Friday, December 26, 2014

"Do You Have a Father and Brother?": A Key To Finding Meaning in Tefilah

The Rokeiach writes that the source for our stepping three steps forward before beginning the Amida is in commemoration of the three times Tanach uses the word “Vayigash”: by Avraham as he pleads to Hashem on behalf of Sedom, by Eliyahu Hanavi as he pleads to Hashem on behalf of Kiddush Hashem, and by Yehuda, at the beginning of our Parsha, when he pleads to Yosef on behalf of Binyamin. 

Of the three “vayigash”s, the one that seems not to fit is the one that begins Parshat Vayigash. It is only here that the word seems to refer to approaching before a human leader, and not Hashem. It emerges yet from the Rokeiach that although Yehuda is literally pleading before the Viceroy of Egypt, his thoughts are directed towards the King of Kings. Rabbi Sholom Noach Berezovsky in his Nesivos Shalom, develops the idea, based on Kaballah, that Yehuda’s approach before Yosef and the details therein is a paradigm of prayer for us all. In the past I have shared some of his approach. I’d like to share with you another idea.

In the dialogue, Yehuda recounts how the Viceroy had asked them: “Do you have an Av (father) or Ach (brother)? (44:19). Nesivos Shalom suggests from here we learn a way to expand our horizons and focus as it relates to prayer. Prayer can be viewed as basically a selfish endeavor. I ask for things from Hashem. And the efficacy of prayer can be measured by how much of those things I get. However, this would shortchange the meaning of tefilah, and leave most of us frustrated and unhappy- for rarely do we see “all of our prayers answered”- in the precise way that we had hoped.

Av” and “Ach” are two ways to broaden our vision about the impacts and benefits of tefilah:
“Father”: when we pray, it develops and strengthens our relationship with Hashem. Whether or not we get exactly what we ask for, just “Standing before the King” and developing that relationship is a worthwhile endeavor. In this sense, the process is the goal and therefore is beneficial in and of itself.

Brother”: when we pray, we don’t only ask for ourselves. Note how all of the requests in our Amidah are phrased in the plural. Tefilah is an exercise in strengthening our relationship wiith and responsibilities towards, or fellow Jews. That is one reason why we ask for all the things we ask for, even if at a particular moment in time we feel as if we are blessed enough in that way. There are others who are lacking and it is our responsibility to feel for them and to pray on their behalf.

The question posed to Yehuda is one that we must pose to ourselves: Do we have an Av and Ach? Do we realize that the goal of tefilah includes strengthening our relationships Bein Adam l’Makom (between man and God) as well as Bein Adam L’Chaveiro  (between man and his fellow man)?

Friday, December 12, 2014

Yosef's Dream Interpretation: A Lesson in Management

At the end of Parshat Vayeshev, we are introduced to Yosef, not as the dreamer but rather the dream interpreter. The Head Butler and Head Baker were in jail and they both had dreams that upset them (40:6). In reading the dreams in the seventh aliyah, it’s understandable why the Head Baker’s dream was disturbing: birds eating out of wicker baskets full of bread resting on his head. However when we read the Head Butler’s dream, there does not appear to be any reason to be disturbed: in the dream, the butler is serving Paroh once again. This is just one of the many questions that are asked concerning the two dreams, their similarities and differences.
The Netziv has an approach to the episode that suggests an understanding. The Head Butler and Head Baker were in jail, but they were not the ones who actually offended Paroh. They were the supervisors, and their employees made mistakes. Paroh directed his anger at the supervisors and had them incarcerated. The Director of Beverage Services accepted responsibility for the actions of his subordinate. His dream reflected his feelings: Although he was the supervisor, he felt directly responsible for the error, as if he himself had been serving. Yosef’s interpretation was that to make up for his mistake he would be demoted for three days. However since he took responsibility for the actions of his department, he would ultimately be reinstated in his executive position.
The Director of Baking Services did not take responsibility and felt that his incarceration was unjustified. That’s why even in his dream he does not actually bake the bread. He sees himself as the head, and that’s why the bread was on his head in the dream. Since he could not accept responsibility, he was dismissed by Paroh- from his job and from his life.

Many of the headlines from the corporate world involve CEO’s who are nimbly able to take all the credit but shift all the blame. A lesson from the Netziv’s interpretation is that the Jewish way is that whoever is in a position to get credit must be ready and willing to accept the consequences – whatever they may be.