Sefer Shemos begins “V’eileh shemos Bnei Yisrael haba’im Mitzraymah eis Yaakov ish uveiso ba’u — And these are the names of the Bnei Yisrael who came to Egypt with Yaakov, each man and his family came.”

How could Klal Yisrael relocate in its entirety to Mitzrayim —  a place of tumah and decadence? Did not the spiritual perils that abounded there make such a move unsound?

The Chofetz Chaim explains that the answer to this question rests in the words “eis Yaakov — with Yaakov.” Yaakov Avinu descended to Mitzrayim with Bnei Yisrael and would serve as a safeguard for them against its alien influences. His presence would ensure that their ruchniyus would remain intact.

 The significance of the accompaniment of Yaakov can be better understood with a story of more recent times. Towards the end of his life, the Chofetz Chaim wished to move to Eretz Yisrael, where he would spend his last years. In response, Harav Chaim Ozer Grodzenski, zt”l, the Gadol Hador, told him that he could not leave Europe. His presence was needed there. The Chofez Chaim countered that his advanced age precluded him from circulating among the communities in Europe giving drashos nor was he any able to write sefarim. He felt he was no longer needed in Europe.

Rav Chaim Ozer cited a parable of Harav Yisroel Salanter, zt”l. A few generations of a family sit down together. Sitting the grandfather at the head of the table ensures that all present will be on their best behavior. The patriarch does not need to say anything. His presence alone exerts influence on everyone. Rav Chaim Ozer told the Chofetz Chaim, “You are needed here in Europe — not to deliver drashos or to write sefarim — but to sit at the head of the table. In that way, the Yidden of Europe have a role model to look up to and will conduct themselves accordingly.

Similarly, Bnei Yisrael could feel spiritually secure moving to Mitzrayim because their grandfather Yaakov, accompanied them and would have a positive influence on them.

Truthfully, we all have the potential to wield influence on others in our environment even though we may not sense it.

A Yid once asked the Chortkover Rebbe, Harav Dovid Moshe Friedman, zy”a, how to choose a shul in his community as his makom tefillah. The Rebbe instructed him to find a shul where there was a Yid who davened with great hislahavus, great enthusiasm — who would inspire him in davening. I once related this story at a shul melaveh malkah and noted that in that shul there were role models in davening, in learning, in chesed, in middos tovos. This is true of many shuls, schools and other venues that we frequent. Everyone has something to bring to the table, as it were, that inspires or is instructive for those around him or her.

This phenomenon is especially true in terms of how people react to adversity. People pay special attention to how they manage their situation, seeking to apply the lessons they learn to the challenges of their own lives.

A particular young man contracted muscular dystrophy which presented many obstacles to a productive life. Despite his body’s restricted movement and having to get around in a wheelchair, he managed to learn to drive a car, travel and live a full life. Others in our community faced tremendous challenges and, on the way, to transcend those odds, formed organizations to share their knowledge and assist others in similar circumstances.

There is a less commonly known flipside to this concept. We don’t realize the extent to which we ourselves may impact other people in our environment which can cause us to fail to exercise adequate care in our interactions with others. Maseches Sanhedrin 52b states that an am haaretz esteems a talmid chacham and the latter is comparable in his eyes to a golden jug. The Gemara continues that if the talmid chacham engages in idle conversation with him, his status in the eyes of the am haaretz descends to that of a silver jug. If the scholar accepts gifts from him, he then becomes like an earthenware jug. Rashi comments that during Korach’s uprising against Moshe Rabbeinu, the former felt he could not influence the talmidei chachamim. He saw them as too elevated to get involved with his cause. However, when they accepted his invitation to dine with him, his esteem for them was lowered and he was able to win them over.

Harav Henoch Leibowitz, zt”l, derives from this incident that we may sell ourselves short in terms of the high regard in which others hold us. We need to conduct ourselves according to the elevated mores those around us expect from us — in our communities, in the workplace, in school and even among non-Jews — even if we know we have not reached the level they think we have.

Chiefly, we should appreciate the great people in our midst and internalize the lessons we glean from them, knowing we stand to benefit.

Rabbi Yosef Gesser is a longtime writer for Hamodia Newspaper as well as an inspirational speaker on diverse topics, including dealing with adversity. He can be reached at

To Read The Full Story

Are you already a subscriber?
Click to log in!