Thursday, December 22, 2005

Parshat Vayeishev

Parshat Vayeishev

This week's section begins on a wonderful note; the story of Joseph and his

Rashi (the foremost elucidator of the Torah) compares the perfunctory
listing of all the kings of Esav in the end of last week's section to the
exquisite detail here with two similes:

Just as one sifts through tons of sand to find one small diamond so the
Torah sifts through the Kings of the nations and stops when it comes to
Josef and his brothers.

And, just as a huge pile of chaff can be set aflame by one spark so the
kings of Esav will be consumed by the spark of Josef.

But this is not understood. First of all, why does Rashi bring two similes.
Second, if these kings are so unimportant then why did the Torah have waste
time listing them? What do we care about the sand and the chaff?

Here is a story that perhaps will help us to understand.

Rabbi Akiva was perhaps the greatest Torah scholar of all times. The Midrash
relates that when Moses was on Mount Sinai G-d showed him all the future
generations with their leaders. When Moses saw how Rabbi Akiva was able to
infer laws from just the shapes of the Torah letters he became weak; he had
never seen such deep inspiration.

But more than anything else Rabbi Akiva was a teacher. The Talmud tells us
that at one time he had twenty four thousand pairs of pupils.

Considering that the Romans had destroyed the second Temple just a few years
earlier, ruled Israel with an iron hand and hated the Torah (In fact,
eventually Rabbi Akiva was imprisoned and tortured to death for teaching
Torah) having such a massive Yeshiva must have been nearly impossible.

But the Torah had to be kept alive and often it required miracles.

Here is an example:

Rabbi Akiva had a constant problem; it costs a lot of money to run a
Yeshiva; pupils need food, lodging, clothing, heat in the winter, light at
night etc. These things had to be paid for in cash and under the Roman
occupation money was very hard to come by - especially for learning Torah.

Somehow he always managed to find enough donors to keep his pupils alive but
once his luck seemed to give out.

He had no money, he owed a fortune and there seemed to be no hope.

Then suddenly he remembered that once he heard of a wealthy Roman matron
that lived near the sea several hours from his yeshiva that was supposed to
be positively disposed to the Jews. In fact there were some that said that
she actually respected the Talmudic scholars.

It was only a rumor but he was desperate.

With no other recourse he traveled there, knocked on the door and was shown
in. He felt a bit out of place in a place of such fabulous wealth,
surrounded by marble statues and idols of all sorts but the matron received
him very cordially and seemed to take interest in his problem.

After much discussion she agreed to loan him the large sum he needed but on
four conditions. First, he had to repay it in exactly one month, second, it
would be with interest, third, there would be a stiff penalty if he paid
late and fourth, he had to bring guarantors.

This was definitely a problem. Almost everyone that Rabbi Akiva knew was as
poor as he himself. Who could possibly be his backer?

Suddenly the matron smiled slyly and said "You believe that your G-d
controls everything and is the king of the Universe, correct? Well then,
why not take your G-d as a guarantor? And just to be sure I will take the
sea, to be a guarantor as well!"

Before he could say another word she took out a bag of golden coins, counted
them out on the table, he signed the document agreeing to all the conditions
and he was on his way.

Rabbi Akiva immediately used the loan to pay off all his old debts and to
buy food and other necessities and then he set off to collect money to pay
the matron back. He reckoned it would take him a good month and a lot of
miracles to get up the money but he was, as usual, optimistic.

Then tragedy struck;

Suddenly he began to feel sick. The next morning he had a high fever and
wasn't even able to move from his bed and so it continued for three more
weeks with no sign of letting up. The deadline was approaching but he was

Meanwhile the day for payment arrived and the matron was getting nervous.
She needed the money. Could it be that that great holy Rabbi with the deep,
kind eyes had fooled her? Certainly not! She thought to herself there must
be some problem, some difficulty and she wanted to help. But how?

Suddenly she had an idea. She would pray!

She went to the seashore that bordered her back yard, looked out upon the
mysterious and potent water and prayed, "G-d of Rabbi Akiva. Creator of the
sea and the wind. King of the universe! You and the sea are guarantors for
my money and I need the money by this evening! Please see to it that it gets
to me as soon as possible." And she turned back to her home.

The Talmud tells us that it just so happened that at this precise time, far
away on the other side of the ocean, the daughter of the Caesar was
strolling with her maidservant and, for some reason, commanded the servant
to take a box of jewels along. Perhaps the princess wanted to look at them
glitter or sift through them while sitting on the sea. In any case, maybe it
was the whistling of the strong ocean wind at their backs or perhaps it was
the crashing waves but suddenly the poor woman went berserk. Her delicate,
royal mind snapped - she grabbed the box from her servant and threw it into
the water!

In moments the powerful wind and current pushed it far out to sea and as
soon as it disappeared over the horizon the princess came to her senses as
though nothing happened, and returned home with no memory of the entire
incident! (and of course the servant didn't remind her).

Meanwhile, back in Israel; the despairing matron, increasingly nervous about
her loan, happened to look out again at the sea and noticed some shining
object floating toward her house near the shoreline of her property.

She ran out to see and, behold, it was a metal box! She took it into her
house, broke open the lock and it was filled with precious stones!! How it
floated to her (and how it floated at all) were clearly miracles!! But it
was obvious that G-d and the sea had paid her back as honest guarantors

One week later, Rabbi Akiva was on his feet again, heading toward the
matron's house and he had also experienced a few miracles:

Besides being healthy again he had the money to pay back the loan! It seems
that the many hundreds of people that came to visit him while he was sick
gave donations to his Yeshiva.

But when he came to her mansion he was in for a surprise; she refused to
take his money.

"The guarantors paid me back already, on time." She said producing the box
and the remaining jewels, "In fact, there's a lot left over and it's all

Some say that from the leftovers Rabbi Akiva became a rich man and never had
to beg for money again for his yeshiva for the rest of his life.

Now we can understand why the Torah lists the kings of Esav.

Because the job of the Jewish people is to give blessing and meaning to all
mankind, no matter how worthless they may seem.

We can see this clearly with the story of Josef. Many people, cheated, hated
and tortured him unjustly causing him to spend twelve years in prison for no
reason what so ever.

Nevertheless, when he was king he did not take revenge, nor did he act like
a dictator or a despot rather he ruled with wisdom, provided sustenance for
all mankind and brought world peace.

And all this was preparation for the arrival of Moshiach!

Moshiach will do the same thing as Josef did but in a deeper and more
permanent way. That is what is indicated in Rashi's two examples.

Just as the sand that contains a diamond suddenly becomes important and
worthless chaff becomes inflamed when a spark touches it. So will Moshiach
give importance, value and inspiration to all mankind whether with their
consent and knowledge, like the matron in our story, or without it, like
Caesar's daughter.

Each and every human will realize that he/she is being created constantly
and is loved and valued by the Creator of the Universe. Then all mankind
will show its gratitude by keeping the Seven Noahide Commandments: to repay
G-d for His great kindness and love. And some will even be inflamed with

It all depends on us to do all we can to reveal Moshiach even one second

Moshiach NOW!!

Rabbi Tuvia Bolton
Yeshiva Ohr Tmimim
Kfar Chabad, Israel

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