Friday, December 29, 2023

Parshas Vayechi 5784




Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayechi – Shabbos Chazak!

17 Teves 5784/ December 29, 2023



Winter means different things to different people. For those living further south, it’s time to enjoy the sun without it being too hot. But for the majority of us living further north, winter weather ranges from cold to freezing with unpredictable snow and ice storms. Around here you can’t be outside too long without a coat.

Years ago, I had a neighbor who had predictable lines. Whenever someone said he was getting his coat because it’s cold outside, this neighbor would quip, “and if you get your coat, it’ll become warm outside?”

The truth is that unless it has a built-in heating device, a coat cannot make a person warm. The body is constantly emitting heat. When exposed to cold, much of that heat is lost. A coat preserves our natural body heat, much the same way that closing doors and windows preserves heat in a house. A coat can keep a person warm, but the source of the warmth must come from the person himself.

Our incredible Yeshivos and Bais Yaakovs invest tremendous thought and effort to create guidelines vis-à-vis technology use by their students. The same is true about their respective dress codes. In Bais Yaakovs tzenius guidelines are defined as well.

The rules about technology and modesty are analogous to a coat that keeps a person warm. Even if a person walks out of a building hot and sweaty, during a cold winter day, without proper attire, he will soon be consumed by the cold. In a similar vein, no matter how much a student has grown in his/her learning and how well he/she is performing, external pressures and influences can quickly compromise that growth leaving the student exposed to negative influences.

However, at the same time, it’s important to remember that those guidelines do not create the warmth. They are there to preserve the inherent warmth that’s already there. That is no small feat, and it is quite important. But the inner fire must first be ignited so that it can radiate inner warmth that then needs to be preserved. That inner fire is created through feeling worthy of connection with Hashem and actually connecting with Hashem (those are two different, vital qualifications). We connect to Hashem through fulfilling His will, by engaging in Torah, Tefillah, mitzvos, and all forms of avodas Hashem.

Parshas Tetzaveh contains the instructions for how the special vestments of the Kohanim and the Kohain Gadol were to be made. During the week when Tetzaveh is read, many Rabbonim and Roshei Yeshiva speak about the Torah outlook on clothing.

Interestingly, the parsha begins with what seems to be a complete non-sequitur - the procedure for how the Kohain lit the Menorah each day in the Mishkan.

Perhaps it is a reminder that as important as the vestments of the Kohain Gadol were, the initial step was to light the fire. The candles of the Menorah symbolize the wisdom of Torah practically. Flames also symbolize our soul within.

The vestments of the Kohanim gave pride and honor to those worthy of performing the Divine Service. But the ultimate honor is to recognize that our souls comprise the flames of Hashem’s menorah, as it were.

The most important task of every parent and educator is to light the inner fire of our children (and ourselves). Without that, all other efforts are somewhat futile. Once the fire is lit there is an additional, vital need to preserve that flame and ensure that it isn’t dampened or extinguished by external factors.

It is important to realize that when the inner fire is lacking, the protective measures can feel overbearing. Sometimes when a young man or woman doesn’t feel connected or worthy of connection, he/she can become resentful for being denied ulterior avenues of connection. In such situations it’s important to remember that we have to find the way to flame the inner spark so that he/she will recognize the need and value to insulate and protect their own beautiful and unique inner fire.

The coat can keep us warm, only if we provide the body heat for it to preserve.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

        R’ Dani and Chani Staum