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Posted on December 28, 2023 (5784) By Rabbi Label Lam | Series: | Level:

And he said, “Swear to me. ” So, he swore to him, and Israel prostrated himself on the head of the bed. (Breishis 47:31)

Yaakov is ready to bless his children right before his departure from this world. We may be used to viewing this scene as a wise father giving his parting message to each of his beloved children. There may be another dimension at play here. Yaakov is well positioned at this time to be a conduit for delivering Brocho for other reasons besides his patriarchal stature. The Torah shares a detail here about Yaakov’s conduct and the reason for his behavior. After Yosef swears to his father Yaakov that he will bury him in the Land of Israel Yaakov bows down at the head of the bed. Our sages deduce from here that the Schina, the Divine Presence is found at the head of a sick person. This is a valuable qualification for Yaakov to be worthy to fount Brochos at this time.

Why is the Schina to be found at the head of a sick person? Dovid HaMelelch writes in Tehillim “The sacrifices of G-d are a broken spirit; G-d, You will not despise a broken and crushed heart.” (51:19) The Kotzker Rebbe said, “There is nothing more whole than a broken Jewish heart!” When someone is sick, they are naturally very humble. They are coming to terms with their mortality and their absolute dependency on HASHEM. The ego is obliterated. The heart is broken. That is an invitation for HASHEM to visit the truly humbled.

I had the incredible privilege to take each of my boys to Eretz Yisrael immediately prior to their Bar Mitzvos to put Tefillin for the first time at the Western Wall and to seek Brochos from holy people. On the fourth such visit I was with my son Meir Simcha at Yad V’Shem, the Holocaust-museum.

We found ourselves traveling near an elderly Jew who was shepherding what looked like his Israeli daughter and two grandchildren. He was leading the tour for them, pointing and describing with animation. As I looked closely, I noticed his arm that was stretched out. He was wearing short sleeves and I detected, there were the numbers. He was speaking from first hand experience.

Then I looked more closely and I saw something more. There on that same arm with the numbers was the faint impression of Tefillin straps from Davening. We engaged him in conversation. I told him that I came from America for one week to seek Brochos for my son who is becoming a Bar Mitzvah. We have been to many Gedolim and great people but the Satmar Rebbe asked, “To whom can we give Kevitel nowadays!? (Who can give genuine Brochos?) Find someone who has numbers on his arm and still puts on Tefillin.” I told him it would be the greatest honor if he would please bless my son. It was an emotional moment of tears and joy as he blessed my son.

Now it’s hard to find people walking around with numbers on their arms. They are fewer and fewer as time goes by. From whom can we seek such a Brocho, B’zamn HaZeh? I once heard a story about a Baal Teshuva in Eretz Yisrael who had a nasty tattoo on his arm from his earlier days. Now he was learning and raising a wonderful family. He wanted badly to go to the Mikvah especially before Rosh HaShana but he was afraid to reveal the dark secret of his past. So, he scouted out the Mikvah and figured out a plan, that he would come when it was not so busy, and he would park himself near the water where he could walk quickly with the towel on his arm and he would go in and out unnoticed.

When he arrived, it was busier than he expected and he became nervous and flustered. He started to hurry and there was water and soap on the floor. In one quick misstep his feet flew out from underneath him and the towel went flying. He fell flat on his back and a noisy bustling Mikvah scene was suddenly very silent. In that moment he realized all was known. There was no quick recovery to soften the public embarrassment and extreme awkwardness he was experiencing. At that moment an elderly man with numbers on his arm stood nearby and said, pointing to his arm, “This was my Gehinom. (Now pointing to his tattoo) That was probably your Gehinom. Let’s go into the Mikvah together.” Find a broken-hearted person, someone scarred with pain, who somehow persists with Emunah. By such a person for sure, Brochos can be found!