By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
Vayigash is one of the most dramatic parshiyos in the Torah. Finally, after suffering much abuse at the hands of the Egyptian viceroy, Yehudah confronts the ruler following his announced intention to jail Binyomin.
Baalei mussar explain that Yehudah earned the eternal hold on the throne of malchus through his middah of achrayus, responsibility. When their provisions had run out and the brothers were forced to return to Mitzrayim, they could only go back with their younger brother, Binyomin. The Egyptian viceroy had warned them that without him, they would be treated as spies. They would not receive any food and would be jailed.
Yehudah convinced his father, Yaakov, to permit his beloved Binyomin to join the vital trip. He accomplished that by promising Yaakov, “Anochi a’arvenu miyodi tevakshenu,” that he would take personal responsibility for Binyomin’s safe return.
When Yosef took advantage of the vulnerability of the brothers and caused suspicions to be raised in Mitzrayim concerning Binyomin, Yehudah stepped forward.
The posuk states, “Vayigash eilov Yehudah.” Yehudah approached Yosef. The posuk quotes the respectful terms with which Yehudah spoke. He begged his highness, stating, “Bi adoni,” and referred to himself as his slave, “avdecha,” indicating respect for the ruler.
However, Rashi teaches that Yehudah spoke to Yosef “kashos.” Cloaked in diplomatic niceties, he made it clear that he would do whatever it took to earn the release of his younger brother.
In a classic showdown between two powerful men, one a leader in his country, the other a leader in his family, Yosef faced down Yehudah, matching his threats and pleas with wile and negotiation.
The Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 93:2) adds a deeper meaning to the exchange, explaining it through a clever understanding of the posuk in Tehillim (48:5) which reads, “Ki hinei hamelochim noadu ovru yachdov, heima rau kein tomohu nivhalu nechpozu.” The simple translation of the posuk is, “Behold, the kings assembled, they came together, they saw and were astounded.”
The Medrash interprets the posuk as follows: The kings, Yehudah and Yosef, came together and became angry at each other. The other brothers saw and were astounded. They hastily fled.
The Medrash adds that the other brothers said to each other, “Melochim medaynim eilu im eilu, the kings are battling with each other, onu mah ichpas lonu, what do we care?” Let them fight it out between themselves. It is of no concern to us.
It is with this remark – “onu mah ichpas lonu” – that the brothers revealed what defines royalty and how Yehudah earned malchus.
Others say, “Mah ichpas lonu.” They witness injustice and say, “It is not our problem. We can’t do anything about it anyway.” A melech cares about everyone and everything that happens. “Levavo levav kol Yisroel,” the Rambam says (Hilchos Melochim, perek 3, halacha 6). A king feels what is in the heart of every person and is affected by that.
From this explanation, we understand a new dimension to Yehudah’s malchus. The middah of “ichpas lo” set him apart. If there was a problem in the family, it was his problem. If something had to be made right, he had to make it right. There was no they and others who would rise to the occasion. There was me and there was I. Ichpas lo. He cared. That is leadership. That is malchus. That is Yehudah. That is what we all need to aim for.
Decades ago, when Palestinians hijacked an airplane and held it in Entebbe, Jews around the world davened for the welfare of the hostages. Rav Chaim Shmulevitz zt”l went to the Yeshivas Mir bais medrash in Yerushalayim to deliver a shmuess about the situation, but the shmuess never took place. He said two sentences and then became so emotional that he could not continue.
“If the captives would be your brothers,” he said, “think about how much kavanah you would have when you recite Tehillim.” He began to weep profusely and then concluded, “And they takeh are your brothers.”
The Tehillim then began under a cloud of ichpas lonu.
The middah of malchus, of being able to influence others and effect change, is directly proportionate to the amount of ichpas lonu – the level of genuine concern – present.
The most effective leaders are those who are able to identify with the concerns of their subjects and followers, taking action out a sense of ichpas lonu, authentic concern.
Certain rabbonim were working on a project and sought the participation of a few people. When they were unable to convince them to join, they turned to their rebbi, Rav Mordechai Weinberg zt”l, rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva of Montreal, and asked him to attempt to prevail upon them so that the project would succeed. He reached out to his talmidim and they acted as he requested.
A talmid who had been in the office when the calls were made looked on in amazement and asked the rosh yeshiva why the people had listened to him after others had failed to move them.
Rav Mottel met his talmid’s gaze. “It’s because they know that I really care,” he answered.
Ichpas lonu is a force that can move people and mountains. If people know that you care about them and are responsible, they react differently to your suggestions.
Chazal say, “Man malki? Rabbonon.” Today, that there is no established royalty among us, rabbonim are royalty, Chazal state. Perhaps that is so because they care. Those who care are melochim.
Rav Leizer Yudel Finkel zt”l, the Mirrer rosh yeshiva, had a unique custom. He so loved Torah that when someone came to him and told him a chiddush, he would reward him with a generous financial gift. This custom of his often made the difference between hunger and a full stomach among families of Yerushalayim’s talmidei chachomim.
On Erev Shabbos, there was always a stream of budding scholars who would start their Shabbos preparations at the rosh yeshiva’s home, hoping to earn the money they needed to purchase Shabbos staples. In fact, many decades later, Chacham Ovadia Yosef zt”l testified that the Mirrer rosh yeshiva‘s ahavas haTorah and encouragement gave him the wherewithal to celebrate Shabbos each week during his younger years.
When the Brisker Rov, Rav Yitzchok Zev Soloveitchik zt”l, arrived in Eretz Yisroel, many of his former talmidim and acquaintances went to visit him to pay their respects. Several long weeks after his arrival, one of his most beloved talmidim, Rav Aryeh Leib Pomeranchik, visited him for the first time. The author of Toras Zeraim and Emek Brachah, Rav Aryeh Leib lived in Petach Tikva and could not afford the bus ride to Yerushalayim. He was thus prevented from visiting his rebbi. However, when he heard about the practice of Rav Leizer Yudel to give out money for chiddushei Torah, he borrowed funds for transportation. He figured that he would repay the loan with the money he would receive upon sharing a shtickel Torah with Rav Leizer Yudel.
With the money in hand, he bought a round-trip bus ticket to Yerushalayim and went to visit the Brisker Rov. When the reunion between rebbi and talmid concluded, Rav Aryeh Leib continued on to the home of the Mirrer rosh yeshiva. The Brisker Rov sent his son, Rav Berel, to accompany his talmid.
The meeting between Rav Leizer Yudel and Rav Aryeh Leib didn’t go as planned. The rosh yeshiva listened to the shtickel of the young gaon, but he did not agree with its premise and thus did not give him the reward money.
Rav Berel returned to his father and told him what happened. The Rov didn’t hesitate. He rose to his feet and put on his coat and hat. He then walked from Geulah to the Bais Yisroel neighborhood, finally arriving at the home of the Mirrer rosh yeshiva.
Rav Leizer Yudel was shocked to see the Brisker Rov standing at his doorstep. “Rebbe, vos iz? What brings you here?”
“Rosh yeshiva, I came for one reason,” said the rov. “I want to understand why you said that the yungerman’s shtickel Torah isn’t good. I think it is an outstanding p’shat! I think he deserves the reward you pay for a good vort.”
Rav Leizer Yudel would recount the story and comment that what amazed him most was the Brisker Rov’s sense of achrayus and concern for his talmid. He considered the decision not to reward him for his shtickel Torah a mistake and saw it as his problem to rectify.
The Brisker Rov’s malchus stemmed not just from his readiness to battle on behalf of his talmid, but from the fact that the Mirrer rosh yeshiva understood that the Brisker Rov had no tolerance for sheker, falseness, or a krumme vort. When the Brisker Rov said, “The shtickel Torah is good,” all his emes, authenticity and legitimacy were standing behind that claim.
But there is more to the middah of malchus as expressed by Yehudah and his actions, and by talmidei chachomim, rabbonim and gutte Yidden who follow in his path.
A wise Yerushalmi Yid once shared an apocryphal story with me. With the gentle humor and wit unique to residents of the Holy City, he told about a dog that once entered a small shul. The animal noticed that on top of the aron hakodesh, there was an image of two crouching lions hovering over the Luchos.
The dog was incensed. He asked the people in shul why the lion merits such honor. The shul Yidden responded to the dog that the lion is the king of the animals and thus his image is placed in a special place.
The dog wasn’t satisfied. “Why is the lion king? I am king!” it said.
The men in the shul explained to him: “A lion sits patiently. If you throw an old piece of meat or a dried-out bone in its direction, it won’t react. You can’t buy its love by tossing a moldy cut in its direction. The lion decides what it will eat and what is worth lunging for.
“But you, the dog, come bounding over no matter what is being offered. Rotten or decayed, you accept it. If someone throws a stone, you go and chase it. If it is a rock, you run for it. You will chase after a Frisbee as if it were a steak. That’s why you’re never going to be on a paroches.“
Gur aryeh Yehudah. Yehudah is compared to a lion, king of the animals. Certainly, this has to do with the readiness of a lion to roar, to spring into action, and to react. Ichpas lo. But there is something else as well. A lion is discriminating. It is selective. It is careful about what it accepts. It doesn’t lunge after everything that is thrown its way. It doesn’t sell itself for cheap kavod, for a stick or an old piece of meat. The lion is disciplined. It is malchusdik, because it can’t be bought. It isn’t corrupted or easily won over.
The lesson shared by the witty Yerushalmi is relevant on so many levels. It is election time in Eretz Yisroel, once again, and we will look on as various parties and politicians dance to the tunes composed by others. The drive for power is blinding enough to reduce intelligent people to the point where they accept and do anything as they lose their ability to discern.
Parties led by gedolei Torah retain their status as lions, waiting patiently for the right proposal and suitable offer. Talmidei chachomim have a finely honed sense of judgment that allows them to differentiate.
In photography, there is a rule that the quality of the picture depends on the amount of light the camera captures. If you have an inferior camera but take pictures in the sunlight, they will reproduce bright and sharp. If you have a good flash shining light on your subject, the picture you capture will please you.
In the yehi ratzon recited by some before lighting neiros Chanukah, we ask Hashem to open our eyes so that “be’orcha nireh ohr, we will be able to see the light.” In life, there are things that we see as light, though, in truth, they are darkness. We can interpret something good as being bad, because the light we see with is faulty. Thus, we ask Hashem, “Be’orcha nireh ohr, shine Your light upon us so that we may see things and judge them with the proper clarity and depth.”
Rav Yosef Liss wrote that the Brisker Rov told him that in our day, the concept of mutar and assur, what is permitted and what is forbidden, has been thrown to the wayside. When people act, the only thing they study is whether the move will be worthwhile or not. “Few people think about whether it is mutar or assur. What they think about is whether it is kedai or not kedai.”
We can understand the curse of Chazal that in the period leading up to Moshiach the pnei hador will be k’pnei hakelev as referring to a time when the leaders and people exhibit the middah of the kelev, accepting whatever is thrown their way. They don’t think about whether it is permitted or forbidden to act in that way. Their only consideration is whether it pays off for them in the short run. They will sell themselves for a bone. Alas, we live in that period.
In his diary, Rabbi Shlomo Lorentz zt”l shares some of the calculations made by gedolei Yisroel as they arrived at a decision affecting Klal Yisroel. He relates that Maran Rav Elozor Menachem Man Shach zt”l did not hesitate to alter a prior course of action. If he felt the decision was arrived at in error, or that the circumstances had changed, he would let everyone know that he had changed his mind.
One time, when he changed his mind and said that he had previously erred, Rabbi Lorentz pointed out to Rav Shach that admitting this publicly would cause him great embarrassment. People wouldn’t understand all the calculations and would say that Rav Shach is indecisive.
Rav Shach responded, “In regard to my own honor, don’t worry, because my own kavod has no real value. Besides, the appetite for kavod will never cause me to act untruthfully. It is more important to be honest and truthful than anything else. Nothing will deter me from being led by the truth. The only calculation we should make when deciding a matter such as this is the truth. You are worried that my influence will be diminished if I admit that I made a mistake. So be it. The worst thing is to remain with a mistake.”
True strength, royalty and responsibility are contingent upon us remembering that we work for the Ribbono Shel Olam, not for any politician, pundit or poll. Our guide is the truth, not popularity or imagined respect.
Like a lion, the good person is disciplined to only accept that which is truly emes. That attitude results in malchus, uprightness and concern.
The Gemara in Maseches Nedorim (24a) states (inter alia) that a dog says, “Ana demis’hanina minoch velo mishanis minoi – I benefit from you, but you won’t benefit from me.” A relationship with a dog is always one way: the dog takes and the man gives. On the other hand, a king says, “Ana demanina loch v’at lo mehanis li.” Everyone benefits from a king, but he doesn’t take anything from anyone.
A melech is a nosein, a beneficent giver. A kelev is a mekabel, a selfish taker.
A dog doesn’t care about anyone but itself. Lo ichpas lo. Thus, in the time of ikvesa deMeshicha, when many people are apathetic, selfish and caught up with themselves and their concerns, they are compared to dogs. They don’t have time or room in their hearts for other people.
With this, we can understand why the Chofetz Chaim writes (Ahavas Chesed, 14) that if people would do chessed with each other, the final geulah would come. We can bring about the geulah through helping others and feeling their pain.
We may understand that in the period of ikvesa deMeshicha, pnei hador k’pnei hakelev. There will be a klipah of selfishness in the world that will be mekatreig on us. To remove that klipa and klalah from upon us, we have to be like the lion, conducting ourselves with dignity, forthrightness and selflessness. We have to be like Yehudah. We must be ichpas lonu-niks. If we would show that we care, we could create new worlds for ourselves and improve the one in which we live, as the posuk (Tehillim 89) says, “Olam chessed yiboneh.”
Opportunities for ichpas lonu abound. There is no shortage of situations where we can show that we care and not get swept away with the tide. We can fight for an ideal, for justice, and against those who seek to usurp what is not theirs.
When we are tempted with petty honors, with a chance to be popular, or to forsake our principles, and when people seek to quiet us by throwing us a bone, we must remember why the kelev is not the melech of the animals, and resist temptation. We must always bear in mind that we are bnei melochim.
Ichpas lonu. When we see people acting improperly or people who have been wronged, and when we can make a difference in someone’s life or for a cause, we have to rise like a lion.
Ichpas lonu. If we help someone find a job, or get a child into a school, or find someone a shidduch, or listen to someone’s problems, or lend someone money, or provide a shoulder for someone to cry on, we are fulfilling our mandate.
Ichpas lonu means stepping out of our dalet amos comfort zone and really caring. It means being kind and compassionate.
Ichpas lonu means knowing that through our kindness, empathy and sense of responsibility, we will not only help save our brothers, but will build a new world and usher in a new era, bemeheirah beyomeinu. Amein.