Vayigash 5769

June 24, 2009

8 min read


Vayigash (Genesis 44:18-47:27 )

GOOD MORNING! The story is told of a rabbi in a small village in Poland before World War II. One day the village priest knocks on his door and asks to speak with the rabbi. Over a cup of tea, the priest asks the rabbi if he has any idea why the Jewish homes weren't burglarized during the recent spate of burglaries? The rabbi responded, "On the doorpost of every Jewish home is a mezuzah as commanded by the Almighty in the Torah; inside the cover is a scroll with a portion of the Torah of the Shema. Our sages teach us that we place this on our doorpost and the Almighty protects are homes."

The priest got all excited - "Where can I get one? I must have one!" The rabbi gives the priest a mezuzah with hopes of not giving cause for an anti-semitic outbreak. Three days later there is a pounding on the rabbi's door - it's the priest with mezuzah in hand! "Please," begs the priest, "you must take back the mezuzah!" "Why?" asks the rabbi, "Did you get robbed?" "No" responds the priest. "Forget the robbers! I can't take all of the fundraisers coming to my door!"

To those who aren't Jewish or don't live in a Jewish neighborhood, I imagine this story will fall flat. Those who have "meshulachim" (literally "those sent on a mission") coming to their doors, sometimes 4, 5 and 6 times a night usually laugh loudly. A joke is funny because it ends with the unexpected - and because it has an element of truth. What is the truth here? The truth is that it is often difficult to have one's life interrupted multiple times a night, day in and day out, interrupting dinner, conversations, work or studying. (I once was asked during a phone call to a prospective donor, "What's the difference between you and all the other rabbis who come to see me?" I responded, "I call first to make an appointment." He laughed heartily and gave me an appointment!)

The Sages tell us that the Jewish people are known by three qualities. They are merciful, morally sensitive and they do acts of kindness (Talmud Bavli, Yevamos 79a). The Torah teaches us these values and our parents inculcate them into us. The more we are connected with learning Torah and fulfilling the commandments, the stronger these character traits are instilled into us. The Torah obligates each of us to give a tenth of our produce if we are farmers in the Land of Israel and the rabbis command us to give a tenth of our net income wherever we live.

The Torah also teaches us "do not harden your heart or close your hand to your destitute brother" (Deuteronomy 15:7) "...rather, open your hand to him ... " (Deuteronomy 15:8). When one looks at the ends of his fingers with his hand closed, all of the fingers are the same length; when one opens his hand, each finger is a different length. The Vilna Gaon teaches that we learn from this that every person's need is different and we must give according to the individual need and not just give each person the same amount.

Part of what I do in life is fundraising. (I like to think of all that I do in life as helping people, whether I am listening to a problem, giving advice, teaching - or asking for support to help strengthen the Jewish people and help Jews increase their connection to Torah and the Jewish future.) Perhaps this makes me more inclined to be sensitive and receptive to the people ringing my bell.

I am actually glad that people come to my door. Though it is often disruptive of what I am doing, think of the benefits! I get "home delivery" on an opportunity to give tzedakah (charity). And consider the value to my children's education when I get up myself to answer the door and warmly greet the person with a smile and offer him a chair, asking if he is hungry or thirsty or would like to use the bathroom?

I then call for one of my children who comes running. When he arrives at the front door, my child gives "shalom" (welcomes the person) and then asks, "Would you like something to drink?" My child takes the request and runs to get the drink (just like Avraham our forefather ran to get food for his guests!). What is the value in your children's education when they see you being sensitive to the needs of others - or in your not getting angry by the interruption or (possibly) the lack of appreciation when your donation "isn't enough"? What is the value in your own character development when you respond with patience and kindness and not with anger?

I have often said that parents only owe their children three things -example, example, example. Don't blow it for yourself or your children when the Almighty sends you an opportunity to your door!

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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.

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. 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.

* * *

Dvar Torah
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

The Torah states:

"And the news was heard in the house of Pharaoh saying, 'The brothers of Joseph have come' and it was good in the eyes of Pharaoh and in the eyes of his servants" (Gen. 45:16).

Why was the news "good in the eyes of Pharaoh and in the eyes of his servants"?

Rabbi Ovadia Sforno, a 16th century Italian commentator, teaches us that Pharaoh was pleased with Joseph's family coming to Egypt because he knew that Joseph's supervision over the land would be even greater than before. Previously, he was a stranger to the country; now that his entire family was with him, he would be a regular citizen. This will give him even greater motivation to be concerned with all his heart for the benefit of the country and all of its inhabitants.

We see two ideas here. First, if you identify with a place, you will devote much more time and energy thinking about the welfare of that place. Even if you are kindhearted, when you personally consider yourself as part of that place you will do much more than if you consider yourself to be an outsider. Learn to identify with other people. The more you identify with them, the greater will be your efforts to help them in many ways.

We also see an important principle for people who want to influence others to devote time and effort for the benefit of a community, cause or project. Make those other people feel at home. Help them personally identify with the community, cause or project. When a person feels that he is doing something for a cause that he is part of, he will use more of his talents, skills and energy for that cause!

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If you can't be a good example
then you'll just have to be a terrible warning.
-- Catherine Aird

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Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Kalman Packouz

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