Thursday, January 26, 2017



A Paul Harvey classic[1]
“It was a sweltering hot day, and word was traveling like a brush fire through the countryside: “The British are coming”.
“No false alarm. The British army was closing in fast. Looking for one man. A prominent patriot with a price on his head.
“In the mounting rebellion against the British, of the small but courageous forces opposing the Crown, he was commander-in-chief. And he was hiding in a coffin-like compartment in the ceiling of his home!
“The secret compartment had been prepared for this purpose. But the heat of August made it like an oven. So, with barely enough room to lie flat in the sweltering, suffocating, starving, thirst-searing delirium of that quiet darkness, the fugitive patriot would try to fight off madness by remembering.
“His men had tried to warn him that the British were coming. He had not taken the warning seriously. He had awakened before dawn to hear his dog barking in the yard and the clatter of approaching British troops in the distance.
“In minutes the town would be isolated and a house-by-house search would begin.
“Fortunately, his home appeared on the official register of the Crown under a name that was not his own. Yet even as he took comfort in that thought there came a knock at the door… the army of King George! He had ascended to his secret hiding place in the ceiling only moments before.
“The patriot’s wife let the soldiers in, answered to the alias by which she was addressed. Her husband was visiting in another town, she said. After searching the house, the soldiers ordered her and her two little children to come with them. Temporary headquarters had been set up nearby. They would be held for questioning.
“So now the patriot was alone in that torrid tomb, sealed in the ceiling of his own home.
“On the brink of unconsciousness he recognized the ultimate horror: If something should happen to his wife and children, he would be left there to die in an unmarked crypt. His forces, leaderless, would surely be crushed by the troops of King George.
“Days passed.
“No food, no water. The only sounds were the occasional voices of British soldiers taking refuge from the August sun – and the miraculously incessant pounding of his own heart.
“On the evening of the third day, when he would almost have welcomed capture by the British, came a tapping at the boards on which he lay. And then he heard his wife’s voice.
“It was over. The British troops had given up the search, had gone.
“The dream for a new nation conceived in liberty - lived.
“The fugitive patriot with a price on his head, the hunted commander of the freedom forces, had survived a premature tomb to lead his men to victory, eventually to lead his country.
“The nearness of his capture, during those three days in purgatory, is measured in a coincidence.
“The British soldiers, choosing a site at random, had unknowingly arranged their temporary search headquarters in the courtyard of the man they sought!
“And that man, who might have suffocated in the ceiling of his own house – the dissident leader with a price on his head, hiding from the troops of King George VI, in Tel Aviv, in the August of 1946, was Menachem Begin.
“And now you know… THE REST OF THE STORY.”

      The time for the process of redemption had finally arrived. G-d instructed Moshe to inform the battered nation of their glorious future, which was now imminent. Moshe was to inform them that the servitude would cease, they would emerge triumphantly from the shackles and confines of Egyptian oppression, they would become the Chosen People, and they would receive the Holy Land as an inheritance. But when Moshe tried to relay the message his words were unheard. “They did not heed Moshe, because of shortness of breath and hard work.”
Moshe became very dejected from that encounter. “Moshe spoke before G-d saying, ‘Behold, the Children of Israel have not listened to me, so how will Pharaoh listen to me?”
The Tiferes Yonason explains that this was part and parcel of Pharaoh’s methodically diabolical plan. His astrologers informed him that the savior of the Jews was going to be a member of the tribe of Levi. Therefore, he deliberately granted the Levites a mass exemption from the enslavement. It was not simply a clerical exemption but a brilliant way to ensure that the savior would be doomed to failure.
Pharaoh understood well that a leader who could not relate and understand his followers was hardly a leader. In the words of the wisest of men[2], “The protector of a fig tree will eat its fruit.” But one who was not involved in the laborious task of planting and guarding the fruit will not be welcomed to eat the fruit in when it finally ripens.
Pharaoh exempted the entire tribe of Levi so that when the savior arose to fulfill his mission he would fail abysmally. The weary embittered slaves would surely not follow the lead of a Levite who did not endure the pain and suffering they had experienced for generations.
Pharaoh’s scheme was initially successful. The nation didn’t hear/hearken to his words because of the severity of the servitude. They saw Moshe as an outsider who could not appreciate the extent of their suffering and the depth of the exile, and therefore they turned a deaf ear towards him. Moshe himself realized this point when he stated that if the Jews wouldn’t listen to him surely Pharaoh wouldn’t listen to him.
The Torah Ohr[3] explains that ultimately Pharaoh’s scheme did not work however, because Moshe went way beyond the call of duty. The Torah relates that Moshe grew up in the lap of Egyptian aristocracy, in fact in the palace of Pharaoh himself.  Yet he left the safety of the palace to seek out the welfare of his oppressed brethren. He went down to the worksites and wept as he witnessed what was transpiring to his people. Beyond that he actually bent down and joined in their workload to alleviate some of their unbearable burden. When he saw an Egyptian taskmaster beat a Jew he zealously killed the Egyptian at the risk of his life. Because of that event he had to escape Egypt for decades. He remained away from his people and family for many years until G-d instructed him to return to Egypt to lead the Jews out of the country.
The Egyptians sought to destroy his ability to lead by disconnecting him from his people, but the very attribute which made him worthy to be the leader – his love and empathy for his people - foiled their plan. When the nation realized this truth about Moshe they began to hear his words, despite the fact that he was a Levite.

The gemara[4] states, “We do not appoint a caretaker upon the public unless he has ‘a box of insects’[5] hanging from behind him, so that if he becomes too haughty they say to him, ‘Turn behind you’.”  A leader who never struggled, at least on some level, will not be able to relate to his followers. Such a leader is severely deficient.
By definition, a leader is one who can understand the challenges of his followers and can relate to their pain. Yet at the same time he must have the ability to lift his followers above and beyond their limitations and shackles.
Moshe Rabbeinu was the quintessential leader because he had an uncanny ability to do just that. He understood the needs of every individual and appreciated their individual struggles. At the same time, he was (eventually) able to help them recognize that they had the ability to traverse the morass of the exile they were muddled in. As soon as Moshe was able to convey to the people that sense of hope and confidence he was able to demand that Pharaoh not impede the fulfillment of that vision.

“The protector of a fig tree will eat its fruit”
“There arose none like Moshe”

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

[1] “More of Paul Harvey’s The Rest Of The Story”
[2] Mishley 27:18
[3] Commentary on the Tiferes Yonason
[4] Yoma 22b
[5] i.e. the Talmudic equivalent of ‘skeletons in the closet’.

Thursday, January 19, 2017



Yediot Acharonot, Evan Ackerman, Friday, November 20, 2009

The Roomba is built to vacuum dust independently under
beds and cabinets. About six months ago, Efi Frida (39) and her husband Eli (41), from Mizpe Avtalyon in the Galilee, purchased a Roomba to assist them in the household cleaning. The Fridas have two children, Jonathan (7) and Yael (4), in addition to two cats and two dogs.

One evening last week, Efi turned on the robot and left the house. When she returned home she noticed that it had stopped and was beeping. She tried to turn it back on but it would not restart. Efi opened the machine and, to her horror, discovered a Vipera Palaestinae, a venomous snake that had been sucked up by the machine.
The snake was wound thoroughly around the cleaning wheel and had received injuries to its head. By the time Eli came home the viper died of its wounds.

When Efi informed “IRobot” of the situation, they were so excited to hear the story that they sent the Frida family a remote control as compensation. “We were very lucky”, sums Eli, “If the snake would have hid in the house and bitten one of the children, it could have ended badly.”

The family of Yaakov Avinu grew rapidly. The Egyptians hastily mobilized to impose a Final Solution to solve the (trumped up) problems caused by the burgeoning nation. They enslaved the Jews mercilessly, subjecting them to a horrific and inhumane workload. Years went by, then decades, and centuries. The Jews had become an enslaved people, the bane of Egyptian society. But they had scant memories of a glorious past, and nebulous promises of a prominent future.
Finally, G-d hearkened to His People’s myriad plaintiff cries and began to pave the way towards their redemption. G-d appeared to Moshe ben Amram and instructed him to set the trajectory in motion by standing before Pharaoh and demanding that he release his Jewish slaves.
Moshe desperately tried to shun the awesome responsibility, reasoning that he was inadequate and incapable. But G-d was adamant that he was the right person for the job and Moshe finally agreed to embrace his mission. Moshe returned to his father-in-law Yisro in Midyan and bade him farewell as he prepared to embark upon his fateful return to Egypt. 
After Moshe set out on his way G-d spoke to him again and reiterated the message he was to deliver to Pharaoh. After the Torah concludes quoting G-d’s message to Moshe, it immediately segues into a peculiarly traumatic event:
 “When he was on his way, at the inn, G-d encountered him and sought to kill him. So Tziporah took a sharp stone and cut off the foreskin of her son and touched it to his feet; and she said, “A husband of blood you are to me.” So he loosened his hold on him; then she said, “A husband of blood because of circumcision.[1]”  
Rashi explains that an angel in the form of a vicious snake had attacked Moshe. “The angel sought to kill Moshe because he had not circumcised his son Eliezer. Because he was remiss, he was to be punished with the death penalty. Rabbi Yose said: Heaven forbid! He was not remiss. Rather he said, ‘Shall I perform the circumcision and then depart on the journey? Traveling poses a danger to the infant until three days (have elapsed from the circumcision). The Holy One, blessed is He, has commanded me, “Go! Return to Egypt.”’ So why was Moshe to be punished with death? Because he busied himself with arrangements for the inn first. The angel sent to punish him assumed the form of a serpent and swallowed Moshe from his head to his thighs, and then swallowed him again from his feet to that place (of circumcision). Tziporah understood that it was because he had delayed his son’s circumcision.”

This entire event seems difficult to understand. The fact that Moshe was ‘derelict’ in circumcising his son was only because he was engaged in the most sublime responsibility that he had just been compelled to accept. Moreover, one who is engaged in performing one mitzvah is exempt from performing any other mitzvah that may interfere with his performance of the first mitzvah[2]. So why was Moshe at all liable for not circumcising his son?
Also, why is there no open space in the Torah between G-d’s message to Moshe and this event? It seems that the Torah wishes to emphasize that the two are connected.
I once heard the following explanation: The Torah here is stressing that NO ONE is above the law. Even the great Moshe - who was en route to become the emissary of G-d in redeemig His people, the future transmitter of the Torah at Sinai, the only mortal who would ever speak to G-d ‘face to face’ in normal conversation as it were, and the consummate leader - was subject to the laws and mitzvos like any other Jew. The Shulchan Aruch was written, and is binding, from the simplest Jew to the most erudite scholar.
Rabbi Lazer Shach zt’l[3] explained that perhaps Moshe was indeed exempt from circumcising his son, according to the letter of the law. However, because Moshe was now setting out to fulfill such an integral mission he should have realized that he needed every possible merit that he could accrue. The mitzvah of circumcision is an incredible merit for all those involved, and Moshe should have taken that into account. He may have been exempt, but for the mission he was involved in the merit of that mitzvah was indispensable. The great Moshe was taken to task for failing to realize that point.
Truthfully there is a deeper idea contained in this event, which serves as an invaluable lesson for those involved in communal affairs: A leader or community activist must always remember that although he is involved in holy work, he is never excused from his primary duties – caring for his own family.
There was no greater activist on behalf of his people than Moshe Rabbeinu. Yet he was held accountable for somewhat neglecting his responsibility toward his own son. There is no separation between G-d’s message to Moshe regarding saving the nation and the incident with the snake. It demonstrated that just as saving the nation was a binding divine obligation so was Moshe’s responsibility to perform his son’s circumcision. All of one’s responsibilities notwithstanding, one can never forget that his priority is his own family.

This idea does not only apply to the education of one’s children, but in marriage too. Rabbi Chaim Freidlander zt’l[4] explains why marriage is such a necessity for one’s personal growth. It is a wonderful mitzvah to be involved in acts of chesed (kindness) for others. It demonstrates a level of altruism and selflessness, and shows that the doer lives for others, not just for himself. However, if one chooses not to involve himself in any particular chesed for whatever reason, although he forfeits that opportunity, it is not necessarily a detriment to the recipient. Someone else can step in and do what is necessary. However, in regards to emotional, psychological, and physical support of a spouse, only the other spouse has the ability to fulfill those needs. That is chesed that is specifically incumbent upon the spouse, and no one can adequately substitute for a spouse.

We lead very busy lives and we have many responsibilities that need to be taken care of within limited amounts of time. Still-in-all, we must realize that our primary responsibility is to our families. There are many responsibilities that others can help us with, but no one can be the parent of our children or a support mate for our spouse, aside from us[5].

“A husband of blood you are to me”
“He busied himself with arrangements for the inn first”

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

[1] 4:24-26
[2] See Succah 25a
[3] MeRosh Amanah
[4] In his pamphlet "וידעת כי שלום אהלך" about marriage
[5] It can be added that, at times, life definitely seems to spin like a vacuum cleaner. But no one knows and understands how to help us ‘pluck out the venom’ from our lives like a parent or a spouse. 

Thursday, January 12, 2017



During my formative years, one of my rabbeim once told our class that he wished to tell us something very profound, something we may have a hard time believing: “I want you all to know that every student in this room has the capability to become one of the gedolei hador[1].” I recall that at first that comment encouraged and inspired me. But within a short time, the comment left me feeling very dejected. In fact, I have thought of that comment many times since then and it took me a long time to understand what bothered me about it.

The Torah introduces the epic saga and contention between Yosef and his brothers at the beginning of Parshas Vayeshev. There the Torah states, “Yosef, at the age of seventeen years, was a shepherd with his brothers by the flock, but he was a youth with the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives; and Yosef would bring evil reports about them to their father.” Rashi explains that whereas the sons of Leah would denigrate the sons of the maids, Yosef would befriend them. This was one of the points that Yosef recounted to his father about the brothers, “that they would belittle the sons of the maids by calling them servants.”
How could the righteous sons of Leah speak negatively about their half-brothers? Why did they make it a point to refer to them as sons of the maids?
Rabbi Shimshon Pinkus zt’l explains that Klal Yisroel descends from four Matriarchs. The gemara states: “We do not call anyone a matriarch except for four (women).[2]” Those four women are undoubtedly Sarah, Rivka, Rachel, and Leah.
If that is true, how can the four sons of Bilhah and Zilpah be considered members of the twelve tribes if they do not descend from Leah or Rachel? It was only because Bilhah and Zilpah completely subjugated themselves to their sisters with complete faithfulness. Therefore, their sons could be considered as descending from Rachel and Leah, since their mothers considered themselves to be an extension of their sisters.
At that point a philosophical dispute arose between Yosef and his brothers, a dispute that had far-reaching consequences. The brothers felt that in order for the sons of Bilhah and Ziplah to be considered as if they are descended from Rachel and Leah, it was insufficient that their mothers subjugated themselves to their sisters. Rather, they felt the sons of the maids had to also personally subjugate themselves to the sons of Rachel and Leah. Therefore, the sons of Leah made it a point to refer to the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah as ‘the sons of the maids’, not to denigrate them, but with the opposite intent. If they were servants to the sons of Rachel and Leah then they could have equal status vis-à-vis their lineage, and could father Tribes. The brothers felt Bilhah and Zilpah’s subjugating themselves to Rochel and Leah was insufficient for their children to be counted as offspring of their sisters. The son’s own efforts were necessary as well.
Yosef however countered, that the fact that their mothers maintained an attitude of servility before their sisters was enough to grant their sons equal status. Thus, Yosef felt that the brothers were being unnecessarily harsh, while the brothers felt it was necessary so that their other brothers could achieve their due greatness.
This philosophical disagreement further manifested itself in the interpretation of Yosef’s dream. Yosef dreamed that the sun, moon, and eleven stars were bowing to him. The brother’s countered that Yosef’s dream was nonsense since the moon referred to his mother Rachel who had already died. Yosef however believed that Bilhah had fully taken the place of his mother, and it was she who was represented by the moon in his dream.
In his efforts to assuage the brother’s anger at Yosef, Yaakov scolded Yosef by stating that indeed it was impossible for his mother to bow before him. But the Torah says that secretly Yaakov anticipated the fruition of Yosef’s dream, because in his heart Yaakov agreed with Yosef’s view that Bilhah had indeed taken the place of his mother Rachel.
This also explains Reuven’s actions. After Rachel died Yaakov moved his bed into the tent of Bilhah. Reuven felt that it was a slight to the honor of his mother and transported Yaakov’s bed into Leah’s tent. Reuven felt that in order for Bilhah’s sons to be considered part of Klal Yisroel, Bilhah had to continue to subjugate herself to Leah. But Yaakov felt that Bilhah had literally taken the place of Rachel and therefore she came before Leah (just as Rachel had come before Leah).

It is noteworthy, that from when the Torah relates the birth of the sons of the maids until parshas Vayechi when Yaakov blesses each son prior to his demise, the sons of the maids are not mentioned or referred to at all. Virtually every one of the sons of Rachel and Leah on the other hand[3], are mentioned explicitly in the drama of the account - or at least alluded to.
Perhaps it may indeed seem as if the sons of the maids are not so important. But we know otherwise, for without the sons of the maids there is no Klal Yisroel. “All these are the tribes of Israel – twelve…[4]

In our world, everybody wants to be the best. But if everybody is going to become a Rosh Yeshiva and a Rebba, there won’t be any yeshivos or chassidus. To be a leader one must have followers, and to be a follower one must be ready to accept leadership.[5]
The truth is that this concept is not limited to academic achievement but it is something that plagues us in all facets of life.
In the field of education, we have bred a generation that feels anything less than a straight ‘A’ report card is terrible.[6] Young adults feel that their lives are ruined because of their grades. In the most horribly extreme situations, teens commit suicide because they realize they aren’t going to be the next iconic pop star or professional athlete, and they feel that life isn’t worth anything if they cannot achieve the glitz and glamour. 
This is not only a challenge we face in the education of our children, but in regards to our own growth as well. People feel that if they are not the CEO or the owner of the company they are a complete failure.
And in regards to Torah study and spiritual growth such feelings of inadequacy paralyze us as well. Why should I even bother to learn my one meager page of gemara? I’m never going to know the entire Talmud anyway. Why should I work on improving my mitzvah performance, what are my actions worth anyway?
Klal Yisroel is not only composed of Reuven the firstborn, Levi the priest, Yehuda the king, and Yosef the viceroy. Without the sons of the maids – maids only in regards to their complete subjugation and humility – there is no Klal Yisroel. Not only are the sons of the maids inextricable members of Klal Yisroel, but our actions which are “analogous” to ‘the sons of the maids’, i.e. our Torah study, efforts to concentrate in prayer, good deeds, efforts at spiritual growth, etc. are all vital components of our identities as well.
In psychology one of the most rudimentary raging debates is about nature versus nurture. Are we more programmed by the way we are created or are we more influenced by our surroundings and culture? We believe that G-d creates every person with the tools he needs to achieve his own potential, and then places him in the proper environment to achieve his own level of greatness.
Yaakov gathered his sons individually and blessed each one by delineating his strengths and innate greatness. “Each man according to his blessing, he blessed them.” Every tribe possessed his own contribution to the nation, based on the inner greatness that G-d had already implanted with him. Yaakov’s blessing was that each tribe should be able to cultivate and develop the internal greatness.
The slogan of the United States army expresses this idea eloquently: “Be all you can be.” We aren’t all destined to be the Gadol Hador, but each of us possesses the ability to become a Gadol in our own way, if we appreciate the gadlus (greatness) that lies within us. One person’s greatness is as Yehuda or Yosef, while another person’s greatness is analogous to Asher and Naftali.

“All these are the tribes of Israel – twelve”
“Each man according to his blessing, he blessed them.”

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

[1] Torah leaders of the generation
[2] Berachos 16b
[3] With the notable exceptions of Yissachor and Zevulen
[4] 49:28
[5] As I heard a community activist quip: “For a long time Klal Yisroel needed lay leaders. But now we have lay leadership, and what we really need is lay followers.”
[6] The very title of parenting expert Wendy Mogul’s book says it all: “The Blessings of a B+”

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