Nafsho Keshura B’nafsho

“And now, when I go to your servant my father, and the boy is not with us, his soul is bound up in his soul. When he sees that the boy is not with us, he will die and your servants will have brought the hoary head of our father to the grave in sorrow.” (Bereishis 44:30-31 ) Thus Yehuda pleaded with the Egyptian viceroy that Yaakov and Binyomin were so emotionally connected that Yaakov would not physically survive losing Binyamin. His death or disappearance, following the death of Rachel and disappearance of Yosef, would be a fatal blow to Yaakov.

Yehuda was appealing to any modicum of human feelings the Egyptian viceroy might have had. However, because the Torah only contains words of eternal value, there were no doubt deeper layers of meaning in his words. To what else might Yehuda have been alluding?

When Hashem first spoke to Moshe Rabeinu at the burning bush, he told him, “So shall you say to Pharaoh. This is what Hashem said, My son, My firstborn son Israel.” What did Hashem mean that Israel is Hashem’s son? If He meant that He physically created us, He created every person and indeed every animal, every plant and the whole of creation. In this sense we are all the children of Hashem. Why should just the Jews be called Hashem’s children?

Melachim II 2:11 tells us, “As Eliyahu and Elisha were walking and conversing, behold – a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated between the two of them and Eliyahu ascended to Heaven in a the whirlwind. Elisha was watching and shouting, “My father, my father, Israel’s chariot and horseman.” Why did Elisha call Eliyahu, his father? Elisha’s father was Shafat! (ibid 19:19)

Bamidbar 3:1 says, “These are the generations of Aharon and Moshe…the firstborn Nadav, Avihu, Elazar and Isamar.” The Ramban comments that the pasuk says the generations of Moshe, but only Aharon’s children are mentioned. We learn from this that if a person teaches another person Torah it is as if he gave birth to him.

We see already that the Torah concept of being a father or son is not merely in the physical sense. The word for son in loshon hakodesh is ben which is derived from boneh — to build. A father and son or rebbe and talmid are building something together. Elisha was continuing to build what Eliyahu had begun, as were Aharon’s children building on what Moshe Rabbeinu had taught them.

Shabbos (119b) says that someone who says Vayachulu on Friday night becomes a partner with Hashem in the creation of the world. Shabbos (89a) says that when Moshe Rabeinu arrived in Shomayim to receive the Torah, Hashem said to him, “Don’t they say ‘Sholom’ where you come from?” Moshe replied, “Does a servant say Sholom to his master?” Hashem said, “You should have helped Me.” Moshe Rabeinu said to Hashem, “May the strength of Hashem be increased, as You have said.” What does this mean? We can be partners with the Creator? He needs our help?

Pirkei Avos (6:11) says that Hashem created the world and everything in it, in His honour. Of course we will be the beneficiaries if we use the world to honour Hashem. The sefer Derech Hashem tells us that after the aveira of Odom Horishon and his subsequent teshuva, Hashem hoped that mankind as a whole would honour Hashem in their actions and through this, Hashem’s purpose in creating the world would be fulfilled. There was no plan to have a “Chosen People,” as later materialized. He waited ten generations but the people were wicked. He brought the flood but it did not help and the next ten generations were equally wicked, except this time there was one notable exception — Avrohom the son of Terach. He was not only righteous in himself but he had the ability to influence his descendants. Now Hashem decided that a new stage in world history should begin. Avrohom’s family and descendants would now be the “Chosen People”, Hashem’s flagbearers in the world. Their mission was to influence the rest of humanity. (Ramban in Devarim 32:26 and Seforno in Shemos 19:6) From their devotion to Hashem, their publicising His miracles, and their example in leading lives of moral rectitude, the nations of the world would also learn to believe in Hashem, even if they only accepted seven basic mitzvos. In a sense this was Hashem’s back-up plan to bring the world to its fulfilment.

Therefore if we proclaim our belief that Hashem created the world by saying Vayachulu, we become partners with Hashem in bringing the world to its fulfilment. He asks us to help Him, not because He needs us at all, but since He decided, in His kindness, to create a world for people to honour Him, through which they would receive great rewards, if we live a life of devotion to Hashem, sanctifying His Name, we are in a sense, helping Hashem to bring the world to its fulfilment.

Being a partner with Hashem is an awesome responsibility but it is also something which brings us tremendous blessings. Firstly, because of the vital role we play in bringing the world to its fulfilment, we will receive a huge reward in the world to come. Secondly, Hashem takes special care of us in this world. We are His partners and partners do everything to help each other. Even if we sometimes slip, according to the Ramban, (ibid), He shows us great patience and mercy. He “has to.” We are already in plan B. There is no plan C; only a return to nothingness. We learn in Kiddushin (36a) that however much we fall from the required standards, we are still referred to as Hashem’s children. Not in the physical sense, as we explained earlier, but because we are building a world of honor for Hashem. We have a joint mission. Our souls are intertwined. “Nafsho keshura benafsho.”

When Yehuda said “Nafsho keshura benafsho,” he wasn’t just referring to how broken hearted Yaakov would be were he not to see Benyamin. On a deeper level he was also expressing the spiritual connection between Yaakov and the only remaining son of Rochel. If Binyamin didn’t return, Rochel’s vital contribution to the future of Klal Yisroel would be lost. And on an even deeper level he was hinting at the intertwining of another Father and son, the Ribono Shel Olom and His beloved children, the Jewish people. We are Hashem’s chariot. We are Hashem’s flagbearers. Out of all the nations, we devote ourselves to increasing Hashem’s honor in the world. It is our responsibility and also our greatest blessing.

One Lichtel

We once had a non-Jewish Dutch girl helping with the young children and it was Chanukah. Of course the lights and the flashy adverts were illuminating the streets of Amsterdam at that same time, as everyone was involved in the “festive season.” We duly prepared our menorah for the first night of Chanukah and eventually we lit the solitary light with the shamash. We ate some refreshments and after about half an hour I went back to Kollel Chacham Zvi where I was learning at the time. My wife later told me that the Dutch girl laughed at all the fuss we made over lighting one light. “This is your festival?” she asked incredulously.

In Parshas Vayeshev, Rashi tells that Yaakov Ovinu saw Eisav with his descendants, including kings, generals and powerful armies in sharp contrast to with his own small family of seventy souls. “Who can conquer all these?” he asked. Rashi says that the pasuk answers his question, “These are the generations of Yaakov, Yosef.” And in the novi Ovadia, the posuk says, “The House of Yaakov will be like fire, the House of Yosef, a flame and the House of Eisav, stubble.” One spark goes out from Yosef and destroys all of them.”

This Rashi is difficult for a number of reasons. Firstly, the pasuk (Devorim 20:1-3) says, “When you go out to battle against your enemy and you see horse and chariot, a people more numerous than you, do not fear them for Hashem is with you. Let your heart not be faint, do not be afraid, do not panic, do not be broken before them.” So why was Yaakov afraid? Does it matter how many generals Eisav has if “Hashem is with us?”

Secondly, we are told, (Devarim 2:2-3), You are passing through the boundary of your brother, the children of Eisav who dwell in Seir. They will fear you but you shall be very careful. You shall not provoke them … because I have given Mount Seir as an inheritance to the children of Eisav.” This posuk doesn’t seem to envisage any clash. They will be in their land and we will be in our land.

Thirdly what is Yosef’s contribution? Why wasn’t Yaakov himself enough to defeat Eisav? The House of Yaakov is already fire. What was this vital spark of Yosef which will destroy Eisav?

The Rambam (Hilchos De’os 6:1) writes that it is the natural way of a person to be drawn in his opinions and ways after his friends and the people of his country. Therefore a person should be close to tzaddikim and sit with Chachomim in order to learn from their deeds, and keep a distance from the wicked who walk in darkness, in order not to learn from their deeds.” And he also says (Issurei Biah 22:21) that “Impure thoughts only enter a mind which is empty of Torah.”

The Shitta Mekubetzes (Kesuvos 8a) discusses the Roman decree (mentioned earlier 3b) that a non-Jewish general would approach Jewish brides on the day of their chuppa. He brings from the Yerushalmi that the Romans intended this as a revenge for the killing of their forefather Eisav when he protested Yaakov being given the remaining burial plot in Mearas Machpela. This affected the customs in Yehuda before the chuppa. (See there for more details). Eisav’s descendants knew that any attempt to physically attack the descendants of Yaakov, even though it might partially succeed, would ultimately be futile; However small the numbers of survivors, they will always regroup and rebuild themselves. The other method, which might prove more successful, was befriending the Jews. Show them Eisav’s glittering life style, the pleasure of following one’s physical desires, offer them love and acceptance. This way, the Jewish nation will destroy itself from within.

Yaakov was not afraid of the physical power of Eisav. If Hashem wills it, His right hand can destroy our enemies in a moment. For twenty years Lovon forced Yaakov to do gruelling work both in the hot sun and freezing cold but Yaakov survived. After Yaakov escaped, Lovon pursued him in order to kill him but Lovon was again not successful. However Yaakov was afraid of Eisav’s many descendants spiritually influencing his descendants. It is the natural way of the world, as the Rambam says. He asked, “How can I defeat their negative influences? It seems an impossible task. But Yaakov was told that it will be possible with the merits of Yosef. Why? Because there has never been an occasion when the forces of evil tried to tempt a Jew more than Potifar’s wife when she tried to pursuade Yosef to sin with her. Yet with superhuman self-control he refused to be with her, neither in this world or the next. Therefore it was in Yosef’s merit as well as in his own that Yaakov could be confident that his descendants will survive the attacks of Eisav, both physical and spiritual.

Where did Yosef’s strength come from that he was able to resist the temptation to sin? What was the navi alluding to in the phrase “the flame of Yosef” which will ultimately vanquish Eisav? Chazal say, that Yosef “silences the claim of anyone who says that he could not learn because of his yetzer hora.” (Yuma 35b) They also say that Yosef saw a vision of his father. How did this help him? Perhaps this was precisely what the Rambam. meant. “We should be close to Tzaddikim and sit with Chachomim in order to learn from their deeds.” If we are inspired by tzaddikim to want to be like them, seeing a vision of them in our minds even when we are not with them, we can resist temptation. If we sit with Chachomim and our minds are full of Torah, leaving no room for foreign thoughts to enter, we will not even be tempted. What can Eisav offer us besides empty pleasures today which lead to misery tomorrow? Why should we even consider leaving our world of purity to enter a society of self-destructive immorality?

This is the flame of our Chanuka lichtel which we gaze at during Chanuka. The flame of Torah, the flame of Tzaddikim and Chachomim together with memories of our holy ancestors. We will not be fooled by Eisav’s glittering lights, up today, down tomorrow.

That Dutch girl just didn’t get it!

The Kedoshim will Praise You Every Day

When Yosef followed Yaakov’s request to check on Yosef’s brothers it was always going to be a risk. The pasuk tells us that the brothers hated Yosef and were jealous of him. Nevertheless, with great loyalty to his father, despite the danger, Yosef went to Shechem in search of his brothers. They weren’t there. But at the vital moment he was spotted by someone who asked what he was looking for and directed him to Doson. This led the sale of Yosef to Mitzrayim which led, eventually, to the whole family going down to Mitzrayim and their descendants being enslaved for hundreds of years. Reading the story we could think that if it weren’t for Yosef chancing upon this helpful local resident, the enslavement of the Jews would never have happened.

Yaakov Astor’s book, The Hidden Hand, (Judaica Press) recounts a very fascinating historical detail. In September 1938, Hitler had already taken over Austria; the Sudetenland, the Germanic section of Czechoslovakia was now within his sights. However there was a high chance that any attempt to capture it would have led to an ignominious defeat for Hitler and Germany. So much so, that his Commander in Chief and other highest ranking officers were planning to overthrow him, were he to tell them to attack. On the other hand, for Hitler to back down would have been such a blow to his prestige that it would also have destroyed his political career, according to historian and author William Shirer. Although he did not know it, Hitler was in a lose-lose situation. Yet on the night of 12th September, Hitler was saved, apparently by one man, England’s Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. At 11.00 pm he sent a telegram to Hitler offering to negotiate and he offered him the Sudetenland on the condition that he would not seek any further territorial gain. Chamberlain came back from Munich a few days later waving a piece of paper announcing “Peace in our time.” The army didn’t rebel, Hitler broke his word and the Second World War broke out, including the Holocaust of six million Jews. Just like the unnamed man in the parsha without whom shibud Mitzrayim would, seemingly, have never happened, it would appear that without Chamberlain and his late night telegram, the Holocaust would not have happened.

However, Chazal tell us that shibud Mitzrayim would have happened anyway. As Rashi comments Me’emek Chevron, me’eitza amuka she osoh tzadik hakevura bechevron, to fulfill what had been told to Avrohom Ovinu, “Your children will be strangers in a land which is not theirs and they will be enslaved for four hundred years.” (37:14) The man (Rashi says he was the malach Gavriel) was there to direct Yosef because Hashem put him there to fulfill His decree. Similarly we cannot think that the Holocaust would not have happened without the political ineptitude of one English politician. It was clearly a decree of Hashem which had to happen whether we understand it or not.

The Biur Halocho in the first chapter of Shulchan Aruch brings from the Sefer Hachinuch that the mitzvah of knowing that Hashem brought us out of Mitzrayim is not merely believing in that historical event but of believing that Hashem supervises everything which happens in this world. This is one of the mitzvos temidios, those mitzvos which we should fulfill continuously. This emuna peshuta that, for some reason that we cannot understand, Hashem decreed that the Holocaust should happen, enabled many of those who suffered terribly, those who survived and those who didn’t survive, to keep their emuna in Hashem intact.

In my sefer “The Hidden Light” I discuss the Holocaust from various angles. One is that basic Torah hashkafa requires us to believe that Hashem keeps an account for every single person. We have the well-known explanation of tzaddik vera lo and rosho vetov lo – that Hashem sometimes punishes the tzaddik for his aveiros in this world to give him unadulterated pleasure in the World to Come and a rosho can be given reward for his few mitzvos in this world to cut him off completely from the pleasures of the World to Come. (Kiddushin 40b). In the same way, if a blameless person suffers, like many who suffered in the Holocaust, because, in the big picture which Hashem wants to create, it is unavoidable, he will undoubtedly be given a glorious olom habo which will more than make up for his suffering in this world.

This could shed new light on a section of the wording in the third brocho of the Shemone Esrei , “Ukedoshim bechol yom yehalelucho – the Kedoshim will praise You every day.” Who are these kedoshim, why do we mention them in this important part of the Shemone Esre and why is the phrase in the future tense? The Avudrohom explains that Kedoshim refers to the Jewish People, Hashem’s holy nation. We praise Hashem every day because we believe that whatever happens, Hashem is in charge as we mentioned above and all is for the best. But why is this mentioned here and why in the future tense?

Perhaps, based on what we wrote earlier, we can suggest the following. We say this brocho after the brocho of Techiyas Hameisim. According to Derech Hashem and other sources, although immediately after death, the neshomo goes to the Olom Haneshomos where it receives reward appropriate to its achievements in this world, our main reward will be given after Techiyas Hameisim. Perhaps, we can extend the Avudrohom to say that the kedoshim in the Shemone Esrei refers not only to all Jews who live their life in holiness but particularly to those kedoshim who have died al Kiddush Hashem in the Holocaust and throughout history. And it will be particularly after Techiyas Hameisim, when individual accounts will be corrected and they will enjoy unbelievable pleasures which will more than make up for their yissurim which they suffered previously, that these kedoshim will praise Hashem every day.

This emuna in Hashem’s hashgocho protis, that nothing happens by chance and that everyone receives their just reward sooner or later, is so important that Chazal saw fit to include it in the first section of Shemone Esrei, immediately after the brocho of techias hameisim. This emuna is also an important tool to enable all of us to participate in next week’s festival of Hallel Vehodo’oh.

Happy Chanukah.

Rabbi Fletcher is the mechaber of Do You Know Hilchos Shabbos? Do You Know Hilchos Brachos? From Strength to Strength, Dancing in our Hearts, The Hidden Light. If you want to be put on his email list, please write to [email protected]

Where Are We?

“You did not want to marry her to your brother. Instead she will be married to your enemy. You did not want to marry her to someone permitted to her. She will marry someone forbidden to her.” (Medrash Rabboh). Yaakov Ovinu is being criticized for hiding Dina from Eisav to prevent him from marrying her. In the end she was ‘married’ to Shechem. This Medrash has been questioned by many. Why should Yaakov have even considered marrying Dina to Eisav the rosho? Already at the age of fifteen he was reported to have been guilty of serious aveiros (Boba Basra 16b). He was the “man of the field” as distinct from Yaakov, the “man who dwelt in tents” (of Torah). The argument that she could have had a good influence on him seems weak. Would we consider marrying our daughter to a rosho because she might be able to influence him? Why should Yaakov be blamed?

A similar question troubles all the commentators in parshas Toldos. Yitzchak Ovinu was apparently prepared to give the blessing and spiritual inheritance to Eisav. He would have been the third of the Ovos, if not for Rivka and Yaakov’s last minute trickery. Was Yitzchak unaware that Eisav was a serial sinner? It does not reflect well on our holy patriarch to suggest that Yitzchak was so cut off from his son that he simply hadn’t heard what he was really like. Some mefarshim suggest that Yitzchak knew that Eisav was not the studious type, but he thought that he would be like Zevulun, providing for Yaakov who would continue in the Beis Hamedrash. But Zevulun was a tzaddik. Eisav was a rosho! Any comparison is an insult to Zevulun.

A key to some understanding in this very difficult subject is appreciating Chazal. We often learn aggadic comments of Chazal as children and accept them at face value, never deepening our understanding of what Chazal meant. This is not the place to discuss when we need to accept aggadeta as literally true and when we should understand the message of Chazal without accepting their words literally. The Rambam gives us guidance (Sanhedrin, Perek Chelek,) as does the Maharal. On the subject of Eisav, the Maharitz Chayos in his introduction to Ein Yaakov says that although Chazal said that Eisav transgressed five serious sins when he was fifteen, they did not mean that he really did them but that he was capable of doing them.  Chazal, with their depth of understanding, were commenting on Eisav’s penimius, his neshomo, his inner attitude to life, his true spiritual level. Perhaps we could say “where he was.”

When Hashem asked Odom Harishon after his sin, “Where are you?” the literal meaning is where he physically was. This was just to give him an opening to speak, as Rashi explains. But some understand that Hashem was asking a much deeper question, Where was he, spiritually? Was he still the yetzir kapov, pure handiwork of Hashem or had he veered from that level by sinning?

We imagine Eisav in secular clothes, transgressing every mitzvah of the Torah, with no connection to the Beis Hamedrash, no spiritual connection to Yitzchok, Rivka or Yaakov. Somehow, he fooled Yitzchok into thinking he was a tzaddik at least like Zevulun. This led to our questions earlier. But maybe, as Rav Avigdor Miller implies, (Behold A People p. 65), Eisav was dressed just like Yaakov, kept the same mitzvos as Yaakov, perhaps learning part of the day in the same Beis Hamedrash as Yaakov, spending the rest of the day in the field providing for the family.  Any onlooker would have thought he was indeed the classic Zevulun. Yitzchok might have thought the third of the Ovos should be a role model for all those who don’t sit in the Beis Hamedrash all day.  And he was right, as Yaakov’s life after he had received the brocho showed, which Dorash Dovid points out. But at Yitzchok’s lower level of prophecy he didn’t discern that Eisav was unsuitable for this role. It required Rivka’s depth of prophecy to know that Eisav’s heart was in the wrong place. It was “in the field.” That was his enjoyment in life. Can we describe such an Eisav as a rosho? Yes. Rabbeinu Yona describes somebody whose source of enjoyment is the pleasures of this world rather than serving Hashem, as a rosho. (Sh.T. Shaar 2:18 as explained by Lev Eliyahu Vol 1 P.13) He is on completely the wrong path despite his technical adherence to mitzvos. And he is capable of the worst aveiros even if he hasn’t done any of them, as the Maharitz Chayos explained. This is a chilling thought. We might be sitting in kollel wearing our frack or reckel but if the highlight of our day is our physical pleasures, we are an ish sodeh, Eisav’s spiritual descendant.

Zevulun may be “in the field” but in his heart he is in the Beis Hamedrash.  Yaakov worked for twenty years tending Lovon’s sheep but he remained the ish yoshev oholim.  We can be out and about, trying to provide for our families, but if the highlight of our day is our chavrusa or shiur in the evening, a geshmake Shemone Esrei rather than a geshmake pizza, we are ish yoshev oholim, Yaakov’s spiritual descendant. The question is not what we are doing but where our heart is. Just as Hashem asked Odom Horishon, “Where are you?” we have to ask ourselves, “Where are we?”

The Medresh’s comment, implying that Dina should have married Eisav is a positive message for us. Even if at the moment we still prefer a new car to a new messechta, beautiful clothes to a beautiful esrog, we can change. Under the influence of a good spouse or good friends or good rebbes or, if we are determined, even by ourselves, we can steig. We can grow from being an ish sodeh to being an ish yoshev ohalim.  Dina could have changed Eisav. And that is why Yaakov, in the words of the Medrash, was held responsible.