Sunday, December 25, 2005

Parshas Vayeishev

(ביקש יעקב לישב בשלבה (רש"י 37:2
If Yaakov Avinu desired a bit of tranquility, it could only have been for the purpose of allowing him more time and energy to properly serve Hashem; if so, why do we find that Hashem rejected his request? The Brisker Rav answers that quite the opposite, Hashem specifically prefers that we serve Him despite all of our distractions and difficulties, which makes our efforts to serve Him that much more valuable and praiseworthy. He was fond of quoting a cute interpretation of a well-known Mishnah in Pirkei Avos (Ethics of Our Fathers): אל תאמר אלמד כשאפנה שמא לא תפנה – traditionally understood as meaning that one shouldn’t say “I will learn when I have free time” because perhaps he will never find himself with free time. However, the Brisker Rov interpreted as saying that a person shouldn’t say “I will learn when I have free time” because perhaps Hashem specifically prefers his learning and mitzvos that are done precisely when he is in the state of having no free time. In this vein, he would relate a story involving the Kotzker Rebbe, who one year on Rosh Hashana announced to his chassidim that he knows exactly what they are praying for: for less parnossa (income) that will bring along with it less obligations, which will allow them more time to learn Torah. Their wonder at their Rebbe’s seemingly prophetic knowledge was quickly dashed, when he continued to inform them that Hashem had rejected their request because He specifically prefers the Torah they learn in spite of their distractions and difficulties!


וישלחהו מעמק חברון ויבא שכמה (37:14)
והלא חברון בהר שנאמר ויעלו בנגב ויבא עד חברון אלא מעצה עמוקה של אותו צדיק הקבור בחברון לקיים מה שנאמר לאברהם בין הבתרים כי גר יהיה זרעך (רש"י
The Rokeach writes cryptically that the 112 words in Tehillim 92 (מזמור שיר ליום השבת) correspond to the 112 verses in Parshas Vayeishev. Rav Mattyisyahu Salomon elucidates the common thread between them and explains that from a historical perspective of the natural course of history, the events of our Parsha seem to make no sense: that Yaakov would favor one of his sons in front of the others and incite their jealousy, that Yosef wouldn’t recognize their hatred and jealousy and would therefore tell them about his dreams in which he rules over them, that Yaakov would send him to check on them unsupervised, that Yosef should be thrown into a pit of poisonous animals and emerge unscathed, that a group of traveling merchants should be passing by at just the right time, that the angel forced Yehuda to have relations with Tamar, and that the righteous Yosef should end up in prison together with two ministers of the king and end up correctly interpreting their dreams. None of these incidents seems to make logical sense, but rather they were all part of a bigger plan as Rashi writes here, to lead to the fulfillment of what Hashem told Avrohom Avinu, that his descendants would dwell and eventually be enslaved in a foreign land. The lesson from our Parsha is that no matter how much effort we make, they will ultimately be futile if Hashem’s will and decrees dictate otherwise. This is also the theme of Chapter 92 of Tehillim, which states emphatically מה גדלו מעשיך ד' מאד עמקו מחשבותיך איש בער לע ידע וכסיל לא יבין את זאת ... ואתה מרום לעולם ד' - how great are your acts Hashem, how deep are your calculations, the foolish don’t understand, but You will always be elevated Hashem. We live in a deceptive world, as we are indeed obligated to exert ourselves to bring about our goals, yet no matter what we want or think is supposed to happen, Hashem runs the world. Whatever perspective we think we have is so limited in the grand scheme of things, and only Hashem with His grand plan can coordinate what has to happen and when – to each person, at each time, in each generation.


(חיה רעה אכלתהו (37:33
The Gemora in Niddah (19b) relates an interesting biological fact, that the blood of a male who hasn’t gotten married or had relations before the age of 20 will be redder, like that of an ox, than that of one who has. When the brothers wished to convince Yaakov that Yosef had been killed, they slaughtered a goat and dipped his special garment in the goat’s blood. However, the Gemora (Yoma 56b) says that the blood of a goat is very light in color. The Rogatchover Gaon explains that when Yaakov saw the light color of the blood on Yosef’s clothes, which he assumed came from Yosef, he feared that it revealed that Yosef had engaged in forbidden relations with a woman! His words that “a wild animal has devoured him” can also refer to the Yetzer Hara (evil inclination), to which Yaakov suspected he had fallen prey, a fear which left him inconsolable. Even though this was not the case, the words of the righteous accomplish even unintended consequences, and this caused that Yosef should be tempted by the wife of his master!


(ותוסף עוד ותלד בן ותקרא את שמו שלה והיה בכזיב בלדתה אותו (38:5
Why was it necessary for the Torah to inform us of Yehuda’s whereabouts during the birth of his son, a seemingly insignificant and trivial fact? The Da’as Z’keinim and the Shu”t Maharam M’Rotenburg explain that the custom in those days was that the father chose the name for the first child born, the mother for the second, the father for the third, etc. Indeed, this is hinted to in 38:3 which saysויקרא את שמו ער , but with the second child the language is in the feminine: ותקרא את שמו אונן (38:4). Note that this is the exact opposite of the prevalent custom among Ashkenazic Jews today, who barring exceptional circumstances normally give the first name to the mother, although it is in accord with the custom among Sephardic Jews. If so, it is difficult to understand why by the birth of the third child, we find ותקרא את שמו שלה, that Tamar gave a 2nd consecutive name. To address this peculiarity, the Torah found it necessary to explain that Yehuda wasn’t present at the time and was therefore unable to give a name, leaving his wife with no choice but to choose the name herself!


(ויאמר מה הערבון אשר אתן לך ותאמר חתמך ופתילך ומטך אשר בידך (38:18
The Ba’al Ha’Turim writes an amazing thing: that the staff which Yehuda gave to Tamar was the very same staff with which Moshe Rabbeinu performed all of the miracles and plagues in Egypt!


היא מוצאת והיא שלחה אל חמיה לאמור לאיש אשר אלה לו אנכי הרה (38:25)
אמרה אם יודה מעצמו יודה ואם לאו ישרפוני ואל אלבין פניו מכאן אמרו נוח לו לאדם שיפיל עצמו לכבשן האש ואל ילבין פני חבירו ברבים (רש"י
Rashi quotes the Gemora (Sotah 10b) which derives from Tamar’s willingness to be killed rather than publicly shame Yehuda should he choose not to admit the truth, that a person should give up his life rather than publicly embarrass another person. A number of commentators (Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz, the Brisker Rov, and Rav Leib Chasman) point out that the Gemora doesn’t say that a person is required to give up his life, but rather that it is preferable for him that he do so. They explain that it should cause a person so much pain to publicly insult and shame another Jew that the Gemora gave him advice for his own sake that he let himself be killed and avoid that intense pain! Rav Yisroel Chaim Kaplan (son-in-law of Rav Yeruchom Levovitz) was once found crying profusely. When asked about the cause of his tears, he answered that if he would see somebody enter the beis medrash (study hall) and stab with a knife one of the people learning there in his heart, it would surely bring him to tears. If so, when he just witnessed something much worse, that one person entered the beis medrash and humiliated another Jew in front of all those present, how could he not cry!


(וחד אמר לעשות צרכיו עמה אלא שנראית לו דמות דיוקנו של אביו (39:11 רש"י)
Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein relates a beautiful and powerful story about the power of the impressions we make on our children in their youth, which brings tears to my eyes whenever I read it. It once happened in a small town in Europe that one of the Jewish children was kidnapped by the church and sent to study in a monastery. All of the emotional, tear-laden cries and pleas of his parents to various government officials fell on deaf ears. The local priest, who was well-connected, simply denied the accusations. Finally, after years of petitions (both to Hashem and to the government), a compromise was proposed: the parents would be allowed to spend 5 minutes in the room with this boy. If at the end of that time he chose to leave with them of his own free will, then their claims would be accepted, but if not, it would be considered incontrovertible proof that their story had been completely fabricated. As excited as they were at finally having a chance to get their son back and obtain justice, they were also full of trepidation, as they could only imagine the brainwashing to which he had been subjected during his years in the monastery. They approached their local Rav (who wrote the commentary Nachal Eshkol on the Sefer HaEshkol) for advice; he assured them that he would accompany them to the meeting, would speak on their behalf, and that they had nothing to fear. Relieving as he was, they were still full of anxiety over the meeting and wondering whether the Rav’s mysterious plan would work. On the fateful day, when the 3 of them were led into a small room, they found their son sitting across a table from them, glaring at them angrily and showing no signs of recognition. Their hearts dropped. He had been programmed to the point of not remembering his own parents! Looking to the Rav for guidance, he kept his calm and began slowly humming the haunting melody of Kol Nidrei. They looked back at their son, who wasn’t flinching and whose expression was as angry as ever. The Rav continued, picking up the pace and the volume, but seemingly to no avail. The parents, growing desperate, glanced at the clock, as one, two, three precious minutes ticked by. Finally, as the parents were about to give up, the Rav raised his voice further and reached a feverish pitch. The boy broke down sobbing and ran into his parents’ welcoming arms, as the unforgettable memories of his past brought him home!


ויבא אליהם יוסף בבקר וירא אותם והנם זועפים וישאל את סריסי פרעה אשר אתו במשמר בית אדניו לאמר מדוע פניכם רעים יום (40:6-7
A number of commentators (Rav Shalom Shwadron, Shemen HaTov, Peninim Vol. 8) point out that the entire miraculous development of events in the coming Parshios is predicated on Yosef’s accurately interpreting the dreams of the baker and the cup-bearer, which directly led to his release from jail, his appointment as second-in-command in Egypt, the fulfillment of his dreams, his emotional reunion with his brothers and later his father, and the descent of the Jewish people to Egypt. Yet the episode of his interpreting their dreams wouldn’t have happened were it not for one seemingly trivial exchange. Yosef woke up one morning and noticed that his fellow prisoners looked downtrodden, and chose to initiate a conversation which would literally change the future of all mankind, by asking them quite simply, “What’s wrong?” How many times do we see somebody who looks like they could use a warm smile, a kind word, a bit of extra attention, yet the yetzer hara (evil inclination) discourages us from wasting our valuable time on such inconsequential matters? Inconsequential indeed. Next time, it would behoove us to think twice, as Yosef teaches us that nothing we do is ever minor, and we have no idea what chain we could set in action with a few “trivial” words!


Questions for further study and thought, and sources which discuss them:

1) In next week’s Parsha (41:32), Yosef tells Paroh that his two dreams are really one, but it was repeated to indicate that its fulfillment will begin immediately. Yet Yosef’s dream was also repeated, so why did it take 22 years to realize its fulfillment? (Mishmeres Ariel)

2) In the moving piyutim of Tisha B’Av and during Mussar on Yom Kippur, we recount the tragic and tortuous deaths of the עשרה הרוגי מלכות, the 10 great Rabbis who Chazal teach us died to atone for the sin of the sale of Yosef. Yet Reuven and Binyomin weren’t present when he was sold, leaving only 9 brothers who actually participated in his sale? (Rabbeinu Bechaye)

3) Rashi explains (37:35) part of the worry Yaakov felt at the loss of Yosef was due to a guarantee that Hashem had given him, that if none of his children dies during his lifetime, then he won’t have to spend even one second in Gehinom, something he obviously worried about now that he was led to believe that Yosef had died. Rav Yitzchok Hellman pointed out that this is difficult to understand, for Rashi earlier (35:17) wrote that with each of the Shevatim (tribes) was born a twin, and he writes later (46:26) that the reason they aren’t included in the count of 70 people who went down to Egypt is because they all died. Why didn’t the death of all of these children cause Yaakov any consternation? (Matamei Yaakov)

4) How did Yosef know to interpret the 3 branches and 3 baskets seen in the dreams of the cup-bearer and baker to refer to 3 days, while in the beginning of next week’s Parsha he understands that the 7 stalks and 7 cows in Paroh’s dreams correspond to 7 years? Perhaps the dreams of his cell-mates referred to 3 years, and Paroh’s to 7 days? (Paneiach Raza)

3 Comments:

Blogger Eshet Chayil said...

Question...do you really put this much work into your blog? I actually printed the last two posts to read. Very, very nice.

Tue Dec 27, 12:55:00 AM  
Blogger Parsha Potpourri said...

I don't write this up specifically for this blog per se. "Chumash Torah" has been a passion of mine for years, and every year I collect more and more vertlach in my handwritten notes. I recently started organizing it and typing it up as a personal project.

I email it each week to my friends, but I wanted to increase distribution as well. I was going to make a proper Web page but I'm not so good with the technical stuff so I just chose a pre-made blog template and threw up the last 3 weeks worth of material. If you have any suggestions or feedback on how to organize it or distribute, by all means please share.

Thanks for taking the time to print it and read it - glad you enjoyed it! There will hopefully be a new post on Wednesday/Thursday each week b"n. What did you mean in your other comment about your middle name?

Tue Dec 27, 02:23:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

yasher koach in being marbitz Torah! Keep up your excellent work.

Wed Dec 28, 09:58:00 AM  

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