(Torah Portion Vayechi) Lift the Spirits!
The legendary Rebbe Levi Yitzchok of Berdichiv would regularly inquire about the condition of all the ill people in his town.
He once paid a visit to an ailing person and found him in a very worried state of mind. The Rabbi asked him what was weighing on his mind. The man answered, “I see that my life is drawing to a close, and I am worried with which spiritual merits will I come to the Heavenly court. I feel I have nothing significant to present!
Reb Levi Yitzchok at once told the man, “I hereby gift to you my entire portion of the World to Come!” Upon hearing this, the man’s face became happy and content.
However, his elation did not last very long, for the man passed away only a few moments later.
One of Reb Levi’s attendants asked him, “You probably had in mind that your unbelievable gift would strengthen the person and help nurse him back to health. But seeing that he lived only a few moments, was it worth it for you to give up so much?”
Reb Levi Yitzchok in his inimitable style answered, “Yes, it was all worth it to ease a few moments of worry off the mind of a fellow Jew!”
Where do these great people learn such sensitivity towards others?
In this week’s Parsha the Torah tells us that before our forefather Yaacov passed away, he called for his son Yosef and expressed his desire to not be buried in Egypt, rather in the land of Israel. Yosef accepted the responsibility and expressed it in an oath. This assurance calmed Yaacov’s fears.
When Yaacov fell ill, Yosef went to him with his two sons, Efraim and Menashe, to receive a blessing.
In the middle of their conversation, Yaacov reminisced about the tragic circumstances of the death of his wife Rachel, Yosef’s mother. During the childbirth of Binyamin, her youngest son, she passed away and was buried on the side of the road near the city of Beth Lechem. The tomb is known today as Kever Rachel.
Rabbi Ahron Leib Shteinman points out that when the Torah describes Rachel’s extreme labor pains, it uncharacteristically mentions an assertion that the midwife gave to Rachel, “Don’t worry, for I see that this too is a baby boy!”
Why does the Torah have to mention who conveyed to Rachel that she was having was a boy?
The Talmud teaches us that the labor pains of a woman are stronger with a female baby than with a male baby. Rachel’s wish in life was to be a partner in building the family of Israel – the Twelve Tribes. Up to that point she only had one son, Yosef, and she wished to contribute with another son as well. Because of her fierce labor, Rachel thought her child was going to be a girl. As soon as the midwife saw that it was a boy, she immediately told Rachel, who was on the verge of death, “Don’t worry, this too, is a boy.”
How long did Rachel live from when the midwife told her it was a boy until she passed away? Possibly, for just a few moments; yet the Torah records the deed of the midwife in order to teach us that even if one calms the fear of one who is dying for just a few moments, it is so noteworthy that the deed is recorded in the Torah for all eternity!
These two incidents occurred when people were in the throes of death, when one may rationalize and think, “What real difference are my words of comfort really going to make at this point?” Yet we see that they did make a significant difference!
Upon further reflection; these lessons serve to heighten our sensitivities when we are faced with opportunities and circumstances when our words of encouragement can change the face of the ‘Lebidika – alive and healthy people – who we come in contact with on a daily basis.
We can offer words of endearment and encouragement to family members, cheerfully greet people, and lend a listening ear to lighten another’s burden.
These occasions present themselves very often, and by exercising our inherited goodness and caring, we can make a positive difference in the extended lives of all those we touch!
Wishing you a most enjoyable and uplifting Shabbat!
Rabbi Dovid and Malki Saks and family