A Congregation of Nations

The Unique Status of the Jewish People
By Rav Moshe Shternbuch

The following was written by Rabbi Daniel Yaakov Travis based on a drasha given on leil Shabbos by Rav Moshe Shternbuch, Rosh Av Beis Din of the Eidah Hachareidis of Yerushalayim. •••••

“The Almighty said to me (Yaakov Avinu)… I will make you a congregation of nations” (Bereishis 48:4). The phrasing of this posuk is unusual and does not appear in other places in Tanach. What is “a congregation of nations” and what is the message of this unique expression? We can gain insight into this question from an incident recounted by Rav Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg zt”l, the author of the Seridei Aish. The rov participated in a meeting of German intellectuals in Berlin, who met to discuss the true nature of the identity of the Jews. They wanted to know what a Jew is and how his status differed from the other nations of the world. Some of the intellectuals argued that Judaism is simply a religion like any other. They were countered by the argument that many identifying Jews do not practice the religion. Others claimed that the Jewish people were a nation with a common ethnic heritage and history, but this was disputed on the grounds that converts can join the Jewish people in every sense. One elderly Jew from Poland who was attending the gathering listened to all the opinions with a growing sense of frustration. He felt that the entire meeting was an exercise in futility. After much self-important speechifying, the participants were no closer to reaching a conclusion. Finally, after he could no longer contain himself, he yelled out, «A Yid is a Yid!” and walked out of the room. Rav Weinberg heard what this Polish Jew said and told everyone at the meeting that this elderly Jew had spoken the truth. The Jewish people are unlike any other human group and it is impossible to squeeze them into the standard categorization. The best that could be said is that “a Jew is a Jew.” The Torah hints to the difficulty in classifying us though the concept of “a congregation of nations.” The Jewish people cannot be limited to a single definition; rather, we are a multifaceted entity made up of the descendants of the shevatim, and converts who have joined the Jewish people from all the nations of the world.

sential message to the Jewish people. Menashe, as Yosef”s firstborn son, helped his father carry out his political duties. He served as the interpreter between Yosef and the shevatim, and aided his father in other matters of state. Ephraim, on the other hand, was completely immersed in Torah learning, and was in the tent of Torah at all times. By mentioning Ephraim before Menashe in the blessing for all generations, Yaakov meant to relay the following message: Torah is the single unifying factor that characterizes the Jewish people as a “congregation of nations.” While both Ephraim and Menashe played

slavery, he fully pardoned his brothers when they asked him for forgiveness. Yosef’s greatness went beyond the ability to forgive and forget. After Yaakov Avinu died, Yosef realized that his brothers were nervous that he would take revenge on them, so he assured them that he had no such intentions. The brothers, he argued, had actually aided the Almighty in his plan to send Yosef to Egypt to provide sustenance for the world. The Maharshal in Maseches Bava Kama notes another important aspect to the mitzvah of forgiveness. When one pardons his friend, he should daven to the Almighty that He should fully forgive the person who hurt or harmed him. Sincere prayer coming from the person who was hurt has the ability to secure complete Divine forgiveness for the person who transgressed.

Trying to imitate the people around us weakens our own national identity.
important leadership roles for Klal Yisroel, a Jew’s first priority must be to have a son like Ephraim, who is completely immersed in Torah. But we might still struggle to understand why the Almighty chose Yosef’s children as the model for the eternal blessing, and not the avos. Perhaps it was because Yosef’s children grew up surrounded by the degenerate atmosphere of Egyptian society, yet they were able to retain their righteousness despite the moral corruption around them. In order to survive the many challenges that we have faced throughout our history, living side-by-side with and ruled by non-Jews whose ways are light years from the sanctity of Torah, the “congregation of nations” is blessed to follow in the faithful footsteps of Menashe and Ephraim.

Part of our status as a “congregation of nations” is that the Torah defines us as separate from other cultures. Forgetting this crucial fact and trying to imitate the people around us weakens our own national identity. The Almighty then brings on the persecution of

other nations, reminding us that we are always distinct. Sefer Bereishis concludes with the passing of Yaakov Avinu. Without Yaakov’s influence, the Jewish people began to slip in their observance. They left the safe haven of Goshen to explore Egyptian society and culture. Aside for their greatness in Torah, gedolim connect us to our past. They represent an unbroken chain of Torah learning stretching all the way back to Har Sinai and the avos. If we hold fast to their teachings and message, we will be protected from the dangerous political and social tides that periodically sweep the world and threaten to drag us away from Torah observance. By following the path of Yaakov Avinu and the Torah leaders of our own times, we will retain our own unique status as a “congregation of nations,” and merit to see the conclusion of the above verse, “And give this land (Eretz Yisroel) to your descendants as an eternal possession.” ••••• Rabbi Travis is a rosh kollel of Kollel Toras Chaim in Yerushalayim, and is the author of Shaylos U’Teshuvos Toras Chaim and “Praying With Joy - A Daily Tefilla Companion,” a practical daily guide to improving one’s prayers, available from Feldheim Publishers. For more information about his work, contact dytravis@actcom.com.

Parshas Shemos

Leich Leshalom - Looking Forward and Dreaming On
By Rabbi Aaron Fink
With Parshas Shemos, we begin to discover the many yesodos that define our destiny for eternity. Every posuk contains nuanced-filled messages for us to model and learn from. One halacha derived from this week’s parsha is especially insightful, inspiring the vision each Yid is supposed to seek to build a successful future. Following Moshe Rabbeinu’s encounter with the Ribbono Shel Olam at the s’neh, he returns to Midyan to get Yisro’s permission to embark on the arduous mission of redeeming Klal Yisroel from Mitzrayim. (That sense of derech eretz for his fatherin-law is a lesson in and of itself, as Moshe Rabbeinu puts Hashem Yisborach on hold Tanchumah provides the answer. He explains that b’shalom indicates a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment which has reached its apex. It reflects mah shekvar kanah, what one has already achieved. There is no more room, or, for that matter, a need, to grow. All is done, the chapter is closed, and the book is complete. How poignant. When we only look back, we have no future. We have arrived at the proverbial end. Without dreams and ambitions, life is all but over. Thus, we tell a niftar upon his interment, “Leich b’shalom,” as his life is complete. However, says the Eitz Yosef, the individual who is vibrant and alive desires to

After Yaakov expressed his message that the Jewish people should give the role of Ephraim first priority, he hinted at how this would be possible for future generations. Yissochor and Zevulun formed a partnership in the congregation of nations to enable Yaakov’s blessing to bear fruit. Yissochor toils in Torah all day long, while Zevulun provides the financial backing that allows them to continue their holy endeavors. Moshe Rabbeinu describes this partnership as follows: “Zevulun is happy when they go out, and Yissochor [is happy] in their tents” (Devorim). What is the deeper meaning of this posuk and what does it tell us about their partnership? Zevulun, or anyone who follows in his ways, may find himself completely consumed by his business. This will leave him with little time to study Torah. But won’t his lack of Torah knowledge impair his enjoyment in the next world? Moshe Rabbeinu reveals to us that “Zevulun will be happy when they go out [of this world].” When Zevulun gets to the next world, he will find that he knows much of the Torah that his partner Yissochor studied. This will cause him great joy in the World to Come. Moshe describes Yissochor as being happy in his tent. If a person decides to be a Yissochor and to dedicate his life to learning Torah, he should try to live simply. Although he will forgo some of the physical pleasures of this world, he, too, will be happy when he sees the great reward prepared in the World to Come for those who toil in Torah.

Without dreams and ambitions, life is all but over.
while he, with Hakadosh Boruch Hu’s consent, seeks the acquiescence of Yisro for his sacred mission.) Yisro provides his consent. In so doing, he tells Moshe Rabbeini, “Leich l’shalom.” And the rest is history. Chazal explain that this expression, of leich l’shalom, is not some innocuous arbitrary phrase of goodbye offered to Moshe by the Kohein Midyan. In fact, the Gemara in Maseches Brachos (64a) teaches that when an individual is saying goodbye to his friend, he should not say, “Leich b’shalom,” but, rather, “Leich l’shalom.” Why? For Yisro said, Leich l’shalom,” to Moshe Rabbeinu and Moshe was successful. Dovid Hamelech said, “Leich b’shalom,” to Avshalom and, soon thereafter, Avshalom encountered his tragic demise. How are we to understand this nuance? What is the actual difference between l’shalom and b’shalom? Why is one a good omen and why does the other portend death and suffering? The Eitz Yosef in this week’s Medrash grow and accomplish. He still has a destiny to seek. There is a mission to take on and goals to achieve. He is hungry to shteig and strive, step by step, l’shalom, toward shleimus, in a never-ending pursuit of growth and advancement in avodas Hashem. Indeed, when one’s vision is set l’shalom, toward the future, toward making a difference, bright and successful prospects await him. Interestingly, this vital yesod is presented to Klal Yisroel before our geulah from Mitzrayim, even before Moshe Rabbeinu returns to Mitzrayim. Indeed, we are being taught that one requisite foundation in becoming the am segulah, a nation of destiny, is that we must be ready and willing to look forward and dream on. We must never be complacent. Rather, we must seek spiritual ambitions to strive for and sacred goals to shteig towards. Climbing ever higher in pursuit of shleimus, we must be prepared and eager to make a difference. Only then will we be zocheh that sheim Shomayim will be misaheiv through us, giving our life meaning - then, now, and in the future. Page 53

As a “congregation of nations,” the Jewish people receive special bracha from the Almighty. We are empowered with the ability to give this over to our children, and the Torah writes that the proper way to convey this blessing is through the words, “May the Almighty bless you like Ephraim and Menashe” (Bereishis 48:20). What can we learn from this blessing about our status as a congregation of nations? The Torah emphasizes the point that although Ephraim was younger than Menashe, Yaakov mentioned him first in the bracha. Yosef tried to correct what he thought was an oversight on his father’s part, but Yaakov remained firm in his stated order. In recording this incident, the Torah was conveying an es22 Teves 5770 • January 8 2010

Another attribute that characterizes the “congregation of nations” is our ability to forgive other members of this special group. Yosef Hatzaddik is a prime example of this trait. Even though his brothers sold him into


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