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Parshas Vayeishev - If There Is Life There Is Hope                                     22 Kislev 5780

12/19/19 22:13:51


As I flew back to the States, I contemplated this last trip as both long and short: short because it was only a week, but long in the sense of packing in history, family, cuisine, and most important, heritage. Flying from San Diego to Prague was uneventful, but the two and a half days were filled with sadness while visiting Tirezen and joy in seeing Jewish life rebounding only a few kilometers away in Prague. The continuation of the trip to Israel was highlighted by my first cousin’s son Eitan Adler, who piloted the plane from Prague to Tel Aviv. My wife and I immersed ourselves in Israeli society; we decided to open a bank account in Israel. As everyone promised, it proved to be a long, grueling ordeal thanks to much stricter banking laws due to money laundering concerns. Monday, the day I was leaving, I was sick in bed until I forced myself to get going by making one last trip to say good-bye to my father, have a quick dinner with my children, and attend my niece’s engagement party, all on the way to the airport.

If I could select the most important and meaningful part of this very busy and eventful trip, it was the second to last day. I picked up my father and had breakfast with him in Aroma. From there I are drove to Elazar, a town in the Gush which is about thirty minutes away in order to visit my aunt and uncle (my mother’s brother) who is recuperating from a fall that was so nasty it was touch and go whether he would recover. Without going into detail, my Aunt Libby and Uncle Eric had a major impact on me throughout my childhood years. I could never express the Hakaras Hatov - recognizing the good- they provided me. The visit could have lasted all day, but after an hour or so I headed to the Bet Shemesh cemetery and visited with my mother and brother a”h. At this point there was only one more person to visit in order to complete the circuit, my aunt Sonya, who like my father, is in late stages of dementia. So back I drove to the Ramat Eshkol neighborhood in Jerusalem to the old-age home. These individuals are the patriarchs and matriarchs of our family. To be honest, the visit at the cemetery was the shortest of all. The total years of age including my mother is four hundred thirty-four.

In a sense, each person I visited with was at a different stage in life. My mother, a”h, living in the next world, my father and aunt, existing in this world, and my aunt and uncle, bli ayin hora, enjoying and living life to its fullest. With God’s blessing they should all live until one hundred and twenty years. It was very special for me - and I think for my mother a”h as well - to have visited with her older siblings, all of whom were instrumental in our lives.

The transition between life and death is instantaneous, but that is only the physical death. Human beings possess a certain sense of when something bad happens to a person, particularly when someone very close and dear to you passes on. The ability to know if someone actually left this world is found in this week’s Torah reading, Parsha Veyeishev. It is in this parsha that we read the story of Yaakov’s children selling their brother Yosef, making up a story that Yosef, the beloved son of Yaakov, was killed by wild beasts. Yaakov Avinu was completely distraught. The family attempted to comfort him, but to no avail. The Torah states in Bereishis 37:35 "ויקומו כל בניו וכל בנותיו לנחמו וימאן להתנחם, ויאמר כי ארד אל בני שאולה, ויבך אתו אביו" “And all of his sons and daughters got up to comfort him [Yaakov] and he refused to be comforted. He said: ‘I will go down to the grave mourning for my son.’ He wept for his son as only a father could. Rashi quotes the Midrash Rabbah stating, “No one accepts consolation for one who is alive although considered dead, since for a dead person, it was decreed that he should be forgotten from the heart, but not for one alive.” Why didn’t Yaakov interpret the facts that were presented to him and accept the fate that Yosef, his beloved son, was no longer among the living? The most famous answer given is because Yaakov had Ruach HaKodesh, Divine inspiration, giving him the feeling that Yosef was still alive.

Rabbi Shmuel Yaffe Ashkenazi in his commentary Yefei Toar to the Midrash, lends meaning to Rashi’s words. After being told of Yosef’s death, proclaiming that a wild beast must have eaten Yosef, tearing him to pieces, Yaakov Avinu stopped and thought a second time and said, “Itis just conjecture that I surmised he is dead, but I have not given up hope in my heart to find him!” Therefore, he refused to be comforted, keeping the memory of his son alive in his heart, never ceasing to seek him out. In other words, Yaakov claimed that if there is life there is hope, and if we don’t know when that end will be, there is always hope that a different conclusion may be reached despite the dire reality of the situation. Yaakov Avinu gives us perspective that we don’t have all the facts even though we think we do. There are countless medical stories of teams of doctors trying to convince a family that their loved one will never recover. I’m not saying we should be blinded and turn away from what modern medicine knows. Nonetheless, doctors and medicine are not a perfect science; they don’t know everything. Therefore, we turn to Halachik decisors to determine and evaluate information in order to decide.

It is sad visiting with relatives who many refer as individuals without a quality of life, but WE never write anyone off. If they are alive and breathing, there is hope that they may recover from whatever they are enduring. The lesson is a great one. In the case of Yaakov and Yosef, the hope of Yaakov to find Yosef alive was, in fact, true. Perhaps, if Yaakov had accepted the information and grieved over his son’s death, he may never have sought him out; he may never have seen him again. For me, visiting with older relatives who are seemingly not living a life, are nevertheless very much alive. We still pray for their full recovery as we once knew them. It is a test of Emunah - of faith in Hashem. We therefore never ever give up from the hope, the emunah, that things will get better. In the case when a person is no longer physically alive and the visit is at a cemetery, we still hope and pray that their life in the next world is eternally sweet and comforting.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky


R’ Ashkenazi was born in Turkey in approximately 1525, but his name indicates that he was of Ashkenazic descent. Some believe that he was a cousin of R’ Mordechai Yaffe (author of the Levush) and of another R’ Shmuel Yaffe, the father of R’ Yoel Sirkes (the “Bach”).

R’ Ashkenzai’s teachers were the sages Mahari ben Lev, R’ Shmuel Saba, and R’ Shlomo Alkabetz (author of the poem Lecha Dodi). In 1564, R’ Ashkenazi was appointed rabbi of one of the neighborhoods of Costa (now Istanbul). Together with other rabbis of Costa, R’ Ashkenazi signed a number of decrees meant to strengthen observance of the prohibition on lending with interest. It appears that he also headed a yeshiva.

Rav Ashkenazi wrote many halachic responsa. Although his own collection of the letters – entitled Bet Din Yafeh – has been lost, many of his responsa have been printed in other collections. He also wrote other halachic works. However, by far his greatest fame rests on his monumental commentaries on various Midrashim, in particular Yefeh Toar on Midrash Rabbah. He also wrote Yefeh Anaf on Midrash Rabbah to the Five Megillot, Yefeh Nof on the Midrash to Sefer Shmuel and other works. Ashkenazi died on 19 Elul 5355 (1595)

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