It happened last year and caused some buzz, but lots has happened since then and the story is all but forgotten. I was reminded of it this past Motzoei Shabbos as I sat at Rav Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin’s seudas hodaah, celebrating the neis of his release from a dark place six years ago.
Last year, at the Torah Umesorah Presidents Conference in Doral, Florida, there was a surprise guest appearance. The former president, who happens to own the hotel, came by and offered a few words. Donald Trump was listing the many things he had done for the Jewish people and for Israel while he was in office.
Many of those were historic and sweeping in nature, such as stopping the Iran deal and moving the U.S. embassy to Yerushalayim, and as he listed them, he received polite applause. And then he offhandedly mentioned that he commuted the sentence of Sholom Rubashkin. When he said that, the audience rose to its feet for a long round of spirited applause.
The former president was shocked. He could not understand why that deserved a stronger applause than everything else he did.
And the reason is because Rubashkin is our brother and people feel differently about things that affects their brother.
Witness the relatives of the Israeli hostages being held by Hamas in Gaza. Against all odds, they don’t rest for a minute, demonstrating, speaking, and lobbying around the world, trying to get something going that will lead to the release of their relatives. Despite all the setbacks and reasons that would cause others to forsake their mission, they persist, because they are fighting for their fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, brothers and sisters.
Some fifty years ago, a plane carrying many Jews, among them Rav Yitzchok Hutner, was hijacked. Jews around the world davened that the hostages survive the ordeal. Rav Chaim Shmulevitz, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Mir in Yerushalayim, arrived in the bais medrash to deliver a shmuess about the situation, but he never said it.
He stood at the amud in the front of the bais medrash and remarked, “If the prisoners would be your brothers, think about how much kavanah you would have as you say Tehillim for them.” And then he began to weep. Through his tears, he cried out, “And they takeh are your brothers.”
He was so overcome that he couldn’t say anything more. The message he delivered that day affected all who heard it and all who heard about what happened when the famed Rav Chaim tried to speak in Yeshivas Mir about the hostages.
Brothers are different. And we are all brothers.
For real. We really are brothers.
In this week’s parsha, Vayigash, the sad story of Yosef and his brothers reaches its climax. Ever since Yosef dreamt that one day the brothers would bow to him as a ruler, they could not come to terms with him. Hashem brought a hunger upon the earth and the brothers were forced to travel to Mitzrayim, the only place that had food, to provide for their families. Each time they came, Yosef had recognized them, but they had no clue that the person they were bowing to and begging for food from was the long lost Yosef, whom they had sold into slavery.
Yosef had Shimon jailed and now was about to have Binyomin join him on trumped-up charges. As they sat together around a table negotiating their future, Yehudah stood up to the viceroy of Egypt disrespectfully. On their previous trips, the brothers acted respectfully and fulfilled Yosef’s increasingly bizarre requests. But this time it was different. This time, Yosef was threatening the freedom of their brother, Binyomin. When you chepper with a brother, it’s different. Yehudah, as leader of the brothers, stood up and confronted him.
Yosef was overcome when he saw how much the brothers cared for each other. He saw that they had repented for selling him and now truly cared for each other. Chazal say that Yosef had heard them discussing between themselves their regrets that they sold their brother into slavery and did not feel Yosef’s pain (Bereishis 42:21-21). Prior to the sale, they had determined halachically that Yosef deserved to be sold, but as things didn’t seem to be going right for them, they had second thoughts about whether he deserved to be sold.
With their brotherly feelings toward Yosef restored and the concern they had for Binyomin portrayed, Yosef understood that there was no longer any need to torment his brothers. The brotherly love and feelings had been restored, and now the shevotim would be able to proceed to the next step in the formation of Am Yisroel and carrying out Hashem’s plan. So Yosef revealed himself to them, told them who he was, and there was a tearful reunion.
Yosef and Binyomin fell on each other’s shoulders and cried. Chazal teach that they were not crying over the pain of separation and the joy of reunion. They weren’t mourning their mother, whose tears would define a nation. They were crying over the churban of Mishkan Shiloh in the cheilek of Yosef and the destruction of the two Botei Mikdosh that would be built in the portion of Binyomin.
As brothers, they cried over events that would take place well ahead in the future, but were foremost on the minds of these great people who were concerned about their brothers, sisters, sons and daughters throughout the ages. They wept just as their mother, Rochel, would, and great people like Rav Chaim Shmulevitz did all through the centuries of our golus. They put aside their own personal feelings and concerns and became consumed with their brethren, because that is what being a Jew is all about.
The Chashmonaim were the same. They saw what was happening to their brothers and sisters. They saw how Am Yisroel was getting swallowed by the Yevonim and turning away from Hashem and the Torah, so they went to war. With millions of Jews in spiritual danger, without considering their personal welfare, they went to battle against a powerful army, armed with faith that Hakadosh Boruch Hu would cause them to win.
Because when brothers are threatened, brothers do whatever they can to save them.
One of the many lessons that emerge from analyzing the maasei avos in the parshiyos of Sefer Bereishis is that our forefathers viewed their experiences not as isolated incidents, but as part of something much bigger crafted by Hashem to lead us to the ultimate redemption. There are bumps along the way, as well as periods and happenings of great elation. Our challenge is to always consider the fact that whatever course we are upon was charted by Hakadosh Boruch Hu for reasons larger than us and our circumstance.
Avrohom Avinu was on his way to the Akeidah when he saw Har Hamoriah looming in front of him (Bereishis 22:4). He visualized the future, the nitzchiyus, the smoke of the korbanos being olah lereiach nichoach, and all the glory that would yet come forth from that exalted spot.
He turned to his companions and inquired if they saw this as well. When they told him that they didn’t see anything up ahead, he told them, “Shevu lochem po im hachamor – Stay behind with the chamor, while I go up with Yitzchok on the mountain you don’t see nor are aware of.”
Chazal explain that Avrohom was describing his co-travelers as an “am hadomeh lachamor,” a nation compared to a donkey. Those who failed to see the mountain are similar to the animal that symbolizes base instinct, with neither depth nor vision. They are people who cannot see beyond the moment. The donkey sees what is directly in front of him and has no concept of the past and the future.
We read later in this week’s parsha of the emotional reunion between a father broken by longing for his son and the son torn from his father’s side while still a teenager (46:29). Yet, at this time, as they met, they didn’t discuss each other’s wellbeing, or catch up on the years spent apart, or simply say how happy they were that this moment had finally arrived. Rather, Rashi (ibid.) tells us that Yaakov Avinu’s reaction upon meeting Yosef was to recite Krias Shema.
Yaakov had feared that he would never again see his beloved son. He was undoubtedly overcome with joy to see and hold him once again. But when he saw Yosef together with his brothers, Yaakov was witnessing a much larger picture than a reunion of individuals.
When he saw the achdus between the brothers, he perceived that his mission of creating the shivtei Kah could proceed. He saw how a circle that could only have been drawn by Hashem was coming together, and he knew that although they were now beginning another exile, Hashem brought them there for the greater purpose of founding Am Yisroel.
Thus overwhelmed, the words of Krias Shema sprang forth. The greatness and Achdus Havayah were plainly evident, and Yaakov celebrated the present and the future at that moment.
Chazal teach us that “maaseh avos simon lebonim,” namely that by seizing the perspective of the avos, we can rise above the stream of negativity, pessimism, grim prognoses, and dire warnings that confront us.
In our lives, quite often, things do not go as we had planned. There are many bumps in the road. Things don’t turn out the way we want them to. Relationships sour, children don’t excel, jobs and careers go south, we don’t make enough money, we lose money, and we are under constant pressure. The list goes on and everyone has their own stories and pekel.
Yosef’s message to his brothers (45:4-11) is relevant to us in our situations. After revealing himself to them, he told them not to be upset over selling him years before. He told them that it was now evident that he was sold so that when the hunger would come, there would be a place of refuge for the entire family. They were merely Hashem’s messengers in setting it up.
When we think that things aren’t going right for us, we need to remember Yosef’s admonition and recognize that everything that happens to us is from Hashem, and not always do we understand the purpose, but knowing that there is one is comforting and reassuring.
And when tragedy befalls the Jewish people, such as the period we are in now as an existential war rages in Gaza and the world plots our defeat, there is much we must do. The most important is to increase our devotion to Torah observance and study and to work to increase achdus between us.
The Zohar in last week’s parsha of Mikeitz (page 200b) writes that “when there is peace amongst the Jewish people and there is not between them people who cause disputes, Hakadosh Boruch Hu has rachmanus on them and din has no power over them. And even if they all serve avodah zorah, if they live peacefully with each other, din will have no power over them.”
The Meshech Chochmah (Shemos 14:25), citing pesukim and Chazal, explains that when the people are lacking in manners and middos and are engaged in machlokes, Hashem removes His Shechinah from among them. But when they conduct themselves with proper middos, refrain from speaking lashon hora and love each other, then even if their level of mitzvah observance is wanting and even if they have succumbed to avodah zorah, Hashem is present with the community and performs miracles for them.
Today, as we are desperate for miracles and Divine assistance to help us overcome our enemies who seek our destruction, we must find it within ourselves to set aside the divisions and disputes that have cropped up among us. If we want the nations of the world to stop pressuring Israel to give up its battle against the evil terrorists, then we have to stop vilifying each other. We have to be able to look aside from some things, and even if we disagree with other people, or groups of people, we can do so respectfully and with love, bearing in mind that we are all brothers.
We have suffered enough from the sins of division, starting with the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh, which caused thousands of years of golus, pogroms, blood libels, irrational hatred and myriad tragedies and pain. The way to end the war and end the exile is plainly evident to anyone who studies the holy seforim.
The sooner we recognize that we are all brothers and treat each other with love, the sooner Moshiach will be able to reveal himself, as Yosef did to his brothers when the love between all the shevotim was restored.
When we will all be able to proclaim Shema Yisroel together as brothers, we will merit the great victory and the resultant peace we all eagerly await.
Let’s get to it now, for real, not just as a talking point, or a bumper sticker, because brotherly love is not just a nice sounding sound-bite. It is our ticket out of the mess.
Brotherly love will bring us home, bekarov b’yomeinu. Amein.