Vayigash 5770

December 20, 2009

7 min read


Vayigash (Genesis 44:18-47:27 )

GOOD MORNING! Have you ever wondered why a Jew answers a question with a question? If your first reaction is, "Why not?" ... it probably says a lot about your heritage and training!

If one answers a question with a statement it means that he assumes he understands the question and accepts the parameters of the question. A classical example: The story is told of a little boy returning from his first day in kindergarten. He asks his mother, "Where did I come from?" His mother pulls out all of the books she has saved for this fateful day and for the 1/2 hour explains the "birds and the bees." Afterwards his mother asks him, "By the way, why did you ask this question?" The little boy responds, "Because the boy in front of me in kindergarten came from Cleveland."

A good question is half of the solution. Form your question properly and the response you get will be more informative, exact and useful. Google has taught us this - we must define and narrow our question. Questions are the means to verify and clarify. They help you examine life and to grow!

Some people think Judaism is blind faith. They are wrong. The first commandment that Maimonides lists in his Mishneh Torah is "Know there is a God." That means that we are obligated to search and examine, to gather information and evidence to clarify how we know that God exists. Likewise, it is incumbent upon us to apply the same process to the basis of our heritage - the claim that God authored and gave the Torah to the Jewish people. We should apply the process to all that we believe and know.

To clarify your goals in life, ask: What are the 3 things I value most in life? Who are the 3 happiest people I know? Who do I like and respect the most - who are my heroes? and then ask: Why?

Rabbi Noah Weinberg always taught his students to keep a running list of questions about their studies and life. Keep a list. It will give you a lot more interesting discussions for dinner or coffee breaks.

If we don't ask and pursue questions, then our chances of understanding and knowing are greatly diminished. That is why Rabbi Yitzchok Fingerer wrote a fascinating, informative and stimulating book - Search Judaism: Judaism's Answers to a Changing World. It presents eclectic and essential questions for understanding Torah and life.

Here are some of the fascinating questions Rabbi Fingerer asks and addresses in his book:

"Is religion a panacea for the ignorant? Is it a crutch for the weak-willed? Then how do we explain all the positive side benefits it brings in its wake?

"If the Torah came from God, where does the Talmud fit into the scheme of things? Isn't God's word enough?"

"When asked to define happiness, many equate it with freedom and pleasure. Are the three concepts the same? If happiness means being free, then why would a game of baseball played with no rules bring little happiness? If happiness means pleasure, then why does the pain of working out bring me happiness? Can there be more to happiness than meets the eyes?"

"Why do we wear clothes while apes walk around unclothed? What is clothing meant to protect? And how can we harness the forgotten power of modesty to enrich our marriages and homes?"

"God knows everything, including every move I make. Yet I have free will. How can the two co-exist?"

"If God is good and we are His chosen nation, how can we understand the Holocaust?" "Why do bad things happen to good people?"

I highly recommend Search Judaism. It is available at your local Jewish bookstore, by calling toll-free to 877-758-3242 or via It is available at an online discount at

For more on "Judaism" 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.

* * *

Dvar Torah
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

The Torah states:

"And Joseph harnessed up his chariot and went to greet Yisrael, his father, and he appeared to him and fell on his neck and wept on his neck continuously" (Gen. 26:29).

Rashi cites the comment of the Sages that Jacob (Yisrael) did not fall on the neck of Joseph and kiss him, because he was reciting the Shma Yisrael prayer at that moment.

Rabbi Pliskin writes, "I recall vividly how my father, Rabbi Shmuel Pliskin, of blessed memory, lived with this reality. He was in Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore after major surgery for cancer. I flew in from Jerusalem to visit him after having been away for seven years.

"As I walked into his hospital room, he immediately said Shma Yisrael. Then he said the following: 'Why did Ya'akov (Jacob) choose this moment to recite the Shma? Why not earlier or later? The answer is that after not having seen his beloved son for so many years he was overwhelmed with profound feelings of love and joy. These feelings can be channeled for love of the Almighty. That is exactly the right moment to say Shma Yisrael. Moreover, now the reciting of the Shma will bring out these feelings over and over again.'

"While this is a concept I had heard before, I learned from my father how to internalize a Dvar Torah into a living reality. Torah insights are not merely ideas to be repeated, but are meant as instructions for living. As I write this I can once again feel the love my father had for me and the love which we should all feel for our Heavenly Father."




Something fun: "The First Basket", the groundbreaking documentary about the history of Jews and Basketball - available on DVD. Check out



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People who think they have all the answers are
people who've never been asked the right questions.
--  Mardy Grothe


In Loving Memory of

Edward Menashe Erani

by his son, Chuck


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Kalman Packouz

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