Thursday, December 25, 2014

Vayigash, Breishis 46:29. Yakov's Krias Shema at the First Sight of Yosef.

ויאסור יוסף מרכבתו ויעל לקראת ישראל אביו גושנה. וירא אליו ויפל על צוארו ויבך על צוארו עוד
 רש״י - אבל יעקב לא נפל על צוארי יוסף ולא נשקו. ואמרו רבותינו: שהיה קורא קריאת שמע.

When Yosef first saw Yaakov, he fell on him and cried, but it doesn't say that Yaakov cried or reacted in any way.  Rashi brings that Yaakov was saying Krias Shema.  Chazal intended this peirush to elicit innumerable peshatim, but they all focus on this one idea: that while a human being under these circumstances would have reacted with love and flowing tears and celebration, Yaakov said Kerias Shema.  In some way, he saw that the most important thing at that moment was to be mekabel ol malchus shamayim, so he used a superhuman spiritual strength, and he put his emotions to the side and said Kerias Shema.

Some people have trouble understanding what was happening there.  Even if you accept that Yaakov was so far beyond Human that we can't expect to understand his spiritual power and choices, you would think that this kind of behavior could not exist in our times. But I have no trouble understanding the story.

I was raised by a father, who learned in Slabodka for thirteen years, and slept on the floor so that it would be easier to wake up early, and kept his feet in cold water at night so he could learn later, and told me that until he was twenty years old, he didn't understand what it meant to "forget," because he remembered everything he ever learned, and the Rogatchover said that he knew Maseches Shabbos well because he immediately answered and told him how many times the name of Abayei appears in that masechta.  My mother grew up in the Talmud Torah in Kelm (and was the only child that was allowed in the courtyard to pick raspberries,) and she says that the men in her family were in the Talmud Torah from Thursday until Friday afternoon, and then they learned all night on Shabbos until after Shachris, and she was famous in the yeshiva world for her knowledge of Tanach and Medrashim.  So I can understand this kind of life.

Along these lines is a story about Reb Akiva Eiger.  This is the kind of story I grew up hearing.  But other people might not believe it or understand it, so I point out that a story that is written by Rav Sternbuch, who says he heard from Ponovezher Rov, who heard it from his father in law, Vilkomirer Rov, is reliable.

ושמעתי מהגאון רבי יוסף כהנמן זצ"ל בשם חמיו הגאון מוילקומיר זצ"ל דבעת שנפטרה זוגתו של ‏"החתם סופר" זצ"ל,‏ בתו של הגרע"א זצ"ל,‏ לא ספרו הדבר לאביה הגרע"א , וארע שהגרע"א נזדמן סמוך לפרסבורג והודיע שרצונו לשבות השבת בבית "החתם סופר" שלא ראו זה את זה שנים הרבה, וה"חתם סופר" לא ידע היאך לנהוג שכבר נשא אשה שניה, והתיעץ עם אשתו והיא מצידה היתה מוכנה לעזוב את הבית לשבת, אבל "החתם סופר" התישב בדעתו ואמר שתשאר בבית. בערב שבת הגיע הגרע"א זצ"ל לבית "החתם סופר" ומסרו לו ש"החתם סופר" נמצא בבית דין , הלך לשם ומיד שאל אותו "החם סופר" בענין גט שהגיע לפניו , ודנו ופלפלו עד סמוך לכניסת השבת, ואחרי רחיצה וטבילה קיבלו השבת, ובסעודה המשיכו ופלפלו עוד , ושקועים היו בדברי תורה כל השבת, ומיד לאחר הבדלה פנה הגרע"א ללכת ואמר שאין לו פנאי אפילו לדבר עם בתו ורק מבקש למסור לה דרישת שלום.

The story is that when Reb Akiva Eiger's daughter, who had married the Chasam Sofer, died, they did not tell him.  It then transpired that Reb Akiva Eiger was near Frankfurt, and he wanted to see his son in law and daughter, and many years of not seeing them.  The Chasam Sofer had by that time remarried, and he didn't know what to do.  His wife offered to leave home for Shabbos, but he told her he had a plan.  When Reb Akiva Eiger arrived, he was told that his son in law was sitting in his Beis Din.  When Reb Akiva Eiger came in to the court, the Chasam Sofer told him about a difficult case of a get he was involved in.  They discussed the issues until before Shabbos, bathed and went to the Mikva, davenned, and at the meal they continued their discussion, and the same occurred the next day.  When Shabbos was over, Reb Akiva said that he had to leave immediately, and he asked his son in law to please give his regards to his daughter.

There are two ways to read the story.  Either Reb Akiva Eiger was misled, or he figured out what was going on.  In any case, the lesson of the story is the same: if the former, that his total involvement in learning took precedence over his desire to see or talk to his daughter, or, if the latter, that his distress did not diminish an iota his total focus and immersion in learning.

The next story is from Rav Dovid Singer and Rav Nachman Klein, Talmidim Muvhakim of my rebbi, Rav Rudderman.  I copied it almost verbatim from an article in Mishpacha magazine (without seeking permission, because it's just the words of the talmidim, not the work of the article's author.)

“By the time (Rav Rudderman) turned 14, he knew all of Shas with Rashi, and on Simchas Torah of that year, he accepted upon himself to chazer Shas between then and Pesach. But not long after, tragedy struck — his father passed away. Fearing the tragic news would affect his talmid’s ability to accomplish this major goal, the Alter [the “Alter of Slabodka,” Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel] withheld word of Reb Yehuda Leib’s petirah until his son had finished Shas shortly after Purim. Rav Ruderman once told me that the first time he sat a full shivah was for his rebbetzin, because his mother had passed away when he was an infant and for his father he only sat a short time because he only found out later.”
Rabbi Klein interjects: “But you missed an important point, which is that the family had sent a letter to Slabodka, informing him of the sad news and asking him to say Kaddish, but the Alter intercepted it and decided not to give it to him. I once saw it printed that the Alter himself said Kaddish for Reb Yehuda Leib, but I don’t believe it. In any event, after the Alter told him, he asked his rebbi ‘hayitachein? — How could it be you didn’t tell me?’ That’s when the Alter told him the story about Rav Chaim Volozhiner, who had similarly withheld letters sent to his prized talmid Rav Yossele Slutzker by Rav Yossele’s family requesting that he leave Volozhin after their store burned down and their father passed away. Only years later, after Rav Yossele had achieved his great Torah stature, did Rav Chaim show him the letters, exclaiming, ‘Der yetzer hara hut geharget ah mentch just to take you away from learning, and I didn't let him!’ ”

I personally heard this story from both my father zatzal and from Rav Rudderman himself, but I quoted it from Reb Dovid Singer because he is better known than I am and his eidus would be more effective than mine.

Of course, there is the Rambam in 10 Teshuva 13:
 וכיצד היא ה אהבה הראויה? כאילו חלה חולי האהבה. שאין דעתו פנויה מאהבת אותה אשה והוא שוגה בה תמיד בין בשבתו בין בקומו, בין בשעה שהוא אוכל ושותה, יתר מזה תהיה אהבת ה׳ בלב אוהביו — שוגים בה תמיד, כמו שציוונו: ״בכל לבבך ובכל נפשך״, והוא ששלמה אומר דרך משל: ״כי חולת אהבה אני״, וכל שיר השירים משל לענין זה״.

In any case, I know that some people don't like these stories.  I once worked in an office with a descendant of the Gaon.  He wasn't frum, and his family mesora was pride in their brilliant ancestor and resentment of the Gaon's lack of involvement with his children.  I can't help that.  I listen quietly when people say idiotic mofsim stories about Rebbes and their malachim and resurrections, so it's only fair to accept that there is a part of klal Yisrael that has a very different kind of Rebbishe maisim.

R' Avi Lencz showed me an article in Yeshurun (18:890) that describes the relationship of the Gaon with his children.  The beginning of the article is amazing, but like all the Gaon's Torah, it's not simple at all.

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