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Parshas Vayigash - It is not the Mountain We Move; It is Ourselves       10 Teves 5781

12/25/2020 11:12:39 AM


Over the course of the last few months, we have been ordered to daven outside due to Covid-19. We are fortunate to have a great set-up with our patio adjacent to the social hall and an almost complete exterior enclosure. While one side it is completely open, two sides are completely closed while the fourth side faces east onto the parking lot and beyond. The fourth side has a right-angle triangular shape. So, the wall decreases from the top to the bottom like a slide. Every Friday, chairs are arranged with small, individual tables set up in front of each chair. During the week, the tables and chairs get moved around a little to this side and a little to that side. I sit approximately in the middle of the length of the patio with my back directly up against the wall. I am blessed with an instinct to see who is coming and going and to scour the area for security purposes.

As these months of go by, I have, at times, begun to feel as though I was losing my mind. When we initially starting davening on the patio, I was able to easily see over the wall into the lot. Overtime, it became more difficult to see over the wall, and this week I could not see over the wall at all. To see out, I needed to walk further to where the height of the wall’s construction was lower. I began thinking to myself that while I am aware we physically tend to shrink as we age, I did not think it happened at my age, and so quickly!

I began to ponder this and realized that I am not going crazy nor am I shrinking at a rapid pace. Rather, it dawned on me that the chair and table was being set up just a few inches over to the left where the wall was higher. Nothing was happening to me; it was the chair’s fault!  Or at least it was because the chair had been slightly relocated to an area where the wall’s construction was a bit higher. This reminded me of a classic story of the mythic town of Chelm*:

Once upon a time, in the little village of Chelm, the people decided that they needed a new cemetery.  The population of the city had expanded, people had begun to build larger homes, and the need to find a new location for the townspeople’s eternal resting place was now evident.  They looked, and looked, but could not find a suitable location.  They called a meeting of the wise people of the town and for seven days, debated the issue.

At the end of the seven days, the people reached a conclusion: On the southern side of the city, they could utilize a new space created simply by moving the mountain to make room for the new cemetery. This, of course, raised a new question for the people: how does one move a mountain?  They debated the issue for another seven days.  Finally, the wise men of Chelm came up with an idea: “We will all rise, all men of the town as one – united in spirit and body – and together we will move the mountain.” The townspeople quickly accepted this “wise” advice. Early one morning, all able-bodied men – young and old, would make their way out to the mountain on the southern side of the city.

A crowd quickly gathered and surrounded the mountain.  The men pushed and shoved and leaned and tried as hard as they could, but they could not move the mountain. Thirty minutes went by, allowing the participants to catch their breath before they strenuously applied themselves once again.  They pushed and strained and shoved but could not move the mountain.  At this point, the menfolk of Chelm were drenched in sweat, and the sun had risen, beating down on them. Growing ever more uncomfortable, the men removed their coats and jackets, depositing them on the side in preparation for their next try. As all the men struggled, a group of petty thieves watched the men in earnest.  They quickly came with small carts, and as the men of Chelm strained to move the mountain, the thieves stole all the coats and jackets and quickly disappeared from the town.

After a few hours of straining, one of the wise men discovered that his jacket was missing.  Soon, all the men discovered that their coats and jackets were missing.  They began to wonder what was going on.  The wise man of Chelm surmised the answer. “We must have been successful!” he told them. “We must have moved the mountain so far that we cannot even see the place where we left our clothing.” Upon hearing this explanation, the people began to applaud, cheer, and even break out into dance over their success.

They were foolish to think that losing their coats and jackets was a sign of their success, but they were not foolish with regard to looking for a metric for success.  Where in Chelm they were looking for room for their cemetery, In the Torah Yosef and Yehuda were also looking for some space.

In this week’s Parshas Vayigash the Torah states in Bereishis 44:18 "ויגש אליו יהודה ויאמר בי  :אדני ידבר נא עבדך דבר באזני אדני ואל יחר אפך בעבדך כי כמוך כפרעה"  Judah walked up to [Joseph] and said, ‘Please, your highness, let me say something to you personally. Do not be angry with me, even though you are just like Pharaoh”. The Baal HaTurim quotes the Midrash Rabbah 43:6 that the gematria (numerical value) of the first three words of the Parsha describing Yehuda’s moving and approaching Yosef totals three hundred ninety-six. If you take the words "גם נכנס ופייסו"   “He also entered and appeased him”, and "זהו להלחם עם יוסף"  “and he came to do battle with Yosef” each one of those phrases equals three hundred ninety-six! Yehuda’s approach was with the same temperament, in the same manner - whether he was going to use a peaceful tactic or an aggressive one. If he were going to be angry or calm it would be the same as he moved toward Yosef. The number or degree of his approach was the same: to come to an agreeable solution to their defiance of one another.

The lesson in life isn’t for me to always get my way on my terms. People think if they push hard enough, they will get what they want. They push so hard that they begin to believe that they are changing someone else or a situation. Little do they know they have not moved anyone or anything – not one single inch. But sometimes, to make a change one must change his/her position and be amenable one way or another. Yehuda approached and moved towards his brother Yosef, and that was what changed the situation. We, too, need to change and approach situations differently to reach a different conclusion. While we certainly cannot move a mountain, but we surely can move ourselves!

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky


*In East European Jewish folklore, the city of Chelm functions as an imaginary city of fools like that of the Greek Abdera, the English Gotham, and the German Schilda, among numerous others. The legendary “town of fools,” often presented ironically as “The Wise Men of Chelm,” is a feature common to most European folklore. Chelm, located approximately 65 kilometers southeast of Lublin, had a Jewish population from at least the fourteenth century, and was a real town whose residents bore no connection to the stories. If anything, the town was known for Torah scholarship.

Adapted from the Yivo Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe.

Sun, September 26 2021 20 Tishrei 5782