by Rabbi Yisrael Kaniel – November 29, 2016
In the beginning of the Torah section of Toldot (Bereshit 25:27), we read, “And the lads grew up and Esav became a man who knows trapping, a man of the field; but Jacob was a wholesome man, abiding in tents.” Regarding these descriptions, Rashi comments that “a man who knows trapping” refers to Esav’s ability “to ensnare and to deceive his father,” whereas Jacob’s being “wholesome” means that “he is not expert” in Esav’s behavior, but, instead, “as is his heart, so is his mouth.” Rashi sums up, “One who is not sharp in deceiving is called wholesome.”
In contrast to the aforementioned description of Jacob, his actions, on the other hand, as reported in the Torah, would appear to deviate considerably from that of an individual “not sharp in deceiving”! In fact, throughout the Torah’s anecdotes concerning Jacob’s life and travels, we find Jacob to be rather astute in outsmarting, first, his brother Esav, and, later, his uncle Lavan in utilizing quite clever and, one may say, duplicitous methods! More puzzling is the fact that Jacob is depicted throughout Jewish literature as the paradigm of truth (see Micha 7:20 et al). How do Jacob’s seemingly duplicitous actions jibe with his depiction as representing truth?
The Rebbe of Lublin, as cited by Ma’ayana Shel Torah (Bereshit 25:27), helps to clarify the seeming inconsistencies in Jacob’s character and the depiction of Jacob as representing truth by analyzing the matter more acutely. He points out that, to successfully promote truth and goodness, one must be in control of his character traits fully, knowing when and how to use them properly, for, at times, one must make use of an otherwise negative trait for good purposes, as our Sages say, “Whoever becomes compassionate when cruelty is in place, in the end becomes cruel when compassion is in place” (Kohelet Rabba, chap. 7). It is not enough, then, to develop the trait of compassion; one must also learn to control this trait and use it appropriately. Therefore, Jacob is not only referred to as “wholesome” but as a “wholesome man”. He was a “man” able to control and master his wholesomeness, knowing when to exercise it and when to put it aside, in order not to be taken unfair advantage of, following in G-d’s ways, as King David (Tehillim 18:27) extols the actions of G-d saying “with the crooked you act perversely.” This is what Rashi alludes to when he says, “One who is not sharp in deceiving is called wholesome.” One who does not know at all how to deceive is called “wholesome”. Jacob, however, although usually distancing himself, in practice and in thought, from his brother’s ongoing pattern of deception and deceit, knew when he needed to “fight fire with fire”. He knew how not to take the trait of compassion and honesty to self-defeating lengths. He knew when the situation called for the opposite. He knew that being compassionate did not include allowing those who are evil and lack compassion to thrive. He knew that promoting truth did not just mean not to tell a lie even if it meant allowing truth as a whole to be vanquished. He knew that to promote the proper spreading of real truth, and not let true and wholesome beliefs passed down from his grandfather Abraham to his father Isaac to be snuffed out by his consistently dishonest, deceptive and immoral brother Esav, negative traits, that are otherwise normally to be shunned, need, sometimes, to be employed, with appropriate control. Jacob represented truth because Jacob knew what it really means to promote truth.
With the crooked, you must be vigilant, not to let them get the upper hand. Allowing them to succeed will allow evil and wrong to flourish and suppress good and right. We must learn from Jacob. We must generally act “wholesomely” with great compassion, caring and absolute honesty, but we must know when and how to suppress this nature when we deal with the Esav’s and Lavan’s of the world who do not know or care what “wholesomeness” is. Only so can we ensure that the world as a whole will be a wholesome one. Only so can good succeed and righteousness flourish.
by Rabbi Yisrael Kaniel – November 8, 2016
The Torah section of Lekh Lekha marks the beginning of a rivalry – a long standing rivalry that continues to this day. We read in this Torah section that our forefather Abraham and his wife Sarah are childless for many years (Bereshit 15:2-3). Sarah then offers her maidservant Hagar to her husband in the hope that she may bear him a child in Sarah’s stead, and, indeed, Hagar gives birth to a son, fathered by Abraham, and they call this son Yishmael (Bereshit 16). Further reading in the Torah concerning this son Yishmael along with commentaries from our Sages tell us of this son’s misbehavior, noticed especially by Sarah, as well as aggressiveness and even violence vis a vis the son that is eventually born to Sarah and Abraham by the grace of G-d Himself (Bereshit 21:9 and Rashi ad locum; Bereshit Rabbah 53:11).
In a recent discussion, the contemporary rosh yeshiva of Baltimore’s Yeshiva Ner Yisrael, R. Yissachar Frand, brought to the fore some noteworthy observations related to the above.
In the Torah, we read (Devarim 21:18-21), “If a man will have a wayward and rebellious son, who does not listen to the voice of this father and to the voice of his mother, and they discipline him, but he does not listen to them. Then his father and mother shall grasp him and take him out to the elders of his city and the gate of his place. They shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This son of ours is wayward and rebellious; he does not listen to our voice’…And all the men of his city shall pelt him with stones and he shall die, and you shall [thereby] destroy the evil from your midst.” The wayward and rebellious son, ben sorer u’moreh in Hebrew, is a young man who has embarked upon on a way of life that our Sages explain will eventually bring him to destruction and bloodshed. Rashi ad locum, in citing our Sages (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 68b, 71b), points out, “’The wayward and rebellious son is judged based on what would be his end’…The Torah [thereby] says, ‘Let him die innocent [so to speak] rather than die guilty [of having actually committed a capital offense]’.”
R. Frand notes that the great medieval Torah scholar R. Eliyahu Mizrachi (c. 1455 – 1525) asks that this implementation of justice in anticipation of future wrongdoing seems to contradict a principle introduced in the following Torah section concerning Yishmael. We read (Bereshit 21:17) that at the time that the young Yishmael was crying out while dying of thirst in the desert, “And G-d heard the voice of the youth and an angel of G-d called to [his mother] Hagar from the heavens and said to her, ‘…Fear not, for G-d has heeded the cry of the youth as he is there’.” Hagar is informed that her son will be treated “as he is there,” in Hebrewba’asher hu sham. Rashi ad locum cites our Sages saying that this means, “In accordance with the deeds that he does at present he is judged, and not in accordance with what he is destined to do. For the ministering angels were impugning [Yishmael] and saying [to G-d], ‘Master of the World! He whose descendants are destined to put your children to death by thirst would You cause a well to rise up for him?’ And He answered them, ‘What is he now: righteous or wicked?’ They said to Him, ‘Righteous.’ He said to them, ‘In accordance with his deeds at present I judge him.’”
Imagine, R. Frand comments, had Yishmael not survived this episode what the world would be like! Imagine the suffering that could have been averted, not only that which the Jewish people currently suffers but that the entire world currently suffers at the hands of Yishmael’s descendants! All this suffering could have been averted had the well in the desert not miraculously appeared in order to save Hagar’s son! Indeed, this was the argument of the ministering angels to G-d: You will miraculously save this individual whose descendants will kill your children? And in response, G-d asks the angels whether the son of Hagar is currently guilty or innocent. After the angels concede that at this particular juncture in his life the young Yishmael was innocent, G-d tells them, “I judge people only based on their current status”.
R. Mizrachi, R. Frand notes, consequently puts before us what seems to be a blatant contradiction: Whereas we kill the wayward son based on anticipated future actions, G-d refuses to harm Yishmael, and even saves him, since G-d only judges an individual based on his current status!
R. Frand points out that a work by the name of Bei Chiyah suggests an answer to R. Mizrachi’s question. Our Sages (Babylonian Talmud, Rosh Hashana 18a) discuss two individuals who had a similar illness or were both accused of the same crime and sentenced to the same capital punishment. Although both face identical situations, it can happen that one of the ill individuals is cured and the other dies or one of those sentenced to death is executed and the other is freed. How does this happen? We are told, “This one prayed and was answered; this one prayed and was not answered. This one prayed a complete prayer and the other one prayed an incomplete prayer.’” The answer appears to be that one prayed whole-heartedly with full devotion and intent and was therefore saved. On the other hand, the individual who had the same illness or the same sentence but did not recover or escape his punishment was lacking in the quality of his prayer. Since our Sages attribute the dichotomy of outcomes to a qualitative difference in their respective prayers and do not entertain the possibility that one had a positive outcome due to his many merits as opposed to the other’s debits, it is suggested in Bei Chiyah that we see from our Sages that one’s praying a “complete prayer” has the capacity to save him despite the “credits” or “debits” he may or may not have based on his past actions. A person may have accumulated numerous terrible sins, but the intensity of his prayer can overcome those negatives. In contrast, one may have accumulated many merits but did not adequately pray at the time of crises and may, therefore, not survive.
It is then suggested that this can help resolve the aforementioned contradiction. The reason Yishmael was saved was not only as a result of being judged based on his present status. In fact, we see from the wayward son, the ben sorer u’moreh, that one may be executed based on future deeds. However, by Yishmael there was another factor, namely ““And G-d heard the voice of the youth.” Yishmael prayed – fervently. Consequently, in spite of the fact that his descendants were destined to kill members of the Jewish nation and should have been “judged based on his end,” his intensity of prayer overcame his future faults.
In light of the above, R. Frand concludes that, since the descendants of Yishmael are not idol worshippers and are very serious about their prayers, even praying five times a day – without fail – this would seem to have saved them and given them the means to endure to this day; and, to overcome them, it would be incumbent on us to pay closer attention to our own prayers, treating our prayers with the full seriousness and intensity due them.
May we all turn to the Al-Mighty Creator of the Universe, Who is the only One Who can truly save or protect us from harm, and may we pray for our needs with full devotion, intensity, seriousness and understanding; and may G-d, in turn, bring all our sorrows and pain to an end as He ushers in a new era under the leadership of His servant, the Messiah, may he arrive speedily.
by Rabbi Yisrael Kaniel – October 14, 2016
by Rabbi Yisrael Kaniel – October 6, 2016
by Rabbi Yisrael Kaniel – September 22, 2016
A concept central to the holy day of Rosh HaShana that marks the Jewish New Year is, as found in the second mishna of the tractate Rosh HaShana, that “On the first of the year, all humankind pass before Him.” The Supreme Being, sole ruler and Creator of the universe, sits, so to speak, in judgement over all members of humanity.
In this vein, we also find that our Sages (Babylonian Talmud, Rosh HaShana 8a) interpret the verse (Devarim 11:12), “The eyes of the L-rd your G-d are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to year’s end,” to mean that, at the beginning of the year, G-d determines what is to transpire at the end of the year. At the beginning of each year, in accordance with our deeds until this point, G-d judges what course of action He is to take.
In accordance with the aforementioned concept, we are obligated to recite during this day’s prayers ten biblical verses that express G-d’s position of rulership over the world. By doing so, as our Sages describe (Babylonian Talmud, Rosh HaShana 16a), G-d instructs us to “proclaim Me King over you.”
Central to our approach to Rosh HaShana, the beginning of the Days of Awe that terminate with the holy day of Yom Kippur, is our understanding our position in this world. G-d is the omniscient Master of the Universe. He created the universe, without any personal benefit. Having created the universe, He knows and understands every part of it. He keeps the universe running, without any personal benefit. And, as part of the universe’s running, He has presented us, without personal benefit, with His set of rules and regulations how to best benefit from our existence in this world. If we do not fully recognize and appreciate the rules He established, G-d must adjudicate an appropriate course of action. We are expected on this day of Rosh HaShana to express, emphasize and internalize the concept of G-d’s supremacy and have an awareness of our being judged by the Supreme Ruler of the Universe.
Unfortunately, many of us do not seem to fully appreciate G-d’s supremacy or that we are sitting in judgement before Him. Too many of us just muddle through the day’s prayers and many of us beat our chests and yell out “amen” to the blessings recited during the holy days of Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur but once the prayers are over and the Days of Awe are completed continue to act in the same way as before! Too many of us wallow away precious time, day after day, that could be used to study and learn more of G-d’s teachings to better understand what He expects of us! Too many of us will arrive promptly and stay to the last minute when out for an evening’s entertainment but will saunter in to a minyan (prayer quorum) after prayers have begun and rush out before all prayers have completed. Too many of us will take great care as regards the condition of our cars, our furniture or our appliances but will disregard the shabby condition of our prayer books, our tallit or tefillin bags or our Shabbat candlesticks! Too many of us act deceitfully, thinking that no one is looking or able to “catch” the deceit; but G-d is above us, has instructed us otherwise and is looking at us! How can so many of us do what we do? An answer can possibly be found in an anecdote reported in the Talmud (Babylonian Talmud, Berakhot 28b) regarding one of the greatest of our Sages, the Tanna R. Yochanan ben Zakai.
Before his passing, the great Sage’s students came to visit him. When they stood before him, they asked that their dear mentor bless them. In response, the great Sage R. Yochanan ben Zakai wished them that “the fear of Heaven be upon you as the fear of flesh and blood.” Surprised, his students asked about this comparison. No more than the fear of flesh and blood? The Sage retorted, “Were it so.” Would it only be so that we would feel the fear of G-d at least as much as we feel that of our fellow man!
In bygone days, many would imagine the fear we feel towards flesh and blood individuals of authority and, upon understanding our position of lowliness towards the Al-Mighty Creator, transpose that feeling in respect to Him in a way that one’s feeling of awe and respect towards G-d was readily palpable. In today’s day and age, however, there is such a rampant lackadaisical attitude to authority itself that there is a serious lack of any semblance of feeling among many of us of fear or awe or respect. Law officers, judges, government representatives, parents, teachers and principals as well as spiritual leaders are rampantly belittled, ridiculed, ignored and treated with an unprecedented level of disregard rarely seen generations ago. Moreover, so many, regardless of their limited knowledge, understanding and experience, talk and act – unabashedly – as equals of others significantly older and more experienced, others who have studied and absorbed much more. Consequently, in accordance with the incisive words of R. Yochanan ben Zakai, as the feeling of fear or respect due fellow human beings diminishes, it would appear that the feeling of fear, awe or respect readily due the King of Kings, the Omnipotent Ruler of the Universe also begins, sadly, to pale and be diminished.
As we enter this next Rosh HaShana, may we all regain our bearings, in a permanent and palpable fashion, in truly understanding our position in life and in this world, and treat the matter seriously. May we understand and internalize G-d’s position as ultimate Ruler as well as our caring Father in Heaven, Who like any father must assess His children’s actions and sometimes mete out appropriate punishments to set them straight. May we truly recognize His Kingship and truly understand that we are being judged by Him.
In His ultimate benevolence, the Al-Mighty G-d created this world and formed human beings, after which He presented rules whereby they could thrive; and, at this juncture, G-d judges whether each individual that He brought into this world is doing that which he ought to and, if not, decides what action should be taken. May we all internalize this message and proclaim proudly, meaningfully and sincerely the words of our Scriptures (Tehillim 10:16, Tehillim 93:1, Sh’mot 15:18), as recited in our daily prayers: “G-d rules, G-d has ruled, G-d will rule for all eternity.” May we all gain full awareness and understanding of our position in relation to the world at large and, most importantly, in relation to G-d, for our own sakes, and may we, thereby, merit only reward from our Supreme Ruler and Judge this coming year and in all coming years thereafter.
by Rabbi Yisrael Kaniel – May 27, 2016
The venerated father-in-law of this essay’s author, R. Hersh Rosenhan, one of the earliest devoted students in America of the illustrious Torah luminary R. Aaron Kotler, who imbibed much of his beloved mentor’s wisdom, has voiced on various occasions an apparent anomaly. At the beginning of the Shemona Esrei prayer, one beseeches G-d, “My L-rd, open my lips, that my mouth may declare Your praise.” This is after one has already completed numerous recitations of verses and / or blessings replete with praise to the Al-Mighty. Why do we first beseech G-d to help us express our praise to Him only at this point, later on in our prayer session, when we begin the Shemona Esrei? Why do we not beseech G-d much earlier on when we first begin our prayers and blessing? The answer suggested is that we have no difficulty initially finding what to say in praise of G-d. There are many verses to be found praising the Al-Mighty. However, after we begin expressing all sorts of verses and blessings that revive our understanding, as it were, of how magnificent is G-d’s Being and His Presence and we begin to realize His unfathomable greatness, we start to find ourselves at a loss to continue to properly express our praise for Him as we attempt to personally address Him, so to speak, at the beginning of the Shemona Esrei. It is after our minds have been saturated with an abundance of understanding of G-d’s greatness that we find ourselves overwhelmed when we personally approach Him for the Shemona Esrei, and we search for a way and request His Divine assistance to do so properly, nevertheless, for the love of G-d, to proceed further to express His praise anew.
The late prominent spiritual leader of Jerusalem’s religious community, R. Yehoshua Leib Diskin (1818 – 1898), once reported of a horrifying incident that occurred when he was young. While still a young man, he and his father R. Binyamin Diskin, formerly rabbi of Grodno, Vilkovisk and Lomza, heard a report of Torah scrolls having been burnt. Upon hearing such heart-rending news, R. Yehoshua Leib, yet in his youth, began to weep. His father, on the other hand, older and more seasoned at the time than his young son, overcome by the tragic news, as he saw it, of scrolls containing the beloved words of our beloved Father in Heaven going up in flames, immediately fainted. Saturated with love for his Creator and the Supreme Ruler’s personal manuscript, R. Binyamin Diskin found himself overwhelmed, in light of the report, to the point of fainting.
The renowned R. Yisrael Meir Kagan (1839 – 1933), known after his famous work Chafetz Chaim, was a man fully immersed in thought and study of the Al-Mighty and His Torah. So devoted was he to G-d and His teachings that the Chafetz Chaim would keep an accounting of his actions every day to ensure that he would not stray even for a minute from giving his full attention to His beloved Creator. One day a student found him pacing around nervously and appearing utterly distraught. Upon the student’s questioning as to what was troubling him, the Chafetz Chaim explained that there 15 minutes that passed that day that he could not account for. For the love of G-d and his complete devotion to Him, the Chafetz Chaim was overwhelmed by the thought that he may have been lax in his devotion for even 15 minutes.
As we approach the very special holiday of Shavuot, when G-d Himself presented the Children of Israel with His holy Torah, we should contemplate upon our own devotion to G-d and His Torah. How many of us can seriously claim a semblance of the devotion to G-d and His Torah described above? How much do we truly appreciate the role of G-d and His Torah in our lives? And to what extent do we express our appreciation and love for G-d and His Torah in our actions?
Every Sabbath, in synagogues world-wide, observant Jews recite a special prayer describing the great appreciation incumbent upon us towards G-d beginning with the Hebrew word nishmat: “The soul of every living being shall bless Your Name, L-rd our G-d, the spirit of all flesh shall always glorify and exalt Your remembrance, our King. From this world to the World to Come, You are G-d, and other than You we have no king, redeemer, or savior. He who liberates, rescues and sustains, and is merciful in every time of distress and anguish, we have no king but You! … G-d of all creatures, Master of all Generations, … Who guides His world with kindness and His creatures with mercy. The L-rd neither slumbers nor sleeps. He Who rouses the sleepers and awakens the slumberers, Who makes the mute speak and releases the bound, Who supports the fallen and straightens the bent, to You alone we give thanks! Were our mouth as full of song as the sea, and our tongue [as full of] joyous song as its multitude of waves, and our lips [as full of] praise as the breadth of the heavens, and our eyes as brilliant as the sun and the moon, and our hands as outspread as the eagles of the sky and our feet as swift as hinds, we still could not thank You sufficiently … for even one of the thousand thousand, thousands of thousands and myriad myriads of favors, miracles and wonders that you performed for our ancestors and for us. You redeemed us from Egypt, L-rd our G-d, and liberated us from the house of bondage. In famine You nourished us, and in plenty you sustained us. From sword you saved us; from plague you let us escape; and from severe and enduring diseases you spared us. Until now Your mercy has helped us, and Your kindness has not forsaken us. Do not ever abandon us, L-rd our G-d. Therefore the organs that you set within us and the spirit and soul that you breathed into our nostrils, and the tongue that you placed in our mouth, all of them shall thank and bless and praise and glorify, exalt and revere, be devoted, sanctify and declare the sovereignty of Your Name, our King. For every mouth shall offer thanks to You; every tongue shall vow allegiance to You; every knee shall bend to You; every erect spine shall prostrate itself before You; all hearts shall fear You; and all innermost feelings and thoughts shall sing praises to Your name, as it is written: ‘All my bones shall say, L-rd who is like You? You save the poor man from one who is stronger than he, the poor and destitute from the one who would rob him.’ Who is like unto You? Who is equal to You? Who can be compared to You? The great, mighty and awesome G-d, the supreme G-d, Creator of heaven and earth; we shall laud, praise and glorify You and bless Your holy Name, as it is said, ‘Of David, Bless the L-rd, my soul, and let all my innermost being bless His holy Name.’”
When we recite the above, do we realize what we are saying? Do we appreciate the intent of these words? Do we understand their meaning? How many of us who purport to be staunch followers of G-d and His Torah recognize the ramifications of what we are reciting? Do we realize the extent of our dependence on G-d and his part in our lives; how much we owe Him and how much love is due Him? Do we realize the magnitude of the Torah, dictated and presented by G-d Himself and the resultant love due its teachings? Do we understand that, for the love of G-d, we are expected to exert every limb of our body to express that love? For the love of G-d, how could we not make every effort to delve into and explore everything we can about G-d and His Torah every spare moment of every day of our lives? For the love of G-d, why would we not want to study, as much as is humanly possible, every component of G-d’s teachings – Torah, Scriptures, Talmud, Halakha etc.? For the love of G-d, would we not want to study and understand G-d’s precepts as much as possible to properly follow and obey His wishes? For the love of G-d, when we engage in prayer to G-d, how can we divert our attention from the Al-Mighty and digress into banal chatter? For the love of G-d, when praying to G-d to furnish us with our needs, how can we give Him anything less than our undivided attention? For the love of G-d, when speaking to G-d in prayer, how can we not make a serious effort to think about the words that we are reciting? For the love of G-d, how can we not take a few extra minutes necessary to clearly enunciate the words that we say during our prayers, rather than quickly mumbling the words? For the love of G-d, how can we not savor the time that we have to address G-d in prayer? For the love of G-d, when we are sitting in the synagogue waiting for the next set of prayers, how can we not search out the nearest sacred book to study or pull out a pocket sized version that one carries regularly? For the love of G-d, when we go to a doctor’s appointment, how can we not bring along a sacred book to study while waiting our turn? For the love of G-d, in appreciation of Him, how can we not cherish every word that we express to Him in prayer? For the love of G-d, in appreciation of His Torah, how can we not strive to take advantage of every possible “free” moment to explore more and more of His teachings, to absorb more and more of His teachings and to seek to understand more and more of His teachings?
In his youth, a brother-in-law of this essay’s author once approached the great Torah luminary R. Yaakov Kamenetsky to ask for a blessing from him that he become a talmid chakham (Torah scholar). R. Yaakov responded with a smile, “And would you also want to study?” The meaning of the response was not lost on this brother-in-law or on his brothers – the other brothers-in-law of this essay’s author – all of whom continually exert significant efforts and continually achieve significant heights in their study of G-d’s works. If one truly appreciates G-d and, for the love of G-d, wishes to ingest His teachings, one must perforce want to expend and invest the effort to do so. As any good relationship demands work, the investment of time, energy and thought, to nurture the relationship, our relationship with G-d demands it all the more so.
It is with very fond memories and great appreciation that this essay’s author recalls the example that his exceptional father set for him as he was growing up. The dear and revered father of this essay’s author, R. Shaul Kaniel, closely devoted to the late great rabbi of Jerusalem R. Tzvi Pesach Frank (1873 – 1960), raised in the hallowed environs of Jerusalem’s Old City a century ago surrounded by and replete with legendary Torah scholars, who imbibed lessons from all his teachers, would regularly demonstrate in his words as well as in his actions the need, for the love of G-d, to invest much time, great energy and boundless thought in doing what he needed to do for the sake of G-d. Despite what many would take for granted or the popular view may have been, he would not allow himself to mindlessly be dragged along to act in a way that he was not convinced was the true expression of what is expected of him by G-d. He knew that, for the love of G-d, it was demanded of him to act with total and honest conviction to explore, absorb and contemplate G-d’s teachings and, thereby, implement as best as possible what G-d expects of him.
As we enter again the glorious holiday of Shavuot marked by the One and Only G-d, Creator of the Universe, in loving kindness, bequeathing His illustrious teachings to mankind, we should make a special effort, for the love of G-d, to contemplate the ramifications of this event and the holiday that commemorates it, and, consequently, redouble our efforts to invest the time, energy and thought incumbent upon us to enjoy our relationship, as it were, with the Al-Mighty to its fullest for the sake of the ultimate betterment of each and every one of us.
by Rabbi Yisrael Kaniel – May 6, 2016
by Rabbi Yisrael Kaniel – March 25, 2016
After Joseph’s being exiled to a foreign land, enslaved, falsely accused of a crime and imprisoned, we read (Bereshit 41:14), “And Pharaoh sent and summoned Joseph, and they rushed him from the dungeon.” Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, had a disturbing dream that could only be interpreted by Joseph and, subsequently, redeemed Joseph from all his travails – with great haste. In a matter of hours, Joseph was no longer the poor unfortunate exiled young slave and prisoner in a foreign country. He became virtual ruler over that entire country, second only to its king. The entire matter of Joseph’s redemption was “rushed.”
Joseph’s redemption was, then, a precursor to a later more widespread and magnificent redemption of all the descendants of his father Jacob, also known as Israel, a redemption that is celebrated to this very day by Jews the world over during the holiday of Pesach (Passover). After Joseph passed away, the country that was saved at his hands turned on his family, its descendants and the descendants of his brothers, engaging them in forced hard labor. For many years, the cruel enslavement of Jacob’s descendants continued with no solution in sight, until one day. One day, a special descendant of Jacob had an amazing encounter with G-d Himself and hastily, in virtually “no time,” the long enslaved Children of Israel are rushed out of Egypt. We read (Sh’mot 12:33), “And Egypt imposed itself strongly upon the people to hasten to send them out of the land.” In the end, again, the entire matter of redeeming the Children of Israel was hastened.
In Matzmiach Yeshuot, a work written some 100 years ago by R. Menachem Mendel Ravitzky, the author suggests that the aforementioned verse and the related narrative regarding Joseph’s sudden redemption can teach us a very important lesson. Similarly, this lesson can be reinforced by the narrative surrounding the redemption of the Children of Israel from Egypt. Upon reading of Joseph’s rushed redemption, reinforced by the hastened redemption of the nation of Israel, we are reminded of a statement found often in Jewish literature that, consequently, takes on a very real and palpable meaning – “Yeshuat HaShem k’heref ayin” (the salvation of G-d arrives in the blink of an eye).
No matter how much misfortune the Jewish nation may experience, no matter how much calamity or hardships the Jewish people may encounter, when the time is right, as long as we remain stalwart in our loyalty to G-d and our heritage, as did Joseph and our earliest ancestors, redemption from all our sorrow can be swift, whereby, in one relatively swift motion, all our past anguish can be a distant memory, as Joseph’s enslavement and imprisonment in Egypt and as our ancestors’ former enslavement at the hands of the Egyptians.
When we celebrate during this holiday of Pesach, we should not treat it as but a commemoration of what once was. We should, rather, consider the events surrounding Pesach as a message of what one day will yet be. When G-d so decides, all of the hardships, calamities and persecution experienced by the Jewish people, can be but a distant memory, wiped away suddenly in one swift motion – “in the blink of an eye.” Redemption can be swift. We must, however, stay close to G-d and follow His wishes. Then, as He did before to Joseph and our ancestors, He will one day do for the Jewish people again. May that day come speedily, when G-d will send His messenger, the messiah, to finally redeem His people and bring them their final salvation. May it happen speedily in our time.
by Rabbi Yisrael Kaniel – February 21, 2016
On our rabbinically mandated fast days, we limit our indulgence in physical pleasures in order to take the time to contemplate our loss and the hope for us to regain what once was. In fasting on these days, we are expressing our hungering for what was. As we express in our prayers daily, “May our eyes see Your return to Zion in compassion.” May we merit soon that our Father in Heaven revert our land, the Land of Israel, and our nation to what it once was.