Question: I have been through some rough times in my life. My father died when I was a child, as did my older sister, and we led lives of poverty and wandering, coupled with health problems. The suffering wore me down, but I wasn’t afraid of trials. Quite the contrary, thanks to them I put aside all sorts of frivolity that young girls normally are involved with.
I was pursued and oppressed, but most of my tribulations strengthened me and my faith, and made me self-reliant.
Now I’ve got an important post involving my taking charge over many people and networks, but precisely that bothers me. I don’t identify with that world so taken up with material gain and possessions – the kingdom of wealth.
I love simplicity. For many years I have volunteered in hospitals, seeing the wretched side of mankind up close. I love people and I love G-d even more, and I fear that that brutal world in which I find myself will stop me from attaching myself to G-d, my great love. I even tend towards abstinence and have been an ascetic since youth, and that suits me fine. Perhaps you can provide me with a short list of tips to help me maintain my balance, a page that I could peruse daily, or perhaps some Torah thoughts that I could read over every time I feel a thirst for G-d?
Answer: Below I have presented some chapter headings. The chapters you will have to fill in yourself. As our master Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook said, everyone should write an ethical tract for himself, consisting both of what he has learned from others and of novel thoughts he has come up with himself (see the start of Mussar Avicha).
1. Belief in Hashem, the Almighty G-d [Kel Sha-dai]. The Master-of-the-Universe is enough [dai]. He all man needs. Then, nothing can frighten you, for everything is transient, and only G-d doesn’t change. Then, patiently, you will achieve everything you want, and out of your faith in G-d you will lack for naught, for G-d, alone, will suffice.
2. Abstinence. Abstain from all sorts of nonessential items. Don’t pay so much attention to Creation, but to the Creator. And in order to draw near to G-d, shed yourself of the physical. Suffice with little in worldly matters.
3. Acts of Charity and Kindness. Loving your fellow man, pure love, not out of a desire for any kind of profit, but for the sake of G-d, and out of one’s love for mankind. And if, in exchange for this, your fellow man repays you evil for good, don’t be perturbed, but accept suffering with love.
4. Good Character. A constant effort to fulfill every task for G-d, even if it is hard. All of life is a march towards clinging to G-d. One should subscribe to the path of good character, and not make any allowance for oneself.
5. Your Inner World. Despite all your activities and positions, you must not lose out on your inner world. Set aside time for solitary reflection, for deep, heartfelt prayer, taking stock of yourself and longing for G-d. Man is what happens inside his soul, within that secret universe that whispers: “Rejoice, O my soul!”
6. Song of Songs. Preserve and increase the pure flame by reciting Song of Songs at appropriate intervals, for it is holy of holies.
With Vayechi, we complete the Book of Bereishit. In this parsha, we witness Yaakov Avinu blessing his sons for the final time before his eternal rest. "All these are the tribes of Israel - twelve - and this is what their father spoke to them and he blessed them; he blessed each according to his appropriate blessing." (Bereishit 49:28)
The Abarbanel teaches us that Yaakov bestowed a blessing on each of his sons, according to each one's particular role in the task of the Israeli Nation as a collective. Yaakov blessed his sons individually, each in line with his own specific character and ability, so they would be directed toward the path for which G-D had suited them. Yaakov's blessing makes it clear that each of the tribes has its own unique role as part of the larger national mission. Far from breeding disunity, however, the separate tribal callings bring us together. The tribes are likened to spokes of a wheel - though the spokes point in different directions, they are all part of the same wheel and essential to its proper function.
The sons of Israel all had different roles to play in the Nation of Israel. While Yehuda was destined for royalty, Levi the priesthood, Yisachar scholarship, Zevulun commerce, etc., all twelve would contribute their talents and unique abilities to serving HaShem and sanctifying His Name in the world. We learn "there are 70 faces to the Torah". There are numerous ways of understanding G-D's Truth. While this concept is both true and important to recognize, it is unfortunately sometimes misunderstood.
The various faces of Torah are only legitimate so long as they fit into the framework of G-D's absolute Truth. An interpretation cannot be considered a valid understanding of G-D's Law if it contradicts the Torah itself. There is one Truth, not 70. At the same time, however, this one Divine Truth can be viewed from different angles. It can be related to and understood in various ways so long as they are all in line with its Oneness.
The different faces of Torah are the various ways of contributing to the objective goal of Am Yisrael. The Nation of Israel is like one body with One common purpose - to bring Divine light into the world, reveal G-d's Kingship to all of Creation, and uplift existence to its ultimate potential. In order for the Nation to achieve this lofty mission, it first and foremost must be a living, breathing Nation in its Land with all facets of nationhood. It must encompass scholars, police, soldiers, doctors, farmers, lawyers, pilots, politicians, firefighters, and sanitation workers, all serving HaShem and working in unison to build His Kingdom here on Earth. A holy Nation, where even the taxi and bus drivers drive with the intention of serving HaShem. This is what is meant by "70 faces of Torah".
Am Yisrael must function as One body. While Torah scholars must be the heart of that body and work to lead and direct it, each part of the body is essential to its healthy function. Therefore, we must understand that the G-D of Israel created us differently with our own unique tasks in this world. Whatever our individual talents might be, we must always direct them toward achieving our national aspirations in the service of HaShem. Only this way, as a Kingdom of Priests and holy Nation, can we hope to fulfill our roles in this world, both as individuals and as a holy collective. Shabbat Shalom.
3 - NCYI
NCYI Weekly Divrei Torah, From: http://www.youngisrael.org/
Rabbi Dr. Chaim Wakslak Young Israel of Long Beach
Parshas VaYechi, which concludes sefer Bereshis, describes the death and burial of both Yaakov Avinu and his son, Yoseph HaZadik. Although our Chachomim indicate that there are irrefutable similarities between father and son, there is a very clear and distinct difference when it comes to their approach regarding their respective burials. Yaakov insists upon being buried in Eretz Canaan, while Yoseph is satisfied to have his remains left in a casket in Egypt and ultimately to be brought out with the children of Israel at the time of their redemption. An explanation for this difference appears in order.
Yaakov Avinu senses that his days are drawing to an end. Yaakov calls upon his son, Yoseph, and implores him via an oath that, when the time comes, Yoseph himself must take Yaakov’s remains and bury them in the Me’aras Hamachpela, their ancestral burial grounds. Can it be that there is an unspoken motivation to Yaakov’s insistence that he not be buried in Egypt, that he be buried in Eretz Canaan and, even more poignantly, that Yoseph insure and assume the responsibility for all of this to happen? Rashi provides us with some insights into Yaakov’s motives for not being buried in Mitzrayim, stating first, that the soil of Egypt would one day become plagued with kinim (vermin) and noting, secondly, that this would prevent the Egyptians from making his tomb a shrine. R’ Hirsch further elaborates that Yaakov, even while he was still alive, sensed that his family was becoming too comfortable in Egypt. This concern was particularly intense with regard to Yoseph, who had lived the majority of his life in Egypt, achieved an unimaginable degree of success, and had not experienced any substantive exposure to the land of Israel. Understandably, Yaakov would be uneasy since an allegiance to Eretz Yisroel did not appear to have been established.
The easy comfort Yosef and his family got used to since coming down from Egypt, needed to be counter acted to ensure that the Nation that would continue to develop in Egypt would fulfill its ultimate mission of redemption following the years of servitude of Golus Mitztrayim.
Yaakov believes that he can instill the goal of establishing Eretz Canaan as the ultimate destination of his family and descendents, not only by making it his place of burial, but even more significantly, by insisting that Yoseph, the soon-to-be titular head of the family, personally comes to Eretz Canaan and develop a first-hand connection to the land of Israel. Furthermore, Yaakov understood that his burial in Eretz Canaan would create an indestructible link between the country where the ancestors were buried and their descendants, regardless of the circumstances.
Yoseph, “the dreamer of dreams”, possesses a unique talent which allows him to read the present and sense the future. As a man of vision, he too appreciates the risk that the children of Israel face in becoming too comfortable in the land of Egypt. He is concerned that Egypt, which by design was intended to be only a temporary sojourn, will somehow be perceived as a place of permanent residency and result in the abandonment of their ultimate homeland. Furthermore, Yoseph is fully appreciative of the vital link established by his father’s insistence on being buried in Eretz Canaan, but he believes that the link must be sustained and supported more directly throughout the impending years of their enslavement. Yoseph could have commanded his brothers to bury him in Israel, as Yaakov had commanded his sons. And had there been any concern that Pharoh would not agree to this, he could have arranged it with Pharoh in advance. Instead, Yoseph chooses to have his remains left in Egypt and commands that his bones be taken only when his descendants leave Egypt, at the time of redemption.
The presence of Yoseph’s bones in Egypt in combination with the hope of redemption expressed by Yoseph in the words: “I am about to die, but G-d will surely remember you (pakod yifkod) and bring you up out of this land to the land which He promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac, and to Jacob” - served to sustain the appropriate focus, hope and direction of the children of Israel throughout their sojourn in Mitzrayim. The presence of Yoseph’s casket established an on-going commitment on the part of future generations, while instilling within them an ever-present reminder and source of emunah, that they will ultimately be “remembered” and will be called upon to leave the land of their enslavement and march forward to attain the promise of their ultimate destination.
The element of emunah instilled by Yoseph may be helpful in understanding a Zohar (Parshas Terumah 55) which states that the observance of Shabbos is a penitence for the sin of the sale of Yoseph. The sefer Chanukas HaTorah, authored by Reb Hershel of Cracow Z”L (Lekutim OS 175) attributes this association to the reason that we take two loaves of bread on Shabbos (lechem mishnah). He explains that the word “lechem”, composed of the letters “lamed” (30), “ches” (8) and “mem” (40), which equal 78, if doubled (lechem mishneh -double), equals 156 and which in turn equals “Yoseph” composed of the letters “yud” (10), “vav” (6), “samech” (60) and “pey” (80).
Aside from the very pleasing gematrias, I would like to suggest that the connection between Yoseph and the lechem mishnah of Shabbos relates to the fact that both teach us the importance of emunah. The lechem mishnah that we eat on Shabbos is representative of the double portion of manna which B’nai Yisroel received each Erev Shabbos while in the Midbar. Our Rabbis describe the generation that ate the manna as being exceptional in their faith. Despite the absence of any resources as they traveled through the desert, they followed HaShem, trusting that they would survive each day anew with the miraculous manna that fell from the heavens. Yoseph, who instructed that his bones be left in the land of Egypt following his death, enhanced the emunah of B’nai Yisroel in their ultimate redemption. In addition, the lechem mishna fell on Erev Shabbos as a preparation for Shabbos when the manna would not fall; so did Yoseph ensure, through the presence of his remains, Bnai Yisroel’s state of preparedness for their ultimate redemption.
An additional advantage of Yoseph’s ongoing “presence” in Egypt was that his special character traits, which allowed him to maintain his identity during his own “golus” experience, could be transmitted to the people during their extended exile. The availability of Yoseph’s ongoing image would provide them with a proper model that could enable them to create a protective shield and ensure their survival.
What were the specific traits Yoseph possessed that preserved his identity and would similarly be of great importance for the existence of Am Yisrael in exile as well as in preparation for their redemption?
Yoseph had a special ability to deal with difficult situations and emerge from them strengthened. He gets sold as a slave to Egypt, but immediately succeeds in attaining a respected position in Potifar's house. He is then cast into jail, but manages again to achieve recognition of his special qualities, and is once again promoted to an important position. He is then taken from the prison to become second to the king.
Another characteristic of Yoseph, which finds expression in his individual approach to his own personal exile in Egypt, is his ability to maintain his identity. Yoseph lives for many years among the Egyptians, but he never denies or hides his origins, nor is he ashamed of his heritage. Therefore everyone knows that he is a Hebrew.
Lastly, Yoseph, took care to acknowledge G-d's help throughout his life. Some examples of his openly expressed faith in HaShem include: When Yoseph is called upon to interpret dreams, he attributes this power to HaShem (Bereshis 41,15); and again, when he reveals his identity to his brothers he reassures them “it is not you who sent me here, but G-d” [Bereshis 44, 8].
Yoseph‘s successful influence upon B’nai Yisroel as they grappled with overwhelming pressures of maintaining their identity within an environment of the 49 levels of impurity is reflected in the words of Medrash [Bamidbar Rabba, 13] - There were three good attributes in B’nei Yisrael's favor in Egypt, and in their merit they were redeemed: they did not change their names, nor did they change their language, and they refrained from licentiousness.
4 – RAV RISKIN
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin http://www.ohrtorahstone.org.il/
Efrat, Israel: “Judah, to you shall your brothers give homage” (Gen 49:8)
The climax of our Biblical portion of Vayechi – and indeed of the entire Book of Genesis – comes in the deathbed scene in which Jacob-Israel bestows blessings upon each of his sons, the future twelve tribes of our nation. The deepest Biblical conflicts arose in the competition for the birthright-blessings. Now we face the question: which son of this last patriarch will receive the Abrahamic mission-covenant, and why?
G-d promised Abraham that “through him all the families of the earth would be blessed.” To achieve this, Abraham needed to ensure that the bearer of the birthright would have “compassionate righteousness and moral justice” (Genesis 18:19) as well as profound G-d consciousness, and a commitment to the land and the mission of Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3). When our story reaches the third generation, and Jacob is blessed with twelve sons, it seems that another qualification for leadership is added: the ability to unite the family.
Jacob thought that beautiful, brilliant Joseph, firstborn son of his beloved Rachel, was the perfect candidate. However, Jacob's favoritism began a process of familial dissolution, which accelerated when Joseph reported dreams in which the whole family bowed down to him, as though he were their king (Gen 37:3-9). When Joseph brought tales of his brothers’ transgressions back to their father, he bred even more resentment in his siblings, alienating them from him and fatefully fracturing the family of Israel.
Joseph is then sold into slavery. Jacob is suspicious of the role the brothers may have played in his beloved son’s “disappearance,” but he is wary of causing even more familial dissension by voicing his thoughts. The patriarch remains a disconsolate mourner in famine-stricken Canaan-Israel.
When the brothers come to Egypt to purchase food, the siblings are reunited. Joseph is hidden behind the mask of the Grand Vizier, so his brothers are unaware of his presence. But we, the readers are aware, and we see the potential for family reconciliation. Now Joseph faces Judah, the other candidate for the birthright. Each protagonist has come a long way in developing the traits necessary for leadership. The incident with Tamar has taught Judah the importance of taking responsibility for one’s siblings and for familial future, and it has established his credentials as a paragon of compassionate righteousness and moral justice. Joseph too, has proven his moral rectitude by escaping the advances of Mrs. Potiphar and developing greater modesty. But will Joseph or Judah succeed in repairing their broken family?
At the end of the portion of Miketz, which we read two weeks ago, Joseph seemed to have made a decision. He had given up on the brothers who cast him into the pit, and even on his father, whose favoritism had set in motion some of the family struggles. Recalling how Jacob had rebuked him for his dreams and then sent him to find his brothers, Joseph may have even wondered whether the patriarch was part of the plot to get rid of him. Now, he wishes to spend the rest of his life in Egypt with his only true brother, Benjamin, child of the same mother Rachel, who was too young to have had any hand in the near-fratricide. “To blazes with my family,” he thinks. “I now have a new, Egyptian family!”
Initially, Judah thought that G-d was sending all the trials and tribulations to the brothers coming to purchase food in Egypt because they had sinned in having sold their brother Joseph into slavery. But when Joseph rejects Judah's proposal that all the brothers become his slaves on account of the stolen goblet, he wonders why they had been singled out in such a punitive fashion by the Grand Vizier. Who in Egypt might be out to get them? Unless, the Grand Vizier himself is actually Joseph!
Now that Judah thinks that he has uncovered the true identity of the vizier, he understands that he must find a way to bring Joseph back into the bosom of the family. He must effect a rapprochement between father Jacob and all of his sons, in such a way that everyone will understand the futility of dredging up history, which would only exacerbate personal recriminations.
And so Judah faces Joseph, the Grand Vizier, ostensibly pleading for Benjamin’s freedom, but using the opportunity to describe their old father who deeply loved the two sons of Rachel, and still mourns for Joseph who he believes has been killed by a wild beast (44:28). Not only does he disabuse Joseph of any suspicion that Jacob had been linked to the plot, but he also subtlety tries to impute guilt upon Joseph for not contacting his old, grieving father. How can Joseph now inflict further pain on the patriarch by keeping Benjamin from him?
By offering himself as a slave in place of Benjamin, Judah is also proving that he, who had initially proposed the sale, has finally learned the lesson of brotherly love. Judah succeeds; Joseph reveals himself and rejoins the family. Jacob-Israel and his children are now reunited – by Judah, who has proven that he is the most worthy recipient of the coveted birthright.
5 -PROJECT GENESIS (torah.org)
The Jewish Learning Network http://www.torah.org/
A). RAV FRAND (Rabbi Yissocher Frand)
RavFrand, Copyright © 2004 by Rabbi Yissocher Frand and Torah.org.
B).Parsha Parables (Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky)
Nobody likes a loser. But in Parshas Vayechi we read about a different type of loser - not one who fails repeatedly, but rather a city named Looze and though it should have remained a loser in obscurity, somehow, in Vayechi, Yaakov makes it famous. Let me explain. Yaakov was old and was nearing his end. He called his son Yosef to his bedside to give him and his children a special blessing. The Torah relates: "Yaakov said to Yosef, "G-d Almighty had appeared to me in Looze in the land of Canaan and He blessed me. He said to me, 'Behold - I will make you fruitful and numerous; I will make you a congregation of nations, and I will give this land to your offspring after you as an eternal possession.'" (Genesis 48:3-4). Yaakov recounts the death of Rachel and her burial in Beis Lechem, and then blesses Yosef's children.
I have a simple question. Sixty years before the events in this week's portion, Yaakov was running from his brother Esav. He stopped in a city called Looze. He slept there and dreamt of angels going up and down the great ladder. G-d appeared to him and blessed him. He woke up. Amazed at the sanctity of the place, he brought a sacrifice and renamed the city, Beit-el. For sixty years since then, the city was called Beit-el, not Looze. Who even remembered it was once called Looze? Moreover, even if it was once called Looze, Yaakov changed the name immediately after receiving the aforementioned blessing! Even the Torah mentions the fact that it was once called Looze name as an aside! "[Yaakov] named that place Beit-el, but Looze was the original name of the city"(Genesis 28:-19). Since the hour that Yaakov woke from his dream -- even sixty years later when Yaakov blessed his son Yoseph, the city had been known as Beit-el. Why did Yaakov even mention, "G-d Almighty had appeared to me in Looze in the land of Canaan and He blessed me." Call it Beit-el. Use your name! Use the name everyone knows it by. Looze is ancient history that ended with Yaakov!
Toward the end of his life, my grandfather, Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky, of blessed memory lived with my Uncle and Aunt, Rabbi and Mrs. Avraham Kamenetsky (sic) in Flatbush. During that period, he would still see many people who would come to ask his advice on an endless variety of matters.
A man came and needed a letter of approbation concerning a certain matter. He asked if the letter could be placed on Rav Kamenetzky's personal stationary. Rav Yaakov took out his stationary and began to write. Suddenly he stopped. "The stationary gives my Monsey address." He said. "I no longer live there. I am reluctant to sign a letter that is not 100 percent accurate."
There may have been a difference of five minutes. Indeed Yaakov got the blessing in Looze. He woke up and changed the name. Sixty years later he tells his son, G-d blessed me in the City of Looze. He did not take credit by citing the city with the name he gave - a name that still remains thousands of years later.
Yaakov, the Prophet Micha declares, is the man of truth. "Give truth to Yaakov" (Micah 7:20). Yaakov told it the way it happened. Moments later, it was named differently, but in all honesty, G-d appeared to Yaakov and blessed him while the city was still named Looze. And thus he told Yosef "G-d Almighty had appeared to me in Looze in the land of Canaan and He blessed me." For Yaakov, the only way a blessing would transmit properly would be if it was said in total truth. And so he told it like it was and did not mention his own appellation, Beit-el. Because even if for blessings he was a Loozer, in honesty, Yaakov Avinu was a winner.