Parashas Shemos 5781 -Adversity

The Parasha informs us: “All of Yaakov’s progeny numbered seventy souls; and Yosef was in Egypt. Yosef died, and all his brothers and that entire generation. Bnei Yisrael were fruitful, teemed, increased, and became strong, very much so; and the land became filled with them.” [Exodus 1:5-7] Rashi wonders: What is the Verse coming to teach us by stating that Yosef lived in Egypt? Haven’t we learnt since he was sold by his brother that he landed in Egypt, so why bother repeating it? Rashi answers that indeed the intention of the Verse is very dear, as it intends to point out Yosef’s righteousness; it was the same Yosef who tended his father’s sheep; it was the same Yosef that lived in Egypt and became king; yet, throughout his life he maintained his righteousness. Despite, the natural influence a place has on its people, Yosef maintained the same level of purity he had while being home with his father Yaakov. As we know now understand the point of the Verse, the chronological order does not seem to make much sense. How is the fact that Yosef was a Tzadik related to the following Verse: “Yosef died, and all his brothers and that entire generation. Bnei Yisrael were fruitful, teemed, increased, and became strong, very much so; and the land became filled with them”? Rashi cites the Midrash [S”R 1, 8] and comments: “They would give birth to six children from a single pregnancy.” The Tosafists explain Rashi’s source for making such an extraordinary claim that every woman in every pregnancy carried a sextuplet; it is since the Verse six verbs to describe their astonishing multiplication. The Tur in Parashas Noach [Bereishis 6, 11] reveals the profound meaning of the Verse’s conclusion: “And the land became filled with them.” The Talmud [Sotah 11b] reveals that since the Pharaoh enacted that all boys should be thrown in the Nile, Hashem performed an amazing miracle. When had come time for women to give birth, they would give birth in the field beneath apple trees, as stated in Shir Hashirim [8: 5]: “Beneath the apple tree, I raised you.” An angel would come down from heaven to clean the babies and to attend to their needs. He would nurse the babies with oil and honey as stated [Devarim 32:13]: “He would nurse him with honey from a stone and oil.” Once the Egyptians would discover the babies, they tried to kill them; but the babies would disappear, as earth would swallow them to protect them. The Egyptians would then try to kill them by plowing the field but to no avail, as asserted in Tehilim [129: 3]: “On my back, the plowers plowed.” Once the Egyptians realized their efforts were unsuccessful, they would leave, and the babies would spring back out like grass as indicated in Yechezkel [16:7]: “I made you as numerous as the plants of the field.” When Hashem revealed Himself at the splitting of red sea, they recognized Him first and said [Shemos 15:2]: “This is my G-d and I will enshrine Him.” Basically, they realized then that it was Hashem Himself that nurtured them and attended to all their needs while growing up in the desert. The Midrash [V.R. 32:5] adds: “Yosef descended to Egypt and safeguarded himself from immorality; in his merit, Yisrael also safeguarded themselves from immorality. Rabbi Chiya bar Abba said: Because of this alone, the Bnei Yisrael deserved to be redeemed.” In other words, all the miracles that were performed in Egypt were exclusively because of the merit of Yosef for not giving into the influence of his surroundings. As discussed through the previous Parashios, Yosef had almost reached a patriarchal statute. Through his deeds he raised himself above the tribes. He had many reasons to give up given what he endured as such a young age. However, he did not revolt or object to anything Hashem sent his way. In contrary, he embraced it and used it to raise himself up to attain the level of Tzadik, meaning perfection and save an entire nation. Adversity is the ladder to success! Here’s a powerful story to illustrate it! A certain Chassidic Rebbe had a custom of visiting various Jewish communities, where he would stay in the homes of his wealthy Chassidim. In one of the cities that the Rebbe would visit, there lived a wealthy Chassid. Although he considered himself a follower of the Rebbe and owned a large mansion with many rooms, whenever he heard of the Rebbe’s arrival in his city, he made sure that his mansion was locked. Well aware of his Rebbe’s tendency to stay at the homes of the wealthy, where there was ample room to welcome the masses who clamored to consult with him, the Chassid would hurriedly leave his mansion, disguising his aversion to hosting as a last-minute business trip. He preferred that his house be left alone. The suddenness of the Rebbe’s appearance in his city caught the chassid, along with his wide-open mansion, off guard. Left with no choice, he reluctantly surrendered his house so that it could serve as the Rebbe’s accommodation. A few days later, the Rebbe asked the Chassid a very frank question: “Tell me the truth, are you not happy with the fact that I am here?” “Nonsense, Rebbe. You are my most esteemed guest,” replied the Chassid earnestly. “I am thrilled to be hosting you and delighted that you chose to stay at my house. The problem I have does not lie with you but rather with the Chassidim. You see, when you come, they come. And when they come, along comes the muck from the streets. The very thought of all that grime on my clean floors and furniture just horrifies me. It was never because of you, G-d forbid. But the idea of the mud has always been off-putting to me.” Instead of addressing the man’s complaint directly, the Rebbe responded with a story: “There once lived a pharmacist who, as an avid sinner, managed to transgress almost all of the Torah’s prohibitions. After a long life of pleasure, the pharmacist was greeted in heaven by the horde of prosecuting angels that he managed to create throughout his lifetime of sins. Their loud, emphatic accusations and protests challenged the heavens to find a sliver of virtue for his poor soul. “Suddenly, an angel appeared before the heavenly court and began to tell an account of kindness that transpired in the pharmacist’s youth: It once happened that a man’s wagon, overloaded with merchandise, keeled over in the road. The horse was pinned to the ground and the wagon driver, unable to raise the upended wagon by himself, stood by helplessly as he waited for aid that did not seem to come. However, continued the angel, the young pharmacist happened to be traveling down the same road. And when the wagon driver’s misfortune met his eyes, the pharmacist stopped to assist the grateful man. Only after the two successfully managed to turn the overloaded cart so that it was upright on its wheels, did the pharmacist continue on his journey. “Immediately after the angel concluded his story, a horse and wagon overloaded with merchandise were placed on the empty pan dangling from the supernal scale, which had been tilted heavily on the side of sins. Helped by the new weight, the balance shifted towards the center. But the lifetime of sins still outweighed the single good deed. “‘We demand that the mud and soil be added to the scale as well,’ chorused the good angels. ‘After all, he had to extract the wagon from the muck, didn’t he?’ But the prosecuting angels vehemently insisted that the pharmacist had nothing to do with the mud, which had no direct relevance to him. The heavenly court therefore decided to send the pharmacist’s soul back to this world to determine whether mud holds any significance for his soul. If so, mud would be placed on the heavenly scale on the side of merits. But if not …” The Rebbe paused his story and fixed his gaze on the Chassid. “You possess the soul of that pharmacist, and your evil inclination is working overtime not to allow that mud into your house.” Upon hearing these words from his Rebbe, the Chassid ran to the door and began pleading to the Chassidim waiting outside. “Come in, come in,” he cried. “Come as you are and greet our honored guest.”

By Rabbi Fridmann * rabbifridmann@badatzmiami.com * 305.985.3461

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