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ARE YOU A FAN OR A PLAYER?

Friday, 30 December, 2022 - 9:35 am

A man goes to consult a specialist about his medical problem. After the visit, the man asks, "How much do I owe you?"

"My fee is five hundred dollars," replies the physician.

"Five hundred dollars? That's impossible. No one charges that much!"  "In your case," the doctor replies, "I suppose I could adjust my fee to three hundred."

"Three hundred dollars? For one visit? Ridiculous."

"Well, then, could you afford two hundred?"

"Who has that kind of money?" "Look, the doctor replies," growing irritated, "Just give me fifty bucks and get out."

"I can give you twenty says the man. Take it or leave it."

"I don't understand you," says the doctor. "Why did you come to the most expensive doctor in New York if you have no money?" "Listen, Doctor", says the patient, "When it comes to my health, nothing is too expensive."

Joseph could not contain his tears, nor can we, when we read each year the story of how after a feud and separation that endured for twenty-two long years, the Prime Minister of Egypt, Joseph, reveals his identity to his brothers who once attempted to kill him and sold him into slavery.

We are all familiar with the story in the Torah portion Vayigash: After having his silver goblet placed in his brother Benjamin’s saddlebag, Joseph accuses him of theft and claims Benjamin the “thief” as his slave. Judah approaches the viceroy of Egypt, unknowing that he was Joseph, and explains to him that there was no way he could return to his aging father Jacob without young Benjamin.


Yes, Judah was the guarantor—he was the one who assumed responsibility. But at this point, Judah goes one step deeper. Forget about my responsibility, and my need to be true to my duties and fulfill my obligations. That’s all about me—me being a responsible, ethical, and decent human being. Something much deeper pulled at the strings of his heart: The pain of his father. “For how can I go back to my father without this boy? How I can watch the woe that would overtake my father?!”

Why Joseph Could Not Hold Back Any Longer?

When Joseph heard the final outcry of Judah, “forget about my obligations. Let’s say I will go to hell, but my father? I can’t bear to see my father’s pain”—that’s when Joseph could not contain himself any longer. For two reasons:

First, this made Joseph ask himself, “What I’m I doing to my father? My father has been grieving over me for 22 years, how can I continue this wheeling and dealing with my brothers and keep him in such intense pain?!” Yes, Joseph was trying to bring his brothers to a certain place, but this final outcry of Judah broke his own barriers, and caused him to transcend his own calculations, and declare: “I am Joseph!”

What is more, it was at this point that the Egyptian leader realized that his family indeed has gone through a transformation. Judah was not the same man any longer.

 Twenty-two years earlier, the same Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain if we kill our brother [Joseph] and cover his blood? Let's sell him to the Arabs and not harm him with our own hands.” The brothers consented. Joseph was sold and brought to Egypt as a slave, where, years later, he rose to become the viceroy of the country. What happened to think about the pain of Joseph and the pain of Jacob? Judah felt that getting rid of Joseph was such a priority it justified all the pain.

Now, 22 years have passed. When Joseph's younger brother Benjamin is about to be taken as a slave, Judah offers himself instead. And not only because of his personal obligation to his father, but because he simply can’t see the pain and anguish that he will cause his father if he returns home without Benjamin.

Note that in the presentation of Judah to Joseph he mentioned the word my father, fourteen times! Which makes it the key phrase in this entire conversation.

That is what ultimately transformed Joseph as well. “Joseph could not hold back any longer,” are the next words in the Torah.

Our sages understood this exchange between Judah and Joseph also as a parable for our relationship with G-d.

There are two forms of the Jewish experience: one is about obligations, and one is about absolute passion and commitment. When Judah elevated himself from the first to the second, history was changed.

At a major rabbinic conference in S. Petersburg in 1910 concerning the fate of Russian Jewry, the Russian government tried to impose a law that every rabbi in Russia must first go through a Russian education. The fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Rebbe Rashab (1860-1920) feared that this would mean that the rabbis would go through an intense indoctrination of weakening their commitment to Judaism and was very opposed to it. He felt this would endanger the future of Russian Jewry.

At one point during the proceedings, a message was conveyed on behalf of the Russian Minister of the Interior the famed anti-Semite Stolypin: If the attendees continue their opposition to the government’s requirement of educating rabbis in Russian, terrible pogroms will break out in 101 cities across the Russian Empire.

Many of the rabbis folded. The Rebbe Rashab asked for permission to speak the last, and he said:

“It was not by our own will that we were exiled from Eretz Yisrael, and it is not by our own power that we will return to Eretz Yisrael. Our Father, our King was the One Who banished us into exile, and only He will be the One to gather our exiles and bring us back with the coming of Moshiach. But in the meantime, let all the nations of the world know: It was merely our bodies that were sent into exile and placed under the jurisdiction of foreign governments. Our souls, however, were never sent into exile!

“We must announce openly and proudly that when it comes to matters of Yiddishkeit, Torah, no one will tell us what to do. No force can be used against this. We say with the greatest and strongest Jewish pride and determination, and with millennia-old Jewish Self-sacrifice:

“Do not touch My anointed ones and do not harm My prophets…’”

Passionately, he called on all the attendees to ignore the threats and stay true to Yiddishkeit. “Yidden!” he called out, “Sanctify Hashem’s name in public!” and the Rebbe fell into a faint.

Immediately after that, word was received that Rebbe Rashab was placed under house arrest and was prohibited from leaving his hotel room.

While there, one of the greatest sages of the day, Reb Chaim Brisker, who was close to the Rebbe Rashab, came to visit the Rebbe, only to find him crying.

“Lubavitcher Rebbe!” Reb Chaim protested, “Why are you crying? We have done everything we could! We have fulfilled our duties. Our conscience is clear. Now it is up to G-d!”

The Rebbe Rashab responded with a parable:

There are two types of personalities in running a business. There’s a hired worker and there’s a business owner. The worker, though very devoted to his job, will never lose sleep when the business is not doing well. He’ll do all he can to help the situation, but when there’s nothing more he can do, he’ll go home and have a good rest.

The owner, on the other hand, will not be able to sleep peacefully. True, he’s done all he can to save the situation. But who cares? It’s his business at stake and its failure troubles him deeply. The fact that he did all he can and has fulfilled his duties is irrelevant. He’s not a hired employee. It’s his business—and when it is failing, he can’t just go to sleep!

The Rebbe’s message was clear. I am not a hired worker for G-d, for the Jewish people, for truth, for Torah. Yes, did all I can, my conscience is clear. I deserve my wages. But it is not about that: This is my child! This is my father! This is my soul. This is my love. This is something I own.

A doctor may tell a mother or a father: “I know you did everything you can to save your child. I also did everything I can. I am so sorry.” A doctor is a good man, he tried hard. He cared for the patient and fulfilled his medical duties. But now, after the child breathed his last, he goes home to rest. He deserves it.  

Mommy and totty also did everything they can. They don’t go home to rest. They break down sobbing. Why?

Because it is their child.

The last trolley of the evening rolled by on Kingston Avenue on a chilly winter night in 1955 as a jolly young Shimshon Stock ushered a close acquaintance and his soon-to-be-Bar-Mitzvahed son into the Lubavitch synagogue, around the corner at 770 Eastern Parkway.

The Rebbe briefly blessed the boy that he should grow to become a source of pride to the Jewish people and to his family. As they turned to leave, Rebbe surprised the three Americans with the question he addressed to the youngster: "Are you a baseball fan?"

The Bar-Mitzvah boy replied that he was.

"Which team are you a fan of — the Yankees or the Dodgers?"

The Dodgers replied the boy.

"Does your father have the same feeling for the Dodgers as you have?"  No.  "Does he take you out to games?"

Well, occasionally, my father takes me to a game. We were at a game a month ago.

"How was the game?"

It was disappointing, the 13-year-old confessed. By the sixth inning, the Dodgers were losing nine-to-two, so we decided to leave.

"Did the players also leave the game when you left?"

Rabbi, the players can't leave in the middle of the game!

"Why not?" asked the Rebbe. "Explain to me how this works."

There are players and fans, the baseball fan explained. The fans can leave when they like — they're not part of the game and the game could and does, continue after they leave. But the players need to stay and try to win until the game is over.

"That is the lesson I want to teach you in Judaism," said the Rebbe with a smile. "You can be either a fan or a player. Be a player."

Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky

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