Torah Portion of the week – Vayechi – How to Achieve the Impossible – The Relationship between Responsibility and Creativity – A Powerful Parable about the Forced Gift – A Great Story about the Chafetz Chiam and Peace in Your Home – Dealing with Mother-in-laws
The Torah Podcast Transcript
039 The The Torah Podcast -How to Achieve the Impossible – The Relationship between Responsibility and Creativity
Torah Portion of the Week – Vayechi
In this week’s Parsha Yaakov asks Yosef to swear to him to take his bones out of Mitzrayim, Egypt. The verse says, “Please if I have found favor in your eyes, please place your hand under my thigh and do kindness and truth with me. Please do not bury me in Egypt, for I will lie down with my fathers, and you shall transport me out of Egypt, and bury me in their tomb.” That’s what Yaakov said. Yosef answered back, “I will do as you have said.” Yaakov said back to him, “Swear to me,” and he swore to him. And Yisroel prostrated himself towards the head of bed. The Ramban says, “Yaakov was not suspicious of his righteous son, who was beloved to him. He didn’t think he was going to rebel against him. Rather he made him swear in order to strengthen the matter in the eyes of Pharaoh, because he was afraid that Pharaoh was not going to give Yosef permission to leave Egypt. But if there was an oath, he would allow him.”
The Ramban says at the end, “And also, Yosef will be more obligated to exert himself in the matter because of the oath.” In other words, because Yosef had a shevua, an oath, he would exert himself more. Rav Henoch Leibowitz, Zichrona L’vrocha, the Rosh Yeshiva of the Chofetz Chaim in New York, has a question on this. He asks, “Is it possible that if Yosef didn’t take the shevua, he wouldn’t try his best? Of course he would do everything. First of all, we see that Yosef would always listen to his father. The Ramban brings down that when Yosef was asked by his father Yaakov to go find his brothers who were shepherding he went, even though he knew he was in danger. He didn’t say, ‘How could I go when they hate me?’ he strengthened himself, and he went. In the end he got himself in trouble, and that’s how he winded up in Mitzrayim, but he listened to his father. So all the more so, here when his father is commanding him to take him out of Mitzrayim on his deathbed, surely Yosef is going to listen. Why did he make him take a shevua, an oath? Now, why is the Ramban saying that because of the oath he’s going to try harder? Surely he’s going to do everything within his power to listen to his father’s last words?”
Rav Leibowitz wants to answer that Yaakov was worried about onus. Onus means a circumstance which you can’t control. Yosef could have got himself into a situation where he would have felt, “I have no more strength. I can’t do more. I’m doing my maximum,” and therefore he would have given up. So, Yaakov made him make a shevua which would give him kochos hadashot, new strengths, new possibilities. He says, “Shenisoros nosefet,” extra arousal, it would arouse him even more, and it would give him extra new strength that before he didn’t have, and really before, it would have been impossible. But with this new strength it opened up more possibilities for him to be able to succeed.
In other words, it’s an equation here – the more responsibility a person has, the more strength and creativity he has, to get it done. For example, if you have the boss and you have the workers, and there’s a problem in the business. The workers will work as hard as they can to solve the problem. But at a certain point, they’ll give up. They won’t find a solution. Who finds the solution? The boss – why? Because the buck stops here, it’s his responsibility. The person who has the responsibility will also have the creativity and the strength to solve the problem.
He wants to add another chidush, thought, onto this. There is a Midrash in Ruth that says, “Amar Rav Yitzhak bar Minayum, ba kusuv v’lomdecha. There comes a possuk to teach us that if a person does a Mitzva, commandment, he should do it with a full heart. Why? Because if Reuven for example would have known that it was written in the Torah, V’yishmaru v’yazilehu miyadam, since Reuven heard and he saved Yosef from death – that’s what the possuk says, “He saved him from their hands.” He said not to kill him. He told them to put him in the bor, hole in the ground. If he would have known that it would have been written in the Torah, he would have carried him out on his shoulders and brought him to his father. That’s one case.
Another case is if Aaron haCohen would have known that when he was going to meet his brother Moshe, after he was appointed to be the leader of Israel, so he would have come with drums and instruments to meet him. He came with tremendous happiness, which is a tremendous milah, quality, even though he was the older brother, his younger brother was appointed, but if he would have known that it was written, he would have come with drums and trumpets.
And a third case is, if Boaz would have known that when he fed Ruth that it was going to be written down, so he would have fed her fattened calves. You could learn this Midrash that in each of these cases, there was something lacking in their acts. They didn’t do it with a full heart. But we don’t see anywhere in the Torah that there was any kind of toveah, any kind of claim against them. But just the opposite – in these cases, usually it speaks about the milahs, the great things that they did. But this is talking about an extra level. Really they did everything with sheleimus, in completeness, but it was according to their level. The Midrash is saying the opposite – if they were on a higher level, they would have done it better.
What do we learn from this? That if a person gives the chashivus, the value to the mitzvas for what they really are, he can go level and level, higher and higher. The more he values the mitzvah, the better he’s going to do it; the more creativity and strength he’s going to have to be able to do that mitzvah. And he’s going to get super strength to be able to do it. But it’s all a question of the value system. As soon as you raise the values, you raise your strength and your creativity. It’s an amazing idea.
I’ll give you an example. Two people taste a glass of wine. One is a wine expert, and the other guy’s a regular guy. Now, the regular guy doesn’t taste what the wine expert tastes. Yes, to the regular guys it’s a good wine. Yeah, it tastes good, it’s fine. Whereas the wine expert, he’d be able to tell you all the details. He knows what good wine is. He appreciates it, he understands it. He values it. For him, it’s a whole different glass of wine. And the other guy who’s not sensitive to it at all, he’s just missing the boat. He doesn’t understand – what’s the big deal with this wine?
Or another example – in the manufacturing of computer chips, you have this thing called a clean room. What’s a clean room? They can measure how many specks of dust there are in the air. It has to be less than 15 million specks of dust in the air. So you get it down to the level where they keep vacuuming out the air, that’s called a clean room. Why? Because if one speck of dust goes onto the chip, it can ruin the chip. So the one who knows what a clean room is, he understands why the clean room. The other guys says, “What’s the problem, it looks clean here to me. Let’s make the chips right here, open up the boxes, we’ll make the chips. What’s the problem?” Because he’s not sensitive to every drop of dust in the air, but the other guy is. The guy who really manufactures computer chips, his definition of clean is a whole different madrega, level, because he understands the problem. He’ll find the strength to be able to solve it. But the other guy’s not aware of it. What’s the difference – clean or not clean, what’s the problem? It’s clean enough. We’ll clean off the table, everything’s fine.
It’s the same thing by mitzvos, and our service to God. If we value it, we will find a whole new way to reach new, new levels. If we understand that this is a commandment of the Master of the Universe, the one spinning the earth, the Creator of all the galaxies – if we give it that value we’ll be doing it at a much greater level, because our value systems will open up our minds. Rav Leibowitz said, “We learn two things from this piece. First of all, we’re forced to say that there’s no end to the arousal and excitement that a person can get from doing mitzvos. There’s no end, it goes on and on and on, like we saw from the examples of Reuven, Aaron and Boaz. They did it according to their sheleimus, completeness. But they could have done more. Why? Because there’s no end. The value is infinite. We’re talking about God’s mitzvos.” That’s the first thing.
The second thing is that on our side, if we have that value system, there is no end to the creativity that we’ll come up with, to the strength that we could produce. So, it goes hand in hand. Just like Yaakov knew that if he would make Yosef take a shevua, it would give him unbelievable strength and creativity. So too, Hashem knows that by giving us the commandments, we too could come up with unbelievable strength and creativity, if we value the commandments. Hashem should bless us that we get the right value system in order that we can serve God with completeness, with sheleimus, and go from level to level.
A Powerful Parable
The Maggid Mi Dubno brings the same possuk and he says, “Deal kindly and truthful with me. Please do not bury me in Egypt.” He asks, “Why both kindly and truthful? Is there such a thing as kind and a lie?” He says, “This could be explained by the possuk that says, “Give truth to Yaakov and chessed to Avraham,” kindness to Avraham. Why does truth go to Yaakov and chessed, kindness go to Avraham? He has a moshul. One time there was a wealthy man who wanted to give 1,000 gold coins away to a certain poor person in the city. However, he knew his wife was going to get upset. She was going to object. What he did was, he wrote a shtar, a document that obligated him to give 1,000 coins to the man, and he had two witnesses sign it. Then he gave it to the man. He said, “This way, my wife can’t object. The man’s going to take the shtar to the Beis Din, and the Beis Din’s going to come along and take the money away from me. So, my wife won’t be able to object.” That was the moshul, parable.
What’s the nimshal, conclusion? He says, “This is called chessed and emes, kindness and truth. First it started out as a chessed. He wanted to give the 1,000 coins to the man as a kindness. What did he do? He promised him, he obligated himself. He wrote a document, now he’s obligated to give the 1,000 coins to the man. That’s emes, that’s truth. So too with the Jewish people – give truth to Yaakov and chessed to Avraham. First, God did chessed with Avraham and He promised the Jewish people would get Eretz Yisroel, the Land of Israel. Then later since he promised Avraham as a chessed, he promised so it became a debt. Emes l’Yaakov, truth to Yaakov. The fact is, it can only be fulfilled at the end of days that we’re going to get Eretz Yisroel – that’s truth. So too, Yosef said to Yaakov, “Deal kindly and truthful with me. Deal kindly with me, please take my bones out of Egypt. And deal truthfully with me by taking a shevua, by taking an oath. It was both kindness and truth.
A Great Story About a Great Rabbi – The Chofetz Chaim
At the end of the Parsha after Yaakov died, Yosef said to the brothers, “Fear not, for I am instead of God. Although you intended me harm, God intended for good.” He was trying to comfort them. He said, “I will give out food for you and your young ones,” thus he comforted them and spoke to their heart.
There’s a story about the Chofetz Chaim who comforts someone on Yom Kippur, on the evening of Yom Kippur. One time in the Yeshiva there was an older man named Hershel Kaminetzer. He never got married because he had a lung disease. It was Yom Kippur night, so after everybody left the Beit Knesset, prayer house, he sat there by himself, lost in his thoughts. The Chofetz Chaim was the Rosh Yeshiva. He came and sat next to him, and began talking to him. The Chofetz Chaim told him how he lost his father when he was 10 years old. He exiled himself to a place of Torah. He had a lot of trials and tribulations. He lived in poverty. The maskilim, the enlightenment movement, tried to pull him away from his orthodoxy. He told him how he agreed to marry his step-sister – this is the Chofetz Chaim speaking – who was older than him. He married his step-sister, only to keep the peace between his mother and his step-father, while his friend found a wonderful wife with a $10,000 dowry.
He told him, “You know what? In the end, that guy lost all of his money, and my wife helped me to stay in learning. I became a Rosh Yeshiva.” The Chofetz Chaim said to him, “What appears at a time to be a problem can sprout salvation. By Hashem are man’s footsteps established.” He was comforting this man who was already a little bit older – not married, and he was not going to get married. This was the night of Yom Kippur, and he spoke of these things all night. Nothing was said about spiritual accounting, and nothing about the awe of the Day of Judgment. He just spoke words of consolation and strength. Even though it was Yom Kippur evening, a time for teshuva, repentance, the Chofetz Chaim sat and comforted him.
Peace in Your Home
Rav Nachman Diament speaks about mother-in-laws. He said, “In his generation, there was no concept of mother-in-laws, because everybody was Holocaust survivors. There were no mother-in-laws.” He says, “You should know, the problem with mother-in-laws all depends how the daughter-in-law reacts. The mother-in-law feels bad. She raised her son for over 20 years. Now this girl comes along and takes him away. “It bothers me, it hurts me. She’s taking him from me.” Sometimes, the mother-in-law can see real changes. She spent her whole life trying to teach this kid manners, and the wife says, ‘Listen, if you want to eat with silverware good, good. If not, not. You can eat with your hands by me, it doesn’t bother me.’ It drives the mother-in-law crazy. What really lies behind it is this unspoken competition as to who’s going to get the love of this son and husband. Sometimes the daughter-in-law can get jealous. He’s very close with his mother, he jokes around with her, he whispers to her. The daughter-in-law’s thinking, ‘Well, why doesn’t he whisper to me?’”
But he said, “All this way of thinking is wrong. To say, ‘Who do you love more, me or your mother?’ is irrelevant. They’re two different types of love. The same thing when a woman has a baby. ‘Who do you love more, your son or me?’ They’re two different loves. Even though one might feel neglected, but that will pass. It’s like if somebody has a brother who’s sick, so the parents have to deal with him more. Does it mean they love the brother more? No. At this point in time, they have to deal with the brother, because he’s sick. Usually these problems start at the beginning of the relationship, at the beginning of the marriage. But after time, it will pass.”
He says, “The daughter-in-law must accept the in-laws the way they are. He’s not going to change his in-laws. She has to say to herself, ‘This woman is my husband’s mother. Even though it’s hard for me, I’m just going to have to deal with it.’ To insult his mother is simply wrong, unfair and cruel. Even if the situation is very difficult, a God-fearing person doesn’t look for the easy way out. She understands the challenge. She has a difficult mother-in-law, but she’s going to just have to keep her mouth shut.”
He tells a story, there was once a couple. The mother-in-law and the daughter-in-law didn’t get along so much, and it was almost broken up before the shidduch, match. He said to that girl – he happened to be at the chuppah, wedding ceremony. He said to the girl, “Listen, I’ll tell you a way to fix up the relationship. I know this mother-in-law of yours doesn’t get along with any of her daughter-in-laws. But if you go up to her right now and say, ‘Ima, Mom, let’s dance,’ I guarantee it will change your relationship. She says, ‘What, are you kidding me? She didn’t even give me a kiss after the chuppah. I’m going to call her Ima? She’s not my Ima.’ But anyway she listened, and the mother-in-law was so happy, she danced the whole wedding with her daughter-in-law. To this day, that’s the only daughter-in-law she gets along with.” I hear you say,”Yeah, but why should she call her Ima, it’s not really her mother?” He says, “You don’t have to be right. You have to be wise.” It’s just a mentality.
Another story, there was this mother-in-law who used to drive the daughter-in-law crazy, and she was petrified every time she was supposed to come to the house, because when she’d come to the house, she would take a look at everything and complain about everything. So, she would always do these massive clean-ups that would drive her crazy. One time she said, “That’s it. I am not cleaning up my house anymore for my mother-in-law. This is the way my house is, take it or leave it.” So, the mother-in-law came in, started saying, “What about this, what about that?” She’s like, “Mm-hmm.” She’s listening to her and saying, “Yes, yes.” This went on like 20 or 30 times, until now the mother-in-law doesn’t say a thing. The daughter-in-law said, “That’s the way my house is. It’s clean; it’s just not the cleanest.” But the mother-in-law’s been quiet ever since.”
Another story was where the husband didn’t get along with the brother of the wife. One time, the brother of the wife popped in unexpectedly. 10 minutes later, the husband came home. The husband went straight into the kitchen and didn’t come out. After 45 minutes, the brother left. He comes to the wife, “Why didn’t you tell him to leave? Don’t you see I’m stuck in the kitchen?” He says, “Why couldn’t this girl tell her brother to leave? That’s her brother.” You have to be mature about it. She found herself in a situation where the brother popped in. She couldn’t just tell him to leave, kick him out. You also can’t expect a son to tell off his mother. It’s true that the mother-in-law may not be behaving herself properly. But don’t expect her son to tell her off. How is your husband supposed to confront his mother?” And never say, “You’re just like your mother,” or, “You’re just like your father.” There’s nothing he could do about it. Always leave the parents out of it.
Okay, that’s it for this week’s Podcast. I hope you enjoyed it. Please share it with your friends, and leave comments.
Rabbi Eliyahu Mitterhoff