This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Vayigash (5761)
This week's section tells the story of the reunion of Yosef with his entire family beginning with Yhudah approaching (VaYigash) Yosef.
At first glance the entire story seems too elaborated and unimportant to be the sole topic of an entire weekly section. The Torah could have simply told us at the end of last week's section that Yosef brought his brothers and father to Egypt and a bit of what happened. Why such lengthy detail?
I think the answer can be found in the following story.
Two months before the miraculous Six-day war in 1967 the Lubavitcher Rebbe began 'Mission Tefillin'; all Chabad Chassidim were to take to the streets and put Tefillin on any Jew that was willing.
The idea of approaching non-religious strangers in the street with a request to do a religious act, and such a complicated one at that, was unheard of (and even today only Chabad is 'crazy' enough to do it) and although the Chassidim did it with some success no one knew exactly how to take it. Meetings were made throughout Israel to discuss the issue, and the Chassidim in Kfar Chabad made a big 'Farbringen' .
[A Farbringen is a very serious, informal and often joyous gathering of men of all ages, with the goal of doing (and being) what the Rebbe wants. Vodka (LeChiam) is often consumed and people open their hearts and thoughts to one another.]
That night the main speaker was Rabbi Mendel Futerfass a salty Chassid and the spiritual director of the main Yeshiva of Kfar Chabad, who had spent many years imprisoned in Siberia for his Jewish outreach activities. That entire night he and everyone present tried to bring possible explanations for this totally unorthodox, seemingly unacceptable idea, with no success.
Then he remembered a story that he heard when he was a prisoner fifteen years earlier in Siberia.
It seems that from everything he heard and saw in the years he was imprisoned in the 'work' camp Rav Mendel tried to learn a lesson in the service of G-d, and usually he succeeded. (He once told me that the reason that the Tzadik Rav Zusia of Anipoli said that it's possible to learn seven positive lessons in the service of G-d from a thief [sefer 'Yom Yom' pg. 107] is because Rav Zusia never sat in prison. But if he had sat in prison he would have learned thousands of things!) But there was one story that, try as he could, he couldn't figure out what was the spiritual point …. until now.
The prisoner telling the story had been a deep-sea diver in the Czar's navy, imprisoned now by the Communists, and his story was as follows:
"It occasionally happened that one of the ships of the Czar's navy would sink, sometimes because of a storm at sea, or because it struck a rock, or sometimes in battle.
"Now, ships are worth a lot of money, just the metal and the equipment alone were often worth millions, so the navy developed a means to lift the ship from the ocean floor so it could be towed to shore and fixed or at least partially salvaged. And that's where I came in.
"What they would do is situate two towing-ships on the sea above where the sunken ship was. Each ship would lower a long, thick chain with a huge hook on the end, and I would dive down, attach one hook to the front and the other to the rear of the sunken ship. Then the towing-ships would reel in their chains, lift the sunken one from the ocean floor and tow it in to shore.
"Now, this was all fine when the sunken ship had been under for less than a month or so, but after that the ship began to rust and the hooks would bring up only huge chunks of iron, leaving the rest of the ship behind.
"So someone developed a brilliant idea. The two tugboats, instead of lowing just one chain each, would spread a huge, hollow, rubber mat with thick rubber walls over the place where the sunken ship was. Inside the entire length of the mat was a large flat sheet of steel with several hundred steel ropes attached to it. The ropes ran though special airtight holes in the lower rubber wall in a way that no water could get in and no air would escape, and at the end of each dangling rope was a hook.
"My job was to go down with a few other divers, lower the mat, spread it over the sunken ship and attach the hooks to as many places as possible. Then a motor on one of the two tugboats would pump air into the mat and slowly inflate it. It began to pull upwards until … WHOOPA!! Suddenly the entire ship lifted at once and could be towed to the docks and eventually hoisted to dry land for repairs."
"For years I've been trying to connect this story to some lesson but just now I began to understand what it is," said Rav Mendel.
"The ship is like the Jewish people; rusty and falling apart because they have been sunk in exile for almost two thousand years. No one thing or person or idea will get them out. But they must be salvaged and fixed somehow.
"So the Rebbe's idea is to save them; to save the ship! And we Chassidim, are the Rebbe's deep-sea divers. We have to attach a hook to every single Jew … put Tefillin on as many Jews as possible, and then when enough 'hooks' are attached …WHOOPA!!! HaShem will pull everyone up TOGETHER."
This is the meaning of our Torah section.
The word 'VaYigash' means 'To come near … to come together.' This is the foundation of Judaism as Rabbi Akiva, said," 'Love your neighbor as yourself' is the main principal of the Torah". Unity is the only vessel for the blessing of G-d (see Mishna, Uktzin 3:12).
We pray for it at least three times every day in the concluding prayer of the Shmone Esre "Bless us, our Father, ALL AS ONE." And the lack of it is the reason for the destruction of our Holy Temple and this painful 2000-year exile.
That is also the essence of the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov; to unite all the Jews. Therefore his teachings are called 'Torhat HaMoshach', because they prepare for Moshiach ; the true Jewish leader who will awaken in each and every Jew the only thing that binds us all; the unique G-dly soul.
But just learning is not enough, action is required; as the Rebbe ordered all the Chassidim to do with Tefillin (and later with the other nine 'Mivtzoim'). We must actually come close to another Jew 'VAYIGASH' as Yehuda did to Yosef and as the deep-sea diver did to the ship.
[Yehuda and Yosef represent all the Jewish people who were divided after the death of King Solomon. Bringing them together is a necessary step in the redemption from this terrible exile as explained in this week's Haftorah (Ezekiel 37:15).
That is why the topic and the details of this section warrant making it into a separate Torah Portion (and also why it comes before the blessings of Yaakov to his sons in next week's section).
Because this week's Torah portion describes unity… the prerequisite for the greatest blessings possible; meaning, joy and true freedom.
But it all depends on us. Each of us has to connect with others and connect them to their Creator; Jews through the 613 commandments and Gentiles the Seven Noahide Commandments.
Through our good deeds, words or even thoughts we will soon be dancing with…..
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