Friday, December 30, 2005


Let us begin with three questions. First, at the end of the “Al Hanissim” which we recite on Chanuka, after describing all of the miracles which Hashem made for our ancestors, we conclude “v’kavu shomenas y’mei Chanuka eilu l’hodos ul’halel l’shim’cha ha’gadol,” yet in the “Al Hanissim” on Purim, we make no mention of what we do as a result of the miracles Hashem performed. Further, once we’re mentioning our obligations on Chanuka, why did they leave out lighting the menorah, which is traditionally considered to be the primary mitzvah of Chanuka to publicize the miracle? Secondly, in “Ma’oz Tzur,” we sing “B’nei bina y’mei shemonah kavu shir ur’nanim.” There are numerous words for wisdom (e.g. chochma, dei’ah), so why do we specifically refer to them as b’nei bina? Third is the famous question attributed to the Beis Yosef: if there was enough oil for one day, then the miracle was only for 7 days, so why do we make commemorate it for 8?

Before beginning to answer these questions, let us ask one additional question, whose answer will provide us the key we need to begin addressing these questions. Often we find that through revealing the depth and intricacy of Hashem’s Creation, people are actually brought to believe in Hashem as they marvel at the impossibility of it all occurring by chance. The historians tell us that the Greeks were on the cutting edge of science and knowledge of the natural world, so why do we specifically find that they were biggest heretics?

I once heard a parable which will allow us to answer this last question. We may compare two acts of chesed (kindness), one of that of a family which notices a poor homeless beggar and invites him to their home for a warm supper, a shower, a change of clothes, and a good night’s sleep, and one that of a family which hears of the plight of a young abandoned babtyand with great mercy adopts him and raises him as their very own. While both are admirable, praiseworthy acts, the latter clearly far outweighs the former, as it is an obligation for life versus a commitment of one night. Yet if you would encounter the homeless man and the adopted child and measure their level of gratitude, you would surprisingly find the homeless man gushing with effusive praise for his compassionate hosts, while the child will be far less enthusiastic. The explanation for this phenomenon is that because he was adopted at such a young age, the child has grown accustomed to their kindnesses to the point of taking them for granted and thinking they occur automatically, whereas the homeless man is able to recognize the magnitude of their thoughtfulness, which was certainly unexpected by him.

So too, the Greeks were leaders at furthering the understanding and awareness of the natural world, but they were led astray by the very fact that the focus of their inquires, nature, is by definition constant and self-perpetuating, which led them to take it for granted and to view it, chas v’shalom, as an independent power unto itself. Not surprisingly, the gematria (numerical value) of the word ha’teva (nature) is the same as that of Elokim, yet they erred in concluding that nature is a god rather than His work and the way in which His Divine Will manifests itself in this world.

With this introduction, we now have a new understanding of the victory of the Chashmonaim over the Greeks. It wasn’t just a military struggle, but it was a battle over this fundamental mistake made by the Greeks. The Chashmonaim realized that everything in the world comes from Hashem, and everything is in reality a miracle, including nature itself. The Ramban writes so beautifully (at the very end of Parshas Bo) that from clear and open miracles a person is supposed to come to recognize that even the mundane things we take for granted, such as nature, as also miraculous, albeit in a “hidden” form. This concept is so fundamental to Jewish belief that he concludes that one who denies this has no portion in our Torah.

In this light, we can now appreciate the answer given by the Alter from Kelm to the 3rd question we asked, that of the Beis Yosef. The question was that since there was enough oil to burn on the first day, no miracle occurred and therefore we should only celebrate Chanuka for the 7 days that the oil burned “miraculously.” He answers that the miracle of the first day is that oil burns at all! Ah, you’ll ask, but that’s not miraculous – that’s just nature? Exactly the point! The first day of Chanuka commemorates the recognition that nature itself is a creation of Hashem and just because we are accustomed to it on a daily basis, is no less miraculous than the fact that the oil burned for longer than it was supposed to!

There is a well-known Gemora in Taanis which relates that one Friday, the daughter of Rav Chanina ben Dosa accidentally put vinegar in the Shabbos candles instead of oil. Her father wasn’t fazed, as he unequivocally declared that “He who told oil to burn can tell vinegar to burn.” He recognized that what we accept as nature is arbitrary; if Hashem willed it to be another way, it could just as easily be completely different. He understood that there is nothing intrinsically more miraculous in the burning of oil than that of vinegar, as nature is just another, more hidden, form of a miracle. Not surprisingly, the Gemora concludes that for somebody on such a level, an open miracle occurred and they lit their Havdola candle from those very same vinegar candles which were still burning strong!

In a similar vein, Rav Moshe Feinstein answers another question asked on the wording of the “Al Hanisim”: why is there no mention made of the most well-known miracle associated with Chanuka, that the oil burned for 8 days? Based on the above, he suggests that it is indeed mentioned, in the words “v’kidliku naros b’chatzros kad’shecha” – that they lit candles in Your Holy Temple. But you’ll ask: that’s not the miracle of the oil? They had enough oil to burn at first! Exactly the point! This was the first miracle of the oil, and one no less miraculous than that which occurred on the remaining 7 days!

We can now understand the answer given by Rav Shmuel Rozovsky to our second question (why we specifically refer to them as “b’nei bina”). We first have to understand what is the unique connotation of wisdom associated with the word “bina.” Chazal tell us that the word “bina” refers to one who is able to be “meivin davar mi’toch davar” – to extrapolate from one thing and use it to understand something else. This is the precise description of the Chashmonaim, who acted in line with the aforementioned Ramban’s principle, and from the open miracle they witnessed on the last 7 days, they were able to step back and use it to recognize that the lighting of the first day had been just as miraculous. This was their conquest over the Greeks and their pagan philosophy. Had they only established a holiday of 7 days, they would have missed the entire point. The Greeks also would have agreed to make a holiday commemorating the latter 7 days, but that was their entire defeat. Therefore we stress that “B’nei bina y’mei shemonah kavu shir ur’nanim” – the wise and understanding men established 8 days for singing and praising; the fact that they made it 8 and not 7 is precisely the proof that they were b’nei bina!

The Medrash tells us that when Leah named her 4th son Yehuda she was the first one since the creation of the Universe who gave thanks to Hashem. Many commentators are bothered by the notion that Avrohom and Sora, Yitzchok and Rivkah, Yaakov Avinue – none of them even once thanked Hashem!? Rav Yosef Chaim Zonnenfeld quotes his Rebbe the K’sav Sofer who answers that of course they thanked Hashem repeatedly, but only for the open miracles. Leah was the first one to openly thank Hashem for something which could be classified as “natural,” the birth of 4 sons. She recognized that nature is also a miracle and requires just as much gratitude as the open miracles!

The Bach writes that the reason why the Greeks were able to control and overpower the Jews at that time was because they weakened themselves in their Divine Service. The Shem Mi’Shmuel clarifies that the Bach doesn’t mean to say that they weren’t doing the mitzvos. They were indeed doing everything they were required to do, but they were doing it k’mitzvas anashim m’lumada, from rote and from habit, and the conquest of Chanuka is to overcome this.

In discussing how long one’s menorah must burn, the Gemora doesn’t give an amount of time but rather an unusual measurement: ad she’tik’leh ha’regel min ha’shuk, literally until people’s feet are no longer walking around outside in the marketplace (where they will be able to see the menorahs, and hence there is no further purpose in publicizing the miracle). Yet the Chiddushei HaRim suggests that the word “haregel” (the foot) can also be read “hergel” (habit). The foot is the part of our body which is farthest from the brain, and as such, it is the most capable of function on “automatic pilot” without any thought at all. The Gemora could be re-read to require “ad she’tikelh hergel min ha’shok.” Our focus on Chanuka should be to detach our feet from the legs which allow them to walk automatically, and to attach them to our heads (not literally of course).

A Rebbe of mine once cynically remarked that while Orthodox Jews are traditionally subdivided into the categories of FFB (Frum From Birth) and BT (Baal Teshuva), he would suggest that most of them fall into a 3rd category, FFH (Frum From Habit), people who keep Shabbos because they did it last week, and who eat kosher because that’s what they did growing up. Chanuka is a time when must work to overcome this and become thinking Jews!

The question with which we began was why in the “Al Hanisim” on Chanuka we conclude with what we do to commemorate the miracles, as opposed to on Purim, and that once we are doing so, why only mention the need to give thanks and overlook the lighting of the menorah? Rabbi Yosef Sonnenschein suggests that since we now understand that the goal of Chanuka is to overcome the power of habit, giving thanks to Hashem is an integral part of the holiday. If one does most mitzvos, including lighting the menorah, without proper intent, it definitely takes away from the value of the mitzvah, but at the end of the day the mitzvah was still done. The burning menorah publicizes the miracle to all who see it regardless of the concentration, or lack thereof, of the one who lit it. Gratitude, on the other hand, if offered unenthusiastically, isn’t considered as having been done but just not so well; it’s meaningless and wasn’t done at all! If I don’t feel the other person has benefited me, or I ascribe to him ulterior motives, or if I don’t feel appreciative for any of a number of reasons, then saying an insincere “thank you” is actually hollow and worthless.

We can console ourselves that this actually an old problem. The Yerushalmi relates that one of the Amoraim commented that he has gratitude toward his head and spine, as they “know” to automatically bow down when reaching the word “Modim” in the Shemoneh Esrei. In other words, his body is so conditioned to bend over when arriving at the prayer giving thanks to Hashem, that it does it without any thought or intention! Yet this is not an excuse. Rav Nosson Wachtfogel points out that these are miraculous days, a time of l’mala min ha’teva (above the laws of nature). We stress in the “Al Hanisim” that this is a time when Hashem delivered the mighty into the hands of the weak and the many into the hands of the few. Let us use this precious opportunity to recognize that even what is cloaked in the guise of nature is indeed miraculous, and to reflect on the numerous miracles Hashem makes for us every second of every day, and to thank Him for with hears full of gratitude!

Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1) In the “Al Hanissim” prayer which is added during Chanuka, we give thanks for the miracles, for the redemption, for the acts of might, for the salvations, and for the wars. Wouldn’t we have been better off without wars? Why are we giving thanks for them? (Leket Sichos Mussar, Noam Hamussar, Derech Sicha Biurei Ha’Tefilla, Shiurei Bina quoting S’fas Emes)

2) When reciting Birkas Hamazon (the Grace after Meals) during Chanuka, there is a special addition to be said (Al Hanissim), so why wasn’t one also inserted in Al Hamich’yah, the blessing recited after eating other grain products? (Torah L’Daas Vol. 6 quotes several answers)

3) In Ma’oz Tzur, we sing “umi’nosar kan’kanim na’ase nes la’shoshanim,” that with the remaining oil a miracle occurred for the roses. Why do we compare the Chashmonaim to flowers, and specifically to roses?

4) In Ma’oz Tzur, we sing regarding Haman “Rov banav v’kinyanav al ha’eitz talisa,” that the majority of his sons and possessions You hung on the tree. The Pirkei D’Rebbe Eliezer writes that Haman had 40 sons, yet only 10 of them were hung with him? Also, in what way were his possessions hung on the tree?

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)

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)

Parshas Vayishlach

(32:8) ויירא יעקב מאד ויצר לו
Rashi explains the double expression (that Yaakov was both very afraid and pained) to indicate that he was afraid both that he may be killed and also that he may kill others should Eisav reject the gifts and attack him. It is natural to understand why he would be afraid of being killed, but since the halacha is that one is allowed to kill a pursuer in self-defense, why was he afraid of killing others? The Taam V’Daas and the Har Tzvi quoting Rav Yehoshua Leib Diskin answer that his fear was that he may end up killing Eisav, and Rashi (27:45) writes that Rivkah had already prophetically declared that her two sons – Yaakov and Eisav – would die on the same day, so that he was afraid that his killing Eisav would therefore lead to his immediate death!
This also allows us to understand why Yaakov expressed such confidence that by splitting his family into two camps, even if one was destroyed but surely the other would survive (32:9). Because he placed a distance of one day’s travel between the two camps and he was at the front of the first one, even if they would lose and he would be killed, but that would also cause Eisav to die that same day, before he could reach the 2nd camp which would by necessity remain intact!
The Mishmeres Ariel raises one difficulty with this beautiful explanation: that if this was Yaakov’s thinking, then why did he place half of his family with him in the first camp and needlessly endanger them, when he could have guaranteed their safety by leaving them behind in the second camp. The primary difficulty, however, is that ultimately, Yaakov and Eisav didn’t die on the same day! See the footnote in Har Tzvi who discusses this point, and see Tiferes Torah (by Rav Shimshon Pinkus) in Parshas Toldos who explains how Rivkah’s prophecy is still considered to be true.

(קטנתי מכל החסדים (32:11
The Gemora in Shabbos (53b) relates an interesting episode. The wife of a certain poor man passed away shortly after giving birth to a child. The man simply didn’t have the means to hire a nurse-maid for his newborn, who surely would have died except that a miracle occurred in the man’s body was transformed and able to nurse his baby, thus saving its life. The Amora Rav Yosef praises the man, saying he must surely have done great deeds if he merited such an open miracle. Abaye, on the other hand, remarks how lowly the man must be that he needed a miracle performed on his behalf. The Shalmei Nedorim in his introduction explains that Abaye’s intent is not to say that the man is wicked, as after all he did merit the performing of such an uncommon miracle. Rather, Abaye is lamenting the fact that the man was forced to use up so many of his merits as a result, just as Yaakov feared. With this introduction, he explains beautifully that after hearing almost any brocha, we answer simple “Amen.” Except for one brocha, Birkas HaGomel, after which we answer at length: “אמן מי שגמלך כל טוב הוא יגמלך כל טוב סלה” (He who has bestowed upon you all good should continue to bestow upon you all good), something we find in no other place. The answer lies in the fact that this blessing is recited after one has been saved from illness or other potential danger. While we are happy that the person making the blessing survived, we are also afraid that it may have come at the cost of whatever merits he may have accumulated until now, so that a simple “Amen” won’t suffice, and we must add a special supplication requesting that the good should continue and not be depleted through this miracle.

שכח פכים קטנים וחזר עליהם (רש"י 32:25
While it would seem that Yaakov Avinu went back simply to receive some relatively insignificant containers, the Megaleh Amukos tells us an amazing thing. The flask he went back to retrieve was the very same one which held the oil that remained pure and was used by the Chashmonaim to re-dedicate the Menorah in the Beis Hamikdash, and lasted miraculously for 8 days! No matter how insignificant our actions may seem, we have no idea what consequences they may have hundreds or even thousands of years down the line.

(כי שרית עם אלקים ועם אנשים ותוכל (32:29
The angel informs Yaakov that because he has successfully wrestled with Hashem and with Eisav and Lavan, his name will be changed to Yisroel. Rav Moshe Soloveitchik points out that Yaakov was forced to give a substantial gift to Eisav and lower himself by bowing and prostrating to his wicked brother. If so, in what way can we consider that he was victorious? He answers that people often make a fundamental mistake in defining success. Victory is not defined as subduing and crushing the other side. Rather, it is to be viewed in terms of one’s objectives; one who successfully accomplishes his goals is indeed victorious. Yaakov’s goal was simply to pursue his service of Hashem and to raise his children to continue in his ways without distractions and interference. If the way to achieve that was to give Eisav a few animals and humble himself before his arrogant brother, so be it. Yaakov was able to focus on the big picture, on his goals, and because he indeed appeased his brother’s wrath and was able to send him away and return to serving Hashem, he was indeed victorious. So too, he continues, when it comes to shalom bayis. If the goal is to do things my way, then any time my spouse acquiesces I succeeded and any time I had to compromise I failed. But if we can be mature enough to keep in mind that the ultimate goal is to bring the Shechina into our houses, then the wise one who knows when to give in is indeed the victor!

(על כן לא יאכלו בני ישראל את גיד הנשה אשר על כף הירך עד היום הזה (32:33
Rav Shlomo HaKohen from Vilna quotes an amazing thing from his father: in the times of Moshiach, the gid ha’nashe (sciatic nerve), which is currently forbidden in consumption, will become permitted to Jews! This is hinted to in our verse, which says that as a result of the angel’s wounding Yaakov in that place, the Jewish people don’t eat it until the present day, which implies that there will come a time after the present day when they will indeed consume it. We know that there are 365 gidim (sinews) in the human body, each of which mystically corresponds to one of the days of the solar calendar. The Zohar Ha’Kadosh says that the gid ha’nashe corresponds to Tisha B’Av, and that by dislodging it, Eisav’s angel gave strength to Eisav’s descendants to twice destroy the Beis Hamikdash on that day. However, in the times of Moshiach when the Holy Temple is permanently rebuilt, this reason will no longer be applicable, and the gid ha’nashe will once again be permitted. However, see the S’dei Chemed who disagrees.

ותגשנה השפחות הנה וילדיהן ותשתחוין ותגש גם לאה וילדיה וישתחוו ואחר נגש יוסף ורחל וישתחוו (33:6-7
The Matamei Yaakov raises a very big difficulty with this episode. The Torah describes to us Yaakov’s climactic encounter with Eisav, which is followed by each of Yaakov’s wives and children prostrating themselves to Eisav. However, we learned at the beginning of the Parsha that Yaakov divided his family into two camps, with a distance of one day’s travel between them. If so, how do we find them all together when they meet Eisav? He answers in the name of his brother that after Yaakov wrestled with Eisav’s guardian angel and emerged triumphant, he was no longer afraid of Eisav and abandoned all of his previous strategies as unnecessary.
This can be understood with an insight of the Brisker Rav. Eisav’s angel told Yaakov, כי שרית עם אלקים ועם אנשים ותוכל, that because he has successfully wrestled with Hashem and with “men”, his name will be changed to Yisroel. Rashi explains that the men referred to are Lavan and Eisav. How could the angel say that he has vanquished Eisav when they have yet to actually encounter one another? The Medrash says that the dust which was kicked up from the wrestling match between Yaakov and Eisav’s angel ascended all the way to Hashem’s throne of glory. This is hinting to us that this was no mundane wrestling match, but rather a battle being fought in Heaven. If so, once he emerged victorious there, it was already a foregone conclusion that he would be successful in his earthly encounter. In this light, it is indeed understood why he scrapped his initial military plans, as he knew that he had nothing to fear.

(יעבר נא אדני לפני עבדו ואני אתנהלה לאטי ... עד אשר אבא אל אדני שעירה (33:14
The Ponovezher Rav, Rav Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman, was once collecting in New York on behalf of his Yeshiva. He was on the subway, on his way to meet with a potential donor, when a group of unruly teenagers decided to have fun with the elderly Rabbi. They came over and began pestering and disturbing him. He was afraid they may follow him to his destination or even attack him, but how to escape them in an unfamiliar city? Fortunately, he remembered that the Medrash relates that every time Chazal had to meet with the Roman government, they would first review our Parsha, which teaches the rules for interacting with Edom while we are in exile. Quickly reviewing the Parsha, the Ponovezher Rav developed a brilliant plan (see Avodah Zora 25b which offers similar advice). Feigning ignorance, he asked the teens how to get to a certain part of town. Excited at their “good fortune,” they were more than happy to offer to personally escort him there, and told him he should get off with them at the next stop. When the doors opened, the kids told the Rabbi to hurry up and exit. He, pretending to be even older than his years, took laborious steps and “honored” them with exiting first, which they were more than happy to do. A few seconds later, the Rabbi was still walking toward the doors when they closed, and the subway took off minus his tormentors! He explained that he remembered that just when Yaakov thought he was free of Eisav, as his gifts had been accepted and his brother’s wrath appeased, Eisav then offered to accompany him on his journey. Yaakov, fearing the spiritual influence of his wicked brother, commented that because of his large load and his small children, he couldn’t keep up with Eisav’s pace, and therefore suggested that Eisav proceed ahead and he would eventually catch up. Something he never got around to doing. And teaching an eternal lesson that the Ponovezher Rav learned well!

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

1) Before his encounter with Eisav, Yaakov arranges his wives and their children: first the maid-servants and their sons, then Leah and her children, and finally Rochel and her sons (33:2). Rashi explains that the more beloved they were, the closer to the back he placed them. We find in next week’s Parsha that the brothers are jealous of Yosef and want to kill him over an extra article of clothing he received from Yaakov. Why don’t we find any hint of jealousy here, when their being placed closer to the front when meeting Eisav could potentially be life-threatening? (Meged Yosef)

2) After Sh’chem and his father Chamor attempt to convince Yaakov and his sons to allow Sh’chem to marry Dina and offer their daughters in marriage to the Shevatim (tribes), Yaakov’s sons answer and explain why it can’t be done until Sh’chem and his townsmen will circumcise themselves. However, in 24:50 Rashi writes that Lavan was a rasha for speaking up before his father Besuel and not allowing his father to answer. If so, how did the Shevatim answer in front of their father Yaakov? (Emes L’Yaakov)

3) Even though numerous reasons are given for the killing of all of the men in Sh’chem’s city, but on what grounds did the brothers plunder all of their possessions (34:27-29) which presumably should have been inherited by their wives and children? (Ohr HaChayim HaKadosh)

4) All Jews today are referred to as “Yehudim,” which most commentators explain to be derived from the name Yehuda, who was one of Yaakov’s 12 sons, and in some way forever connected his name with Judaism. However, Rashi tells us (36:2) that one of Eisav’s wives was named Ohalivama, yet he called her “Yehudis” in an effort to deceive his father Yitzchok into thinking he was righteous and had married virtuous and respectable women. One of my Rebbeim once pointed out that Eisav married her when he was 40 years old, roughly 40 years before the birth of his nephew Yehuda, which would indicate that it was a “Jewish” name in its own right, even before the birth of Yehuda. What is the intrinsic “Jewish” quality in the name Yehuda/Yehudis?

Parshas Vayeitzei

Rashi quotes the Gemora in Megilla which tells us that on his way to the house of Lavan where he would marry and have children, Yaakov Avinu first stopped in the Yeshiva of Shem and Eiver for 14 years. Rav Yehoshua Leib Diskin offers a cute explanation why: Yaakov had been told by Rivka that Eisav wanted to kill him, and he should therefore run for his life and hide. Thought Yaakov, what better place could there be to hide from the wicked Eisav than the beis medrash (study hall), a place Eisav would never even think to enter!

Rabbeinu Bechaye explains that the dream Yaakov had involving the ladder and the angels wasn’t an ordinary dream, but was in fact a prophecy. However, the Darkei Mussar points out that one of the requirements to receive prophecy is happiness – ein ha’nevuah shora ela mi’toch simcha. If we stop to consider Yaakov’s circumstances at this time – he was fleeing from his loving parents’ home because his wicked twin brother wanted to kill him (for taking the blessings which were rightfully his and which his mother had insisted that he receive), and along the way along comes Esav’s son Elifaz and takes all of his earthly possessions, leaving him with nothing – it is unfathomable to us how such a person could indeed be in a state of joy. Yet if it weren’t clear to Hashem that Yaakov was indeed b’simcha, then He wouldn’t have given him the prophecy. We can only conclude that Yaakov was on such a high level of trust in Hashem that his faith (and accompanying internal joy) couldn’t be shaken no matter what apparent tragedy befell him. His unwavering belief allowed him to realize that “kol ma d’avid Hashem, l’tov hu d’avid,” whatever Hashem does to us is ultimately for the good (even when in the midst of it we can’t see or even fathom the good).

Rashi tells us that Elifaz chased the fleeing Yaakov at his father’s command to go and kill him. However, he was hesitant to do so, so instead he simply took all of Yaakov’s possessions, as the Gemora in Nedorim tells us that one who is poor is considered like a dead person, so this was considered a partial fulfillment of his father’s instructions to kill Yaakov. If so, asks the Paneiach Raza, how is it that Yaakov, upon awaking, took the rocks which had protected him through the night, set them up as a pillar, and poured oil on them? If he was robbed of all of his possession, from where did he suddenly obtain oil? He answers that the one item which he kept for himself was his staff. Because he was so dedicated to learning, his staff was indeed hollow to allow him to store oil inside, so that he would always have oil available by which to learn late at night, and it was this oil which remained to him and which he used to pour on the pillar.

Upon seeing Rochel, Yaakov kisses her and then raises his voice and begins crying. Rashi explains that he saw through Divine inspiration that she wouldn’t be buried with him. I once saw in a book on shalom bayis (marital harmony) an interesting thought: when non-Jews get married, they promise to take one another “till death do us part,” which while it sounds very long-term, is indeed not permanent. At the very moment that they are beginning their married lives, they are already talking about an eventual separation. Yaakov, on the other hand, teaches us the Jewish view of marriage, that it is an eternal bonding the souls which not even death can separate.

The Gemora records that when Rochel related to Yaakov that her father Lavan is a trickster, he replied “Achiv ani b’rama’us” – I am his brother in deceit! Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein (in Tuv’cha Yabi’u) relates an interesting halachic query he once received. A young man went into a barber shop and requested an extra good haircut, adding that he is a chosson (groom) who would be getting married that very evening. As the barber knew that there were no barber shops in the surrounding area and this chosson would obviously be pressed for time, he informed the customer that the price would be double the usual charge. The chosson was disgusted at the greedy barber’s taking advantage of the situation, but he had no choice but to agree. However, at the end, when it came time to pay, he exclaimed “Why should I pay you even a penny for this haircut? Don’t you know that I have miraculous hair that just hours after being cut, grows back to exactly the length it was previously? In which case, your haircut hasn’t helped me at all and I shouldn’t owe you anything!” The astonished barber assured him that if he came back that afternoon looking as he had before the haircut, he would happily give him another one free of charge. The chosson now came to the Rav to inquire – “Since the barber treated me unfairly and made me pay double, am I permitted to send in my identical twin brother, who hasn’t had a haircut recently, to get for free the 2nd haircut I was unfairly forced to pay for?” Although the barber certainly doesn’t deserve our pity and the idea was quite a “Yiddishe chap,” Rav Zilberstein wasn’t keen on the proposed method of being the barber’s “brother in deceit.”

The Seder Olam (as quoted in Matamei Yaakov) writes that Rochel and Leah were in fact twins!

I once heard from HoRav Nachman Bulman that American Jews feel so comfortable and trusting in that the government respects and acknowledges our equal rights to practice our religion. However, it is no coincidence that the President’s residence, the White House, when translated into Hebrew becomes … Beis Lavan – the house of Lavan, who seemed externally to be fair and just, yet in reality was wicked and as we learn in the Hagadda bi’keis Lavan la’akor es ha’kol, Lavan wanted to destroy the Jewish people and their entire future. So while we must be appreciative for the unprecedented freedom and rights granted us in the US, we must remember that we are still in golus (exile) and must never completely let our guards down.

A yeshiva student was once in the house of the Tchebiner Rav, who was discussing with him a girl whom the Rav felt would be a good match for the boy. At one point, the boy requested to see a picture of the girl before deciding if he was interested in meeting her. Overhearing the exchange from the kitchen, the Tchebiner Rebbetzin exclaimed (in her Polish pronunciation which is critical to the punch line) “Lo ye’ase kein bim’komeini la’ses ha’tzeira lif’nei ha’bchira.” Literally, Lavan was defending his trickery of Yaakov in switching his daughters, maintaining that the local custom is not to marry the younger daughter before the older one is married off. With her pronunciation, however, it could be reinterpreted to mean “Our custom is not to give a picture (tzura = tz’eira) before you meet the girl (b’chira = bochura)!”

All Jews today are collectively referred to as “Yehudim,” presumably after the name of Yehudah, one of the 12 tribes. Many explanations have been offered as to why we are specifically associated with Yehudah, when clearly not all Jews are descended from him. The Chiddushei HaRim offers a particularly beautiful approach. The verse tells us that Leah chose to name her 4th son Yehudah, saying “this time I will thank Hashem.” Rashi explains why it only occurred to her to thank Hashem now: Leah knew through Divine inspiration that there would be 12 tribes, and since there were 4 wives, she assumed each would merit to give birth to 3. Therefore, it wasn’t until the 4th son, which she viewed as more than what she was expecting or entitled to, that she decided to give a special thanks to Hashem. It is this idea, he explains, for which we are called Yehudim. A Jew should view everything he has in life as above and beyond the portion to which he is entitled, and give thanks to Hashem accordingly.

The verse says “Vayiz’kor Elokim es Rochel, va’yishma ale’ha Elokim va’yiftach es rachma.” Rav Pam questions the usage of the word Elokim, which corresponds to the Divine attribute of strict justice (midas hadin), when it should presumably have used the name Hashem, which reflects His attribute of mercy. He explains that Rochel was indeed barren and should not have had any children. However, when she gave the simanim to her sister Leah so as not to embarrass her, she created such a tremendous merit for herself that Hashem’s sense of justice ultimately was compelled to change nature, make a miracle, and reward her with a child which she otherwise would not have had.
Imagine, says Rav Elya Ber Wachtfogel (in his sefer Even Me’irah) how Rochel must have felt. On the day of her chassuna (wedding) which she had been looking forward to for 7 full years, she found out that her father was replacing her with her older sister. In a moment of pure selflessness, she managed to place her sister’s consideration before her very own. However, she was sure that the act she was committing would doom her never to marry Yaakov and certainly to bear the holy Shvatim from him. In Heaven, however, the reality was a bit different. Had she gone ahead and married Yaakov, as was her right to do, she would have had a beautiful marriage, but unbeknownst to her, she was barren and would never have had any children from him. It was davka (specifically) through this act which appeared to destroy any chance she would have of having the children she so badly wanted, that she generated for herself a merit which would change her fate and that of the Jewish people. One never loses out from doing a mitzvah!

We know that Yaakov was exemplary in his dedication to Torah study, and indeed spent 14 years learning non-stop before arriving at Lavan’s house to find a wife. After working for 7 years for Rochel and being tricked into marrying Leah, Lavan agrees that if he will work another 7 years he may marry Rochel as well. However, this time Yaakov isn’t required to wait until the end of the 7 years, but rather marries Rochel just one week after his marriage to Leah. If so, asks Rav Dovid Feinstein, why did he remain in Lavan’s house and work for another 7 years, when he wasn’t required to do so, as it was Lavan who had tricked him and reneged on their initial agreement. They had agreed that he would work 7 years for Rochel, and indeed he already did; he never promised to work 7 years for Leah as well. Rav Dovid Feinstein answers that even though he wasn’t required to do so, had he in fact left prematurely Leah would have been devastated. She would have felt that her husband viewed her sister as being worth 7 years of work, but not her. Even though the extra 7 years of work came at the expense of further toiling in Torah study (not to mention being forced to remain outside of Eretz Yisroel in the home of his wicked father-in-law), it was worth all 7 years simply to avoid hurting the feelings of his wife Leah. Indeed, derech eretz kad’mah l’Torah!

The Medrash Tanchuma (13) as well as the Targum Yonason and Paneiach Raza (31:52) tell us an amazing fact – that Bil’am was indeed none other than … Lavan! And the fence against which his donkey will press him was none other than the pile of rocks upon which Yaakov and Lavan made a covenant not to cross to the side of the other. When Bil’am attempted to violate the agreement, it was those very rocks which testified to his breach and executed his punishment! The Moshav Z’keinim goes one step further, adding that when they made the covenant they stuck a sword into the pile of rocks, and it was this very sword with which he was later killed. The verse relates (Bamidbar 31:8) that he was killed “be-charev,” which means with the known and familiar sword, although in the context there it’s not clear which sword is familiar. The answer is that it is referring to the one placed in the rocks when they made the covenant!

Those who paid attention to the Chumash during Krias HaTorah, or those who review the Parsha not verse-by-verse but small parsha by small parsha, will note that in this week’s parsha there are no breaks, no “pehs” or “somechs” from start to finish, as there are to break up almost every other Parsha in the Torah. Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz explains that this is because it is impossible to break up the events of the Parsha and judge or evaluate any individual component in a vacuum. Rather, each episode is a part of a bigger picture, which can only be understood when viewed with a total perspective. Obviously, this lesson is not unique to this Parsha but is to be extrapolated to all events in our lives, to realize that we don’t always understand the ways of Hashem, but must trust that everything that happens is part of His larger plan, which we will one day merit to understand.
In this vein, the Darkei Mussar tells a cute, but profound, story about a Chassidic Rebbe who merit to live well past 100. When he was asked what merit he had to such a long and healthy life, he replied with words packed with wisdom: “Don’t think that I’ve had an easy life. I’ve had my share of difficulties just like everybody else, and if anything, because I’ve lived longer, I’ve had more occasions to suffer. It would have been very easy for me to complain to Hashem, ‘Why did this have to happen? And why couldn’t that have turned out differently?’ But I was afraid that if I began demanding a justification for Hashem’s ways, the Heavenly Court would say ‘This Rabbi wants answers, let’s call him up here and set him straight!’ So I never asked any questions. Not that I had any more answers than anybody else, but because I never asked, they kept me down here for quite some time!”

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

1) We find that when Eliezer arrived at Besuel and Lavan’s house, he had to be told that the house had been cleared of idolatry, because until then, even the camels of his master Avrohom Avinu refused to enter. If so, why do we find that Yaakov entered immediately upon his arrival and didn’t wait for the house to be cleared as even the camels did? (Pa’neiach Raza)

2) We find in the Torah 3 different places where people meet their matches by wells – Eliezer and Rivkah, Yaakov and Rochel, and Moshe and Tzipporah. Obviously, even something that is recorded only once in the Torah is no mere coincidence, and all the moreso when it happens 3 times. What is the deeper significance of wells and meeting one’s match by them?

3) We are told that in order to prevent trickery, Yaakov gave “simanim,” or some sort of secret password to Rochel to prove that it is really her on the night of the wedding, which she then told to her sister Leah to prevent her embarrassment. What right did Rochel have to save her sister … at the expense of her betrothed!? We find in fact that I was angry at Leah and Lavan for the trickery, so what right did Rochel have to push aside his feelings for the sake of her sister? And further, why don’t we find any of his anger directed at Rochel, without whose betrayal the plan would never have succeeded? (Lev Shalom and Mishmeres Ariel)

4) Numerous explanations are given for how Yaakov was allowed to marry two sisters, something forbidden by the Torah. For example, the Ramban maintains that the Avos only kept the laws of the Torah in Eretz Yisroel, and Yaakov married them in Chutz L’Aretz. If so, what will be their status after the coming of Moshiach and the resurrection of the dead – to whom will he be rightfully married and allowed to stay married? (Shu”t Rav P’alim by the Ben Ish Chai)

5) Even though the name Yissochor is spelled with two “sins,” the prevalent custom is to pronounce it with only one. Which “sin” is pronounced and which one is silent? (Rashi and Radak, Divrei HaYomim 1 15:24; for the reason why only one is pronounced, see Moshav Z’keinim and Da’as Z’kenim 30:18).

6) Why did Rochel keep the t’rofim which she stole from her father? We are told that Lavan caught up with Yaakov and his family on the 7th day of their travels, so she had ample opportunity to discard them along the way. What purpose could she have had in keeping idols in her tent, which is forbidden by the Torah? (Gur Aryeh, Chavatzeles HaSharon)

7) We learn from Rashi at the end of the parsha that there are different sets of angels for Eretz Yisroel and for Chutz L’Aretz and that they may not cross the border from one to the other. If so, how do we find at the beginning of next week’s Parsha (Vayishlach) from Eretz Yisroel to which he had returned to his brother Eisav, who was outside of Eretz Yisroel? (Even Yisroel by Dayan Yisroel Yaakov Fisher)