Thursday, December 28, 2006

Vayigash - Sfas Emes

VaYigash 5631 Second Ma'amar

Sfas Emes

by Reb Moshe David Tokayer
Petach Tikvah, IL

“ויאמר יוסף אל אחיו אני יוסף העוד אבי חי ולא יכלו אחיו לענות אתו כי נבהלו מפניו/Yosef said to his brothers, ‘I am Yosef. Is my father still alive?’ His brothers could not answer him because they were shocked before him.” The Midrash says that in this pasuk Yosef rebuked his brothers and they were not able to answer because of the shame they felt. The Midrash compares this with God’s rebuke on the ultimate day of judgment, “אוי לנו מיום הדין אוי לנו מיום התוכחה/Woe is to us on the day of judgment; woe is to us on the day of rebuke.” If the brothers could not withstand Yosef’s admonishment, how will we be able to withstand the ultimate admonishment before the redemption. Is the Midrash’s comparison simply one of degrees of rebuke or is there a fundamental connection between Yosef’s chiding his brothers and God’s chastisement on the final day of judgment?

The Sfas Emes explains that the rebukes are fundamentally the same. To understand why, we need to understand why the brothers were ashamed. The Sfas Emes explains that the brothers were mistaken about Yosef himself. The Zohar tells us that Yosef was שומר הברית/keeper of the covenant. Conventionally, this refers to his overcoming the temptations presented to him by the wife of Potiphar. The covenant that he kept was the covenant of the circumcision.

In this world holiness is hidden by gross physicality. The removal of the foreskin represents an unveiling of the holiness that lies within the physical world. (See VaYeira 5632 First Ma’amar for a detailed discussion of this concept.) Yosef, as the keeper of the covenant, represents the holiness that is within the physical world. The brothers, because this was hidden, did not realize it. Once Yosef revealed himself to his brothers, when they were confronted with their mistake, they stood in shame.

At the ultimate redemption as well, it will be made clear for all to see that the physical world in which we live is replete with holiness. God gave us the physical world and our circumstances to use to accomplish God’s will thereby rectifying ourselves and our environment. Before the final redemption, when this fact becomes clear to us we will look back at our lives and wonder how we could have used the physical world for purposes that were at odds with God’s will. Realizing our mistake, we will stand in shame before God. This is why the Midrash compares Yosef’s rebuke and the rebuke on the final day of judgment. They are fundamentally the same.

We can prevent the rebuke and our resulting shame by internalizing the understanding that everything around us and everything that happens to us are tools that God gave us in order to use to accomplish His will and come close to Him. On the day of judgment we will be able to stand before God, not in shame, but proudly having used these tools for their fundamental and ultimate purposes. Amen.

Vayigash by Reb Oizer

Parsha Potpourri
Parshas Vayigash – Vol. 2, Issue 6
Compiled by Oizer Alport

והיה כראותו כי אין הנער ומת והורידו עבדיך את שיבת עבדך אבינו ביגון שאלה (44:31)
In pleading for mercy from Yosef, Yehuda stressed the fact that if Binyomin remained in Egypt as a slave and didn’t return with them, their father Yaakov would suffer greatly and may even die from the agony. Why did Yehuda mention only the pain which would be caused to their father over the loss of a beloved son and made no mention of the intense pain which would be caused to Binyomin’s 10 sons over the loss of their unique and irreplaceable father?
The Kotzker Rebbe derives from here that the love of a father for every single one of his 12 children is greater than the collective love of all 10 children for their one and only father! Rav Dessler writes that contrary to common wisdom, feelings of love toward another person are generated not by receiving from that person but by giving to him. As any parent can attest, raising a child is an opportunity like no other to constantly give of oneself to help another person who is unable to help himself. The tremendous feelings of love generated by such extreme and continuous giving are unmatched and unparalleled, as Yehuda explained to Yosef!

ויאמר יוסף אל אחיו אני יוסף העוד אבי חי ולא יכלו אחיו לענות אותו כי נבהלו מפניו (45:3)
When Yosef’s brothers came to Egypt to purchase food during the years of famine, he was able to recognize them immediately, but after 22 years of separation they were unable to identify him. As a result, he was able to subject them to a dramatic and frightening series of events. After accusing them of being spies, he incarcerated Shimon in order to force them to return with his beloved maternal brother Binyomin. After confusing them by inviting them to join with him at a banquet, he had his goblet planted in Binyomin’s sack in order to frame him for stealing.
Finally, when Yehuda pleaded for mercy, explaining how much their father Yaakov would suffer if they failed to return with Binyomin, Yosef was unable to hold himself back anymore. He ordered all of his Egyptian officers and servants out of the room and revealed his true identity to his brothers, telling them, “I am Yosef. Is my father still alive?”
The Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 93:10) understands Yosef’s words not as a factual question but as a rebuke of his brothers, and derives from their inability to answer him a hint to how great will be our shame and embarrassment when Hashem Himself rebukes us in His Heavenly Court. Yet many commentators struggle to understand exactly where the censure lies in Yosef’s words, which on the surface appear to represent a simple question about his father’s welfare.
The Beis HaLevi explains that Yehuda had been begging for mercy on behalf of Binyomin as a result of the unfathomable suffering which his imprisonment would cause to their father Yaakov. Yosef therefore subtly reminded them of their utter lack of concern for Yaakov’s well-being when they sold him as a slave, thereby demonstrating the contradiction in their actions and calculations, an argument to which they had no answer.
There was once a yeshiva student who was scheduled to fly home to visit his family during a break in the yeshiva studies. A few hours after setting out for the airport, he returned to yeshiva. He explained to his confused Rosh Yeshiva that he had arrived late to the airport and missed his flight, to which the Rosh Yeshiva happily exclaimed, “Boruch Hashem!” Now it was the boy’s turn to be confused.
The Rosh Yeshiva explained that every day the boy came late to prayers, to his studies, and to class. He worried that when the boy would eventually pass away, he would be asked about his tardiness, to which he would answer that he simply had a difficult time with punctuality. At that point he would be shown that when something was important to him, such as making a flight home, he had no problem arriving on time, and his defense would be contradicted and rejected. Now, however, the Rosh Yeshiva rejoiced, because the boy also arrived late to the airport, and while his attendance record in yeshiva was far from exemplary, at least his defense would remain intact!
There will also come a time when Hashem will similarly judge us. We think that when we are asked why we didn’t give more charity or spend more time studying Torah, we will defend ourselves by invoking our lack of extra funds and free time. Hashem will then “remind” us of all of the frivolous luxuries for which we had no difficulty finding money, and of all of the thousands of hours we wasted over the course of our lives involved in trivial nonsense, leaving us speechless and humiliated to the core.
We must take heed of the lesson of Yosef’s rebuke of his brothers and make sure to expend at least as much effort on our spiritual affairs as we do on physical matters. The same efforts we make in trying to maximize the return on our investments or on planning a trip in great detail to maximize our enjoyment should also carry over to matters of the soul, as we devote the same energy to our efforts to improving our returns on our spiritual portfolio and to getting the most out of the journey to this world on which our souls have been sent.

ויאמר יוסף אל אחיו אני יוסף העוד אבי חי ולא יכלו אחיו לענות אותו כי נבהלו מפניו (45:3)
When Yosef’s brothers came to Egypt to purchase food during the years of famine, he was able to recognize them immediately, but after 22 years of separation they were unable to identify him. As a result, he was able to subject them to a dramatic and frightening series of events. After accusing them of being spies, he incarcerated Shimon in order to force them to return with his beloved maternal brother Binyomin. After confusing them by inviting them to join with him at a banquet, he had his goblet planted in Binyomin’s sack in order to frame him for stealing.
Finally, when Yehuda pleaded for mercy, explaining how much their father Yaakov would suffer if they failed to return with Binyomin, Yosef was unable to hold himself back anymore. He ordered all of his Egyptian officers and servants out of the room and revealed his true identity to his brothers, telling them, “I am Yosef. Is my father still alive?”
The entire episode and ordeal of the brothers’ encounter with Yosef seemed so illogical and nonsensical as to seem more like a bad dream than reality, yet in a split second, in just two words, אני יוסף – I am Yosef – suddenly the entire picture became crystal clear. All of the seemingly inexplicable events and details fell into place, and everything made perfect sense.
The history of the Jewish nation has been fraught with lofty highs and awful lows. The life of every individual Jew follows a similar pattern. Many happy events seem too good to be true, while many struggles seem too great to bear. Certainly, there seems to be no rhyme or reason to them, no interconnecting links weaving them together as part of a larger picture and greater plan. The Chofetz Chaim writes that just as with Yosef’s brothers, there will come a time when we will merit Hashem’s revelation in all of His glory and splendor. Upon hearing just two words, אני ד' – I am Hashem – everything will immediately fall into place, and all of our questions will vanish into thin air.

ויגידו לו לאמור עוד יוסף חי וכי הוא מושל בכל ארץ מצרים ויפג לבו כי לא האמין להם וידברו אליו את כל דברי יוסף ... וירא את העגלות אשר שלח יוסף לשאת אותו ותחי רוח יעקב אביהם (45:26-27)
סימן מסר להם במה היה עוסק כספירש ממנו – בפרשת עגלה ערופה (רש"י)
Yaakov’s initial reaction upon hearing the brothers’ report that Yosef was still alive and was a ruler in Egypt was one of disbelief. Even if they met somebody who claimed to be Yosef, Yaakov was convinced that it was nothing more than a fraud. Yet when the brothers added on that the person they met had also mentioned the last Torah subject that Yosef had learned together with Yaakov before being separated, Yaakov was convinced that he was indeed legitimate. The obvious question is that if until now Yaakov suspected that the person was an impostor, what proof did this additional knowledge constitute to the contrary, as this suspected con artist could easily have discovered this fact through thorough research?
The Darkei Mussar and Rav Shimshon Pinkus give a beautiful answer based on an amazing story involving the Vilna Gaon. In the times of the Gaon, there was a tragic case of an agunah in Vilna – a woman whose husband sadly disappeared without a trace not long after their wedding, leaving her forbidden to remarry. After more than ten years had passed, out of nowhere, one day a man appeared in Vilna claiming to be her long-lost husband.
The woman and her family were skeptical, and suspected that in reality he was a lowly swindler in pursuit of the family’s wealth, but to the surprise of all, he was able to answer every question they posed about things that presumably only the real husband would know. He even took his “wife” aside and privately reminded her of intimate details which had transpired between the two of them and which nobody else could possibly know.
Still unsure, they consulted the Vilna Gaon, who instructed them to say nothing further and to wait until the coming Shabbos. That Friday night, the Gaon escorted them to the synagogue. Upon entering, he asked the man to identify the family’s regular seats. His guise up, the man was humiliated and immediately fled.
Amazed, the family asked the Gaon for an explanation of his brilliant detective work. He explained that it was indeed quite straightforward. It was clear that this had been either the real husband or somebody who had encountered him and paid him to reveal all of his detailed knowledge about his wife and family so that he could pass as him and make off with the family’s fortune. The Gaon knew that it would never occur to an impostor to ask the real husband about spiritual matters, so asking the man to point out the family’s seats in the synagogue was the perfect litmus test, which the man clearly failed!
Similarly, Yaakov was skeptical about the identity of the purported Yosef whom the brothers had met in Egypt. After all, they had had extensive interactions with him until now and not one of them was able to recognize him as their long-lost brother. Perhaps the man had similarly extracted from Yosef details about his family which he could then use for his own ulterior motives. Only when he proved that he remembered the last Torah topic that they had learned together, a spiritual matter, was Yaakov convinced that this could be none other than the true Yosef!

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

1) Rashi (44:18) writes that Yehuda challenged Yosef by comparing him to Pharaoh, arguing that just as Pharaoh makes decrees but fails to follow through, so too you (Yosef) haven’t kept your promises. Where did Pharaoh make a decree that he subsequently neglected to keep? And where did Yosef make a promise that he later ignored? (Tosefos Rid, Moshav Z’keinim, Bartenura)
2) Just prior to sending his brothers back to Yaakov in Canaan, Yosef warned them (45:24) not to become agitated on the journey. According to one of Rashi’s explanations, Yosef was advising them not to travel too quickly by taking large steps, as the Gemora in Taanis (10b) states that doing so causes a person to lose 1/500th of his eyesight. What can a person who has done so do as a remedy in order to restore his lost vision? (Mishnah Berurah 271:48)
3) Rashi writes (46:10) that after Shimon and Levi killed Sh’chem and the men of his town, Dina refused to exit Sh’chem’s tent until Shimon promised to marry her (34:26). How was Shimon permitted to marry his sister Dina? (Moshav Z’keinim, Panieach Raza, Tur HeAruch, Gur Aryeh, Mizrachi, Kli Chemda, Mas’as HaMelech, Chavatzeles HaSharon, Emunas Itecha, M’rafsin Igri)
4) Which two people who are mentioned explicitly by name in Parshas Vayigash were twin brothers? (Seder HaDoros, HaK’sav V’HaKaballa, HaDrash V’HaIyun, Torah L’Daas Vol. 7)
5) At the emotional reunion between Yaakov and Yosef, the Torah relates (46:29) that Yosef fell on his father Yaakov’s neck and wept. Rashi explains that Yaakov didn’t reciprocate by falling on Yosef’s neck and kissing him because he was in the middle of reciting the Shema. The Shulchan Aruch rules (Orach Chaim 66:1) that a person should interrupt the Shema even in the middle of a verse in order to greet a king or other great man whom one is obligated to honor and respect. As Rashi writes (48:2) that Yaakov exerted himself to sit up in his bed to honor Yosef’s royal position, why didn’t he similarly stop his recitation of the Shema in order to greet and honor Yosef? (Taz Orach Chaim 66:1, Biur HaGra Orach Chaim 66:4, Chavatzeles HaSharon)
6) From which act of Yosef’s can one derive an obligation to express one’s gratitude for acts of kindness done for him even by a non-Jew? (Targum Yonason 47:22, Shelah HaKadosh)

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Vayigash by Reb Jay

In this week’s parsha, there is the culmination to the story of Yoseph and his brothers.

We see that the written and oral law do not whitewash the stories of our ancestors. If Yehudah and his brothers had simply wanted Yoseph out of the picture for malicious reasons, there is no way they would have been worthy in the eyes of Hashem to be the progenitors of the Jewish nation. So there must be more to the story.

The 12 tribes represented a unified Klal Yisroel—nation of Israel, with each brother taking a different role. Yehudah, as leader of the brothers, felt there was something in Yoseph which would lead to the ultimate disentigration of the tribes. These ideas were not produced out of thin air. When he saw Yoseph coming forward with dreams proclaiming that the brothers would eventually bow down to him, and when Yoseph would report anything that he perceived as negative back to Yaakov, Yehudah seriously worried for the future of the 12 tribes. He, along with the brothers, deemed it necessary for Yoseph to be out of the picture. Their first thought was to kill him. Later, they decided to sell him, and they told Yaakov he had been killed by a wild animal.

Why did Yoseph do these things that created such acrimony between him and his brothers? It says in Psalms: “Turn away from evil and do good.” This is manifest in the 2 types of commandments: positive commandments such as praying, tefilin, etc, and negative commandments such as not to steal, not to eat non-kosher animals, etc. Yoseph saw it as his responsibility to rebuke his brothers, to persuade them to turn away from evil (for this reason Yoseph “told” on his brothers to Yaakov. In reality he had judged them wrongly). In fact, when the Jewish people are redeemed, there will be 2 steps: first there will be the Moshiach from the house of Yoseph. His job will be to turn the Jews away from evil. Then shall come the Moshiach from the house of David, who will lead them in doing good. So although Yehudah fears of the disunity that Yoseph would cause were not unfounded (Rav Tzadok in fact explains, that, to a degree, these fears proved true 700 years later, when 10 tribes broke off, led by Yeravam, the leader of the tribe of Ephraim, who was the son of Yoseph) he misunderstood Yoseph’s motivation. And Yoseph was too impetuous in how he carried out his behavior.

After being sold, Yoseph ended up in Egypt where many miraculous events occurred to his benefit. Eventually Yoseph ended up as Prime Minister. Not knowing he was their brother Yoseph the brothers came to him to procure food , as a terrible famine is raging throughout the region.

Yoseph gave them a very hard time. He went so far as to plant a goblet in his brother Binyamin’s bag, accused him of stealing it, and told the brothers Binyamin must remain in an Egyptian prison. Only after Yehudah confronted him did he admit that he is their long lost brother Yoseph.

Why did he do this? Yoseph, now a man, still understood that it was his role to rebuke the brothers. Not rebuke them needlessly, but to improve them. The greatest test to see if a person regrets an action taken is to put him in the exact same situation. So Yoseph took Binyamin, who like Yoseph was the son of Rachel (they were the only two children Rachel had) and put him in a situation where he would be torn away from the family. It was the same situation as twenty two years earlier, when Yoseph was torn away from his father . Would they stand up for him? This time the brothers got it right and fought for their brother. When Yoseph saw this, he realized they had truly atoned for their earlier actions.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Vayishlach by Reb Jay

“Yaakov was left alone and a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn. When he saw that he could not overcome him (Yaakov), he struck the socket of his hip...Therefore the Children of Israel are not to eat the gid hanasheh to this day, because he struck Yaakov’s hip socket on the displaced sinew” (Bereshis 32:25-26, 32).

There are many questions to be asked from this incident. Who wrestled with Yaakov? What did he want from him? What does it mean, when he (the malach) could not overcome Yaakov, he injured him? And finally, why do we not eat of the gid hanasheh till this very day?

The Midrash states that Yaakov’s wrestling partner was actually the sar of Esav. Obviously a nation’s angel stands for the interest of the nation that it is representing. The Michtav M’Eliyahu writes that the angel that represented Esav was the yetzer hara itself.

How was Esav’s evil manifest? In his mocking of all things good. We see this in the answer that the angel of Esav gave to Yaakov when asked his name: “why do you ask me for my name?” The simple meaning of this answer is, why do you care what my name is? But it could also be read, my name is, “why is this?” To anything that is worthwhile or serious, the response of Eisav is to mock, and to scorn, to ask “why is this” (this, in fact, was what Esav said regarding his birthright, “what is this birthright to me?”).

The “fight” between Yaakov and the angel of Esav was not a physical one. It was a spiritual battle for the neshamos of future generations. Will we look at our birthright as an honor and as an obligation to improve the world, as Yaakov did, or will we look at it as a joke, at something to make fun of, as Esav did. This was truly a battle for the ages.

What does it mean, “and he (the malach) saw that he was unable to over come him (Yaakov)”? This posuk teaches us that there is no inherent weakness in Klal Yisrael. If so, how did the malach injure Yaakov? And when the angel of Esav saw that Yaakov was going to be triumphant, he found a spiritual weakness in him. The Zohar says this weakness was lack of support for Torah study, that Klal Yisrael would not take the study of Torah seriously enough. And it was this weakness which was able to prevent the clear victory of Yaakov. In other words, it is never possible for any nation to overcome Klal Yisrael on their own merits/strength; only through our own weakness are we vulnerable.

The Chinuch gives a moving explanation as to why we do not eat the gid hanasheh until today. He writes that when we do not eat this gid hanasheh, it is to remind us that in the course of our galus, we will undergo much pain and suffering. But we must always remember that as dark as it may seem, just as Yaakov was healed by the first rays of the sun, so will all of Israel be redeemed at the dawn of the Moshiach, after our long night of galus.

It is incumbent upon us to remember what the weakness the angel of Esav—the yetzer hara—found in Yaakov, and how only through strengthening ourselves in Torah—both learning and supporting—can we can fight and overcome the yetzer hara.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Vayetzei by Reb Jay

After arriving at the house of Lavan, Yaakov Avinu arranges with Lavan that he will marry Rochel.

Of course, Lavan replaces Leah with Rochel, and the deception is able to succeed because Rochel tells Leah the simanim that she had pre-arranged with Yaakov.

When Yaakov realized the morning after the chasuna that it was in fact Leah that he had married, Yaakov was upset. The Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah) relates that he confronted Leah and asked her how she could have tricked him. Leah replied that who was Yaakov to say anything, as Yaakov tricked his own father and brother in order to receive the brocha.

How are we to understand the answer of Leah? Was she trying to one up Yaakov, by telling him that since he had deceived, that she was allowed to deceive as well? Furthermore, the Gemara in Kesubos tells us that if a person marries someone under false pretenses, the Kiddushin is not tofes (see Tosfos “Chazaka” Kesubos 10a), and is in fact a mekach ta’us (an acquisition made under false pretences that is invalid). How could Leah and Rochel have been involved in such a michshol?

Let us try to understand the answer that Leah gave Yaakov when asked how she could have played a role in the deception. Leah was not saying that since you deceived, I deceived as well. Leah was in fact telling Yaakov that the moment he took the brochos from Eisav, everything changed. Why did Yaakov take the brochos from Eisav? The Shelah Hakadosh writes that ideally, there were meant to be four avos: Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov and Eisav. Eisav would have been a melech of gashmiyus, and Yaakov a melech of ruchniyus. While Yaakov realized his potential, Eisav did not. Therefore, Yaakov needed to usurp Eisav’s role. This was understood by Rivkah, and was the reason she told Yaakov to take the brochos. This also extended to their prospective wives. The zivug of Yaakov was Rochel and the zivug of Eisav was Leah. Once Eisav did not fulfill his role, the responsibility of marrying Leah fell to Yaakov.

That is what Leah meant by her reply to Yaakov. She was saying that once Yaakov deceived his father and took the brochos, he also accepted the responsibility to marry her. And knowing this to be true is what allowed Rochel and Leah to conspire that Yaakov marry Leah. And when Yaakov heard this from Leah, he did not opt out of the marriage as he had every right to (being that it was a mekach ta’us), but stayed with Leah.
Later on, when Yaakov escaped and Lavan caught up to him, Yaakov confronts Lavan with all the evil he has perpetuated upon Yaakov. But he never confronts him with the fact that he switched Leah and Rochel, because Yaakov knows that this particular act was Min Hashamayim, and for the good of Klal Yisroel.