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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Parshas Vayigash 5775 "A Painful Sense of Loss"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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Although some may feel that the story has a happy ending, in my mind it is one of the saddest stories I ever read[1]. The end does not justify the means! Years of lost opportunities and inner grief can never be replaced:

A Rabbi in Long Island was approached by a young man to have kaddish[2] recited for his recently departed father. The young man made it clear that he would not be saying the kaddish himself but would pay for the Rabbi to arrange for someone else to say kaddish on his deceased father's behalf.

Some time passed and the young man suddenly began showing up in shul and reciting kaddish himself. The Rabbi asked the young fellow what had changed. He sighed and told the Rabbi the following story:

“When I was growing up, my father never showed me any warmth or affection. He was always cold and uninvolved. However, there was one incident that epitomized to me just how aloof my father was. When I was in fifth grade, we had a paper airplane contest in school and I worked hard to make a great airplane. When it was finished I wrote DAD on it with a bold blue marker. The plane won First Prize.

When I came home I was really excited. I ran over to my dad, gave him the plane and told him I won. To my dismay, he showed no reaction. Without saying a word or even cracking a smile, he took the plane and shoved it in his drawer. That incident concretized what I already knew, i.e. that my father didn't care about me. I knew then that he didn't love me.

“When he passed away, I just could not bring myself to say kaddish for him. I knew that I had an obligation so I came to you to arrange for the kaddish to be said by someone else. This way kaddish would be said for my father’s soul but I wouldn’t have to bear the pain of saying it.

“Yesterday, I went downtown to his office to clean out his desk. His secretary let me into the room and I immediately began clearing away his things. When I opened his top drawer I was shocked to find the paper airplane that I made in fifth grade. I picked it up and held it. I stared at it. When I eyed the word DAD written in blue, a lump formed in my throat. At that moment, his secretary walked into the room and said to me, "Your father used to stare intently at that plane with the exact same misty-eyed look you have now. I always wondered what was so special about that plane." I wanted to answer her but I couldn't speak.

“I realized that my dad cared about me all along, but he was never able to express it. He didn't show his emotions and I had no way of knowing how he felt. But now I understand that he always loved me. So today I came to say kaddish for my dad.”

[3]After the dramatic confrontation between Yosef and the brothers reached its crescendo, Yosef revealed his identity to them. Consequently there was a tear-filled reunion. “He then kissed all his brothers and wept upon them.”[4]

The Medrash comments, “Just as Yosef was only able to pacify his brothers with tears, so too, Klal Yisroel will only be redeemed (when Moshiach comes) with tears.”[5] What do the tears of Yosef and the brothers have to do with the future redemption?

Kesav Sofer explains that when Yosef was sold into slavery by his brothers, his anguish at being separated from his father and his family was unimaginable. But throughout his years in Egyptian exile and solitude, his pain diminished somewhat. It was that painful realization that prompted Yosef to name his first child Menashe. “For I have forgotten (nashani) all of my pain and my father’s house.” By naming his son as he did, Yosef hoped to awaken feelings of nostalgia and connection with his family, so that they would not completely fade.

At the time of the reunion with his brothers, Yosef realized the extent of how much he had lost by being away for so long. Therefore, he wept upon their shoulders. The joy of reunification was deeply marred by the painful realization of the magnitude of his irreplaceable losses.

The greatest tragedy of exile is that we have no idea what we are missing. The elongated exile has dulled our senses, so that we have no inkling of the grandeur and glory that has been rendered obsolete. We mourn the loss of the Temple, without really feeling a sense of depravation. We never experienced the beauty and trepidation that was palpable in the Temple courtyard. We never participated in the offering of the Paschal sacrifice followed by a seder, culminating with the singing of Hallel on the rooftops of Yerushalayim. We never enjoyed the unparalleled joy of the Simchas Bais Hashoayvah during each of the intermediary nights of Succos. We were never privy to watch the Kohanim perform the Divine Service to the backdrop of the song of the Levites. We have grown accustomed to the notion that we are wandering Jews while uttering the morose refrain, “Nu, that’s life in exile!”

When Moshiach finally arrives and hails in the Messianic era and the rebuilding of the Temple we will realize how much we have been missing. Along with the incredible joy of redemption, we will feel that painful sadness as well.

This is the meaning of the verse in Tehillim “Gladden us like the days of our affliction; the years we saw evil.”[6] We pray to G-d that, not only will He end our pain and suffering, but He will somehow comfort us for what we lost out during the exile. When we merit the redemption we will need to be comforted for all that we could not achieve during those years.[7]

The reading of Parshas Vayigash invariably coincides with the week of the fast of the Tenth of Teves. Our Sages relate that the fast of the Tenth of Teves commemorates tragedies that occurred on the eighth and ninth of Teves as well. With the melodious and beloved songs of Chanukah still ringing in our ears, the fast almost seems incongruous.[8]

The joyous Chanukah holiday concludes on the second day of Teves[9], a scant five days later, we commence a three-day period of tragedy and mourning. But in a sense those paradoxical emotions are constant within the heart of a Jew in exile. On the one hand, we praise and thank G-d for the opportunity to be able to serve Him in the darkness of exile. That is the great message of the Chanukah candles, that we can create sparks of light in a world of ominous darkness. But, at the same time, we are aware that our celebration is very remiss, for we are an imperfect people in exile.

Despite the fact that historically the events of the Eighth of Teves transpired first and was a significant event in the Greek exile against which the Chashmonaim fought, the holiday of Chanukah is celebrated prior. Chanukah gives us the fortitude to not become despondent by the darkness of the forthcoming days of Teves. Although the Chashmonaim could not undue all the damage and havoc that the Hellenists and Greeks wrought, they were successful in proving the eternity of Torah and Klal Yisroel. They demonstrated that our light will outshine all of their wisdom and culture.

On a more painful note, the holiday of Chanukah also deepens our understanding of the losses of Teves. The celebration and the feelings of closeness that the Chanukah celebration cultivates, helps us realize how much we are missing by being in exile. We can only imagine how much more fulfilling and special our celebration will be when our entire lives are lived with that heightened sense of closeness and endearment.

The tears of the future are for the pain of the past.

“He then kissed all his brothers and wept upon them”

“Gladden us like the days of our affliction”

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[1] I read the story in a d’var Torah dated parshas Vayigash 5761, authored by Rabbi Baruch Lederman, Rabbi of Congregation Kehillas Torah in San Diego, California.

[2] Kaddish is a memorial prayer that brings merit to a departed soul.

[3] A number of years ago during Chanukah, my cousin, Izak Cohn, recounted to me a lecture that he heard from his Rav, Rabbi Ephraim Wachsman shlita. Rabbi Wachsman had been invited to the West Coast to address a group of wealthy individuals at a Melave Malka. Many of the entrepreneurs were secular Jews with little or no affiliation with religion. Rabbi Wachsman shared with them the following insight.

[4] Bereishis 45:15

[5] Bereishis Rabbah 93:13

[6] 90:15

[7]There is a wry addendum to Rabbi Wachsman’s lecture. After he returned home, Rabbi Wachsman received a message from one of the individuals who attended the Melave Malke with his wife. The man told Rabbi Wachsman that his wife was so inspired by his words that she went home, and made matzah balls. The most tragic part of the story is that she is not Jewish! It’s hard to be more inspired than to feel like making matzah balls…

[8]On the eighth of Teves, a few decades prior to the miracles of Chanukah, seventy Jewish elders were compelled to translate the Torah into Greek by King Ptolemy II (Philadelphus) of Egypt. That translation, known as the Septuagint, breached the Jews’ exclusivity to the Torah. It opened the Torah to misinterpretation and misunderstandings. In fact, it was the catalyst for the creation of the New Testament and the King James Bible, a few centuries later.

The ninth of Teves is the anniversary of the death of Ezra the Scribe. Ezra’s leadership was invaluable at the time of the building of the second Bais Hamikdash. He was the driving force behind the return of much of the Jewish people to Eretz Yisroel from exile and the start of the second Temple era.

The tenth of Teves marks the day when the wicked Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar laid siege around Yerushalayim. Essentially, the siege was the beginning of the end. On the ninth of Tammuz Nebuchadnezzar’s forces finally penetrated and breached the city’s walls[8], and on the ninth of Av they destroyed the first Bais Hamikdash.]

[9] During some years Chanukah ends on the third day of Teves, depending on whether there is 1 or 2 days of Rosh Chodesh Teves.

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