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Parshas Vayeitzay - The Jury Is Still Out           7 Kislev 5779

11/15/18 11:44:57


When I arrived at Yeshiva Shaarei Torah to learn and go to college, my path of life was not to become a pulpit Rabbi. I was planning one thing, but Rabbi Wein influenced me (and many of my friends) to work as a Klei Kodesh, which literally means ‘a holy vessel/utensil’, figuratively meaning to work in a religious field to teach Am Yisrael Torah. Whether it was teaching in a school, becoming a pulpit Rabbi, going into outreach or the like, did not make a difference,; the ultimate goal was the same. In truth, Rabbi Wein, YB”L, emphasized that no matter how a person makes his living or earns his wages, he should always be working for the Jewish people. After a few years in Yeshiva, I decided to go for the Rabbinate. At the time, Rabbi Wein, as the most seasoned pulpit Rabbi, taught practical Rabbinics in addition to the standard learning of Orach chaim and Yoreh Deah.

Learning and teaching prepares a person for the field they have chosen to enter, but the success comes by way of experience in the field. Moshe Rabbeinu had the top Semicha from the best ‘Rebbi’ in the universe, but his experience on the job for so many years made him the leader he was. In most professions, learning on the job and having the practical, hands-on experience really polishes a person to become truly effective in his or her chosen line of work. Nevertheless, there remain some areas which, as a Rabbi, I am and will always feel challenged in managing. On the one hand my passion for teaching Torah, helping someone with a Chessed, being involved in growing and sustaining the Jewish community, all speak volumes to me. Even bearing the troubles of others and lending a shoulder is manageable. But there are certain life events, certain catastrophic occurrences that no one can provide any good answers to explain. I’m not going to give any specific examples because many people have a peckele, a satchel, of some incredulous challenge to deal with in their lives.. Why did this person die young? Why did the Holocaust happen? Why?? When someone approaches and asks me, “Why, why did such and such happen?” When there can be no answer, we are trained to respond with a famous cliché of Chazal: “Gam Zu L’Tovah” - “this, too, is for the best,” meaning we don’t now why things happen, but we know it happens for the best. Although we say, ‘It’s for the best’, do we really believe so? And how does it help by saying so? Our Avos, our forefathers who taught us everything, did so not only by word but rather by action. We find some direction in the issue discussed above in the following manner.

It is known that Moshe Rabbeinu delineated and separated/divided the Parshios in order to better understand the place to stop and start. As you are probably familiar, there are two types of "parsha" divisions: Ptuchos and Stumos. 1)"Ptuchos" = open, indicated by a gap of blank spaces until the end of a line; the next 'parsha' begins at the start of the next line. 2)"Stumos" = closed, indicated by a gap of at least nine spaces; the next parsha can begin on that very same line. As a rule of thumb, a "parsha ptucha" usually indicates a major change of topic, while a "parsha stumah" indicates a subtler one, but as we know there are many exceptions. In this week’s Parsha Vayeitzay, the Torah states in Bereishis 28:10 “Vayeitzay Yaakov M’Be’er Sheva Vayeilech Charana”: “And Yaakov left Be’er Sheba and headed toward Charan”. The entire parsha has no ‘openings’ or ‘closings’. Tosafos and the Ba’al HaTurim explain this indicates that no one knew of Yaakov’s leaving, as he ran from his brother Eisav quietly.

Reb Chaim Shmulevitz asks what the connection is between Yaakov running away undetected, and there having no separation between the parshios? The Bereishis Rabbah 91 quotes a verse from Yeshayahu 40:27: ‘Why do you say, O Jacob, and declare, O Israel, - My way is hidden from Hashem, and my cause has passed by my God? The Midrash discusses a remark of Yaakov in parshas Mikeitz 43:6. Yaakov asks his sons when they were returning to him from Egypt, ‘Why did you treat me so ill by telling the man (Yosef) that you had another brother?” Yaakov blamed his sons for the difficult situation in which he found himself. Yaakov spoke this way at this point because he saw his separation from Yosef as proof that Hashem had ceased to watch over him. The Midrash comments that Yaakov never said something idle, other than in this instance. Reb Chaim Shmulevitz states that the Midrash criticizes Yaakov for complaining to his sons about their heedlessly mentioning to the Egyptian ruler that they had another brother. The essence of the criticism is that Yaakov evaluated an individual incident, which to him appeared to be a great tragedy, when, in reality, no one incident can ever be understood in isolation. Every event is merely one episode in a series of events in life, all unfolding as part of a larger story. We could never think that this is part of the plot. When viewed in terms of the overall picture, every incident is seen in an entirely different light. So it was with Yaakov’s separation from his son, Yosef. Every occurrence was but a chain in the events that culminated in Yosef becoming the viceroy of Egypt, all collectively benefitting Yaakov and helping the entire nation. The story line of Yaakov’s life is filled with adventure and challenges. From his marrying not one but four wives, dealing with his father in law Lavan, being taken advantage of multiple times, and meeting up with his brother Eisav, Yosef’s life was a turbulent one. There are no paragraph breaks in the long narrative because focusing on each individual event as it occurred without knowing the end of the story would be pointless. A partial view is not merely incomplete, it is distorted. It is only after the story completely unfolds that can we understand it.

There is the understanding of “this is also for the best.” We don’t judge a specific event at face value, rather we state that the end of the story will be good”. In order to believe this, we need to follow a nuance in Talmudic advice. Rebbi Avahu said in the name of Rebbi Meir, ‘A person should become accustomed to say “whatever Hashem does is for the best”. If we train ourselves to always say this phrase under all circumstances, then when a big-time catastrophe hits we will be ready to understand and say it is for the best. Yaakov’s life story is a model for everyone. To agonize over an incident or occurrence is being nearsighted. Hashem, the Master planner and designer, is busy creating a tapestry that will only be appreciated when all the individual pieces are put into their place.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Sat, December 14 2019 16 Kislev 5780