Within a 24-hour period last month, the Jewish nation suffered a great loss with the terrorist attack in Jersey City, and then affecting our own yeshiva and Passaic community, the tragic car accident in Israel that took the life of 23-year-old Avrohom Nochum Landy, son of Rabbi and Mrs. Yerachmiel and Tzipora Landy. Then, in the past week, there was a tragic car accident in Teaneck outside a shul where there was a loss of life, and a machete attack in a rabbi’s house in Monsey, resulting in serious injuries.
Someone asked me recently: Why do challenges never let up? If it’s not health, it’s parnassah (livelihood). Sometimes when one improves, the other gets worse. Indeed, it seems there is always something: shalom bayis, our children’s education, our job, our health, our friendships and even community tragedies. There’s no end to it. This is the challenge of galus (exile).
The Midrash states that Yaakov’s challenges mirrored the four exiles that klal Yisrael would be subjected to before the coming of Moshiach. The last exile is our current one—galus Edom. This exile is symbolized by the challenge of Yosef who was sold to Mitzrayim (Egypt.) At this stage, Yaakov wanted some respite from his life of challenges. He had run from Esav, endured 20 years of cheating in the home of Lavan, and had his own daughter Dinah violated while he was returning home. When he finally arrived and rest looked imminent, his world turned upside down with the disappearance of Yosef.
The Midrash says that with Yosef gone, Yaakov experienced “rogez” (loosely translated as extreme distress). Rogez can also imply “anger.” Indeed, the exile of Yosef in Egypt and our current galus are referred to as “rogez” (anger) since it appears Hashem is angry with klal Yisrael. Yaakov’s deeply beloved son Yosef was sold to Mitzrayim by his brothers, and there, thrown into a dungeon. It looked like Hashem was angry and had forsaken Yosef. Yaakov, meanwhile, was worrying about the very future of klal Yisrael.
Anger can also lead to distance. For the entire 22 years that Yosef was gone, Hashem did not speak with Yaakov. It appeared to Yaakov that he was being rejected by Hashem. This was one of the hardest challenges—a feeling of being cast aside and forsaken. In this challenge of faith (emunah), would Yaakov hold strong in his trust of Hashem?
We receive our answer at the dramatic reunion of father and son when Yaakov and Yosef finally meet again in Egypt. At this precious moment, Yaakov recites Shema, while Yosef begins to cry. All the commentators wonder why Yaakov was saying Shema at that point? And why was Yosef crying instead of joining him? Rav Schorr explains it was at this precise moment that Yaakov Avinu received full clarity on the entire period of the absence of Yosef. He saw that it was in fact a blessing! Hashem had orchestrated the entire long episode with Yosef to set the stage for klal Yisrael’s survival in Egypt. In saying the words of Shema, which testify to the full emunah we have in Hashem, Yaakov recognized that what looked like harsh justice was really compassion. It was a grand plan for Yosef to become viceroy and save his extended family in its upcoming exile.
For Yosef, however, the reunion triggered an outpouring of emotion for his father. He held back the tears for 22 years, and now they gushed forth. But even in tears, there are signs of hope. The Sforno echoes back to the history of Yosef in Egypt, recalling his many years in prison and his sudden freedom on a Rosh Hashanah morning, when he was appointed the new viceroy by Pharaoh himself. Just as Yosef’s personal exile turned suddenly into redemption and joy, the same will be with klal Yisrael and our exile. While waiting for Moshiach, our emunah, our trust in Hashem, tells us to use the attribute of rogez, in the sense of the argumentativeness that is part of interactively learning Torah, to prepare for our geulah (redemption).
May Hashem bring Moshiach speedily in our days so we can witness how all the tragedies experienced are part of the master plan for the good and benefit of klal Yisrael.
Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch. PTI has attracted people from all over northern New Jersey, including Teaneck, Paramus, Fair Lawn, Livingston and West Orange. He initiated and leads a multi-level Gemara-learning program. He has spread out beyond PTI to begin a weekly beis medrash program with in-depth chavrusa learning in Livingston, Fort Lee and a monthly group in West Caldwell. Rabbi Bodenheim can be reached at [email protected] For more info about PTI and its full offering of torah classes visit www.pti.shulcloud.com.