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Parashat Vayechi

Yosef’s last wish was to be buried in Eretz Yisrael. He made his brothers swear that when G-d would remember them and take them out of Egypt , they would take his bones along with them, at the Exodus. He told them, “Return me to the place you sold me from.”

When Moshe was ready to go, he stood on the Nile and said, Yosef, Yosef, the time of redemption has come. G-d is waiting for you, and the Jews are waiting for you; the Clouds of Glory are waiting for you. If you reveal yourself now, good, etc. There are opinions that Moshe wrote the Name of G-d on a piece of clay and threw it into the Nile. Suddenly, the coffin rose. Etc.

Throughout their travels in the desert, Yosef’s Aron (coffin), would travel with Moshe, right alongside the Ark. And the Nations of the world would ask, what is the ark of the Ever-living doing next to the ark of the dead? And the Jews would say, the one who is in this Aron (coffin) kept what is in this Ark. The Ark has in it the Ten Commandments that say, “I am Hashem your G-d”, and Yosef said, Am I in the place of G-d? “You should not have other gods”, and Yosef said, I am afraid of G-d. etc. etc. “Do not covet” He did not covet the wife of Potiphar. Etc. (Yalkut Shimoni Beshalach 247 225)

There seems to be a lesson here, in the fact that Yosef’s coffin was placed next to the Ark. It seems that it was done to make a statement. What message were the Jews trying to convey by placing the two together?

The answer seems to be, to the Jews and to the world, that the person who lives Torah is not just following a list of rules, guidelines and restrictions. It is not that when one faces tests in life, when one deals with conflict or crisis and stands strong, that he has kept to a manual. Rather, by keeping the Torah, you become the Torah, you become the manual. And that is a huge difference. Allow me to explain.

My wife was taught by Rebbetzin Spetner, that when you see in your child or someone you love something about which you feel that they need to be rebuked, do not say anything yet. Hold your tongue for about 3 weeks. In the meantime, work to improve yourself in that area, and you will see that your child/loved one will improve without your saying a word. This really works. Why?

This is the secret power of coaching and its fundamental belief. That “telling” doesn’t work. Advice does not work. Words don’t work. “Shoulds” don’t work. The person has been “shoulding” himself/herself for so long and is not only not getting anywhere, but becoming more and more frustrated. So why should my “should” be any more powerful than his/her own?  But when we focus on living differently,  not on just words, the person changes, and those who are around learn by example. By influence. By osmosis.

Yosef brought the Torah to life, by living it. He became a living Torah. And this is a huge lesson in leadership and effective parenting, which is leadership parenting. All the best leaders lived the life they wanted to preach, so they did not have to preach it. This is the difference between the Jewish leaders who lead by example, and other “leaders”, who can be orators, manipulators, or dictators, but in effect, are not real “leaders”.

The Aron of Yosef is not the coffin of a dead man, but of a living Torah, a real leader, that the gentiles could only wish they had. This is why when Yaakov died, and his coffin was in transit to burial in Maarat Hamachpela, Yosef and all the kings put their crowns on the coffin. Because when a great man dies, he does not die. He is still leading those people who knew him. That is how you know if someone was a leader or a dictator/manipulator. If after he dies, his lessons, lifestyle, virtues and values live on. That is Jewish Leadership. When Yaakov chose Yehuda to be the forefather of the Jewish Kings, it was in the merit of Yehuda’s responsibility to Yosef, to Binyamin, for being honest about his episode with Tamar, and for doing the right thing, without being afraid of what anyone else would say or do. These are all  traits of a real leader, the secrets of effective leadership. Of Jewish Leadership.

This last week I could not stop crying. I lost one of my best friends, Yehuda Brenig, zt”l. He did not know he was one of my best friends, but he was. He died in the late 40’s, leaving his wife and ten kids. His life was Torah, and he was one of the nicest people I have ever known. He projected serenity, positivity and calm to the world who knew him; there was not a dry eye at the levaya. He asked for no eulogies, no announcements, no posters. “What if the Heavenly Courts hear people saying about me that I learnt the tractates Berachot, Shabbat, etc., and they test me, and I don’t know them?” As I write this, I have in my pocket a letter he wrote to his family and close friends, telling them what they can do for him. “That each one tries to do G-d’s Will.” Yehuda, I will miss you dearly.

I sat at the Shiva, introducing myself as Yosef Farhi, the one to whom Yehuda would give rides back from the Mir Yeshiva to Bayit Vegan. Whenever he did not have room in his car, he would try to find me some other ride home. I always loved to ask his advice. Not that he would say much, but he would listen and stay positive. And Yehuda projected positivity because that is how he lived. And the last thing he told me, when I asked him about some difficulty I was dealing with, while he was sick and dying and nobody knew that, he looked at me in the eye and said, “Yosef, you could look at this as a slap from G-d, or a pat on the cheek from G-d. It all depends how you look at it. And Yosef, I promise you, it is a pat of love.”

When I told this to the family, Mrs. Brenig, may she live and be well and strong and positive, said to me, He was like that to everyone. All day, people are coming and telling stories like yours.  And now, when we need his counsel and encouragement, we need to ask ourselves, what would Yehuda say if he were here?

I cried with Mrs. Brenig and the family, because Yehuda would not say much. He lived his positivity, his serenity and his calm. That is how he projected it so well. He was a living example of Emunah, giving, being in the Now, and he is still a living example to all those who knew him.

About the author, Yosef

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