Thursday, January 8, 2009

Thursday's Parsha Tidbits - Parshas Vayechi

The following is a brief summary of a thought said over by R' Frand in his shiur this evening. I have attempted to reproduce this vort to the best of my ability. Any perceived inconsistencies are the result of my efforts to transcribe the shiur and should not be attributed to R' Frand.

In Bereishis 49:14-15, the Torah recites the blessing which Ya'acov gave to Yissachar. The second pasuk (15) is quite interesting as the language seems to be contradictory. The Torah writes "Vayaar menucha ki tov, v'es ha'aretz ki na'ayma, vayeit shichmo l'sbol vayehi l'mas oveid." Translated into English, the pasuk reads - "he saw relaxation was good, and the land that it was pleasant, he bent his shoulder to carry a burden and he became a laborer."

The question which must be asked is - why if the relaxation and land was good would Yissachar then shoulder a burden and work?

R' Frand answered that there are different kinds of menucha. You can go somewhere warm and sit in a hammock with a glass of lemonade and enjoy the breeze with a book. This menucha is a vacation. However, after a period of time, a person would get tired of this and would eventually feel empty. Why? Because a person has a nefesh which needs to be sustained by ruchnius. This is the meaning of the pasuk in Koheles "Gam Hanefesh Timaley" - the nefesh longs for a sense of ruchnius.

Even in the secular world, a person wants to feel a sense of accomplishment and cannot simply sit and relax for long periods of time.

[To interject a thought, I heard an interview this morning with Lou Holtz, the former coach of Notre Dame. He was asked on ESPN's Mike and Mike program as to how he motivated his players before the National Championship game against West Virginia. He said that he told the players that if you have a good steak you feel good for a day, if you go on vacation you feel good for a week, if you buy a new car you feel good for a month, but if you win the national championship game you will feel good for a lifetime. This is another example of R' Frand's concept of the soul's need to feel a sense of accomplishment, even in the secular world].

If a person accomplishes a goal, he feels another menucha - menuchas hanefesh - a sense that he has accomplished something positive in this world. This is the menucha which Yissachar felt which he thought was good.

The Zohar writes that the first part of the pasuk (Vayaar menucha ki tov) refers to Torah shebictav, the second part (v'es ha'aretz ki na'ayma) refers to Torah sheba'al peh and the end (vayeit shichmo l'sbol vayehi l'mas oveid) refers to accepting the yoke of the Torah. This was the way that Yissachar conducted itself, learning Torah and being members of the Sanhedrin and teaching others. This was Yissachar's perception of their role in this world and they took this job as a calling which gave a sense of menucha.

In Bereishis 48:7, Ya'acov tells Yosef about how when he came from Padan, Rochel died on the way and she was buried on the road to Efrat in Bethlehem.

Rashi on the pasuk explains that Ya'acov tells Yosef not to think that Rochel was left in Bethlehem because of laziness. Ya'acov could have brought her to Ma'aras Hamachpeilah. However, Ya'acov was telling Yosef that Rochel was buried there because in the future the Jews will go into exile and they will pass by her grave. The Jews will daven to Rochel their mother to ask Hashem to help them in the galus. This is why Rochel was buried in Bethlehem.

R' Frand connected this to a story from R' Lau's autobiography. R' Lau was invited to meet with Fidel Castro and they met for many hours late into the night. Castro then gave R' Lau a box of Cuban cigars to give to Yitzchak Rabin. R' Lau called Rabin and told him that he had the cigars, but Rabin deferred as he only smoked cigarettes. However the relationship between the two grew.

Later Rabin was negotiating the status of Bethlehem under the Oslo accords. The original agreement was that Bethlehem would be under Palestinian control as it was an arab city, Israel would control Kever Rochel and the Palestinans would control the road into Kever Rochel. When R' Lau heard about the agreement he called up Rabin and asked him to change the agreement as the Jews could not rely on the Palestinians to insure access to Kever Rochel. When Rabin asked why this was important, R' Lau responded "Rochel is our mother and you don't abandon your mother". With this the conversation ended and Rabin asked to be able to sleep on the matter.

After the weekend R' Lau received a call back from Rabin who said that although he was a secular Jew he was touched by R' Lau's words that one can't abandon one's mother and that as a result he would change the agreement so that the street remained in Israel's control.

To this date while we have difficultly accessing Ma'aras HaMachpeila or Neve Samuel, the special road to Kever Rochel is still uniquely in Israel's hands so that we can go and visit our mother.

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