These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Tapes on the weekly portion: #1058– Bentching Your Children on Friday Nights. Good Shabbos!
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The Three Treasures Yosef Hid Away in Egypt
The Talmud [Sanhedrin 110a] expounds the expression “riches hoarded by their owner to his misfortune” [Koheles 5:12] as referring to Korach. The Gemara there teaches that Korach was a very wealthy individual. However, this was a dubious situation, where his wealth actually led to his downfall, as alluded to by Shlomo in Koheles. There is a Yiddish expression used to indicate that a person is rich: Ehr is reich vi Korach [he is as rich as Korach]. Where did this expression originate? It comes from this Gemara, which tells us that Korach was very wealthy.
A few lines later, the Gemara mentions that Yosef HaTzadik hid three treasures while he was ruling Egypt. One of the treasures was found by Korach; one treasure was found by Antoninus (the Roman general and politician, contemporary of Rav Yehudah HaNassi); and one is hidden away for the righteous, in the world to come. On a literal level, this Gemara is saying that of the three fabulous treasures that Yosef hid away (which he presumably acquired as Viceroy of Egypt) Korach found one, Antoninus found one, and the Tzadikim will find one in the Messianic era.
A fascinating Pardes Yosef at the end of Parshas Vayechi has an entirely different take on this Gemara. According to his approach, the Gemara is not speaking about wealth at all. The Pardes Yosef says that the treasures that Yosef buried in Egypt had nothing to do with money, but rather, Yosef’s life embodied three fundamentals of living that he figuratively hid away for future generations to rediscover.
The first “treasure” was the fundamental principle that if the Almighty wants you to be elevated to a position of leadership, you will achieve that position regardless of anyone else’s attempt to halt your rise to power. You can have all the enemies in the world, and the plotters who are against you can rise to the top, but you will still prevail. They will not be able to stop you!
We see this for the first time, in the life of Yosef. He told his brothers that he prophetically saw in his dreams that they would come and bow down to him, and despite all the brothers’ efforts to quash Yosef’s rise to leadership, the Will of the Almighty came to pass!
Korach discovered this treasure (the hard way)! Korach had argued that “the entire congregation is holy.” He challenged the leadership of Moshe Rabbeinu. “I want to be the leader.” He tried his hardest to wrest power from his cousin Moshe. However, in his time – once again – it was revealed from Heaven that if the Almighty wants someone (i.e., Moshe) to be the leader, his leadership is inevitable and inviolable.
The second “treasure” of Yosef’s life, writes the Pardes Yosef (who lived into the twentieth century), has to do with anti-Semitism. Some think that what causes anti-Semitism is the fact that we act differently, and if we would act more like the Gentiles, they would accept us and not be anti-Semitic. We know that this is not true.
The righteous Yosef was a religious and observant Jew in Egypt. The Egyptians and their religious practices were diametrically opposed to the lifestyle practiced by Yosef. One would think, “How could he achieve a position of authority? He is a Jew.” Anti-Semites say, “We hate Jews. Jews are disloyal. Jews are pushy. Jews are aggressive. Jews are this. Jews are that.” The popular maxim of this philosophy is, “If you want to be successful in life, you need to give up your Yiddishkeit.” Yosef disproved this philosophy. He showed that it was not true by remaining Yosef the Righteous in Egypt, and nevertheless rising to the very pinnacle of Egyptian authority. Pharaoh accepted him as he was.
This lesson, that one can remain “Jewish” and achieve respect from Gentile society regardless of one’s religion, was the second treasure that Yosef “hid away for future generations to rediscover.” When was this “treasure” revealed? It was revealed with the comradeship between Antoninus and Rebbi. Rebbi was Rabbeinu HaKadosh, who compiled the Mishna and led the Jewish community. And yet, Antoninus, the head of Rome, respected and honored him! Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi acted like a “Jew” – why did Antoninus not hate Rebbi? It is because — as Yosef revealed centuries earlier in Egypt — anti-Semitism does NOT stem from the fact that Jews act differently than Gentiles.
Yosef proved this in the time of Pharaoh, and it was “rediscovered” in the era of Antoninus and Rebbi. One can achieve success in society at large, if one sticks to his principles. We see that today too. There are observant Jews in every area of government and industry, in positions of great prominence. They do not need to compromise their religious principles to achieve success and respect.
The third “treasure” that Yosef showed us is that we think there is absolutely no solution to the problem of “hatred between brothers” (sin’as achim). We have almost become resolved to the idea that inner-communal jealousies, rivalries, and hatred was with us, is with us, and will always be with us. The story of Yosef proved that despite the tensions and the bitter events that transpired between them, it was possible to put those differences behind themselves, and reach a level of brotherly love (aha’vas achim).
We look at the controversies and tensions that exist within the Jewish people today, and we ask ourselves “How is Moshiach ever going to come?” This “treasure” of Yosef, the Gemara admits, is still hidden away; it has not yet been “rediscovered.” However, the Gemara assures us that the Tzaddikim in the world of the future will one day find it, and then true brotherly love — Yosef’s “third treasure” — will once again reign within our nation.
The Shechinah is Present Above the Head of One Who is Ill
Yaakov asks Yosef to swear to him that following his passing, Yosef would take him from Egypt and bury him with his fathers (in the Me’aras HaMachpela in Chevron). At the conclusion of the narration of this episode, the pasuk says, “He said, ‘Swear to me,’ and he swore to him; and Israel prostrated himself toward the head of the bed.” [Bereishis 47:31] Rashi comments on the words “toward the head of the bed”: “He turned himself in the direction of the Shechinah [the Divine Presence]. This is the source for that which the Sages say [Shabbos 12b], “The Shechinah is present above the head of one who is ill.”
Why does the Divine Presence hover, so to speak, on the top of the bed of a sick person? I saw an interesting observation in a sefer. When a person is sick in bed, he can think that the Almighty has abandoned him (My G-d, my G-d, why have you left me? [Tehillim 22:2]). A person thinks, “The Ribono shel Olam must be angry with me; He must have it “in” for me!”
The reason the Shechinah is above the head of a sick person is because the Ribono shel Olam wants us to know that even under these circumstances, He still loves us, and He is still with us. The reason we are ill is for whatever reason it may be, but it is NOT because He is throwing us away.
There was a fellow named Rav Herschel Kowalski, ob”m. He came to America several times. I developed a connection with him, and I still have a connection with his widow. He was an extremely righteous individual — a holy man. When he was sick, and people would come to him to receive blessings from him, he would take the “kvittel” (piece of paper with the prayer or request of the individual coming to him for a blessing) and he would put it on top of his bed. He told the petitioners, “This is just as good as putting the “kvittel” into the Kosel.” Just as the Talmud says that the Shechinah never departed from the Western Wall, so too the Shechinah is right there above the bed of a sick person.
This is a very important thing to bear in mind, especially when people are very ill — the Divine Presence is still with them.
A couple of weeks ago, I was in New York visiting my children, and I davened Shabbos morning in a shteible in Brooklyn. This was a nice Hashkama minyan in the basement of a building. They finished pesukei d’zimra, reaching shochen ad, but nobody went up to the amud to lead the Shachris service. Finally, an old Jew — who had trouble getting out of his seat — said to his neighbor, “Help me get up, and I will go to the amud to lead the davening.” He made it to the amud and davened beautifully, but he was not able to stand at all. He had to lean on the amud throughout the davening.
I assumed that since he was an old man it was hard for him to stand, and that is why he had to lean on the amud throughout davening. When he finished davening, everyone gave him a hearty “yasher koach!” After Mussaf, he approached me and asked me if I had a minute to talk. We sat down, and he told me, “I have stage-four gastric cancer. The doctors have given me four months to live.” He told me, “Cancer is not only a battle between the medicine and the disease. It is a battle between the Yetzer HaTov and the Yetzer HaRah. The Yetzer HaRah tells you, ‘Give up. Stop davening. It is not worth it. You are a goner. You are going to lose it anyway. Just give up.’ The Yetzer HaTov tells you, ‘No. Keep on davening. It will help you. If it won’t help you, at least your davening will help someone else. Just don’t give up.”
I told him that I noticed — and it had made an impression on me — that the whole time that he was davening, he was hunched over the amud, but when he said Kedusha (with a nice niggun), when he reached the words “and our eyes will see your Kingdom…” he stood up erect and banged on the amud with vigor. It was as if he was able to strengthen himself, and had the full conviction that he would yet merit to see His Kingdom revealed to all, as promised by the words of ‘Dovid Your Servant.’ The Shechinah was still with this person, even with a diagnosis of stage-four gastric cancer. The Shechinah still loves this person.
As the Talmud says in Tractate Brachos [10a], “this is my tradition from the house of my father’s father — even if a sharp sword is resting against one’s neck, one should not abstain himself from requesting Mercy.” No matter how desperate a situation may look, a person should never give up hope, and never stop praying for a salvation.
Transcribed by David Twersky; Jerusalem [email protected]
Technical Assistance by Dovid Hoffman; Baltimore, MD [email protected]
This week’s write-up is adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissochar Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Series on the weekly Torah portion. A listing of the halachic portions for Parshas Vayechi is provided below:
- # 037 – Establishing Time of Death
- # 079 – The Yissocher-Zevulun Partnership
- # 128 – The Sandik
- # 175 – Embalming, Autopsies, and Cremation
- # 221 – Exhumation: When Is it Permitted?
- # 265 – Yahrtzeit
- # 311 – Funerals in Halacha
- # 355 – Asarah B’Teves
- # 399 – Baruch Shem K’vod Malchuso L’Olam Voed
- # 443 – Aveilus Issues
- # 487 – Determining Date of Moshiach’s Arrival
- # 531 – Burial in Eretz Yisroel
- # 575 – Honoring an Older Brother
- # 619 – Fulfilling the Wishes of the Deceased
- # 663 – Belief in the Coming of Moshiach
- # 707 – Fasting on a Yahrzeit
- # 751 – The Rabbi: Master Or Slave?
- # 795 – Hatoras Nedorim – How Specific Must You Be?
- # 839 – Buying Cemetery Plot – Investing in Real Estate for Long Term
- # 883 – Evil Intentions – Do They Matter?
- # 927 – Yissocher – Zevulun Revisited
- # 970 – Being A Sandek – Does It Really Make You Wealthy?
- #1014 – Will We Make Pesach When Mashiach Comes?
- #1058 – Bentching Your Children on Friday Nights
- #1101 – Grandfather or Great Grandfather – Who Should be Sandek?
- #1144 – Supporting Someone To Sit and Learn: Must He Be Altruistic?
- #1187 – Can You Be Sandek More Than Once?
- #1231 – Day of Death or of Funeral? Customs and other Yahrtzeit Issues
- #1275 – I Don’t Want Hespedim at my Levaya – Must We Obey?
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