This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
The latest article is posted here once a week. You can search the archive for past articles.
Parshat Mikeitz (5766)
This week's section tells the almost unbelievable story of how an unknown Jew, a convicted criminal, despised and rejected by even his own brothers, is suddenly catapulted from life imprisonment in an Egyptian jail to become ruler of Egypt and then of the entire world by interpreting a few dreams!
But at first glance this is not understood. The Torah is the book of life. Every word, every idea and certainly every story teaches us how to make our life more meaningful and productive. But here seems to be an exception.
Josef was not a normal Jew. He was so holy that even than his brothers could not recognize him when they finally saw him in Egypt and why they hated him from the beginning.
In order to maintain their high spiritual levels they had to be isolated, far from the world. That is why they all chose to be shepherds.
But Josef was on such an incomparably high level that he was able to be the ruler of Egypt, totally involved in material problems, and also be holy. And this was totally beyond them.
So what can we normal humans possibly learn from Josef?
Also this Shabbat falls in the middle of Chanuka which is also a very problematic holiday. It celebrates the victory of a handful of super-fanatic Maccabees against the civilized, cultured Greeks who, unlike the barbaric Babylonians or Romans, did not want to destroy the Temple or even stop the Temple service. All they wanted was that the Jews use ordinary, not-so-holy oil for the Menorah. And the majority of the Jewish people supported them!
What can we learn from a handful of fanatics?
Here is a story that might help us understand.
Yhoshua Benyamin was a poor Chassid, what made matters even worse was that he had seven mouths to feed and no way to feed them. He usually took any odd job he could find but times had been very slow and for the last few years his debts just kept growing.
The grocery store owner just gave his tenth and last warning that Yhoshua could forget about getting any more food on credit.
Then he got a final notice from the landowner that he wanted all his back rent or else Yhoshua and his family would be evicted. And shortly thereafter the young man that had been teaching his children Torah announced that if he didn’t get his back pay he was quitting.
And then came the fire.
No one knows exactly how it started but, unlike Yhoshua and his family …… the fire had plenty to eat. The houses were one hundred percent wood and the fire jumped ravenously from one to the other leaving some twenty families homeless. Yhoshua's house hadn't been burnt much but his furniture had been wrecked and the suffering of all his friends didn't improve his spirits.
He prayed to G-d for a miracle… only a miracle would save him! And he was G-d surely wouldn't let him down.
And the miracle happened!!
It was Friday just an hour before the Shabbat. He was walking slowly home from another day of fruitless job searching when he noticed a wallet on the ground in the mud off the side of the road. He bent down, picked it up and … there was no identification. Only a bunch of papers and… three hundred rubles!! G-d had answered his prayers!!!
The money would save him! He could pay his debts and have money left over! Three hundred rubles was a fortune. It was a miracle!! Then suddenly he stopped.
"What am I thinking of? Have I gone insane?" He thought to himself. "Why, this is someone's wallet! How could I take the money? It's a commandment.. a Mitzva, to return lost items!"
But then he thought again. "One minute! If I don't take the money someone else will. The owner probably gave up on it anyway. And, well, I can just take the money and throw the wallet back on the ground.
After all, the money was as good as gone! Or maybe I'll just USE the money and then announce that I found and empty wallet and then LATER I'll give it back."
Yhoshua was confused and his poverty already had made him half insane. It was very difficult for him to think up reasons for not TAKING THE MONEY THAT G-D PUT IN HIS HANDS!!
He decided to hide the wallet in his home and decide after Shabbat.
He arrived in the Synagogue confused and worried, now there was a third factor involved; besides his debts and the wallet, in just a few minutes would be Shabbat and on Shabbat it is forbidden to worry.
But as troubled as he was he couldn't help notice one of the wealthier townspeople, Reb Pinchus Leb, sitting near the corner also trying unsuccessfully not to be sad.
He walked over and asked what was wrong.
At first rab Pinchus, who was usually a good natured and non-talkative person, just tried to shrug it off and deny it but for some reason Yhoshua insisted that he should tell him what it is that's bothering him.
"Ahhh! I'll tell you the truth" Said Pinchas Leb with a heart-breaking sigh. "My house was severely damaged by the fire but that was the hand of G-d and I accept it.
What I can't get over is my wallet. It had a lot of money but most important were the papers! It had valuable documents that are worth a fortune. I saved them from the fire but somehow I lost it all! And, well, I know it's going to be Shabbat but… well… I just can't stop blaming myself for it."
"Don't worry!" Yhoshua put his hands on Pinchas' shoulders, looked him in the eyes, smiled and exclaimed. "I found your wallet!! It's in my house. I found it before Shabbat!"
PInchas Leb couldn't believe his ears. He hugged Yhoshua in joy, gave him a big kiss on his cheek and thanked him over and over again about twenty times.
Immediately after Shabbat when Reb Pinchas went to Yhoshua's house and saw his wallet he was so happy that he gave him the three hundred rubles as a reward. But Yhoshua refused!
He decided that the mitzvah itself was enough of a reward. He didn't want the money. And all the pleading and arguing of Reb Pinchas didn't help. Yhoshua was now really certain that there would be a miracle. But it didn't happen.
And his children were hungry. Suddenly he remembered; the Rebbe! He would travel to the Rebbe (The Rebbe 'Resha'b; Shalom Dovber the fifth Rebbe of Lubavitch) for a blessing or at least for advice. Why hadn't he thought of it earlier!
Two days later he was in Lubavitch, standing before the Rebbe pouring out his heart about his troubles with the food market, his landlord and the tutor. But the Rebbe seemed to ignore all this and asked him if anything good happened recently.
Yhoshua was dumbfounded, he couldn't figure what the Rebbe meant.. something good? Suddenly he remembered the wallet.
"Very good." Said the Rebbe. " So there is nothing to worry about! In the merit of returning that lost item you will be repaid ten-fold!. Meanwhile, if you are offered a job of being a Cantor take it."
He thanked the Rebbe profusely and backed out of his room. But when he was alone with himself he thought, "Cantor? Why, I'm no cantor! I've never been a cantor in my life. Who would want me as a cantor?"
But sure enough, two days later, when he arrived back home, a carriage was waiting in front of his house and out of it stepped two honorable looking Jews who wasted no time in asking him to be the cantor in their town for Rosh HaShanna! They even offered him an advance of ten rubles (about two months wages).
His automatic urge was to refuse; he had a nice voice but he had never been a cantor and he had so many problems. Then he remembered the Rebbe's words.
He practiced seriously before the holidays and, sure enough when the time arrived his troubles and broken heart ironically proved to be his biggest asset and the crowd, who had enough troubles of their own, was moved by the simple sincerity of his prayers. They even invited him back for Yom Kippur with a raise in salary… paid in advance.
After Yom Kippur the president of the synagogue thanked him profusely and even gave him a bonus but added an apology. He was not able to find a carriage to take him back to his home. All of them had been hired by travelers. He gave Yhoshua more money and, with more apologies, asked him to please try to search on his own.
The next morning Yhoshua understood how bad the situation really was; literally every carriage was gone. But someone suggested an old man that had once been a carriage driver and might be willing, for the right price, to take the job.
Yhoshua headed for the old man's hut on the outskirts of the town but when he got there and opened the door he realized that it was a dead end. The man, who must have been well over eighty, was laying sick in bed and was totally blind!
But just as he was about to turn and leave the old man called out.
"Ehhh? Is that you Yorik?! Did you call the priest? Is he coming? I don't think I'll last much longer."
Yhoshua realized that the old fellow must think that he is someone else so to calm him down he answered. "Yes yes, the priest is coming."
"You know, Yorik." The old man wheezed and half whispered. "You know I have no children. But I have some money and I want you to have it. Won't help me where I'm going. It's buried in the back yard here under the large brown rock. I stole it from a Jew. Heh heh! One of my passengers over twenty years ago. Go and take it, I only used some of it. As far as I know the Jew isn't even alive any more. Heh heh!"
Yhoshua left the old man, ran outside into the yard, pushed over the rock and sure enough, there was the old wallet.
He put it in his pocket it and, afraid that Yorik would return any moment, ran back to the town as fast as his legs would carry him. And behold… There was an available carriage! He gave the driver a good price and in a day's time was back home.
He told the entire story to his wife produced the wallet and together they opened it. It was filled with notes! Packed!! And they were all large denominations. They eagerly counted it and found…. Exactly three thousand rubles!!
Suddenly he realized what the Rebbe meant that he will be repaid ten-fold! It was ten times the three hundred he returned to Reb Pinchas! All of Yhoshua's financial worries were gone forever! (Rabosainu Nisianu vol. 3 pg. 80)
Now perhaps we can understand our questions. True we cannot achieve the level of Josef or of the devotion of the Maccabees but on the other hand we don't have to: Josef and the Maccabees did most of the work for us.
Just as the Rebbe in our story opened the way for Yhoshua to become rich, so Josef and the Maccabees opened the way for our generation to rise miraculously from exile to redemption and to overcome seemingly impossible odds despite the fact that we aren't tzadikim.
But just as the Chassid in our story had to follow the directives of the Rebbe Reshab, so we have to do what the Lubavitcher Rebbe says; We must increase the light and revelation of Moshiach.
In fact this is the message of Chanuka: we celebrate with light because in fact, it was the light; the eternal, spiritual light of true Judaism, that was the CAUSE of the miraculous military victories.
So will be the light of Moshiach that Judaism has been waiting, working and praying for almost two thousand years. The spiritual light that no prison or exile can possibly extinguish.
The light that will transform the entire world to heaven on earth.
It's up to us to do ALL WE CAN to keep that light shining. Lo Yichbeh Nayro l'olom vo'ed. As the Rebbe said: all our time and all our energy "Kol Y'may Chayechaw" should be devoted only to bringing…..
Copyright © 1999-2018 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.