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November 23, 2014 / 1 Kislev, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘Yaakov Avinu’

Sensitivity Of A Tzaddik

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

“But as for me, when I traveled from Padam, Rachel died on me in the land of Canaan on the road…and I buried her there on the road in Ephras, which is Bethlehem.” – Bereishis 48:7

Yaakov Avinu spent the final seventeen years of his life in Mitzrayim. While there he lived in peace for the first time in many years and remained in that state for the rest of his life. Near the end of his days he called in his beloved son Yosef and made an impassioned request: “Please do not bury me in Mitzrayim.”

After this event, when Yaakov felt his end drawing nearer, he again spoke to Yosef, saying, “On the road your mother Rochel died, and I buried her there.”

Rashi explains that these two conversations were connected. In this final meeting, Yaakov was expressing something he had held inside for many years. He was telling Yosef, “I know that you have harbored a complaint in your heart against me. You feel that when your mother died, I didn’t treat her with due respect. I didn’t bury her in a city, or even in an inhabited place, but right there on the road where she died. You should know I did this because Hashem commanded me to. Many years from now, when Nevuzaradan will force the Jews into exile, they will pass along that road where she is interred. Rachel will cry out with bitter weeping, and her tears will save the Jewish people.”

The Siftei Chachmim explains why Yaakov chose this particular moment to explain this to Yosef – “If not now, when?” He hadn’t told him up to then because he didn’t want to tell him about the suffering that was to occur. But he had to tell him now because it would be his last opportunity. He was about to leave this world.

This Rashi is difficult to understand. If Hashem had told Yaakov to bury Rachel there, why didn’t Yaakov explain this to Yosef years ago? Why did he allow his beloved son to feel some sense of ill will against him for so long? Yosef was not a fragile youth who would fall apart if he heard bad news. He was a mature, sophisticated talmid chacham. His role at the time was leader of all of Mitzrayim. He could have handled the knowledge that the Jewish nation would suffer. And Yaakov knew that eventually he was going to have to tell Yosef anyway. Why not just tell him right away and eliminate all those bad feelings?

The answer is that Yaakov was extraordinarily guarded in what he said. Every word was measured, every expression weighed. And he had a policy: “I am not the one to cause suffering to others. If I tell Yosef why I buried his mother on the road, I will have to tell him the Jewish people will be sent into exile. That fact will cause him much suffering, and I won’t be a part of it. When he has to hear the bad news, I will tell him, but not a moment sooner. If this will cause him to question my actions, if this will cause him to feel some element of resentment toward me, I am willing to pay that price rather than cause him the pain of knowing what will occur.”

This Rashi illustrates a number of beautiful concepts. First, we see the extraordinary sensitivity a tzaddik has in not causing another human being to suffer. Even though Yosef could “handle it,” and even though Yaakov would eventually have to tell him, he was willing to bear the burden of letting his son think of him as insensitive rather than cause him pain. We also see an incredible example of discretion. Yaakov was extremely guarded in the words that came out of his mouth. Yaakov had been separated from his beloved son for twenty-two years. For those two decades, Yaakov was living in a state of unending mourning. When they finally met, Yosef was so filled with joy that the tears couldn’t be stopped. The love between the two was overflowing. And yet, there was something that stood between them. Yaakov knew that within the heart of his son was a sense of resentment, of ill will. In Yosef’s mind, his mother had been mistreated; her final honor had been compromised. And his own father was the man who dishonored her.

It wasn’t just at one moment that this was a barrier between them. For the next seventeen years, every time they spoke and every time they were together, there was a certain wedge keeping them apart. And yet Yaakov wouldn’t say a word. Even though these feelings were completely unfounded, he wouldn’t talk about it because that would cause a Jew to suffer, and he couldn’t be a part of that. This self-control is illustrative of the way Yaakov lived every moment of his life.

Life Is Like A Video Game

Thursday, December 29th, 2011

“And Yaakov said to Pharaoh, ‘The days of my sojourning are a hundred and thirty. Few and difficult were the days of my life, and they haven’t reached the length of days of my father’s life.” – Bereishis 47:9

For most of his life, Yaakov Avinu suffered tests, trials and tribulations. It seems his days were spent moving from adversity to crisis. Clearly he didn’t have it easy, and the suffering took its toll.

When Yaakov went down to Mitzrayim and appeared in the king’s court, Pharaoh was so astounded at how aged Yaakov looked that his very first utterance was, “How old are you?” The Rishonim explain that Yaakov looked older than anyone Pharaoh had ever seen.

Yaakov responded: it wasn’t that he was that old; it was that he had a hard life. “Few and difficult were the days of my life.”

The Midrash (Das Zakainim 49:9) says that when Yaakov said these words, Hashem responded, “I saved you from Eisav and Lavan, I returned Dina and Yosef to you, and you are complaining about your life? Because of this you will lose 33 years!”

This Midrash is very difficult to understand. Every word Yaakov said was true. He did live a very difficult life. He was beset with troubles and distress. He suffered for decades. The proof of this was his appearance – his suffering aged him. What possible sin did Yaakov commit by expressing the reality of his hard life?

The answer to this question can be best understood with a parable.

If you enter a video arcade, you might notice the boxing game. For your two dollars in tokens, you get to fight a virtual boxer. When you put your money in and put the gloves on, up on the screen the referee appears to usher you and your opponent into the center of the ring. And then, “Ding!” – the action starts. Jab, jab, duck, punch. Jab, jab, duck, punch. Your opponent circles. He swings wide, you block and counter.

THUD! He falls to the canvas. The count: 1, 2, 3… But no. He’s back up and now on the offensive. He throws a power right to your midsection – thud! Now, a hook to your jaw – smash! Now it’s you who’s down. The count 1, 2, 3, 4… but you’re back up, and the fight continues. Jab, jab, hook. Duck. Jab, jab. Move right. The bell rings again, signaling the end of the round.

And you’re sweating. No matter what shape you’re in, the pace is so fast and the simulation so real that you are putting everything into it. And then you go to spend the rest of your day with your children. No headaches, no bruises.

If you speak to someone who has been in a real boxing ring, you get a very different picture. Likely, you will hear something like, “Nothing in my life prepared me for those two minutes – the punches to the jaw, the jabs to the head, and more than anything, the fear that at any moment this beast is going to smash my brains in. . .” All of that make boxing a very different experience than the boxing arcade. It’s a whole lot less fun.

The Video Game of Life

This is a very apt parable for life. Throughout our lives, Hashem puts us through many different situations, all measured, all finely focused for our growth. Some are tests of endurance, some are tests of faith, and some are tests of patience, but each one is custom-designed for our growth. But like a video game, it’s not real. It’s a mirage, just a frightening image. When it is over, we see it for what it was: an empty threat.

The Chovos HaLevovos explains that one of the basics of our belief system is, “You can’t harm me; you can’t help me.” Everything – every ounce of suffering, every event that is to befall a person, is all decided, defined and directed by Hashem Himself. No human being can inflict damage on me that wasn’t already decided by Hashem.

With this recognition comes a deep understanding: the doctor isn’t the determinant of whether I live or die; the threat isn’t the failing economy; the danger isn’t man. All humans are powerless to affect my destiny. Like a simulated opponent in an arcade game, they look very menacing, but it is just smoke and mirrors. Hashem is hiding behind every scene, orchestrating the outcome. And all along, I am always safe and sound, guarded and protected.

This seems to be the answer to the Midrash. Yaakov suffered during his lifetime, and that was the problem. It is expected reasonable for any mortal going through these events to feel felt fear and anxiety. But this was Yaakov Avinu. This was the man who walked with Hashem. This was the man who saw Hashem in every moment and every action. He should have recognized the fight scene as the mirage it was – a mere illusion. If he felt fear and actually suffered, then on some level he didn’t see through the smoke and mirrors, and for Yaakov Avinu, that was unacceptable.

Why Did They Kill The Entire City?

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

In this week’s parshah we read of the incident involving Dinah and Shechem, the son of Chamor, the nasi of the city of Shechem. Upon learning that Dinah was abducted by Shechem, Shimon and Levi killed all the male residents of the city, including Shechem and Chamor. There are various opinions that explain what the rational of Shimon and Levi was in killing all the inhabitants of the city.

 

The Rambam (Hilchos Melachim 9:14) says one of the seven commandments that the bnei Noach are obligated to follow is to set up a judicial system that will judge people who transgress any of the mitzvos that bnei Noach are required to follow. It is also the role of these courts to carry out punishment when a ben Noach transgresses. The punishment of a ben Noach for transgressing any of their mitzvah obligations is sa’if  (decapitation). If a ben Noach witnesses a transgression by another ben Noach, he must bring him to judgment. If he does not do this, the witness is deserving of punishment for not enacting judgment on the transgressor. The Rambam concludes that it is for this reason that the entire population of the city of Shechem was deserving of the death penalty, for they all knew that Shechem kidnapped Dinah – but did not judge him. Therefore they were all guilty of not enacting judgment, thus deserving of the death penalty.

 

The Ramban disagrees with the Rambam and asks the following questions: If everyone in the whole city was guilty and deserved the death penalty, why then did Yaakov Avinu not kill them himself? And if he was afraid of them, why did he disapprove of Shimon and Levi’s actions? After all, they believed in Hashem and did what was right. Additionally, the Ramban disagrees that a ben Noach is not killed when he does not bring another to judgment, since it is a positive commandment and bnei Noach are only killed when they transgress a negative commandment.

 

The Ramban writes that the residents of Shechem in fact deserved death, but for other reasons. He says that all of the seven nations of Cena’an worshiped idols and transgressed with arayos (immoral relations) and many other abominations whereby they deserved death. However, Yaakov believed that the penalty for these actions was not for Shimon and Levi to carry out. Additionally, Yaakov knew that they did not kill them for this reason, but rather in retaliation for what happened to Dinah. Thus he disapproved, and scorned them for acting out their anger.

 

The Ramban adds that when Yaakov initially heard all of his sons telling Shechem and his father to circumcise the entire city’s populace, he did not object because he thought that they would only use this ploy to rescue Dinah and then leave. Indeed while the rest of the brothers only intended to rescue Dinah, Shimon and Levi intended to take further action.

 

I want to suggest that according to the Rambam we can better understand the reason that Shimon and Levi did not kill the women of Shechem. The Rambam writes (Hilchos Melachim 9:14) that a woman cannot testify against, or judge, a ben Noach. Therefore the women of the city were not guilty of not trying Shechem, since there was nothing they could have done about it. However, according to the Ramban it is not clear why Shimon and Levi did not kill the female inhabitants of the city, since in his view they too deserved the death penalty. Perhaps they felt that in order to achieve retaliation it would suffice to only kill the male inhabitants, even though the females deserved death as well.  Additionally, this may have been an indication to Yaakov Avinu that they were acting solely out of retaliation and not to carry out the penalty that was due them.

 

The Ramban, in his dispute with the Rambam, said that although the residents of Shechem and the rest of Cena’an deserved the death penalty, it was not incumbent on Yaakov or his sons to carry out the judgment. I believe that the Rambam disagrees with the Ramban on this point. The Rambam (Hilchos Melachim 10:11) writes that the beis din of Yisrael is obligated to arrange judges for the gerim ha’toshavim that will judge them according to their laws, unless they see that they have their own judges. The Rambam adds that this is for the sake of the world.

 

The Maharam Shik (Teshuvos Orach Chaim 142) writes that according to this Rambam, beis din in Eretz Yisrael has an obligation to establish courts for the gerim ha’toshavim, comprised of either fellow gerim ha’toshavim or Jewish judges. Outside Ertetz Yisrael, beis din does not have this obligation. But if beis din wishes to establish a court system in order to maintain the correct lifestyle, they have this right – and are “zocheh la’shamayim.”

How Did Yitzchak Eat From Eisav’s Shechitah?

Thursday, November 24th, 2011

In this week’s parshah we read about the berachos that Yitzchak had intended to give Eisav, but instead (unintentionally) gave to Yaakov Avinu. Yaakov was able to receive the berachos instead of Eisav because Yitzchak had requested Eisav to go out to the field and hunt game for him. This provided Yaakov sufficient time to prepare everything in order for him to receive the berachos. When Yitzchak requested of Eisav that he hunt game for him, he told him to “…sa na keilecha telyecha vekashtecha – sharpen your gear, your sword, and your bow” (Bereishis 27:3). Rashi explains that Yitzchak was telling Eisav to sharpen his knife so that he would shecht (slaughter) properly; thus the food would not be a neveilah. The Sifsei Chachamim explains that by sharpening his knife he would ensure that there were not any nicks on the knife. Regarding this pasuk, the ba’alei Tosafos and the Rush add that the word in the pasuk, “tzayid,” is written with the letter “hay” although it is not pronounced. This is to inform us that Yitzchak taught Eisav the five (the numerical value of the letter “hay”) halachos of shechitah that can disqualify a shechitah.

The Chasam Sofer (She’eilos U’teshuvos, Yoreh De’ah 15) asks the following question regarding Yitzchak’s request to Eisav: Why did Yitzchak have to tell Eisav to sharpen his knife now? For if Yitzchak was indeed concerned that Eisav would otherwise not have sharpened his knife, how could he trust him now? And if Yitzchak felt confident that Eisav would generally check his knife, why was he compelled to remind him now? Similarly, one could ask why Yitzchak would now teach Eisav about hilchos shechitah. Shouldn’t he have taught him many years earlier, as Eisav was already 63 years old at the time of the berachos? Additionally, the ba’alei Tosafos ask another question on this episode. The Gemara in Chullin 5a says that a mumar (heretic) is unfit to shecht. How then could Yitzchak have eaten from Eisav’s shechitah, since the Gemara in Kiddushin 18a says that Eisav was a mumar?

As a result of this and other questions, the Chasam Sofer disagrees with the Sifsei Chachamim, saying that Yitzchak told Eisav to sharpen his blade for a different reason other than to ensure that it did not contain nicks. He explains that the purpose of telling Eisav to sharpen his knife was to remove the fat that was remaining on the knife from the avodah zarah foods that Eisav’s wives would serve. Generally this would not have prohibited the meat if it was rinsed, but since Yitzchak had asked for tzeli (roasted meat), as it was a korban Pesach, the meat would otherwise be prohibited unless the knife was cleaned via sharpening.

I would like to suggest the following solution to explain the opinion of the Sifsei Chachamim: The Gemara in Chullin 4a says that there are two types of mumars: a mumar leteiavon – one who sins out of temptation – and a mumar lehachis – one who sins without temptation but solely to spite Hashem. The halacha that a mumar is disqualified from shechting only applies to a mumar lehachis. A mumar leteiavon may shecht, provided that a trustworthy person checks his knife. In order to shecht properly there must not be any nicks on the blade of the knife. If there is, the shechitah is invalid. Therefore one must carefully check the blade prior to shechting, to ensure that there are no nicks on the blade. Since the process of checking the blade is burdensome, we may not rely on a mumar leteiavon exerting himself and checking his knife properly. Thus if a mumar leteiavon shechts without anyone checking his blade for him, the shechitah is invalid – for we assume that he did not properly check his blade and there may have been a nick on it. However, if someone else checks the blade, a mumar leteiavon may shecht.

In Praise Of Bubby

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

The Gemara in Brachos says that one is not allowed to add his own praises of Hashem while davening. The Gemara explains that by doing so it could seem that what one added was the only praise missing, and that there are no more praises of Hashem. Similarly, Bubby, for one to try to mention all of your praises would be impossible. With that said I would like to mention a few points, without implying that this is all there is to be said.

 

In Shemos the pasuk tells us, “Vayakam melech chadash b’Mitzrayim.” Rashi explains that there is a machlokes as to whether it was a new king or the old king who made new laws. We can understand those that say it was an old king with new laws. However, how do those who say it was a new king explain that he did not know of Yosef? It was only a few years since Yosef’s death and he had saved the entire country from a famine. He was second in command and made Mitzrayim into a superpower. The answer is that, of course, he heard of Yosef but, because he had not witnessed Yosef’s greatness personally, he could not truly fathom it.

 

Bubby, this can be said of your greatness and of your chesed and maasim tovim, for they, too, were so awesome and great. Bubby, you were zoche to see five generations – for which it is said you will go to Gan Eden. But I’m worried that the next generation won’t be able to comprehend fully how great you were. For those who were fortunate to witness Bubby it is incumbent that we constantly review and remind ourselves of her great deeds, lest we forget. Hopefully, we will be able to properly pass down to our children who Bubby was.

 

When I got engaged, Bubby asked me whether I had mentioned to my kallah that we come from a long lineage of rabbis, including the Chasam Sofer, the Divrei Chaim, and the Aruch Hashulchan. I”yH, I hope to tell my children and their children, do you know who you come from, besides the above mentioned list I will tell them they come from you, Bubby and Zaidy.

 

We bless our children every Friday night, “Yasimcha Elokim k’Efraim uk’Menashe.” The question is: why do we ask that our children be likened to Efraim and Menashe over all the other shivatim? Rabbi Moshe Feinstein answered that, generally, there is an inherent yeridas hadoros. The further away one is, the weaker the mesorah. Yaakov Avinu felt that this was not the case with Efraim and Menashe. Although they were his grandchildren, he felt that they were on the same level as if they were his children, and the mesorah was not weakened.

 

Bubby, you were marich yomim and it was a zechus for everyone whose lives you were able to touch. You have helped keep the mesorah alive for us. I hope that we will be able to keep vibrant the mesorah that is from you.

 

I remember Bubby and Zaidy saying you should go m’chayil el chayil. Now it is our turn to wish it upon you Bubby, may you go m’chayil el chayil. However, I would like to add the end of that pasuk (from Tehillim), “yirah el Elokim b’Tzion.” The Gemara at the end of Brachos interprets this to mean those who go from multitudes of good deeds to multitudes of good deeds will merit to be mekabel pnei haShechina.

 

Bubby, you have definitely conducted your life in this manner – going from multitudes of greatness, good deeds, chesed and mitzvos to another. You shall now go and receive your reward, be mekabel pnei haShechina. May you bring with you your armies of zechusim and be a meylitz yosher for the family and for all Klal Yisroel and help bring the geula sh’leima b’karov.

A Living Megillah (Part Two)

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

I write this column during the week of Parshas Vayechi, in which our father Yaakov imparts his blessing to his descendants. The Torah teaches that as he was about to give the brachah to Ephraim and Menasheh, the sons of Yosef, he suddenly posed a very strange and troubling question. “Mi eileh? – Who are these?”

We know that to the very last moment of his life, the Patriarch’s mind was sharp. Moreover, Ephraim and Menasheh were his daily Torah study disciples, so what could his questions possibly have meant?

Through his Ruach HaKodesh, Yaakov Avinu had a frightening vision. He saw that in future generations, there would be those who would depart from the derech – the path of Torah, and it was that which terrified him and prompted his question. When however, Yosef assured him that they were his legitimate descendants, his immediate response was “Kachem na eilai – Bring them to me and I will bless them.”

Not only did Yaakov Avinu bless the boys, but the Torah testifies that he kissed and hugged them as well, which leaves us even more perplexed. Could a blessing, a kiss, and a hug be a panacea for abandonment, rebelliousness or assimilation?

The answer to that question of Yaakov Avinu is a resounding “Yes!” If that lost soul is a Yiddishe neshamah, it can never be totally lost, for embedded in every neshamah is the pintele Yid from Sinai, and a brachah, a kiss, a hug from a loving zeidy or bubbie can revive that neshamah in an instant.

Yaakov Avinu’s blessing, his kiss, his hug was so powerful, so all- encompassing, that it has spanned the millennia, transcended the centuries, and kept our people alive and anchored, even in the raging stormy seas of persecution and assimilation.

At the conclusion of last week’s column, I promised to share with you stories that testify that the pintele Yid is as potent and as magical today as it was yesterday. That pintele Yid is so mighty, so all-powerful, that no force on earth can ever extinguish it. Baruch Hashem, I have a thousand-and-one stories that demonstrate this inviolable truth, but for now, I will limit myself to sharing with you just one story that occurred most recently.

About a month ago, I received e-mail from New Caledonia. It was a place I had never heard of before, and I had to do a search on Google until I discovered that it is a small island between New Zealand and Australia. The official language there is French, and their Jewish population (according to Wikipedia) is comprised of just 50 people. Once in a while, a rabbi comes to visit, but other than that, there is no Torah guidance or leadership.

The e-mail that I received was from a young girl of 16 who wrote that she had received a copy of my book, Life Is A Test in French. The book entered her soul and changed her life. She wrote that she would soon have a few weeks of holiday from school and wondered if she could come to New York and study Torah with me.

I immediately responded and assured her that I would be delighted to have her join our Torah classes, but frankly, I never anticipated that she would actually take me up on my invitation. For a 16-year-old girl to make such a journey all by herself and to commit to such a life-transforming decision just on the basis of reading a book… and more – to have her parents approve of such an undertaking, was not a very likely eventuality. So you can imagine my total surprise when, a few weeks later, she appeared.

It was a typical Tuesday night at Hineni. As usual, I was holding my Torah class at Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun on East 85 Street and Lexington Avenue. At the conclusion of my class, those who wish to talk with me privately queue up. We have had some amazing happenings on these queues.

One evening, a lovely young woman was waiting, and just behind her stood a tall, handsome young man. When I looked up and saw them, something told me that they would make a great couple, so when the girl approached me with some personal questions, I immediately told her that the fellow standing behind her would make a very good shidduch. And a few minutes later, I said the same to him. The rest is history. Today, they have a true Torah home and are the proud parents of the most adorable children.

I relate this story, because I have seen the most wonderful, unexpected events unfold at Hineni. But that which took place on that Tuesday night just one month ago is truly spectacular.

A beautiful, sweet girl approached me. She introduced herself in an adorable French accent and reminded me that she had e-mailed me from New Caledonia…. and now, she had arrived.

“Does the Rebbetzin remember the e-mail that I sent?” she asked respectfully.

“Of course I do,” I said, not quite believing that she had actually come. I gathered her in my arms and welcomed her with joy.

On Tuesday nights, Chayele, a dear devoted friend, always waits until I am ready to leave so that she can help me and walk me to the car. As usual, that night, Chayele was waiting patiently for me to finish. Sensing that she might just be the perfect “American mommy” for our visitor from New Caledonia, I asked Chayele to join us.

It was love at first sight between Chayele and Shulamith- Shirel. They connected in the most amazing way. Incredibly, they even resembled one another in appearance. But it was not only Chayele who felt so special about Shulamith. Everyone who met her was blown away. Her sweet gentleness, her keen bright mind, her commitment to Torah and mitzvos were inspirational. Quickly, she became part of our Hineni family and her presence at our classes was a delight.

How did her journey commence? How did she overcome her secular environment?

As I mentioned earlier, Shulamith was given Life Is A Test in French translation as a gift. She read the book…. it penetrated the innermost chambers of her heart and ignited the pintele Yid in her neshamah and she shared her newly found treasure with her devoted, kind parents.

Even as Shulamith, her family also embraced the book. Her father, a highly respected physician, taught himself and the family to read Hebrew, and her amazing mother, Elisheva, after reading my chapter on 9/11 and the significance of the number “11″ in Judaism, wrote a book with 11 chapters testifying to the Jewish soul’s yearning to do teshuvah and reconnect with Hashem. Shulamith, who has great artistic talent, illustrated the manuscript.

Shulamith is an excellent swimmer and is on her school’s swim team. However, when she discovered the Torah laws of tznius – modesty, she swam fully clothed. Her determination to keep the mitzvot was so powerful that it rendered her impervious to the jibes and mockery of her fellow students.

There are myriad more situations that I can share with you that demonstrate how this beautiful Jewish flower bloomed in the spiritual desert of New Caledonia. But that will have to remain, B’Ezrat Hashem, for my next book.

The days passed quickly, and we realized that very soon, Shulamith would have to return – but how could she go back to her old school? How could she survive without Torah? Shulamith was determined to study in a yeshiva, but where?

And then I remembered the wonderful Torah institution, Bais Yaakov of Montreal that has a special program for girls from foreign countries.

Some years ago, my daughter Chaya Sora joined me when I led a group of Israeli college students on a tour to Auschwitz. On Shabbos, while davening in the Warsaw Shul, she spotted a beautiful young girl davening with great concentration. That story, in and of itself, is a spectacular saga, but for now, suffice it to say that Chaya Sora arranged for her to study at the Bais Yaakov of Montreal and today, Baruch Hashem, she is married and I had the great zechus to have made her shidduch.

So it was only natural that once again, I thought of the Bais Yaakov of Montreal for Shulamith. Mrs. Berger, the dedicated director of “Achoseinu” (the program for girls from foreign countries) was coming to the States and Chaya Sora arranged for Shulamith to meet her at the Agudah convention. Once again, the rest is history, and today, our precious Shulamith is a happy student in that outstanding Torah institution.

But the story doesn’t quite end there. Shulamith’s mother, the real aishes chayil of the story, came to visit. It mattered little to her that she came from sunny New Caledonia to the icy cold of Montreal. For this Jewish mother, there was only one source of warmth, and that was the fire of Torah, which she found for her daughter in the halls of Bais Yaakov. Not only is Elisheva committed to the Torah education of Shulamith, but she is determined to offer the same opportunity to her son as well, and she is now actively searching for a fine yeshiva for him.

Why do I share this story with you? Because indeed, this is the “Living Megillah” that my revered father, HaRav HaGaon HaTzadik, Avraham HaLevi Jungreis, zt’l, was referring to – the homecoming of a nation. Thousands of years of exile, isolation, assimilation, could not extinguish the pintele Yid in our Yiddishe neshamos.

We are witness to Hashem’s promise unfolding before our very eyes: “Even if your remnants be at the other end of the heavens, I shall gather them and bring them home.” Baruch Hashem, we are returning home to the loving embrace of our father, Yaakov.

Saying Goodbye To Yaakov Avinu

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009

Doesn’t it make you sad?

Every year, when we finish Sefer Bereishis, I feel like crying. There is nothing like being in the presence of our Fathers Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov and our Mothers Sarah, Rivka, Rachel and Leah.

You feel safe. You are “at home.” You are protected by them and their merit.

It is well known, after all, that we exist on “zechus avos,” the merit of our fathers. Don’t we thank God at least three times a day for being the “Shield of Abraham”? He protected Abraham, and He is protecting the children of Abraham from countless evils and dangers.

Am Yisrael is a mishpacha; it’s not a business or political entity. Am Yisrael doesn’t derive its reality from a tax ID or social security number, but rather from mothers and fathers who love us and who bequeath to us a unique family tradition of service to God. We are supposed to imitate God in our actions, and we learned in the home of our avos and imahos how to do it, because they did it.

Anyone who has ever experienced the loss of a parent knows a part of you is wrenched away. The life of a loved one is never long enough. When we say goodbye to our father or mother for the last time there will be tears and a terrible feeling of emptiness.

This week we say goodbye to Yaakov Avinu.

When Am Yisrael went into exile, we passed Mama Rachel’s tomb in Beis Lechem. She was crying for us and we were crying for her. Those tears sustained us and gave us hope, because we know that the Gate of Tears is never closed (Berachos 32b).

“Thus said Hashem: a voice is heard on high, wailing, bitter weeping, Rachel weeps for her children; she refuses to be consoled for her children, for they are gone” (Jeremiah 31:14).

Politicians do not weep for us. Civil servants do not weep for us.

Who weeps for us? Mamas and tattas weep for us.

We are a nation with a heart, with feelings. Do we not place the tefillin first next to our heart? That’s where everything begins.

Rachamana liba boay” – God desires the heart (Rashi on Sanhedrin 106b).

Soon after Jacob died, the Torah tells us that “Joseph died and all his brothers and that entire generation” (Exodus 1:6).

And then? “A new king arose over Egypt, who did not know of Joseph . So they appointed taskmasters in order to afflict [the Children of Israel]” (Exodus 1:11).

As soon as the mamas and tattas are gone, the troubles begin and Exile commences. Our Patriarchs and Matriarchs protected us, and now they are gone.

We can relate to this today very easily if we think of the gedolim who have left us in the past few years. What kind of a world is it without them? Do you know how they protected us? There are actually a few people still alive, but not many, who knew the Chofetz Chaim. There are still many who remember Rav Moshe Feinstein and Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky.

Rav Avraham Pam passed away a few weeks before 9/11. People at the time said that if he had lived another few weeks, the events of 9/11 could never have occurred, because his kedushah protected us.

Why do we say “magen Avraham” at least three times a day? Because God was a shield to Abraham and that protection is actively saving Abraham’s children to this very day.

“I will say of God, He is my refuge and my fortress, my God; I will trust in Him . With His pinion He will cover you, and beneath His wings you will be protected” (Psalm 91).

My wife and I had the privilege of meeting Rav Pam about a year before he left this world. Our friend Reb Tsemach Glenn brought us to him a few days after the publication of my book From Central Park to Sinai: How I Found My Jewish Soul. We were with him for about half an hour, and it felt literally like being in the presence of an angel.

When we left his home, our hearts were filled with simcha, hope, and a feeling of elevation. Within a few hours, things started to happen which were so unusual that they could only have been the result of his blessing.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/saying-goodbye-to-yaakov-avinu/2009/12/30/

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