We hope you enjoy this selection of short divrei Torah, presented to family and guests at our Shabbos table as a springboard for discussion. Each one is followed by a question. The responses shared at our table are enlightening, entertaining, and always thought-provoking.
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Parshas Vayigash #1
“I Am Yosef”
“I am Yosef. Is my father still alive?” (Bereishis 45:3).
With these words, Yosef’s elaborate plan came to a head. Overcome with emotion, he instructed all the Egyptians to leave the room. Once he was alone with his brothers, he spoke the last words they could have imagined: “I am Yosef. Is my father still alive?”
When they heard his dramatic announcement they were speechless, as well as frightened. It was twenty-two years since they had sold Yosef into slavery. When Yaakov sent them down to Egypt, they were determined to find him and bring him home; if necessary, they would ransom him at any price. Their instinct was to search for him in the worst part of town (Bereishis Rabbah 91:6, Etz Yosef) – they never dreamed that he had become the viceroy of Egypt!
Yosef’s choice of words is surprising. Why did he ask, “Is my father still alive?” He knew perfectly well that Yaakov was still alive – Yehudah had just said so. The entire focus of Yehudah’s plea for Binyamin’s release had been the danger to Yaakov’s life if he were to lose Binyamin (Bereishis 44:19-34). In addition, why did Yosef refer to Yaakov as “my father?” Now that he had revealed himself to his brothers, would it not have been more natural to ask, “Is our father still alive?”
A sad, lonely ten-year-old boy once surprised his teacher with his own insight into these questions. His words are an important lesson for children and adults everywhere. Rabbi Paysach Krohn, noted speaker and author, tells the story of “Mattisyahu,” a little boy with few friends. He sat quietly in the back of the classroom, uninvolved and apparently, uninterested. His teacher, “Rabbi Silver,” continually attempted to draw him out, without success. Not surprisingly, Mattisyahu was failing in school.
There was a story behind Mattisyahu’s sadness and detachment. His parents had divorced when he was five, leaving him, his mother, and younger sister alone. Five years had passed, and he had not heard from his father since. His mother had remarried, but he had no real relationship with his stepfather.
Every week, Rabbi Silver would teach his class parshas hashavua. For Parshas Vayigash, he told them how Yosef revealed his identity to his brothers with the words, “I am Yosef. Is my father still alive?” He asked the class our question: Yosef already knew from his brothers that Yaakov was alive. Why did he ask, if he knew the answer?
Rabbi Silver could hardly believe it when Mattisyahu raised his hand – had he really been listening, and even more, was he volunteering to answer a question in class? Rabbi Silver called on him immediately. The youngster’s answer touched his heart and brought tears to his eyes.
Mattisyahu explained his understanding of Yosef’s question. “Of course Yosef knew that his father Yaakov was still alive,” he said. “What he wanted to know was this: was Yaakov still his father? Was he still thinking about him, and did he still consider him his son?” It was clear to Rabbi Silver that Mattisyahu was talking not only about Yosef of old, but about himself, the forlorn, forsaken child in the back row (Around the Maggid’s Table, p. 87).
Question for Discussion:
When Yosef said, “Is my father still alive,” he was a mature adult, the father of a family, and one of the most powerful men in the world. Yet, like young Mattisyahu, he still needed to know that his father cared for him. Is there anyone – including one’s own parents, children, and siblings, friends and acquaintances – who doesn’t need to know that others remember him and care about him? Sadly, there are many people who are somehow forgotten or ignored by society. Who is someone who is underappreciated and taken for granted, and what can you do to show him care and concern?
“And Yehudah, he sent on ahead of him to Yosef, to prepare for him in Goshen” (Bereishis 46:28).
After many painful years of separation, Yosef and his family were at last reunited. Yosef, second-in-command to the Egyptian Pharaoh, sent for his father Yaakov, and had the entire family of seventy settle in Egypt under his protection. In a prophetic dream, Hashem instructed Yaakov to go down to Egypt, promising him that his descendants would eventually return, not just as a family, but as a great nation.
In preparation for the move to Goshen, where the family would make their home in Egypt, Yaakov took one very important step. He sent Yehudah, a capable leader, ahead to make the necessary arrangements before they arrived. Chazal explain the nature of these arrangements, essential to the family’s future in a foreign land: Yehudah was to establish a yeshivah in Goshen, where they would learn and teach Torah (Rashi ibid., citing Bereishis Rabbah 95:3).
Yaakov understood that the future begins in the present, and he prepared accordingly. An incredible story which took place some seventy-five years ago highlights this principle.
Rav Moshe Leib Schneider’s yeshivah in Frankfurt, Germany, was closed down by the Gestapo in 1939. By dint of enormous effort, the yeshivah was able to relocate to Stamford Hill in London. London’s Jewish community was already hard-pressed to provide for the flood of refugees escaping the Nazis, making it especially difficult to raise funds for the yeshivah. Rav Schneider and the rebbetzin did their best to care for the talmidim, but it was not easy.
A bright spot, and a great relief, was a generous offer on the part of the Grodzinsky family. The Grodzinskys owned a kosher bakery in London’s Golders Green neighborhood. They offered to donate any leftover three-day-old bread, rolls and other baked goods to the yeshivah, if someone would come to pick them up.
A rotation was arranged among the students; every day a different boy would take the bus from Stamford Hill to Golders Green, and then haul the donated food back to the yeshivah. It was a difficult, tiresome trip, and some of the boys tried to avoid it. One student, a boy named Moshe, never skipped his turn, and filled in regularly for the other boys.
Another talmid, also named Moshe, took on a different assignment at the yeshivah. Rav Schneider felt that it was wrong to rush in to shul right before davening, and instituted an early morning learning session, beginning an hour before davening. Someone would have to wake the boys up on time, though, which meant getting up extra-early. The second Moshe volunteered; every morning, shortly after 5:00 a.m., he would wake his friends to go learn.
One day, Rav Schneider made a statement in a talk to the yeshivah which would prove to be prophetic. He said that Moshe Reichmann, who unselfishly traveled across town to provide the yeshivah with bread, would someday be world famous for his enormous wealth. Moshe Sternbuch, who was up early every morning making sure his friends learned Torah, would someday be a world famous talmid chacham.
Rav Schneider was right on both counts; both talmidim achieved world renown. R. Moshe (Paul) Reichmann, of blessed memory, was an international real estate developer, legendary for the scope of his chesed and support of Torah learning worldwide. Rav Moshe Sternbuch, shlita, distinguished posek, rosh yeshivah, and author of numerous works of Torah, is the Rosh Av Beis Din of the Eidah Hachareidis in Jerusalem.
It is said that when R. Moshe Reichmann was reminded of Rav Schneider’s prediction, his reaction was, “I wish I had been the one to wake up the boys in the morning!”
Question for Discussion:
We learn from Yaakov Avinu that beginnings do matter – it is never too soon to start working and planning. Even before his children and grand-children reached Egypt, he made sure to provide for their future in Torah. Closer to our times, Rav Schneider’s two illustrious students had already set out on their own distinctive paths as young boys in yeshivah. From a spiritual standpoint, what is one important lesson we can teach our youth to help them prepare for a successful future?