Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Parshas Vayigash

ויסע ישראל וכל אשר לו ויבא בארה שבע (46:1)

ויקם יעקב מבאר שבע וישאו בני ישראל את יעקב אביהם ואת טפם

ואת נשיהם בעגלות אשר שלח פרעה לשאת אותו (46:5)

On Yaakov’s journey with his family from Beer-Sheva to Egypt, the Torah stresses that they traveled in the wagons that Pharaoh had sent for him. However, in relating Yaakov’s travels on the first leg of the journey – from his home to Beer-Sheva – this fact is curiously absent.

The Maharil Diskin beautifully explains that initially, although Yaakov set out on the journey, he still remained in doubt about whether he would continue to Egypt or would abort the trip and turn around. He feared for the spiritual well-being of himself and his family, and that he wouldn’t merit to be buried with his parents and grandparents in Me’aras Hamachpela in Chevron.

Therefore, Yaakov wouldn’t allow himself to benefit from the wagons that had been sent to him by Pharaoh for the express purpose of escorting him on his journey to Egypt. Because he wasn’t yet sure that he planned to reach this destination, he considered making use of the wagons to be dishonest.

In Beer-Sheva, however, Hashem came to Yaakov in a night vision and reassured him regarding the trip, promising to establish his descendants as a great nation in Egypt, and also to eventually bring them out to return to the promised land of Israel (46:2-4). At that point, confident in the spiritual ramifications of the trip, Yaakov awoke and resolved to continue all the way to Egypt, and only at this point did he allow himself and his family to travel in Pharaoh’s wagons!


אלה בני לאה אשר ילדה ליעקב בפדן ארם ואת דינה בתו כל נפש בניו ובנותיו שלשים ושלש (46:15)

ובפרטן אי אתה מוצא אלא ל"ב אלא זו יוכבד שנולדה בין החומות בכניסתן לעיר

שנא' אשר ילדה אותה ללוי במצרים לידתה במצרים ואין הורתה במצרים (רש"י)

The Torah lists the 70 people who descended to Egypt together with Yaakov, grouping the children and grandchildren of each of Yaakov’s four wives together. Although the Torah states that the descendants of Leah who entered Egypt numbered 33, Rashi notes that counting them yields only 32. The missing person was Levi’s daughter Yocheved, who was born between the walls of Egypt just as Yaakov and his family entered the country.

The Torah emphasizes (41:50) that Yosef bore two sons, Menashe and Ephraim, before the years of famine began. Rashi quotes the Gemora in Taanis (11a), which derives from this seemingly extraneous information that it is forbidden to engage in marital relations during a time of famine. Tosefos in Taanis questions how this can be reconciled with Rashi’s comment that Levi’s daughter Yocheved was born just as Yaakov and his family arrived in Egypt to be reunited with Yosef. As the famine was still in full force at this time, how was Levi permitted to engage in marital relations?

The Daas Z’keinim gives a fascinating answer. The Gemora in Taanis (11a) rules that a person who hasn’t yet fulfilled his obligation to have children is permitted to have marital relations even during a time of famine. However, there is a dispute between Beis Hillel and Beis Shammai (Yevamos 61b) regarding the fulfillment of this obligation. Beis Hillel is of the opinion that the requirement 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 earlier, as Yosef and Levi themselves disagreed about this very issue! Yosef agreed with the opinion of Beis Shammai and maintained that after giving birth to two sons he had fulfilled the mitzvah and was forbidden to have relations during the famine. Levi, on the other hand, agreed with Beis Hillel. Because he hadn’t yet given birth to a daughter, he was of the opinion that he was permitted to continue engaging in relations until he had a daughter and completed his fulfillment of the mitzvah, and as a result, his daughter Yocheved was born just as they reached the walls of Egypt!


ואת יהודה שלח לפניו אל יוסף להורות לפניו גשנה (46:28)

לתקן לו בית תלמוד שמשם תצא הוראה (רש"י)

After a tumultuous roller-coaster of events, Yaakov’s sons returned to Canaan and informed him that his beloved son Yosef, whom he had assumed was dead for 22 years, was in fact alive and prospering in Egypt. Astonished by the remarkable turn of events and in spite of his advanced age, Yaakov prepared himself and his family for the lengthy journey to Egypt in order to be reunited with Yosef.

As they drew near to the section of Egypt called Goshen, our verse tells us that Yaakov sent his son Yehuda ahead of him to prepare for him the way. Rashi explains that “preparing for him the way” refers to Yaakov’s instructions that Yehuda establish a house of study where he would be able to learn and teach Torah. Considering Yaakov’s age and all that he had recently experienced, did this really need to be his highest priority? Shouldn’t he have first focused on getting reunited with Yosef and comfortably settling his family into their new homes?

The Shelah HaKadosh derives from Yaakov’s actions and priorities that wherever a person goes, he should first ensure that his spiritual needs are in place and afterward attend to his more mundane concerns. Although Yaakov clearly had a number of important tasks to attend to on his momentous journey, the Torah records his focus on establishing a house of study prior to his arrival to show us his true priorities so that we may learn from them.

Rav Moshe Feinstein writes that the biggest mistake made by the early immigrants to America was that they were so focused on trying to make a living that they neglected to make time to set up schools to provide a religious education to the next generation. As a result, thousands of Jewish children weren’t given an opportunity to be properly educated about their religious heritage.

Now that we understand the value of taking spiritual considerations into account when making life decisions, we can appreciate the following anecdote. The Stropkover Rebbe was once purchasing an apartment and narrowed the choices down to two. Each of them had various aesthetic and practical pros and cons, and it was difficult to decide which of them was superior. Ultimately, he chose the apartment which had exactly 26 steps (the numerical value of Hashem’s Name) ascending to it, as that would allow him to remember Hashem every time that he entered or exited his home.

Although the level of spiritual sensitivity depicted in this story is clearly beyond us, its lesson is still applicable. We all make daily decisions concerning our homes, our jobs, and our families. When evaluating the different options, we should learn from Yaakov the importance of trying to view the world through a more spiritual lens and taking that perspective into account when making our decisions.


למה נמות לעיניך גם אנחנו גם אדמתנו קנה אתנו ואת אדמתנו בלחם

ונהיה אנחנו ואדמתנו עבדים לפרעה (47:19)

After the seven years of plenty ended, a severe famine began, just as Yosef had predicted. Yosef was prepared for the famine, as he had stored up grain during the previous seven years for this purpose. When the Egyptians approached Yosef for food, he sold it to them until all of the money in the land of Egypt belonged to Pharaoh. At this point, he continued to add to Pharaoh’s royal portfolio, selling the food first in exchange for the Egyptians’ livestock, then for their land and ownership of their very bodies.

Why wasn’t Yosef, as the leader of Egypt, willing to simply give away the stored food to the Egyptian citizens for whom he was responsible? Why was he so interested in acquiring them, their land, and their animals as possessions for Pharaoh?

Rav Chaim Kanievsky suggests that when the time would come for Hashem to smite the Egyptian people with the ten plagues, Yosef didn’t want them to be able to argue that as private citizens who weren’t interested in the enslavement of the Jewish people, they should be exempt from the punishment which should be exclusively meted out to Pharaoh. However, now that they, their land, and their animals were all part of Pharaoh’s national treasury, they had no such claim, since anything that happened to them was all part of the punishment coming to Pharaoh.

Alternatively, the Gemora in Sanhedrin (91a) records that many generations later, the Egyptians “sued” the Jewish people for the return of the gold and silver vessels that our ancestors “borrowed” on their way out of Egypt but never returned (Shemos 12:35-36). The Jews answered that when the Egyptians pay the wages for the 600,000 Jews who worked for them for 210 years, they will gladly return the vessels. The Egyptians had no response to this argument and fled the courtroom.

The Meshech Chochmah points out that while the Jewish people borrowed these vessels from the private Egyptian citizens, their wages were owed only by Pharaoh for the work that they performed for him (Shemos 1:11). Therefore, Yosef acquired everything in Egypt on behalf of Pharaoh so that the Jews could later claim that what they took was also Pharaoh’s property and that they were therefore entitled to keep it until they were paid for their labor!


Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1) Rashi (45:12) writes that Yosef proved his true identity to his brothers by virtue of the facts that he spoke their language and was circumcised as they were. As Yosef himself instituted a law requiring all Egyptians to be circumcised to obtain food from the royal storehouses (Rashi 41:55), what proof did his circumcision provide? (Gur Aryeh, Paneiach Raza, Mishneh L’Melech Hilchos Melochim 10:7, Taima D’Kra Hosafos, Chavatzeles HaSharon, Matamei Yaakov)

2) The news that the 10 men who had been accused of being spies were in reality Yosef’s brothers was pleasing to Pharaoh and his servants (45:16). Why weren’t they confused about Yosef’s cruel initial treatment of his brothers and refusal to identify himself to them, and why didn’t they demand an explanation for the apparently inexplicable games and tricks he played with them?

3) Prior to sending his brothers back to Yaakov, Yosef warned them (45:24) not to become agitated on the journey. Rashi explains that Yosef was advising them not to travel too quickly by taking large steps, as the Gemora in Taanis (10b) teaches that doing so causes a person to lose 1/500th of his eyesight. How big of a step is considered too large? (Mishnah Berurah 301:3)

4) Upon hearing from the brothers that Yosef was still alive and was a ruler in Egypt, Yaakov was skeptical and didn’t believe them (45:26). However, when he saw the wagons which Yosef had sent to indicate that he still remembered עגלה ערופה (which is similar to the word for wagons, עגלות), the last Torah subject that they had studied together, Yaakov was convinced and his spirit was revived. How did the wagons constitute a proof about Yosef’s identity and existence when it wasn’t even him who sent the wagons, as the Torah records that Pharaoh ordered them to be sent with the brothers back to Yaakov (45:21)? (Outlooks and Insights by Rav Zev Leff)

5) Rashi writes (37:35) that Hashem guaranteed Yaakov that if none of his children died during his lifetime, he wouldn’t have to spend one moment in Gehinnom. Therefore, when he perceived that Yosef had been killed, in addition to the pain over the loss of his son, he also worried about the personal implications. Rashi writes (46:26) that the twin sisters who were born with each of Yaakov’s sons aren’t included in the count of 70 people who descended to Egypt because they all died. Why didn’t their deaths cause Yaakov any similar consternation? (Matamei Yaakov)

6) As he drew near to the land of Goshen in Egypt, Yaakov sent Yehuda ahead of him to prepare for him the way (46:28). Rashi explains that he sent him to establish a house of study where he would be able to study and teach Torah. Why was Yehuda selected for this task instead of Levi or Yissochar, the patriarchs of the tribes traditionally associated with the study of Torah and producing Torah scholars? (Rav Leib Bakst quoted in Chavatzeles HaSharon, Emunas Yirmiyah)

7) During the 2nd year of the famine, Yosef acquired all of the land of Egypt on behalf of Pharaoh and transferred the Egyptian population from one city to another (47:20-21). Rashi explains that this was done so that the Egyptians wouldn’t be able to derisively call his brothers exiles, as they themselves would no longer be dwelling in their original cities. In the 2nd year of the famine, Yosef’s brothers had yet to arrive in Egypt (see 45:6), nor did Yosef have reason to know that they would run out of food and come to Egypt to purchase more. Why did he resettle the Egyptian population at that time based on this consideration? (Tosefos Rid Al HaTorah)


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1 Comments:

Blogger Josh M. said...

How big of a step is considered too large? (Mishnah Berurah 301:3)

How does one know that this issur is mishum losing one's eyesight, rather than due to kavod shabbos?

Tue Dec 11, 09:33:00 PM  

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