Thursday, January 5, 2017



Keren Gottleib relates an incredible personal story[1]: “As part of my army service in the Israeli army I was placed, to my delight, in a teachers' unit…
“This was shortly after Operation Solomon in 1993, during which roughly 14,500 Jews from Ethiopia were airlifted to Israel. It was a special and moving operation, and the entire Israeli population was surprised to see that, suddenly, there were Jews walking around here who had, in fact, been severed from our nation many generations ago.
“They observed Shabbat, were familiar with most of the holidays and kept Jewish tradition in a devout and traditional manner. But it was clear that they didn't know everything; the separation they had undergone throughout all those years had influenced their system of traditions.
“They had never heard of Independence Day or Yom Yerushalayim, or even about Purim or Chanukah -- none of the latter historical events that took place subsequent to their break-off from the Jewish nation.
“I realized that unless I concentrated on filling these gaps of knowledge, their adjustment in Israel would never be complete. I decided to allot a considerable amount of time each day to teach them about Judaism.
 “The month of Nissan had arrived and I started teaching about the holiday of Passover. My class consisted of 20 students, 3rd - 6th grade. "Today is the first day of Nissan and Passover is celebrated during this month," I began. "Passover is one of the three festivals when the entire Jewish people used to go to Jerusalem to the Temple."
 “"Teacher, have you ever been to the Temple?"
At this point, a student jumped up, cutting me off in mid-sentence. "Teacher, have you ever been to the Temple?"
“I smiled at him, realizing that he was somewhat confused. "No, of course not. That was a very long time ago!"
“My student was insistent, and a few more pairs of eyes joined him. "Fine, it was a long time ago. But were you there? Were you at the Temple a long time ago?"
“I smiled again, this time slightly confused myself. ”Doesn't he understand? Perhaps my Hebrew is too difficult for him”, “I thought.
"No, of course not. That was a very long time ago!"
Now the rest of the students joined him in an uproar. "You've never been there?" "Teacher, what's it like being in the Temple?" "What does the Temple look like?"
"Quiet!" I tried calming everyone down. "Listen everyone -- there is no Temple! There used to be a Temple many years ago but today we don't have a Temple. It was destroyed, burned down. I have never been to it, my father's never been to it, and my grandfather has never been to it! We haven't had a Temple for 2000 years!"
I said these words over and over, having a very hard time believing that this was so strange for them to hear. What's the big deal? This is the reality with which we've all grown up. Why are they so bothered by it?
The tumult in the class was steadily increasing. They began talking amongst themselves in Aramaic, arguing, translating, explaining, shouting, as I lost total control over the class. When the bell rang, they collected their things and ran home. I left the school exhausted and utterly confused.
“The next morning I was hardly bothered by the previous day's events. In fact, I had nearly forgotten all about the incident. That day I had planed to just teach math, geometry and other secular subjects.
“I got off the bus and leisurely made my way toward the school. As I neared the gate the guard approached me, seeming a bit alarmed. "Tell me," he said, "do you have any idea what's going on here today?" I tried recalling a special activity that was supposed to be going on, or some ceremony that I had forgotten about, but nothing exceptional came to mind. "Why do you ask?" I asked him. "What happened?" He didn't answer. He only pointed towards the entrance to the school.
“I raised my head and saw a sizeable gathering of Ethiopian adult immigrants -- apparently, my students' parents. What are they doing here? And what are they yelling about? I went over to them, attempting to understand what was the matter, from the little Aramaic that I knew.
“As I came closer, everyone quieted down. One of the adults whose Hebrew was on a higher level, asked me, "Are you our children's teacher?" "Yes," I answered. "What is the matter, sir?" "Our children came home yesterday and told us that their teacher taught them that the Temple in Jerusalem no longer exists. Who would tell them such a thing?" He looked at me in anger.
 "Am I sure that the Temple was destroyed? Of course I'm sure!"
"I told them that. We were discussing the Temple and I felt that they were a bit confused. So I explained to them that the Temple had been burned down thousands of years ago and that today, we no longer have a Temple. That's all. What's all the fuss about?"
He was incredulous. "What? What are you talking about?"
I was more confused than ever. "I don't understand. What are you all so angry about? I simply reminded them of the fact that the Temple was destroyed and that it no longer exists today."
Another uproar -- this one even louder than before. The representative quieted the others down, and again turned to me. "Are you sure?" "Am I sure that the Temple was destroyed? Of course I'm sure!" I couldn't hide my smile. What a strange scene.
“The man turned to his friends and in a dramatic tone translated what I had told him. At this point, things seemed to be finally sinking in. Now, however, a different scene commenced: one woman fell to the ground; a second broke down in tears. A man standing by them just stared at me in disbelief. A group of men began quietly talking amongst themselves, very fast, in confusion and disbelief. The children stood on the side, looking on in great puzzlement. Another woman suddenly broke into a heart-rending cry. Her husband came over to her to hug her.
A woman suddenly broke into a heart-rending cry.
I stood there in utter shock.
“I felt as if I had just brought them the worst news possible. It was as if I had just told them about the death of a loved one. I stood there across from a group of Jews who were genuinely mourning the destruction of the Temple.”

When he could bear the façade no longer, Yosef finally broke down and revealed his true identity to his brothers. They were so shocked that they were utterly speechless. Yosef reassured them that he bore no ill will towards them and that they did need to fear reprisal. After embracing each brother, Yosef instructed them to hurry back to Canaan to bring his beloved father Yaakov down to Egypt.
When the brothers finally arrived back home and related to Yaakov that Yosef was alive and well and was the ruler of Egypt, Yaakov could not digest their words. He simply could not believe them. All of their efforts notwithstanding, Yaakov was only convinced when, “He saw the wagons that Yosef had sent to transport him. Then the spirit of their father Yaakov was revived[2].”  
The Medrash explains that Yosef sent wagons as a clandestine message to his father to prove that he was indeed alive and well - physically and spiritually. The final topic that Yaakov and Yosef had studied together twenty-two years earlier, prior to that fateful journey when Yaakov dispatched Yosef to check the welfare of his brothers, was Eglah Arufah[3]. No one could have known what they were studying except for Yosef. In sending the wagons Yosef hinted to that final study session for the word “egel” (wagon) is similar to the word eglah (calf).  
However, there is a glaring difficulty with Yosef’s hidden message, because it was not Yosef’s idea to send the wagons in the first place. The Torah explicitly states that Pharaoh told Yosef[4], “Take for yourselves from the land of Egypt wagons for your small children and for your wives; transport your father and come.” Although the Medrash says that the wagons Pharaoh sent were bedecked with idolatry and Yehuda burnt them and Yosef sent other wagons, this too is puzzling, for the Torah later refers to the wagons in which Yaakov's family was transported as those sent by Pharaoh[5].
Rabbi Zev Leff offers the following insightful explanation: When Pharaoh was informed that Yosef’s family was reunited he was excited by the prospect of them all coming to live in Egypt. He reckoned that if Yosef was single-handedly able to manage Egypt in the face of crisis, imagine what a family of Yosef’s could accomplish for Egyptian economy. Therefore, Pharaoh wanted to make the transition for Yosef’s aged father as painless and comfortable as possible.
He didn’t want Yaakov to have to deal with the challenge of acclimating to a new culture and being an immigrant. So he instructed Yosef to send just a few wagons to bring the family members themselves down to Egypt. They did not need to take any of their belongings or furnishings with them, because Pharaoh pledged to ‘roll out the red carpet’. He would ensure that they would receive the best that Egypt had to offer, and they didn’t need to bring anything other than themselves.
However, Yosef knew that if that message were conveyed to Yaakov, he would never consent to descending to Egypt. In fact, au contraire; Yaakov needed assurance that every precaution was being taken to combat the possibility of assimilation. Thus Yosef sent wagons “according to the word of Pharaoh", i.e. not exactly according to the command of Pharaoh, but in accord with Pharaoh's intention of enticing Yaakov to Egypt. Yosef added wagons for their possessions so that they could bring with them the spirit of their home and environment in Eretz Yisroel. This would enable them to remember where home truly was even as they were living in Egypt for a prolonged period of time. Thus, Yaakov's family went down to Egypt with all "their livestock and all of their possessions which they acquired in the Land of Canaan[6]”.
When Yaakov saw the wagons that Pharaoh had sent, and was informed of the extra wagons that Yosef added for their possessions, then it revived his spirit. He recognized that Yosef understood the importance of guarding against possible assimilation and the need to remain insulated from Egyptian culture.
It was not coincidental that the last subject Yaakov and Yosef were discussing was eglah arufah. Da'as Z'keinim and Maharal explain that when Yaakov sent Yosef to check on his brothers, he bid him farewell and began to escort him as halachah dictates. Yosef, a boy of seventeen, begged his father - then one hundred and eight years old - not to accompany him down the steep hill from Hebron, which would necessitate a difficult climb back up. Yaakov replied that levayah (the mitzvah of escorting people on a journey) is an obligation.
The importance of levayah is learned from the mitzvah of eglah arufah. As part of the mitzvah of eglah arufah, the Elders of the city proclaim that they did not shed the victim’s blood. The Gemara (Sotah 45b) asks, “Could anyone really suspect the Elders of the city of having shed his blood?” The Gemara answers that the meaning of the Elders' oath is that they did not knowingly permit the deceased to leave the city without an escort, since such an escort is a protection for the person embarking on a journey.
Maharal explains that although one is halachically required to accompany his friend no more than four amos (approximately eight feet), even that levayah suffices to show the departed that he is not alone, but is connected to others. This spiritual connection gives him the merit of the public, which is a potent protection against harm.
The mitzvah of levayah shows us that a person's physical location is not as significant as the spiritual locus to which he is attached. One can be physically alone yet spiritually connected to the body of Klal Yisroel, through his connection to the one who escorts him at the beginning of his journey. Similarly, one may physically be in exile, far from Eretz Yisroel, yet spiritually connected to it. Yaakov's realization that Yosef still lived in accord with this concept caused his spirit to be revived.
When Yosef conferred with his brothers prior to their first meeting with Pharaoh, he told them to state that they were shepherds since time immemorial, so that they would be sent to live apart in Goshen. Instead of bidding them to conceal that they were shepherds so that they would be more readily accepted, Yosef emphasized it because shepherds were an abomination to the Egyptians. He realized that their ability to survive the Egyptian exile depended on their capacity to remain apart, and Goshen was well-suited to that purpose. Yosef told his brothers that he was going to inform Pharaoh, "My brothers and my father's household, who are in the Land of Canaan have come to me," hinting to them that they were not only from the Land of Canaan, but in a sense they were still in the Land of Canaan, despite taking up temporary residence in Egypt.
Before actually descending to Egypt, Yaakov sent Yehuda ahead to prepare the way. The Sages explain that his function was to establish a House of Torah Study in Goshen. Seemingly this task should have been given to Levi, the Torah Scholar of Klal Yisroel, not to Yehuda, the King? 
Many countries provide space for foreign embassies on their soil. Essentially an embassy is an ‘island’ of one’s home country on foreign soil. An American citizen who enters any American embassy throughout the world is legally on American soil, and under the jurisdiction of American law, even in the physical parameters of Japan, Uruguay, or New Zealand.
The yeshiva was not merely a place of Torah study. More profoundly, it was the means of transferring the holiness of Eretz Yisroel onto Egyptian soil. In a sense it’s purpose was to be a Canaanite embassy, an island of the Holy Land on Egyptian soil. Goshen was to become a spiritually sovereign region within the environs of Egypt, like any area adjacent to Eretz Yisroel conquered in war which takes on some of the spiritual status of Eretz Yisroel. But only a king has the right to capture new land. Thus it was specifically the King - Yehuda – who was needed to transform Goshen into a spiritual extension of Eretz Yisroel.
It was Yehuda who exercised his royal power by bringing the extra wagons back to Yaakov for all their possessions. He thereby nullified Pharaoh's purpose of promoting Yaakov's assimilation. When the Medrash says Yehuda burnt the idolatry of Pharaoh's wagons, it means that he destroyed them by negating their intended function.

When Yaakov finally came to Egypt and wa introduced to Pharaoh, the monarch wa surprised by Yaakov’s aged appearance. This prompted Pharaoh to ask Yaakov his age. After Yaakov replied that he was one hundred and thirty years old, he added a startling statement: “Few and bad have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not reached the life spans of my forefathers in the days of their sojourns.” 
Ramban questions why Yaakov would vent his feelings to Pharaoh, of all people?
Rabbi Moshe Fenstein zt’l explained that Yaakov’s intent was not to complain, but rather to demonstrate to Pharaoh his mindset and attitude. As mentioned, most immigrants try to acclimate themselves to their new country as quickly as possible. Pharaoh expected that Yaakov and his family, who were close family members of the Egyptian viceroy, would certainly avail themselves to all amenities and Egyptian comforts. But, he was grossly mistaken, for Yaakov wanted to remain as distinct as possible and he did not want to assimilate or acculturate himself to Egyptian life at all. Yaakov wanted to impress upon Pharaoh that, unlike most people, he was not one to look for comfort and the easy life.
Yaakov was not venting o Pharaoh, but he was stating a fact. His life was difficult, painful, and challenging. But he was proud of who he was and what he had accomplished[7].

Our Sages relate that the study halls and shuls in exile are parts of Eretz Yisroel, transplanted onto foreign soil. It is in them and around them that we must build a temporary physical dwelling place that is spiritually rooted in the holiness and purity of Eretz Yisroel. As long as one is physically prevented from being in Eretz Yisroel, he must transplant Eretz Yisroel to foreign soil. In this way the Jew insulates himself from assimilating into the host society and culture!
Rabbi Leff notes that our role as the Chosen People requires that we protect ourselves from the influence of the rest of the world, even while living in that world. We must be insulated but not isolated! 

The fast day of the Tenth of Teves commemorates the day that the mighty legions of the evil Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar laid siege around Jerusalem during the time of the first Temple. The siege marked the beginning of the end, culminating in the destruction of the Temple on the ninth of Av.
In a deeper sense, we not only mourn the physical siege that began that day, but also the spiritual siege that surrounds us in exile. We live in a world which is antithetical to our values. Klal Yisroel declares[8], “אום אני חומה - I am a wall”. Our only hope is to strengthen the barriers we erect around ourselves. We are not impervious to the influences of the outside world and we cannot isolate ourselves from it. But we must insulate ourselves with our own inner light. The light of Chanukah must keep burning through the darkness and strengthen us to stay the course and protect our walls.

“He saw the wagons that Yosef had sent to transport him”
“And all of their possessions from the Land of Canaan”

Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – ASHAR
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor

[1] The following was excerpted from the website where the complete article appears. It is called “The Heart-Rending Cry”
[2]  Bereishis 45:27
[3] The calf that is beheaded by the elders of a city closest to where a murdered body is found without any clues pointing to the murderer. See Devarim 21:1-9
[4] 45:19
[5] See 46:5
[6] Bereishis 46:6
[7] Nevertheless, Yaakov was punished for the way he spoke to Pharaoh, because it sounded as if he was complaining, even if that was not at all his intent.
[8] In the Hosha’ana prayer recited on Succos


Post a Comment