Post Archive for January 2017

Haftaras Shabbos Rosh Chodesh

This week we read the special haftarah for Shabbos Rosh Chodesh. Speaking of Tziyon (Zion), it is written (Yeshayah 66:7): “Before she feels labor pains, she will give birth; before travail comes upon her, she will deliver a son!” The Midrash remarks (Bereishis Rabbah 85:1): “Before the first enslaver was born, the final redeemer was born.” The Maggid sets out to explain this Midrash. He takes as his starting point the following Gemara passage (Megillah 13b):
The Holy One Blessed Be He does not strike a blow to Yisrael unless He creates for them a cure for them beforehand. As it is written (Hoshea 7:1, homiletically): “When I healed Yisrael, the iniquity of Ephraim became revealed.”
It seems, the Maggid says, that the verse in Hoshea does not serve to prove the Gemara’s assertion that the cure precedes the blow. Rather, the Sages knew by tradition that Hashem, in His great mercy, prepares the cure before delivering the blow, but they wanted to explain why Hashem follows this course. The Maggid explains the idea as follows. The main purpose of exile is to heal and purify our souls. Yet the exile also exerts a negative spiritual influence on us, as it is written (Tehillim 106:35): “They mingled with the nations and learned their ways.” The verse in Hoshea describes the problem Hashem is faced with: He seeks to heal us through exile, but the exile leads us to exhibit increased iniquitous behavior. Hashem therefore had to prepare the redeemer in advance, when we still had some merit to our credit, before we reached the point of spiritual mortal danger, lest it happen, far be it, that when the time for the redemption approached we would be unworthy of being redeemed. Thus, even before the first enslaver came on the scene, Hashem set the final redeemer in place.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Shemos

This week’s parashah describes how the Egyptians enslaved and oppressed us, and Hashem sent Moshe to redeem us. Hashem tells Moshe (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 commentaries on this verse. We now present another one, based on a Midrash in Devarim Rabbah 4:7. The Midrash expounds on Devarim 12:20, which speaks Hashem’s expanding our borders. The Midrash states:
This is as it is written (Tehillim 31:8-9): “I jubilate and rejoice in Your kindness, that You saw my affliction and recognized the troubles of my soul. And You did not give me over into the hand of the enemy; You set my feet in a broad place.” I jubilate and rejoice in Your kindness. This statement pertains to Knesses Yisrael. Said Knesses Yisrael: “Master of the Universe! We jubilate and rejoice in the kindness that You did for us. For even if You had only exacted vengeance from the Egyptians without giving us their money, we would have rejoiced. Now we rejoice and jubilate also over Your having given us their money.” That You saw my affliction. This statement pertains to Knesses Yisrael, of whom it is written (Devarim 26:6-8): “And the Egyptians dealt ill with us, and afflicted us, and laid upon us hard bondage. And we cried out to Hashem, the God of our fathers, and Hashem heard our voice, and saw our affliction, and our toil, and our oppression. And Hashem brought us forth out of Egypt with a mighty hand ….” And recognized the troubles of my soul. As it is written (Shemos 1:14): “And they embittered their lives ….” And You did not give me over into the hand of the enemy. The enemy is the wicked Pharaoh, as it is written (Shemos 15:9): “The enemy said, ‘I will pursue ….’” You set my feet in a broad place. As it is written (Devarim 12:20): “When Hashem Your God expands your borders ….”
The Maggid explains this Midrash as follows. There is a difference between the misfortunes that come upon us and those that come upon other nations. The downfall of other nations comes about incidentally, so to speak, amidst the tides of fortune. Hashem does not take any direct action against them. Rather, He simply withdraws from watching over them, and misfortune comes upon them automatically. This idea is expressed in the Song at the Sea. The Jewish People declare (Shemos 15:12): “You inclined Your right hand and the earth swallowed them up.” [The Hebrew word נטית is usually rendered stretched forth – the rendering inclined here follows Rashi’s commentary.] Rashi explains: “When Hashem tilts His hand, the wicked fall and perish, for everything is held in His hand, and it falls when the hand is tilted. Thus it is written (Yeshayah 31:3), ‘When Hashem inclines His hand, both the one who helps will stumble and the one who is helped will fall.’ It is like a set of glass vessels in a person’s hand – if the person tilts his hand a bit, they fall and break.” It is different with the Jewish People. Everything that comes upon them comes about through Hashem’s individualized supervision. In this vein, it is written (Shir HaShirim 2:6): “His left hand is beneath my head, and His right hand embraces me.” That is, even Hashem’s left hand, i.e., His Attribute of Justice, is an instrument of His benevolent care, just as a father gives his son harsh medicines to heal him. All this is included in Yirmiyahu’s prophecy (verse 29:11): “‘I know the thoughts that I am thinking over you,’ says Hashem, ‘thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.’”
The nations of the world do not recognize this principle. They believe that we as well as they are given over to the tides of fortune. However, when Hashem exercises justice on our behalf and wages war against our enemies, He clearly demonstrates His direct supervision of our affairs: Out of His love for us, He steps in and brings calamity on our oppressors by direct action. We see this in how Hashem dealt with Pharaoh and the Egyptians, smiting them with wondrous plagues overriding the laws of nature. And we see that Egyptians acknowledged the truth and did not deny that it was through Hashem’s hand operating directly, and not through the tides of fortune, that they were struck down. Yet we can imagine them claiming that the blows Hashem dealt them were motivated only by His anger toward them and His desire to reprimand them, and not out of love for us. They might say to themselves: “The Jews are also wicked and sinful in Hashem’s eyes. Hashem cast the plagues against us only because He regards us as having meddled in a dispute that was not our business when we set out to oppress the Jews, and He wanted to punish us for this offense.” But the fact that Hashem gave us their money proves that the awesome onslaught that Hashem brought upon them was motivated by His love for us and His kindness toward us.
We can bring out the point with an analogy. Suppose someone sees a person stealing money from a thief. He will lash out in anger against the person he saw stealing; he will take the money away and rail at him, saying: “Scoundrel! What business do you have stealing?” But, at the same time, he will not return the money to the victim of the theft he observed, for the victim himself is a thief. But now suppose he sees a person stealing money from an upright and righteous person. He then will surely return the money to the victim of the theft he observed. Thus it was with the way Hashem acted in Egypt during the period described in the first few parshios of Sefer Shemos. The fact that He gave us the Egyptians’ money showed that He regarded us as innocent victims, and His decision to deviate from His usual mode of operation and take direct action against the Egyptians was motivated by love for us.
This idea is reflected in the passage from Tehillim 31 that the Midrash quotes. Knesses Yisrael declares: “I jubilate and rejoice in Your kindness, that You saw my affliction and recognized the troubles of my soul.” We are describing how Hashem watched intently over us while we were enslaved in Egypt and saw what was happening to us there, as portrayed in the statement by Hashem to Moshe that we quoted at the outset: “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 then speak of how Hashem saved us from Pharaoh’s hand. His compassion toward us was aroused, and He stepped in and smote the Egyptians on our behalf, as an act of direct Divine supervision. Hashem’s decision to step in was motivated by love for us and not merely by a desire to punish the Egyptians. In proof of this fact, we say: “You set my feet in a broad place” – we speak of how Hashem gave us the Egyptians’ money, as the Midrash relates.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Epilogue to Bereishis

The Maggid teaches many times that the afflictions we suffer are a necessary means toward bringing about the final redemption, just as one must plow and sow in order to reap. As it is written (Tehillim 126:5, quoted in last week’s d’var Torah): “Those who sowed with tears will reap with joyous song.” The episode of Yosef and his brothers is a case in point. I present here a brief selection from the epilogue to Sefer Bereishis in Ohel Yaakov that elaborates on this theme. It is written (Yeshayah 35:10 and 51:11): “Those redeemed by Hashem shall return and come to Zion with exuberant song, with eternal joy upon their heads. They shall attain gladness and joy, and anguish and groaning shall flee.” What does it mean to say that “anguish and groaning shall flee”?
Consider what Balak said to Bilaam after Bilaam’s unsuccessful attempt to curse the Jewish People (Bamidbar 24:10-11): “I called you to curse my enemies, but, behold, you have repeatedly blessed them these three times! So, now, flee to your place. I said I would surely honor you, but, behold, Hashem has kept you back from honor.” We can explain this statement with an analogy. Suppose a doctor is called in to heal a sick person, and he does not succeed. Still, it is fitting to send the doctor back home in an honorable manner, without blame, for we understand that the doctor is not God. But now suppose it becomes known that the doctor had no idea of the nature of his patient’s sickness, and the medications he gave him actually made him worse. In this case, when the doctor heads home, people will say: “He is fleeing in disgrace.”
Similarly, at present we groan profusely over the hardships that come upon us, but in the end of days we will see, detail by detail, how each hardship produced a blessing. We will thus see, in retrospect, that there was no place for groaning. In expounding on the verse in Yeshayah, the Midrash in Shocher Tov 87 renders “eternal joy” (שמחת עולם) as “the joy of former times” (שמחה שמעולם). That is, we will rejoice in hindsight over the hardships we went through. We will attain gladness and joy, and anguish and groaning will flee, just as in the episode of Balak and Bilaam and the analogy of the doctor. In this vein, Hashem promises (Yirmiyah 31:12): “I shall transform their mourning into joy, and I shall comfort them and gladden them from their grief.”
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Vayiggash

This week’s parashah begins with the showdown between Yosef, as Viceroy of Egypt, and Yehudah, as representative of his brothers, followed by Yosef’s revealing his identity. The Midrash expounds (Bereishis Rabbah 93:2):
And Yehudah approached him (Bereishis 44:18, the opening of this week’s parashah). It is written (Tehillim 48:5): “For, behold, the kings assembled, they came together (עברו יחדיו).” For, behold, the kings – Yehudah and Yosef. Came together (עברו יחדיו). This one was filled with wrath (עברה) at this one, and this one was filled with wrath at this one. They saw and they were indeed astonished (ibid. 48:6). As it is written (Bereishis 43:33): “And the men looked at each other in astonishment.” They were confounded and anxious (continuing in Tehillim 48:6). As it is written (Bereishis 45:3): “But his brothers could not answer him, for they were confounded before him.” Trembling gripped them there (Tehillim 48:7) – this refers to the brothers. They said: “Kings are contending with one another – what concern is it of ours? It is fitting for a king to contend with a king.”
Later on in the same section of Midrash, the Sages expound further (Bereishis Rabbah 93:5):
It is written (Amos 9:13): “‘For days are coming,’ says Hashem, ‘that the plowman will meet up with the reaper, and the one treading the grapes with the one drawing along the seed; the mountains will drip juice, and all the hills will melt.’” The “plowman” is Yehudah, and the “reaper” is Yosef. As it is written (Bereishis 37:7): “And, behold, we were binding sheaves.” The “one treading (דורך) the grapes” is Yehudah. As it is written (Zechariah 9:13): “For I will bend (דרכתי) Yehudah [as a bow] for Me.” And the “one drawing along the seed)” is Yosef, who drew Yaakov’s progeny down to Egypt. As it is written (Hoshea 11:4): “With ropes of man I will draw them.” And the “mountains will drip juice, and all the hills will melt” refers to the brothers. They said: “Kings are contending with one another – what concern is it of ours?”
In his commentary on haftaras Vayiggash, the Maggid explains these Midrashim. When the Sages depict Yehudah and Yosef as kings wrathfully contending with each other, they are referring to the kingdoms of Yehudah and Yisrael in the times of the first Beis HaMikdash [the kingdom of Yisrael was formed by Yeravam ben Nevat, a descendant of Yosef’s son Ephraim], and the conflicts and warring that occurred between these two kingdoms. It was like an unwitting prophetic message when the brothers said: “Kings are contending with one another – what concern is it of ours?” The message here was that the confrontation between Yosef and Yehudah described in our parashah was not over an issue that related to them personally at the time, but rather it was in the nature of the rulers of two kingdoms battling each other.
This is the point that the second Midrash, expounding on Amos 9:13, aims to bring out. In general, regarding any process of development, the first step is referred to as plowing or sowing, and the last step is referred to as reaping. In this vein, in Tehillim 126:5 it is written: “Those who sowed with tears will reap with joyous song.” Now, we know that the root of all the blessings that Hashem has granted us is the exile in Egypt, which prepared us for receiving the Torah and inheriting Eretz Yisrael. As it is written (Yeshayah 27:6): “[Days] are coming when Yaakov shall take root; Yisrael shall bud and blossom.” In the verse from Amos, Hashem begins by saying: “Days are coming that the plowman will meet up with the reaper.” This segment of Hashem’s statement refers to the process of bringing Yaakov’s family to Egypt. Yehudah is called the plowman, for he was the one who brought about Yosef’s descent to Egypt, while Yosef is called the reaper, for he finished the job by arranging for his father and brothers to settle in Egypt. Hashem then continues and says: “The one treading the grapes will meet up with the one drawing along the seed.” This segment of Hashem’s statement refers to the process leading to the final redemption. Here, Yehudah is referred to as the one treading the grapes, for he was the one who induced Yosef to reveal his identity, thereby bringing about the reconciliation between Yosef and his brothers. This reconciliation is the precursor of the reconciliation between the Kingdom of Yisrael and the Kingdom of Yehudah that will take place in the end of days, when the sovereignty of the House of David will be firmly re-established.
The Torah recounts (Bereishis 45:1-2): “And Yosef could not hold himself back … and he broke out in loud crying.” The Midrash expounds (Bereishis Rabbah 93:12): “Just as Yosef was able to appease his brothers only through crying, so, too, it will be only though crying that the Holy One Blessed Be He will redeem Yisrael, as it is written (Yirmiyah 31:8): ‘With crying they will come, and with pleading I will lead them.’” This Midrash is in line with what we explained above. The episode of Yosef and his brothers was the precursor of the future split of the Davidic kingdom into two separate kingdoms, the Kingdom of Yisrael and the Kingdom of Yehudah. And the reconciliation between Yosef and brothers, triggered by Yosef’s revealing himself to his brothers amidst loud crying, was the precursor of the final re-unification of the Jewish People. The experiences the forefathers went through serve as portents and lay the foundation for the Jewish People’s experiences throughout the course of history, up to the end of days. Just as the reconciliation between Yosef and brothers came about through crying, so, too the final redemption and reconciliation between the Kingdom of Yisrael and the Kingdom of Yehudah will come about through crying.
David Zucker, Site Administrator