This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Mikeitz (5770)
This week we read the miraculous story of how a Jew called Yosef, despised by even his brothers, rose from total obscurity in an Egyptian prison, to become virtual king of the world! IN ONE DAY!
And all because of a series of dreams and 'accidents': If Yosef's brothers hadn't hated him because of his dreams, if his Egyptian master's wife hadn't been so treacherous, if he hadn't been in jail together with the Minister of Wine, or if either the Minister or Pharaoh hadn't dreamed… Yosef would never have become king and the entire world would have died by famine!
But what has this weird story got to do with the Jewish religion? Why couldn't Yosef just have been a heavenly gifted dream interpreter that Pharaoh made viceroy? This would show that it pays to be Jewish! Why this tenuous and almost unbelievable story filled with hatred and suffering and based on, seemingly, blind luck?
To understand this, here is a story. ('Ma Sh'seeper Li Saba' vol.1 pg. 127)
Yehuda was a simple, unlearned Jew who lived near the city of Lublin in Poland almost two hundred years ago. He hardly knew how to read but he had a knack for business that paid off. At one time he was a millionaire and would travel at least once a month to the great Tzadik the "Chozeh of Lublin" and give him large donations to be distributed to charity.
But, as we all know, there is a wheel of fortune in the world and once it turned a bit too quickly for Yehuda to get off. In the course of a few terrible weeks he suddenly found himself a pauper.
He was afraid to borrow money and too proud to beg so he decided to take any job just to make ends meet; after all, he had a wife and children to provide for. He tried his hand at a few things and finally settled at being a porter.
Every day he would go down to the market, train station or the docks to see if anyone needed something to be carried. That is how he eked out a meager living. But it wasn't easy. First of all most rich people had servants, second a lot of people didn't have baggage and finally; there were other porters that he had to take turns with. But perhaps worst of all, because he had no money to give he stopped going to the Tzadik of Lublin which caused him a great spiritual descent.
Then things really got bad. A week passed without one customer and then another. Poor Yehuda was hungry, his meager savings were disappearing fast, and if he didn't bring any money home his family would be hungry as well. He was standing on the street in front of some stores waiting for work with no luck. He felt useless, depressed. He prayed to G-d for a customer but none came….. until….from behind him he heard a very friendly, "Hello there my friend! Yehuda isn't it?"
It was the local priest. He shook Yehuda's hand warmly. "Hello there! I see you've been standing here a while without work. It's been a few days, right? Listen; if you want work I think we can use you. If you're interested come see me later today in my house next to the church." He smiled again, shook Yehuda's hand and was gone.
At first Yehuda didn't think about it. He always knew the Church was the enemy of the Jews although he never knew exactly why. But after he stood for a few more hours without any takers he decided to see what the priest had to offer.
When he got there the priest was all smiles. He had already spoken to the caretaker of the grounds and had a good job lined up. Yehuda could start tomorrow if he wanted. The pay would be good. He even slipped a few coins into Yehuda's hand as a loan so he wouldn't go home empty handed. 'A loan! It's a loan!' He assured him when he tried to protest. "Don't worry you can pay me back tomorrow."
Yehuda thanked the priest for his kindness. But the next day when he appeared for work, the priest, with the same friendly countenance, asked him to sit down for a friendly talk.
"Tell me Yehuda, it just doesn't make sense to me why an intelligent person like you doesn't become a Catholic. I mean, you can see that Judaism is not paying off. Just look! You used to be rich and now you're almost starving. Your G-d is simply too far away. He doesn't pay attention to you. And it's not only you. It's all the Jews. Just look at our beautiful churches compared to your miserable synagogues. Look how much money and success we have etc."
When he saw Yehuda's eyes widen in shock he calmed him down. "Listen, I'm not telling you to stop being a Jew. No no! All you have to do is let me sprinkle some ritual water on you and come to church on Sundays...that's all. And I'll give you a good job! Your Rabbi can't match that!"
Yehuda went home confused. On one hand he knew he had to be a Jew but on the other hand he definitely had been hungry and miserable until the priest came along. Suddenly he got it: he could just PRETEND to change his religion, stay a Jew and make a living all at the same time. But he was confused.
On the way home he stopped off at a Synagogue and when he peeked in and saw it was empty he entered and poured out his heart. "Listen, G-d. I'm desperate, I'm hungry and, please excuse me for saying it, but you aren't helping me much. In any case I'm not 'really' changing my religion. I just don't see what other choice I have!"
But when he got home and revealed his thoughts to his wife she wasn't confused at all. "Listen my dear husband. I'm just a simple woman but I think that before you do such a thing you have to go the Chozeh of Lublin. He will certainly find a solution."
Two days later Yehuda found himself standing before the great Tzadik explaining his pitiful situation and the priest's alternative, ending with the words, "Rebbe, G-d has left me. He's ignoring me and I have nothing! Not even food to eat! So if I have nothing, I have nothing to lose! Do I!?"
The Tzadik was shaken to his very soul that Yehuda would even consider such a thing. He thought for a moment and said, "Listen, you certainly have a good point. But if you have complaints about how G-d is treating you then subpoena him to court! That's right, forget the priest and call G-d to trial." Yehuda was listening with wide eyes as the Rebbe continued. "I'll gather three Rabbis who will be judges and you can state your claims before them. I'll be the lawyer for the defendant, namely G-d. Then after they hear all the sides they can decide the case."
Yehuda simply agreed; if the great Chozeh of Lublin said it then it must be right. Within moments three judges had been chosen, the door closed, and the trial solemnly began. One of the Judges declared, "Yehuda, state your grievance."
Yehuda began to regret that he began the entire business but he reminded himself that, after all, it was G-d that began the troubles, and began to talk.
"I used to be rich. I gave a lot of charity; over twenty percent for sure, maybe more. But then, for no reason, I lost it all. Now I'm a pauper with no way to feed my family. I demand that G-d give me back my money. What does He need my money for?"
The Chozeh of Lublin replied, "True, you did give a lot of charity but you surely also did a few sins as well. For those you must pay!!"
But Yehuda was quick on the rebuttal. "Yes, I agree that I made mistakes but they were never intentional. After all, I'm just a simple Jew and never had a chance to learn Torah so I didn't know any better."
"Aha" The Tzadik replied as soon as Yehuda was quiet. "That is no excuse! You had money. You could have found time to sit and learn or at least hired someone to teach you what to do."
Yehuda claimed to his defense that he knew a lot of wealthy Jews who were no more observant than himself and nevertheless G-d did not turn them into beggars. To which the 'Chozeh' replied that it wasn't for him to question G-d's ways. For sure if he didn't get the reward for his good deeds in this world he would get it in heaven.
But Yehuda insisted that for sure G-d had enough money to give him some in this world together with his spiritual rewards. And, anyway, why did his wife and children have to suffer? Both sides rested their cases.
The judges thought it over and after a short deliberation asked Yehuda that if he knew that G-d would forgive all his sins would he forgive G-d for the injustice of his poverty.
To which Yehuda replied that, although he admitted he had some sins he would only forgive G-d if he became rich again.
The judges again took a short recess and returned with the following verdict: According to the strict law of the Torah G-d is right; After all He is King of the universe and the King can do what he wants. But because G-d expects us to go BEYOND the letter of the law so G-d Himself should do the same.
Therefore: G-d should return Yehuda's money on the condition that Yehuda from now on will devote a few hours of each day to learn Torah with a teacher that he will hire who will also teach him all the laws of Judaism.
The decision was written on parchment and signed by all those present: Yehuda promised to repent totally and G-d was given thirty days to return his money.
Yehuda returned home, told his wife what had happened and the next day went to the marketplace to make a proper 'vessel' for G-d to send his new fortune. He stood in the middle of the square all ready for 'unexpected' riches.
He stood from morning to evening yelling out, "Who wants a worker! Who has something to carry?!" But all he got was hoarse…. and hungry. No miracles!
So it was the entire week and the next two weren't much better; he had a few customers but just enough to keep himself and family from starving.
Finally the deadline day arrived; the thirtieth day! He really didn't want to go back to the priest but… he was back where he began. If G-d wasn't keeping His part of the bargain then why should he?! In another hour the sun would set. Yehuda found himself walking to the train depot. A huge train pulled in and rich people began exiting from the first class coach.
"Anyone want a porter?!" He croaked hoarsely. But everyone rushed past and ignored him until the train sounded a few loud whistle blasts and slowly pulled out of the station into the grey dusk.
A cold wind blew as Yehuda hung his head and turned to go home. Suddenly someone called from behind him. "Hello! Porter! Hello!!"
He turned to see a corpulent, well-dressed Jew with a medium sized trunk calling to him. "Are you a porter?!'
"Yes I am!" answered Yehuda enthusiastically.
"Good, then keep an eye on this for a minute, maybe five minutes but no more. I'll be right back!" The man put a silver coin in Yehuda's hand as a tip and rushed off toward to a side door yelling "five minutes! I'll be right back!"
The terminal emptied out but an hour later the man had still not returned. So Yehuda, afraid to leave the trunk, waited yet another hour, then hoisted it on his back and lugged it home, figuring he would return first thing in the morning to see if anyone had searched for it.
The trunk was unusually heavy and by the time Yehuda got home he almost passed out. He let it slide from his back to the ground with a loud thud that broke one of the hinges revealing the contents; it was filled with coins of gold and silver. A small fortune!
The next morning and the morning after that and the one after that he faithfully returned to the station telling all the workers and officials his story, but no one had come looking for a trunk.
His next destination was the Chozeh of Lublin who informed him that it seems that G-d was keeping His part of the bargain. "Was the amount in the chest enough to return your previous wealth?" He asked.
"Not exactly" was Yehuda's reply "but it certainly is a lot of money!"
Yehuda became as rich as before but this time with more experience and more wisdom. Besides giving charity with an open hand he set times for learning Torah, especially the day to day laws and even set up places where others could also learn."
Yehuda never again had complaints against G-d but he learned that sometimes, if you have genuine ones, you can win your case!
This answers our questions.
The reason the Torah saga of Yosef depended on dreams, misfortunes and 'luck' is to show that even these usually negative things can be vehicles for good. Namely that man can take any situation, no matter how unreal and unfortunate and not only find meaning but transform it to a blessing.
But it can only be done through the two ingredients of our story; first there must be some connection with a Tzadik and second we must believe in a 'dream'.
Just as Yehuda was connected to the Chozeh of Lublin and believed he should be rich, and Yosef himself was a Tzadik and believed he would be king.
So too, if we read the writings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe (see your local Chabad House for details) and believe this world can be a good, happy, blessed place, we can make it happen with even one good deed, word or thought and bring....
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