Many of the Ba’alei Mussar ask a famous question in this week’s parsha. The psukim say that when the Brothers came and told Ya’akov that the son he mourned for so intensely was still alive, Ya’akov initially didn’t believe them. On a basic level, it’s quite difficult to understand. What did Ya’akov think? That the Brothers were playing a joke on their old man? This was the news that Ya’akov Avinu was waiting to hear for years and years! How could he think that the Brothers were lying to him?
Rav Elya Lopian (amongst others) answers that in reality, Ya’akov Avinu knew that Yosef was alive. He knew that the shvatim would never lie about such a sensitive issue. But there are two different types of living. There’s physically breathing, and having a sense of chiyus, which means really living; connected to the reason behind why one was created. When the brothers told Ya’akov that Yosef had just spent the past 22 years in Mitzrayim, Ya’akov Avinu was bothered. “You tell me he’s alive; but you really expect me to believe he’s still living?” Ya’akov believed that Yosef was physically breathing, but that he was still alive? For that, Ya’akov Avinu thought it was impossible. He thought that it was virtually impossible for someone to exist amongst the tumah of Mitzryaim and still be considered alive. It was only when he saw the agalos, the allusion to the last sugya which Yosef had learned with his father, did Ya’akov truly believe that Yosef was still the same tzadik who left eretz Yisrael.
We see from here a very important nekudeh which is relevant to existing with a sense of kedusha even in the most tumah-dik environment. Someone asked me today, why did Yosef need to send agalos to allude to Ya’akov the last sugya they had learned? Why not just send Ya’akov a message saying “eglah arufah” or something of the like? Why did this message need to be sent through an actual physical agalos?
I told him that there are two different ways of learning Torah. There’s a type of learning where the ideas learned exist as mere ideas and nothing more. However, there’s another type of learning, one in which the ideas become a part of the person; that is, the Torah he learns becomes his reality. This is alluded to when chazal tell us “Ein ben chorin eleh mi she’oseik b’Torah”, “there is no free person besides for one who toils in Torah”. Chazal learn this out of a pasuk which says that the words of Torah should be “Charus al luach libo”, “engraved into the walls of his heart”. Chazal say, “don’t read charus, rather cheirus, freedom”. The Sfas Emes says that when chazal make drashas like this, there’s always a connection between what we’re learning and where we’re learning it out from. With this in mind, the meforshim say that only when a person makes Torah charus does he merit cheirus. What’s the big mailah of having something engraved as opposed to just writing? The answer is best understood through a parable. When a person writes something on a rock, the rock and the ink exist as two separate entities. The ink just happens to be on the rock. However, if a person would engrave a message into the rock, the rock itself would speak the message. This is what it means to make Torah charus. To engrave it into our hearts, so that the Torah doesn’t exist as something which is separate from us, rather as a part of us, so that our hearts themselves speak the message of Torah.
This is why Yosef had to send actual agalos. Because just sending a hand-written message wouldn’t have been enough to convince Ya’akov that he was still alive. It wouldn’t have told Ya’akov that Yosef was still connected to his higher existence. Yosef had to send actual physical agalos- to hint that the Torah he had learned with his father wasn’t merely ideas; it was his reality. It was a part of him. Only when Ya’akov knew that Torah was his reality was he convinced that Yosef was still truly alive.
When I was learning in Yeshiva in America, I was able to have a chavrusa a few times a week at nights for a mussar seder. This certain bochur had just left full time yeshiva to put more of an emphasis on his college work. I remember, he came in once looking very down and somewhat depressed. He told me that even though he felt that he had spent much time working on himself, his secular college environment was having a negative effect on his Ruchniyus. I told him this nekudah that we learn from Yosef. We live in a time where there’s a tornado raging outside. Everyone agrees that the tumah of the outside world is oft times unbearable! So how do we deal with it? It’s not practical to say you’ll lock yourself in a room to protect yourself. So how do the Jews deal with it? When the entire world tells us to reform our ideals and goals to be consistent with a vastly immoral society, how do we remain stagnant? The answer is that we make Torah our metzius. We make it our reality. We get in touch with that deep point of light hidden within each one of us which makes us unique.
This yesod is a deep, powerful and practical lesson for life. We see from Yosef haTzadik a lesson for how to survive amongst an environment of even the worst types of tumah. In the first perek of tehillim, David Hamelech tells us that we should be like a tree with deep roots next to a river. The mishna in avos says that a tree with deep roots can never get uprooted, no matter how strong the wind is. This is one explanation to what our roots are. They’re our definition, our essence- the Torah. When we get in touch with that and make it our reality, we strengthen our core. And when we strengthen our core, even the greatest wind won’t be able to uproot us.
In this week’s parashah, Vayeshev, we read about Yosef’s dreams of becoming a ruler. Then, at the end of the parashah, we read about the dreams of the sar ha’mashkim and sar ha’ofim. Then, in next week’s parashah, we read about the dreams of Pharaoh. All of those dreams carried important messages from shamayim. In general, most of our dreams are meaningless. But even today, sometimes people have dreams that carry real messages from shamayim as well.
The sefer Hashem L’negdi writes about an amazing dream in which the mother of Rabbi Avraham Genochovsky appeared to Rabbi Shmuel Baruch Werner, author of sefer Mishpeteh Shmuel. The dream is written up in the introduction to the sefer Na’ot Ephraim who heard it directly from the mouth of Rabbi Avraham Genochovsky, who passed away just six years ago.
After his mother had passed away, Rabbi Avraham’s father asked him to write a small book in his mother’s memory. He undertook the project and wrote a kuntres on Masechet Horayot and named it Cheder Horati. His father was so happy with the work, he gave out the sefer to his friends and acquaintances, one of which, was Rav Shmuel Baruch Werner. One morning, Rabbi Shmuel Baruch called up Rabbi Avraham Genochovsky with great excitement in his voice. “I have to tell you what happened to me last night!” he exclaimed. “You’re mother, the tzadeket, appeared to me in my dream and said in the sefer that I wrote, Mishpeteh Shmuel, I asked the following question: “Why does it say in Masechet Kiddushin, if parents are divorced, in the laws of kibbud av v’em, there’s no preference as to which parent the child has to honor first, yet, in Masechet Horayot, from the Mishna on daf yud gimmel, it seems that he should have to honor the father.” Then she told me, “My son wrote a kuntres in my memory, and he asked the same question. Go take a look.”
“When I woke up the next morning, I ran to get your book, and indeed, there it was, the exact same question that I asked.” Rabbi Avraham then said, “This is amazing! My mother didn’t only know the contents of the sefer that I wrote in her memory, she also knew the contents of what other sefarim say as well. And she was so excited that I asked that question, that was found in your sefer, it gave her so much pleasure.”
That dream give him chizuk in the knowledge that his mother is living on happily in gan eden.
Sometimes a dream gives us a good feeling about a loved one who has passed on, and sometimes those loved ones are allowed to come back in a dream to help us.
The sefer Emunah Shelemah told a story which a friend of his told him about his neighbor. That neighbor’s wife has just given birth prematurely, and the baby weighed less than two pounds. Afterwards, she was unable to move her legs. After a full week in the hospital, with many different doctors trying to help her, not only wasn’t she able to move her legs, she didn’t have any feeling in either of them. She was totally paralyzed. The doctors thought it might be a neurological issue and they wanted to send her to another facility to have her checked out. They added, there’s a good chance she’ll never walk again. The family was shattered.
Her husband asked one of his neighbors to go to Rebbetzin Kolodetsky, Rav Chaim Kanievsky’s daughter, to get a beracha immediately for his wife. The neighbor went. In the meantime, the woman’s family was sitting around her bedside while she was asleep. A few hours later, she woke up and she said, “I can feel my legs and she started moving them around.” Everyone was shocked.
The woman proceeded to tell them about a dream she just had. Her brother’s wedding was coming up, and she saw herself sitting in a chair watching everyone dancing there. Suddenly, Rebbetzin Batsheva Kanievsky approached her and asked her why she wasn’t dancing. “I can’t dance.”, she replied, “My legs are paralyzed.” The Rabbanit then told her, “What do you mean you can’t dance? This is your brother’s wedding, you have to dance.”
The woman then asked the Rabbanit, “What are you doing here? I was at your funeral.” The Rabbanit answered, “Yes, that’s true, but now I’m back to bring simcha to the chatan v’kallah. Come with me right away.” She stretched out her hand, and pulled her up, and they began dancing and that was the end of the dream.
Just fifteen minutes after this woman woke up, she started to walk. This was the power of the beracha she got from Rabbanit Batsheva’s daughter, Rebbetzin Kolodetsky.
Dreams can be very inspiring. Most of the time we dream about what’s on our mind during the day. But on a rare occasion, those who have passed on are allowed to communicate with those down here through a dream.