Monday, 19 December 2016

Parshat Vayeishev: Be Careful in Judging Others! Everything is Measure for Measure!


When Yosef was a young boy (man?) he was wont to doing certain things his way. Surely his way was always right! He saw life through his eyes. This was surely as things were! As any person would - he too was accustomed to some things that any of us might do. For some reason - though he was officially the second youngest of the 12 brothers and the most despised - due to his father's extraordinary love for him - he used to say certain negative things about his brothers. He believed everything to be true and correct - and certainly worthy of being said!

Rabbi Meir said that Yosef used to tell his father that his (Yaakov's) sons (i.e. Yosef's brothers) would eat eiver min hachai - the limb of a living animal - something prohibited even to non-Jews - being one of the 7 commandments given to Noah. The prohibition includes not eating a limb from an animal that is still alive. The truth is that while Yosef did indeed see the brothers eating the limb from a "living animal", it wasn't quite what he had imagined. The brothers were eating from an animal known in Hebrew as ben-pekuah. A ben-pekuah is an animal that was in the womb of the mother at the time of the ritual slaughter. The Torah says that in terms of the legal-ritual status of the animal in the womb, that once the mother is slaughtered correctly - in accordance with the rules of Jewish ritual slaughter, then the animal in the womb is considered a part of its mother. Much like any limb of the now slaughtered animal, this animal is considered part of the limbs of the dead animal - and is permitted to be eaten even without slaughtering. Yosef saw his brothers eating this animal (permissible according to Jewish law) and told his father that his brothers were not in fact following Jewish law. 

Rabbi Shimon says that Yosef told his father Yaakov that his brothers had taken a special interest in the Canaanite women. This of course was something totally forbidden. It was not for the brothers to be entertaining thoughts of marrying these women - and it certainly would have caused Yaakov to become annoyed with his other sons.

Rabbi Yehuda said that Yosef told his father that the sons of Leah were demeaning the sons of the maidservants (i.e. Bilhah and Zilpah) by calling them servants - whereas he (Yosef) had befriended them! Surely this would annoy his father regarding their conduct.

Clearly Yosef was on some type of mission. On the one hand, perhaps he wanted to tell his father the truth about the brothers - that his father should know their true characteristics. On the other hand, perhaps Yosef was simply trying to "get into the good books" of his father, by showing how observant he was in terms of his status in following Torah law - whereas his brothers were not quite "on the path." Once it comes time for things like inheritance etc. this would surely work well in his favour! Naturally - it would win him favour even during his life while his father was alive - since his father would come to favour him throughout his life much to the disappointment of the other brothers.

Indeed, Yosef was not well liked by his brothers. Once this was the case, what better way to getting his father's attention than by telling the truth - and putting them in a bad light! It seemed like a win-win. Yes, the brothers were not doing what was right - but at least it was the truth!

Rabbi Yehuda bar Simon said that on all three accounts, Yosef was punished! He was punished measure for measure - as the Torah says midah knegged midah - a powerful concept in Torah. It's a part of life that G-d has created a system in this world where the things we do for/against others - comes back to us in direct measure!

G-d (so to speak) said to Yosef - "You said that your brothers ate the limb of a living animal! By your life - I promise this to you!" (i.e. you will see the truth of this statement and how it will return and affect your life!) As the Torah testifies, when it came to doing away with Yosef, the brothers thought up a plan! The first thing they did was to slaughter an animal. With the blood, they covered Yosef's garment - so that it looked as if an animal had eaten him! The brothers slaughtered the animal so that it was clear that they had never transgressed eating the limb of a living animal. In fact, right in front of his eyes, the brothers slaughtered the animal in a kosher manner. They would never simply break off a limb of an animal and eat it - without slaughtering it. They would not go against halacha (Jewish law.) Even at the time when they were involved in a terrible act - even then - they chose to slaughter rather than just rip an animal apart. If they did so then... then how much more so when it came to actually eating an animal?!

G-d (so to speak) continued to say to Yosef, "You said that the older brothers were demeaning the younger one's - the sons of the maidservants, calling them servants... therefore - you yourself will be sold to be a servant to others." G-d continued (so to speak) to say to Yosef, "You told your father that your brothers had shown an interest in the women from Canaan i.e. in their wanting to marry them... by your life now, I promise you that by that you will be caught out. I will bring "the bear" to test you (i.e. that Potifar's wife  - a very beautiful woman - would come to seduce him and test him.)

Measure for measure - Yosef was afflicted with the very same things that he accused others of. The Torah is teaching us a powerful part of life. The way we look at others - especially when we don't know for certain their lives and what is actually going on - and the way we judge others... the way we behave towards others because of our beliefs etc... it is these very same ways that will return to us in our own lives.

We are a generation of judgment. We like to constantly show ourselves up - as we put others down. We judge others - correctly or not - left, right and centre! Can we even have a conversation with another without bringing up someone else in the conversation - commenting on their lives, their behaviour, their manner of dress, the income they make, the car they drive, the mess in their homes, or the way they do their hair?! Can we manage even a hour every day - of refraining from judging another?! Can we take off a day from social-networking - not to demean or judge anyone? The news is filled with it - and it is what brings people to those pages - allowing people to make income from advertising and attracting people to what it is that they do just-so-right! 

We feel we have the right to know why others are suffering... (i.e. to know what bad things they must surely have done to deserve such a fate)... to judge on what is going on in their lives and why things happen to them the way they do - or even why they behave as they do. 

The story of Yosef comes to teach us a powerful lesson in life. Be warned about the quality of the attribute of judgment. We really know little of others. We don't really see what is happening on the other side... We know little why they behave as they do. We know practically nothing - of their real lives. In truth - however, when we judge them - we do nothing less than awaken forces against ourselves, so that we ourselves may well find ourselves in the very situations we have judged others on.

When we see the good in others - their hurt, their difficulties; when we try to find ways to help them instead of judging them; when we acknowledge that in truth, we do not understand why they go through what they do - then those forces of creation come back at us directly. When a moment may come of difficulty for us - someone will step in to help! When a moment of compassion is needed - it will be there.

Yosef and his brothers... because a friend's love is for all times, and a brother is born for times of affliction (Proverbs 17:17)... Sometimes a friend is closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24). Be a friend... be the brother for others - for times of affliction - and one day - this too will return to you.

Eliyahu Shear
Co-Director Chessed Ve'Emet
www.lovingkindness.co

Join me for a live Shiur online - one-on-one!

Monday, 5 December 2016

The Departure of a Righteous Person Leaves Behind an Impression


Parshat Vayeitze begins by telling us the Yaakov left Be'er Sheva in order to make his journey to Charan. Yaakov was beginning a new phase of his life. He was about to embark on the journey to find a woman whom he could marry. Life had become unpleasant for Yaakov. 

His father Yitzchak had prepared himself to bless his eldest son Eisav. Eisav - of course - had already forfeited his blessings by handing over the rights of the first-born to his younger brother Yaakov many years before this moment! In truth - as Rashi points out, Yaakov was indeed conceived first - much like the concept of placing a ball into a thin container and thereafter placing another one into the same container. The first in - is the last out! Though the first ball placed into the tube is placed first, it actually comes out last. So too, Yaakov was conceived first, and by rights should also have been born first - but due to the rule of FILA - first-in-last-out, Yaakov was born only after his brother Eisav. Yaakov grabs Eisav's heal at birth, because it is in a certain respect his way of trying to hold back Eisav so that he can be born first - as things should have been.

When Eisav grows up - he has no interest - in any case - of any first-born rights. Life as a first-born can be filled with myriads of tests and unwanted useless things! The eldest will be required to serve in the Temple. Doing things wrong there could end up causing a variety of problems for this first-born - with his standing to lose his opportunity to continue living! Of course, the first-born should also take a certain amount of care for his younger siblings too. He should act as the example in life! Eisav wants fun! He wants to hunt. He wants a good deal of "feminine companionship." He wants as much of the physical world as he can have. Yaakov - on the other hand, wants nothing more than to sit and study Torah in the Tents of Torah. He wants to grow close to the Creator of life. He wants to meditate. He wants the quiet of the world - if it is possible! Indeed if only he had been the first born - he would have delighted in reflecting all these values to his younger sibling - so that he could follow in these ways too. But alas - in the end, Eisav was indeed born first.

Many years before this moment of blessing... Eisav returns home from an exhausting hunt to find Yaakov preparing some cooked lentils. It was the mourning period for his grandfather Avraham - who had just died - and as is the custom - Yaakov (the other grandson) was cooking a food item which has no mouth - much like the mourner who too, "lacks a mouth." Eisav was still a young teenager - but certainly old enough to know that what lay in front of him was something meaningful. He was only interested in the actual taste of the food - that it should fill him up and give him enough energy to continue his day filled with adventure - rather than sitting with the rest of the family, mourning the sad passing of their grandfather. Eisav demands his share of the prepared lentils - and Yaakov agrees - provided he sell him the birthright! Eisav has no interest in this "burdensome" birthright - and is really only too happy to let it go.

Years later, when Yitzchak - his father, is about to bless him, Eisav suddenly wakes up, realizing the importance of the blessings from his righteous father. But Rivkah - his mother, overhears a conversation with Yitzchak telling Eisav to find some animals and prepare them for his father so that his father will feel sated, and be able to best bless his eldest son - before he himself dies. Eisav goes off to attend to obeying his father, and fulfilling the Mitzvah of honoring his father. Rivkah - realizing the dangers involved, immediately informs Yaakov that he must prepare himself to receive the blessings. He will need to "trick" his father into thinking that he is his brother - a hairy man! His mother tells him he will need to wear the fur coat of his brother, so that he feels more like him. Yitzchak was of course blind at this time - and had no idea who would be in front of him.

Yaakov enters and though Yitzchak is confused (wondering if indeed it was Eisav in front on him,) he ends up giving the blessings to the younger son Yaakov. Eisav enters the room to find that Yitzchak has already given over the first-born blessings (to his younger brother no-less!) - and breaks down! Eisav plots to kill his brother in revenge - when his father Yitzchak dies (after all, it would certainly not be honourable to kill his brother in his father's lifetime!)

Rivkah is notified about Eisav's plan through Ruach HaKodesh - Divine inspiration - and immediately notifies her son to flee for his life - at least until his brother's anger cools down! She tells him he must get on with his life now - he must go to find a wife for himself from her own brother's family and stay there until Eisav cools down.

So Yaakov left... He left Be'er Sheva and went to Charan! This is how our story unfolds! The Midrash asks - however - why did the Torah need to tell us this?! Surely we already knew that he was in Be'er Sheva - at the very least! It could just as easily have told us that he went to Charan. Why the need to emphasize that he had left Be'er Sheva to go to Charan?!

Indeed, many people involved in merchandise activities would enter and leave the city every day! Here, the Torah makes no mention of these people entering and leaving. Does it really seem relevant to tell us that Yaakov left Be'er Sheva?! Did not anybody else leave? Our verse seems to indicate that it was only Yaakov who made his way out of the city... as if to say that nobody else had done so.

The expression seems to tell us that the entire city felt some sort of feeling as Yaakov left... as if to say - while there was a constant buzz of activity of people moving in and out of the city - it was this particular thing - that was felt by all... Yaakov has left Be'er Sheva!

Rabbi Azaria in the name of Rabbi Yehuda the son of Rabbi Simon said that this comes to teach us that at the time a righteous individual (a Tzadik) stays in a city, he is the city's light(!), he is its beauty(!) and he is its praise(!) - because the light, beauty and praise of the city comes about only through this righteous individual! When this righteous individual leaves the city, its light departs, its beauty departs and its praise departs! This is what the verse was teaching... And Yaakov left from Be'er Sheva... the Tzadik had left!

We see this same pattern occurring later in the book of Ruth. Here we are told that Naomi, the wife of Elimelech (she was the mother-in-law of Ruth the Moadbite who would become the great-grandmother of King David) - that when she left the place of the field of Moav to return to the Land of Israel - as it says that "And she left the place where she had been... to return to the Land of Yehudah," where we had no need to learn where she had left but rather only where she was going to. All reading the story know clearly where she was - and had the verse just told us she returned to the Land of Yehudah - we would surely know she had left the place she had been at! The verse says that "she left," as if her leaving had created an impression as if she had left a place that was sealed - where no person had left before (yet she managed to do it!) Really, however, the verse was telling us something else... It was telling us that the entire city felt that her presence had left - she would be missed - all would know that she had gone... The city would change (and not for the good) with the loss of the righteous individual.

Again Rabbi Yehudah the son of Rabbi Simon as well as Rabbi Chanin in the name of Rabbi Shmuel the son of Rabbi Yitzchak teach, "this teaches us that when a Tzadik is in the city... but when the righteous person leaves... so too does its light, its beauty and its praise!" Here however they add - with regards to Naomi, it was quite correct to speak about her leaving. She was indeed the only righteous person to live in that city and then she left (with the city feeling the loss of her presence.) But what of our story when Yaakov left? Here, there was also Yitzchak and Rivkah - still another two righteous individuals. How could it be that Yaakov would be missed when indeed there were at least another two outstanding righteous people still supporting the city with its light, its beauty and its praise?

To this Rabbi Azaria in the name of Rabbi Yehuda the son of Rabbi Simon points out - one cannot compare the merit of one Tzadik who protects a city to the merit of two righteous individuals who protect the city, therefore even though these two righteous individuals still remained behind (i.e. Yitzchak and his wife Rivkah) still, the departure of the one righteous person made an impression.

When the world was created, the holy kabbalist known as the Arizal teaches that G-d constricted Himself in a way that He - so to speak - departed from a particular area (removed from the concept of space and time). It would be in this place of His departure that all the worlds of creation would be built up. How could it be - however, that His departure could occur leaving a void without His presence? The world would not be able to exist if the Creator would remove Himself (so to speak) from a particular place. Since He is present everywhere (albeit hidden), were He to remove Himself - this would be something impossible! So too do we learn here - when G-d departed - the exiting of a righteous individual creates an impression. Here too, G-d merely concealed His presence so to speak. The impression remains, because the force of the righteous continues to have an effect wherever they have been and to wherever they go...

Our lesson takes life much further however with its truest message. We live in a world where we take all for granted. We bump into each other, talk to each other as we wish - and often insult the other thinking little of who they are. Sometimes - however, we wake up when we realise what we have lost... When the righteous "leaves the city" - it is too late... suddenly, it is a time when we realise the impression that the other has made in the world - upon a city, upon us. When a friend or relative departs from our city - or from this very world - we suddenly wake up and see life differently. Now - we realise what we have lost... Things begin to happen as we suddenly realise the greatness of the other, his/her contribution to life - to ourselves. But it is too late. 

We must open our eyes to every person we interact with on a daily basis. We must realise their contribution to life - and to our own lives. We must realise that no matter what they have or no matter what they lack - they too make a contribution to someone's life at some point in time. When they leave the city - when the righteous one (the one who quietly attended to things without anybody really realising what he was doing) leaves the city (or this world), we will feel the impression that has been left behind. There is a part of that person there, though we cannot hold on to the tangibility of who they are any longer. Surely we have the space to now see just who they were, as the impression remains.

But what is more important than feeling impressions left behind - is in feeling the impressions they create upon us now. "Taking for granted..." Let these words never be an expression in our vocabulary. Seeing the other in need - let us be aware that they too provide someone with light, with beauty and with praise, and it is for us to perceive that beauty immediately - so that all will have the chance to continue to shine their lights wherever they are... before it is too late of course... and we are left with nothing more than just a painful impression...

And Yaakov left Be'er Sheva... because when a righteous person leaves a city, then its light departs, its beauty departs... and its praise departs... Eisav - the man of wickedness, has no idea just how much of an effect he had on an entire city. So too, must we be cautious in our plans against others - as we may not realise just how much we may stand to lose. Let us see the light. Let us bring it in, rather than await for it to leave...

Rabbi Eliyahu Shear
Co-Director Chessed Ve'Emet
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