Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Golus Survival

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Parshas Vayechi teaches survival lessons for the Jewish people in exile. Especially in these dangerous times, we need to probe the inner depth of the pesukim to uncover these important messages.

Rashi begins his peirush by explaining that the parsha of Vayechi Yaakov is a “setumah,” because Yaakov Avinu wanted to reveal the keitz, and was prevented from doing so. (“Setumah” refers to the absence of the usual blank space separating two parshios.)

The basic approach to understanding this Rashi is that Yaakov wanted to reveal to his children when the final redemption would arrive, and he was not permitted to do so. The obvious difficulty with this explanation is this: what benefit would it have been to his children to know that the geulah would come in the year 5769-2009? What kind of consolation would it have been for the shevatim and their descendants to learn that the Jewish people would languish in exile for thousands of years?

If Yaakov’s intention was to bolster the flagging spirits of a people longing for redemption, wouldn’t knowledge of a keitz delayed for millennia produce the exact opposite response? Imagine the despairing effect of such a message on all the generations of faithful Jews clinging to the hope, day after day, year after year, that Moshiach was just around the corner.

Another intriguing question: the meforshim discuss that, in actuality, the stimah should have been placed in the middle of the parsha, at the point where the posuk hints that Yaakov wanted to reveal the keitz to the shevatim, and not at the beginning of the parsha. Why, indeed, is it at the beginning of the parsha that we are shown that Yaakov was prevented from revealing the End of Days?

To resolve these questions, let’s take a closer look at the sequence of events as described by the pesukim. The parsha recounts how Yaakov made Yosef swear that he would ensure that Yaakov would be buried in Eretz Yisroel following his passing. The pesukim continue that some time later, Yosef heard that Yaakov was ill and brought his children to him. Yaakov strengthened himself, sat up on his sickbed, and proceeded to bless the two sons of his beloved Yosef. He told Yosef that they are as precious to him as Reuvein and Shimon and that each would be counted as one of the shevatim.

Yaakov then interrupts himself to digress to events in the past. He recounts to Yosef the death of his mother, Rochel, and how he buried her in Bais Lechem. The Torah then relates in posuk 9 that Yaakov saw the sons of Yosef and asked who they were. When Yosef answered that they were his sons, Yaakov told Yosef to bring them closer to him so that he could bless them.

Posuk 10 continues that Yaakov was unable to see. Posuk 11 tells us that Yaakov remarked to Yosef that he never dreamed he would be privileged to see his beloved lost son again, and now, on top of that, he even merited seeing Yosef’s children.

Yosef then approached Yaakov with Menashe on his right and Efraim on his left. Yaakov placed his right hand on the younger Efraim and his left on the bechor, Menashe, and blessed them. Yosef was troubled at how his father reversed his hands so that the younger son “received” the right hand that should rightfully have been placed on the bechor. Yaakov explained that the younger son is destined to achieve greater stature than his older brother in the future. He blessed them again and said that for all time, Jews will bless their sons with the words, “Yesimcha Elokim k’Efraim v’ch’Menashe.”

What transpired here was obviously a great deal more than a simple scenario of an old and blind grandfather blessing two grandchildren he hardly knew. Both Efraim and Menashe were born to Yosef prior to Yaakov’s arrival in Mitzrayim. Yaakov, by now, had been in Mitzrayim for 17 years, so these boys were at least 18 years old. Yaakov has surely come to know them. The Medrash, in fact, states that Efraim would study Torah every day with Yaakov. How could it be that all of a sudden, Yaakov didn’t know who he was?

Yet, bafflingly, posuk 9 states that Yaakov saw the boys but didn’t know who they were, Posuk 10 then says that Yaakov couldn’t see at all, and then finally in posuk 11, the Torah states that he was overjoyed to have seen Yosef’s children!

It is obvious that in the give-and-take between our hallowed forefathers, lofty matters far removed from the mundane were being discussed. Perhaps we can glean some insight into these profound exchanges by exploring a new angle to the Rashi and Medrash that discuss why the parsha is a setumah.

Yaakov wanted to reveal to his sons the secrets of how to bring about the period of Acharis Hayomim. He wanted to tell them what they had to do to bring about the keitz that we so desperately yearn for. The world must be prepared for Moshiach to arrive and reveal himself to the masses. Yaakov wanted to teach them the kabbalistic principles which deal with preparing the world for the ultimate redemption.

This knowledge was suddenly withheld from him. Hakadosh Boruch Hu, so to speak, told him that these mystical truths must be concealed. They can only be revealed through the pious efforts of ehrliche Yidden who dedicate themselves to Torah learning and purify themselves to the degree that they merit to attain that deeper wisdom.

Am Yisroel must work on itself to reach those levels of holiness and purity that lead to a grasp of the ratzon haBoreh. It’s not something that can be taught or fed to us. We have to reach it on our own through limud haTorah.

The middah of Yaakov is that he brought down to Mitzrayim the arazim that the bnei Yisroel would require to construct the Mishkan in the desert. He was preparing them for a life of kedushah in the exile of the Midbar. In the same vein, when, prior to his passing, Yaakov saw that he wasn’t able to teach his sons how to bring about the geulah, he instead taught them how to live and persevere in golus.

That’s why the parsha is a setumah before the story of the encounter between Yaakov and Yosef, and Efraim and Menashe. Moshiach ben Yosef is the harbinger of the geulah. Thus, Yaakov wanted to reveal to Yosef the secrets of how to bring about the inception of the messianic era. But suddenly, the information vanished, triggering confusion for Yaakov.

Yaakov wondered if there was something faulty with his vision. He thought that perhaps the boys who accompanied Yosef were actually not Yosef’s sons. He pondered whether this was the reason he wasn’t able to impart to Yosef and his sons the ability to awaken within them their middah of Bais Yosef lehava in order to bring about the geulah.

Yaakov told Yosef that his sons, Efraim and Menashe, would be like his own sons, the Shivtei Kah. Yaakov saw them, but didn’t recognize them so he knew that something was amiss, and that he wouldn’t be able to deliver the secrets of ikvisah diMeshicha.

Instead, he revealed to them the secrets of golus survival. He said that Jews would bless their children to be as Menashe and Efraim. Just as these two sons were born in a strange land and yet merited to attain the level of Reuvein and Shimon, so too, for all time, Jewish boys would be reminded that although they are in exile, if they work on themselves, they can rise to the highest levels of Torah and gedulah.

Yaakov revealed to Yosef that his mother was buried at a lonely site along the side of the road because of something that was to transpire centuries later. As the Jews would be driven out of Yerushalayim and Eretz Yisroel, der mama Rochel would cry for them and Hashem would promise, in her merit, to return them to the Promised Land.

Yaakov blessed the sons that the angels who accompanied him as he went into exile and protected him throughout its duration, would stand by them in golus. The angels would call upon them the names of Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov, and Am Yisroel would thus prosper in the Diaspora.

He foretold to Yosef that Yerovom and Achav would come from Efraim and Yeihu would descend from Menashe. But he also told him that Menashe would give birth to Gideon, and Efraim to Yehoshua, who would lead the Jews into Eretz Yisroel after Moshe’s passing. And then he set about revealing other secrets of the golus to the rest of shevatim.

Here and Now

We have not yet perfected ourselves and made ourselves worthy of the Bais Yosef lehava. We have not yet reached the level necessary for Moshiach ben Yosef to arrive and foretell the arrival of Moshiach ben Dovid. Thus we remain mired in golus.

As we contemplate the latest bitter twist of golus, we know we’ve been here before. Once again, we find ourselves caught up in a senseless war. How many times have we been here? How often in our lifetimes have the Jews of Eretz Yisroel been forced to take up weapons to defend themselves? And how many times have we recoiled in horror at the response of the nations of the world? It’s always the same. As long as innocent Jewish blood is being spilled like water, they are quiet. Once the Jews fight back and seek to quiet their enemies, the pursuers of justice awaken and begin issuing statements calling for the Jews to crawl back into their bomb shelters.

It’s a tired, worn-out cliché, yet it never ceases to astound us. We can’t stand to be reminded that we are in golus. We can’t stand to be reminded that most nations of the world detest us and have no use for us. We don’t like to be reminded regularly that the leaders of the West and their followers really despise us. And for some reason, we also don’t like to be reminded that the situation in America is different and that we have to be very thankful to the political leaders of this country for their enduring friendship.

We take their friendship for granted. We parade down their streets as if they were ours; we do things to provoke our neighbors into disliking us, and we don’t take care to show appreciation to gentiles who show us friendliness and sympathy.

Once again, the flashing lights of emergency vehicles cast their frightful red glow upon the stone walls of cities and towns across Eretz Yisroel. Once more, bombs rain down upon our brethren. Men, women and children have no menucha as alarms go off, giving them merely 15 seconds to run for cover. We shudder to imagine the horror of never being able to sit comfortably. At any time of the day or night, no matter where they are or what they are doing, they must pick themselves up and run for their lives. It’s enough to make people go crazy.

Once more, the terrifying booms of the bombs frighten all those within earshot. The shrieks of sirens pierce the quiet of the night and the hauntingly familiar thuds send shudders up and down the spines of Jews around the world.

We have the comfort of living in freedom, with the military draft long ago abolished. Do we know the fear of mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, and wives and children, as their sons and husbands paint their faces, load up their gear and go to battle, never knowing whether they will come back again alive and whole?

There seems to be no end to the pain, suffering and korbanos. “Ein keitz l’ishei chovoseinu v’ein mispar lenichochei ashmoseinu.”

Those who are younger and those who aren’t tuned in well enough forget about the rivers of tears and oceans of blood which have been spilled over the past decades. But all of us know, as we hear about these ruthless attacks and take in the daily occurrences, that we are living in unprecedented times. We realize that history is being made at every moment, and as the events unfold, they are carefully guided and orchestrated by our Heavenly Father.

Hashem favors neither the might of the horse nor the prowess of its rider. We hear the country’s political leaders pledging to “put the brakes on terror” and implement a new “blueprint for action” and shake our heads sadly at the blindness of these people. Everything from fighter jets and helicopter gunships to naval vessels and undercover squads sent to kill targeted terrorists, are unsuccessful in silencing the terror. No matter what they do, the rockets keep falling.

Yet, we know that al pi derech hatevah, if the terrorists win here and now, they and their supporters and confederates will be emboldened to move their terror to other places. They must be made to realize that they can’t get away with this. The American and world media plays into their hands by equalizing tragedy and calling for a “proportionate” response, whatever that means. This, coupled with the media exposure they are now receiving, emboldens the terrorists to continue shooting their rockets into Israel. They don’t have to beat the Israeli army in order to win. All they have to do is continue shooting their feeble rockets—which, despite their primitiveness, have the power to destroy and kill—and continue to make defiant, bombastic claims in the media. So far, they have been able to do just that.

Political leaders and military generals will ultimately have to face the infuriating fact that they are powerless; they are pawns in Hashem’s hands. Israeli military leaders thought that by deserting Gaza, they would appease their enemies and never hear from them again. Yet, the world is indifferent to the enormous sacrifice Israel made. It turns a blind eye to the fact that ever since Gaza was evacuated, Hamas has ignored its mandate to build a country for the Palestinians, and instead, has hurled all its resources into feverishly building up its military capability in order to destroy Israel.

The terrorists’ promises of making a better life for the people of Gaza proved to be empty propaganda, as fictitious as the very notion itself of a “Palestinian people.” Since Israel abandoned Gaza, Hamas has done nothing for the people who voted them into power. There have been no efforts to establish peace or a life of normalcy for the residents of that strip of land. On the contrary, Hamas has so little regard for the lives of Gaza’s citizens that they readily use the civilian population as human shields. They welcome civilian casualties, using the carnage they provoke to incite global outrage and hatred against Israel.

So many countries have suffered death and destruction at the hands of militant Islam that you would think they would be cheering on Israel to defeat the dark forces which seek to topple the West and supplant their power. Yet, all we hear are calls for restraint. Thousands upon thousands demonstrate against Israel, not only in Arab capitals, but in every major Western city.

None of this should surprise us. We have to be sure to view what is transpiring through the lens of golus, and remember the double standard which has prevailed since time immemorial. We have to turn to sifrei kodesh to understand how we are to respond to the current crisis.

The mussar greats of Kelm taught that under normal circumstances, man’s evil inclinations are kept in check by the “normal” stream of tragedies and calamities, lo aleinu. However, when man fails to head the messages embedded in these “natural” misfortunes and continues along his flawed path, Hashem causes new, unique “agents” of terror to emerge. It is His way of prompting us to halt our mindless “autopilot” behavior with all its faults and strive to improve.

The novi Tzefania speaks of a Yerushalayim sullied with blood. She disobeyed the voice of the nevi’im, did not accepted mussar, failed to have bitachon in Hashem, and did not draw herself close to Him. The novi speaks of ministers “roaring like lions” in the midst of the city, where there are “rebellious robbers of the Torah.” Hashem’s justice remains exact. “I have cut down nations, made their towers desolate, in the hope that you might take heed and learn a mussar haskeil, so that your dwellings should not be destroyed.”

On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we approach the stirring Unesaneh Tokef prayer with trepidation. Mi yichyeh? Mi yomus? Who will live? Who will die? Who will be torn apart? Who will live comfortably? Who will be rich? Who will be poor? These cries ram home the realization that there is a G-d above who decides all of human fate. He controls all aspects of our lives and destinies. Then, we reach the highest emotional point in the tefillah. We shout out and proclaim to the world, to each other and to ourselves “Useshuvah, usefillah, utzedakah ma’avirin es ro’ah hagezeirah,” that teshuvah, tefillah and tzedakah can cancel the negative decrees.

Teshuvah, tefillah and tzedakah help dictate where the bombs will fall. Teshuvah, tefillah and tzedakah determine in which countries terrorists will succeed and in which they will fail. Teshuvah, tefillah and tzedakah will preordain whether we have lives of peace or lives of war. They determine whether our lives will be sedative or tumultuous, full of terror or tranquility.

Teshuvah, tefillah and tzedakah aren’t just words. And they’re not just meant for the Yomim Noraim. They have to be our guiding lights, especially in times such as ours.

We live in trying times. We live in sad times. We live in the times of ikvisah diMeshicha, the times that Chazal warned us about. “Yeisei velo’achminei,” Rabbah said. He hoped fervently that Moshiach would soon arrive, but at the same time he wished that he would not have to witness the events leading up to his coming.

Mah ya’aseh adam veyinotzeil mei’chevlei Moshiach? Ya’asok baTorah ugemillus chassodim.”

Teshuvah, tefillah and tzedakah have helped Klal Yisroel survive the darkest of days and will not fail us now. We have to be tofeis umnas avoseinu. We must cling to the ways of faithful Jews throughout all the ages.

We must not only bless our children that they should be like Menashe and Efraim, but we must do our best to help them grow and mature into tzaddikim gedolim who can light up the world with their Torah and tzidkus.

Grow not despondent. Never give up hope. We will prevail. Yosef, Efraim and Menashe are so close to sending their grandson, Moshiach ben Yosef, that we can almost hear his footsteps.

Let us strengthen ourselves so that we may merit the complete redemption swiftly.


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