038 How to Finally Stop Procrastinating Forever – Killing Your Excuses -Torah Portion of the Week – Vayigash – A Powerful Parable about Evaporating Excuses – A Great Story about the Rav Shach and Peace in Your Home – A Practice Guide for Couples & Their Parents – The Ultimate Torah Podcast
The Torah Podcast Transcript
038 The Torah Podcast How to Finally Stop Procrastinating Forever – Killing Your Excuses
Torah Portion of the Week – Vayigash
There’s a famous Possuk in this week’s Parsha that everyone speaks about – the Possuk of, “Ani Yosef.” It’s the Possuk where Yosef reveals himself to his brothers. The Possuk says like this, “And Yosef said to his brothers, ‘I am Yosef. Is my father still alive?’ But his brothers could not answer him, because they were left disconcerted before him.’ Rashi explains there, they couldn’t answer him because of shame.
And there is the famous Beis HaLevi on this Possuk. The Beis HaLevi has a couple of questions. First of all, how can it be that Yosef was asking, “Is my father alive?” We know that in Possukim before he spoke to Yehuda, who just explained to him how Yaakov was going to suffer if Binyomin left. So, he knew that his father was alive. Second of all, what was the answer of the brothers? There never was an answer. They never answered, “Yes, our father is alive.” The Beis HaLevi brings the Bereishis Rabba that says like this. “Abba Cohen Bardeles said, “Woe unto us, because of the day of judgment. And woe unto us, because of the day of rebuke.” Yosef was the youngest of the tribes. Yet they could not answer him, because they were confounded by him. When the Holy One, Blessed Be He, comes and rebukes each individual for what he is, as it says, “I will rebuke you and set your deeds before your eyes,” how much more so we will be confounded. This is a Midrash based on what happened with Yosef and his brothers. Just like the brothers were ashamed before Yosef, so too in the future, we’re going to be shamed before Hakadosh Baruch Hu. But the Beis HaLevi has a couple more questions. He asks, “What does it mean, ‘Woe to the day of judgment?’” that’s one thing. “What’s the difference between that, and woe to the day of rebuke?” which is the second thing. Third of all, what does it mean when it says, “He rebukes each individual for what he is.”
And another question is, where’s the rebuke? In the original Possuk there wasn’t a rebuke, he just said, “Ani Yosef. Is my father alive?” Why is the Midrash using this as an example of rebuke? The Beis HaLevi explains when he asks, “Is my father alive,” it wasn’t really a question. It was a rhetorical question, which is a statement. The statement was a stera, a contradiction. “You guys are claiming, Yehuda was claiming that we can’t bring Binyamin, because we’re so worried about our father’s grief. Well, where was your worry about your father’s grief when it came to me?” When he asked him, “Is my father still alive?” he was saying, “Listen, you don’t care about our father. When it came to me, you didn’t care about our father.” This was the rebuke, that the hypocrisy was exposed. And this is what it means when the Midrash says that, “Hashem rebukes each individual for what he is.” He’s going to point out his contradictions. Like if a man said, “I don’t have any money for tzedaka,” charity, but he has a lavish house and a fancy car. When it came to himself he had money, when it came to others, he didn’t have money. Or how much money did a person put up for his children’s Jewish education? He said, “I can’t afford that.” Meanwhile, he’s spending money left and right on different things that interest him. The difference between the day of judgment and the day of rebuke, is the day of judgment is on your sins, and the day of rebuke is on your excuses for your sins. The Beis HaLevi brings a verse in Tehillim that says, “Your evil will chastise you, and your rebelliousness will rebuke you.” His own actions are going to be the source of your rebuke, because when it comes to getting up early to go to the Jet game on Sunday morning, a person has strength. But the Minyan, daily prayers, somehow he misses. And this is the rebuke we’re going to get in the end of days. Hashem is going to point out to us our contradiction, our hypocrisy; and how we twist everything to fit ourselves.
He brings the Possuk in Devorim 32:5 that says, “A stubborn and twisted generation.” What’s the difference between stubborn and twisted? Stubborn means, he’s perverse. But twisted means he’s perverse in both directions. In other words he’ll say, “I don’t have strength.” You don’t have strength, but you have strength for this. “I don’t have money,” yeah, but you have money for that. That’s called twisted. We’re constantly making excuses for ourselves in twisted ways. We make everything fit us. With this way of thinking, a person can make the entire Torah fit into the way that he likes it.
The Beis HaLevi brings the Tanna d’Bei Eliyahu that says like this. One time, Eliyahu haNavi met a fisherman and asked him, “What are you going to say on the Yom Hadin, the day of judgment, that you didn’t have any time to learn?” He answered him, “Rabbi, I was not granted sufficient understanding and wisdom to study Scripture or Mishna.” So, Eliyahu haNavi asked him, “What’s your occupation?” He says, “I’m a fisherman.” He says to him, “You’re smart enough to get flax, to weave nets, to cast it in the sea, and to catch fish. Surely you’re smart enough to study Torah?” The man almost started to cry, so Eliyahu HaNavi answered him. “Do not feel bad. Everyone gives the same answer you did. But every one’s actions expose the insincerity of his words.”
Rav Chaim Shmulevitz explains that when Yosef said, “Ani Yosef,” I am Yosef, that was absolute proof that he was not a Ba’al Chalamot, he was not a dreamer. He was a Navi, he was a Prophet – everything he said was true. They came down to Mitzrayim, to Egypt, they all bowed down to him. He became their leader. It was all true, and everything they thought before was wrong. They thought he was Chayav Misah, he was obligated the death penalty, because he was trying to be the one who received the tradition from his father to steal it. He explains how great the agony is going to be when we realize that we made mistakes, and it’s the ultimate rebuke to see that you had a wrong, deah, the wrong way of looking at life.
He brings a raya, a proof from when Yitzhak realized that it was Yaakov who deserved the brochas, the blessings, and not Esav. The Possuk in Bereishis says, “And Yitzhak shook with a very mighty tremble.” Rav Chaim explains, “What does it mean, mighty? Even more than when he was on the Mizbeach, the Altar, about to be sacrificed. Yitzhak’s realization that he was wrong about Esav and Yaakov shook him more than even death, because it was a mistake in perspective.” He was wrong his entire life. When the goal or the idea that all a person’s acts were based upon, retroactively all his acts were wrong. Everything a person could do in his life is wrong, because it’s based on a wrong premise. The acts don’t add up to anything if they were for the wrong goal. That’s why it’s so important that we do a spiritual accounting, that our goals are correct.
Rav Miller from Gateshead says on all of this, “The practical lesson to be derived from this is very obvious. In the confusion and flurry of life, rationalizations come very easily to our lips. There is scarcely any defect or neglect that cannot be accounted for, and plausibly excused.” In other words, we excuse everything, so that even we ourselves are convinced we’re no longer troubled. In other words, we lost our goals. We forgot what we’re supposed to do, and there’s no problem – everything’s fine. What’s the problem? We have no lack of excuses. It’s either a lack of time, a lack of money, a lack of talent. We can wash away anything we don’t want to do. He continues and says, “But on the day of truth these flimsy excuses will disintegrate. They will not be able to withstand the rebuke of our own lives, of our other actions and interests; because for those things, we always have time and money. Our own deeds, the paradoxes of our life, will accuse us,” he says.
These are some very powerful ideas we can use to stop procrastinating, and get back on track. We have to realize that 90% of what we’re not doing which we rationalize, is really just excuses. Rav Henoch Leibowitz Olav HaShalom, the Rosh Yeshiva of the Chofetz Chaim, takes it one step further. He asks, “Is this the entire ordeal of the Yom Hadin, the day of judgment? What about the agonizing punishment which Chazal tells us, Gehinnom, purgatory, which is described as 60 times more intense than the fires of this world?” The rebuke in a certain sense is a small part of the pain we’re going to feel when we get up there, and get judged. He answers, “Just the opposite. This shame that we’re going to experience is equal to that fire. The embarrassment that we’re going to have by not doing what we were supposed to do is equal to purgatory. That is Gehinnom.” He wants to explain why that’s true. He says, “We are created in the image of God, infused with purity and holiness. Every action, every word, and every thought, should be a utilization of our tremendous capabilities. When we sinned, we misused these abilities, and wasted our potential. When we realize we wasted our potential, we’re going to be flooded with regret and shame.”
What could be more painful than that? The fact that we got ourselves involved in trivial or horrible pursuits when we could have been doing so much good is going to be devastating. We’ll think to ourselves, “What have we done? The opportunity for fulfilling God’s commandments has passed. Our time is up. We have not accomplished even a fraction of what we could have accomplished”. The effect will be agonizing, rivaling the fires of Gehinnom’s intensity. A person has so much potential; he could be so successful, if we just put the energy in – if we would have a little bit of discipline to do the right thing. The problem is the resistance. God built into the world the Yetzer Hara, evil inclination. He built resistance into the world. Everything that you’re trying to do to succeed, there’s a force trying to stop you. The reason we keep procrastinating and let that force rule our lives, is because we have excuses. We’re too tired, we don’t have any money, we don’t have any capabilities, we don’t have brains. But in the end, we’re going to see those are just excuses, because in other aspects of our lives we do have those qualities.
The trick now is to start to fight the resistance, to start to fight the Yetzer Hara, to realize that if you put in, you will get out. It’s not in our hands to finish. God doesn’t demand our success. God demands that we act, that we do, that we fight back. Now that it’s clear that all of our excuses are going to be revealed, they’re all going to be seen as fake and phony, we might as well right now start working against them, and realize that they’re just excuses. We have in our hands the power to act, but we have to start acting now.
A Powerful Parable
The Maggid Mi Dubno had a parable on the same Midrash. You’ve heard the Midrash already, so I’m going to speak about the parable. A person owed a large sum of money to a nobleman of the city. He started to count out the money for his debt, and he was going to pay him back. But as he was counting, he started to think of all kinds of claims and excuses that he could present the nobleman to persuade him to reduce the debt. When his family heard what he was saying they said to him, “No, the nobleman’s going to brush your excuses off right away.” The father got upset at them. “Aren’t you on my side? Don’t you want the best for me? My claims are justified. Why should I pay for this, and why for that? I owe so much money and I’m poor.” He had all kinds of excuses.
What happened? He goes straight to the nobleman and he’s getting ready to speak to him, and he’s going to tell him why he doesn’t have to pay back the full amount. As soon as he stood in front of the nobleman, he was overcome by awe, and all of his excuses died on his lips. He says, “There are many people who have all sorts of excuses and rationalizations as to why good is bad, and bad is good on the lips. But when they’re brought before the seat of judgment, suddenly they’re overcome with fear and trembling. So too with Yosef’s brothers. They had many justifications for what they did, but when they saw Yosef they couldn’t speak, because they were overcome with fear.
Great Stories – Rav Shach
The Possuk in this week’s Parsha says, “And they related to him all the words of Yosef that he had spoken to them. And he saw the wagons that Yosef had sent to transport him. Then the spirit of their father Yaakov was revived.” The Rashi explains there that when Yaakov saw it was the wagons that Yosef sent and not that Pharaoh sent, so then his spirit was revived – why? Because that was a remez, a hint, as to what Yaakov and Yosef were learning before Yosef disappeared. They were learning the Sugya of the Egel Arufa, where you need to break a calf’s neck in a case where there a murder and you’re not sure where the murderer came from. So, Egel Arufa, a calf, is the same word as agalah, carriage. He understood that really it was Yosef, because he was sending him a hint.
It says, before World War II Rav Shach was learning in the Kletzk Yeshiva. He used to learn with Rav Yoel Kloft, who later became the Rabbinical Chief Justice of Haifa. After they separated, Rav Yoel Kloft used to send letters to Rav Shach and ask him questions in Torah. In his last letter before the War, Rav Yoel asked a question about Rabbi Akiva Eiger, on the subject of Palginam Dibura – that’s dividing a testimony so that part of the testimony is believed and the other half is not believed, even though the same person said it. He had a question on Rabbi Akiva Eiger that he sent to Rav Shach. Rav Shach wrote back to him, and gave him the answer.
Right after that World War II broke out, and they lost contact Rav Shach was saved miraculously, and he arrived in Eretz Yisrael. Later, Rav Yoel was also saved. When he heard that Rav Shach was in Eretz Yisrael, he hurried to go meet him. When he met him, he had such joy, such happiness. They hugged and they kissed. Rav Shach asked him, “What did you think about my answer?” Rav Yoel was astounded and he cried out, “You went through the horrors of War. You were barely saved from the valley of death. The whole world was in flames. And all you were thinking about is what you answered before the War, as if we were never apart all these years!”
Peace in Your Home
Rav Nachum Diament has a practical guide for couples and their parents. He says, “People ask me, ‘Where’s the line where it’s forbidden for parents to interfere with the couple’s life?’” He answer back, “There is no line. Parents should never, ever interfere with the couple’s life, ever. It’s your privilege to know only what the couple tells you. If they want to tell you, they tell you. It’s not your position to pry, to get involved in every little detail of their lives.” He says, “And even when mistakes happen, you should be silent. Let them make their mistakes. A young couple is allowed to fall. Just like it says in Torah, ‘A person doesn’t master divrei Torah, words of Torah, unless he stumbles.’ In order to learn, in order to grow, you have to stumble yourself.”
This sounds a little bit extreme, but what’s the benefit of this? If you have sons and daughters-in-law that don’t feel that you’re interfering in their life, you could have a wonderful relationship with them. They’re going to visit you, they’ll talk freely. They’re not afraid when you come over. Usually, a daughter-in-law is petrified when the mother-in-law’s going to come over. She starts cleaning the house and getting organized, and cooking, who knows what. But if the parents are relaxed the daughter-in-law will even boast, “My mother-in-law never criticizes me.” When children feel comfortable in their parent’s house, they will come back and talk on their own initiative. They will ask for advice, and they will feel free to do so.
So, if you want to get to the goal, which is to help your children, don’t interfere in their lives. Because if you don’t, they’ll come to you and ask you questions, so you can help them. Also, the children have to feel that they’re building their own home. They’re not building your home. He says, when he got married with his wife, he had nothing. Little by little they bought furniture, they bought things for their house, slowly, slowly. But the wife had a friend who got everything at the beginning of the marriage. Later in the marriage, she bought herself a plant. She told his wife, “Ah, I feel like this plant is my whole life. All the pleasure I get from my house is just from this plant,” because she bought the plant. It wasn’t given to her from somebody else. So, the children have to feel they’re building their own lives. Also, parents don’t know all the facts. They don’t know all the details of what’s happening in the children’s lives. How are they going to guide them in the right way if they don’t even know the facts. But the parents say, “Oh, they’re just children. We have to help them.” Yeah, but what happened before the shidduch, the match? Before they were about to get married, “Oh, my daughter’s very mature. She’s ready for her wedding. My son, he’s very mature. He could be a husband, no problem.” Now all of a sudden after they’re married they go back to being children and you want to direct them in every little detail? That’s not right.
He says, “The worst thing is when two sets of in-laws get together to make decisions about the kids. That’s a catastrophe. Anyway, their meeting is starting out on the wrong foot, because each one has to defend their own child. Also, when children come to their parents and they have a fight, and they want the support of the parents, the parents have to push them back to their husband or to their wife. He says, “My dear daughter, you have a husband. Discuss it with him. You’ll find a solution together. You got married, and you’ll figure it out.” Don’t take sides, God forbid.
Another point is that Shalom Bayis, peace in your home, is the ultimate value, and it can’t be messed with. If a son says, “I have to tell my father every little detail,” and the wife doesn’t want, so he has to stop. “Ah,” but the son says, “What about Kibbud Av V’Eim, honoring my father or my mother?” Rav Chaim Kanievsky Shlita says like this, “If Kibbud Av V’Eim, if honoring your mother and father does even the slightest bit of damage to Shalom Bayis, to peace in your home, there is no Kibbud Av V’Em. You don’t have to do the mitzvah, commandment.
This is a general rule which applies in all cases. He brought a case one time a woman had a very hard day and told her husband, “I must go out with you for a walk tonight. I need to discuss problems that I’m having.” The boy said, “I can’t, because my father invited me to come and build his Sukka.” She says to him, “What about me? What am I supposed to do? What about Kibbud Av V’Eim?” He says, “That’s no Kibbud Av V’Eim. You should call your father and tell him you can’t come. First of all, your father is going to get over it. He’s not going to be upset with you. But wives are much more sensitive. She’s going to be very hurt. There’s no Kibbud Av V’Eim in the place of Shalom Bayis because peace in your home is on the top of the ladder of priorities. It reigns supreme. When there’s peace in the home that means there’s God in the house, the Shechina. The presence of God rests between the couple. Where do we know that this is so important? We know that God changed the words of Sarah Imenu to Avraham, even though it was going against the truth – and Hashem is truth. “His seal is truth,” the Gemarah says. But still, when Sarah said, “My husband is old,” God spoke it back to Avraham saying that, “Sarah said that she was old.” Now, was Avraham on the verge of a divorce? Did they have Shalom Bayis problems? No. They got along 100%. Would have Avraham forgiven her? Absolutely, yes. We learn from this that even one second of a bad feeling between a husband and a wife should be prevented, as a top priority. Going back to the parents, sometimes parents mess it up for themselves. They insult their son-in-law or their daughter-in-law. Therefore, the couple doesn’t want to come to the house. Be very careful what you say. Most divorces are caused by the parents. The parents are not objective. They always take their son or daughter’s side.
He ends off with a story about a smart mother-in-law. One time, a mother had a daughter who was a real shrew, a very difficult woman. She used to drive her husband crazy. But her husband had no parents, and he was alone in the world. She used to threaten with divorce, and he was petrified of divorce. The mother saw what was going on. She told her daughter, “You should know, if you get divorced, you have nowhere to go. I will not take you back into the house. Even if you come without your six children, I still won’t take you.” Suddenly what happened? There was Shalom Bayis. The daughter could no longer threaten the husband any more with running away. So, the mother told the Rav, “You should know I also went to the son and told him, ‘If my daughter threatens you with divorce, you should know, she has nowhere to go.’” In this kind of case, it’s actually advisable to get a little bit involved.
Okay, that’s it for this week’s Podcast. Please share it with your friends, spread it around, and leave comments. I love to see those comments. I would really appreciate if you could please leave a rating on itunes to help spread this podcast.
Rabbi Eliyahu Mitterhoff