Friday, 10 January, 2020 - 12:50 pm

A rabbi and his two friends, a priest and a minister played poker for small stakes, once a week. The only problem was that they lived in a very conservative blue-law town. The sheriff raided their game and took all three before the local judge.

After listening to the sheriff's story, the judge sternly inquired of the priest: "Were you gambling, Father?" The priest looked toward heaven, whispered, "Oh, Lord, forgive me!" and then said aloud: "No, your honor, I was not gambling." "Were you gambling, Reverend?" the judge asked the minister. The minister repeated the priest's actions and said, "No, your honor, I was not."

Turning to the third clergyman, the judge asked: "Were you gambling, Rabbi?" The rabbi eyed him cooly and replied: "With whom?”

Jacob passes away, and the funeral procession travels from Egypt to the Land of Canaan, where Jacob will be buried in Hebron, in the Machpala cave, with his wife, parents, and grandparents.

The Talmud relates that when Jacob’s funeral procession arrived in Canaan, all the kings of Canaan, the princes of Ishmael, came to wage war, against Jacob’s family. But when they saw Joseph’s crown hanging on Jacob’s coffin, they all stood up and hung their own crowns on it, thus surrounding the coffin with crowns, like a threshing floor of grain surrounded by a fence of thorns to protect it from thieves or animals.

Yet, this is a strange story. Where did the Rabbis see this story in the text of the Torah? True, it explains the emphasis on this place titled “the threshing place encircled by thorns.” Still, the story seems far-fetched.

Secondly, what is the meaning of the story? The kings of Canaan, the princes of Ishmael, and the children of Keturah, all came to wage war against the budding Jewish family. But why? What was bothering them?

Thirdly, why did they abstain from conflict when they observed the crown of Joseph hanging on Jacob’s coffin? How did Joseph’s crown inspire them to hang their crowns on the coffin, encircling it like a row of thorn bushes protecting a farm or a threshing floor?

After Jacob’s death, Joseph says to his brothers, fearful of his revenge “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”

What is the meaning of these loaded words “Am I in the place of G-d?”

It was the great Chassidic master, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Barditchov (1740-1809), who offered a most moving explanation. The literal translation of Joseph’s words to his brothers is different. Joseph told his brothers: “Am I under G-d?!”

But what is that supposed to mean? Joseph denied he was under G-d. Did he think he was “above” G-d? And how would that reassure his brothers?

It is here we discover our own power to apologize to those we hurt and to forgive those who hurt us. We tell an incredible story about the power of forgiveness.  


There are two ways in which you can perceive your existence. Either you are under G-d or you are a part of G-d, a fragment of infinity, the manifestation of G-d’s light in this world. You are not “under G-d,” because you see yourself as completely One with the Divine, a full partner.

What’s the difference? When I see myself as “under G-d,” it is hard to forgive. You hurt me, you damaged me, you insulted me, you caused me suffering and distress. How can I forgive? Even if you feel remorseful and apologize, how can I let go?

But when I can perceive myself as completely united and aligned with G-d, then I can forgive. Because that is when I discover that I am invincible; just as no person can destroy G-d, nobody can obliterate my core, crush my soul, destroy my wholesomeness, and extinguish my fire.

Also, when I also perceive myself as one with the Divine, I discover my capacity for infinite love, compassion, and understanding. Even when my conscious limited brain says “don’t forgive,” my infinite being, reflecting Divine infinity, allows me to transcend my limits and fears, and pardon you, opening a new chapter in our lives.

When I see myself as “under G-d,” it is equally difficult for me to plead for forgiveness. It is too vulnerable and awkward to say “I am so sorry. I made a terrible mistake and I apologize.” I will find every excuse in the world not to face my fear and apologize. But when I realize I am one with the Divine, I could transcend all my fears of “what will this sound like?” Saying “I am sorry” feels like the best thing to do, as it clears up the toxicity, the blockages, and the static in my soul. I will free myself up from my own inner poison.

This is how Joseph could forgive his brothers. “I’m I under G-d?” He asks them. We have the power to be fully aligned with G-d, and then we are capable of true forgiveness, transformation, and healing.

This is what the kings of Canaan, princes of Ishmael and children of Keturah observed when they saw Joseph together with his brothers, escorting their father Jacob on his final journey. The Prime Minister of Egypt joined his siblings, as a son to Jacob, and sibling to his children. His crown was placed on Jacob’s coffin.

What did they do at that moment? They all removed their crowns and hung them on the coffin! It was a surreal moment in history: a forerunner what humanity is capable of.

All of these leaders, coming to battle, took their crowns, representing their power and sovereignty, and placed them on Jacob’s coffin, the man who embodied the ideals of Monotheism which beliefs in one G-d and hence in a unified world, a world in which we are one and we can forgive. They discovered that, in the long run, peace is far more powerful, potent and beneficial than war. Joseph inspired them to find healing and forgiveness in their hearts.

We must learn the power of saying I am sorry, and the strength to forgive. If I can see me not as an injured victim, “under G-d,“ but rather as aligned with the Divine, I can find in myself the incredible capacity to apologize and to pardon.

Summer can be a magnificent time, and especially in the holy land of Israel, but all too often it is marred by the tragic stories we hear make it through the news.

Over the past few years, the Israeli Ambulance service reported over 170 cases of children being left unattended in cars for too long, by negligence or accident. Eight of these resulted in death.

I do not need to speak of the unspeakable; of this horrific tragedy, and of the immense suffering it has caused mothers and fathers over the country, and other countries as well. Imagine the guilt a father feels when he forgot his son's seat belted in the car to die in the scorching heat? And how is his wife able to forgive him? The pain is too immense to verbalize.

This story occurred a number of years ago. In the town of Modi’in Illit, in Central Israel, a 4-year old boy from a religious-Chassidic Boimel family, by the name of Chaim, went to a local pre-school not too far from his home. On occasion, he would catch a ride with some of the other boys on the way to school. Nachman Shtitzer was a young teacher at the same school. He is fair-haired, tall, handsome, slim, with long blonde peyot, or side-curls, softly-spoken, and newly-wed. He had a car, a sedan with the back windows draped by curtains to protect the children he would bring to and from school from the sun.

One hot Summer day in Israel, Nachman had taken Chaim and some of the other boys to the school. Pulling up to the school, the boys got out of the car, and Nachman walked into the building, locking the car behind him. The car was not empty. Chaim had fallen asleep.

After finishing up his classes, he walked back to the car with a colleague he was giving a ride to on the way home.

His friend noticed something on the back seat. “What’s that?” he asked Nachman.

“What do you mean, ‘what’s that’?” he says back.

Nachman froze.

With his basic knowledge of first-aid, Nachman realized there was nothing he could do. In a state of severe shock, he and his friend began to scream, to yell for someone to call an ambulance. But it was too late. A poor four-year-old boy died in the scorching heat.

At that moment, Nachman’s world fell apart. He, a young married man, a father of a few little children were responsible for the loss of a pure, innocent life. Negligence is a crime, and he was soon arrested and charged, facing a sentence of 3 years in prison. He pleaded guilty immediately. I saw video footage of him handcuffed, his shoulders slumped, and his head down, being led by police,  but barely managing to place one foot in front of the other. He was crushed beyond words.

The funeral of Chaim Baimel was, you can imagine, heart-wrenching. The parents were beside themselves with grief, but the boy’s father summoned the strength to speak, and he addressed G-d: “G-d, you slapped me in the face. Maybe I deserved it, but my wife? She is a righteous woman; why have you hurt her so much?” The boy’s mother was strong on the outside, but those closest to her knew that she would soak her pillow with tears, every night.

How to respond to this tragedy, and how to react to the person who caused it? These questions can overwhelm and reel the senses. But it was at that point, that Chaim’s family, led by his grandfather, decided to take an extraordinary step.

The grandfather of the child is a man by the name of Yisrael Lichter. On the instructions of his Rabbi, the Lelover Rebbe, he had been running a local soup kitchen for the past 30 years, catering to 1,200 souls on a daily basis. Lichter has a playful, rambunctious personality, and a certain gruffness, but he also has an enormous heart, and is a man of tremendous faith. He’s quick to share a piece of advice, or a joke, or to scoop you up in a bear hug and is deeply loved by the people who frequent the soup kitchen.

Mr. Lichter, the father of Chaim’s mother, was hit hard too. As he shared with Israeli Television, his little grandson was the joy of his life. He was devastated for himself and even more so for his daughter who lost her boy. But when he saw Nachman Shtitzer, the man who was responsible for this terrible story, he did not see the face of a criminal, evil man deserving of punishment, but one crushed with grief, and guilt, and with profound contrition.  He saw a young man, with a wife and children, and a life to be forever burdened by the staggering weight of his terrible act of negligence. Instead of shunning, or pursuing him, he decided to do something that it is still hard for me to believe.

He, together with the parents of the child, sent a message to Nachman that they want him to come to pay a visit for the Shivah call. Nachman naturally pleaded not to go. How would he face the mother, father, grandparents of Chaim? What would he tell them? Would he be able to look them in the eyes? He had wished that he died instead of the boy.

But the family of the dead boy did not let go. They wanted the man at Shivah. Nachman knew he had to come; he had no choice. He had to face the family of the child whose death he caused. He was under house arrest, and still in a dazed shock, but he showed up at the home.

When he entered the Shivah home, Chaim’s grandfather, instead of looking the other way, got up, and embraced him…

No one could believe their eyes. Nachman himself thought this was abnormal. What happened was that the grandfather saw the unintended perpetrator as an equal victim in the sadness of life. Was Nachman himself not half-dead emotionally? And he chose to embrace him.

The grandfather of Chaim met with the defense attorney assigned to the case and offered to testify in favor of Nachman, to attenuate, or avert a prison sentence. “Nachman has a wife and little children. Should they now lose their father for three years in prison? Who will gain from this?” In a 20 year career, the lawyer stated, this was the first time he had seen anything like it.

The Israeli TV heard of the story. They interviewed the grandfather, Yisroel. He shared with them how his grandson was the shining light of his life. In honor of Chanukah, little mischievous Chaim covered all of the walls of the home with oil to celebrate the miracle of lights. Chaim, he said, was his love and passion. They then asked him if that was the case, why did he embrace Nachman and offered to testify on his behalf?

The grandfather, Yisroel, opened up the Jerusalem Talmud, written 1800 years ago. There the Talmud states something which if we can internalize is truly revolutionary:

The grandfather translated to the TV the Talmudic words:

If I was cutting meat with my right hand and I slipped, accidentally cutting my left hand with the knife; what am I to do? How should I respond to my right hand, and amend the pain that it has caused? Should I now go and take the knife with my injured left, and cut the right hand back? To take revenge?

“When Chaim would come into a room, he would fill it with light,” the grandfather said, his voice breaking. But whom should I punish? On the other hand, that did it to me?”

Did he want to kill this child? Is he not also deeply wounded for life? Does he not think about it and regret his actions every moment of the day? We are all like one body. One part of my body harmed me. I’m really punishing him? I’m not punishing myself? Will, I cut off my right hand to take revenge for my left hand?

In the months following the tragedy, Yisrael Lichter, the grandfather, began meeting with Nachman regularly. He gave him support and encouraged him to continue with his own life. The boy’s parents to have encouraged him to move on.

In the next few months, Lichter and Shtitzer began working on a safety campaign with the aim of promoting awareness of the dangers in leaving children unattended in cars. Their hope is to prevent such tragedy from striking another family. This is what inspired WAZE to add a feature that when you arrive at any destination they ask you if there is a child left in the car.


This tragedy occurred in the summer of 2013. Sometime later, something happened, and it has not left a dry eye in Israel.

Nachman Shtitzer—the teacher who drove the car and forgot the child inside—and his wife had a baby boy. At the brit, the ceremony where we name the baby, they gave their baby a name. What was the name?


They named their boy after 4-year-old Chaim Boymel who died one year ago.

And who was the godfather, holding the baby at the brit? Chaim Boymel’s grandfather, the man who in a very real way, had given this new baby—and his parents and siblings—a shot at a second life.

Remember, you are not “under G-d.” You are bigger and more powerful than you imagine. You are “one with G-d.”

Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky


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