with Rav Avigdor Miller
Becoming One People
Part I. One Nation
Yaakov Avinu’s Fear on His Deathbed
The gemara in Pesachim (56a) tells us that when Yaakov Avinu was lying on his deathbed with his sons surrounding him, he was very uneasy, very troubled. What was he worried about? Our chachomim tell us that as he looked around at his twelve children for the last time, he noticed again what he had been aware of all his life – that each child was strikingly different than the next. It’s a remarkable thing how Hakodosh Boruch Hu made Yaakov’s children so dissimilar one from the other.
The gemara (ibid. 4a) says that. הַהוּא דְּהַוׇה קָא אָזִּיל וְאָמַר – There was a man who used to go around and say אַכֵּף יַמָּא אַסִּיסְנֵי בִּירָאתָא – “I want to live along the coast.” He loved the seashore and he spoke about it all the time: “One day, when I retire I’m going to build a home by the sea and live there.” בָּדְקוּ אַחֲרָיו – So they began to investigate; why does he talk so much about the seashore? And they found out he came from Zevulun. זְבוּלֻן לְחוֹף יַמִּים יִשְׁכֹּן – Hakodosh Boruch Hu put into Zevulun a love for the oceans, and therefore they were a seafaring nation. Other shevatim however not so much. They didn’t like the smell of the salty sea and they got seasick too – they preferred walking on land.
The gemara there says that another man used to go around saying: דּוֹנוּ דִּינִי – “Judge my din.” It means that whenever there was some disagreement between him and someone else, he didn’t want to arbitrate; he wasn’t interested in pesharah. “No; let’s go to the judge and let’s hear what he says.”
Now, he said it so many times דּוֹנוּ דִּינִי, דּוֹנוּ דִּינִי – “Judge my case,” “Judge my case,” that people thought it was suspicious. בָּדְקוּ אַחֲרָיו – They searched after his pedigree, and they found that he came from Dan. דָּן יָדִין עַמּוֹ – Dan was rigid; he liked to follow the strict line of the law. There are people like that who are very strict with rules; they don’t like to deviate at all. Even little children sometimes are born that way; it’s their nature to follow rules. Others, not so – they’re more flexible; they’re not such sticklers for din.
Parents Are Like Book Covers
The children of Yaakov were very different, and the truth is that it’s like that in every family. Let’s say you visit your cousins – it’s surprising how different the children are from each other. Here you have one brother; he’s handsome and he’s graceful too. He looks like a real Lord Fauntleroy — a beautiful boy. Only that he’s a bit sleepy, a little lazy. Next to him is his brother, not as good looking, but full of energy, a ball of fire. It’s a remarkable fact; Two brothers from the same parents but they’re not alike at all. Maybe you’ll find some resemblance in their noses, but otherwise they’re entirely different. Sisters also; they’re very different one girl from the next.
Now, as long as Yaakov was alive he wasn’t so concerned – parents are like the covers of a book that keep all the pages together. But once the covers start falling off, the pages start separating. So the medrash tells us that Yaakov looked over his sons who were gathered around his deathbed and he said: “What’s going to happen after I leave this world? What’s going to be when I’m not here anymore? Who will keep the holy nation together? לִישׁוּעָתְךָ קִוִּיתִי הַשֵּׁם – Hashem, we need a big yeshua, a big salvation.”
The Shofar of Redemption
The truth is that we’re still facing that same problem today; and it’s not going away — it’s one of the great problems that will nag us even when Moshiach comes. Every day we say in our tefillos, תְּקַע בְּשׁוֹפָר גָּדוֹל לְחֵרוּתֵנוּ – Sound the great shofar for our freedom. We’re asking Hakodosh Boruch Hu to blow that great blast that will proclaim to the nations to liberate the Am Yisroel from their subjugation. Now, exactly how that sound will be is not important – it would be interesting to know maybe, but whatever it is, it’s going to be a sound that will wake up the world. It’s a warning blast to the nations that the truth of Hashem Elokei Yisroel is on the march forward.
And when that shofar is blown, all the nations of the world will be frightened into action – the entire world will begin to cooperate in the plan of לְחֵרוּתֵנוּ – to give us our full independence. There’ll be great conferences in countries all over the world and the nations will come together to see what can be done to help facilitate the reestablishment of the Am Yisroel as a nation on its own land. It will be a big job – entire communities will have to be transplanted to Eretz Yisroel. And you have to have parnasah in Eretz Yisroel too – in Moshiach’s time you still have to make a living. “The world will follow its accustomed nature” (Rambam Hilchos Teshuva 9:2), and everybody will need a profession. We’ll need homes too – nobody wants to live on the streets. It will be complicated and all of that is included in the word וְקַבְּצֵנוּ– Gather us. It’s a big request!
The Bigger Request
But we ask Hashem for even more than that; we add an extra word in that tefilah and we say וְקַבְּצֵנוּ יַחַד – Gather us yachad, together. Although וְקַבְּצֵנוּ, gather us, already implies “together,” yet the word yachad is added because as difficult as it will be to gather us in from everywhere in the world, the bigger problem will be that it’s going to be from אַרְבַּע כַּנְפוֹת הָאָרֶץ, we’re going to be arriving from the four corners of the world. And therefore we ask You Hashem that it should be yachad, with a feeling of togetherness and camaraderie.
Yachad! Ooh wah, that’s a big request! All the various communities in exile will all come marching back. From the Far Eastern countries they’ll come. They’ll come from South Africa and from Russia and from England. They’ll come from Williamsburg and from Baltimore and from Alaska. They’ll come from places we didn’t even know there were Jews.
And when they come, they’ll come with different dialects and different languages. They’ll come with different clothing and different faces. They’ll come with different minhagim, customs and mannerisms. Even minhagei Torah are different – minhagim of Teiman are very different than the minhagim of Jews in Lithuania. And the minhagim of the Lithuanian Jews are different than the chassidishe minhagim.
Turbans, Beketches and Bend-downs
So now the Teimanim will come with their robes and their turbans, and some Jews, let’s say, from Canada will come with black hats. The chassidim will come with their shtreimelech and their kapotes. Some will come with top hats yet — some people still wear top hats on yontif. So one man wearing a top silk hat, another man wearing a turban, and a third man wearing only a yarmulkeh – they might look at each other like they’re from different peoples.
That’s not yachad! It’s necessary for everyone to amalgamate into one nation – a גּוֹי אֶחָד. Echad means everybody is together – brothers to be together, husbands and wives to be together, families should be together, communities to be together. The Teimanim should be together with the Sefardim. And the Sefardim with the Ashkenazim, and the Williamsburgers with the Lakewooders. We want everybody within those communities to get along with each other.
The Shevatim Have the Solution
Now, maybe some people are hoping that such a thing will just come by fiat, by a command of Hashem. It’ll just happen by itself, you think. Well, I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but it won’t be that way – somehow the differences will have to be overcome. And therefore, we’re bothered by the same worry that bothered Yaakov Avinu: “What’s going to be?” we say. “לִישׁוּעָתְךָ קִוִּיתִי הַשֵּׁם – We need something that will guide us to the togetherness that is required of the Am Yisroel.”
So at that time, when Yaakov Avinu cried out to Hashem, the brothers said to him: Shema Yisroel – “Listen, Yisroel our father; it’s true – we’re very different one from each other. But we have something that unites us. Hashem Elokeinu – Hashem is our G-d; we’re all avdei Hashem. Hashem echad – There’s one Hashem who we’re all serving and that’s going to keep us together despite the differences in our nature. Whatever differences you see, they are overwhelmed by the yachad, the togetherness that comes from of our serving the One Hashem.
The Secret to Shalom Bayis
I’ll give you a mashal; it’s a mashal but it’s true for itself as well. A husband is very different from his wife. Don’t ever expect when you get married that your wife will be like you. Whatever dreams you might have, you will always discover that after all she is a woman and you are a man. נָשִׁים עַם בִּפְנֵי עַצְמָן, women are a different nation, the gemara says. Your natures are entirely different. You don’t like to talk, maybe, and she does – she loves to talk. You like fleishigs and she likes milchigs. He wants this color couch she wants a different color. What’s going to be?!
And the answer is that by nature they are different, but when they come together under the chuppah, and they understand that Hakadosh Baruch Hu is there too, so the differences are overshadowed by Hashem Echad. Who cares if they’re different? It makes no difference, because both together are united in the great ideal of serving Hakodosh Boruch Hu. They both aspire towards building a Jewish tabernacle of avodas Hashem, bringing up a family of avdei Hashem – who cares if they’re different?! הַשֵּׁם אֱלֹקֵינוּ הַשֵּׁם אֶחָד and therefore what difference does it make if your wife has certain interests and you have different interests; you’re both united in your hearts to build a home for Hashem Echad!
And that’s what the brothers said to their father: אֵין בְּלִבֵּנוּ אֶלָּא אֶחָד – We only have one Hashem and therefore we’ll remain one people forever, united around Him. And when Yaakov heard that, so the gemara says he was consoled. He said, בָּרוּךְ שֵׁם כְּבוֹד מַלְכוּתוֹ לְעֹלָם וָעֶד – “The glory of Hashem’s kingdom will continue forever.” If you will continue to be united in avodas Hashem despite the differences between you, then each one will make the kvod Shamayim even greater by contributing his uniqueness and dedicating his qualities to the service of Hashem.
Hashem Makes Us A Nation
What we’re saying now is that the binding of the book that keeps the pages from falling out is that we all identify with each other in the essential ideal of שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל הַשֵּׁם אֱלֹקֵינוּ הַשֵּׁם אֶחָד. Whatever differences there may be that seem to pull us in different directions, they’re all overcome by the glue of avodas Hashem. We’re all connected to each other in the bond of serving Hashem Echad — it’s Hashem that makes us one people.
That’s an important lesson that we learn from a Mechilta. In Az Yashir we praise Hashem and we say to Him: וּבְרֹב גְּאוֹנְךָ תַּהֲרֹס קָמֶיךָ – In Your great majesty, You overthrew those who rose up against You. So the Mechilta asks as follows: What does it mean, “Who rose up against You?” Did the Egyptians rise up against Hashem? They rose up against Bnei Yisrael, that’s all.
And what the Mechilta says there is like this: כָּל מִי שֶׁקָּם כְּנֶגֶד יִשְׂרָאֵל כְּאִלּוּ קָם כְּנֶגֶד הקב”ה – Anybody who rises up against Yisroel, he’s actually ising up against Hashem. Because what is the Am Yisroel after all? Are we a nation like the Polish nation? Like the Irish or the Italians? Chas v’shalom! The only thing that makes us a nation is that we serve Hakodosh Boruch Hu. אֵין אֻמָּתֵנוּ אֻמָּה אֶלָּא בַּתּוֹרָה — Our nation is only a nation because of the Torah (Rav Saadia Gaon, Emunos Vdei’os 3:7). Hashem gave us the Torah and that’s what made us His people. Who are the Am Yisroel? Only those who keep the Torah to this day. The frum Jews keep the Torah — we are a Torah-nation. That’s the cause of our existence and that’s the only thing that binds our nation together.
We’re Not Strangers
And that’s why we identify with all observant Jews, whether they’re Jews in Teiman or Lakewood or Lubavitch or Bnei Brak or in Boro Park or Baltimore. Wherever they are, we identify with them because we’re one with them. Whether they’re Sephardi Jews, whether they’re Syrian Jews, whether they’re Egyptian Jews. All the Jews who are loyal to the Torah, that’s our people. That’s the Am Echad of the Hashem Echad and we have to identify with them – you can’t feel like he’s an outsider. A Galicianer can’t think, “I’m a stranger to a Hungarian Jew.” No, we’re not strangers to anybody if they’re loyal Jews.
Ohhh, now we’re talking! Because even though we all have our differences and our own lives, there always remains this glue of service of Hashem that binds us together in this kinship of brotherhood. It’s much more than a blood line; it’s a real bond, a bond of the mind that actually ties us together. We’re not merely connected to each other by blood, by DNA. A fellow Jew is a brother who is עֲמִיתֶךָ, he’s עִמְּךָ בַּתּוֹרָה וּבְמִצְווֹת. Chazal tell us that אָחִיךָ means אָחִיךָ בְּמִצְווֹת, “your brother in mitzvos.”
I Love My People, Yisroel
So if you walk in the streets and you see Jewish boys with yarmulkes and black hats coming out of the yeshivos or buses carrying children to yeshivos, your heart should overflow with happiness. You have to feel a great respect for your fellow ovdei Hashem. You’re looking at your people! If you see a group of frum girls dressed b’tznius coming out of the Beis Yaakov schools, walking with decency, and wearing long skirts, your heart should be full of happiness. Those girls are your people!
You walk through blocks and blocks and you see fathers with children going to the beis hakeneses and you love to see it. Your heart swells with pride and happiness. Hashem wants that! Some people are so happy when they see Jews. They just weep with joy when they see the Jewish people.
That’s why it does you very good to walk through Boro Park. Big mezuzos one after the other. Blocks and blocks of Jewish houses. Whenever I come to Boro Park, I feel a reverence. It’s the truth — I rarely go, but when I turn off Ocean Parkway down Eighteenth Avenue and I start approaching Boro Park, I feel a yiras hakavod. I’m thinking, “It’s such a great happiness to be a part of a nation of tzadikim.”
That’s what you should be thinking as you walk: “I’m walking among my people. It’s my people and I love them. I don’t care what hat he wears or what group he belongs to; it’s all my people! These are the people in this world whom I identify with.”
Part II. Nation of Generations
Identifying With Our History
Now, when we say that we want to be together with the Am Yisroel, we have to have two ideas in mind. One is what we’ve been saying now, that we have to be together, yachad, with the Am Yisroel of today. We identify with all of the frum Jews and we see the good points in everybody – we realize that each kehillah has something to offer because we’re all bound up together in the goal of Hashem Echad. It doesn’t mean that we have to give up our individual ways of serving Hashem, but we have to appreciate what others do too; we’re all together saying הַשֵּׁם אֱלֹקֵינוּ הַשֵּׁם אֶחָד. That’s very important. We should never neglect appreciating the Am Yisroel of today – that goes without saying.
But besides for being yachad with all the kehillos of frum Jews today, it’s just as important to be together with the Am Yisroel of all the past generations. We have to always remember that we are members of the Am Hashem in its totality from the beginning down till today. We must be part and parcel of our whole history – not only those who are here today. We have to live with the avar, with our past. That’s called being a member of the Am Yisroel.
Count the Generations
Because who is the Am Yisroel? All of them! Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. Sarah, Rivkah and Rochel. The shevatim and the dor hamidbar. Everyone! Moshe Rabbeinu and his generation, Yehoshua and his generation, all the Shoftim, and Shmuel HaNavi and his generation. Shaul and Dovid and after that Shlomo HaMelech. Yeshayah and Yirmiyeh and Yechezkel and then Shimon HaTzaddik and then all the Tana’im and Amora’im, all the Rishonim and Achronim. We are one with our nation from its inception and with all the generations down until today and we should feel a part of them.
If someone is lacking that, then he’s lacking identification with the Klal Yisroel, because the Am Yisroel means its totality, all of the doros. You’re together not only with the Jews of your generation — you’re together with all those who went before! All the generations of shlomei emunei Yisroel that came before us should be part of your personality.
Table Talk in Williamsburg
Now how do we do that? The first thing is that if you don’t know about them, you’re not identifying with them. If you know about a baseball player, or a movie star or a politician, more than you know about Avraham Avinu, it means you don’t identify with the Am Yisroel. And so, it’s only the person who is constantly learning – he learns chumash and he’s repeating all the time the stories of the Avos, and he’s telling himself and his children stories about the Imahos; he sees a friend on the street and he’s talking about Moshe Rabeinu in the parsha – that person is living with the Am Yisroel.
That’s how Jews were always. In ancient times, about a hundred years ago, what did Jews talk about? They didn’t have any newspapers. Jews didn’t have any newspapers in the small towns. Even in the big towns, it was a rarity. When the Jew spoke, he spoke about the parshas hashavua. When I was a boy, I used to eat Shabbos at a relative’s table in Williamsburg. They just came over from Europe. They talked at the table of the parshas hashavua – that’s all they talked about. They weren’t lamdanim but they had nothing else to talk about! Parshas hashavua – that was their people, their history.
They lived with Avraham Avinu! If you are part of kol Yisroel you’re thinking of Avraham Avinu. זוֹכֵר חַסְדֵי אָבוֹת – Hashem remembers the greatness of our forefathers. You’re asking Him to remember? How about you remembering? And so we have to admire our forefathers. Avraham Avinu – start admiring him. Identify with him. He’s my grandfather! I’m so proud of him. Hashem is proud of him – we surely should be proud.
Experience Our Proud Past
I remember when people would come together Shabbos afternoon and rabbonim would say drashos on the sedrah of the week. Not for one hour; long drashos they gave! And people listened because that’s what interested them – they were hearing about their people, the people they identified with most. In the Bialystocker shul, I remember the old rav was there, Rabbi Wilskowsky, alav hashalom. He was talking about the chasunah of Yitzchok and Rivkah and he was shouting “Mazel tov, mazel tov,” to the people. Everybody was listening as he was describing the wedding of Yitzchok and Rivkah as if it was taking place right now. That’s how they lived. They lived in the chumash and they were reminded every year as the ba’al koreh read it over and over again. They felt that they were part of it all.
They lived with all of the experience of Moshe Rabbeinu in the midbar. It was in their blood. Children sat in the cheder all day long and learned these things. The Jewish nation learned mikra and mishnah and gemara, and the stories of the Torah and the Talmud were on their tongues all the time. That was their history. And the teachers of Torah constantly repeated it. That was the talk of the day. That’s how it was – people identified with the Klal Yisroel of the past – with the dor hamidbar, with the Am Yisroel who stood at the foot of Har Sinai, and with all of their descendants after that. We come from them. If you’re a loyal Jew, you’re happy to claim your heritage that was passed on to you from those who received the Torah at Har Sinai.
And that’s why when you open a chumash or a gemara it pays to add the following thought. You’re not only learning a possuk or a mesichta; you’re learning the same words that Rav Ashi learned. The same words that the Rambam pored over. The Ramban, Rashba, Ran, Ritva and the Rambam, Rashi, Tosefos – they all spent their days and nights studying the sugya that you’re studying. They did it of course on a much higher level; we’re only understanding a few drops of what their great minds were thinking. But just the fact that we’re learning the same words means that we’re identifying with these great men, and with the Am Yisroel who have been doing the same since time immemorial.
Our Great Grandmothers
We have to be proud of our great grandmothers who had more da’as, more emunah, than many gedolim of today. Who said that? Rabbi Yeruchum Levovitz, the Mirrer mashgiach. He said, “We are not able to comprehend the greatness of our great grandmothers” – that’s how great they were. Rebbe Yerucham zichrono livracha said that seventy years ago. He said: Mir kennen nit farshtein unzere elter-bubbes. This great man said it’s impossible for him to understand the greatness of our great-grandmothers. Now, he didn’t say the greatness of our grandfathers. He was referring to the simple, unlearned grandmothers! And the further back, greater and greater. A hundred years ago, two hundred years ago, three hundred years – better and better. You’re identifying with all of the pshutei am, the loyal frum Jews of our past and that’s of the utmost importance.
I want to tell you a little scene from our history. Josephus describes the churban Beis Hamikdash when the masses of Jews, plain Jews, were captured by the Romans and taken for torture in public hippodromes. Titus Harasha, as he was traveling home, he took along with him tens of thousands of captives. And he marched with them from city to city and in each place he made hippodromes – big theaters, stadiums, where people came and watched as the Jews were put there to torture. They were supposed to say, “We don’t believe in our Torah anymore,” to save their lives. But the Jews refused to say that – I’m not talking about gedolim or rabbonim; plain Jews! Plain Jews refused to say, “We don’t believe in our Torah,” and they were tortured to death with every kind of cruel death because they all refused!
Josephus writes that. He says there that the nations were amazed at what they saw. But that’s how great the hamon, the ordinary people, were. I’m not talking now about becoming apikorsim or not bowing down to idols. No! Just to avoid saying something against the Torah – even one word against their Torah they wouldn’t say! And for that they were willing to suffer terrible tortures. That’s how great our nation was in the days of old.
And once we identify with our past, we’re connected with the Am Yisroel in its totality. You’re identifying with Moshe Rabeinu and all the nevi’im. And with Rav Akiva Eiger and everything he put into our nation. We’re connected now with all of the great tzadikim – the Vilna Gaon, the Ba’al Shem Tov — all the gedolei Yisroel and the hamon am of all the generations back till Avraham Avinu.
Ask Yourself Some Questions
It’s something that should be on your mind always because by means of that you become a member of the historic Klal Yisroel. You should spend some time thinking about. Are you connected to Yisroel? Are you connected with all the frum Jews who are alive today? Are you connected with all the ovdei Hashem in the previous generations? Do you feel loyalty and affection to our Avos and to all of our great men of the past? How much does your way of life approximate the way of life of our forefathers of even a hundred year ago? Is a woman in the home like her great grandmother in the home? Is her great ambition to be a homemaker and to bring up a large family in the ways of Hashem? Is she loyal to her household duties or does she think of a profession as her most important pursuit in life? If she’s a career woman then she’s not imitating Sarah and Rivkah and Rochel and Leah and none of those who followed them.
We have to identify with our grandmothers and grandfathers. And once we do that a great deal of simplicity will result, a great deal of frivolity will be cut out, and a lot of money wasting will be cut out. Even our amusements identify who we are. Now, there’s nothing wrong with going bowling. Bowling is exercising; but going to bowl among gentiles, what kind of business is that for Jews? Jews live their lives among Jews and only among frum Jews – even in the gashmiyus of our lives, we have to emulate and identify to live together with the frumme, to be together with them physically.
Now, I don’t want to start enumerating a lot of things because you’ll say I’m a killjoy. I’ll take away a lot of things from you, a lot of enjoyment, but in general our mode of life has to emulate our forefathers. There are many, many things. You’ll have to supply the details yourselves, but the principle is to live in a way that the Am Yisroel has always lived.
Now, our ancestors had homes and they ate good meals and they wore nice clothing – they dressed decently. They raised their children properly. They enjoyed life. They lived gashmius’dige lives of happiness. They weren’t less happy than anybody today! But they emulated their forefathers in whatever ways that they could learn from the Torah, nevi’im, kesuvim and the divrei Torah sheba’al peh. The ways that our forefathers found amusement were the ways of the Am Yisroel of past. Shabbos was their amusement. Purim was a day of amusement. Even Chanukah had a certain amount of joy – although Chanukah is only for halel, lehodos ul’halel, not for seudas – but still they enjoyed even Chanukah. Chamisha asar b’shvat, they enjoyed. They took peiros together and they made brachos on the peiros and they thanked Hashem for the peiros.
The Jewish nation lived happy occasions all the time. Simchas Torah was a great day! And Shavuos was even greater! By the way, Shavuos was even bigger than Simchas Torah in the olden days. The whole Jewish calendar was studded with joyous occasions. And therefore, nobody ever thought of Thanksgiving – it didn’t even enter their minds. Nothing of the gentile world penetrated into the Jewish heart because the Jew identified with his people; he knew that the Shechina rested on the Klal Yisroel and in order to be part of the Shechina he wanted to be bound up only with the Am Yisroel.
And so we’re learning now that the solution to all of our differences is the overriding truth that we’re all one people – we are the Am Echad serving the Hashem Echad. And it’s not enough to just say it; it’s something you should actually feel in your heart; you should feel attached to the olam shomrei Torah – all of them – with all of our hearts.
Get Busy Planting Seeds
Now don’t just say, “I know all this already,” — because you don’t know it. It takes work to achieve such a perfection of character. You have to plant these seeds in your mind whenever you see a fellow Jew who is different than you. He dresses differently than you do. He talks differently. He davens differently. He’s from a different shevet altogether. So you have to get to work planting thoughts in your head that will overcome those differences – it won’t happen by itself.
Here’s a man who walks into shul; he’s going to daven mincha – very good, very good. But he can accomplish much more than just mincha. When you see the Am Yisroel gathering to daven to Hashem, you should put your mind to work: “Why are all these different people here? They just gathered here by accident?! No; we’re all here for one purpose – to serve Hashem! This is my nation! My brothers! And we all share the common goal of serving Hashem.” Look around and think about that; he’s a shomer mitzvos like me, and he and he and he. They’re all my brothers in arms fighting together with me for Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad.
And when you’re shopping in the kosher supermarket and it’s crowded, and the lines are long – those are precious moments! Get busy planting! You’re looking down the aisles and all you can see are your “brothers and sisters”. There’s a reason they’re here and not at the goyishe store down the road. Women, men, children, all buying kosher food. Now, that’s a nation! יִשְׂרָאֵל אֵין לָהֶם אֶלָּא לֵב אֶחָד לַאֲבִיהֶם שֶׁבַּשָּׁמַיִם – “The whole Am Yisroel has but one heart devoted to their Father in Heaven” (Sukkah 45b).
Join the Army of Hashem
It’s not just poetry; that’s actually the greatness of the Am Yisroel that binds us together as one people. We’re all fighting together to maintain the Am Yisroel. We have a big army against us, enemies all around us. The irreligious Jews hate us very much. גְּדוֹלָה שִׂנְאָה שֶׁשּׂוֹנְאִים עַמֵּי הָאָרֶץ אֶת הַתַּלְמִידֵי חֲכָמִים יוֹתֵר מִמַּה שֶׁשּׂוֹנְאִים אֻמּוֹת הָעוֹלָם אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל, “The irreligious people hate the frum Jews more than the gentiles hate the Jews” (Pesachim 49b). It’s a fact. And בְּכָל דּוֹר וְדוֹר עוֹמְדִים עָלֵינוּ לְכַלּוֹתֵנוּ and therefore we have to be the best of friends among ourselves – we should feel that we’re all marching together in the same regiment for the same cause.
And the truth is that as much as you try on your own to come close to Hashem – to a certain extent it’s a worthy endeavor — but you must know that you’ll never succeed, unless it’s בְּשֵׁם כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל. Your intention must always be that you’re joining in together with the Am Hashem, the nation that serves Hashem. Anything you do has to be in the name of כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל. If you’re doing it as individuals, of course you get reward for the mitzvah, but you’re not zocheh, you’re not worthy to have the Shechina on your side. That’s one of the great purposes of a mitzvah. Every mitzvah must be בְּשֵׁם כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל – you’re joining together with the Am Yisroel when you do a mitzvah.
It says כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל יֵשׁ לָהֶם חֵלֶק לְעוֹלָם הַבָּא! It doesn’t say we’re going to have individual Olam Habo. It’s only because of Yisroel. Hakodosh Boruch Hu is not going to give Olam Habo because of your good deeds – it’s only because you’re a member of Yisroel. Your rewards in the next world depends on your loyalty to the Klal Yisroel, on how much you identify with Hashem’s people.
And therefore, when a Jew identifies with the Klal Yisroel – that means with the Torah community – in as many ways as he can, he now belongs to Hashem by means of the holy nation. And therefore, our criteria of success should be בְּתוֹךְ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל – are we in the midst of the Bnei Yisroel. Everything we do should be בְּתוֹךְ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל. And who are the Bnei Yisroel? The Bnei Yisroel that are avdei Hashem. And if we’re together with them, then we’re together with the whole history of the Am Yisroel. And that means we’ll be together with them in the World To Come, לְעֹלָם וָעֶד, forever and ever. כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל יֵשׁ לָהֶם חֵלֶק לְעוֹלָם הַבָּא.
Have A Wonderful Shabbos
A Vort on the Parsha
וַיֹּאמֶר יוֹסֵף אֶל אָבִיו בָּנַי הֵם אֲשֶׁר נָתַן לִי אֱלֹקִים בָּזֶה
And Yosef said to his father: “They are my sons that Hashem gave to me here.”
We note that Yosef didn’t merely say, “they are my sons,” but he added: “that Hashem gave to me.” This form of speech which constantly attributes all events to Hashem was not a formality – it was an expression of their actual way of thinking. The fathers of our people lived for Hashem and with Hashem and it found expression in every aspect of their lives.
הָאֱלֹקִים אֲשֶׁר הִתְהַלְּכוּ אֲבֹתַי לְפָנָיו אַבְרָהָם וְיִצְחָק
To “walk before Hashem” means to live a life that is filled with awareness of Hashem – wherever you go, you are standing in front of Hashem. This is explained in Micha (6:8): “And to walk secretly with your Hashem”; which means that even in private circumstances where no one is looking, the righteous behave with perfect righteousness because no matter how alone they may be, they are always aware that Hashem is present and sees all. “The Avos walked before Hashem” means that whatever they did, and wherever they went, they were always aware that Hashem was looking at them and they therefore sought to find favor in His sight.
This expression is found as a description of great men’s lives (Bereishis 5:22, 6:9 and 24:40), because that is how the great men became great – by fulfilling the command of Hashem: “Walk before Me and be perfect” (ibid. 17:1). By training oneself to be aware of Hashem, one “walks before Hashem” and becomes perfect.
וַיֹּאמֶר יוֹסֵף אֶל אֶחָיו אָנֹכִי מֵת וֵאלֹקִים פָּקֹד יִפְקֹד אֶתְכֶם וְהֶעֱלָה אֶתְכֶם מִן הָאָרֶץ הַזֹּאת
And Yosef said to his brothers: “I am dying, but Hashem will surely remember you and bring you up from this land to the land which He swore to Avraham, Yitzchok and Yaakov.”
Nowhere do we find that Hashem spoke to Yosef or to anyone after Yaakov, until the days of Moshe Rabeinu, and therefore we must say that Yosef is here merely repeating the prophecy made to his father: “And I shall bring you up” (46:4). Although it’s certain that the entire family knew this prophecy, now that Yosef, the one who had led the family for more than seventy years, was dying, the family saw that the last human hope of deliverance from Egypt was slipping out of their hands. They were now fully subjected to the Egyptians and their only prestige, the presence of Yosef, was now going lost.
And therefore, Yosef reminded them that they should never lose hope because Hakodosh Boruch Hu would surely fulfill His word. After a long career of leading the Bnei Yisroel, Yosef made sure to leave them with words of encouragement that would ring in their ears always. We can be sure that even in the midst of their bitter bondage, the Bnei Yisroel spoke to each other to raise their courage: “Pakod Yifkod! Don’t forget what Yosef said – “Hashem will surely remember.”Pakod Yifkod are not the words that Hashem had said to Yaakov; they are the words that Yosef said to encourage his family. Yet it was these words of Yosef that were later said by Hashem to Moshe Rabeinu to proclaim to the elders of the nation: “Pakod Pakaditi” (Shemos 3:16), in order to convince them that Yosef’s long ago foretold promise which the Bnei Yisroel had constantly repeated, was now to come true.