Thursday, December 29, 2005

Leaving an impression on the goyim

Parshat Miketz

The Torah tells us that there was a great famine around the world and people came from all over to buy food and grain in Egypt. Then it says that Yaakov saw there were provisions in Egypt and he said to his kids, "Why do you look conspicuous?" (the word Tisra'u seems to be under debate as to it's meaning, but I am using ArtScroll's translation, based on Rashi's pshat).
Rashi tells us that Yaakov was saying to his children that they should go down to Egypt now while they still had food as it is improper for a Jew to appear before the children of Esau and Yishmael as being needy.

The appearance of a Jew is very important. A Jew is obligated to always make a kiddush Hashem and not make a chillul Hashem. If the Egyptians and others would see the Jews suffering from hunger, it would be a great chillul Hashem, as that could be taken to suggest that the brachos did not come true, or that Hashem does not take care of the Jews.
Yaakov was therefore very aware of the impression his children would give over to the goyim. Better not to wait until the food runs out and then go to buy food, but buy the food in advance, so the goyim will not look down on the Jews.

Having gall and audacity will get you everywhere

Parshat Miketz

Yosef is brought out of the jail in order to interpret Par'oh's dreams. Par'oh tells him the dreams and Yosef proceeds to interpret them to Par'oh's satisfaction.
Yosef then does something, that I find, extraordinary and filled with brashness. Yosef proceeds to tell Par'oh what to do and how to run his country, based on the interpretations of the dreams.

Let us not forget, Yosef is the young hebrew lad in jail for supposedly assaulting the great Potiphar's wife. Who is he to tell Par'oh how to run the country? That was not part of the dream! Yosef should have explained the dream and that's it. Par'oh would have then taken the information to his ministers and advisors and worked out a game plan. Yosef had tremendous gall to speak up out of place and tell Par'oh what to do.
But it worked.
Often, a person succeeds only if he goes out on a limb to succeed. He has to be willing to risk everything and face tremendous adversity, but his success will be great.
Most of us trudge through our daily routine, not willing to take too many risks. We work the same 9 to 5 job. We try not to make waves and hope to get through the day/week/month/project without being too noticed by our boss. Maybe we even have a few business ideas in the back of our mind as ways to get out of the current rut of life. But we are always too afraid to make the leap and take the risk. We all know someone who became successful, and it always began by his/her going out on a limb and taking risks.

It is much easier to write about it then to actually do it.

Yosef's emunah problem part 2

Parshat Miketz

So, I spoke with HaRav Gamliel Rabinovitz shlit"a yesterday regarding the question I had about Yosef's hishtadlus in relying on the wine steward (see here).
Rav Gamliel explained to me, in addition to what I said, that every person is obligated to do his hishtadlus. The thing is, every person has a different amount of hishtadlus he is obligated in, depending on where he is holding in life (emunah, bitachin, yirat shamayim, etc..).
Yosef was already at the point where he was a great man and at a very high level of yirat shamayim. For Yosef, relying on the wine steward was an inappropriate level of hishtadlus and that is why he had to sit in jail for those extra two years.

That means we are all obligated to evaluate our positions in life and know who we are and what we are, and act accordingly.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

A lesson learned

Parshat Miketz

After Yosef is called out of prison and cleaned up for an appearance before the king, he seems to have learned his lesson and made amends. Yosef declares in front of Par'oh an important disclaimer, even before he listens to the dreams. He says that it is Hashem who will provide the answer and peace to Par'oh, not him.
Not only will he now only rely on Hashem and not on man, he now also attributes his success to God. After analyzing the text a bit, I realized that there is a clear difference from when Yosef spoke in jail to when he spoke before Par'oh. When Yosef interpreted the dreams of the wine steward and of the baker, he never mentioned that the interpretations come from God and not him. When he interpreted the dreams for Par'oh he clearly placed God at the forefront and gave Him all the credit.
Clearly Yosef spent his time in jail reflecting on his position.
Picture this: Yosef interprets the dreams of the wine guy and the baker, and shortly after the interpretations come true exactly as he had said. He is sitting in jail wondering when he will get out, as the wine guy is supposed to put in a good word for him to Par'oh. Eventually he realizes that he never should have relied on the wine guy, but should only rely on Hashem. The next time he gets his chance, he makes good on it.
Sometimes we daven to hashem asking for His divine intervention for our good in some way (be it winning the lotto, getting a certain job, or a shidduch or health, or whatever). When we get what we want (a.k.a our prayers are anwered positively), how long does it take us to realize it was God who provided it for us? When we go collect the lotto prize do we say right away thank you to Hashem who listened to our tefilos and provided? When we get the job do we say thank you to Hashem who made the boss like what he saw in you, or do you right away think, "Whew, I presented myself well and got that job! Let's celebrate!"
If you take the time to reflect on it, you will see that you daven to Hashem as a reflex, because you have already prepared as much as you can and you have nothing left to do, so you pray. When you get what you want, you do not associate your success with God, rather with your own efforts. This could be why we do not always get what we want (assuming it is really good for us and Hashem has reason to give it to us). This clear lack of bitachon in Hashem as the ultimate provider could negate the prayer we offered.
Yosef learned his lesson, will we learn ours?

Nothing good to say

Parshat Miketz

The Torah tells us that Par'oh woke up after a night of dreaming and was disturbed. He could not figure out what his dreams meant. He called in all his best advisors and wise men, yet nobody could solve the problem for him.
I guess word must have gotten out that Par'oh was upset and was looking for an interpretation for some dreams, because all of the sudden the wine steward shows up again. He tells Par'oh that when he was in jail there was a young Jewish slave with him who interpreted the dreams accurately.
Rashi points out that by an evil person, even when is doing something good, it is not completely good. The wine steward did not just say there was someone in prison who interpreted our dreams, rather he said it in a way that was considered shameful and derogatory.
As King David said, "U' Beyad Adam Al Epolah" - let God punish me but do not let me fall to the mercy of man. People can be cruel and mean and ungrateful. Yosef helped this guy out in jail when he was disturbed by his dream. Yosef gave him confidence in his future and satisfaction from the annoyance of not knowing what the dream meant. Not only did he not mention Yosef's name when he got out of jail, but now he has to do it in a way that will make Yosef look bad and incompetent.
This is whom Yosef relied upon to help him get out of jail, which helps us understand why he had to wait 2 extra years, as a lesson who is reliable and who is not.
Stay away from such people.

Once a bad place always a bad place..

Parshat Vayeshev

The above title is referring specifically to the city of Shechem.
The Torah tells us that Yaakov sent Yosef to Shechem to meet his brothers. Rashi informs us that Shechem is a place that "is designated" for trouble. An example of this (aside from what happened to Yosef when he went to meet his brothers) is the story of Dina and Shimon-Levy that happened in Shechem.
From it's auspicious beginning we already know that pretty much whenever Shechem is mentioned it will be in regards to something bad. Even nowadays Shechem is a very troublesome place, more so than many other areas that could be worse. Shechem is a hotbed of terrorism and Islamic radicalism.
I find it a bit ironic that when the Jews came out of Egypt, they brought with them to the Holy Land the bones of Yosef Hatzadik for reinterment in Israel. Where was he buried? in Shechem. Yosef Hatzadik whose troubles and conflicts led us beginning with Shechem to be exiled down to Egypt (though he ended up as viceroy, it was bad for the rest of us, and he was separated from his beloved father for so long), he himself was returned to the place where it all began.

I wonder if the concept Rashi discusses here is true of Shechem and only Shechem or is Rashi just giving us an example of a bad place, but there are others as well. What I mean is, if I know about another place that always has trouble, can i take Rashi's concept and say no good will ever come out of this place and therefore stay away, or do I not have a right to say that - only Shechem because it is specifically mentioned?
I suspect the former is true and Shechem is just the first and clearest example of it in the Torah. If you know of a place that is "nothing but trouble", you are best off staying away from there.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Keeping God's plans secret

Parshat Vayeshev

After the brothers got rid of Yosef, the Torah tells us that Yaakov refused to be consoled. The Passuk specifically says "And his father cried for him". That, seemingly, means Yaakov continued to cry for the loss of Yosef.
However, Rashi points out that this does not refer to yaakov's crying, rather to Yitchak (Yaakov's father) crying. Rashi says that Yitzchak cried because of the pain of Yaakov. Yitzchak knew that Yosef was alive (it is unclear whether he knew all that had transpired or just knew with ruach hakodesh that Yosef was alive) but he could not tell Yaakov and therefore cried for Yaakov's pain.

We find in the Torah a number of occassions where a person knew what was going on when nobody else did, but mysteriously kept quiet. Yosef spent 22 years in Egypt but never contacted his father to tell him he was alive (and we saw from the reunion of Yosef with his brothers that Yaakov was at the forefront of Yosef's thoughts the whole time). Yaakov knew the secrets of the end of days, but kept it to himself on his deathbed. Yitzchak here knew about the sale of Yosef, but kept quiet. There are probably more examples, but that is all I can think of right now.

It seems that just because you know something, does not obligate you to tell everyone about it. There are times where silence is golden, even if you think there is great benefit to telling.. Yaakov, Yosef, Yitzchak, etc. knew things that could have saved others pain and suffering but did not because God wanted a certain gameplan to play out. it was more important for them to let things play out then it was to ease some personal suffering.
There are times where it is better to keep quiet.

Yosef's emunah/bitachon problem..

or should I say, Our (my) emunah/bitachon problem?

Parshas Vayeshev
Yosef HaTzaddik was criticized at the end of the parsha for having asked the wine steward to mention his name to name to Par’oh. The last passuk even says that Yosef stayed in jail 2 years longer because of that and Rashi explains that because he relied on man instead of God..

My question is, maybe the wine guy was Gods helicopter, boat, etc… (I hope you know that story of the flooding..) and Yosef was supposed to grab that lifeline as his hishtadlus? What did he do so wrong?

My Rebbe HaRav Gamliel Rabinovitch shlit”a would answer this by saying we cannot ask about Yosef – if that is what the Torah says, we have no way of understanding it and just have to accept it. However, the Torah wants to tell us something for ourselves by giving us this information. That would be how much we need to improve ourselves and specifically our faith in hashem. If Yosef was considered as having a deficiency in emunah, how much more of a deficiency must we have and need to work on improving!!
I will be seeing him tomorrow night when he comes to give shiur. I will try to ask him this question and see what he says..

Yehudah and a leadership lesson

Parshat VaYeshev
The Torah breaks from the story of selling Yosef to tell us about Yehuda’s “infidelity” with his daughter-in-law Tamar. The Torah begins the story by saying “and Yehudah went down,etc..”. rashi says because he had the power (maybe of all the brothers he was the only one with that power) to prevent the whole altercation with Yosef, and in hindsight they saw how they had made the wrong decision by going through with it (because of how it affected their father Yaakov), so his esteem went down in their eyes and he lost some of his leadership capabilities in their eyes.

I thought about this and realize this is a powerful lesson in leadership for us. A leader can rarely do something so wrong and remain in his capacity, at least with the same respect and leeway. However we see later in VaYigash that Yehudah again retook the reigns of leadership when he put himself on the line for the brothers and confronted Yosef, the viceroy of Egypt. “Vayigash Yehuda”!! he approached Yosef with confidence (kadma V’azla is the trop on those words) and forcefulness.
A leader can sometimes rethink his strategies and his ways and come to terms with them. Yehuda did this (I think) when Tamar confronted him in Beis Din with evidence (and she did it in a wise and subtle manner so as not to embarrass him) and he responded “Tzadka Mimeni” – she is right. Because Yehudah was put in this position, he had an opportunity to rethink and re-evaluate his ways. This could have been the death blow to his leadership (having an embarrassing story like this come out), but he rebounded beautifully and retook the reigns of leadership.

There is a lesson in this for all of us. We cannot let ourselves get down because of a problem we face. We have to re-evaluate and face our problems. By doing that, we can return on top of the world.
This specifically is a good lesson for our political leaders who have faced all sorts of problems and are now not looked upon as worthy leaders. If they would face up to the issues that have dogged them, and in some circumstances rethink their positions and come up with fresh ideas or more correct ideas, they could have themselves re-accepted as our leaders…