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Parshat Vayeishev (5768)
This week's Torah reading contains the strange story of the birth of the twin brothers Peretz and Zerach (38:27-30). Zerach stuck his hand out of the womb first and the midwife tied a ribbon around it but suddenly Peretz popped out ahead of him.
At first glance perhaps this story shouldn't have been included in the Torah.
First of all it is embarrassing; the babies were the result of the shameful union of Judah (Yehuda the fourth of Jacob's twelve holy sons) and Judah's daughter-in-law Tamar.
And it’s trivial; Peretz and Zerach did nothing of note afterwards and the details of their birth are apparently pointless.
But on the other hand the word 'Torah' means 'teaching' and its every word and idea is a lesson in life. What possible educational value can this strange and unflattering tale have?
To understand this here is a story. (Bais Moshiach magazine #612 pg.22)
A certain well-known Talmudic scholar in Bnei Brak had a wayward son. At first the boy was an ideal student and apparently a totally devoted religious Jew. But something cooled him off.
At first he came late to classes then he stopped coming altogether. It wasn't long before he dropped all connection to the Torah and its commandments and began wandering the streets. He found himself a bunch of new friends and began life anew, free from all obligations.
Needless to say his father was broken hearted. He tried, in vain, to talk to his son andeven sent other boys to talk to him but it failed miserably. The only thing he could do was to pray, say a few psalms every day and then try to go about his life. But every time he thought about it… it hurt.
So things went on for the next few years until, unbeknownst to him, G-d answered his prayers.
His son had just arrived in the central bus station in Tel Aviv after a weekend in Eilat or some other resort town and as he exited the restroom an elderly Chabad Chassid approached him and asked him if he wanted to put on Tefillin.
Of course he refused and even made a few disparaging remarks, but the old fellow didn't let up.
For some reason he decided to put all his efforts into this young fellow and not let him go till he put on Tefillin. He got him into a conversation and then used every trick that he could to try to get him to just put the Tefillin on for JUST ONE MINUTE.
Until he hit on the right one: "Please, do it for me."
The young fellow melted like butter. He was opposed to Judaism, to rituals, to religion but, after all he was a Jew. He couldn't turn the old fellow down.
"Nu" he said as he rolled up his sleeve, "to do it for myself …no way! But to do it for you? Well… I guess so."
But when he took the Tefillin, put them on with ease and expertise and said the appropriate Shma Yisroel prayer by heart the old Chassid was truly amazed.
The young man explained how he had learned in yeshiva etc. Suddenly an idea popped into the old man's head.
"Listen," He said "I just got an idea. My wife and I live alone. Our children are already married and live far from us. Maybe you can do me a big favor. I'll even pay you for it. All you have to do is come to my house for the evening Shabbat meal and praise my wife's cooking.
"She's already used to my praises. If you, as a stranger, praise the food it will give her a LOT of pleasure and lift her spirits. I'll pay you fifty dollars plus travel expenses. Really she is quite a good cook."
The young fellow took up the offer as an easy way to earn money and faithfully showed up each Shabbat to praise the Chassid's wife and earn the money. In fact the food was indeed good and the old Chassid's words of Torah were interesting.
It wasn't long before he began spending the entire Shabbat with them and the Jewish atmosphere had an effect.
Several months later he decided to return to the religion of the forefathers and a few months after that returned home a religious young man.
It didn't take long for his father to find out what happened; the Rebbe of Lubavitch sent an emissary to save his son! The next morning he bought a ticket to New York to give the Rebbe 'thanks'.
He arrived in New York, succeeded in finding the Rebbe's headquarters in Brooklyn, stood in line for 'dollars' (the Rebbe handed out thousands of dollar bills and blessings each Sunday) and when he finally stood face to face with the Rebbe he said a deep and tearful 'thanks'. But he couldn't hold back his natural instincts; he had to ask a question. "Tell me Rebbe, I'm very thankful for what you did, but it's forbidden to put Tefillin on someone who just came from the bathroom - forbidden! How could your old man do such a thing! It's not permissible!"
The Rebbe just looked at him and answered.
"You should know that there is a Jew in Connecticut who wakes up on Yom Kippur morning, takes a shower, shaves, drinks a cup of coffee and eats a meal (all of which are explicitly forbidden) and then drives to the Synagogue to pray. No one can fathom how much pleasure G-d gets from those few minutes that that Jews spends in the Synagogue. You can have NO IDEA how much pleasure G-d gets."
And the Rebbe continued, "You can ask how is it possible to put on Tefillin with a young man that came out of the bathroom? Why you yourself see how this commandment saved your son! And you should know that EVERY Jew is dear to me like your son is to you!"
This answers our questions.
Peretz was the progenitor of Moshiach (see Ruth 4:18-22). The question here is how Moshiach will arrive -will he be brought by the naturally righteous Jews or those who transform themselves.
Zerach means 'to shine'. This represents the 'Tzadikim'; Jews who naturally feel and perceive the Creator. But 'Peretz' means to 'break through' signifying Jews that have changed themselves and broken through their natural inclinations.
At first Zerach stuck out his hand from the womb: The natural order of things is that the totally righteous 'Tzadikim' are the ones that will bring the ultimate redemption of the Jews.
But then Peretz broke through: G-d decided that the power of the 'Baali Tshuva' namely those who have selfish personalities and TRANSFORM' themselves (as we saw in our story… that the wayward son and those like him give G-d greater pleasure when they 'return'.)
And that is what the Rebbe said "You can have NO IDEA how much pleasure G-d gets!"
This is the message behind this seemingly meaningless story: It's all up to us!
Each of us has the power and ability to give G-d pleasure: to transform ourselves and the world around us to greet...
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