The Torah portion relates the story of Yosef dreaming that he would rule over his brothers. Feeling that his dreams were prophetic, he shared them with his brothers. His brothers did not perceive them as prophetic and felt that the content of the dreams reflected Yosef’s interest in ruling over them. They also were upset at him because he was wont to report to Yaakov what he perceived as the misdeeds of his brothers, thus diminishing their standing in Yaaov’s eyes.
Yosef’s father Yaacov, asked him to check up on his brothers who were tending their father’s flock. When he arrived they apprehended him, convened a court and sentenced him to death, because they believed that Yosef was trying to assume the position of Monarchy which they knew was reserved for Yehudah and his descendants, and was thus guilty of treason.
Before they exacted punishment on Yosef, the oldest brother Reuven, instructed them not to kill him but to detain him in a pit. In the interim, Reuven went back to tend to his father’s needs. While he was away, a caravan of Yishmaelite merchants who were heading to Egypt passed by. Yosef’s brother Yehudah suggested that instead of killing Yosef they sell him, which they did for 20 silver coins.
The Torah, uncharacteristically, describes the wares the Yishmaelites were hauling: aromatic spices, balsam and resin used for perfume. Rashi explains that the Torah points this out because usually, the Yishmaelites transported foul smelling naphtha, yet this transport was different; it was pleasant smelling. G-d arranged this so that the righteous Yosef would not suffer from the dangerous odor of naphtha.
Last week I read a book about the life of Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz o.b.m. the founder and general editor of Artscroll publications, which has published close to 2500 books! Rabbi Zlotowitz was a close student of the great sage Rabbi Moshe Feinstein o.b.m. and witnessed the following:
The Torah tells us that if a man dies and leaves his wife childless, a brother of the deceased must either marry his sister in law, which is called Yibum, or he must perform Chalitza, a ceremony during which the widow removes the shoe of the brother, which absolves him from marrying her. Today, only Chalitza is performed.
Rabbi Zlotowitz accompanied Rabbi Feinstein and a group of students to a Chalitza ceremony. It was located in a decrepit apartment building and the brother was an old disheveled man who lived in squalor conditions.
Rabbi Feinstein spoke to the man patiently, explaining the procedure. Rabbi Feinstein asked the man to remove his shoes and socks since he had to ascertain that his foot was clean because there may be no separation between his foot and the special sandal boot-like shoe he wears during the ceremony.
As he removed his shoes the small apartment was filled with a revolting odor because the man’s foot was covered with blisters and fungus. The participants struggled to breathe and had to leave, but Reb Moshe calmly asked for a brush, a cloth, and bucket of water with soap. He cradled the man’s foot in his hands and began to scrub. No one else could handle the oppressive smell, but Reb Moshe worked slowly and tenderly, ensuring that the foot was perfectly clean. “Now we are ready for Chalitzah,” said Reb Moshe softly.
The scene of Reb Moshe handling the person’s foot as if it was the most holy Mitzvah object never left Rabbi Zlotowitz’s mind.
The story brought back a memory concerning my beloved uncle and aunt, Mr. Israel and Mrs. Shoshana Lefkowitz. (My aunt’s first Yahrtzait is on Sunday)Their beautiful home was the epitome of what Chesed and Tzadakah is all about. The flow of guests coming for meals and lodging on a regular basis ran the gamut, from the most prestigious Rabbis and dignitaries to those who were homeless or had nowhere else to go.
Once, a regular guest came but brought along a very foul odor and it became unbearable at the table. My regal uncle discretely asked the man to come with him to the bathroom and he personally helped wash and clean him and provide him with clean articles of clothing necessary to restore his dignity.
Another incident; a guest from out of the country, who came at an inconvenient time and stayed for some time, had finally left. He called frantically from the airport that he left behind the bridge for his teeth and he really needed it. My aunt went into the room and found it soaking in the sink. She gingerly put it in a bag and since she was in the middle of cooking for Pesach, was going to call a cab to have it delivered to the airport. My uncle, a businessman with a busy schedule, insisted that he drive to personally deliver it to the airport, claiming, “He is my guest until his plane takes off.”
These stories speak for themselves and are an insight to their devotion to Chesed and Mitzvos, performing it even when it was out of their comfort zone.
My aunt and uncle hosted many meetings and benefits for organizations in their expansive home. Once, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein came and almost immediately after he left the door of the home, the doorbell rang. It was Rabbi Feinstein. “If you forgot something I’ll bring it down to you,” my uncle said. “I did forget something but I must take care of it myself.” The elderly Reb Moshe climbed the flight of stairs and asked to speak to Mrs. Lefkowitz, telling her, “I apologize for leaving without thanking you for preparing such a delicious spread.” He then proceeded to bless her and the rest of the family. It was a precious memory and lesson that my aunt carried with her throughout her blessed life.