Vayigash: “We were wrong!”

Admitting our mistakes is hard but so, so worthwhile!

Towards the end of last week’s parshah, Yosef’s brothers encountered the second-in-command of Egypt. Unbeknownst to them, they were talking to none other than Yosef himself, the brother they had cruelly sold into slavery so many years before. Yosef is unsure whether they have repented since those days and put them through a series of tests. He eventually gets them to go back and bring their youngest brother Binyomin, whom he tries to take as a slave. At that point Yehudah gets up and flatly refuses to hand over Binyomin, giving himself up as a slave instead. His argument is so strong that eventually Yosef breaks down and reveals himself.

But the story begs the question: there were 10 of them! And they were with Yosef for quite some time. If you read the story carefully, you’ll notice that Yosef dropped several hints regarding his true identity. He knew what colour the wood of their cribs was at home. He sat them around the table in order of age, oldest to youngest. How is it possible that none of his brothers became suspicious?

 

Perhaps they didn’t want to think that. Subconsciously, the brothers preferred to stay in denial. Because recognising who he was would have meant admitted that they were wrong. And that, as we all know, is the hardest thing for a person to do.

I said that none of the brothers recognised Yosef. But that might not be entirely true.

When Yehudah makes a case for his brother, he keeps bringing up what his father said. He mentions his mother twice. He stresses how it would kill his father to have to lose his youngest son. It’s as if he recognised Yosef and was telling him “it’s your father, your brother, your mother!”

And indeed, on a subconscious level, that may well have been the case. And even that recognition, on a lower level of awareness, may well have affected Yehudah’s excellent choice of words to Yosef. It’s hardly surprising that it was Yehudah who chose to recognise Yosef. The root of the word ‘Yehudah’ is ‘hoda’ah’-meaning ‘admission’. And that admission ultimately broke Yosef.

Admitting that we erred is not comfortable at all. It’s not the default human reaction. But if we can acknowledge our mistakes, to ourselves and to those whom we’ve wronged, we only stand to gain.

(As heard from Mr Harry Rothenberg ESQ. Click here for the original shiur)

Mikeitz: A true leader

When most people are asked about a talent they are said to have, they’d usually launch some sort of pitch about the experience they’d had in this area. Especially when the person asking is the most powerful man in the country.
That’s what makes Yosef’s presentation to Pharaoh so remarkable. The man gets dragged from prison to interpret the king’s dreams. This is his moment. If he makes a good impression, he could walk away a free man, maybe even becoming Pharaoh’s official interpreter!
Pharaoh: I hear you interpret dreams
Yosef: G-D interprets all dreams (see Bereishis/Genesis 41:15-16)
Who mentions G-D in a sales pitch or job interview?!
And Pharaoh is so impressed that he hires him on the spot. Not as a dream interpreter, but as second in command over the whole country.
That, says Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz , was how Yosef went from a lowly criminal to high powered ruler in a day. No speeches. No marketing. Just plain 

This post is being written just days after the passing of Rabbi Aharon Yehudah Leib Shteinman OBM, one of the great leaders of world Jewry, at 104 years of age. The requests in his will were a reflection of the person he was. He stipulated that the funeral should not take place in front of more than ten men, that the coffin should be as simple as possible, that the orthodox Jewish media not publish any tributes to him, and that people refrain from calling him a ‘tzaddik’. Of course, all the other rabbis instructed everyone to disregard the requests.
He simply had no interest in any honour that he felt he didn’t deserve.

And that is the Torah’s main prerequisite for a leader. Humility.

*Based on the writings of Rabbi Yissochor Frand https://torah.org/torah-portion/ravfrand-5774-miketz/

Parshas Vayeishev: dream and do!

This week, we follow the fortunes of Yosef (Joseph). Sold into slavery by his brothers (their justification for doing so is a subject for a different piece), he ends up in Egypt, serving General Potifar, one of Pharaoh’s chief officials. After refusing to have forbidden relations with Potifar’s wife, Yosef is thrown into Prison.
It is there that he becomes famous for an unusual talent, one that would bring him from being a lowly criminal to become the viceroy of Egypt.
Here’s how it happened.
One day, Yosef encountered the king’s former butler, in for letting a fly get into the king’s goblet, and he seemed a bit glum. When Yosef asked what was bothering him, the butler told him about a very perplexing dream the night before. In it, he saw a grapevine with three bare tendrils. Suddenly, the Tendrils quickly sprouted fat juicy grapes. Immediately, he plucked some of the grapes, pressed them into wine, pressed the wine into Pharaoh’s cup (which he happened to be holding), and placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hands
Upon hearing this dream, Yosef interprets it seamlessly. The three tendrils represented the remaining three days the butler would have to spend in jail. After that, he would be pardoned by Pharaoh and reinstated to his former position, serving Pharaoh as if nothing had ever happened.
I would imagine that the butler and the other inmates were probably a bit sceptical. Some of them perhaps felt that the long years in prison had affected Yosef’s mental health. But lo and behold, to the amazement of all, Yosef’s prediction came true, and the butler was let off the hook.
Word of the young prodigy dream interpreter spread through the jail. The baker, who was serving time for dropping a pebble into the bread (even back then, world leaders were unpredictable- some things never change!) tried his luck and ran his dream by Yosef. In his case, the dream saw him balancing three baskets on his head. The top one held an assortment of baked goods, which were consumed hastily by some rather impudent birds. Perhaps he regretted asking. Yosef explained that the three baskets represented the three days he had left before he would be executed. Again, Yosef was right on target, and the poor met his Creator three days later.
The question that begs to be asked is: How did Yosef know who would live and who would die?
Of course, the simple explanation is that Joseph used Prophetic vision. But I recently heard an amazing insight in the name of Dayan* Chanoch Ehrentreau, head of the London Beth Din and one of North West London’s most senior Rabbinic authorities.
The dream of the butler involved ACTION on the butler’s behalf. It was the butler who pressed the grapes and made the wine. Yosef saw that he was a doer. The baker, by contrast, was completely passive. He simply stood there, without even waving his hands to shoo away the birds!
It’s a principle that so many great people have shown throughout history. We all have dreams. But only those of us who are proactive and do something about our dreams are helped by Hashem to make them reality.
Let’s keep dreaming big dreams. But let’s DO something with them when we wake up!

P.S.  if you ever dreamed of winning £1,000 each night for 8 nights straight for JUST £20 whilst supporting an important Torah institution, you can take action right now by clicking Here. Draws take place over Chanukah, starting Tuesday night, so hurry up! 🙂

*(A Dayan is a Rabbi who serves as a judge in a Jewish court of law)

Vayishlach: Inspired by Lavan

Sometimes inspiration comes from the most unlikely sources.

This week, we learn about Yaakov’s encounter with his brother Eisav, after 22 years spent apart. Yaakov told Eisav that despite having lived with a wicked uncle for 22 years, he had never learnt from his evil ways.

Why did Yaakov tell Eisav that?

Rav Elchonon Wasserman explains in the name of his mentor the Chofetz Chaim, that Yaakov was using that moment to chastise himself. Lavan wasn’t merely cruel; he was zealously cruel. He persevered in his quest to hurt his nephew. It was his life’s purpose. And it made Yaakov ponder his enthuasism for his life’s mission. Was that same passion present in his Service of G-D?

Please do not take this next statement the wrong way:

Great people in our times have commented that we have much to learn from those who blow up train stations and ram cars into pedestrians.

The passion and self sacrifice that our enemies show when destroying innocent lives for their ideology can be emulated and channelled for the good. We could use those same strengths to build the world. when others are passionately murderous and godless, we are passionately kind and G-D fearing.

Let’s learn from Lavan’s ‘bad ways’, and use what we learn in good ways!

 

This Chanukah, you can support a worthy Torah institution AND get at least 8 chances to win £1,000!  Click here to find out more

 

 

Parshas Chayei Sarah: The Satan’s backup plan

 

What was Avrohom feeling after passing the test of the akeida, the sacrifice that (thankfully) wasn’t?
Exhilarated? Relieved, knowing that he didn’t have to sacrifice his son?
No doubt he probably left the mountain on a high. He had passed the test set for him by G-D.

And then he arrives home to find his beloved wife Sarah. Dead.
The Satan had shown her live graphic coverage of Avrohom plunging the knife into her son’s body. As a mother, this was too much for her.
Not exactly a happy ending to the story.

When I last checked, I understood that the Satan’s role was to create obstacles for us to overcome. Murdering old ladies surely wasn’t part of his job description!

The explanation given is beautiful.
The Satan knew the power of what Avrohom was about to do. He tried every trick in the book to stop him. Eventually, the Satan was forced to retreat and let Avraham go on his way.
But the Satan had a plan B. Get Avrohom to regret his good deed, and the merit accrued to him would be destroyed. Knowing that Sarah’s alloyed time was up, the Satan attempted to (half literally) ‘kill two birds with one stone’.
But Avrohom wasn’t fooled. When the Torah speaks about Avrohom’s mourning period, the word בוכה has spelt with a very small letter ו. He disciplined himself to limit his crying to a few days, so that he wouldn’t feel any shame over what he had done. When the world around him used the incident as proof that G-D was some cruel demon, Avraham proclaimed that Sarah’s passing had nothing to do with his sacrifice. Her time in this world was up, and she would have been taken by some other means. He didn’t feel any need to apologise for doing the right thing.

In the Maariv service, we ask G-D to ‘remove the Satan from in front of us and behind us’. Even after doing a mitzvah, the Evil Inclination is able to attack from behind, simply by planting the seeds of self doubt. Society may scorn us or consider us to be backward. But when your actions are right, you have no reason to apologise for them.

 

Parshat Vayeira: He did it for us!

Our forefather’s sacrifice gave us the tools for life

Imagine that you are one of the most influential people in the world, the spokesman for G-D in This World. And you’ve been teaching a pagan world that practices like giving up your children are wrong. You yourself have a child, whom you love more than anything else. G-D has promised that through this child you will become the founder of His Chosen Nation.

And then G-D asks you to sacrifice your only son.

It’s not a challenge that anyone can relate to. Certainly not in 2017. But we know that the Torah is eternal.  if the Torah goes into such detail about the story of the Akeidah, how Avrohom Ovinu (our father Abraham) was tested in this way, and was stopped by Hashem just as he was about to plunge the knife- it must be relevant to us in some way.

G-D worded his request in a very detailed fashion. ‘take your son, your only son, whom you love, Yitzchok’

Why was that necessary?

The Sfas Emess explains that Avrohom had to go through three stages of processing the request.

  1. ‘Sacrifice your only son’. It would have been easier if Avrohom had other sons. But that was not the case
  2. ‘Whom you love’- Avrohom might have fallen out with Yitchok. But the Torah speaks about the tremendous love he had for him.
  • ‘Yitzchok’. The child whom Hashem promised would be the guarantor of the Jewish People, is now to be sacrificed by his father.

 

But surely Avrohom would have jumped to do G-D’s will in a heartbeat. Why did he need to go through these stages?

The Gerrer Rebbe explains that Avrohom certainly didn’t need to go through this process. Not for his own sake. But he did it for us. By accepting the challenge the way he did, Avrohom planted the seeds of inner strength in our DNA, giving us the power to overcome our own struggles even thousands of years later.

The next time we are faced with a test, be it praying with more concentration or not shouting at the guy who blocked your driveway, lets remember that we do have the wherewithal to succeed. It’s in our blood.

As heard from Rabbi Dovid Goldwasser. (click here to view a video of the original lecture)

Parshas Lech Lecha: going to….yourself!

Once upon a time, in an idolatrous town called Charan, there lived a rather inquisitive little boy named Avraham (Abraham). Actually, ‘inquisitive’ is an understatement. He questioned everything. Where the sun got its power from, who made the birds sing, why it snowed in the winter. That didn’t make him very popular in a city of idol worshippers. As he got older, his family grew more and more frustrated with their rebellious son. There were heated arguments with Avraham, with Terach desperately trying to convince Avraham to keep on the straight and narrow. One day, Terach entered his Idol shop, that he took such pride in, to find all the idols in smithereens. One idol was left intact, holding a stick in his hand. He looked at Avraham furiously. “Don’t look at me” Avraham shrugged, “that idol had a fit this morning and smashed all the others.” “You expect me to believe that?!” Terach bellowed. “yup” Avraham replied, “the same way you expect me to believe that he created me and can be worshipped!”*
In short, Avraham was not afraid to go against the grain. and that is why G-D decided to test him by telling him to leave town. Hashem commanded him very specifically. In the Torah, Hashem is quoted as saying not just “lech-go”, but “ lech lecha– go for yourself”. Moreover, He then elaborates, “from your birthplace, from your father’s house”.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch points out that the word ‘lech’ is related to ‘chelek’ which has 2 meanings:
a) Portions, or halves, separate from each other
b) Smooth, unable to be connected to other things.

G-D was commanding Avraham to cut himself off completely from the culture and home he was raised in. This was a tough order even for Avraham. Despite everything, he still had an appreciation for his surroundings and his family. G-D was giving him his first major test. To separate himself from everything familiar to him and make his own way in life.

We all need community and family. We are advised by Chazal “not to separate from the community”. Avraham himself made a point of interacting with others around him, via acts of kindness. However, that does not mean being a sheep and following the flock. When the general crowd takes a laisse faire attitude to certain areas, a courageous and principled person will swim against the tide to do what’s right.

The stories of fathers are a sign for the children. Avraham Avinu (Abraham our father) modelled courage, the strength to stand apart from the world around us. And in doing so, he showed an example to the whole world of what G-D is about.

That is our responsibility today.

*based on Midrashic sources