| Parshah |

Relativity of Knowledge

All wisdom, all knowledge that a man can claim, comes directly to each person from Hashem


“And Yosef recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him” (Bereishis 42:8). 

Rashi explains that they didn’t recognize him because when he’d left them, he didn’t have a beard, but now he had one.
Yet one can still wonder: Wouldn’t it be natural, even if he now had a beard, for them to recognize their own brother after seeing and speaking with him at length? (Rav Shimshon Pincus, Tiferes Shimshon)

There was a knock on our door. When I opened it, my neighbor’s ten-year-old stood in the doorway, holding a piece of paper.

Please join our son Mordechai in celebrating a siyum on Maseches Succos. We will be forming a minyan outside, and are hoping you’ll be able to participate in this momentous occasion for Mordechai. Oif simchos! The Friedman Family.

Tears sprang to my eyes. This was no random get-together. Mordechai Friedman was an adult with special needs, and this siyum marked his intense efforts to complete such a feat. I later learned that Mordechai had been learning this masechta for three years, with his rebbi, his father, and a local avreich in shul.

Now, during lockdown, Mordechai sought a minyan to rejoice with him in this accomplishment.

Shlomo Hamelech says in Mishlei (2:6): “For Hashem gives wisdom, and from His mouth, knowledge and understanding.”
This is a deep concept that we often overlook. All wisdom, all knowledge that a man can claim, comes directly to each person from Hashem. Just as prophesy is not a natural trait — it doesn’t spring from a person’s personality or talents but is bestowed on the recipient as a gift from Heaven — so too all wisdom is a gift.

It wasn’t only the men in our household who were outside in our garden at the appointed time. Looking up and to the right and left, I saw most of our neighbors outside with their families as well, showing their support and their pride in Mordechai’s accomplishment.

Mordechai was visibly moved. Raising his voice, he began reading the last mishnah and explaining it in clear terms. I found myself nodding along to his simple but sincere words explained. Then he began the Hadran.

Chazal say that the Shevatim made a cherem, that they would excommunicate whoever would reveal what they did to Yosef. They included Hashem in this cherem.
Now we can understand why the brothers didn’t recognize Yosef. It wasn’t simply because he now had a beard; a person naturally recognizes his own brother, even if his appearance has changed. It was because Hashem did not allow them this simple recognition due to this cherem. All knowledge and wisdom, natural understanding, including recognition and connection, come from Hashem. And here, Hashem did not allow them access to this knowledge.
We need to focus, to remember that we don’t know anything, we don’t possess any knowledge without Hashem’s help.

I’ve been zocheh to hear the Hadran at many siyumim. But I don’t think there’s ever been another Hadran that shook me to my very core and made me realize what it meant to be a true ben Torah.

Anu ameilim v’heim ameilim.

I looked across at Mordechai. His hat sat firmly on his head, his glasses slightly askew. His face was wearing a look of intense concentration as he started the Kaddish.

“Amen! Yehei Shmei Rabba — May Hashem’s Great Name be blessed forever,” echoed as voices were raised from all ends of the street.

As Kaddish concluded, the Friedmans grabbed Mordechai’s hands and began dancing and singing. Each neighboring family joined in the song, dancing on their own porches, celebrating together with Mordechai. It was a Moment.

In a different world, Mordechai might not have been seen as a contributing member of society. But despite having what may be viewed as limitations, in our world of Torah, in a world in which we proclaim Hashem’s Great Name is blessed forever, Mordechai was a brilliant gem.


 (Originally featured in Family First, Issue 770)

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