Vayechi 5769

June 24, 2009

8 min read


Vayechi (Genesis 47:28-50:26 )

GOOD MORNING! There are so many things happening in the world these days. It's almost enough to drive some people who are not used to praying to begin to pray! However, for many it is hard to start.

Many people mistakenly feel that they should only pray for big things -like medical emergencies. Not so. Prayer is about creating a relationship with the Almighty; it's about understanding and appreciating that the Almighty is the Source of all blessing.

Praying for help with even little things focuses us on recognizing from where comes our good and strengthens the relationship. When the time comes to pray for the big things, it will come easier. Imagine the difficulties of asking your father or mother for help after not speaking with them for years?

God is the loving parent who wants only good for us. Unlike a loving parent who has been ignored for decades, God will listen to us when we call out to Him.

A prayer has three components: (1) Praise of God. (He doesn't need our praises; it focuses us on Who we are talking to.) (2) Our requests. (3) Thanks. It is the height of good manners to show appreciation. A short prayer might go something like, "Almighty, Master of the Universe, Who has given me all good things, please (make your request here). Thank you for this and for all that you have given me."

Whether the Almighty fulfills our requests in full or in part is determined by what will help us grow in our relationship with Him. That is why all prayers are answered - sometimes with a "Yes," sometimes with a "No" and sometimes ... with a "Not yet." When we have grown in recognizing or strengthening our belief that everything comes from the Almighty and only the Almighty, the equation is changed. It may be the missing factor to make it good for the Almighty to grant our request.

We would love for all of our prayers to be answered in the affirmative. However, it is not always ultimately in our best interest. We can relate to this as parents. A child may beg for something that the parent knows is not in the child's best interest and may even be a danger to a child. The smart and caring parent will do the right thing, do the difficult thing and say "no."

If one has a simplistic definition of prayer as a form of barter - one puts in his requests and God is supposed to fill his list of requests, then one has the wrong definition of prayer. The story is told of a young boy playing on the roof of his home. He loses his footing and starts sliding towards a perilous drop. He starts praying, "Please God, save me!" He continues to slide. He ups the ante, "Save me - I won't fight with my brother anymore!" He continues to slide. "I'll do everything my parents tell me." He continues to slide. "I'll never do anything wrong again!" Immediately he stops sliding right before the edge of the roof! The boy then turns heavenward and cries out, "Forget it God! I got caught by a nail!" Prayer is not about barter.

Our purpose on earth is to grow as human beings, to develop our souls by doing the mitzvot (the Almighty's commandments in the Torah), to work on refining our character and perfecting the world. Prayer is a means for us to fulfill our purpose.

We Jews believe that there is a God Who created the world, loves us, gives us what is best for us, has a covenant with us which obligates us to fulfill His commandments, deals with us with both justice and mercy. We are finite; God is infinite. We do not presume to know the whole picture. We do know based upon our understanding of Torah and history that God has a plan for history and a track record of fulfilling His promises - be they for reward or punishment. We understand that the Almighty acts in this world with purpose, meaning and good.

Prayer gives us hope. Prayer is a means of integrating into ourselves that life has meaning and that we are not alone. Prayer focuses us on what we want out of life and helps us clarify what is good for us.

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Torah Portion of the Week

The parsha, Torah portion, opens with Jacob on his deathbed 17 years after arriving in Egypt. Jacob blesses Joseph's two sons, Manasseh (Menashe) and Ephraim (to this day it is a tradition to bless our sons every Shabbat evening with the blessing, "May the Almighty make you like Ephraim and Manasseh" - they grew up in the Diaspora amongst foreign influences and still remained devoted to the Torah. The Shabbat evening blessing for girls is "to be like Sarah, Rivka, Rachel and Leah.") He then individually blesses each of his sons. The blessings are prophetic and give reproof, where necessary.

A large retinue from Pharaoh's court accompanies the family to Hebron to bury Jacob in the Ma'arat Hamachpela, the burial cave purchased by Abraham. The Torah portion ends with the death of Joseph and his binding the Israelites to bring his remains with them for burial when they are redeemed from slavery and go to the land of Israel. Thus ends the book of Genesis!

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Dvar Torah
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

When Jacob blesses his children before he dies, he says about his son, Yissachar:

"And he saw that rest was good, and the land that it was pleasant; and he bowed his shoulders to bear" (Genesis 49:15).

What does this mean?

Rabbi Yeruchem Levovitz explains that the tribe of Yissachar was noted for its devotion to Torah study. Yissachar "knew that rest was good" and peace of mind were necessary to master the Torah. What did he do? "He bowed his shoulder to bear" - by training himself to bear any difficulties, he was able to reach the highest levels of peace of mind in all situations.

People seek peace of mind by trying to obtain physical peace, to seek comfort. This is exactly what creates so much stress and tension in people's lives. A person who becomes used to having peace of mind only when nothing is missing in his life is more inclined to be stressed by unusual circumstances. A person who seeks peace of mind by having physical comforts is similar to a person who drinks salt water to quench his thirst. For a moment it appears that he is quenching his thirst, but very soon his thirst will be stronger than ever.

When a person experiences one stressful situation after the other, they add up and can become overwhelming.

How can one develop peace of mind? Be aware of your ultimate goals in life - developing your character, doing acts of kindness, emulating the Almighty and cleaving to Him. When you are aware of what life is really about and keep your focus on this, you are constantly in one situation: traveling towards your goal. When you internalize this awareness you will never be overly disturbed or distressed. The person who views all life situations as a means to reach his ultimate goals experiences less stress and will be able to cope with difficulties.

Soldiers are trained for battle. A prerequisite is to have peace of mind though they are in danger and in chaos. They are trained by removing all comforts - to cope with situations when all the comforts of home are missing - to ignore difficulties and to focus on their goal to win. Likewise, for peace of mind, we need to focus on the goal and to know that physical comfort is neither the goal nor the means.

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Life is fragile...
Handle with prayer.

In Memory of My Father

Menashe Edward Erani

With love,
Chuck Erani

In Remembrance of

Eli Sztulwark, 1942-1988

From his children,
Jessica, Daniela, and Donny
who still love him &
miss him as much as
they did 20 years ago

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Kalman Packouz

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