Post Archive for 2012

Parashas Vayechi

This week’s parashah recounts the events surrounding Yaakov Avinu’s death. After recounting Yaakov’s burial, the Torah relates (Bereishis 50:15): “When Yosef’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said: ‘Perhaps Yosef will harbor hatred toward us, and then he will surely repay us for all the evil we did to him.’” The brothers then turned to Yosef with a plea for mercy. The Maggid discusses what they had in mind. He says that they surely did not suspect that Yosef would, far be it, do them active harm. But still they were concerned that he would act toward them according to the principle that “any Torah scholar who does not bear a grudge and take revenge like a snake is not a [true] Torah scholar” (Yoma 22b-23a). The notion of a Torah scholar bearing a grudge and taking revenge against someone who offended him involves the scholar’s refusal to help the offender when he is in need. The Maggid presents an analogy to a doctor and his patient. If the patient offends the doctor, the doctor will not strike back by injuring him, but he may stop treating him, and then the patient will surely suffer, for his illness will overtake him. Yosef’s brothers were afraid that Yosef would refuse to care for them, and they would then automatically fall into straits. In particular, they saw that after Yaakov’s death, the Egyptians’ attitude toward them turned negative, and they feared that if Yosef stopped looking after them, the Egyptians would ravage them.
In the course of developing the above explanation, the Maggid discusses how we plead to Hashem not to abandon us when we stray. The Torah describes the dire result that ensues when Hashem withdraws His watchful care over us (Devarim 31:16-17): “And Hashem said to Moshe, ‘Behold, you will lie with your forefathers, and this people will rise up, and stray after the gods of foreigners of the land, in whose midst they are coming, and they will forsake Me, and breach My covenant which I have sealed with them. And then My anger will be kindled against them on that day, and I will abandon them, and I will hide My face from them, and they will be devoured, and many evils and troubles shall come upon them.” If we had our own independent power, we could fight our enemies without Hashem’s help, and so we would not be distressed if Hashem turned away from us. But since we depend entirely on Hashem for our security, if He withdraws His protection – even without actively operating against us – our enemies will devour us. We thus declare (Tehillim 44:10-12, homiletically): “If You but neglect us and refrain from going forth with our legions, You cast us into disgrace. You cause us to retreat before the oppressor, and our antagonists plunder for themselves. You give us over like sheep to be devoured; You scatter us among the nations.” And so we pray (Tehillim 28:1): “To You, Hashem I call – my Rock, be not deaf to me, for should You be silent toward me, I would be likened to those who descend to the grave.” We plead with Hashem not to turn aside from us and ignore us, for if He does so, we will automatically be doomed to misfortune.
I add a final note: The idea the Maggid brings out above is reflected in the selichos of Asarah B’Teves, which we observed this past Sunday. In the second selichah, we say: “Compassionate One, my God, do not neglect me unto eternity. The days of my mourning have grown long, and still my heart groans. Return, O God, to my Tent – do not forsake Your place. Through this my days of mourning will come to an end, as You come to pay the reward You promised me.” May we soon merit seeing ourselves openly under Hashem’s constant care and protection.
Note: This coming Sunday, the 17th of Teves, is the Maggid’s Yahrzeit.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Vayiggash

This week’s parashah recounts how Yosef revealed his identity to his brothers and arranged for Yaakov to come to Egypt to be with him. Yaakov arrived in Egypt during the second year of the famine, and the Torah describes the events that took place upon his arrival. At the end of the parashah, the Torah relates how the Egyptians, having run out of money, asked Yosef to let them sell themselves and their land to him for bread and obtained his assent to this arrangement.
The Maggid notes a number of puzzling aspects of the account of the interchange between the Egyptians and Yosef. The Egyptians say (Bereishis 47:19): “Buy us and our land for bread, and we along with our land will be slaves to Pharaoh.” Here, the Egyptians use repetitive language, for once Yosef bought the Egyptians and their land in his capacity of viceroy on Pharaoh’s behalf, then obviously they and their land would become Pharaoh’s property. The Egyptians continue (ibid.): “Provide seed, so that we may live and not die, and that the land will not be desolate.” Next, the Torah relates (ibid. 47:20): “So Yosef bought all the land in Egypt for Pharaoh, for each of the Egyptians sold his field, because the famine had overwhelmed them, and the land became Pharaoh’s.” Here, again, we have repetitive language: If Yosef bought all the land for Pharaoh, then obviously all the land became Pharaoh’s.
Shortly afterward, Yosef tells the Egyptians (ibid. 47:23): “Behold, I have bought you this day and your land for Pharaoh. Here is seed for you, so that you may sow the land.” This statement is odd; it is phrased as if Yosef is giving the Egyptians news that they did not know before. Yosef continues (ibid. 47:24): “And it will be at the harvests, that you will give a fifth to Pharaoh, and four parts will be yours, for seed of the field, and for your food, and for those of your households, and for food for your little ones.” Here, the phrase “and it will be at the harvests” seems unnecessary. Finally, the whole discussion about seed – the Egyptians’ request for seed and Yosef’s agreement to provide it – is bewildering. If the land was stricken by famine, what use was it for the Egyptians to have seed to plant?
Regarding this last point, the Maggid cites a Midrash in Bereishis Rabbah 89:9 relating that upon Yaakov’s arrival, the famine stopped. He notes that, while we must accept what our Sages told us, it still would be worthwhile to try to explain how a famine that was supposed to last seven years lasted only two. Indeed, it seems that this outcome contradicts Yosef’s earlier statement to his brothers (Bereishis 45:6): “For this has been two years of famine in the midst of the land, and there are yet five years during which there will be neither plowing nor harvesting.” The Maggid offers an explanation for the end of the famine, and in the process resolves the difficulties raised above.
The Maggid begins by noting that the famine in Egypt was a supernatural occurrence – a Divinely-engineered miracle. Indeed, the Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 90:6 and 91:5) relates that the famine set in suddenly, and all the grain the people had kept for themselves during the years of plenty instantly rotted. Even the bread they had in their baskets rotted, the moment the seven years of plenty ended. The reason Hashem brought on this miraculous famine was that He wanted all the money and property in Egypt to be concentrated in the hands of Pharaoh. Hashem had promised Avraham that his descendants would leave Egypt with great wealth, and having all of Egypt’s assets concentrated in one place would make it easy for the Jews departing Egypt to collect the promised wealth. While the produce the Egyptians had stored away for themselves rotted, the produce stored in Pharaoh’s storehouses in accordance with Yosef’s instructions remained intact. In fact, during the years of plenty, Pharaoh’s storehouses were endowed with special blessing (Bereishis Rabbah 90:5). Thus, while the famine brought suffering to both the people and the animals of Egypt and its surroundings, it brought Pharaoh tremendous good, for he acquired thereby all the money and land in Egypt. Hashem orchestrated this sequence of events so that everyone would come to Yosef to buy grain, and he would thereby amass for Pharaoh a huge amount of money.
We can now see that there is no contradiction between Yosef’s statement to his brothers and the termination of the famine upon Yaakov’s arrival. The decree of famine was not imposed on the lands owned by Pharaoh. On the contrary, Hashem desired to bless his storehouses, so that, as we explained, he would amass great wealth that the Jews could eventually take. At the very same time that the provisions that the residents of Egypt and its neighbors had stored away rotted, Pharaoh’s storehouses were blessed. During the years of famine, what the Egyptians sowed did not grow at all, for Hashem had cursed their land, but when Pharaoh’s lands were sown, they produced an abundant crop. Accordingly, the Egyptians asked Yosef: “Buy us and our land for bread, and we along with our land will be slaves to Pharaoh; provide seed, so that we may live and not die, and that the land will not be desolate.” The repetitive language here and later in the passage emphasizes that the land was being taken over specifically by Pharaoh. Once the land became Pharaoh’s property, the Egyptians could sow it and reap a successful crop.
This is why the people asked for seed, even through the land had been cursed with famine – when the land entered Pharaoh’s possession, the curse was reversed. And accordingly, Yosef told them: “Behold, I have bought you this day and your land for Pharaoh.” He was stressing to the Egyptians the great favor he was doing them by buying their land from them on Pharaoh’s behalf, thus placing the land under Pharaoh’s aegis and thereby removing the curse. Yosef then continued: “Here is seed for you, so that you may sow the land.” Now that Yosef had taken over the people’s land on Pharaoh’s behalf, he could give them seed to sow. At this point, the famine effectively had come to an end.
After giving the people seed, Yosef told them: “And it will be at the harvests, that you will give a fifth to Pharaoh, and four parts will be yours.” Yosef chose his words here carefully. He deliberately did not simply say that the people should give a fifth of their crop to Pharaoh and keep the other four fifths for themselves. Had he done so, each Egyptian would have divided his field into two separate plots, with one plot a fifth the size of his entire field designated for Pharaoh and the other plot for himself. And had the field been divided in this way, the plot designated for Pharaoh would have flourished while the plot the Egyptian designated for himself would have remained cursed and grown nothing. The Egyptians would have then been empty-handed. Yosef therefore wisely and charitably advised them to sow their fields with the intent that Pharaoh have a one-fifth share in the crop produced in every section of the field – that they should divide each bunch of grain harvested into a one-fifth part for Pharaoh and a four-fifths part for themselves. In this way, the entire field would produce a successful crop, and the Egyptians would have an ample share.

David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Mikeitz

Part 1
This week’s parashah begins (Bereishis 41:1): “And it came to pass at the end of two full years, that Pharaoh dreamt – and, behold, he stood by the river.” The Midrash remarks (Bereishis Rabbah 89:4): “And other people do not dream? But this dream was the dream of one who ruled over the entire world.” The Maggid explains this Midrash as follows. In Torah narratives, the Hebrew text ordinarily puts the verb before the subject, and, indeed, this pattern is followed subsequently in describing Pharaoh’s actions. But in the above verse, the Hebrew text puts the subject before the verb. It appears that the Torah seeks to emphasize that it was Pharaoh who had dreamt. This is what prompts the Midrash to ask: “What is so special about the fact that Pharaoh dreamt – other people dream also.” The Midrash then answers: “This dream was the dream of one who ruled over the entire world.” In other words, Pharaoh’s dream was a special dream, well beyond the ordinary.
The Maggid shows how we can use this teaching to answer a question than many ask: Given that the chief cupbearer knew of Yosef’s ability to interpret dreams, why did he not go to Yosef secretly, present Pharaoh’s dream as his own (like the one he had when he was in jail), and get Yosef to tell him what it meant? He could then go to Pharaoh, give him the interpretation, and receive great honor for his show of wisdom, just as Pharaoh in fact honored Yosef in the end. The reason the chief cupbearer did not take this course was that he understood that Pharaoh’s dream was that of a world ruler and had to be treated as such. He knew that if he went to Yosef and present the dream as his own, Yosef would give him an explanation befitting a commoner, which would surely be off the mark.
Part 2
In telling Pharaoh about Yosef, the chief cupbearer said (Bereishis 41:11-13): “And we dreamed a dream one night, I and he – each man according to the interpretation of his dream did we dream. And with us there was a young Hebrew man, servant to the captain of the guard, and we told him, and he interpreted to us our dreams – to each man according to his dream he did interpret. And it came to pass that as he interpreted to us, so it was – me he [i.e., Pharaoh] restored to my post, and him he hanged.” The Maggid calls attention to a point of phrasing in the cupbearer’s statement: He says “we dreamed a dream” rather than “we dreamed dreams.” In fact, when the chief cupbearer and the chief baker explained their consternation to Yosef on the morning after their dreams, they said (Bereishis 40:8): “We dreamed a dream.” The chief cupbearer and the chief baker considered their dreams so similar that they were in effect one dream, and the two men expected that the dreams had the same meaning. Thus, after Yosef finished interpreting the chief cupbearer’s dream and the chief baker then turned to him to tell him his dream, the chief baker said (Bereishis 40:16): “I, too, in my dream ….” He considered himself in a “me, too” situation. And when the chief cupbearer related the event to Pharaoh, he deliberately used the singular term “dream” to stress the close similarity of the two dreams. Indeed, the chief cupbearer’s statement can rendered as saying “we dreamed one dream on a certain night.” Yet, despite the close similarity of the dreams, Yosef concluded, with wondrous discernment, that the two dreams were to be regarded as separate dreams, and he gave them diametrically opposite interpretations. This extraordinary display of wisdom showed clearly that Yosef was endowed with Divine inspiration.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Vayeishev

This week’s parashah opens with the words (Bereishis 37:1): “And Yaakov settled in the land of his father’s sojourning, in the land of Canaan.” The opening Midrash in the section in Midrash Rabbah on the parashah expounds (Bereishis Rabbah 84:1):
It is written (Yeshayah 57:13): “When you muster yourselves together, your assemblies shall save you [literally, let your assemblies save you] (בְּזַעֲקֵךְ יַצִּילֻךְ קִבּוּצַיִךְ). It was taught: “His [Yaakov’s] assembling and the assembling of his sons saved him from the hand of Eisav. It is written further (ibid.): “The wind will carry them all off, a breath will clear them away.” This refers to Eisav and his chieftains. And it written further (ibid.): “And he who takes refuge in Me shall inherit the land.” This refers to Yaakov – thus, “And Yaakov settled.”
Although the word זַעֲקֵךְ can denote crying out, the Maggid understands that the Midrash is reading the word זַעֲקֵךְ in the verse in Yeshayah as denoting mustering [cf. Metzudos], as in Shoftim 4:10 (“And Barak mustered Naftali and Zevulun at Kadesh”) or Shoftim 4:13 (“And Sisera mustered his chariots”). It seems that the Midrash is saying that the simple act of assembling brings us salvation. The Maggid asks: How can this be?
The Maggid then presents an answer. There is a fundamental difference between how the Jews wage war and how other nations wage war. The fighting power of other nations stems from the might of their soldiers and the potency of their weapons. The more soldiers and weapons a nation has at its disposal, the better the chance it has to win. The Jewish People, however, do not rely on their own might, but instead rely on Hashem to crush their enemies. Thus it is written (Zechariah 4:6): “‘Not through an army and not through might [shall you prevail], but through My spirit,’ said Hashem, Master of Legions.” Jewish soldiers occasionally bear weapons, but, in truth, the weapons are not needed to bring them victory, but only to give them an emotional boost.
Now, given that Hashem is fighting the Jewish People’s battles, and they have no real need for weapons, we might also think that there is no need for the Jews to assemble themselves to wage war, for Hashem does not need a large contingent of soldiers to save His people. Indeed, precisely this reasoning led Yehoshua to go out to his first battle against Ai with a limited number of men; for the second battle, Hashem directed him to take the entire Jewish People. Why, in truth, do the Jewish People have to assemble for battle?
The reason is that, although our fate does not depend on our physical might, it does depend on our spiritual worthiness: Hashem looks for some merit in us order to judge us deserving of salvation. Hashem therefore desires that we assemble for battle, so that our collective merit and eminence should be apparent. In this vein, our Sages say (Berachos 8a), the prayer of an assembled community is greater than that of individuals, as it is written (Iyov 36:5, homiletically), “Behold, God does not reject the great.” When we Jews assemble together in large numbers to pray to Hashem for help, Hashem counts it as a great merit for us that we all have cast their burden on Him with solid faith in His saving power, and it is through this merit that we gain victory.
This is what the Midrash is saying when it teaches that the simple act of assembling brings us salvation. And this is how Yaakov gained his deliverance from Eisav. Although he prepared for battle, dividing his company into two camps, in actuality his battle preparations made no contribution toward his deliverance. It was solely on account of the faith Yaakov and his sons showed in Hashem’s saving power that Hashem saved them. Accordingly, the Midrash applies to Yaakov the words of Yeshayah’s prophecy: “He who takes refuge in Me shall inherit the land.”
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Vayishlach

This week’s parashah describes Yaakov’s encounter with Eisav. In preparation for the encounter, Yaakov prays to Hashem for help, and then sends agents to bring Eisav a lavish tribute offering. In connection with the tribute, the Torah relates (Bereishis 32:21-22):
“And you should say [Yaakov speaking to the agents]: ‘Moreover, behold, your servant Yaakov is behind us.” (For he said [to himself]: “I will appease him with the tribute that precedes me (אֲכַפְּרָה פָנָיו בַּמִּנְחָה הַהֹלֶכֶת לְפָנָי), and afterward I will face him, perhaps he will show me favor.”) And the tribute passed before him [literally, before his face] (וַתַּעֲבֹר הַמִּנְחָה עַל פָּנָיו), and he lodged that night in the camp.
The Maggid asks: Why did Yaakov feel the need to send Eisav a tribute offering, given that he had already prayed to Hashem to save him from Eisav? Surely it was within Hashem’s power to turn Eisav from an enemy into a good friend without the aid of a tribute offering from Yaakov to Eisav. Why, then, did Yaakov send the tribute?
The Maggid draws an answer from a Midrash that Rashi quotes in his commentary on the above-quoted Torah passage. In the second verse of the passage the Torah uses an unusual phrasing, writing וַתַּעֲבֹר הַמִּנְחָה עַל פָּנָיו whereas the usual phrasing would be וַתַּעֲבֹר הַמִּנְחָה לְפָנָיו. In Bereishis Rabbah 76:8, the Midrash interprets the word  פָּנָיו(face) in the phrase עַל פָּנָיו as signifying agitation and anger, along the lines of the phrase פָּנַי יֵלֵכוּ in Shemos 33:14 [see Targum Yonasan and Ibn Ezra there, and Berachos 7a]. The Midrash is saying that Yaakov felt anger as he dispatched the tribute offering.
We can what Yaakov had in mind as follows. Shlomo HaMelech teaches (Mishlei 27:19): “Just as water reflects a face back to a face, so a man’s heart is reflected back to him by his fellowman’s.” If a man’s heart radiates friendship toward his fellowman, his fellowman’s heart will radiate friendship back to him; conversely, if a man’s heart radiates hatred toward his fellowman, his fellowman’s heart will radiate hatred back to him. Now, when Rivkah sent Yaakov to Lavan, she told him (Bereishis 27:43-45): “Dwell with him a few days, until your brother’s rage quiets down. Until your brother’s anger against you fades away (עַד שׁוּב אַף אָחִיךָ מִמְּךָ), and he forgets what you did to him, and then I will send and take you from there.” The commentators explain that Rivkah was giving Yaakov a sign through which he would know when it was safe to return home. The sign was שׁוּב אַף אָחִיךָ מִמְּךָ, the simple meaning of which is “your brother’s anger against you fades away,” but which can also be understood as meaning “the anger against your brother fades from you.” Rivkah was telling Yaakov that when his anger against Eisav for threatening to kill him faded away, this would be the sign that Eisav, too, had forgotten what Yaakov had done to him, and he could therefore return home without fear. However, while Yaakov was in Lavan’s house, he continued to feel the same anger toward Eisav because of his threat to kill him. Over twenty years, his feelings toward Eisav had not changed one iota. Nonetheless, Yaakov had to return home, for Hashem had told him to do so. And when he reached home, he was compelled to seek Eisav’s favor to make sure that Eisav would not harm him.
It is true that Hashem had the power to induce Eisav to reconcile with Yaakov. Still, it was necessary for Yaakov to show himself to Eisav as a loving brother. This sentiment was very remote from Yaakov’s heart, for he considered Eisav contemptible. He therefore had to develop a strategem for cloaking his feelings about Eisav and displaying love and friendship toward him. The method he chose was to send Eisav a lavish gift that was sure to impress him. Yaakov’s purpose, as the the Torah relates it, was אֲכַפְּרָה פָנָיו בַּמִּנְחָה הַהֹלֶכֶת לְפָנָי. The root כפר can denote a form of covering, such as the lining of pitch that Noach put on the walls of his ark (וְכָפַרְתָּ אֹתָהּ מִבַּיִת וּמִחוּץ בַּכֹּפֶר, Bereishis 6:14) or the covering of the Holy Ark in the Mishkan (כַּפֹּרֶת). [See the commentary of Rav S.R. Hirsch on Bereishis 6:14 and Shemos 25:17.] Yaakov had in mind that the tribute offering should serve as a screen to cover over and block out his anger toward Eisav, so that Eisav would not sense it.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Vayeitzei

This week’s parashah describes Yaakov’s stay with Lavan. The Torah relates (Bereishis 29:16-17): “Now Lavan had two daughters – the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. And Leah’s eyes were tender, while Rachel was of beautiful form and beautiful appearance.” The Midrash expounds (Bereishis Rabbah 70:17):
Leah’s eyes were tender – tender from crying. For people were saying: “Thus is the arrangement – the older one [Eisav] will marry the older one [Leah] and the younger one [Yaakov] will marry the younger one [Rachel].” She wept and said: “May it be Hashem’s will that I not fall to the lot of that wicked one [Eisav].” Said R. Huna: “See how potent prayer is, that it has the power to nullify a decree. Not only that, but Leah married before her sister.”
The Maggid asks: If a final arrangement had already been made for the older one to marry the older one, how could Leah have thought to pray that she should not become Eisav’s wife? The Mishnah (Berachos 9:3) teaches that it is forbidden to pray regarding an event that has already taken place (e.g., “Let the house that burned down not be mine”), calling such a plea a futile prayer. Seemingly, a prayer by Leah that she not marry Eisav would fall in this category. What led Leah to pray nevertheless?
The Maggid explains what Leah had in mind by recalling the episode where Yaakov took the blessings that Yitzchak meant to give Eisav. Yaakov approaches Yitzchak and says: “Father.” Yitzchak responds: “Here I am. Who are you, my son?” Yaakov replies: “I am Eisav, your firstborn.” The commentators struggle to explain this statement. On the surface it seems, far be it, that Yaakov was telling a lie. A closer look, however, reveals that Yaakov was speaking truthfully and took pains to avoid falsehood. If Yaakov wanted to represent himself as Eisav, it would have been enough to reply to his father’s query with a simple one-word answer: “Eisav.” Instead, he replied more verbosely, saying, “I am Eisav, your firstborn.” To illustrate what Yaakov meant, the Maggid presents an analogy. Reuven sells Shimon a promissory note that Levi had written him. Shimon approaches Levi and says: “I’ve come to collect the money you owe.” Levi responds: “Who are you?” Shimon answers: “I am Reuven, to whom you owe money.” Levi says: “Your name is Shimon, and I did not borrow from you.” Shimon replies: “My name is indeed Shimon, but, nonetheless, in regard to this loan I am Reuven, your creditor, for I bought the promissory note from him, and it is in this capacity that I am coming to you.” Yaakov, in his reply to Yitzchak, had the same intent. Yaakov had bought the birthright from Eisav, and thus he assumed Eisav’s position as the firstborn son, with all the rights and privileges appertaining to this position. It was with this fact in mind that Yaakov replied to Yitzchak’s query by saying: “I am Eisav, your firstborn.” He took Eisav’s place as the one entitled to receive the special blessing that Yitzchak set aside for his firstborn son.
We can now see what led Leah to pray that she not marry Eisav. She was designated to be the wife of Yitzchak’s firstborn son. Had Yaakov not bought the birthright from Eisav, Eisav would have received Yitzchak’s blessing and Leah would surely have married him. But after Yaakov bought the birthright and received Yitzchak’s blessing, Leah’s fate became uncertain. Would she marry Eisav, on account of his being the son who was actually born first? Or would she marry Yaakov, on account of his having assumed the position of firstborn? Reflecting this uncertainty, the Midrash speaks of people saying that “the older one will marry the older one and the younger one will marry the younger one,” without mentioning any names. The uncertainty gave Leah an opening to pray, so she wept and prayed that she would not marry Eisav, and her prayer was successful: In relation to Leah, Hashem regarded Yaakov as Yitzchak’s elder son, and arranged that he marry Lavan’s elder daughter Leah, the daughter who was first in line. And accordingly the Midrash makes a point of adding that Leah not only merited marrying Yaakov, but she married him before her sister Rachel did.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Toldos

Near the beginning of this week’s parashah, the Torah states (Bereishis 25:21): “And Yitzchak entreated Hashem opposite his wife, for she was barren; Hashem acceded to him, and his wife Rivkah conceived.” The Midrash expounds (Bereishis Rabbah 63:5):
R. Yochanan said: “He poured forth prayers profusely [בעושר – a play on the word ויעתר in the verse, exchanging the ת for a ש].” Reish Lakish said: “He overturned the decree [of barrenness]. Hence the Torah describes his prayer using the term ויעתר, alluding to a shovel (עתר) used to turn over the grain on the threshing floor.” Opposite his wife – this teaches that Yitzchak was bowing down in one section of the room and she was bowing down in another section. He said: “Master of the Universe! Let all the children that You are giving me come from this saintly woman.” And, similarly, she said: “Let all the children that You will eventually give me come from this saintly man.”
The Maggid explains this Midrash as follows. When a person appears before a king to ask for help, he will not speak at length or make extensive requests. Rather, he will be very brief, and limit his requests. In the words of the Talmudic saying (Yoma 80a): “If you took hold of a lot, you have not taken hold; if you took hold of a little, you have taken hold.” He will ask only for the minimum he needs. This is so, however, only when he is petitioning on his own behalf. If he is petitioning on behalf of someone else, he will feel no hesitation or embarrassment, and he will plead expansively.
Similarly, when righteous people pray to Hashem on their own behalf, seeking their needs, they will ask only for the minimum necessary, but when they pray on someone else’s behalf, they pray expansively. Now, in Bava Kamma 92a our Sages teach that when a person prays for another person, and he himself needs the same thing that he is asking Hashem to give the other person, Hashem meets his own need first. Thus, when a person prays for someone else, he gains much more than he would have had he prayed only for himself, for Hashem extends help to him according to what he asked for, and when he prays for someone else he asks for more. In this vein, David HaMelech declares (Tehillim 35:13): “But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth, and I afflicted myself with fasting; may my prayer return unto my own bosom.” David is saying: “I prayed expansively for them; I wore sackcloth and fasted for their sake. And I confidently hope that I, too, will benefit greatly from my efforts – that what I asked Hashem to grant them He will grant me as well.”
Yitzchak prayed expansively that his wife bear a child; as R. Yochanan notes, and as Rashi mentions in a comment on our verse, the profuseness of his prayer is hinted at by the Torah’s describing the prayer using the term ויעתר rather than the usual term ויתפלל. Yitzchak was able to pray profusely because he was praying “opposite his wife” – on his wife’s behalf, rather than on his own behalf. At the same time, after describing his prayer, the Torah says that “Hashem acceded to him” – in line with the principle we mentioned above, Hashem responded by meeting Yitzchak’s need for aid in fathering a child, for, as the Gemara relates (Yevamos 64a), both Yitzchak and Rivkah were both originally barren.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Chaiyei Sarah

The beginning of this week’s parashah describes the negotiations Avraham had with Efron HaChiti to acquire a burial plot for Sarah. At first Efron grandiosely offered to give Avraham a plot for free, but when Avraham insisted on buying the plot, Efron asked an exorbitant price. Throughout most of the Torah’s account, Efron’s name is spelled in full, with a vav. However, in the verse describing how Avraham weighed out the money for Efron, the second time Efron’s name appears it is spelled without a vav. The Midrash expounds (Bereishis Rabbah 57:7):
“One who is anxious for wealth is an evil-eyed man, and he does not know that lack will come upon him” (Mishlei 28:22). One who is anxious for wealth is an evil-eyed man – this refers to Efron, who set an evil eye on the money of a righteous man. And does not know that lack will come upon him – that the Torah would omit the vav in the second mention of his name in this verse.
The Maggid analyzes the import of the omitted vav. He develops his explanation by discussing the fate of Chiram, king of Tyre, who helped Shlomo HaMelech build the first Beis HaMikdash by supplying cedar and cypress wood and providing other assistance. He should have gained eminence for this deed, but he spoiled his name by making himself into a deity, as described in Yechezkel 28. Had he not so, he would have lived a full and honorable life, rather than suffering a disgraceful early death. As our Sages put it, he did himself evil (Tanchuma, Beshallach 12 and elsewhere). If not for his grievous sin, he would have had the merit, due to his role in the building of the Beis HaMikdash, of having Hashem continually recall his name with favor.
Efron, as well, had the chance to make a good name for himself in Hashem’s eyes. His field served as the burial site of the sainted forefathers of the Jewish People. Since Hashem continually keeps the forefathers in mind, He would also have continually recalled Efron’s name with favor. But Efron, like Chiram, did himself evil and destroyed his chance for eternal eminence. In his anxiousness for wealth, he rushed to extract money from Avraham for his field, and thereby lost his merit. Since he sold the field to Avraham, his own name became disassociated with the field, and would no longer be recalled in connection with it.
Now, the way we just explained how Efron lost his chance for eminence raises a question about Chiram. For Chiram also received lavish compensation for what he contributed, yet we said above that his contribution made him worthy of great eminence, and he would indeed have gained such eminence had he not sinned. What made him different from Efron?
To answer this question, the Maggid turns to a Mishnah (Avos 1:3): “Do not be like servants who serve the master with the expectation of receiving reward. Rather, be like servants who serve the master with no expectation of receiving reward.” The Maggid brings out the message behind this Mishnah with a parable. A great nobleman took a trip, and decided to spend a night at a certain inn. The innkeeper cleared out a room for the distinguished visitor, making space for all his utensils, and also prepared quarters for the visitor’s servants and horsemen. In addition, he made the nobleman a fine meal, which the nobleman enjoyed very much. In the morning, the nobleman asked the innkeeper how much he owed him, and the innkeeper named a price. The nobleman paid the price, went on his way, and forgot about the innkeeper. Although the innkeeper had treated him well, he had done so only for his own benefit, to make money. So once the price had been paid, the nobleman no longer had any tie with the innkeeper.
Later, the nobleman decided to spend another night at another inn. The innkeeper treated him lavishly, as befit a man of his stature. Moreover, he decided not to charge the nobleman anything; the opportunity to serve as host for such a distinguished man was so precious to him that he felt he could not take money for it. As the nobleman prepared to leave, he asked the innkeeper hw much he owed. The innkeeper replied: “It was an indescribably immense pleasure for me to have you visit my inn and give me the opportunity to serve you. How can I possibly ask you to pay me?” When the nobleman heard these words, a deep love and affection for the innkeeper welled up in his heart, and he urged the innkeeper to accept some gifts from him. The nobleman heaped the innkeeper with gifts, whose value was seventy times what the lodging fare would have been. And, from that day on, the memory of that innkeeper was engraved in the nobleman’s heart, and he would regularly send valuable gifts to the innkeeper and his family, maintaining this practice for the rest of his life.
It is the same with serving Hashem. When a person serves Hashem expecting to receive reward, as in a business transaction, Hashem deals with him accordingly. Although Hashem is satisfied with the service he renders, and rewards him appropriately, he gets no more than his just reward. But Hashem deals differently with a person who is loyally attached to Him and considers it a great honor and a pleasure to serve Him, without setting his sights on reward. To such a person, Hashem grants an eternal stream of enormous bounty.
Now, when Chiram provided materials for the Beis HaMikdash, he did so purely out of generosity, without seeking reward. Hence, were it not for his sin, he would have deserved to have Hashem continually recall his name with favor for all eternity. Even though Shlomo rewarded him with lavish gifts for his contribution, the reward was not what motivated him. Efron, on the other hand, conveyed his field to Avraham in the framework of a plain business transaction, with no aspect of generosity. He therefore deserved no recognition.
Thus, our Sages were on the mark when they applied to Efron Shlomo’s teaching: “One who is anxious for wealth is an evil-eyed man, and he does not know that lack will come upon him.” Efron, due to his evil-eyed nature, was anxious to extract money from Avraham for his field. He did not perceive the great loss he was causing himself by his conduct – a loss of eternal eminence in Hashem’s eyes. He acted in a lowly way, and remained lowly. And, as testimony to his lowliness, the Torah struck out a letter from his name.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Vayeira

One of the events described in this week’s parashah is the destruction of Sodom and the rescue of Avraham’s nephew Lot. Two angels came to Sodom, each charged with one of the two above-mentioned tasks. The Torah relates (Bereishis 19:1-3):
The two angels came to Sodom in the evening, while Lot was sitting at the gate of Sodom; Lot noticed, and he arose to greet them, and he bowed, face to the ground. And he said: “Now, my masters, turn aside, please, to your servant’s house, and spend the night, and wash your feet; then rise early, and go on your way.” And they said: “No—instead we will spend the night in the square.” And he urged them exceedingly, so they turned toward him and came into his house.
The Midrash comments (Bereishis Rabbah 50:4): “And he urged them (וַיִּפְצַר בָּם) – he injected into them agitation and distress (אף וצרה).” The Maggid sets out to explain this baffling remark. Let us consider, he says, why Hashem sent the angels to Lot in the guise of men, so that they would spend the night in his house. In what way was this façade necessary for the angels to carry out their mission? We can explain as follows. Dovid HaMelech writes (Tehillim 7:10): “Let the evil of the wicked destroy them, while You put the righteous one on a firm footing.” On occasion, Hashem, in His ingenuity, will bring about the downfall of a wicked man and the salvation of the righteous in a single stroke. When He sees that a wicked man is approaching his quota of sin, He creates a situation in which the wicked man has the opportunity to chase after a righteous man. If he takes the opportunity, he reaches his quota and becomes fit to be destroyed. At the very same time, as the righteous man is subjected to the wicked man’s pursuit, he is struck with terror that infuses him with intensified fear of Hashem, stronger devotion to serving Him, and greater reliance on His providence. This spiritual rise produces the merit through which the righteous man is saved from the troubles besetting him.
The angels’ activity in Sodom was along similar lines. Hashem sent them to achieve two goals: to pave the way for the people of Sodom to reach their quota of sin and to provide Lot with a way to gain the merit he needed to be saved. The angels appeared to Lot in the guise of men, and when Lot invited them into his house, he gained the merit he needed. Afterward, the people of Sodom surrounded Lot’s house and demanded that he give his guests over into their hands, so that they could abuse them in their usual way. The Midrash in Bereishis Rabbah 50:5 remarks that, after this despicable act committed by the entire city of Sodom, it was no longer possible to put forward any arguments in their defense. They had reached their quota of sin. Lot’s merit and the Sodomites’ wickedness were especially prominent because of the contrast betweeen them. Lot’s persistent urging of the angels to come into his house brought out the Sodomites’ wickedness all the more. Thus, the Midrash expounds: “And he urged them (וַיִּפְצַר בָּם) – he injected into them agitation and distress (אף וצרה).” We can read the second “them” as referring to the people of Sodom: Through his urging of the angels, Lot generated added agitation, distress, and anger toward Sodom, causing their fate to be sealed.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Lech-Lecha

This week’s parashah begins the Torah’s discussion of the life of Avraham Avinu. In particular, it discuss the “Covenant Between the Parts,” where Hashem tells Avraham that He is going to grant Eretz Yisrael to his descendants. Avraham asks (Bereshis 15:8): “My Lord, God, through what will I know that I will inherit it?” Various commentators analyze why Avraham asked this question. Here, however, we will focus on Avraham’s addressing Hashem as “My Lord.” The Gemara states (Berachos 7b):
Said R. Shimon bar Yochai: “From the day the Holy One Blessed Be He created the world, no one called Him ‘Lord,’ until Avraham came and called Him ‘Lord,’ as it is written: ‘And he said, “My Lord, through what will I know that I will inherit it?”’” Said Rav: “Moreover, Daniel was answered only on account of Avraham. Daniel prayed (Daniel 9:17): ‘And now, our God, heed the prayer and supplications of Your servant, and cause Your countenance to shine upon Your desolate sanctuary, for the sake of my Lord.’ He should have said: ‘for Your sake.’ Rather, he was saying: ‘For the sake of Avraham, who called You “My Lord.”’”
The Maggid brings out the idea of this teaching with a parable. A nobleman inherited a city to rule over, but, having no prior familiarity with politics, he knew nothing about the matters one must deal with in running a city, such as setting regulations and collecting taxes. Someone approached the nobleman offering advice, and this man explained all these matters to him. In line with this advice, the nobleman instituted a tax law requiring each resident to pay a certain sum per year, and he set up a network of agents to collect the taxes, along with specified penalties for failure to pay. Some years later, the advisor’s grandson violated the tax law, and was put in jail. A certain elder, who recalled the events leading to the legislation of the tax law, approached the nobleman to plead for mercy on behalf of the offender. He said: “My lord, it is true that someone who violates your laws deserves to be punished. But I ask you, please, to remember how you were originally led to institute the tax law. It was this fellow’s grandfather who offered you his wise advice and told you to institute a tax law, which previously had not been in effect in this city. It is therefore only right to show his grandson mercy, beyond the letter of the law, and exempt him from punishment.”
The parallel is as follows. Before Avraham’s time, Hashem ran the world under a system of pure generosity, granting people free bounty without regard to their deeds. Avraham, however, recognized Hashem, accepted the yoke of Hashem’s sovereignty, and took it upon himself to serve Hashem through righteous conduct. He conferred on Hashem the title “Lord,” and Hashem has held that title ever since. From that time on, Hashem has run the world under a system of just recompense, no longer dispensing completely free bounty as He did before, but instead granting each person what he deserves according to his deeds, be they good or bad. Thus, the Midrash, expounding on the phrase עין משפט in Bereishis 14:7, calls Avraham “the eye that introduced the Attribute of Justice into the world” (Bereishis Rabbah 42:3). [Before Avraham, people were “blindly” unaware of Hashem and He therefore treated them graciously, but when Avraham came on the scene and went about calling people’s attention to Hashem’s existence, they no longer had any excuse for their improper conduct, and Hashem subjected them to justice.] Daniel, in his prayer, asked Hashem to show the Jewish People mercy for the sake of Avraham, who was the one who had given Him the title “Lord.” He was saying: “Behold, Avraham is the one who introduced the Attribute of Justice into the world. It is therefore fitting that You show favor to his offspring, beyond the letter of the law, and treat them with compassion.”
In memory of Kalonimus Kalman ben Shmuel, Rabbi Kalman Winter zt”l, devoted Rav of Southeast Hebrew Congregation of Silver Spring MD, and mesader kiddushin at my wedding, who passed away this week.
David Zucker, Site Administrator