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Vayechi(Genesis 47:28-50:26)

Vayechi 5763

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GOOD MORNING!  Everyone loves a story -- particularly a true story and especially a story with a surprise and a happy ending. Even better is when there is a message which we can incorporate into our own lives. That is why I am sharing with you a wonderful article, "Meriting a Miracle," written by one of the writers I hold in highest esteem, Rabbi Avi Shafran, director of Am Echad. Here is the article:

In 1943, after more than three years of German control over France, the Great Synagogue of Lyon continued to function. That December 10, the Lyon Milice, the shock troops of the Vichy government, decided to put an end to the Jewish worship.

The shul's rabbi survived the war to tell the tale, which is recorded in a book about Klaus Barbie, the infamous "Butcher of Lyon" (the title, in fact, of the book, by Brendan Murphy - Empire/Harper & Row, 1983). A member of the Milice quietly entered the rear of the sanctuary that Friday night during services. Armed with three hand grenades, he intended to lob them into the crowd of standing worshippers from behind, and to escape before the explosions. After silently opening the door and entering the room unnoticed by anyone but the rabbi (who stood facing the congregation), he pulled the pins.

What he saw, though, so shook him that he remained wide-eyed and motionless for a crucial moment, and then only managed to toss the grenades a few feet before fleeing. Several worshippers were injured by shrapnel but none were killed.

What had so flabbergasted the Nazi was the sudden, unexpected sight of his intended victims' faces, as the congregation, as if on cue, turned as one on its heels to face him.

The would-be mass-murderer had entered the shul precisely at "bo'i b' shalom," the last stanza of the liturgical poem Lecha Dodi, when worshippers traditionally turn toward the door to welcome the Sabbath. The account came to mind of late because it is, at least to me, a striking reminder of something truly fundamental yet easily forgotten. We Jews often survive on miracles.

To be sure, we don't base our belief on them, as do some religions. Maimonides famously wrote that the miracles recounted in the Torah - even the parting of the Red Sea - are demonstrations not of G-d's existence but rather of His love for His people. We know G-d exists because of our carefully preserved historical tradition that He communicated with our ancestors at Mt. Sinai, an event we will soon celebrate on Shevuot.

All the same, though, His love and His miracles underlie our existence.

Our tradition teaches that our foremother Sarah was biologically incapable of conceiving a child; the very beginning of our people thus was miraculous. The perseverance of the Jewish people over the millennia is a miracle, as is our rebirth after countless decimations.

And recent Jewish history has been no less miraculous. When Israel destroyed the assortment of Arab armies arrayed against it in 1967, even hardened military men well aware of the Israeli air force and army's skill and determination spoke of miracles. And the rescue at Entebbe in 1976 may have entailed special-forces acumen, but sensitive Jews saw on it the clear fingerprints of the miraculous as well. And, in 1981, they recognized no less in the destruction of the Iraqi nuclear plant at Osirak, signs not only of military might but of miracle, of G-d's love.

None of which is to belittle the tremendous efforts of Israel's military, may its members be safe and protected. But while "this world" efforts must always be made, believing Jews maintain a concomitant consciousness of the fact that success and failure are determined by something considerably more sublime. In the perspective of our religious tradition, that something is our merit as a people - our kindness to one another, our prayers, our study of Torah and our performance of mitzvot. In the end, those are the things, our tradition teaches us, that will make all the difference. In the Torah we read how the Jews, led by Joshua, fought the Amalekites. When Moses held his hands high, the verse continues, the Jews waxed victorious. "Were Moses' hands waging war?" asks the Mishna. The answer, it continues, is that "when the Jews eyes [inspired by Moses' hands] were lifted heavenward, they were militarily victorious."

In these terribly trying times for Jews, when hatred carefully nurtured for decades has erupted in a plague of vicious murder and old, ugly ghosts have been stirred awake, it behooves us to remember that fact. We all ask ourselves what we can do on behalf of our beleaguered brothers and sisters. There are many things, to be sure.

But at the very top of each of our lists should be things like: prayer; with concentration and heart; charity, with generosity and concern; Jewish observance, with care and determination; Torah-study, with effort and commitment.

Because, unified spiritually by the expression of our common Jewish religious heritage, we are doing something nothing else can do: meriting a miracle.


Torah Portion of the Week
Vayechi

The parsha, Torah portion, opens with Jacob on his deathbed 17 years after arriving in Egypt. Jacob blesses Joseph's two sons, Manasseh (Menashe) and Ephraim (to this day it is a tradition to bless our sons every Shabbat evening with the blessing, "May the Almighty make you like Ephraim and Manasseh" -- they grew up in the Diaspora amongst foreign influences and still remained devoted to the Torah). He then individually blesses each of his sons. The blessings are prophetic and give reproof, where necessary. (The Shabbat evening blessing for girls is "to be like Sarah, Rivka, Rachel and Leah.")

A large retinue from Pharaoh's court accompanies the family to Hebron to bury Jacob in the Ma'arat Hamachpela, the burial cave purchased by Abraham. The Torah portion ends with the death of Joseph and his binding the Israelites to bring his remains with them for burial when they are redeemed from slavery and go to the land of Israel. Thus ends the book of Genesis!

Dvar Torah
based on Love Your Neighbor by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

Before Jacob died he blessed and admonished his sons. He rebuked Shimon and Levy for destroying the city of Shechem in response to the violation of their sister, Dina, the son of Hamor, the leader of Shechem. The Torah brings Jacob's words, "...for in their anger (b'apom) they slew men" (Genesis 49:6). What lesson for our lives can we learn from Jacob's words?

Rabbi Chaim Mordechai Katz, the Rosh HaYeshiva of Telshe Yeshiva, says, "Although not the literal meaning of the verse, the thought has been expressed that besides meaning 'n their anger,' b'apom (the Hebrew word for 'in their anger') can also be defined as 'with their nose.' Quite often, by just turning up one's nose, one can greatly harm another person. If that person is present, he will feel belittled and humiliated. Even when someone is not present, turning up one's nose at the mention of this name implies derogatory attributes and can cause someone to lose a job or marriage prospect."

Besides watching our words, we must also be careful to watch our body language!


CANDLE LIGHTING - December 20:
(or go to http://aish.com/candlelighting)

Jerusalem  3:59
Guatemala 5:20  Hong Kong 5:26  Honolulu 5:36
J'Burg 6:40  London 3:35  Los Angeles 4:30
Melbourne 8:24  Miami 5:16  Moscow 3:40
New York 4:13  Singapore  6:45



QUOTE OF THE WEEK:

There are two ways to live your life.
One is as though nothing is a miracle.
The other is as though everything is a miracle.
-- Albert Einstein



In Loving Memory of
Rena Rachel Rivka bas Binyamin HaCohen Zemel
by her children


In Loving Memory of
Anita Karl
Bobby, Nilza, Daniel, Lara & Kevin

Published: December 14, 2002

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