring in addition to her suitcases? She brings her "shnai na'arav", her young years.
May Hashem bless Bubby in every way, and keep her young and well, until 120.