Post Archive for 2013

Parashas Vaeira

In the opening section of this week’s parashah, Hashem tells Moshe (Shemos 6:6-7): “Therefore, say to the Children of Israel, ‘I am Hashem, and I shall take you out from under the burdens of Egypt, and I shall rescue you from their service; I shall redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments, and I shall take you unto Me as a people, and I shall be a God to you.’” The Midrash remarks (Shemos Rabbah 6:4):
The term therefore signifies an oath, as it is written (Shmuel Alef 3:14), “Therefore, I have sworn regarding the house of Eli.” The Holy One Blessed Be He swore that He would redeem them.
The daily Shacharis and Maariv prayers include a berachah praising Hashem for redeeming us from slavery in Egypt and other plights; the berachah concludes with the words, “Blessed are You, Hashem, who redeemed Yisrael.” Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 111:1 states a halachah calling for an uninterrupted juxtaposition of the Amidah to these concluding words (smichas geulah l’tefillah). Yerushalmi Berachos 1:1 (quoted by Rashi on Berachos 4b) finds an indication for this practice from a juxtaposition of verses:
1. Tehillim 19:15: “May the words of my mouth and the mediations of my heart find favor before You, Hashem, My Rock and My Redeemer.”
2. Tehillim 20:1-2: “For the conductor, a psalm by David. May Hashem answer you on the day of distress; may the Name of the God of Yaakov fortify you.”
The Maggid suggests that the above-quoted Midrash provides a reason for this practice. He builds his explanation on another halachah (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 218:5): “If a person has had several miracles done for him, when he arrives at one of the places where a miracle was done for him he must mention all the other places and include them all in one berachah.” The Maggid explains this halachah via the example of a traveler who survived an attack by a bandit and afterward survived another attack by a lion. Had he been killed by the bandit, he would never have experienced the rescue from the lion. On the other hand, had the lion killed him, his rescue from the bandit’s attack would have been for naught. Thus, when a person reaches a place where he experienced a miraculous rescue, it is fitting for him to mention other miraculous rescues he experienced, for these other miracles provided him the capacity to benefit, or continue to benefit, from the miracle he experienced in the place where he now stands.
In the same way, our redemption from the Egyptian enslavement was not a permanent redemption, but it served as a clear guarantee from Hashem – in effect an oath, as the above-quoted Midrash indicates – that He would ultimately grant us a final redemption. Indeed, another Midrash about the redemption from Egypt describes an explicit promise from Hashem to redeem us in the future as well. Hashem told Moshe, in response to his query, that the Divine Name he should convey to the Jewish People was the Name “I Shall Be as I Shall Be” (Shemos 3:14). The Midrash explains that Hashem was telling Moshe that just as He was with the Jewish People in their current plight, so, too, He would be with them in future times of trouble (Shemos Rabbah 3:6). Moreover, Yirmiyahu (in verse 3:14) conveyed to us Hashem’s promise that He would ultimately bring us to Zion. Whenever we are faced with a threat, we know that Hashem will eventually rescue us, for otherwise the redemption from Egypt would have been for naught and Hashem’s promise of a final redemption would be nullified. It is in this vein that David HaMelech, in asking Hashem to save him from his enemies, referred to Hashem as “Hashem, My Rock and My Redeemer” – just as Hashem was our Redeemer in the past, so, too, will He be at all times. As indicated in the adjacent set of verses, Hashem will answer us and fortify us when we face distress. This is a key idea behind the halachah of smichas geulah l’tefillah: We say to Hashem, “Just as You preserved us in the past, please preserve us and care for our needs now.”
The above explanation sheds light on the opinion that holds that smichas geulah l’tefillah is not absolutely essential on Shabbos as it is on weekdays (Rema on Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 111:1). In the weekday Amidah, we pray for the things we need for survival: health, livelihood, rescue from troubles, and other basic needs. These are things we need to continue in existence until the time of the final redemption, and without which the final redemption would not be possible. Hence, it is fitting to juxtapose without a break the berachah praising Hashem as our Redeemer to the Amidah, for the topics of the two prayers are directly related. But in the Shabbos Amidah, we appeal to Hashem’s generosity (“open your mouth wide and I will fill it” – Tehillim 81:11) and ask for joy, pleasure, contentment, and tranquility. Since these requests go beyond what we need to survive to see the final redemption, they are not directly related to Hashem’s role as our Redeemer, and thus do not call so strongly for smichas geulah l’tefillah.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Shemos

In Hashem’s first meeting with Moshe at the burning bush, He tells him (Shemos 3:7): “I have indeed seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and I have heard their screams on account of their taskmasters, for I have known of their sufferings.” We have previously presented several of the Maggid’s interpretations of this statement. We now present another.
One striking feature of the above statement is that it seems repetitive. The Maggid compares the statement to a passage in Tehillim that also exhibits a form of repetition (Tehillim 45:11): “Listen, O daughter, and see, and incline your ear – and forget your people and your father’s house.” We can ask: Why does the psalmist exhort the daughter both to listen and to see?
The Maggid addresses this question by elaborating on the senses of sight and hearing. At a basic level, the sense of sight enables a person to examine things that are close to him, while the sense of hearing enables a person to gain information about things that are too far away for him to see. For instance, through a series of vocal messages from one person to another, a person can obtain a report about some object or event from someone who saw it. Now, we might think that in regard to something that a person himself can see, there is no need for him to use the sense of hearing. But in fact there are situations where a person needs to use both senses together. Specifically, some things appear good but carry a hidden hazard, while others appear bad but carry a hidden benefit. In this case, just looking at the thing in question is not enough to get a true grasp of its nature; one must listen to information about it from people who are familiar with all its features. In this vein, Shlomo HaMelech teaches (Mishlei 20:12): “The ear that hears, and the eye that sees – and Hashem has also made both of them.” That is, Hashem made the eye and the ear so that a person can also use both of them together when necessary.
The main area where a person needs to use both the ear and the eye is where he has to decide on a course of conduct. Often an action appears appropriate but leads to a bad outcome. Thus Shlomo teaches elsewhere (ibid. 14:12): “There is a route that seems right to a man, but at its end are the paths of death.” When a person chooses a route solely on the basis of what seems right to him, he can easily fail to think properly about what he is doing, for he will naturally tend to put firm faith in his initial perception. Accordingly, the psalmist exhorts: “Listen, O daughter, and see!” Listening comes first, and then seeing. One must first listen to guidance from the leaders, and only then apply his own power of sight. After a person has heard proper guidance from appropriate authorities, he is able to see and perceive accurately whatever he encounters, and will not lead himself astray. Perhaps Shlomo also meant to indicate that hearing comes before seeing when he spoke of the ear that hears and the eye that sees, mentioning the ear before the eye.
We can link the above idea to a Midrash concerning sight. The Midrash says (Esther Rabbah 7:9):
“And Haman saw that Mordechai did not bow down and prostrate himself before him” (Esther 3:5). Said R. Eivo: “Regarding the wicked, it is written (Tehillim 69:24, homiletically): ‘Their eyes are darkened from seeing’ [i.e., what they have looked at has caused them harm]. For the sights that a wicked person’s eyes see carry him down to Gehinnom. [The Midrash brings several proof-texts, the last of which is the above verse about Haman.] But the sights that a righteous person’s eyes see brings him light, for what his eyes see elevates him to a lofty level. Thus it is written (Bereishis 18:2): ‘And he lifted up his eyes, and he saw – and behold – three men were standing before him.’ [The Midrash brings further proof-texts.]”
The wicked man follows the sights of his eyes and the inclinations of his heart. He therefore sees things incorrectly. But the righteous man lifts up his eyes to contemplate the consequences of every action from beginning to end, and he therefore does not falter.
Let us now turn our attention to Hashem’s statement to Moshe. We bring out the meaning of the statement through an analogy. If we see a person hit someone with force, we can readily recognize from what we saw the pain that the victim suffered. But if we see a person give someone just a light slap, the pain inflicted is not immediately obvious. The victim may be an eminent person and the assaulter a lowly person, in which case, the victim will be deeply hurt: As the Mishnah says (Bava Kamma 8:1), the damages for embarrassment caused by an assault vary according to the stature of the assaulter and the victim. But if we did not know the people involved, we would not know of the victim’s pain simply by seeing the scene. We would recognize the victim’s pain only by hearing his cry of indignation: “Oy! That I should be slapped by such a scoundrel!” The ear gathers additional information not gathered by the eye.
Furthermore, in some cases even the victim himself does not recognize the full gravity of the offense committed against him – others, who are more aware of the stature of the victim’s family, may well recognize it better. Thus, an assault potentially involves three levels of damage: the physical pain, the embarrassment that the victim himself feels, and the affront to the victim’s honor that others recognize.
Hashem’s statement to Moshe encompasses all three of these levels. I have indeed seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt – this refers to the physical pain that the Jews suffered from the crushing burden of labor they bore and the beatings inflicted on them. And I have heard their screams on account of their taskmasters – this refers to the humiliation the Jews felt over being oppressed by people as lowly as the Egyptians. For I have known of their sufferings – this refers to the degree of affront to the Jews that Hashem alone recognized, beyond the humiliation that they themselves felt.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Vayechi

This week’s parashah recounts Yaakov’s parting words of admonition and blessing to his sons before his death. Regarding Shimon and Levi, Yaakov said (Bereishis 49:5-7):
Shimon and Levi are brothers – their weapons (מכרותיהם) are pilfered tools. Into their council may my soul not enter; with their assembly, O my honor, do not associate. For in their anger they slew men, and in their self-will they hamstrung oxen. Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce, and their wrath, for it was harsh; I will separate them with Yaakov, and scatter them in Yisrael.
We present two of the Maggid’s commentaries on this passage, the first from his commentary on Rus 1:8-9 and the second from his commentary on the parashah.
1. Commenting on our passage, the Midrash elaborates (Bereishis Rabbah 98:5): “These tools (מכרות) that you have taken hold of are stolen property in your hands. Who are they suited for? For Eisav, who sold (מכר) the birthright.” The Maggid notes a difficulty with this remark. Seemingly, for Yaakov to deliver an effective rebuke, it would have been enough simply to say that the weapons were stolen. Why did he need to say who the weapons were suited for? What need was there to say who the lord of murder was? And how did Yaakov conclude that it was Eisav? 
The Maggid explains as follows. Eisav was the firstborn. As such, he was in a position to assume the duty of performing the sacrificial service: This duty was originally the calling of the firstborn, before it was given over to the Kohanim and Levites. Eisav was therefore born ruddy (Bereishis 25:25), with a tendency for bloodshed (Bereishis Rabbah 63:8). He was supposed to use this tendency for performing sacrifices. But Eisav despised the sacrificial service. He was, as Rashi tells us in a comment on Bereishis 25:32, repelled by its many laws, and by the severe penalties – including death in some cases – for failing to observe these laws. So Eisav sold his birthright to Yaakov, casting aside the sacrificial service. This left him to exercise his inborn tendency for bloodshed through murder.
When Yaakov declared that Shimon and Levi’s weapons were pilfered tools, stolen from Eisav, he was saying: “Although I took the birthright from Eisav, I am not driven to murder. On the contrary, he is left with the path of murder. When Eisav sold the birthright, he gave up the noble outlet he had for his tendency for bloodshed. Hence he was led to turn to murder. And so the tools of murder suit him. But you, Shimon and Levi, still have available the noble outlet – circumcision and slaughtering sacrifices. Thus, when you turn to killing, you exercise a stolen trait.”
2. The Midrash comments further (Bereishis Rabbah 99:7): “He [Yaakov] cursed only their anger.” The Maggid notes that many commentators have expressed puzzlement over the import of Yaakov’s cursing only Shimon and Levi’s anger. He says that Yaakov was in fact casting a sharp curse on Shimon and Levi themselves, but he held himself back from expressing the curse explicitly, and instead directed his words toward their anger.
He explains the matter as follows. Consider a person with an angry nature who always wants to pour out his wrath on others. If he is rich, his position gives him the power to cast his wrath about however he wishes. But if he is poor, he cannot do so. Instead, he must keep his anger bottled up inside. And then his anger becomes a curse, raging within him and causing him anguish. This is what Yaakov had in mind when he said, “Cursed be their anger.” And, indeed, the Midrash (ibid.) says that ultimately the Shimonites and Levites were put in the position of having to go door to door for their sustenance – the Shimonites to collect alms, for they were poor, and the Levites to collect their tithes.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Vayiggash

In this week’s parashah, Yosef reveals himself to his brothers. He then says to them (Bereishis 45:4-7):
I am Yosef your brother, whom you sold into Egypt. And now, do not be upset or angry with yourselves that you sold me here, for God sent me ahead of you to be a provider. For now for two years there has been famine in the land, and there are yet five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. And God sent me ahead of you to ensure your survival on the earth and to sustain you for a great deliverance.
The Maggid notes that this statement is repetitive: Yosef tells his brothers twice, almost consecutively, that Hashem sent him ahead of them to sustain them. He then sets out to explain the import of this repetitive language.
The Maggid builds on the following Gemara (Shabbos 30a):
What is meant by the verse (Tehillim 86:17): “Perform with me a sign for good, so that my enemies will see it and be ashamed”? Said David to Hashem: “Master of the Universe! Pardon me for that sin [with Bas-Sheva].” Hashem replied: “You are pardoned.” David said: “Perform with me a sign in my lifetime.” Hashem replied: “In your lifetime I will not publicize it, but in the lifetime of your son Shlomo I will publicize it.” When Shlomo built the Holy Temple, he sought to bring the ark into the Holy of Holies, but the gates clung to each other. Shlomo made twenty-four pleas, but he was not answered. He then went forward and exclaimed (Tehillim 24:7): “Raise up your head, O gates, and be lifted up, O everlasting doors, that the King of Glory may enter.” … Yet he was not answered. But when he said (Divrei HaYamim Beis 6:42): “Hashem, God, do not turn away Your anointed one, remember the good deeds of your servant David,” he was answered immediately. At that moment, the faces of all of David’s enemies turned black like the bottom of a pot, and the entire Nation of Yisrael then knew that Hashem had pardoned him for that sin. Did not Shlomo thus speak well when he said (Koheles 4:2): “I esteem the dead who have already died more than the living who are still alive”?
The Maggid analyzes this Gemara as follows. Consider a garment that has been torn. An accomplished tailor may fix the tear in a way that makes the repair unnoticeable, but nonetheless the garment will not have the same value as it did before the tear. It is the same with any other item that is damaged and then repaired. Certainly the item will not be worth more after the repair than before. Similarly, when a person sins and then properly repents, Hashem will pardon him and erase all trace of the sin, but still it would have been better if the person had not sinned in the first place. If so, what shame would David’s enemies feel when the saw that Hashem pardoned his sin? Yet from the Gemara above we see that, in fact, David became much more eminent after the pardon than he was before he had sinned. Why?
The Maggid explains what happened with David through a parable. A nobleman had a very valuable sapphire which suffered glaring damage. He consulted expert gem-cutters and asked if the stone could be fixed, and was told that even after repair some trace of the damage would remain. Later, a very accomplished expert gem-cutter came to him and said: “Let me give you some advice. Your gem, even as it is now, is very valuable. But it would be even more valuable if I adorned it with beautiful engravings. If you allow me, I will do so, and I will start my work with this very scratch – from there the engraving line will begin.” In this case, we definitely would say that the flaw introduced into the stone was the cause of its becoming much more valuable than it was before it was damaged.
Thus it was with David. The Gemara says (Avodah Zarah 4b-5a):
David was not of the sort to do that act [the liaison with Bas-Sheva], and the Jewish People were not of the sort to do that act [the making of the golden calf]. … So why did they do these acts? [The Gemara explains that they did so in order to provide examples that both an individual and a community can repent and gain pardon.] This is as was taught by R. Shmuel bar Nachmani in the name of R. Yochanan: “What is the meaning of the verse (Shmuel Beis 23:1): ‘The words of David the son of Yishai, and the words of the man raised on high (על).’? [It means:] The words of David the son of Yishai, who raised up the yoke (עול) of repentance.”
This being the case, it is not really fitting to consider David guilty of a sin. Thus the Gemara says elsewhere (Shabbos 56a): “Whoever says David sinned is simply mistaken. For it is written (Shmuel Alef 18:14): ‘And David was successful in all his ways, and Hashem was with him.’” That is, Hashem orchestrated the liaison, for the reason the Gemara in Avodah Zarah gives. As a result, David’s eminence after he repented was much greater than before the liaison, for through his repentance he paved for others the path of repentance, and thus brought about incalculable benefit.
We can now understand David’s plea: “Perform with me a sign for good, so that my enemies will see it and be ashamed.” Note that David uses the phrasing “perform with me (עשה עמי)” rather than the more natural “perform for me (עשה לי).” David was not only asking Hashem to pardon him for his sin. He was asking Hashem to publicize the good that was brought into the world through what he did – that the world was provided an example showing that an individual can be repent and be pardoned. Hashem replied: “In your lifetime I will not publicize it, but in the lifetime of your son Shlomo I will publicize it.” And when Shlomo prayed to be able to bring the ark into the Holy of Holies, he was answered only when he invoked David’s merit. The people then saw clearly that David’s eminence after his repentance was much greater than it had been before, even exceeding that of other righteous men.
The episode of Yosef and his brothers was along exactly the same lines. The brothers sold Yosef as a slave, an apparently ignoble act. But in actuality, as our Sages teach, the sale was purposely orchestrated by Hashem, in order to bring Yaakov and his family to Egypt. It is to bring out this point that Yosef told his brothers twice that Hashem sent him to Egypt. Yosef first says: “And now, do not be upset or angry with yourselves that you sold me here, for Hashem sent me ahead of you to be a provider.” Given this statement alone, it might be thought that the brothers’ act in itself was an evil deed, but Hashem afterward arranged subsequent developments so that a benefit would result – similar to the case of an item that was damaged and then later repaired by an expert craftsman. Yosef therefore continues: “And God sent me ahead of you to ensure your survival on the earth and to sustain you for a great deliverance.” Yosef was telling his brothers that after the result of his being sold and brought to Egypt had come to light, it was clear that the sale was not really their doing – rather, Hashem had orchestrated it from the outset, to achieve a specific goal.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Mikeitz

This week’s parashah opens with Pharaoh’s dream and his summoning Yosef from jail to interpret it. The Torah relates (Bereishis 41:1): “And it was after two years of days: Pharaoh was dreaming that – behold – he was standing over the river.” The Midrash remarks (Bereishis Rabbah 89:3):
“For a dream comes with many issues” (Koheles 5:2). Said Pharaoh: “Who is maintaining himself upon whom? I upon my god, or my god upon me?” He said to him: “You upon your god.” [The Midrash does not specify the speaker here. Some commentators explain that this answer was conveyed to Pharaoh in his dream. The Maggid understands that Yosef was the speaker.] Thus it is written: “And it was after two years of days: Pharaoh was dreaming that – behold – he was standing over the river.”
The Maggid explains this Midrash through a parable. In a certain town there was a wealthy merchant with a wide-ranging business; all the stores in the nearby towns got their merchandise from him. His practice was to stay in the Beis Midrash after Shacharis and learn Torah until about midday and then turn to his business. Once a stranger from another town came to his house in the morning and asked for him. His wife told the visitor that her husband had not yet returned from the Beis Midrash, and so the visitor turned around and left. When the merchant came home, his wife told him what happened. He scolded her, saying: “Why did you let him go? You should have called me from the Beis Midrash.”
A few days later, another stranger came to the merchant’s house in the morning and asked for him. His wife told him: “Please have a seat, my friend. I will go to the Beis Midrash and fetch him.” The merchant came home, greeted the visitor, and asked what he wanted. The visitor replied that he was a pauper seeking alms. Having no choice under the circumstances, the merchant gave the visitor a donation. The visitor then left. Afterward, the merchant berated his wife: “You caused me a loss by fetching me!” The wife responded: “Didn’t you tell me to fetch you from the Beis Midrash when visitors come?” The merchant replied: “You should have first asked him what he wanted. If it was something to our benefit, you could have fetched me, and if not, you could have simply told him that I was not home.”
The parallel is as follows. Pharaoh was perplexed by his dream – he did not know whether he was being sent good news or bad. Our Sages tell us (Berachos 55b): “A dream that has not been interpreted is like a letter that has not been read.” And they tell us further (ibid.): “All dreams follow the mouth” – so long as a dream has not been interpreted, it is like a sealed letter, bringing neither good or bad, but once the dream is interpreted, the dreamer’s fate is determined by the interpretation. Now, Pharaoh was very eager to learn the meaning of his dream. On the other hand, he was afraid to relate the dream and ask for an interpretation; he knew that an unfavorable interpretation would seal a bad fate for him, whereas if he refrained from seeking an interpretation, the dream would bring him no harm. Accordingly, when Yosef came before him, Pharaoh sought to ensure that Yosef would present his interpretation only if he viewed the dream’s message as favorable, but if he viewed it as unfavorable, he would keep his view to himself and not speak it out.
We can now clearly appreciate what the Midrash is saying. The Midrash quotes Shlomo HaMelech’s teaching: “A dream comes with many issues.” That is, a dream has many possible meanings, some favorable and some unfavorable, and on this account Pharaoh was cautious about eliciting an interpretation of his dream. He therefore first asked Yosef: “Who is maintaining himself upon whom? I upon my god, or my god upon me?” He wanted Yosef to tell him whether he saw the dream as describing a benefit his god was going to grant him or a levy his god was going to extract from him. Yosef replied: “You upon your God.” Yosef was telling Pharaoh that he saw the dream as showing that Hashem was going to bring him glory. Thus, Yosef said (Bereishis 41:16): “God will respond with Pharaoh’s welfare.” And, indeed thus it was: Because of the famine, all of the wealth of Egypt and the neighboring countries came into Pharaoh’s hands.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Vayeishev

This week’s parashah describes the conflict between Yosef and his brothers. The Torah relates (Bereishis 37:3-4): “Now Yisrael loved Yosef more than all his sons because he was a child of his old age, and he made him a fine woolen tunic. And his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, and they hated him, and could not speak to him for peace (לשלום).” The Maggid notes that the prefix ל- on the word לשלום (which I rendered “for peace”) is peculiar and has caught the attention of many commentators; it would have been more natural for the Torah to write simply שלום. In addition, he remarks that it is puzzling that despite the various other points of contention between Yosef and his brothers, as recorded in Bereishis Rabbah 84:7 and noted by Rashi, the Torah chose to mention only the issue of the special tunic.
The Maggid explains the matter as follows. The Torah exhorts (Vayikra 19:17): “You must not hate your brother in your heart; you must surely reproach your neighbor, and not attribute sin to him.” We know that when a person’s hatred is stirred against a relative or neighbor because of some offence the other person committed against him, his subsequent state of mind depends on how he reacts to this feeling. If he keeps his hatred buried deep in his heart and refrains from reproaching the other person, his hatred will constantly build up more and more. But if he reproaches the other person right away, the other person has a chance to explain what he did, and it often will emerge that he had absolutely no evil intent. The offended person’s anger will then quickly die down, and the two parties will make peace with each other. Accordingly, the Torah teaches that when a person feels that someone has wronged him, he must reproach him, and thereby avoid attributing sin to him, for the other person will be able to explain his actions and clear himself.
Now, Yosef’s brothers hated him on account of various apparent offences. With regard to each of these issues, the brothers could approach Yosef, speak to him about the matter, and give him a chance to explain, and thereby open the way for the two sides to make peace. But in regard to Yaakov’s loving Yosef more than his brothers and giving him a special tunic, there was no way for Yosef to explain and dissolve his brothers’ hatred, for Yaakov, and not Yosef, was the one who had generated this source of resentment. It is now easy to see why the Torah mentioned only the matter of the tunic and not the other issues. And it is easy to see what the Torah meant when it said that the brothers could not speak to Yosef “for peace” – they could not initiate a discussion with Yosef about the issue in an attempt to make peace.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Vayishlach

This week’s parashah recounts the encounter Yaakov had with Eisav after returning to Eretz Yisrael. After relating what occurred during this encounter, the Torah reports (Bereishis 33:16): “And Eisav went back on that day on his way to Seir.” The Maggid asks: Why does the Torah make a point of stating that Eisav headed back for Seir on that day? What does it matter to us whether he heading back on that day or on some other day?
In answering this question, the Maggid begins by analyzing the interchange Avraham’s servant Eliezer had with Rivkah’s mother and Rivkah’s brother Lavan. Avraham sent Eliezer to Padan Aram to find a wife for Yitzchak. Hashem miraculously transported Eliezer from Canaan from Padan Aram in less than a day, and arranged for Eliezer to encounter Rivkah at the well immediately upon his arrival. When Eliezer met with Rivkah’s family, he described in great detail his miraculous success, and gained the agreement of Rivkah’s family to a match between Rivkah and Yitzchak. Eliezer spent the night with Rivkah’s family and in the morning announced his intent to return to Canaan. Rivkah’s mother and brother suggested that he stay for some period of time. Eliezer replied (Bereishis 24:56): “Do not delay me, for Hashem has granted me success; send me off so I may go to my master.” This response would have been natural had Eliezer already tarried with Rivkah’s family longer than the amount of time commensurate with a trip from Canaan to Padan Aram. But in fact he had been away from Canaan only one day. Why, then, was he in such a hurry to leave? Also, why did he recount so profusely to Rivkah’s family the miraculous success that Hashem had granted him?
The Maggid explains the matter as follows. The way people act as regards visiting out-of-town relatives typically depends on how far away the relatives live. If someone’s relatives live a long distance away, he will visit them only rarely, on special occasions, and when he visits he will stay a long time – a few weeks or perhaps a couple of months – in keeping with the time and effort he spent to make the trip. On the other hand, if the relatives live close by, he will stay only a short time, for he can easily make the trip again whenever he wants.
Eliezer anticipated that Rivkah’s family would ask him to stay for a considerable time, in keeping with the great distance between Avraham’s home in Canaan and Padan Aram. But he astutely recognized that connivers like Rivkah’s father Besuel and her brother Lavan would approach him over and over again right before he was scheduled to leave and try to get him to stay for “just a bit more time.” He therefore cleverly preempted them by telling them that he left Canaan and arrived in Padan Aram on the same day, thus letting them know that he spent little time and effort making the trip. According, when Rivkah’s mother and brother asked him to let “the young lady stay with us for a few days,” Eliezer responded by saying, “Do not delay me, for Hashem has granted me success.” He was reminding them that his trip had taken him only a day, and so a single night’s stay was long enough.
The Maggid then turns to the interchange between Eisav and Yaakov. Hashem miraculously made Eisav have a change of heart, turning from being Yaakov’s enemy into being a loving brother and even hugging him and kissing him. Given this reception, it might be claimed that Eisav never had in mind to wage war with Yaakov in the first place. It might be suggested that Eisav’s intent was just the opposite: Having not seen Yaakov for many years and then having heard that he was returning to Canaan as a successful man, he assembled an entourage of 400 friends and went out to give Yaakov a warm, brotherly welcome and spend some time enjoying his company. In order to rule out such a suggestion, and to reveal the true villainy seated in Eisav’s heart, the Torah informs us that Eisav parted from Yaakov the very same day he met with him. From this fact, we can tell that Eisav’s intent in meeting Yaakov was not peaceful and amicable. If it were, surely he would have spent considerable time socializing with Yaakov, for this would have been the reason he had traveled so far to greet him. Rather, Eisav’s intent was to do Yaakov evil. And since Hashem thwarted his plan, he turned right around and went back home.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Vayeitzei

This week’s parashah opens by describing the dream Yaakov had at the site of the Beis HaMikdash. The Torah relates that when Yaakov awoke from his dream, he declared (Bereishis 28:16-17):
Indeed, Hashem is present in this place, and I did not know. … How awesome is this place! This is none other than the House of God – it is the gate to heaven.
Speaking about the second verse in this passage, the Midrash states (Bereishis Rabbah 69:7):
This verse teaches that Hashem showed Yaakov the Beis HaMikdash being built, being destroyed, and being built again. And he felt fearful, and he said: “How awesome is this place!” – this alludes to the Beis HaMikdash being built, as it is written (Tehillim 68:36): “You are awesome, O God, from Your sanctuaries.” This is nought – this alludes to the Beis HaMikdash being destroyed, as it is written (Eichah 5:17-18): “Over this, our hearts were sick; over these, our eyes darkened. Over Mount Zion, which lies desolate, foxes prowling upon it.” But the House of God – this alludes to the Beis HaMikdash being rebuilt and fully adorned in the end of days, as it is written (Tehillim 147:13): “For He has set firm the bars of your gates [referring to the gates of the Beis HaMikdash].”
This Midrash is puzzling. Yaakov’s statement, “This is nought but the House of God,” is evidently a portrayal of the supreme sanctity of the site where the Beis HaMikdash would eventually be built. What prompted our Sages to read into this statement an allusion to the Beis HaMikdash’s destruction?
To explain what the Sages had in mind, the Maggid turns to the following verse (Yeshayah 45:15): “Indeed, You are a God who conceals Himself – O God of Israel, Savior.” This verse describes how Hashem watches over us from behind the scenes, working wonders to save us when we are in peril. Chovos HaLevavos, Shaar HaBechinah, ch. 5, puts the matter as follows:
If a person in our times wishes to behold a phenomenon resembling the miracles of yore, let him take an honest look at how we have endured among the gentile nations from the time we went into exile, and how we have managed to conduct orderly lives among them, despite the fact that we differ from them both inwardly and outwardly, and they know that this is so.
The Maggid discusses this matter at length in his commentary on the haftarah of Shabbos HaGadol. In this haftarah it is written (Malachi 3:6): “For I, Hashem, have not changed – and you, the sons of Yaakov, have not perished.” The fact that we have not perished is proof that Hashem has not changed – that He continues to take loving care of us, as it is written (Vayikra 26:44): “But despite all this, though they are in the land of their enemies, I have not rejected them and I have not abhorred them to destroy them, to break My covenant with them, for I am Hashem their God.” The difference is simply in the way Hashem’s care is manifested. In the glory days of yore, Hashem performed open miracles for us, and His wondrous kindnesses could be seen clearly by one and all, from the wisest sage down to the simplest commoner. But now His kindnesses are hidden, and can be perceived only by discerning men who look upon our situation in exile with a penetrating eye. Thus, Hashem is a God who conceals Himself, but remains our guardian and savior.
During the era when Hashem cared for us through open miracles, there was no need to present proofs of His providence – it was an obvious fact that no one would deny. But in the present era, with Hashem caring for us in a hidden fashion, we need our righteous leaders to present proofs of Hashem’s continuing kindnesses to bolster our faith that He is still with us. These two eras of Jewish history are alluded to in the first two parts of Yaakov’s statement. Yaakov begins by saying: “How awesome is this place!” Here, he is alluding to the era when Hashem tended to us through awesome acts. He then continues: “This is nought but the House of God.” It is as if Yaakov is striving to refute those who doubt Hashem’s providence, bringing proofs that the world remains Hashem’s domain. Our Sages reasoned that this statement must be alluding to the era after the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash, when Hashem’s providence ceased to be openly manifest, and proofs became necessary to show that Hashem is indeed still caring for us.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Toldos

We present two short selections from the Maggid’s commentary on this week’s parashah.
1. The Torah relates (Bereishis 25:28): “Yitzchak loved Eisav, for [his] catch was in his mouth, while Rivkah held an abiding love for Yaakov.” The Maggid asks: How did it happen with this saintly couple that the father focused his love on one son while the mother focused her love on the other? He then explains the matter as follows. Yitzchak grew up in a home of firm righteousness, established by his saintly parents Avraham and Sarah. In this home, only the absolute truth was spoken, and he himself continued in this path of perfect honesty. Thus, when Eisav approached him, as the Midrash relates (Bereishis Rabbah 63:10), to ask him how to tithe salt and straw, he was awestruck, and he thought to himself: “This young man will surely be extraordinarily meticulous with mitzvos.” Rivkah, on the other hand, grew up with the conniving Lavan, and so she was intimately familiar with deceit and hypocrisy. From this perspective, she recognized that Eisav was trying to dupe Yitzchak with a façade of piety. As the Midrash teaches (ibid.), in a homiletical interpretation of the phrase “catch was in his mouth,” Yitzchak loved Eisav because Eisav trapped him with his mouth. But Rivkah, who knew that Eisav was a faker, focused all her love on Yaakov.
2. In his older years, Yitzchak calls Eisav and tells him to catch game for him and make him delicacies to eat, so that “my soul may bless you before I die” (Bereishis 27:4). Rivkah overhears Yitzchak’s words, approaches Yaakov, and tells him (ibid. 27:6-10):
Behold, I heard your father speaking to your brother Eisav, saying, “Bring me some game and make me delicacies to eat, and I will bless you in the presence of Hashem before my death.” So now, my son, heed my voice regarding what I am commanding you. Go, now, to the flock and fetch me from there two choice kid goats, and I will make them into delicacies for your father, the way he likes. And bring this to your father and let him eat, so that he may bless you before his death.
The Maggid raises two questions. First, why did Rivkah preface her charge to Yaakov with a narrative about what she heard Yitzchak tell Eisav? Seemingly, she had no real need to include this preface; she could have simply issued him the charge. Second, why did Yitzchak ask Eisav for the delicacies in the first place? Could he not have just blessed him, without the delicacies? The Maggid then proceeds to answer these questions.
He takes up the second question first. There are certain actions that a person performs because he has an inner desire to do so. And then there are actions that a person decides he needs to carry out, but has no inner desire for, and thus pose a need for him to concoct an external impetus. For example, if a person is healthy, he has a natural desire to eat, but if he is sick, he needs to generate a desire to eat through some stimulant such as a shot of liquor. Thus it was with Yitzchak. He had decided he should bless Eisav, because he was the firstborn. But he felt no desire to do so, for he knew that Eisav was unworthy. He therefore told Eisav to bring him delicacies to eat, in order to arouse within himself a desire to bless him.
The Maggid then turns to the first question. He explains that the aim of Rivkah’s preface was to boost Yaakov’s morale, so that he would not hesitate to do what she told him. She explained to him that Yitzchak had resorted to delicacies as an external stimulant because he did not really want to bless Eisav. This being so, she argued, Yaakov should resolutely heed her charge to step in and take the blessing.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Chaiyei Sarah

This week’s parashah begins by recounting Avraham’s negotiations with the Bnei Cheis (Hittites) to procure a burial site for Sarah. The Bnei Cheis tell Avraham (Bereishis 23:6): “Hear us, my lord: You are a prince of God in our midst. Bury your dead in the best of our burial sites; no man among us will withhold his burial site from you to bury your dead.” The Midrash expounds (Bereishis Rabbah 59:5):
It is written (Tehillim 45:3): “You are splendid beyond men; charm is poured upon your lips, therefore God has blessed you for eternity.” You are splendid in the heavenly realm, as it is written (Yeshayah 33:7): “Behold, the angels scream forth outside [as Avraham bound Yitzchak to the altar, pleading with Hashem that Yitzchak be spared – Bereishis Rabbah 56:7].” And you are splendid in the earthly realm, as it is written: “You are prince of God in our midst.” Therefore God has blessed you for eternity, as it is written (Bereishis 24:1):  “And Hashem blessed Avraham with everything.”
The honor due to an eminent man is dictated by how lofty his character is in an absolute sense, and not merely by how much greater he is than his local peers. In this vein, Shlomo HaMelech writes (Mishlei 12:8): “In accordance with his intellect is a man praised.” For example, consider a world-class Torah scholar, who from his early years served as the Rabbi of a major city with a large Jewish population, and then, in his later years, moved to a small town. Suppose now that someone visited this town and asked about this scholar, and was told that the scholar is the Rabbi of the town, and one of its most eminent citizens. Such an answer, although intended as a praise, actually detracts considerably from the honor that the scholar deserves. A proper answer would be: “This man is a world-class Torah scholar. He was the Rabbi and leader of a large Jewish community teeming with learned men, but he has now retired from this position and moved to our town.”
This is precisely the description the Bnei Cheis gave Avraham when they called him “a prince of God in our midst.” They were not praising him merely for having a loftier character and a stronger record of good deeds than they themselves did. Rather, they were saying that he was so tremendously lofty that he would stand out as a leading figure even in community of the most eminent men. He was “a prince of God,” who happened to be, at the moment, “in our midst.”
The Midrash attaches to Avraham the description “splendid beyond men.” The Hebrew term used here for “splendid,” the doubled adjective יפיפית, can be read as meaning “more splendid than splendid,” just as ירקרק denotes a deep green and אדמדם a deep red, “redder than red.” Avraham’s splendor was on a completely different plane from that of all other men. He was splendid even according to the standards of the heavenly realm. And his extraordinary splendor was recognizable in the earthly realm; as the Bnei Cheis beheld it, they were moved to call him “a prince of God in our midst.”
David Zucker, Site Administrator