man bangs his head repeatedly with a Hammer, asked why, he responds,
“because it feels so good when I stop” –Heard
now most of us have heard the explanation given by R. Menachem Mendal of
Kotzk - that Yaakov wanted to take this powerful, once in a lifetime
emotion, and channel it to G-d.
on a very basic and human level, the question remains, why now? Indeed
Yoseph himself was struck by his fathers actions, or lack thereof, as the
Sefer Akeida teaches, upon seeing his father being seemingly unmoved by this
reunion, Yoseph wept even more.
makes this question so perturbing is not just the inability to relate to
such a lofty reflex, rather, when considering the subject, Yaakov, and his
temperament, this action, or inaction, seems out of place in the extreme.
For consider, Yaakov, upon meeting Rachel was so overwhelmed with a
spiritual love, that he kissed her; Yaakov, so enamored by his young son,
his potential and similarities to himself, that he, seemingly reflexively,
showed him and gave him more emotional love and attention; Yaakov was never
the proverbial distant, cold father, locked in his own world, rather Yaakov
was an open man, rebuking his children and wives when necessary and losing
his closeness with G-d –his Nevuah - due to his endless sadness and
mourning for his son Yoseph. Yet, it is this same Yaakov, this
personality, that, we are told, was able to, and wanted to, ignore this
reunion on an emotional level? It simply does not match with the past 22
years of his sitting in sackcloth, nor with any other part of his life.
are all products of our lives. Statements made by Talmudic rabbis always
seem to match there experiences and indeed this is how many of the great
commentators explain them. Yaakov too had to learn, in a very real and hard
way, about loss. It was precisely this same man that knew how to give
himself over emotionally, who opened him self up to such intense
vulnerability, who in turn suffered in a profound way when he experienced
their loss. After all these years of mourning –he thought his son as dead
– he caught himself, and realized that he was out of emotional currency
and can no longer afford to be vulnerable to loss –
we saw the seeds of this metamorphosis by Yaakov’s resistance in
sending away Binyamin, compared to the “old” Yaakov who was the one to
send Yoseph out, alone, to check on his brothers.
this was not only an autonomous change customized for his particular
circumstance and emotional and mental well-being, this was a lesson, as
well, that he taught to Yoseph, and to us through the ages; we can become
Viceroys of our countries, raise beautiful children in America, but this is not
home, we have not “arrived” and great danger lies in attachment,
and, as history has shown, we could, Lo Aleinu, lose it all in an instant.
read and hear stories; Rabbi J.B. Soleveichik writes that he can not recall
his father ever kissing him, and others like it and we laugh at the coldness
of Litvaks, never considering that over years of European crusades and
pogroms, our parents, and theirs before them, learned that all can disappear
in a flash , so they guarded themselves with a harsh defensive shield,
showing us as well that until that Great Day, we can never attach
ourselves to the point of no return.
is not to say never to love, to care and give of self. Rather to understand
what it was the Kotzker Rebbe, briefly referenced above, was trying to say;
but know that it is the love of G-d that protects this love.
Dubna Maggid once gave a Moshel:
king, frustrated with the prince’s uncomely behavior, finally banishes him
from the kingdom. The son for years lived on the outskirts of town, poor and
lonely. One day the king sends builders contractors etc. to meet up with the
price. “We are here to build you a home, by the order of the king, so you
can be warm and comfortable”. The son begins to weep, “Until now”, he
explains, “I always had the hope my father would take me back. Now, that
he is building me a home here, giving me permanence in my exile, I know I
will never be going back”.
life represented Galus. Yoseph represented the seeds of Israel’s first
exile. Yoseph had it all, fame, fortune and a family. They embrace. Yoseph
thought that this is it, it does not get better then this moment. To
Yaakov it felt very different, for they were now in Egypt, his entire family
of 70 souls was ripped from their home land, and this reunion needed a
stark, and perhaps awkward and unnerving reminder of what was
missing, as well as what could in an instant become lost.
now we can better understand why, in next week’s Parshah (Vayechy), when
Yaakov, after his Ruach Hakodesh suddenly departs and he fears one of his
children is not worthy of blessings, is comforted by the unified voice of
the Shevatim as they recite, as well, the first Pasuk of Shma. What
in affect they were saying was, “We too got the message, and we too will
put Galus in its proper perspective.”
history informs us that Yaakov’s message has been accepted beyond his
time: whether it is Rebbe Akiva’ exclamation while being executed or the
thousands after him who died Al Kiddush Hashem, they all chose those
very same words to describe what was being lost, being gained and being
taught at those ominous, yet auspicious, moments.
father always taught me, “never end a Drashah on a depressing note”, but
it is our current challenge that reminds us why we should be
cautiously optimistic. We are Zocheh to need Yaakov’s message in its
truest sense, not in paucity but in abundance, like Yoseph. Many, here, in
this country, need this reminder not because of heartbreak, rather to learn how
to appreciate what we do have - the superfluity of our time - and how
to perceive it through the prism of an eternal love, a G-dly love, a love
that we are never vulnerable to.
we remind ourselves thrice daily, yes in comfort, but with the keen
understanding of how much deeper that same love could be felt and
appreciated if it were celebrated in its home, Yerushalaim HaBnuyah,
a Jerusalem impenetrable to loss and destruction.
Yomi takes place nightly at the Young Israel of Greater Buffalo, 105 Maple Road,
after the evening services. For complete schedule call 634-0212 or visit their
web site at yibuffalo.org