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Parshat Vayechi (5768)
This Shabbat we finish the first book of the 'Pentateuch' where we learn of the last hours of Jacob, the third and 'choice' Patriarch of Judaism as he prophetically and poetically blesses each of his twelve sons on his death bed.
But before he begins blessing, Jacob forces his favorite son Josef to promise not to bury him in Egypt but rather to carry his body to Chevron to be buried with Abraham and Isaac. (47:29,30)
But then there is a surprise. When Josef agrees and promises, Jacob is not satisfied! He demands; "Swear to me!" which Josef promptly does. (29:31)
At first glance this is not clear; why wasn't the promise good enough? Why did Jacob demand an oath? Didn't he trust his own son?
To understand this, here is a story.
The date is between 1947 and 1953 in communist Russia. Stalin is ruling with a heavy hand and is revered and feared by all. He has already 'exterminated' over twenty million of his own people for the crime of disloyalty and now has decided to wipe out the most troublesome group of all; the Jews.
But Rabbi Zalman Leib Estulin wasn't scared. He was a Chassid (follower) of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, the Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch who taught his followers to "love every Jew with all your heart and fear nothing other than the Creator".
But this was no small order.
In Russia people were afraid to even think against Stalin! but the Chassidim of the Rebbe not only defied Stalin in thought, they spoke and even did all they could to teach and encourage non-communist ideas; Torah Judaism. (Despite the fact that the Rebbe was far away. He had been evicted from Russia in 1927 after his miraculous release from communist prison and was in America beginning the 'outreach' movement.)
Rabbi Estulin was a Talmudic genius but almost all of his energy was devoted to gathering Jewish children and teaching them Torah; in secret of course. Usually he never had more than ten pupils and one of them had to stand watch at all times. Not only that but they had to learn in a place where no one would see or hear them and constantly had to change location from fear of being discovered.
But the main thing that kept them going was miracles. In fact once there was even a non-Jewish-holiday miracle!
It was a miserably cold and rainy day in December. The other boys were learning with Rabbi Zalman Leib in a nearby deserted basement but the boy that was supposed to be on watch decided to occupy himself with something more interesting.
After all, he reasoned to himself, who would go searching in such dreadful weather for something as unimportant as young boys learning Torah.
His eye caught a felled pine tree that was probably left behind from those that had been cut down for the gentile holiday and he dragged it to the room where the other boys were learning.
When Rabbi Estulin saw the tree he immediately told the boy to get rid of it and get back to his post. But it was cold outside and it was hard for the young fellow to move. Not only that; he didn't enjoy just standing there waiting for nothing.
Suddenly they heard a noise outside… it was them!
The boys quickly removed their yarmulkes and put them in their pockets, hid their books under some rags in the corner and tried to smile. The door opened with a bang and there stood two policemen, one with a pistol in his hand the other with a wild smile on his face.
"Haaa!" one of them said as he looked around the room. "A party ehhh?" His eye caught Rabbi Estulin. "And who is this?" he asked aloud.
Rabbi Estulin prayed silently for a miracle.
Suddenly the policeman noticed the tree lying in the corner, looked knowingly at his friend while putting his gun back in his pocket and answered his own question. "Ahhh! I get it! It's a young Santa! Heh heh! A young Santa! Heh heh heh! Listen kids… next year get one with a white beard! I almost didn't recognize him! Ha Ha haaaa!!"
The policemen burst out laughing at the witty joke, wished everyone a happy holiday and as soon as they left the boys put back on their yarmulkas, took out their books and resumed learning.
A true Xmas tale! (Beis Moshiach #606 pg. 27)
This answers our questions.
There are many ways that Tzadikim can affect the world. Some do it from afar, even after they have ‘passed away’. But others do it in person as the Rebbe Maharash did in our story and as Josef did in Egypt. Indeed, that is why he was buried in Egypt (50:26). He knew that the Jews would need his actual presence (his ‘body’ was taken from Egypt only when the Jews left hundreds of years later) for the duration of the Egyptian exile.
But Jacob thought differently. He was above the exile (as we explained in last week's essay) and he wanted to use his spiritual power from 'outside' to help the Jews LEAVE Egypt. As the saying goes, "A bound man cannot free himself"; i.e. from inside the Jews could never be freed.
Therefore he forced Josef to take an oath; namely to go against his nature and think big; total redemption!
This is very relevant for us today. Josef means to 'increase'. The Lubavitcher Rebbe announced when he began to lead the Chabad movement over fifty years ago that our generation is not one of merely increasing in good and making the exile as Jewish as possible.
Rather we must think outside of our normal perimeters. Ours is the generation of complete redemption, the generation of Jacob (Yisroel); 'without boundaries' when we will leave exile totally.
We have all the 'outside' help we need from all the great Tzadikim from all the generations.
All we have to do is change our limited way of thinking and do all we can to reveal…
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