Post Archive for November 2013

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