Thursday, December 21, 2017



A Rabbi who had grown up in the Five Towns, had moved away when he married, and returned after a number of years. A friend excitedly told him that he had to ‘check out’ Central Avenue. “It’s amazing how much it’s changed; the Jews have literally taken over Central Avenue.” The Rabbi dolefully replied, “Actually, it seems like Central Avenue has taken over the Jews!”[2]

Rav Dovid Sinzheim was a great scholar and Torah leader, who was appointed to be leader of “Napoleon’s Sanhedrin” during the early years of the nineteenth century[3].
In a eulogy given for him after his passing, the Chasam Sofer related the following[4]:
When the brothers arrived back in Canaan to inform Yaakov that Yosef was still alive, they conveyed Yosef’s message: “They told him saying ‘Yosef is still alive, and he is the ruler of the entire land of Mitzrayim’; but his heart rejected it, for he could not believe them.”[5] Yosef’s message to his father was not only that he was physically alive, but that he had also maintained his spirituality, and his spirit was not dampened by being in Egypt. His message was - “He is the ruler over the land of Egypt; the land of Egypt does not rule him,” in the sense, that he maintained control over himself and was not overwhelmed by the physicality and materialistic, lustful society of Egypt. 
The Chasam Sofer concluded that Rav Zinheim too, was such a person. Despite all the accolades and honor heaped upon him, he never lost his sense of direction or mission. He maintained his humility and integrity and was a servant of Hashem on the highest level, until his dying moment. It could truly be said of Rabbi Sinzheim that “he ruled over France; France did not rule over him.”

After twenty-two years, Yaakov Avinu finally headed down to Mitzrayim to reunite with Yosef. The Torah relates that, prior to Yaakov and his family’s departure, “He sent Yehuda ahead of him to Yosef, to prepare ahead of him in Goshen.” Rashi, quotes the Medrash, which explains that Yaakov sent Yehuda ahead to establish a house of study, so that it would already be up and running, before their arrival.
The following pasuk relates that upon their meeting, Yosef “appeared before him, fell on his neck, and he wept upon his neck excessively.” Rashi explains that Yosef wept on Yaakov’s neck, but Yaakov did not weep on Yosef’s neck, because at that moment he was reciting Kerias Shema, accepting upon himself the yoke of Heaven.
The following pasuk relates, “Then Yisroel said to Yosef: ‘Now I can die, after having seen your face, because you are still alive’.” What a peculiar statement! Why does Yaakov declare that he is now ready to die because he saw Yosef; shouldn’t he say that he now has to what to live for, because he has been reunited with Yosef?
The sequence and subtle messages of the previous two pesukim are also striking. What is the connection between Yaakov sending Yehuda ahead to establish a yeshiva, Yaakov not crying upon seeing Yosef because he was reciting Shema, and his strange declaration of being prepared to die?
Oznayim LaTorah offers a poignant explanation based on the gemara[6]: “Rabbi Levi bar Chama said in the name of Rav Shimon ben Lakish – A person should constantly agitate his Good Inclination to fight against his Evil Inclination… If he vanquishes it, fine. But if not, he should engage in Torah study… If he vanquishes it, fine. But if not, he should recite the Shema… If he vanquishes it, fine. But if not, he should remind himself of the day of death…”[7]
As Yaakov Avinu prepared for his descent to Egypt, which was the commencement of the difficult period of an exile which would last over two centuries, he was most afraid of compromising his spiritual integrity. He had struggled his entire life to ensure that he never falter spiritually, despite the most overwhelming challenges with Eisav, Lavan, Shechem, and throughout the years without Yosef.
Despite his incredible yearning to reunite with Yosef, Yaakov had to ensure that his commitment to G-d, as well as that of his progeny, would not be compromised. Therefore, Yaakov sought to fulfill all three steps noted in the aforementioned gemara, exactly as the gemara lays out. He first sent Yehuda ahead to formulate a yeshiva so that there would be a place designated for Torah study, as that is the ultimate antidote to the Evil inclination.
When he arrived at the gates of Egypt, even as his long-lost son embraced him and wept upon his shoulders, Yaakov employed the second antidote to the Evil Inclination, reciting Shema, completely re-dedicating every fiber of his being to serving Hashem. 
Finally, he looked up at Yosef and made mention of death, reminding himself that at that time he would have to give an accounting before his Creator.

It is striking that so soon after the conclusion of the joyous holiday of Chanukah, we commemorate the three tragedies that befell our nation during the month of Teves.
On the eighth of Teves[8] the Egyptian King Ptolemy II (Philadelphus), who possessed a deep desire for knowledge and was influenced heavily by Greek culture, forced seventy elders to translate the Torah into Greek (the Septuagint). Although great miracles occurred[9], the Sages viewed the event as a breach of the singularity of Klal Yisroel, for this was the first time that the nations of the world had access to the Torah.[10]
On the ninth of Teves the great prophet Ezra, who spearheaded the return of the Jews from exile when the second Bais Hamikdash was constructed, died. His death was a severe blow to the morale of the nation at that time.
On the tenth of Teves, the wicked Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar laid siege around Yerushalayim. Eventually the city capitulated, and the Babylonians destroyed the first Bais Hamikdash on the ninth of Av.
All three events are connected to Yaakov Avinu’s greatest fear upon descending to Egypt. On the eighth of Teves, the Torah ‘fell into the hands’ of heathen deniers, who translated verses incorrectly, and were able to promulgate false interpretations, with disastrous results.
The death of Ezra on the ninth of Teves, symbolized the loss of direction and leadership, which are integral components of a vibrant Torah based society.
The tenth of Teves marked the beginning of the siege, which not only presented physical devastation, but also the suffocation of their spiritual life and the avodah in the Bais Hamikdash.
Chanukah celebrates the Maccabees willingness to jeopardize their lives for the preservation of the purity of Torah and spiritual growth of our nation. The tragedies of Teves mourn the forfeiture of those same ideals. 

Within the darkness of exile, our mission is to maintain our connection with Hashem, and ensure that we are in control of our possessions, and not vice-versa.
In that sense, the light of Chanukah must continue to illuminate our lives, long after the oil has been consumed and the holiday has ended. 

 “A person should constantly agitate his Good Inclination”
“Yosef is still alive, and is the ruler of the entire land of Mitzrayim”

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

[1] Based on the lecture given at Kehillat New Hempstead, Shabbos Kodesh parshas Vayigash 5777
[2] This anecdote, as well as the vort from the Chasam Sofer and Oznayim LaTorah were heard from a recorded lecture by Rabbi Aryeh Leibowitz. 
[3] An Assembly of Rabbis were summoned in April 1806 by Napoleon to consider a set of 12 halachic questions. Those who attended were largely from the Bordeaux or Rhine regions (Alsace and Lorraine). Rabbi David Sinzheim of Strasbourg became the president of the Sanhedrin.
[4] דרשות חת"ס ח"א דף פ"א; תורת משה מהדו"ת פר' ויגש
[5] Bereishis 45:26
[6] Berachos 5a
[7] The gemara is laying out a three-point strategy to help a person strengthen himself against the machinations of his Evil inclination. The ideal combatant is Torah study. However, if a person is not able to take advantage of this ultimate remedy for whatever reason, he should accept upon himself the yoke of Heaven by reciting Shema. If even that fails to help him, he should remember that he will one day have to give an accounting before the celestial courts after his death. [One should not immediately use this last powerful step because it contains the danger of causing a person to feel sad.]
[8] 285 B.C.E.
[9] see Megillah 9a
[10] The New Testament and the King James Bible are rooted in the writing and publicizing of the Septuagint.


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