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 Vayigash (5770)
This week's Torah portion begins as Yehuda approaches (Yigash) Yosef, the viceroy of Egypt, to beg for the life of Binyamin, his youngest brother, who had been accused and arrested for supposedly stealing Yosef's divining cup.
The Midrash (Raba 93:6) explains (see Rashi end 44:18) that although Yehuda was begging Yosef for mercy he was also prepared, if need be, for war against him.
This, at first glance, makes no sense. Yehuda was a clever man, what would drive him to such a pointless thought? He, even together with his brothers, was outnumbered thousands to one and had no chance to win! Why would he even consider fighting?
To answer this, here is a story. (Hadshot HaP'ilut, Kfar Chabad #25)
There is no where that Jews suffered so constantly as in Russia. Even in Germany and Poland where millions of Jews were murdered there were occasional eras peace and prosperity for the Jews. Not so in Russia; the Czar, the Church, and the peasant population saw to it that they never had a moment of respite. But worst of all was Communism.
The Communists opposed G-d, destroyed Torah education and with it paralyzed the minds and souls of almost the entire Jewish population.
So it was no wonder that observant Jews tried everything and almost anything to get out. But Stalin made it impossible to do so.
However, briefly after WWII a brief split in the Iron Curtain opened. It seems that in the course of the terrible war hundreds of thousands of Polish Jews fled from the Nazis over the border into Russia. Now, as soon as the war ended, the Russian and Polish Governments were allowing them to return; anyone carrying a Polish passport could leave Russia! Of course when the Jews heard this they immediately set to work.
But it wasn't easy.
Once one 'obtained' (i.e. bought a forged) passport, it was necessary to reach the border city of Lvov (Lemburg), buy train tickets to Poland, pass a special immigration board of Russians and Poles and finally take a train across the border to freedom during the course of which were also several 'checks'.
And there were even more problems; First of all, the passports cost astronomic prices, secondly, the secret police (N.K.V.D) were always on the lookout for forgeries and if caught the punishment was beating, imprisonment...or worse! Third, it was forbidden to remain in the city of Lvov over night without a special permit and finally, not everyone passed the 'special board'.
Eliezer (the story did not give a family name) was a young religious Jew from Buchara (Tashkent) who decided that he had to leave Russia. He acquired a Polish passport, got permission from his parents and began the long journey to Lvov. On the way he met other young men his age with the same goal and they decided to work together and help each other to get out. They rented a room with a back alley entrance where they intended to stay until they engineered their escape and began preparations.
But the very next day terrible news hit the thousands of Jews secretly hiding in Lvov; the board of Russian-Polish immigration had been eliminated! No one could leave Russia to Poland anymore! The border was closed!
Jews began streaming out of Lvov while they still had time. There was no reason to stay and if they got caught they would lose their homes, jobs and possibly more and be cut off from all sides.
But the group of young men decided they would not give up so easily. They sat up the entire night trying to figure out what to do until one of them suddenly remembered something he had heard from someone; there was a rumor that a high official in the NKVD, perhaps a colonel, by the name of Boris Spokoyni dealt with exit visas and not only was he Jewish (although he denied it), but he had a warm spot for helping his fellow Jews!
Now, this was only a rumor and possibly it was a totally untrue one which meant it could be fatal. But they talked about it and decided it was worth the gamble. They first would try to acquire the forms necessary to request permission to leave (when the board ceased to exist so did the requesting forms), fill them out and pray to G-d.
Eliezer and another young man were chosen to carry out the mission.
In the middle of the night they furtively made their way to the NKVD building on Lenina 3 street, approached the guard, slipped a fairly large bribe into his hand and asked him for two things; ten request forms (which were, of course, outdated) and the address of Spokoyni.
The guard rubbed the ruble bills in his hand, briefly looked down at them and when convinced that they were of sufficiently large denominations, told the Jews to wait off to the side in the shadows, entered the building and returned with an envelope. They took it, walked for a half hour down the street and, when they were sure they weren't being followed, opened it. It contained ten blank forms and a small paper with an address scribbled on it.
They hurried back to the room, everyone filled out a form and, just before dawn Eliezer and friend ran off to what they hoped and prayed was the right address.
They waited outside the house near some bushes until the door opened and out came a polished, immaculately dressed NKVD officer who lit a cigarette and began walking in their direction.
The sidewalk was empty. Now is the time. As soon as he got close enough they approached him and, almost weeping, pled for their lives, "We represent ten young Jews, please have mercy! Help us! We must leave Russia or we will die! Please help or we will commit suicide!" A warm sweat covered their bodies although it was a cold fall morning.
But Spokoyni just acted as though they didn't exist and kept walking. "Oh no!" Eliezer thought to himself. "We were wrong! If he calls the police on us we're finished!"
Then, after a few more steps he stopped, turned to them, narrowed his eyes and said, almost as though he got pleasure from their helplessness; "You missed the deadline! There are no more exit permits! How did you get my name anyway? Who gave it to you!? And my address!?" He angrily threw his cigarette to the pavement, crushed it out with his boot heel and suddenly looked deeply into Eliezer's eyes as though searching for something familiar.
He asked quietly, "Do you have the request forms?" Eliezer took them out of his coat pocket, the officer took them and stuck them into his pocket and whispered to Eliezer, "You know where my office is? Be there at eleven tonight. Come alone." And he waked into the distance.
"It could be a trap!" one of the group said when they returned. "Now he has all our names! It's evidence! What do you think? Maybe we should get out while we can." But when they took a vote everyone agreed they would stay and leave the rest up to G-d.
That night at eleven Eliezer was let in to the NKVD building, found Spokoyni's room and knocked on the door. He entered the room and Spokoyni locked it behind him.
He told Eliezer to be seated and again looked deeply into his eyes until two tears ran down Spokoyni's cheeks. He almost broke out weeping as he told his entire story.
Spokoyni said that essentially everything said about him was true despite his efforts to hide the facts. He even circulated rumors to the opposite so he wouldn't be flooded with requests that would draw attention. But he admitted that through his efforts thousands of Jews left Russia.
When he finished his short speech and dried his eyes Eliezer announced quietly that he too has good news; that night was the first night of Chanukah!
Spokoyni's eyes widened as though he had heard a message from another world and it was obvious that he was very emotional.
He looked around him to make sure that all the shades were down, went to the corner where there stood a candle stuck into a bottle in the event of a power shortage. He fumbled in his pocket, took out a match and Eliezer quietly said the three blessings as the officer repeated after him word for word and lit the candle.
As he gazed longingly into the flame the tune 'HaNairos HaLalu' quietly came through his lips.
After two days Eliezer and his friends got their permits to leave Russia and arrived in Poland. Several months later he even made it to Israel and today lives in one of the Chabad communities here, surrounded by children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.
According to him he heard from reliable sources that Boris Spokoyni eventually was caught, tried and killed by firing squad. But he succeeded in saving thousands of Jews, or to be more accurate; thousands of families!
This answers our questions. The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that the reason Yehuda was willing to wage a hopelessly lopsided war was that he took total responsibility for a Jewish child (in this case, Benyamin) and therefore acted totally above logic.
Something like the colonel in our story. He waged a single handed war against the entire Communist system because his responsibility for others elevated him to a reality which was above selfish considerations.
This is a very deep lesson to us. The goal of life is not freedom but rather responsibility to help others to live the truth.
As in our story; Spokoyni sensed that despite the power, pleasure and satisfaction that Communism offered, nevertheless it was a lie; and despite the weakness, difficulties and disappointments accompanying Judaism: it contains the whole truth.
So too in our weekly Torah portion:
It is known that Moshiach will come from the tribe of Yehuda and not from Yosef; although Yosef represents holiness and elevation (Yesod). This is because Yehuda represents humility (Malchus) and only through the humility of accepting responsibility for others will Moshiach come.
It all depends on us to do all we can, even one more good deed… it is our responsibility to rise above normal and for sure we will succeed in bringing…..
Copyright © 1999-2018 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.