THE JEWISH GHETTOS
takes 10 hours by plane to get to Eretz Yisrael from America. But once you are here in Eretz Yisrael, it takes 10 years to get America out of you. To get into the zone of “spirituality over luxury”. Yehudah took Yosef out of the pit and sold him into bondage, Egypt bound . Yehuda was punished for this action by losing his first two boys. But why? Wasn’t it much better for Yosef to go to Egypt and work his way up from slavery than to be stuck in some pit? The answer is, no. It is better to be in a pit with snakes and scorpions in Eretz Yisrael than it is to live the life of a king in a foreign land. Allow me to explain.
Life is full of decisions. One of the places where people make your decisions for you is in the supermarket. The supermarkets are full of strategy, all based on studies of human behavior. The bread, milk and eggs, the staples, are at the end aisles, which forces you to see all the items you want (but don’t need) on the way there. The shopping carts are X-large, not ‘only’ for your convenience, but to make sure that your full cart is the fullest a cart can be. (Try this. Eat your whole next Shabbat meal on a small salad plate, and I guarantee you will eat much less. We fill up our plates to the full. And we fill up our shopping carts to the full. It’s human nature.) There is music in the background (to make you forget your worries and your bank account), there are no clocks on the wall (to make you oblivious to time, strolling down the aisles in a trance, looking for what you “might” need), and freshly baked breads, (some supermarkets bake bread in the supermarket to make you feel like you are hungry. The smell of baking bread stimulates hunger. Hungry people buy more food than those who are full.)Â The “bulk sales” make you buy more than you need or use, just so that you do not “lose out” on the savings.
As you walk out of the supermarket, you feel great that you’ve saved so much money (on things you never thought you needed). The sneaky supermarket strategies play with your emotions, and your intellect is left in your car in the parking lot. While you are at payout, if you are asked, “Do you really want this? Is this an intelligent purchase? Are you sure that your hard earned money is being spent wisely?” The answer is “yes, yes, yes”. You are repeatedly oblivious to how many decisions are made for you by the seller, behind your back, before you walk down the aisles.
There were objective studies done on these lures. People eat more food when they have bigger plates. People pop down more popcorn when they have bigger popcorn buckets. People consume more Coke when the glass is a bigger glass. Most importantly, the study shows that they deny putting more into their bodies due to the larger container. They claim that they would have eaten the same amounts, regardless. The emotional mind and circumstances control the intellect.
This is the Jew in Exile. Decisions made by the gentiles, behind the back of the Jew. What type of phone do you need? What type of internet? What is a marriage supposed to look like? What is “success” in life? What is the purpose of a car, a vehicle or an identity? What is music supposed to sound like? What state of mind are the words supposed to get you into? How are we supposed to dress? What type of names should we use; how are we supposed to talk? Is fitness about watching over a present G-d gave us for a hundred and twenty years, or about having a ‘perfect body’? Is money a goal in and of itself, or a means to live a life with purpose? What is the purpose in going on vacation; what type of vacation to go on, and how much money to spend? What is the point in going to a restaurant? Is texting a friend while talking to somebody proper, or not? Are liberty and freedom an ultimate goal, or a means to an end ?
Even the gentiles know it. Jim Rohn, “America’sÂ Foremost Personal Achievement Philosopher”, said it. “The two things that will decide what and who you will be in five years from now are the books you read and the friends you have.” Â Society decides my decisions, behind my back. Like it or not. You can argue with me intellectually, you can argue with them intellectually, but your intellect is not as strong as your emotions. And your emotions, your subconscious decisions, are those of the “herd” that you belong to. Period. And thus, the biggest decisions of our lives are, many times, made for us, by our surroundings.
Last week, I took a Kollel guy from my shul for a lift. We talked about his rabbi. He told me his rabbi visits him twice a year. Knowing that his rabbi is extremely busy, I asked him why his rabbi comes to his house twice a year. “He comes each time I make a siyum.” I asked him what he makes a siyum on – “I finish Shas twice a year. I sleep 4 hours at night, and an hour in the afternoon, and I don’t learn Shas during first, second, or third Seder.” Oh. I did not know. I did not know that a 35 year old can do that. (And he takes his kids to school every morning, does the shopping, etc.) I did not know that a 35 year old, or anyone else, for that matter, Â can sleepÂ 4 hours a night and learn like that. Just to have people like that in my life, living in the same neighborhood, can give me proper perspectives. Ever since, each time my mind starts with thoughts of jealousy, anger, temptations, I think of that guy, and how far one can get when he uses his time wisely. Then, I do not have time for those thoughts of jealousy, temptation, or anger.
What was the first thing Yosef did when the Jews came to Egypt? He told his brothers to tell theÂ Egyptians that the family business was shepherding, an abomination for Egyptians. This would make certain that the Jews would not associate with the Egyptians. They would stay in Goshen, the first Jewish Ghetto. Looking at intermarriage in American Jewry, one will not be shocked if studies show less than 50 percent identity survival outside the ghetto. (Today’s ghetto may be the Jewish community, which decides for each member what is considered “normal”.)
In this week’s Parasha, Yaakov proposed that Menashe and Efraim, Yosef’s sons, become Tribes. All together, 13, Yosef having a double portion. This is hard to understand. Hadn’t Yaakov learned not to favor Yosef? Twenty-two years, Yaakov suffered from this mistake of favoring Yosef and causing strife among the Tribes. Hadn’t he had enough?
Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky answers. Menashe and Efraim were in great danger, for the Egyptian surroundings they were raised in, might have a negative effect on them. By considering them as his own children, Yaakov hoped to instill within them a feeling of identity and belonging to Yaakov’s home. Efraim had even been given an Egyptian name (Egyptian names commonly had in them the letters ×¤ , ×¨ Â and ×¢ . i.e., Pharaoh, Potifar, Tzafnat Paaneach, Efraim, Shifrah, Puah, etc.) For this reason , Yaakov placed Efraim before Menashe, when he blessed them, for Efraim needed extra protection.
Shifrah and Puah, a.k.a. Yocheved and Miriam, were greatly rewarded for not killing the Jewish babies, despite Pharaoh’s command. Our Rabbi’s teach that for this great act, they merited having great descendents, High Priests and Kings. Why was it such a great test for a Jewish mother not to kill Jewish babies? The Halacha is that one must give up his life in order not to kill another Jew!?
The answer is that the difficulty of the test lay in Yocheved and Miriam overcoming their Egyptian Names. Pharaoh knew that the only way to get them to do such an act was by changing their names, giving them a gentile identity. For standing strong against this identity crisis, they were greatly rewarded.
The name you use, the clothes you wear, the way you speak – all may be the most momentous decisions you ever make. Our Rabbis teach that the Jews were redeemed from Egypt for keeping these three identity factors. Because even if a person stoops low, his identity, community, and friends can be his saving grace in the darkest moments.