The Kiddush this Shabbos was sponsored by the Feldinger family in honor of the Bar Mitzvah of their son, Akiva Moshe.
Connection of Bar Mitzvah to Parsha
This Shabbos is very appropriate for celebrating his Bar Mitzvah not only because it’s actually the week where he is becoming a Bar Mitzvah, but actually because Parshas Vayechi is apropos for a Bar Mitzvah as will be discussed.
(Once a Rebbe came to a village and a Jew came over to him and said Rebbe, in your on honor I’m going to make my son’s Bar Mitzvah. So the Rebbe asked him how old is he to which the Jew responded the truth is he is eighteen but until now I needed someone to carry my Talis to shul on Shabbos. But in our case, the boy is actually becoming a Bar Mitzvah this Shabbos.)
This Shabbos we concluded one chumash which is the completion of one ענין and begin another chumash, another ענין, which is the end of one era and the beginning of another era similar to that of a Bar Mitzvah boy.
When concluding Parshas Vayechi we said “Chazak Chazak Vnischazak.” What is the meaning of this phrase? Why are we talking about Chizuk?
There is a שו"ת מהר"י מינץ ס' פה that discusses what happens if a shul misses Krias HaTorah on Shabbos. This happened because there was a minhag in shul that if there was a dispute between a תובע and נתבע, the נתבע had a זכות to be מעכב the קריאה (עיכוב הקריאה) until the argument was settled. In this particular incident, it went on the entire day and they didn’t end up doing Krias HaTorah. The Ohr Zarua, brought by the Rama in OH 135:2, ruled in such a case that the shul should read the Parshah they missed the following Shabbos along with the actual Parshah of that Shabbos. The Magen Avraham there quotes the מהר"י מינץ saying that is only if the Parshah missed was in the same Chumash because then they can be connected as opposed to if one was in one Chumash and the following week was in another Chumash. Like we see by פרשיות מחוברות that usually the fourth Aliyah connects the two Parshiyos as we read for him some of the first Parshah and some from the next Parshah. However if the missed Parshah was in one Chumash and the current Parshah is in another Chumash, then they do not read it together the following Shabbos. The reason is because you can’t connect Parshiyos from one Chumash to the next being that it’s a separate ענין and his proof is because we conclude with Chazak Chazak Vnischazak which is like we say הדרן עלך. It must be we got to an end if we are talking about review. (The Magen Avraham only brings the ruling from the מהר"י מינץ but in the מהר"י מינץ he elaborates on the reasoning written above.) How does the מהר"י מינץ connect this that we say “Chazak Chazak Vnischazak” is like we say הדרן עלך?
The Rav suggested the following based on the Gemara in Brachos 32b. The Gemara says ארבעה צריכין חזוק ואלו הן תורה ומעשים טובים תפלה ודרך ארץ וכו' תפלה מנין שנא' קוה אל ה' חזק ואמץ לבך וקוה אל ה', and the Gemara earlier says אם ראה אדם שהתפלל ולא נענה יחזור ויתפלל שנאמר קוה אל ה' חזק ואמץ לבך וקוה אל ה'. So we see that “chizuk” means that even if you tried once and failed that you try again, as we say קוה אל ה' refers toראה אדם שהתפלל ולא נענה יחזור ויתפלל. So also when we complete a chumash, more often than not we feel that it was a failed attempt and we didn’t really get it but nevertheless we are going to be מחזק and do it again.
So although we see from here that completing Vayechi is the completion of one inyan and it’s not connected to the next Chumash which is another inyan which is very much likened to that of a Bar Mitzvah boy who is completing his childhood years and beginning his adult years, nevertheless there is a difference. It’s true Bar Mitzvah boy is completing his years of childhood and beginning a new part of his life but there is no need for him to repeat and chaser his childhood in his adult years rather he should just move forward. As opposed to when we finish one chumash, there is a need to repeat and review what was done.
But even more so Parshas Vayechi is an apropos Parshah to be celebrating a Bar Mitzvah because it is concluding Sefer Breishis which is called Sefer HaAvos and moving into Sefer Shemos which is referred to Sefer HaBanim. Similarly, a Bar Mitzvah boy is now moving out of the shadows of his father and he is becoming his own unique self. But even so Shemos begins withואלה with the ו החיבור to show that he should nonetheless not lose the connection.
The Pasuk in the Parshah says כה תאמרו ליוסף אנא שא נא פשע אחיך וחטאתם כי רעה גמלוך (נ,יז). Usually, the word גמול refers to payment. Rabbeinu Ephraim gives two explanations for the word גמלוך. The first is ששלמו לך מה שבהאת דבתם רעה כי לא נכון לפרש שלמו לך רעה תחת טובה כי לא היטב להם קודם לכן that the רעה was “payment” for the דבתם רעה that he brought to their father. The second explanation is הפרישו אותך מאביך כמו ביום היגמל את יצחק. In spite of the fact that Yosef was already seventeen when he was taken away from his father, he still needed that connection with his father and it’s considered a tragedy that he was disconnected.
So even when a boy becomes a Bar Mitzvah, he should still feel that he needs, wants, and has a connection with his father. After Parshas Vayigash, everyone is a “feldinger” because “dinger” means a renter and “feld” is a field; renter of a field. After Yosef removes everyone from their land, everyone became a “feldinger.” In this world, we also should always feel like a “feldinger” because in the context of שמיטה the Pasuk says כי לי כל הארץ and therefore we are all really just renters and we own nothing. This is what we learn at the conclusion of Parshas Vayigsh.
The Bar Mitzvah boys name is Akiva Moshe and both names are very much connected. Moshe Rabbeinu is the one that taught us Torah Shebiksav and Reb Akiva is Torah Shbal Peh. The Gemara in Menachos 29b says the following:
בשעה שעלה משה למרום, מצאו להקב"ה שיושב וקושר כתרים לאותיות, אמר לפניו: רבש"ע, מי מעכב על ידך? אמר לו: אדם אחד יש שעתיד להיות בסוף כמה דורות ועקיבא בן יוסף שמו, שעתיד לדרוש על כל קוץ וקוץ תילין תילין של הלכות. אמר לפניו: רבש"ע, הראהו לי, אמר לו: חזור לאחורך. הלך וישב בסוף שמונה שורות, ולא היה יודע מה הן אומרים, תשש כחו; כיון שהגיע לדבר אחד, אמרו לו תלמידיו: רבי, מנין לך? אמר להן: הלכה למשה מסיני, נתיישבה דעתו.
We see from here that Moshe and Reb Akiva both need each other.
Next Shabbos, Parshas Shemos, we will be reading about Moshe Rabbeinu birth. But Reb Akiva is already connected with this week’s Parshah, Parshas Vayechi. After the brothers have this message told to Yosef in the name of their father, he responds אל תיראו כי התחת אלהים אני, ואתם חשבתם עלי רעה אלהים חשבה לטבה. Yosef was saying to them not to be scared because although Hashem does hold people accountable for מחשבה, people only hold others accountable for what actually happened and being that it all worked out for the good, there is no reason for me to punish. That is the כי התחת אלהים אני, that Yosef was saying “Am I instead of God” who holds people accountable for מחשבה, what they scheme to do. To which he continues ואתם חשבתם עלי רעה אלהים חשבה לטבה, that you only thought to do bad but it didn’t actually pan out and therefore I, Yosef, aren’t to do any harm to you. The Gemara in Kiddushin 81b says as follows:
דתניא: אישה הפרם וה' יסלח לה - במה הכתוב מדבר? באשה שנדרה בנזיר ושמע בעלה והפר לה, והיא לא ידעה שהפר לה בעלה, והיתה שותה יין ומטמאה למתים. רבי עקיבא כי הוה מטי להאי פסוקא הוה בכי, אמר: ומה מי שנתכוין לאכול בשר חזיר ועלה בידו בשר טלה, אמרה תורה: צריכה כפרה וסליחה, מי שנתכוין לאכול בשר חזיר ועלה בידו בשר חזיר - על אחת כמה וכמה!
Reb Akiva was the one who would cry at this Pasuk because it brought him to the conclusion and realization that Hashem does punish for מחשבה and therefore although Yosef didn’t punish the brothers for what they did to him, Hashem would have to exact punishment. Reb Akiva was one of the עשרה הרוגי מלכות that were a כפרה for the חטא of מכירת יוסף. On the Pasuk ויראו אחי יוסף כי מת אביהם ויאמרו לו ישטמנו (נ,טו) Rashi writes that לו has the meaning of דלמא but אין לו עוד דומה במקרא. The Ohr HaChaim says that it’s from a לשון of הלואי as if to say הלואי Yosef should do to us all the רעה that we did to him in order to prevent what will come in the future as he writes as follows:
ונראה כי הכתוב דברי עצמו קאמר לו, והכוונה בזה שהם יראו על דבר שהלואי שיהיה כן שיהיה משיב להם והוא אומרו ישיב לנו את כל הרעה והיו מצטערים השבטים כשיעור שנצטער יוסף מצדם ובזה לא היו מתחייבים לבסוף מהגלויות ומהצרות בעד חטא זה כאומרם ז"ל (שבת י ב) גלות מצרים וגם בגלות האחרון, וצא ולמד מה היה לעשרה עמודי עולם.
In the Haftorah on Rosh Hashanah, we read about the story of חנה and פנינה which is in the first Perek of Shmuel. In the שירת חנה in the second Perek, the Pasuk saysאל תרבו תדברו גבהה גבהה יצא עתק מפיכם כי אל דעות ה' ולא (ולו) נתכנו עללות (פסוק ג). Reb Yehuda Mudrin, the son in law of the קונטרס הספיקות, explained this Pasuk as follows. Chazal tell us that Peninah used to tease Chanah for not having children that everytime Peninah would buy clothing for her ten children, she would ask Chanah her צרה, and should I buy for your children as well. But Chazal say that nevertheless her intentions were Lshem Shamayim because the Pasuk says בעבור הרעמה which means she wanted to make her daven stronger for children because she knew if she would daven stronger for children then Hashem would forsure answer her Tefilos.
Chanah in her Shira was saying אל תרבו תדברו גבהה גבהה, meaning don’t speak on such high levels rather a person must speak and act on what is right and correct on the most basic level and not what might be right and correct on a higher level. Like Peninah was doing a horrible thing on the simple level and yet on a high level she was doing the right thing. So Chanah is saying in her Shirah אל תרבו תדברו גבהה גבהה because when a person talks גבהה גבהה what happens is יצא עתק מפיכם-you say the wrong thing. But אל דעות ה' ולא (ולו) נתכנו עללות, because only Hashem is able to do things that are seemingly wrong on the simple level but on a higher level are really right. But a person can only do things not only that really right, but also on a practical level he must do things that are right.
Similarly, Yosef was saying התחת אלהים אני that the brothers wanted him to do what is ultimately good for them which would mean to punish them now in order to prevent punishment and pain in the future. To this Yosef responded התחת אלהים אני that as human he can’t do what is ultimately good if it appears bad now, rather all he can do is what appears good now and not give them more pain even if ultimately by doing what appears good now will end up being bad for them because only Hashem is able to do what appears bad now being that it will ultimately be good. The Bar Mitzvah boy spells עקיבא with an א but it’s not so simple. In the הקדמה to the אור זרוע he write that he named his sefer as such based on a dream that he had where it was revealed to him that the name Akiva needs to be spelled with a “hey” at the end because the סופי תיבות of אור זרע לצדיק ולישרי לב שמחה are עקיבה and therefore the name should be spelled with a ה. To commemorate that dream, he named his sefer אור זרוע.
The Bar Mitzvah boy is named after a great grandfather of his who was named Reb Akiva Yosef Schlesinger and he was insistent on writing his name with a “hey” and not an “aleph” based on this אור זרוע. (This Reb Akiva Yosef Schlesinger did some interesting things such as authoring a book about the importance of making a living and he was behind the establishment of the city of Petach Tikvah. He also blew Shofar in Jerusalem on Rosh Hashanah that fell out on Shabbos and he made a whole campaign promoting this. Reb Shmuel Salant signed against it, but they say nevertheless he went to listen behind the window because he figured that he is blowing already.)
The Kollel Yungerman
The Rav said the following in the name of his father.
The two Psukim describing the Brachah from יששכר are as follows:
יִשָּׂשכָר חֲמֹר גָּרֶם רֹבֵץ בֵּין הַמִּשְׁפְּתָיִם:
וַיַּרְא מְנֻחָה כִּי טוֹב וְאֶת הָאָרֶץ כִּי נָעֵמָה וַיֵּט שִׁכְמוֹ לִסְבֹּל וַיְהִי לְמַס עֹבֵד
Yisachar is the lamdan, the kollel yungerman who sits and learns. But people might say that he only sits and learns because he is incapable of doing anything else. Comes along the Pasuk that says Yisachar is חמר גרם that he is compared to a donkey who has strong bones and can bear any weight so he really is capable of doing something and he still chooses to sit and learn. But still someone might say that he only sits and learns because he has no enjoyment in עולם הזה and he doesn’t care for a good vacation. Comes along the Pasuk that says וירא מנחה כי טוב that he know what a good vacation is all about and he understands the enjoyment of this world. And even with all of this, ויט שכמו לסבול ויהי למס עבד, he bends his shoulder and chooses to sit and learn.
וישלח ישראל את ימינו וישת על ראש אפרים והוא הצעיר ואת שמאלו על ראש מנשה שכל את ידיו כי מנשה הבכור (מח,יד)
The Pasuk is difficult to read because it ends off that Yaakov switched his hands because מנשה was the בכור. The way it should read is that Yaakov switched his hands in spite of the fact that Menashe was the בכור. Some Rishonim do explain the word כי to mean in spite of, but according to the simple reading of the Pasuk, how does it make sense.
If Yaakov really wanted Menashe on the left side, then he should’ve put him there. But he didn’t put him there rather he just put his left hand on him because he was the בכור and there was a purpose for him to be there. But to show that Ephraim is really the greater achievement, Yaakov put his right hand on him. In Parshas Mikeitz when Yosef has his two sons, he names them based on the things that happened to him. By Menashe, the Pasuk says כִּי נַשַּׁנִי אֱלֹהִים אֶת כָּל עֲמָלִי וְאֵת כָּל בֵּית אָבִי and by Ephraim the Pasuk says כִּי הִפְרַנִי אֱלֹהִים בְּאֶרֶץ עָנְיִי. A person who experiences trauma needs to forget not only the traumatic experience itself but the entire background. That’s why it’s not only forgetting כָּל עֲמָלִי but it’s also כָּל בֵּית אָבִי. He has to forget the entire thing. That is the Menashe. But eventually that enables him to build a life for himself after which he has the ability to see the past in a new light and reframe it. That is Ephraim, כִּי הִפְרַנִי אֱלֹהִים בְּאֶרֶץ עָנְיִי that specifically through his suffering and עוני was he able to reach such high levels and had he remained in the בית אבי, he would never be able to reach such levels.
First he needs to forget the בית אבי and turn the page and begin a new life. But once he succeeds in building a new life, he realizes that the new levels that he reached in his new life would have been impossible to attain if he would have stayed under his father wing. Therefore he now has a new appreciation for what he once considered as suffering because he understands the positive side. So Yaakov Avinu is saying it’s true in the chronological order of things what happened first was the Menashe, but in terms of חשיבות and the מעלה, one must understand it’s the כִּי הִפְרַנִי אֱלֹהִים בְּאֶרֶץ עָנְיִי which has the bigger מעלה and is more important, to reframe the past.
The Holy Spark in Every Jew
At the end of the Kiddush the Rav said since the Feldingers come from Basel, Switzerland, he wanted to share a story that has to do with this week’s Parshah and with Basel. The words “V’Shavu Banim l’Gvulam” come from Jeremiah 31:17 meaning “And the children shall return to their own borders.” These words were quoted at the First Zionist Congress by Dr. Max Nordau (1849 -1923), an assimilated Jew who once wrote, “when I reached the age of fifteen, I left the Jewish way of life and the study of Torah. Judaism remained a mere memory and since then I have always felt as a German and a German only.”
However a chance encounter with a yeshiva boy who referenced the Cave of Machpela in Hebron brought Nordau to tears and prompted his return to Jewish roots. The story is told by Nordau’s friend, the eminent scholar Abraham Shalom Yahuda (1877–1951). In his autobiographical book Ever Va-Arav, translated as “When I Studied Rashi”, Yahuda wrote: On the second night of First Zionist Congress in Basel, Nordau spoke in German, giving a long speech. He mentioned several times, as a motto, three words from Jeremiah, in Hebrew, “V’Shavu Banim l’Gvulam” - “Our Children Have Returned to their Borders.”
When asked by a young representative at the congress how he found this verse, and especially in Hebrew, for this did not fit Nordau’s educational background, Nordau replied: “I know these words from the person to whom I am obliged all my Judaism and Zionism. A person whose name I don’t even know. A person who was, in essence, only a little boy of eight or ten. And this is what happened: “I have a children’s clinic in Paris. A woman, an immigrant from Poland, her hair covered with a scarf, came in with a pale boy, eight or ten, sick for three weeks. Someone recommended that she bring him to me. I took out a form for a new patient and tried to speak to him in our local language, but he could hardly understand French. I asked his mother, who was also very poor at French, and she said, ‘no he doesn’t go to a regular school, he goes to a “Heder,” a Jewish religious school.’ I scolded her harshly. ‘This only causes anti-Semitism. We have opened the door for you, the gates to the country, to refugees from Poland. Why doesn’t your child learn the national language here?’
She apologized and said that he is still young and that her husband is from the ‘old generation,’ but that he will grow and study in the ‘gymnasium’ (modern school), and will learn the language. In anger I asked the child, ‘in Heder, what did you learn?’ His eyes lit up, and in Yiddish, which I understood because of my German, told me what he had last studied in Heder. “Jacob,” he said, “was dying and he invited Joseph and commanded him, swearing him, pleaded before him, please, don’t bury me in Egypt. There is the Cave of Machpela – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca – and there I buried Leah. Take me from Egypt and bury me with them. And when I came from Padan, Rachel died in the land of Canaan, on the way to Efrat, and I buried her there, on the way, in Bethlehem. “Why, in the middle of Jacob’s request, does he tell the story of the Tomb of Rachel?” “Rashi says,” – and this is all the child talks about, eight or ten years old, speaking about the ‘Sages’ – that Jacob felt a necessity to apologize to Joseph and say, I bother you like this, to take me from Egypt to Hebron, and I, myself, didn’t bother to take your mother Rachel. And despite that I was very close. Next to Bethlehem. Even into the city I didn’t take her, I buried her on the way. But I am not guilty and didn’t act wrongly. God wanted it this way. He knew: the murderer Nebuchadnezzar would, in the future, exile the sons of Rachel, her sons, during the first destruction, and then she would leave her grave and weep and wail and her voice would be heard: Rachel weeps for her children. But the Lord responds to her: “Stop your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears, because there is a reward for you actions, and a hope for the future, and the children will return to their borders – V’Shavu Banim l’Gvulam.”
“And I,” says Dr. Max Nordau, “I didn’t know what to do with myself. I turned to the window so that the mother and child wouldn’t see the tears rolling down my cheeks, and I said to myself, ‘Max, aren’t you ashamed of yourself? You are an educated man, known as an intellectual, with a doctor’s degree, but you don’t know anything about the history of your people. From all of the holy scriptures, nothing? And here, this sick child, weak, an immigrant, a refugee. And he speaks of Jacob and Joseph and Jeremiah, and Rachel, as if it was yesterday, it all lives in front of his eyes?'”
“I wiped the tears from my cheeks and turned to them and said, in my heart, ‘a people, with children like this, that actually live their past, they will have a sparkling future.” The Rav concluded that obviously nobody in this audience will learn from this story to follow in the ways of this “tinok sh’nishbeh”, but it’s only to show that the pinteleh yid can always be awakened.