Thursday, December 31, 2009

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Vayechi 5770

שבת טעם החיים ויחי תש"ע
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Vayechi 5770

From Mercy to Justice

ויברך את יוסף ויאמר האלקים אשר התהלכו אשר אבתי לפניו אברהם ויצחק האלקים הרעה אתי מעודי עד היום הזה, he blessed Yosef and he said, “O G-d before Whom my forefathers Avraham and Yitzchak walked – G-d Who shepherds me from my inception until this day (Bereishis 48:15).
In this week’s parasha the Torah records the blessings that Yaakov conferred upon Yosef and his sons. It is said (Bereishis 48:15) HaElokim asher hishalchu avosai lifanav Avraham viYitzchak HaElokim haroeh osi meiodi ad hayom hazeh, O G-d before Whom my forefathers Avraham and Yitzchak walked – G-d Who shepherds me from my inception until this day. It appears from these words of Yaakov that the concept of Elokim, the attribute of Justice, was a dominant presence in his lifetime. What is it that Yaakov was seeking to highlight with these words?
Yaakov wished to be the justified firstborn
In collaboration with my esteemed chavrusa, Howard Greenstein, we discovered an amazing theme that runs through the entire life of Yaakov. Let us take a closer look at the beginning, or even prior to the life of Yaakov. When Rivka gave birth to her twin sons, Yaakov and Esav, it is said (Bereishis 25:26) viacharei chein yatza achiv viyado ochezes baakeiv Esav vayikra shemo Yaakov viYitzchak ben shishim shanah biledes osam, after that his brother emerged with his hand grasping on to the heel of Esav; so he called his name Yaakov; Yitzchak was sixty years old when she bore them. Rashi cites the Medrash that states that Yaakov was justified in grasping onto Esav’s heel. The reason for this is because Yaakov was formed from the first drop and Esav from the second. This is analogous to a funnel with a narrow opening. When one places two stones inside the funnel, the one that enters first will exit last and the one that enters last will exit first. Similarly, Esav who was formed last exited first, and Yaakov who was formed first exited last. Yaakov thus sought to prevent Esav from exiting first, as Yakov desired that in addition to being the first formed, he should be the first born and in this way he would be justified in earning the birthright. The word that Rashi uses for justified is din, which is normally translated as justice. What is the explanation of the Medrash that states that Yaakov sought to be justified as the firstborn?
HaShem had to create the world with justice and mercy
In order to have a better perspective of what Yaakov was seeking, it is worth examining another statement of the Medrash. It is said (Ibid 1:1) Bereishis bara Elokim eis hashamayim vieis haaretz, in the beginning of G-d’s creating the heavens and the earth. Rashi writes that the Torah does not state bara HaShem, as initially HaShem wished to create the world with the Attribute of Justice. However, HaShem saw that the world would not exist with justice alone, so HaShem first instituted the Attribute of Mercy and adjoined mercy with justice. It is for this reason that it is said ( Ibid 2:4) biyom asos HaShem Elokim eretz vishamayim, on the day that HaShem G-d made earth and heaven. This teaches us that the ideal world is a world that stands on justice, but a world of only justice is unsustainable.
Esav really represents the Attribute of Mercy
In a similar vein, Esav was born first, but in reality, Yaakov was to be born first. In order to understand this phenomenon, we must reexamine our understanding of Esav’s role in this world. We are accustomed to viewing Esav and his cohorts as evil, and the ultimate goal is to rid the world of Esav and the evil that he represents. While this concept may be true on the surface, the reality is that Esav represents a true benefit to the Jewish People. To quote the Medrash (cited by Rabbi Eliyahu Munk in World of Prayer) , in the prayer of Shemone Esrei we recite the words hamachazir shechinaso litziyon, Who returns His Divine Presence to Tziyon. The Medrash interprets this to mean that the chazir (pig) Esav, will be the catalyst to return the Jewish People to the Promised Land. Thus, Esav is essentially the symbol of HaShem’s Attribute of Mercy in this world, although its attribute appears to be shrouded in justice. We can understand the creation of the world in the same vein. HaShem wished to create the world only through justice, i.e. in a way that people would always deserve HaShem’s generosity. However, HaShem foresaw that people would not be deserving, so He instituted the Attribute of Mercy so that the world would be sustainable. Thus, mercy is far from the ideal existence.
Yaakov wished to exist on a plane of justice
We find proof to this idea in Yaakov’s declaration to HaShem upon fleeing from Esav. It is said (Ibid 28:21) vishavti vishalom el beis avi vihayah HaShem leElokim, and I return in peace to my father’s house, and HaShem will be a G-d to me. The Sforno writes that Yaakov was saying, “then HaShem, Who is merciful, will be a judge for me if I do not serve Him with all my abilities. Alternatively, Yaakov’s words can be interpreted as follows, “HaShem, Who normally conducts Himself with the Attribute of Mercy, will conduct Himself towards me with the Attribute of Justice. This Attribute of Justice does not refer to punishment and retribution. Rather, it refers to the ideal existence of the world, which HaShem sought to create at the beginning of the world. In this light we can also understand why at birth Yaakov sought to be the firstborn bidin, in justification. Yaakov was seeking that the world should be conducted the way HaShem desired initially.
Yitzchak blessed Yaakov to be deserving of HaShem’s generosity
This idea was also expressed in the blessings that Yitzchak conferred upon Yaakov. It is said (Ibid 27:28) viyiten lecho HaElokim mital hashamayim umishmanei haaretz virov dagan visirosh, and may G-d give you of the dew of the heavens and of the fatness of the earth, and abundant grain and wine.. Rashi writes that Yitzchak specifically used the word HaElokim as this word means bidin, according to the rules of justice. If a Jew is deserving, he will receive HaShem’s blessings, and if he is not deserving, he will not receive the blessings. Yitzchak also sought to have HaShem conduct Himself with Yaakov according to the Attribute of Justice. This meant that Yaakov would only be a beneficiary of HaShem’s generosity if he was deserving. In brief, Yaakov sought o lead his life according to a standard of justice, which would translate into him receiving from HaShem’s goodness only if he was worthy.
The Shabbos connection
We can now understand why Yaakov blessed Yosef and his sons by using the word Elokim, thus symbolizing the manner in which HaShem conducted Himself with him. While this is certainly a lofty level to live on, we see that Yaakov constantly sought to live on this exalted spiritual plane. This could be the explanation of the Medrash that Rashi cites in the begriming of Parashas Vayeishev, stating that Yaakov sought to dwell in tranquility. Yaakov wished to lead a life where he would only receive from HaShem’s goodness if he was deserving. We know that Yaakov reflects Shabbos, a time that is without boundaries. On Shabbos we recite verses that describe the culmination of creation, where Elokim finished His labor of the week, and Elokim blessed the seventh day. Shabbos is a day when we are the recipients of HaShem’s goodness, and in order to merit being recipients of that goodness, we must be deserving. The manner in which we can be deserving of HaShem’s goodness is by preparing for the Holy Shabbos and observing it properly. HaShem should allow us to aspire to be beneficiaries of His justice and to bask on Shabbos in His Infinite Light.

Shabbos Stories
Give it up
Many years ago, as the result of a tragic fire that destroyed many of the houses, businesses and public buildings in his city, the Rav hair (Rabbi of the city) was reduced to being a fundraiser – wandering from town to village soliciting funds to help his brethren rebuild their homes, and their lives.
Most of the people he met were touched by the story he told, and gave generously according to their means. Without delay, he would dispatch whatever money he raised back to the elders of the city, who were overseeing the rescue and recovery effort.
The Rav’s pleas were so convincing that he managed to convince even the most miserly of Jews to participate – at least until the day he entered Reb Matis’s jewelry store. If the lavishly furnished shop and top-notch jewelry was any indication, Reb Matis – whose name graced the ornate sign that hung outside – was a man of means. The Rav hoped he could secure a generous donation, but it soon became apparent that that was easier said than done.
Reb Matis interrupted the Rav’s carefully prepared appeal. “Ha-Rav, with all due respect, don’t waste your time. I try my best to do mitzvos, but I’m not in the habit of distributing my hard-earned parnasah to others. I was also a pauper, and I worked like crazy to build up this store. I’m sorry for your townsfolk, and sincerely wish them the best in rebuilding their lives – which I think they can do without my largesse if they try hard enough – but I refuse to act as a crutch for the unfortunate, which teaches them to rely on others rather than resorting to their own ingenuity.”
“That’s ridiculous,” the Rav said. “We’re not talking about beggars who won’t take a job. These peoples’ lives were destroyed – their homes and businesses burned to the ground – how can you be so heartless as to not help them get back on their feet.”
“Oh but I am helping them,” Reb Matis responded coldly. “I’m teaching them one of life’s most valuable lessons: Do for yourself, and rely on no one.” “That’s very ‘noble’ of you,” the Rav said. “Still, according to the Torah there’s a mitzvah to perform deeds of kindness with others. Since I obviously will not coax you into being kind, I will instead turn the tables and do with you a deed of kindness.”
“What exactly do mean,” Reb Matis wondered. “I’m not in need of your philanthropy.”
“Oh but you are,” the Rav said. “You are very sick, and by visiting you I am performing the mitzvah of bikur cholim (visiting the infirm).” “I assure you, HaRav, that I’m as healthy as I am wealthy.”
“Do you then deny the prophecy of Shlomo Ha-Melech (King Solomon), the wisest of all men, who said, ‘There is a terrible sickness I have seen beneath the sun: when a man’s wealth is preserved to his detriment.’ (Koheles/Ecclesiastes 5:12)? You have been granted great wealth, and yet you arrogantly refuse to share it with those less fortunate? I have no doubt whatsoever that your wealth will ultimately be your downfall – if not in this world then in the next, when you will be forced to stand judgment on your heartless apathy.”
“That’s cute,” Reb Matis said. “But if the Rav was looking to do the mitzvah of bikur cholim in earnest, I suspect he would have better spent his time visiting the hospitals, where the truly sick lie, waiting for someone to come and pay attention to them, rather than visiting me and trying to heal me with his poorly-argued rebuke.”
“You’re right,” the Rav said, “but I have a hidden reason why I chose to come here and do the mitzvah of bikur cholim specifically with you. However, I won’t tell you it unless you promise to give me at least a small donation for my cause.”
Matis’s curiosity was piqued. “Ok, you’ve got me – tell me why.”
“Chazal, our Sages, commenting on parsahas Vayechi, say that when Yosef first came to visit his father, Yaakov, he was deathly sick. Once Yosef entered the room, however, he felt an immediate improvement in his condition, and was able to sit up, as it says (48:2), ‘And Yisrael (Yaakov) was strengthened, and he sat up on the bed.’ One who visits the sick, the Sages teach, removes one-sixtieth of his sickness – this is why he suddenly felt stronger. The concept is in fact alluded to in this very verse: The numerical value of the bed (Hebrew: hamitah) is 59 – to teach us that after Yosef’s visit, Yaakov was left with only 59/60th of his illness. So of course I’d much rather visit you – and have the pleasure of removing 1/60th of your ‘sickness.’” (Maaseh Shoshan)
The Midrash (Pesikta Rabasi 25) says that during the times of the Bais HaMikdash (Holy Temple), there was a man named Navos who had a very beautiful voice. On Yamim Tovim, when everyone gathered in Jerusalem, thousands would gather to hear his prayers. One year, Navos decided he couldn’t be bothered to come, despite the disappointment of his admirers. Shortly afterwards he was killed and his land confiscated (see Melachim/Kings I 21). Paradoxically, had Navos ascended to Jerusalem and fulfilled the mitzvah of pilgrimage, the Midrash says his land would not have been taken, because the Torah promises (Shemos/Exodus 34:24), “No man shall covet your land when you go up to appear before HaShem, your G-d, three times a year.”
Mefarshim explain that Navos’s error was that he thought his melodious voice was his gift – to use or forsake as he pleased – when in fact it’s ‘on loan’ from HaShem to use in ways that increase His honor and bring pleasure and joy to others. Since he misappropriated his ‘property,’ he had his property taken away from him.
The concept of wealth preserved to its owner to his detriment doesn’t only apply to money. Everyone has gifts. A nice voice; a good head; sensitivity; a good cook; organized; physical strength; tirelessness; unflappability; joy… We may not think much of our gifts, and perhaps we shouldn’t let them get to our heads, but if we allow ‘humility’ to prevent us from using our gifts – many or few they may be – to enrich others’ lives, we will be held accountable, on this world or the next.
The word matana, gift, is from the root nasan -– to give. Nasan, both in Hebrew and English, is a palindrome – perhaps hinting that what we’re given must be given back. Have a good Shabbos.
Torah study all day and night
There are those special individuals, however, for whom Torah study is not simply a hobby or even an enjoyable or uplifting experience. It consumes them. Their hearts burn with the fire of the Torah; they invest every waking hour and every drop of their energy and resources in its understanding and analysis. It is said about the Chazon Ish zt"l that one would often find him learning in bed, not because he liked to learn reclining, but because, "just because I don't have enough energy to stay on my feet doesn't mean I can't squeeze out another few drops for the Torah!" He would only sleep when he simply collapsed from exhaustion.
The Netziv (R' Naftali Zvi Berlin zt"l, Rosh Yeshiva of the famous Yeshiva of Volozhin) was once told that one of his students was studying Torah for close to twenty hours a day! He called the student in and warned him about the dangers of burn-out and over exertion. "But Rebbe," he said respectfully, "it is said that when you were a Yeshiva bachur you too studied for close to twenty hours a day!"
"Not true!" he implied emphatically. "It is true that I studied for 16 hours a day, seven days a week, for twenty-five years. But twenty hours - never!" (We should merit that, when our time comes, we may have invested at least a few days of our lives with this type of Torah study!) (

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Vayechi 5770
I will be giving a class in Navi on Shabbos afternoon at Bais Haknesses HaGra 14561 Lincoln in Oak Park, half an hour before Mincha.
Have a wonderful and delightful Shabbos.
Prepared by Rabbi Binyomin Adler.
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