Hearing and Accepting, by Rabbi Rubin Shlita

As first featured in the first volume of A Rabbi’s Journal authored by the Rav Shlita

Hearing and Accepting

It seems that with each passing Yomtov the Rubin household acquires ever more accoutrements to their humble abode. These new additions are mainly so as to make it possible for the eineklech to stay with a bit more comfort. As a zaidy I would be the last one to deny my sweet nachaslach anything. The problem is that the Rubin homestead is just so large and that’s it, therefore with each visit ever more ingenuity is called for to allow everyone a place to sleep.

Last week the Rebbetzin gave me the answer to all our problems: “Sleeping bags.” “What?”

‘Sleeping bags.” “Oh.” Now let me admit to one and all that a Boy Scout I am not. I don’t know how sleeping bags work, where they go and, most importantly, where one acquires them. I always thought sleeping bags were used for trekking about in jungles, not sleeping comfy cosy at Bubby’s house. Well, I am always ready to learn new skills and with my orders firmly in hand I set out to buy my first sleeping bags. The initial problem I faced was where do you get this gear? I called several well-known emporiums, ones I know to be zaidy friendly, but none of them sold this type of sleepware. Then a friend whispered the answer, ‘The catalogue folk.” Oh dear. I wasn’t too sure new territory for me. With only a few days left till the kinder were due to arrive I couldn’t procrastinate, so I threw caution to the wind and found my way to Manchester’s largest catalogue superstore.

As soon as I walked in I realized I was in trouble. Piles of stuff and no one selling it. Instead I saw shtenders all around with huge seforim that seemed well worn. I soon figured out the system. You found what you wanted in the catalogue (well worn seforim indeed) and then wrote the corresponding model number on an order sheet.

Before making one’s order there is one more vital step. There are computer keyboards where you enter the item’s number to find out if that particular piece of goods is in fact available. It was at this point where I became undone. I stood with my sleeping bags’ code number. Leaning on the shtender, I punched it in and then — nothing! The screen went blank. I tried again, with the same dismal results.

I was now a bit upset. It was hot, I didn’t feel really at home in this place anyway and worst of all I now had an audience. Standing but three feet away was this scruffy looking ten-year-old. This kid had been watching me struggle with the computer keyboard. With each attempt I could see his devilish eyes getting brighter and brighter. This youngster was making me feel like a right fool (with good cause) and now, to add insult to injury, the little brat offered to help me. No way! I punched in the numbers again — and once more was faced with the same totally blank screen. The lad grabbed my tatty piece of paper — bang, bang, bang, he entered my code and, well, up came all the needed information. Saved at last.

The smarmy little child smiled up at me and sweetly asked, “Need any more help, Pops?” The world has an old adage: “You can’t judge a book by its cover” and that little fellow told me a thing or two.

Throughout these past few weeks we have been reading in the Torah some of these lessons.

Yosefs’ brothers thought they knew who Yosef was, what his potentials were. They discounted his dreams and sold him off as a slave, no better, for he didn’t seem to be of much worth anyway. Well, they found out how wrong they were and the Torah has left us with their story so we can learn from it as well. Throughout Mikeitz we see Yosef Hatzaddik playing about with his brothers, never letting on who he is and making life difficult into the bargain. Perhaps he was underlining a vital point. You took me at face value, you thought I was lost in a fantasy dream world.

Well, I guess there was more to it than that. Yosef didn’t do this just to score points off his family. Rather to reiterate a truth that was vital for his brothers to accept. People aren’t as they may seem and true achdus can only be had when we accept people for whom they are, not how we would have them. Klal Yisrael would be built on a diversity of paths that were set out by the Torah.

As a bochur I remember hearing a shiur by the Ponevezer Rav ztl: he spoke on the topic of why the Mishnayos starts of with the mitzva of kriyas Shema at night. It was his point that the very first mitzva one is liable for upon reaching bar/bas mitzva age is that of the kriyas Shema at night. And so it is only proper that the entirety of our Halacha as found in the Mishna should start with this subject. In both Vayigash and Vayechi we find interesting aspects to the recitation of the Shema. In Vayigash we read. “Yosef harnessed his chariot and went to greet his father Yisroel in Goshen. He presented himself to his father and threw himself on his shoulders, weeping on his shoulders for a long time”. Rashi explains that Yosef cried on his father’s shoulders, but Yaakov did not cry on Yosefs shoulders, nor did he even kiss him. Why not? Because Yaakov was busy reciting kriyas Shema.

Many are the commentaries upon this passage — after all, why was Yaakov saying kriyas Shema at such a moment? If it was because the zman of kriyas Shema had arrived, then why don’t we hear of Yosef saying it also? The Sfas Emes tells us that in fact both were reciting the kriyas Shema, the essence of which is acceptance of the yoke of Hashem’s rule and our obligation to love Him. Yaakov and Yosef used different paths to serve Hashem. It was Yaakov’s way to rise above the natural order of things. Faced with his love for Hashem, Yaakov managed to disregard completely his natural love for Yosef. By contrast, Yosef’s path was by attaching himself to Hashem while being involved in his normal life. He was thus able to express his krivas Shema at the same time as expressing his love for Yaakov.

In light of what the Sefas Emes tells us here we can realize that avodas Hashem is not a simple issue of black and white. Individuals must actualize their uniqueness, and please notice Yaakov and Yosef each accepted the other’s avoda as being true. In fact in a later verse we find Yaakov saying, “Now I can die,”

 For now he had witnessed his long lost son, one who had been made to live in a world full of impurity, saying kriyas shema with all the fullness of heart that any son of Yaakov would be expected to.

But it doesn’t end with this kriyas Shema. In Vayechi we find Yaakov calling all his children and saying, “Gather round and I will tell you what will happen to you in the after days”. This posuk is explained in a very moving passage in Pesochim: Said R. Shimon Ben Lokish, Yaakov attempted to reveal to his children the end of days but the Shechina departed from him. He said, is it because G-d forbid one of my children is unfit, like Avraham from whom came forth Aisov? His children said to him: Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echod, Hear Yisrael, Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is one! They declared that just as there is none in your heart but One, so there is none in our hearts but One. It was then that Yaakov Avinu spoke out and said. Boruch Shem Kvod Malchuso Lolom Voed, Blessed be the Name of His Kingdom’s glory forever and ever.

This is a powerful scene — the twelve tribes surround their dying father’s bed; each one is different, one sits and learns, another is a seafarer and yet a third is in business. Yet, with all their differences, they are united in kedushah they can safely proclaim to their father Yisrael. ‘our Hashem is every thing to us as it is to you. Upon hearing this he rests his weary head. baruch Hashem, thank you Hashem. Now I know this faith will carry on forever. There are no differences between Torah Jews, only egos that cause us to build walls rather than bridges. We don’t get along, because in our own hearts we can’t find room for others. Achdus must be instilled while our children are young — the very first mitzva if not we are destined to learn the lessons of Yosef the hard way.

The Koznttzer Maggid ztl had a chosid who was a well respected Rav living in Cracow. In fact this Rav was well renowned for his abilities in paskening and the whole of Cracow loved him greatly. There was but one blot on the Rav’s horizon: he and his worthy Rebbetzin had not been blessed with children. The Rav would make numerous trips to his Rebbe, asking constantly for a bracha. Each time the Koznitzer deflected his request, until one day the Rav just cried out, “Rebbe, you help so many, why can’t you bless me?” With this the Rebbe looked into his chosids eyes. “My dear friend, what can I do? All the gates in heaven are closed for your bracho. I’ve tried, but I can’t open them.” The Rav was stricken to his very core. “What? All is lost?” “There is but one man who can help you,” replied the Maggid. “Yosef Drudik is that man. Go to him for a bracha.” Yossele Drudik! The Rav knew him well; he lived in the woods outside of Cracow. There was no one more feared, more discounted, in the whole of the area. Children ran from him. He was awkward, rude and completely anti-social. “And from him will come salvation?” thought the Rav.

But the Koznitzer Maggid wasn’t to be questioned. So the Rav left and made his way home. Upon arriving home he set about planning how he would get Yossele Drudik to bless him. Mr Drudik lived in the forest, he had an old shack with a few horses at the back. There he existed together with his wife and children. A whole week he traveled through the villages repairing old pots and pans, returning just before Shabbos to his hovel. No one had ever seen the inside of his home nor spent any time with the feared Yossele. The Rav decided to show up at Drudik’s door an hour before Shabbos and explain that he was stranded in the forest and only wanted some shelter till Motzoei Shabbos.

The following Erev Shabbos the Rav put his plan into action, knocking on the shabby door of Yossele’s house and asking if anyone was home. After some time the door creaked open just a bit. An old lady stared out from the gloom and asked what the matter was. The Rav went into his story of being lost. “Could you just let me stay over the Shabbos?” he pleaded. “No way, my husband never permits people into our house. He would have my head if I let you in!” “Please have some rachmonus.” After some more tearful entreaties the woman relented somewhat. “You can stay at the back with the horses, but not in the house.”

Well, there was nothing for it. So the Rav soon found himself getting ready to be mekabel Shabbos with a congregation of old worn out horses. Just before sunset a presence made itself felt. It was the dreaded Yossele Drudik himself and he was in a towering rage. What are you doing here?” The Rav stammered his excuses. “Well just stay away from my house and after Shabbos you had better leave, or else!” What a Shabbos this was going to be! The poor Rav was quaking in his boots. With tears of disquiet he davened ate some old challoh he had taken along, and fell asleep in the haystack. Next morning it was more of the same. davening with the horses, staying well away from Drudik’s precious house.

As the sun began to set the Rav started to daven Mincha, the eis rotzon, the moment of Divine grace. His tears started to flow from his eyes. “What am I doing here? What did the Koznitzer mean? How will I find help?” All the anger and discomfort swelled up and then through his tears his mind wandered to new thoughts. “Who am I deceiving? Why do I seek Yossele Drudik’s bracha?l don’t respect him or think him worthy. Is this perhaps the real problem?” The Rav looked into his own neshamah. “I have built a wall between the Yossele Drudiks of the world and myself. The fact is I am not worthy of all the chesed Hashem has shown me because I haven’t appreciated the greatness in others.” With this he fell into a heap of sobbing bitterness.

Just then the Rav felt a hand on his shoulder. He turned to see what only could be described as a heavenly vision. A man stood there with a silver white beard and eyes that pierced one’s soul. “Come into my home, let us wash for Shalosh Seudos.” Dumbfounded, the Rav followed the transformed Yossele. In the house was a table with a clean white cloth, challoh, wine and fish. After washing, the Rav sat still as Yossele started to sing Mizmor LDovid. Suddenly he stopped. With closed eyes he moaned, “Oy, Srulche Koznitzer ken mech shoen oiched, dear me, the Koznitzer knows about me also.” Turning to the Rav he asked what he wanted. “A bracha for a child.” “Let it be so, but on one condition: you name him Yossele.”

And so it was, as a year later the Rav’s house was full with the laughter of his own little Yossele. So many prayers can be left unanswered simply because we fail to bond with others. Yes, the first mitzva is kriyas Shema of the night. Sometimes things seem dark indeed — even hopeless — but Yidden can find strength by crying out Hashem’s Oneness together with others, no matter from whence they seem to be coming.