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 (5768)
This week's Torah portion tells the story of how Josef, now the de-facto ruler of Egypt, brought his father Jacob and brothers to Egypt for an emotional reunion after twenty years of separation.
But we see something strange. When Pharaoh meets the Patriarch Jacob for the first time and asks him, "How many years have you lived" Jacob replies,
"The days of my sojourn are one hundred and thirty years, few and awful etc." (47:8-9)
At first glance this is completely not understood; why did Jacob have to add the comment, 'few and awful'? It was unnecessary, negative …and it isn't even true! Jacob's years were neither few nor awful.
After Noah's flood people were supposed to live till only 120 and Jacob had reached ten more! So his years were not 'few'.
And they weren't awful either; he lived to see all of his sons become righteous, upstanding men and one was a king that saved all humanity from famine!
So why did he add these words? What was he telling Pharaoh and what is the Torah teaching us?
To understand this here is a story. (Bait Moshiach #573 pg 49)
Rabbis Mair Avtzon and Lazer Nannes were criminals…arch criminals……in the eyes of the Communist government.
That's why they were both sent into exile to the distant city of Turkistan. There they would be distant from their friends, family and other counter-revolutionary influences. Exile would wean them from spreading Jewish propaganda like teaching Jewish children Torah or influencing others to do commandments.
And they were constantly afraid; there were spies everywhere and every day there was news of someone else getting caught and punished. The slightest wrong move, suspicious look or word could bring disaster.
But when the holiday of Succot came around they had to make a Succa (a booth with four walls and a roof of cut foliage).
Really it wasn't that difficult. There was a dilapidated shack outside their apartment building. They just removed what was left of the roof, threw a few branches and leaves on top and presto they had a Succa!
Now, on this holiday there is a commandment to be happy, especially on the last night called 'Simchat Torah' the joy of the Torah, beginning with the traditional 'Kiddush' ceremony on a cup of wine. Rabbi Mair promptly announced that he decided that the best way to fulfill this commandment was to make the Kiddush on vodka.
But Rabbi Lazer vetoed the idea totally. Ridiculous! First of all vodka disagreed with him and not only that but if they got drunk they might let down their guard, get discovered and that would be the end!
But that evening, after each had finished praying the holiday prayers on his own andsnuck furtively into the Succa they quietly wished one another happy holiday and Reb Mair pulled out a big bottle of vodka for Kiddush.
One minor problem was that the only cup available was a mug that held a few pints and Jewish law requires that the majority of the cup must be imbibed. Also it is customary that everyone present (i.e. Rabbi Lazer as well) should drink some of the liquid.
And last but certainly not least was the fact that early in the holiday they realized that they had built their Succa on the side of the building nearest to the back wall of the GPU Secret Service offices!
As could be expected, at first everything was quiet and subdued but as the holiday spirit and the vodka began taking effect …. all there was …. Was HOLIDAY!!
The singing got a bit louder until finally they actually stood, linked arms and began dancing and really rejoicing!
Then they sat down, out of breath, to finish their meager meal.
Suddenly they heard a noise outside! It wasn't just a passer by or a drunk. Someone was approaching.
There was a knock on the door
They sobered up instantly as though a bucket of freezing water was poured over them.
There was no sense in running or hiding or making up stories. The communists in Turkistan were cruel Moslems who knew about the Jewish Holidays. A cold sweat covered the Rabbi's foreheads and their hearts pounded with fear. They were finished!
They opened the door and there stood the landlord of the apartment building, a pleasant man by the name of Ibrahim.
"Greetings!" he said in Russian "Happy Holiday!"
"Happy holiday" they answered quietly, trying not to show their fear. Maybe it would be alright, after all Ibrahim was a simple fellow that didn't seem to have a bad bone in his body. They began to breathe more easily.
"Greetings not only from me," Ibrahim continued, "Also from …. Karim."
Their eyes opened in fear and their blood froze in their veins. Karim! The very name sent shivers up their spines.
Karim was Ibrahim's brother-in-law, the keeper of the local jail and a bloodthirsty sadist with a reputation for cruelty a mile long. Ibrahim was playing with them like a cat with a mouse before the kill. He was one of … them.
Or so they thought, but they were in for a surprise.
Ibrahim continued "Karim heard you singing and dancing just a while ago from the window of his office so he came to me. You know what he said to me? He said, 'I envy those Jews'.
"I thought it meant that he was going to take revenge on you but no. He went to my window pointed to your hut here and said, 'you see those Jews. They live in fear every second. They know that we hate them and any second we can take them away and have them killed for the smallest reason. And what do they do? They dance and sing!'
"I tried to tell him it's because of your holiday but he replied, 'I know it's their holiday. But that isn't why they are happy. We have holidays too! But are we ever happy like that? No! We are happy when we take revenge or something… but never like that. They are happy because they are Jews. And when I see them dancing and singing despite their fear I envy them!'
Ibrahim continued, "He even told me that he would like to go and wish you a happy holiday but he knew it would frighten you so he asked me to come and tell you. In Karim's name, Happy Holiday!"
When Rabbi Mair or Rabbi Lazar told this story even tens of years later they would say they would never forget that Succot all their life.
This explains our questions. The Jews are not normal people…. In fact they were 'chosen' by the Creator to teach all mankind how to improve and change everything normal to be 'above' normal; to reveal the Creator in the entire creation.
That is what 'Karim' discovered in our story and that is what Jacob was telling Pharaoh.
Jacob was the ultimate Jew. He was the first to be called 'Israel' and his children were the first to be 'Bnei Yisroel'. The Talmud (Taanit 5b) tells us that he was impervious to death (Jacob never died) and that his purpose was to bring the ultimate redemption and build the Third, final, eternal Holy Temple. (Abraham and Isaac represented the first and second Temples that were destroyed).
Therefore when Pharaoh asked for his age; a purely normal question, Jacob had to answer in a not-normal, Jewish way:
"130 years; few and terrible."
'Few' because every Jew should live eternally (as it will be in the Raising of the Dead). And 'terrible' because every moment Moshiach has not arrived and brought all mankind to be aware of the Creator and His Torah it is pure pain and suffering.
That is what the Torah is telling us here; the Jews are responsible for the entire world and every moment the Moshiach is not revealed we cannot possibly be content.
Let us be inspiredandenergized from this eternal message and do what we can, even just one more positive thing, to bring..
Copyright © 1999-2017 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.