Vayigash 5771

December 5, 2010

8 min read


Vayigash (Genesis 44:18-47:27 )

GOOD MORNING! "What is the shortest sentence in the English language? I am. What is the longest sentence? I do." "Marriage is like a deck of cards. It starts with two hearts and a diamond - and too often ends looking for a club and a spade." Did you ever wonder why there are so many "jokes" about marriage? There are jokes because the disharmony in marriage is ridiculous - that the relationship with the one person one chose to build a life of happiness and meaning has devolved into a source of pain, agony and distress. This week I would like to share how to relieve some of the stress in marriage by preventing arguments.

The first Rule of Marital Happiness: Don't argue. "It takes two to fight." If you don't argue back, if you answer in a soft voice ('A gentle answer turns away anger' - Proverbs 15:1), then you won't have fights. People think that they have to respond to invectives -often, either to defend themselves or as a psychological necessity to return hurt. It is important to keep focused on the goal - to stay happily married and build a life together. That was the goal when they got married and it should still be the goal. There are strategies to minimize fights and minimize the impact of the "slings of barbs and arrows."


1) AGREE! If the person insulting you is right, agree. You can't argue with someone who agrees with you.

2) TAKE IT TO THE BANK! Why do we respond to negative remarks from a spouse (or from anyone)? We feel that the insult diminishes us, cuts us down, makes us less. Piece by piece we are reduced to a pile of rubble - so we respond in defense of our existence, often with anger and our own accusations. What if someone would give you 10,000 dollars every time you were insulted? Imagine a thick stack of 100 dollar bills with a rubber band around them being placed into your safety deposit box with every insult. It certainly would take the sting out of the insults!

3) INSANITY! We marry someone because we love them, because we want to stay married to them, because we want to build a life together. Who should be the last person you insult on this earth? Your spouse! To insult your spouse is insane. Don't be insane! And if your spouse insults you, don't take it seriously.

How do you not take your spouse's insults seriously? Put it in perspective. For example, you are walking down the street past an Insane Asylum. Out walks a fellow in a patient's garb. He comes up to you and says, "You are the most inconsiderate, insensitive, self-centered human being God ever placed on this planet!" How do you feel? The normal reaction would be, "Gee. I hope he's not violent. Poor fellow. I wonder what he got committed for." If one's spouse lets loose a verbal barrage either s/he has a good point (then softly admit that you're wrong) or you are the recipient of an erroneous emotional outburst. View your spouse as experiencing a moment of temporary insanity (but don't share this with your spouse!) - and then you won't feel the pain or be drawn into a verbal brawl that you will regret. Here are some additional guidelines for happiness in marriage:


by Zelig Pliskin (author of Marriage)

  1. Be wise. Ask yourself: "What is wise to say or do now?" We all have wisdom stored in our brain. Access it.
  2. Practice the art of appreciation and gratitude mentally (think it) and verbally (say it).
  3. Practice the art of being kind with words and actions. "What is the kind thing to say or do now?"
  4. Practice the art of being understanding and compassionate. Ask: "What does my spouse need right now?"
  5. Practice the art of identifying your spouse with his or her positive ways of being.
  6. Practice the art of giving positive feedback. Comment on the good and positive.
  7. Practice the art of asking for what you want in a way you both will feel good about.
  8. Practice the art of being in a good mood or positive state as often as possible, and of being mutually respectful even if you aren't in a good mood right now.
  9. Practice the art of not saying what is wise not to say.
  10. Practice the art of learning from everyone you can how to keep upgrading what you say and do.

For more on "Marital Harmony" go to!


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Torah Portion of the Week

We left off last week with Joseph's pronouncement that he was keeping Benjamin as a slave for stealing his wine cup. Judah steps forward to challenge the decision and offers himself as a slave instead of Benjamin. Joseph is overcome with emotion, clears the room of all Egyptians and then reveals his identity to his unsuspecting brothers.

The brothers are shocked! They suspect Joseph's intentions, but accept his offer to bring the extended family to Egypt. Jacob is initially numb and disbelieving of the news, but becomes very excited to see his son.

The Torah recounts the 70 members of Jacob's family which went down to Egypt. Jacob reunites with Joseph, meets Pharaoh and settles with the family in the Goshen district. During the famine, Joseph buys up all of the property and people in Egypt for Pharaoh with the grain stored during the seven good years.

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Dvar Torah
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

When Tzaphnas Pane'ach, the second in command of Egypt (before he revealed that his Hebrew name was Yosef) informed his brothers that he was keeping Benjamin as a slave for stealing his wine cup, the Torah tell us:

"And Yehuda approached (Joseph) and he said, 'Please, my master, allow your servant to speak in the ears of my master. And do not become angry at your servant for you are like Pharaoh" (Gen. 44:18).

What communication skills can we learn from Yehuda?

First, Yehuda began by asking Joseph not to become angry. When you think that what you say will be irritating to the person you are talking to, you can defuse his potential anger by mentioning right at the start that you hope that what you say will not get the other person angry.

In this one verse, Yehudah called the other person master twice, while referring to himself as "your servant" twice. He had his goal in mind and in order to make the other person more open to listen to what he had to say he spoke with great respect to him while at the same time putting himself down. One loses nothing by this, but gains much. Only pride prevents people from using this approach more often. It is a very powerful tool.

On the words, "For you are like Pharaoh," Rashi comments that Yehuda had four different levels of meaning in his communication. We can learn from the progression of the four levels. The first meaning is that Yehudah said, "In my eyes you as important as a king." Start off with praise. Everyone wants a feeling of importance. If a person sees that you respect him, he will more readily listen to your requests.

The second meaning Rashi cites is that Yehudah said to him, "Just as Pharaoh was smitten by the Almighty when he caused difficulties for Avraham and Sarah, so too He will smite you." On this level, Yehudah was speaking as a friend and giving warning that he should be careful or else he would suffer consequences.

The third meaning Rashi cites is that Yehudah was reprimanding him. He rebuked him for not keeping his word. "Just as Pharaoh is inconsistent, so are you." In this approach Yehudah was making a plea for him to act in an ethical way. Yehudah pointed out that what he was doing was wrong and censured him for it.

The final meaning cited by Rashi is that Yehudah threatened him. If you do not allow Benjamin to go free, I will kill both Pharaoh and you. If nothing else works to influence the other person, in extreme situations one might need to resort to threats. However, even in those situations such an approach must be used only as a last resort. First try to accomplish your goals with diplomacy. Only if lighter strategies are not effective, use the heavier approach.


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Happy 100th Birthday!

Maks Rothstein


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