Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Parshas Mikeitz

והנה שבע פרות אחרות עולות אחריהן מן היאור רעות מראה ודקות בשר (41:3)
(והנה שבע פרות אחרות עולות אחריהן דלות ורעות תואר מאד ורקות בשר (41:19
There are numerous discrepancies between the actual dreams of Paroh and the way in which he relates them to Yosef. One of them is that while he actually saw in his dream 7 cows of ugly מראה, but he related to Yosef that they were of ugly תואר. What is the difference between these words, and why did Paroh switch? When the Torah tells us that Rochel was both יפת תואר ויפת מראה (29:17, Rashi there explains that the terms are not repetitive, but rather the term תואר refers to the external appearance and beauty of one’s physical face, while מראה describes the internal, spiritual shine which radiates forth from within, both of which were present in Rochel. Rabbi Mordechai Biser explains that in Paroh’s dream he was shown a destruction which would reach the inner core of his corrupt society, which was so materialistic and absorbed in the hedonistic pleasures of this world that they were even buried with their possessions, as they couldn’t imagine a World to Come consisting of anything but more of the same physical pleasures which they viewed as the pinnacle of happiness. Yet precisely because Paroh was so indulgent, he wasn’t even able to grasp the hint. In his eyes beauty was skin deep, and he was unable to describe the animals as anything but ugly in their external appearance. Since the Ramban writes that the Egyptian exile contained within it the roots of all of the 4 other exiles to follow, it shouldn’t surprise us to find the Greeks in the times of the Chashmonaim totally caught up with worshipping external beauty to the point of outlawing the study of the internal and spiritual Torah. Nor does one living in America in the 21st century need to think deeply in order to recognize how history repeats itself and to see how the superficial values of the Egyptians and Greeks fill the streets all around us. As we light our Chanuka menorahs and celebrate the miraculous triumph of the righteous Chashmonaim over these false world-views, it would behoove us to take a moment to reflect on and internalize that this was more than just a simple military victory, but rather the prevailing of the underlying spiritual philosophy for which the Chashmonaim stood.

ושם אתנו נער עברי עבד לשר הטבחים (41:12)
ארורים הרשעים שאין טובתם שלמה שמזכירו בלשון בזיון: נער שוטה ואין ראוי לגדולה, עברי אפילו לשוננו אינו מכיר, עבד וכתוב בנימוסי מצרים שאין עבד מולך ולא לובש בגדי שרים (רש"י
The cup-bearer was so evil that even when he was forced to recall Yosef’s talents and kindness which had saved his life, he still did so in a way which degraded Yosef, throwing in the extraneous facts that he was young and foolish, doesn’t know the Egyptian language, and had been a slave and therefore not fit for a position of power. Rav Pesach Eliyahu Falk wonders what the cup-bearer accomplished with all of his slander, as moments later Yosef appeared on the scene, amazing Paroh with his talents and wisdom in interpreting the dream and recommending a course of action, and immediately stealing the spotlight. He explains that nevertheless, the cup-bearer was well aware of the maxim that “you never get a second chance to make a first impression,” and he in his wickedness decided to make Yosef’s first impression for him. He was hoping that by making it an extremely negative one, that Paroh would view Yosef and everything that he would say or do through that lens, thus depriving Yosef of a fair chance to demonstrate his true talents. We learn from here the potent power of lashon hara (slander), which if believed and accepted as fact, renders it virtually impossible for the victim to later prove himself and uproot those maliciously-planted first impressions. Human nature is such that upon recognizing the discrepancy between what we were told and what we later see in reality, we will sooner resolve the contradiction by assuming that the person is temporarily on guard and changing their ways rather than question the accuracy of our erroneous and premature first impressions.

(ועתה ירא פרעה איש נבון וחכם וישיתהו על ארץ מצרים (41:33
A number of commentators (Y’shuos Yaakov, K’hilos Moshe, and T’cheiles Mordechai) are bothered by the fact that Paroh simply requested Yosef to interpret his dreams, but after doing so, Yosef proceeded to offer advice on how best to deal with the ramifications of the dream, something which wasn’t at all requested of him. They answer that the Gemora (Rosh Hashana 16a) relates that the world is judged at 4 different times each year: on Pesach regarding grain, on Shavuos regarding fruits, on Sukkos regarding water, and on Rosh Hashana all people are judged individually. If so, it would make sense that Paroh’s dream, which relates to the future of the crops, should have been on Pesach, when the world is being judged on grain, yet the Gemora (Rosh Hashana 11a) tells us that this episode occurred on Rosh Hashana. The timing of this incident made it clear to Yosef that it wasn’t only relevant to the future of the harvest, but also to the fate of some individual who was being judged that day, and regarding whom it must have been decided that he was to ascend to a position of power and leadership. Based on this inference, Yosef felt compelled to suggest a plan of action based on his interpretation of the dream which would make its timing appropriate, specifically to appoint one of the wise Egyptian citizens to oversee the storage project, as it was due to him that the dream occurred specifically on Rosh Hashana. He even hinted to this reasoning as an introduction to his suggestion, when he stated ועתה (and now), meaning that because the dream took place today, therefore it is appropriate that I suggest the following!

(וליוסף ילד שני בנים בטרם תבא שנת הרעב (41:50
Rashi quotes the Gemora (Taanis 11a) which derives from the fact that the Torah informed us that Yosef’s two children (Menashe and Ephraim) were born before the famine began, that it is forbidden to have marital relations during a famine. Tosefos there questions this from the well-know Medrash stating that Levi’s daughter Yocheved was born between the walls of Egypt just as Yaakov and his family were arriving there to be reunited with Yosef. At this time the famine was still in full force, so how could Levi be having children? The Daas Z’keinim suggests a fascinating answer. The Gemora there states that for one who has not yet fulfilled the mitzvah of p’ru u’rvu (having children), it is permissible to have marital relations even during a famine. However, there is a dispute between Beis Hillel and Beis Shammai (Yevamos 61b) regarding the fulfillment of this mitzvah. Beis Hillel is of the opinion that the obligation is to have (at least) one son and one daughter, while Beis Shammai requires two males. The Daas Z’keinim suggests that this dispute actually began centuries prior, as Yosef and Levi themselves disagreed on this very issue! Yosef agreed with Beis Shammai’s opinion and felt that after giving birth to his two sons, he had fulfilled the mitzvah and was therefore forbidden to have relations during the famine. Hence the Torah stresses here that his sons were born before the famine began, after which point he was forbidden to have relations further. Levi on the other hand held like Beis Hillel, and because he hadn’t yet given birth to a daughter, he was of the opinion that he was permitted to continue having relations until that time, and therefore his daughter Yocheved was born just as they reached Egypt!

ויאמר יהודה אל ישראל אביו שלחה הנער אתי ונקומה ונלכה ונחיה ולא נמות גם אנחנו גם אתה גם טפינו (43:8
Yehuda requests that Yaakov send Binyomin down to Egypt with him and entrust him with ensuring Binyomin’s safe return, so that there will be food to eat so that we (the brothers), you (our father), and our children shouldn’t die of starvation. Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky derives a fascinating inference from the wording of our verse. He maintains that the Torah is prioritizing for us who has precedence when it comes to saving lives. We have a principle that חייך קודמין, that saving one’s own life comes before all others. However, in the unthinkable situation in which one may additionally save only one’s father or one’s own son, as occurred all too often during the Holocaust, who has precedence? Our Holy Torah, which contains the answer to every question, answers this one by mentioning the saving of their father Yaakov before that of their own children to teach us that one’s father has priority.
It is interesting to note that Rav Elyashiv is quoted by his son-in-law Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein as opining that if one wishes to save his son in order to have somebody to take care of him in his old age and to eventually arrange his burial (see Kesuvos 64a), then he may save his son before his father. This is because the saving of his son is not just for his son’s sake but also for his own, and we have a maxim that כיבוד אב משל אב, that the expenses involved in honoring one’s father are to be borne by one’s father. In this case, were he to save his father’s life instead of his son’s, he wouldn’t have his son to take care of him in his old age and it would come out that he saved his father on his own personal liability, something we don’t obligate him to do. Rav Zilberstein suggests that Rav Elyashiv and Rav Yaakov aren’t disagreeing, but rather Rav Yaakov was interpreting the actions of the Shevatim, who did everything l’shem Shomayim (purely for the sake of Heaven) and not for any personal motivations, in which case everybody agrees that one’s father comes first. He further points out that in saving Yaakov, they were also benefiting themselves as Yaakov’s descent to Egypt brought about the end of the famine (Rashi 47:19) from which they personally were suffering.

ויאמר חלילה לי מעשות זאת האיש אשר נמצא הגביע בידו הוא יהיה לי עבד ואתם עלו לשלום אל אביכם (44:17
Rav Zev Leff questions how the Torah could have been divided into a new Parsha at this dramatic point in the action. Yaakov had been terrified to send Binyomin down to Egypt, as he represented the last vestige of his beloved wife Rochel. Faced with no choice as the food ran out, he relied on Yehuda’s personal guarantee to insure Binyomin’s safe return, yet shortly after setting out on their return journey, they are accosted and Binyomin is “found” to have stolen Yosef’s divining goblet, which will presumably require the brothers to leave him in Egypt and return empty-handed to their heart-broken father. Could there be a worse place in the plot line to interrupt with “to be continued” than at this climactic moment? Rather, this was done intentionally in order to teach us that no matter how bad things may seem at any point in the middle of our lives, we must remember that there is another chapter just around the corner and that however long it takes us to ultimately realize it, there will finally come a time when we will be able to retroactively understand the Divine Providence and good which lay in what seemed to be the darkest moments. Rav Meir Shapiro beautifully points out that Dovid Hamelech writes (Tehillim 116:13) כוס ישועות אשא ובשם ד' אקרא – the cup of salvation I will raise and I will call out in the name of Hashem – all in one verse, as when good things occur, we have no problem seeing the good and praising Hashem immediately. When it comes to the bad, however, he writes in the same chapter (116:3-4) צרה ויגון אמצא ובשם ד' אקרא – I will find troubles and suffering, and I will call out in the name of Hashem – spread out over two different verses. Regardless of whether I will raise the cup of salvations or whether I will find troubles and suffering, I will ultimately call out in Hashem’s name just the same. The only difference is that when things seem difficult, we sometimes have to patiently wait until the next verse, or in our case even the next Parsha, until we are able to recognize the good that will ultimately make us call to Hashem in praise and gratitude. Even if we aren’t there yet and aren’t able to see the good that currently lies hidden, the knowledge that it is there and we will eventually understand it should give us the strength to persevere with faith and trust until then.

Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) We have a maxim that כל החלומות הולכים אחר הפה, the interpretation of a dream is determined by whatever the person interpreting it says that it means. See Berachos 55b-56a that two people can have the same dream, but if the interpreter tells them that it means completely opposite things to each one, then so will it come to pass. If the ramifications of the dream are so dependent on the understanding given by the interpreter and not on the intrinsic nature of the dream, then why didn’t any of the interpretations given to Paroh of his dreams come to be?
2) How could Yosef merit prophecy to interpret the dreams of Paroh (41:16) when the Gemora (Nedorim 38a) states that there are 4 prerequisites to obtaining prophecy, one of which is wealth, and Yosef at that point had just been released from many years in jail with no assets or possessions to his name? (Mishmeres Ariel, also see a cute answer in Yalkut HaGershuni)
3) When Lavan accused Yaakov of stealing his idols, Yaakov – unaware that his beloved wife Rochel had indeed taken them – answered that with whomever Lavan will find them should die. Even though Lavan didn’t find them, Rashi (31:32) writes that Rochel still died prematurely due to his curse, as a curse on condition still takes effect. If so, when the brothers told Menashe that with whom Yosef’s goblet shall be found will die, why didn’t Binyomin indeed die young from their curse, especially considering that the condition was fulfilled when Menashe indeed found the goblet in Binyomin’s sack?
4) Menashe tells the brothers that the one in whose sack he will find the goblet will be a servant to me and the rest of them will be free to go. Shouldn’t the thief become a servant to Yosef, from whom he stole the goblet? (Daas Z’keinim)


Blogger Pragmatician said...

What a great selection of vertlers

Thu Dec 29, 03:54:00 AM  
Blogger FrumGirl said...

I am so excited about your blog. I really enjoy the parsha tidbits you feature here. can't wait to read more!

Also, will you post the answers to those parsha trivia questions?

Thanks so much for sharing these gems.

Thu Dec 29, 08:21:00 AM  
Blogger A Frum Idealist said...

yyasher kochacha. very nice.

Thu Dec 29, 10:26:00 AM  

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