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Parshat Vayeishev (5763)
The Torah is a book of living, positive lessons in life. Every idea, indeed every word is filled with purpose and optimism. In fact it is possible to live with the reading of each day (each section is divided into seven portions).
But this week's portion doesn't seem to contain even one happy message only tragedies.
It begins with Josef the holy son of Jacob being unjustly sentenced to death by his own brothers then sold by them into foreign bondage and finally sentenced to life imprisonment in a festering Egyptian prison on false charges.
Unusual for the Torah, the portion even ends on a pessimistic note. "The king's toastmaster (imprisoned Josef's last hope for freedom) did not remember Josef and totally forgot him" (40:23).
What positive lesson can we learn from all this?
To understand here is a story:
Once upon a time there was a fabulously rich man named Mr. Farbes. But he was miserable.
He tried everything he could to sooth his misery; he went to doctors but they said he was completely healthy. He took up music, sports, hobbies, dancing went traveling even tried meditation but nothing seemed to help, he was bored and depressed.
With no other choice he went to a wise man for advice.
"Your problem" the wise man said "is that you never give charity. You live totally for yourself that's why you are miserable. If you want to be happy begin to help others."
Here was an idea he hadn't thought of! He would give charity and finally he would be free of melancholy! He left the wise man with a new hope.
But he discovered that it wasn't so simple. Giving away money was an entirely new world to him and he didn't know where to begin.
Most of the people that looked poor gave him the feeling that they really weren't. On the other hand he was certain that there must be many people that really needed money but didn't look it.
He couldn't just give to everyone; if he gave to undeserving people he would not have given charity at all. But on the other hand he had to give or he would go crazy. There must be some why to find out who is REALLY needy.
Suddenly he hit on an idea: He would give only to people that had lost all hope. THAT, he concluded, was real poverty.
So he put on his coat and began going around to places that unfortunates were found; hospitals, orphanages, jails, barrooms, slums but he had no success at all.
Everyone he spoke to had some hope in life. He met people with problems, diseases, debts, enemies, he met homeless, penniless, jobless, helpless but no hopeless.
He was getting desperate. He had to figure out a way to give money, and soon!
Then, one day as he was walking down some side street he heard moaning coming from the direction of the junk yard and he excitedly walked in that direction.
There sitting on a dung heap was a man covered with boils in ragged clothes moaning like Job.
"What happened to you?" Farbes asked in wide eyed anticipation... (This could be exactly what he was looking for!)
"Ayyyi, don't ask" the man replied rocking back and forth and holding his head in his hands. "I lost everything, everything!! Ooy! My money, my job, my house, friends, family; everything!! And now I got these boils!! Ayyyi!!"
"Tell me;" asked the rich man excitedly, "do you still have hope?"
"Hope?" he replied. "What do you mean hope?"
"You know", said the rich man, "hope that things will get better."
"Of course I have hope!" the poor man looked at him wide eyed and replied, "As long as I'm on the ground and the ground isn't on me I have hope. In the graveyard there's no hope! Go to the graveyard!"
Now Farbes was really desperate. Would he be doomed to a life of misery? Was there no way he could give money?
Suddenly it occurred to him... He would take the man's advice! He would go to the graveyard and put his money there!
He knew it was a long shot, and it wasn't exactly giving charity either. But at least it was giving! And for sure the money wouldn't fall into the wrong hands. And if it didn't work he could always dig it back up again and try somewhere else.
So that very night at midnight he took a sack of dollars and a shovel, stealthily snuck into the local cemetery, picked a grave at random, dug a hole, threw the money in, covered it up and left as secretively as he entered.
As soon as he got home he felt better. It was as though a stone had been lifted from his heart. It didn't make any sense but what did he care; finally he was happy! It worked!!
A year or two passed and Farbes almost forgot the graveyard incident but then as fate would have it, his wheel of fortune took a spin for the worse. Business just wasn't the same as it used to be. He made some bad decisions and small losses brought bigger ones. He was plagued with setback after setback until five years later he was actually approaching bankruptcy and desperately needed some available cash.
Suddenly he remembered the buried money.
It was his last hope. That night he once again furtively crept into the same graveyard carrying the same shovel and sack, found the grave where he had buried the money and began digging as quietly and quickly as possible in the eerie dim moonlight. A cold wind shook his bones as it whistled through the trees, he would really be glad to get out of here. Here, in another minute he would be...
"HANDS UP!" boomed the voice behind him. "Put 'em up an' keep 'em up! Police!"
Farbes' knees began shaking and he almost fell over from fright. " Now turn around slowly." The voice boomed again.
He turned to see a huge gun pointed at him with a policeman behind it. "Robbing the dead ehhh? How low can you get! pheh!" said the policeman as he handcuffed poor Farbes.
He tried answer but he was trembling so uncontrollably all he could say was "No... BBBut.. I just." In minutes he was on his way to jail.
A week later he was standing before the judge, a broken man. What once was a wealthy businessman was now a penniless, dingy criminal fresh from a fetid prison cell. The only comfort he had were the words of that man on the dung heap years ago "As long as I'm on the ground and the ground isn't on me I have hope."
The officer was testifying.
"Your honor, I caught him red handed. He was digging with a shovel, digging in the graveyard trying to steal from the dead. He even brought that bag to put the gold teeth and things he found into."
"What do you have to say for yourself Mr. Farbes?" The Judge turned to him.
"Your honor, it's not so. You see, years ago I buried some money there because I was looking for someone that had no hope. That is, I had to give charity because a wise man told me to and I was looking for someone.." Farbes looked at the Judge to see if he what he was saying was making sense.
"Yes, continue" Said the Judge. "Or are you finished?"
"No! No!" Farbes continued. "Well, a man covered with boils told me to go to the graveyard. So I went there and buried the money and now I need it back again."
"Do you believe that?!" exclaimed the policeman in amazement and continued "Excuse me your honor, but. why that is the most crazy, confused lie I ever heard!"
"Yes, I believe him" Said the Judge emphatically "Release him, he's innocent!"
"What, your honor?!" said the policeman not believing his ears.
"I said release him. Release him immediately, please. "
As the bewildered policeman began opening the locks, the Judge turned to Farbes and asked. "Do you recognize me?"
Farbes tried but he couldn't figure out what the Judge was talking about. He stared and squinted, tilted his head here and there but with no luck.
"I'm the man you saw in the dump five years ago" he announced with a smile. I was the one who told you to go to the graveyard. That is how I know you're telling the truth! See, I told you to never give up hope!"
The story seems a bit far fetched. Or is it? In fact it's less fantastic than that of Josef. And they both teach the same message: The only way to really change the world for the good is by having trust in the Creator; and the deeper the trust, the greater the change.
In fact that is the purpose of Creation.
G-d purposely created the world in a way that it seems that He is far away. This week's story of Josef teaches us that even when it SEEMS that G-d is distant (or non-existent) it is only to arouse our trust("Bitachon") in Him. And this Bitachon is a very valuable thing, perhaps the most valuable thing in the world.
There are two types of trust; first trust that even what seems bad is really somehow good (like a person trusts a doctor doing an operation).
But an even deeper trust is that G-d will make things even better than before. Not because we deserve it, (in fact even if we don't deserve it) but rather because the trust ITSELF will draw down G-d's blessing.
In other words the unusual tribulations that Josef had to bear were in order to arouse his unusual and infinite trust in G-d. And that very trust was what brought his miraculous release, rise to power, and eventual saving of the entire world from famine (as we will see in next week's section).
This is of utmost importance to us today. The Lubavitcher Rebbe said that Moshiach has arrived, all we have to do is open our eyes, it all depends on us, the only thing remaining it to welcome him, and every moment of our lives should be devoted only to this.
Yet when we look around we see the opposite. Jews in the Holy land are being murdered every day (May HaShem have mercy), anti-Semitism, assimilation and intermarriage are insanely on the rise. Moshiach seems infinitely far away.
But this week's Torah chapter teaches us that it is precisely our trust and faith that will change the situation. And before we know it we will see...
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