Wednesday, January 04, 2006


In Parshas Vayigash we read of the emotional climax of Yosef’s revelation to his brothers. Yehuda’s desperate plea prompted Yosef to drop his disguise and finally divulge his true identity. Before their shocked eyes, the powerful viceroy of Egypt was revealed as their long lost brother.

With tears in his eyes, Yosef told them not to fear retribution for selling him, for his odyssey as a slave turned out to be part of a Divine plan. He asked them to hurry back to Yaakov Avinu and inform him that Yosef was alive and reigned as a viceroy in Egypt.

Yosef admonished them, “Ahl tirgezoo baderech, do not tarry along the way.” A little further on, the posuk relates that when Yaakov saw the agalos, wagons, that Yosef sent to transport him to Mitzrayim, his spirit was revived.

Why was he revived? The wagons were sent to take him away from Eretz Yisroel into golus. Yaakov should have been upset that he was leaving the Promised Land. Indeed he was; it was only the assurance from Hakadosh Boruch Hu who appeared to Yaakov and told him not to fear going down to Mitzrayim, “for I will be going down with you and will bring you back,” that allayed his distress.

The Medrash brought by Rashi explains that the agalos bore Yosef’s hidden message to his father that he still remembered the sugya of eglah arufa that they had studied together. But why send that message via wagons? Why not send it through a brother?

Perhaps his action also contains an eternal hidden message. Yosef knew that the prospect of going into exile would be difficult for Yaakov and the shevotim. When he said “Ahl tirgezu baderech,” don’t become angry on the journey back home, he was referring also to the future golus. He was saying that though the path through golus will be long and painful, do not get angry. Remember that the L-rd has sent you there as part of a Divine plan. Despite the hardships and sorrows, cling to the path of Torah until your redemption.

The agalos communicated an important guarantee; that the trip through the exile would be bearable if the Jewish people bear aloft the Torah’s message. If we carry the sugyos of Shas with us, if we never lose sight of our ultimate goal and destination, we will succeed. The Torah must remain uppermost in our memories and in everything that we do.

Yaakov was upset that he was forced once again to leave the home of his fathers; he knew that he was going down the path of exile which would only end with the arrival of Moshiach. Yet, when he saw that despite all Yosef had endured in his own private golus, he had kept alive in his heart the sugyos they had studied together, “Vatechi ruach Yaakov avihem,” Yaakov’s spirit regenerated. From this he drew comfort and reassurance that the Jews would persevere in the long and bitter exile.

Chanukah has ended but its memory and message must linger long in our hearts. Even after the Menorahs are put away, their flames ought to flicker in our psyches. The battle that Chanukah commemorates resurges in every age, including our own. The battle is never totally won.

The past year has seen a reawakening of a veiled threat against the very nature of the sacred wall that has preserved religious freedom in this country.

The hallowed words, Ufortzu Chomos Migdalai, mirror a new breach – one that many Jews regard apathetically, but one against which those familiar with history and its ramifications will take a vigilant, united stand.

We live in America, a country which has afforded our people unprecedented freedom and opportunity in the exile. Religious Jews have attained high positions in government and industry. There are billionaires and titans of industry who are openly and unapologetically religious. There is a shomer Shabbos U.S. senator and many other religious officials.

Just this week, a religious Jew was sworn in as mayor of Lakewood, NJ. Several weeks ago, a contingent of religious Jews was invited for a discussion with President Bush in the White House.

Religious Jews in New York City are well-represented in the halls of academia; in government, where people such as Dov Hikind and Simcha Felder are respected elected officials; and in business where yarmulkes worn by real estate executive are as prominent as the landmark properties they own.

It is not unusual to see world famous stores proudly advertise that they close Friday at 3 and remain closed for Shabbos.

If religious Jews are so well represented in all streams of American life, secular Jews are even more so, occupying positions of power and influence across the political and business spectrum.

We have indeed come a long way, to the point where we unfortunately tend to think that Moshiach has arrived and transported us here. We forget that we are in golus, we forget that we are guests of a foreign land.

Every once in a while we are served a reminder.

During the past year the New York City’s health commissioner, Dr. Thomas Frieden, has engaged in an effort to undermine a sacred component of Mitzvas Milah. He and his department recently stepped up their activities in this regard and issued directives and advisories aimed at planting fear in the hearts and minds of parents who are about to bring their child into the holiest covenant in Judaism.

The threat is not only against metzitzah b’peh. It is a slanderous and offensive diktat that undermines not only a specific element of Bris Milah, but assaults the entire concept of Bris Milah itself.

He claims to be “educating.” What he is actually doing is far more sinister.

Frieden clearly has overstepped his bounds. He was asked to back down from his assault on the privacy and sanctity of religious choice. But he does not relent. Last week he openly mocked a group of distinguished Rabbonim whom he called to an urgent meeting, by suggesting that they relinquish their religious authority to the Catholic Church.

An insult of this sort from a government official is reminiscent of the slurs once aimed at the Jewish community by foreign anti-Semitic governments of the past.

Indeed the lights of the nairos have glowed, but their flame must continue to illuminate the darkness. We pride ourselves on the amazing accomplishments Jews have reached throughout political and socio-economic levels. But the fact that shomrei Shabbos senators, mayors, doctors and lawyers abound in this country is not enough to guarantee that our freedom to practice our religion with all its sacred minhagim and particulars, will be upheld.

When the attack appears to equate our practices with those of tribal cults that are unsanitary and dangerous, a spear is being hurled at the heart and soul of a nation that is no stranger to hostile campaigns of this nature.

At stake is nothing less than the right to religious freedom, a lynchpin of the Constitution that we should never take for granted. We must insist on the liberty to continue the practice of our tradition with every nuance and detail of the beautiful customs that are an integral part of the written law. It is our mesorah. It is our heritage. And our heritage is as sacred as our Torah.

Everyone concerned with these imperatives must let his voice be heard. Because when the dictates of bureaucracy begin to govern our spirituality, then our religious integrity has been compromised and walls of our tower have been breached. “Ufortzu chomos Migdalai.” It is not long before the oil is defiled and the menorah hauled away. Perhaps a commissioner will next mandate the use of electric menorahs because of his “concern” for our safety.

We get so comfortable here that we forget at times the message of the agalos; we lose sight of our mission and our goal. We forget that we are on a dangerous and treacherous path in golus, one that requires constant vigilance.

We need reminders so that our spirits can be lifted and we can return home. Let the image of the flames of the Chanukah menorah burn brightly in our memory so that we remember that at the end of the day, victory belongs not to those who boast of numbers, status or militarily might, but to those who battle for what is right and true.

Just as in the times of the Yevonim whose determination to uproot us from the Torah was miraculously defeated, so too, in our times, modern-day warriors who fight for the inviolate purity of Torah will be rewarded from Above with the consecration of the Beis Hamikdosh, speedily and in our day.


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