Yishai Fleisher takes us to Beit El in Israel’s heartland, the location of Yaakov’s (Jacob’s) ladder, to bake matzot (unleavened bread) the old fashioned way by hand. A crew of friends and neighbors carefully follow the detailed processes laid out in Jewish Law (Torah) for preparing and baking the matzah in less than 18 minutes total from start to finish.
Posts Tagged ‘Yaakov’
In last week’s column I shared the remarkable story of hashgachah pratis that two terrific young yeshiva boys, Yedidya and Yaakov, experienced. Their story evoked an enthusiastic response. Many were motivated to reassess their own lives and discover their own hashgachah pratis.
To be sure, there is no end to this introspection. Who does not enjoy hashgachah pratis – guidance from the Almighty? It is written that a person does not even prick his finger without it being orchestrated from above. But it is one thing to recognize that concept intellectually and something else to internalize it and thank Hashem for His many kindnesses. All of us are constantly under this hashgachah pratis but sometimes, as in the case of Yedidya and Yaakov, it becomes so clear that even a blind man cannot fail to see it and a deaf man cannot fail to hear it.
I would like to share some of the letters generated by the hashgachah pratis story of Yaakov and Yedidya.
I just read the story of Yedidya and Yaakov. I began studying Torah six years ago, after a chain of events for which there is no explanation other than the hand of Hashem. My younger daughter was fourteen and away at summer camp in Maine. She got sick with what looked like mumps but it could not have been because she had had the vaccine. She was checked out and they could find no reason for her symptoms.
The camp was six hours from us but my husband and I decided to go up to see her even though she had recovered. We took her out of camp to spend the day with us. It got too late to take her back, so we decided to find a hotel for that night. The hotels were full and could not accommodate us but finally we found a quaint, charming place that had a room – but the place catered exclusively to “honeymoon couples.” We pleaded with the owner to let us have that room, and she finally agreed. I was washing up and chatting with my daughter who was standing behind me. Suddenly, she called out to me, “Mom, what is this mark here on your shoulder?”
“Where?” I asked.
She showed me. I turned to look and I was terrified. It looked just like a melanoma – a skin cancer that kills. Since she was fair-skinned, we had always instructed her to use sun block because of the risk of melanoma, so she was aware of the hazards inherent in such symptoms. We took her back to camp the next day, and on Monday morning I saw the dermatologist. She did a biopsy, and it was in fact a large melanoma.
I had a huge area of skin removed. Before my daughter had seen it, I had no idea it was there. It was just at the point of breaking through and getting into the bloodstream. The dermatologist told me my daughter had saved my life. It must have been a one in a billion chance that this occurred. I guess I could have written my own “dayenu” story. If my daughter had not fallen ill, we would never have gone to see her at that time and if we had not taken the room in the hotel she would not have seen this lesion, and if she had not had the knowledge instilled in her regarding sun-block and melanoma, she would never have recognized he danger signs…. The hashgachah pratis in all this left me breathless.
The surgeon told me he hoped it would not come back, but if it did, I would probably die. Baruch Hashem, they got it all out just in time. Why did this chain of events occur? There is no other explanation for this other than the intervention of Hashem.
The message from Hashem was clear. He granted me life so that I might accomplish something. I had written a book about women’s mental health that has been translated into ten languages and is still helping women even though it came out ten years ago. But I never would have lived to see my daughter grow up. I never would have lived to see her married and become a successful woman.
Ever since then there has been no doubt in my mind of the presence of Hashem in my life every day and every minute. And this brought me to serious study of Torah and commitment to a life of Torah – the best gift from Hashem I could ever have received. The whole thing made no sense other than that it was a miracle. It was my wakeup call. And what a call – the gift of a Torah life!
Five years ago, our family went through a very painful experience. My beautiful 22-year-old daughter became engaged to a young man everyone considered a “dream shidduch” – smart, good looking, from a respected, established family. It was an ideal match. We set the date for the wedding, reserved a beautiful hall and engaged an excellent caterer. We paid our deposits and happily went on to the next step.
Lashon hakodesh, the holy tongue, is different from all other languages. Every word is definitive.
For example, when you say in English “it happened,” the connotation is a random happening, but the same word in lashon hakodesh, “mikreh,” places a totally different twist on the concept. The deeper meaning behind the word mikreh is “kara mei Hashem,” it happened from G-d,” meaning the world is not run by random forces but that G-d’s guiding Hand is constantly with us. This is not only detected in world events but in our own personal lives as well.
Even if we do not see Hashem’s Hand, it is there. Every morning when we thank the Almighty for His many bounties, we recite the berachah “We thank the Almighty who firms men’s footsteps…” We need only allow ourselves to see and hear G-d’s messages.
Most people have difficulty discerning His call since His messages are usually hidden behind many veils. On occasion however, hashgachah pratis – Divine providence – is so clear and obvious that even a blind man has to see it, a deaf man has to hear it.
I’ll share with you a spectacular story that illustrates hashgachah pratis.
Meet 8-year-old Yedidya, a bright, sweet yeshiva boy. He carries his name proudly – Yedid-Ya, which literally translated means “friend of the Almighty.” From the day of his birth his parents imbued him with the awesome responsibility of that title, but in certain situations he prefers that his English name, Jed, be used, and such was the case when he made his first visit to the orthodontist. He was with his beautiful mom, Shannon, and, as in all doctors’ offices, a form had to be filled out.
As Shannon started to write, Yedidya whispered, “Mommy, write down my English name, Jed.” When Shannon questioned him, he explained that he wanted to avoid all the fuss his Jewish name evoked. Following the session with the orthodontist, Shannon hailed a cab for their return home. As they settled in the taxi, Shannon looked at the little box that indicated the driver’s name. What she saw there left her nonplussed.
She looked again; perhaps she read it wrong. Was she making a mistake? No – amazingly, there it was in big, bold letters: Yedidya.
“How did you get the name Yedidya?” she asked the driver.
“My parents gave it to me,” he explained. “I always loved it and I was always so proud of it, but in Russia we were not permitted to use our Jewish names, so when I came to America, I made myself a promise that in this country, where everyone can live by his faith, I would proudly proclaim that my name is Yedidya and that I am a Jew.”
Shannon couldn’t believe her ears. What were the chances of finding a Jewish taxi driver in Manhattan named Yedidya? Shannon was awed as she absorbed this enormous hashgachah pratis. More importantly, her son, who just an hour before had been uncomfortable with the name Yedidya, was given a lesson that no school, parent or rabbi could have given. From that moment on, he never again wanted to be called Jed.
Some might attribute this encounter to random events that no intelligent person could seriously consider as being foreordained. I invite such skeptics to read chapter two of the story.
Yedidya has a twin brother, Yaakov, and the day after the story with Yedidya unfolded, Shannon once again found herself hailing a taxi. Even as she did so, the story with Yedidya kept replaying in her mind. As she settled into the cab, she once again looked at the little box identifying the cabby, never expecting any message, any new wisdom from Heaven. Incidents like this cannot be repeated, but lo and behold the little box identifying the taxi driver once again blew her away. There it was in bold letters – the name of the driver was Yaakov – not Jacob but Yaakov – the name of Yedidya’s twin brother!
These incidents of hashgachah pratis, occurring twice, one right after the other, cannot simply be dismissed, even by the most cynical.
I now invite you to read chapter three.
Should you wonder how Shannon and her amazing husband, Andrew, were zocheh to merit such an awesome experience, it goes back to another taxi ride, one that happened some years ago in Prague, Czechoslovakia.
The story starts with Shannon who, when she came to Hineni for the very first time, discovered the majestic world of Torah and asked to study more. Her thirst for Torah was unquenchable, so I put her in touch with my children who are the Hineni rabbis and rebbetzins – Torah teachers.
Then one day Andrew, a young man with a winning smile and keen bright mind, came along for his first Hineni experience. Something told me Andrew and Shannon would make a perfect shidduch so I suggested they date. On their dates Shannon inspired Andrew to join her in Torah study with our family.
Rabi Yehuda ben Bezalel Lowe, known as the Maharal of Prague, was born in 1525, in Posen, and died in 1609 in Prague. These were troubled times for the Jews in Austria, Poland, and the surrounding countries. Both Catholics and Protestants joined forces to persecute the Jews, and not a day passed that a new atrocity wasn’t inflicted upon them. Into this difficult environment came the Maharal.
Rabi Yehuda’s name evokes the thought of legend. But today let me share with you a miraculous story, of how a soldier was responsible for his marriage to Pearl, the only daughter of the wealthy and prominent Reb Shmuel ben Reb Yaakov.
Esav Needs Yaakov
In his youth the Maharal was already known as a genius. One day, at the age of five, he was studying the story of how Esav and Yaakov were born.
“And the children struggled with her (Rivka),” (Genesis 25:22), the rebbe intoned. Then, pointing to Rashi, he taught the children Vayisrotzitzu, struggling, which also denotes running. Chazal explained that when Rivka would pass the Beis Medrash of Shem and Ever, Yaakov struggled to come forth and when she passed the door of idol worship, Esav struggled to come forth.
Little Yehuda raised his hand and asked, “I can understand why Yaakov could not come forth because Esau blocked his way, as he was the first to be born. But why wasn’t Esav able to go forth, seeing that there was no one to block his way out?”
The teacher pondered for a moment and the asked, “What is your answer to this question, Yehuda? I know that you are an exceptionally bright boy.”
The boy thought for a moment and then replied: “As far as I can see, Esav didn’t want to leave without Yaakov. For who would he hit? Whose life would he make miserable if not Yaakov’s? Who would he persecute and murder and upon whom would he take his revenge for studying the Torah, if not Yaakov? Therefore, Esav didn’t want to leave.”
Even at that young age the children were aware of the miserable lot of the Jews of that era.
The Rich Man’s Daughter
At the age of nine, Yehuda was well known throughout the country as a genius and many offers of matrimony were made. Eventually, he was chosen by the prominent Reb Shmuel ben Reb Yaakov who had a five-year-old daughter, his only child whose name was Pearl. The tenayim was signed and the bride’s father agreed to send Yehuda to study in a yeshiva until he became bar mitzvah and then the wedding would take place.
In the meantime, tragic days befell Jewry. War broke out between Turkey and Austria and both sides vented their wrath upon the Jews who were caught in between. Unfortunately, Reb Yaakov, Yehuda’s future father-in-law, was robbed of all his possessions. The advancing soldiers confiscated his stores and warehouses and he was soon reduced to a pauper. That day a sad Reb Yaakov wrote to Yehuda telling him of his misfortune and advising him that he could not fulfill his part of the contract. Therefore, he would free him of his obligation to marry his daughter.
But Yehuda replied that a word given is a word that must be kept regardless of the ensuing circumstances. If G-d saw fit to make them poor, then he would also see fit at a future date to restore their fortunes. In the meantime he would study in the yeshiva, doing odd jobs on the side to support himself and he would wait until G-d showed His mercy again.
Reb Yaakov was profuse in his thanks as he blessed young Yehuda. The years rolled by and Reb Yaakov’s circumstances became worse. In the meantime, Yehuda continued to study in the yeshiva and his name as a gaon became known throughout the country. Many offers of marriage came to him but he brushed them all aside. His future wife had to open a small bakery to support her aging parents who were heartbroken at the turn of events. Over 20 years passed. Yehuda was now 32 years old and Pearl was 28 and still no sign of marriage.
The Visiting Soldier
One day an army captain entered the town. He passed Pearl’s bakery and seeing so many luscious challahs and cake, he took his spear, picked up a few of them and began to eat them ravenously. The young and beautiful Pearl rushed out of the store and began to plead with the soldier to stop, for this was her only means of support for herself had her parents.
The soldier took pity on the beautiful girl and he replied: “I hope you will excuse my behavior but this is the first food I’ve had in three days. I just came back from the warfront and I am famished. All I can offer you is this woolen bag which I took from an enemy soldier. I never even opened it to scan its contents, but you can have the bag.”
This week’s parshah begins, “Vayechi Yaakov b’Eretz Mitzrayim – And Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt [17 years] vayeehi yemei Yaakov –and the sum total of his years [were 147]” (Bereishit 47:28).
The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, zt”l, notes that Yaakov Avinu’s years can be divided into three periods.
First, he resided in Eretz Cana’an, the Holy Land, for 77 years, secluded in “the tents of study,” sheltered from the entanglements of material life.
Then in the second stage of his life Yaakov lived in Charan for 20 years, where Lavan employed him as a shepherd. During those two decades Yaakov married, built a family and amassed much material wealth.
After living another number of years in Cana’an, Yaakov “descended” to Mitzrayim, where he spend the last 17 years of his life.
Yaakov’s quality of life in each of the three stages differed drastically one from the other. The first 77 years in Eretz Yisrael were tranquil and blessed, when nothing alien intruded upon his life of Torah study, tefillah (prayer) and avodas Hashem (service of G-d).
Going fully to the opposite extreme, Yaakov’s sojourn in Charan, in the house of Lavan, was fraught with challenge and struggle. Yaakov had to be on guard every moment to recognize and counteract the deceit and duplicity of Lavan. In order to marry and support his growing family, Yaakov, worked to exhaustion as (in his own words), “heat consumed me by day, and frost at night; and sleep was banished from my eyes” (Bereishit, 31:40). Upon Yaakov’s return from Charan, the malach (angel) told him, “You have struggled with G-d and with men, and have prevailed (Bereishit 32:29).
Yaakov, however, held his own throughout these hardships, and eventually he triumphed. Then came the 17 years that he lived in Mitzrayim, where he experienced for the first time in his life, true galut, being under the yoke of an alien environment. Here Yaakov was compelled to pay homage to Pharaoh, the arch-idol. Then after Yaakov passed on, his body was in the possession of the Egyptian embalmers, certainly idol-worshipper, for 40 days.
After a lifetime in which he either lived within his own self-imposed sacred seclusion or struggled against adversity, Yaakov’s final years were a time of spiritual bondage in a society which the Torah calls “the depravity of the earth.”
In that light, how can Chazal (our Rabbis) comment that the Torah regards these 17 years as the best of Yaakov’s life? This is because Yaakov knew how to utilize his galut in Mitzrayim to impel the strivings of his soul and work towards its aim. Is it not amazing that Yaakov’s descendants were forged into a nation, Bnei Yisrael, under the tyranny and decadent rule of the Pharaohs?
As with all that is written in Torah, we look for the message to apply to our own lives today. As Ramban (Nachmanides) writes in his classic commentary on Sefer Bereishit (The Book of Genesis), “Ma’aseh Avot Siman LeBanim – The action of the forefathers is a sign of what will happen with the children.”
We, too, experience in the course of our lifetimes the three stages of being, which Yaakov knew: sovereignty, struggle, and subjugation.
We hold onto a vision of a transcendent self – a pure and inviolate soul, at the core of our being. Although this essence is not always accessible to us, there are “moments of truth” in our lives in which this spiritual internal truth asserts itself over any outside influence. For most of us these illuminating moments are few and far between. More commonly, we exist in a state of struggle between the passions of our divided hearts. Our old habits and behavior patterns are often deeply engrained and not easy to conquer.
This tension indicates that we have not fully mastered our existence, but it is also a sign that we are alive. This is life at its fullest and most productive. We are resisting the forces that seek to pry us away from our internal truth; we engage them and battle them. This is why we were put on earth – to fight the blinding neon lights – and open our eyes to pure natural daylight.
However, we also know times of powerlessness, when we face circumstances that are beyond our control and ability to resist. Those are moments when it seems that our lives have stopped in its tracks, and we feel locked into a fortress of despair. Keep in mind, “Everything that happened to the Patriarchs…is decreed to happen to their descendants.” Our lives will not follow our forefathers’ in exact sequence and occurrence. Yet the three lives of Yaakov are “signposts” that guide, inspire and enable our own.
“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.
The opening pasuk in this week’s parshah states: “Vayechi Yaakov be’eretz Mitzrayim sheva esrei shanah… – Yaakov lived in Mitzrayim for 17 years…” The Gemara in Kiddushin 82a says that Avraham Avinu kept the entire Torah, even the mitzvos that may not have applied. The meforshim assume that this was the practice of the other avos and their descendents as well. There are three pesukim in the Torah prohibiting one from living in Mitzrayim. This question is raised: How were Yaakov and his sons allowed to live in Mitzrayim when it is in fact prohibited?
I believe that the author of the Haggadah alluded to this question in the following drasha: The Haggadah expounds on the pasuk in Devarim (26:6): “Va’yeired Mitzraimah va’yagar sham – And he went down into Mitzrayim and sojourned there.” The Haggadah says that we are to learn from the word va’yagar (sojourn) that Yaakov Avinu did not go down to Mitzrayim with the intention to live there permanently, but rather to sojourn there. The Rambam (Hilchos Melachim 5:7,8) says that it is only prohibited to live in Mitzrayim lehishtakya (permanently); one is allowed to temporarily visit Mitzrayim. Apparently the author of the Haggadah alludes to this question, and answers that Yaakov did not live in Mitzrayim in a permanent manner – but rather his dwelling was temporary. Therefore Yaakov was not transgressing the prohibition of living in Mitzrayim.
I suggest that this is the reason that the Torah chose to write the word “vayechi – and he lived.” The pasuk does not write “vayeishev – and he dwelled” because Yaakov was merely living there temporarily, not permanently.
The Radvaz, in his commentary on the Rambam (Hilchos Melachim 5:8), asks how the Rambam was allowed to live in Mitzrayim. He suggests that perhaps he was forced by the country’s king to remain since he was the doctor of the king and many other officials. He then proceeds to ask the same question regarding himself, how he (the Radvaz) was allowed to live in Mitzrayim. He responds that he built a yeshiva and learned and taught Torah, and under those circumstances there is no prohibition.
This answer is perplexing, for building a yeshiva and learning and teaching Torah does not grant one a license to transgress a Torah prohibition. Perhaps the Radvaz’s logic is based on the Rambam’s ruling that if a king of Yisrael conquers Mitzrayim, there is no prohibition of dwelling in Mitzrayim. It is only prohibited to dwell in Mitzrayim while it is under non-Jewish rule. The reason for this is because the actions of the people of Mitzrayim were the most immoral, and thus the Torah did not want individuals to dwell there under their influence. Perhaps the Radvaz extended this halacha to one who is living in a yeshiva, since he is not affected by the corrupt world that surrounds him. It is comparable to the scenario whereby a king of Yisrael conquers Mitzrayim, negating Mitzrayim’s cultural influence. Therefore, the Radvaz ruled that he was permitted to live in Mitzrayim under those circumstances.
Based on this, we can suggest an alternate p’shat in explaining how Yaakov and his sons remained in Mitzrayim. In last week’s parshah, prior to Yaakov’s descent to Mitzrayim, he sent his son Yehudah “lehoros lefanav” (Bereishis 46:28). Rashi quotes a medrash that explains that Yaakov sent Yehudah to establish a yeshiva prior to his arrival. This was seemingly a strange practice. Why could Yaakov not have waited until everyone arrived before the yeshiva was built?
According to the Radvaz we can understand why it was necessary for the yeshiva to be established, even prior to everyone’s arrival. Since the building of a yeshiva is what would ensure that they would not be influenced by the people of Mitzrayim, Yaakov arranged that it should be established prior to their arrival.
This yeshiva remained for the entire time that Klal Yisrael were in Mitzrayim. The Rambam (Hilchos Avodah Zarah 1:3) says that after recognizing Hashem as the Creator and the one who controls everything, Avraham Avinu started educating others about Hashem. Eventually Yitzchak Avinu assumed that role, and Yaakov followed. Yaakov taught all of his sons, and later appointed Levi to be the rosh yeshiva. It was this yeshiva that kept the teachings of Avraham Avinu intact during the galus of Mitzrayim. This was made possible because shevet Levi was not subject to the physically torturous labor; thus they were able to remain in the yeshiva. The Rambam adds that if not for this yeshiva, all of the fundamentals that Avraham Avinu set forth would have otherwise been forgotten.
For questions or comments, e-mail RabbiRFuchs@gmail.com.