Post Archive for June 2017

Trust in Hashem – A Recurring Issue in Sefer Bamidbar, Part 2

We continue with the discussion of bitachon (trust in Hashem’s providence) that we began last week, taken from the Maggid’s Sefer HaMiddos, Shaar HaBitachon. At the end of last week’s discussion, we presented the Maggid’s teaching that we should put all our trust in Hashem, without relying on other people who are created beings just like we are, and that we should therefore strive to follow Hashem’s directives, so that He will view us with favor and grant us blessing. We now pick up from that point.
Chapter 2 (conclusion)
The principles we have just discussed are elementary, and a person could easily come up with them on his own. We definitely have the capability to find favor in Hashem’s eyes and lead Hashem to bless us. Thus, Daniel criticized Belshatzar for failing do so, saying (verse 5:23): “You have praised the gods of silver, and gold, of brass, iron, wood, and stone … and the God in Whose hand your soul lies, and unto Whom are all your ways, you have not glorified.” Nonetheless, our evil inclination blocks out the light of our understanding, seals our hearts, and leads us astray by means of various false ideas that are entrenched within us from youth, before our eyes were opened so that we could behold Hashem’s great and awesome works. Through specious arguments the evil inclination leads us to place our trust in natural factors and develop false hopes; in the words of Yirmiyah 2:13, we hew out broken cisterns that cannot hold water. The evil inclination befuddles us so that we forget Hashem, and distracts us from serving Him; it incites us to violate Hashem’s will. We seek security in false shelters, we forget the Torah, and we end up wandering around in unfamiliar lands, seeking food to sustain ourselves. We fail to understand that it benefits children to rely on their father and servants to rely on their master, as it is written (Tehillim 123:2): “Like the eyes of servants toward their master and like the eyes of maidservants toward their mistress, thus our eyes look toward Hashem our God, until He shows us graciousness.” We now discuss the basic factors that lead a person not to have bitachon.
Chapter 3
One major reason why people do not have bitachon in Hashem is that He conveys His bounty to us in an indirect manner, through intermediate agents. Hashem conveys the bounty to the angels in the upper realms of heaven, who pass it on to the beings in the lower realms of heaven, level after level, in a chain of succession. These heavenly beings have no power of their own; they simply pass on what Hashem conveys. The heavenly beings at the lowest level convey Hashem’s bounty to our world, and this, too, is done through intermediate agents – the various mechanisms of the physical world. One person makes use of an ox for plowing, another makes use of a donkey to carry loads, and some receive their allotment of bounty through other people, either by doing business or receiving a gift. We do not know why Hashem set up the universe this way; it is a secret which only He knows.
A person must seek some natural endeavor that will serve as the intermediate mechanism to bring his allotment of bounty from Hashem to him. Thus, the Torah says in Devarim 9:14 that we are to gather our grain, and in connection with this statement the Gemara in Berachos 35b reports R. Yishmael’s opinion, which is to be followed by everyone except the most saintly, that a person must engage in a worldly occupation. We are engaged in natural endeavors constantly from our youth to our old age. The problem is that we get so entrenched in natural endeavors that we put our trust in them and forget Hashem, our true Shepherd and Provider, who manages all the mechanisms of the natural world. We focus exclusively on what we see immediately in front of our eyes – the natural endeavors we are involved in on a daily basis. We think that these natural endeavors are the cause of the bounty that comes to us. And when we see a person gaining wealth and honor after having engaged in some particular natural endeavor, we feel a strong urge to engage in that endeavor as well, hoping that we will thereby become wealthy. We lose awareness that Hashem is the One who is behind everything. The natural mechanisms of this world are agents of Hashem, but they also operate as a thick screen dividing us from Hashem. We must work hard against our natural tendencies to maintain an awareness that Hashem is managing all our affairs.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Trust in Hashem – A Recurring Issue in Sefer Bamidbar

A recurring issue in Sefer Bamidbar is the issue of bitachon – trust in Hashem’s providence. Bitachon involves the understanding that Hashem watches over us and protects us at all times, and orchestrates everything that happens in our lives solely for our benefit. On the one hand, the Jewish People of Moshe’s generation are praised for following Hashem’s instruction to go into the wilderness despite their having no natural means of surviving there. Thus it is written (Yirmiyah 2:2): “I remember on your behalf the devotion of your youth, the love of your bridal days, how you followed after Me in the wilderness, in a land unsown.” On the other hand, several events in Sefer Bamidbar indicate that the Jewish People were lacking to a degree in the area of bitachon. We read, for example, of the various occasions that the Jewish People complained about their circumstances. In addition, we read of the episode of the spies who were sent to Eretz Yisrael and came back saying that it would be impossible to conquer the land. A further example is the episode of Korach that we read about in this week’s parashah, where Korach was dissatisfied with the position Hashem had assigned him, and organized a rebellion against Moshe to gain a higher position. Accordingly, I present here a portion of the Maggid’s discussion of bitachon in Sefer HaMiddos, Shaar HaBitachon.
After the discussion of serving Hashem, I thought it fitting to place next the discussion of bitachon, for only when a person has bitachon can he fulfill his obligation to serve Hashem to the maximum possible extent. For if a person lacks bitachon, and places his faith in certain other people, he has not given himself over completely – his entire body, soul, and strength – to Hashem, but instead has given over some part of himself to those in whom has placed his faith. He is like those of whom it is written (Tehillim 106:20): “They exchanged their Glory [Hashem] for the likeness of a grass-eating ox.” A person with bitachon does not place his hopes in any man. Of him, Tehillim 40:5 states: “Well-off is the man who places his trust in Hashem, and does not turn to the arrogant and the strayers after falsehood.” Tehillim 32:6 states: “The one who trusts in Hashem, kindness surrounds him.” And in Tehillim 131:2, David HaMelech declares: “Indeed I have stilled and quieted my soul, like a suckling child at his mother’s side, like the suckling child is my soul.” Yirmiyah 17:5-7 teaches: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man, and has made a being of flesh his strong-arm, and has turned his heart from Hashem. … Blessed is the man who trusts continually in Hashem; Hashem will then be his security.” Our ancestors were praised greatly for their bitachon, as it is written (ibid. 2:2): “I remember on your behalf the devotion of your youth, the love of your bridal days, how you followed after Me in the wilderness, in a land unsown.” Accordingly, it is fitting to discuss the nature and elements of bitachon and describe systematically the factors that lead to a weakening of bitachon.
Chapter 1
One must know that, just as Hashem originally brought each creation into being from nothingness, so, too, its continued existence now is brought about through His direct action. Thus it is written (Nechemiah 9:6): “You are the Sustainer of them all.” If the Creator and Maintainer of the universe would completely cut off His gracious sustaining force for a moment, everything would revert to nothingness, just as a garden withers when its water supply is cut off. Rambam discusses this matter in Moreh Nevuchim, Part 1, Chapter 69. Just as Hashem is absolutely complete, and needs nothing to make Him complete, so, too, conversely, His creations have absolutely nothing of their own, and cannot continue in existence for even a moment without the flow of Hashem’s sustaining force.
In regard to human beings, the support Hashem provides consists of several elements of varying levels of importance. Some elements are so crucial that if Hashem ceased to provide them, the person would immediately die. In this vein, Yeshayah 42:5 describes Hashem as the One Who “gives a soul to the people upon [the earth] and a spirit to those who walk upon it” – the verse says gives, in present tense, indicating the giving is constantly ongoing. (The Zohar, Bereishis 205b, quotes this verse in connection with the creation of man.)  Other elements, such as food and water, are not needed at every moment but are necessary to sustain life: A person can live for some amount of time without food, perhaps even a few days, but eventually his natural bodily mechanisms will force him to eat in order to replenish what has been depleted from him. At the next level are things that are not absolute necessary for life, but without them a person cannot live at a normal level of comfort – for example, clothing. Further down the chain are luxuries such as fine apparel and jewelry. All these things, like the produce of the field and all other commodities, are available to mankind at large, but, aside from those things without which a person would immediately die, some people lack certain things, in accordance with what Hashem has decreed for them. And Hashem, the Creator of all creatures of the world, watches directly over each one, irrespective of whether the creature is aware of Hashem’s supervision or not. Hashem sustains each one, from the great wild ox to the tiniest insect, and provides each its appropriate portion.
Chapter 2 (first three paragraphs)
Every person is a created being, whose coming into existence was not brought about through his own will or even with his awareness, but rather through the kindness of Hashem, who graciously created and sustains everyone. A person who contemplates this fact, bearing in mind that the purpose of all creation is so that people should recognize Hashem’s greatness and unceasing kindness [see Ramban, end of parashas Bo], should have complete faith that Hashem will take care of him. Just as before he came into being he was unaware to matters pertaining to his existence, and did not know that Hashem would create him out of pure nothingness, so, too, now, he should refrain from worrying about how he will maintain his existence, for surely the One Who brought him into being will sustain him.
Now, man is distinguished from all other creations in that he has free will. If he chooses good, Hashem will show grace and kindness toward him. A person must take care that his deeds are good and proper – that his conduct is pleasing to Hashem. If he does so, Hashem will grant him life and blessing, and he will not lack anything good. But if he rebels against Hashem and vexes Him through evil deeds, Hashem’s anger will be aroused against him, and He will withhold blessing from him [so as to prompt him to change his ways]. Thus the Torah says (Devarim 11:26-28): “See, I place before you today a blessing and a curse. The blessing – that you hearken to the commandments of Hashem your God, that I command you today. And the curse – if you do not hearken to the commandments of Hashem your God, and you turn aside from the path that I command you today ….”
A person must therefore exert himself with all his strength to serve Hashem and gain His favor, and he should turn his eyes in hope toward Hashem, “like the eyes of servants toward their master and like the eyes of maidservants toward their mistress” (Tehillim 123:2). We should overtly fear Hashem and avoid sin, so that Hashem will not reduce the sustaining forces and resources that He provides us to maintain our existence in this world, thereby placing us into a less favorable life situation. We should recognize with a full heart that we receive no aid except through Hashem. Who else has the power to sustain us? Hashem is the sole master of the world; there is no other. He created us from nothingness, we continue in existence through His decree and will, and He supervises our affairs in wondrous fashion. Anyone that we might think of to rely on is in the same basic position as we are: His existence depends entirely on Hashem’s will and the care Hashem provides him. We should not put our faith in someone who is a created being just as we are; rather, we should put our faith in the One Who graciously brought us into being, and strive to serve Him and find favor with Him, as we explained before. Thus David HaMelech declares (ibid. 37:3): “Trust in Hashem and do good.”
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Shelach

At the end of this week’s parashah, the Torah presents the mitzvah of tzitzis (fringes): Any four-cornered garment that a Jewish man wears must have fringes on each corner. (It is standard practice for a Jewish man to wear a four-cornered garment regularly in order to fulfill this mitzvah.) The Torah explains the reason for this mitzvah, saying (Bamidbar 15:39-14): “And they shall be unto you as fringes, that you may look upon them and remember all the commandments of Hashem and fulfill them … I am Hashem your God, who took you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God – I am Hashem your God.” The Midrash comments (Bamidbar Rabbah 17:6):
We can draw an analogy: A person fell into the sea, and the ship’s captain passed him a rope and said, “Grasp this rope in your hand and don’t let it go. If you let it go, your life is lost.” Similarly, the Holy One Blessed Be He said to the Jewish People: “As long as you cling to mitzvos, you will remain alive.” As it is written (Devarim 4:4): “But you who cling to Hashem your God, you all are alive this day.” And similarly it is written (Mishlei 4:13): “Hold fast to moral counsel, do not let up. Guard it, for it is your life.” … The Holy One Blessed Be He said further to the Jewish People: “In this world, because of the evil inclination, you separate yourselves from the mitzvos. But in the end of days I will uproot it from you.” As it is written (Yechezkel 36:27): “And I will place My spirit within you, and I will make it so that you will follow My statutes and observe My ordinances and fulfill them.”
The Maggid sets out to explain this Midrash. His explanation revolves around our basic obligation to study Torah and serve Hashem. We serve Hashem by performing the mitzvos in their proper time and place. The obligation to study Torah, however, is not limited to a specific time. We are commanded to study, teach, and ponder the Torah day and night, in order to guard it and fulfill it. Thus, the Gemara states (Berachos 17a):
A pearl of wisdom regularly heard from R. Meir’s mouth: “Study with all your heart and all your soul, to know My ways and keep diligent watch at My Torah’s doors. Safeguard My Torah in your heart, and let the fear of Me be before your eyes. Guard your mouth from all sin, and purify and sanctify yourself from all wrongdoing and iniquity, and I shall be with you everywhere.”
Here, R. Meir describes Hashem exhorting us twice regarding the Torah: Hashem tells us to “keep diligent watch at My Torah’s doors” and to “safeguard My Torah in your heart.” The Maggid explains the double language as follows. Our obligation to perform the mitzvos necessarily entails an obligation to study their laws. We have to learn and know what we are supposed to do, when, how, and in what amount. But to perform the mitzvos, it is enough for us to study the laws of a mitzvah when the time comes to fulfill it – to study the laws of Pesach when Pesach is at hand, and so on. Moreover, it is enough for the people of each community to appoint a communal Rabbi to teach them the laws of the mitzvos, delivering lectures and answering questions about the mitzvos, each one in its time.
However, beyond fulfilling mitzvos, it is an obligation in its own right for us to pore over the Torah day and night. The realm of Torah study includes even study of laws that we cannot practice today, such as the laws of offerings and other acts of service in the Beis HaMikdash, and the laws of ritual purity and impurity. Such study is called “keeping diligent watch” – shekeidah. The Hebrew word shekeidah bears a connotation of hastening, as in the following passage (Yirmiyah 1:11-12): “And the word of Hashem came upon me, saying, ‘What do you see, Yirmiyah?’ And I said, ‘I see a staff of an almond tree (shahked).’ And Hashem said to me, ‘You have seen well, for I shall hasten (shohked) in doing what I have said.’” Studying the laws of mitzvos that will be practiced only in a future era can be viewed as hastened study. Such hastened study necessarily entails a need to remember and safeguard in our hearts the laws we have learned until the time comes to put them into practice.
Proper Torah study requires that a person review what he has learned many times, so that he will retain the material firmly in his mind. In this vein, the Gemara relates a saying (Kesuvos 77b): “Well-off is one who comes here with his learning in hand.” And, as we said just above, we are obligated to study diligently – with appropriate review – even the laws the laws that we will fulfill only at a later time. We should be as familiar with these laws as with the laws of the mitzvos we perform all the time, such as the mitzvos of tzitzis and tefillin. Now, we do not know the full extent of what we accomplish by studying the Torah’s laws, including laws not currently practiced. Only those in Hashem’s inner circle, the angels, possess this knowledge. The Gemara in Shabbos 88b relates that when Moshe came before Hashem to receive the Torah, the angels battled him and sought to smite him. They cried out to Hashem, in the words of Tehillim 8:2: “Keep Your glory [the Torah] set within the heavens.” The angels wanted to keep the Torah with them in heaven, even though they have no connection to the practical fulfillment of mitzvos. It must be that Torah study in itself brings about wondrous effects, beyond providing the knowledge needed to perform mitzvos.
As we said, we do not really know what these effects are. Nonetheless, it is fitting for us to try to gain some understanding, within our limited power of comprehension, of why Hashem obligated us to study diligently and keep firmly in our memory the laws that will be practiced only in the era of Moshiach. What is the rationale for such study and what benefit do we gain through it?
The Maggid answers as follows. As a general matter, we are obligated to act toward Hashem the same way He acts toward us. Now, when we were slaves in Egypt, we were not fit to serve as Hashem’s holy ministers. Thus, when Hashem told Moshe to tell Pharaoh to free us, Moshe asked (Shemos 3:11): “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and that I should take the Children of Yisrael out of Egypt?” Moshe saw that we were bereft of good deeds, and, as the Midrash in Shemos Rabbah 3:4 explains, he was asking Hashem what merit we had that made us deserve being taken out of Egypt. Hashem responded (ibid. 3:12): “For I shall be with you – and this is your sign that I have sent you: When you take the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.” That is, Hashem, in His great goodness, freed us on account of what He knew we would do later – that we would accept the Torah. In the same way, it is our duty to study diligently the mitzvos that we are unable to fulfill now on account of the fact that Hashem will later redeem us from our state of exile and grant us the opportunity to fulfill these mitzvos. Thus, in the passage in the Torah that presents the mitzvah of tzitzis, which is meant to remind us of the mitzvos in general, Hashem concludes by saying: “I am Hashem your God, who took you out of Egypt, to be a God unto you.” Hashem is saying: “Just as I took you out of Egypt on account of the fact that you would later accept Me as your God and pledge to serve Me, so, too, you must act toward Me, and act in anticipation of what I will do for you later.”
The Midrash in Bamidbar Rabbah 17:6, which we quoted initially, explains what benefit we gain by studying sections of the Torah dealing with laws that we will fulfill only later. The Midrash tells us that the Torah is what gives us life, and to stay alive we must hold on to it without letting up. We must cleave to Torah, and we can do so fully only if we study all of it diligently, including the sections dealing with laws that we will fulfill only in the end of days, and safeguard it firmly in our memory. The Midrash goes on to conclude by saying that in this world we occasionally separate ourselves from the mitzvos, because the evil inclination prevents us from appreciating them, but in the end of days Hashem will uproot the evil inclination from within us, and we will then be able to see the wondrous benefit we derive from them.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Behaalosecha

Parashas Behaalosecha begins with a passage restating the mitzvah to light the menorah in the Mishkan (Tabernacle). The passage ends as follows (Bamidbar 8:4): “And this was the making of the menorah – a beaten work of gold, from its base to its flowers it was beaten work; according to the image that Hashem had shown Moshe, thus he made the menorah.” The Midrash remarks (Bamidbar Rabbah 15:4): “It is not written ‘thus Moshe made the menorah,’ but rather ‘thus he made the menorah,’ without specifying who made it. And who actually made it? The Holy One Blessed Be He.”
Further on, in Bamidbar Rabbah 15:6, the Midrash comments on the fact that the passage about the menorah appears right after the account at the end of parashas Naso of the offerings the twelve tribal princes brought during the Mishkan’s inauguration ceremony. The Midrash relates that Aharon was upset that his tribe, the tribe of Levi, did not have the chance to bring an offering in this ceremony. He was worried that some flaw in him caused the tribe of Levi to lose out. Hashem responded by telling him that his lot is better than that of the princes. He went on to explain that the practice of bringing offerings would continue only while the Mishkan or Beis HaMikdash stood, but the menorah would abide forever. In addition, the mitzvah conveyed to Aharon and his descendants to bestow on the Jewish People a special set of blessings (Birkas Kohanim) would also abide forever. We presented previously one of the Maggid’s explanations on this Midrash, where the lighting of lights on Chanukah is regarded as an extension of the lighting of the menorah in the Mishkan and the Beis HaMikdash. Here we present another explanation, which links this Midrash to the one we quoted in the previous paragraph.
The Maggid’s starting point is Yaakov’s dream about the ladder extending from earth to heaven, with angels ascending and descending upon it. The Maggid explains that the angels ascend to transport our prayers and acts of service to Hashem from earth to heaven, and then descend to earth with the blessing that our prayers and acts of service generated. In the early stages of Jewish history, the Mishkan and the Beis HaMikdash served as the focal point of this system, and so it will be again in the end of days when the Beis HaMikdash is rebuilt. The Midrash in Bamidbar Rabbah 15:12 says that on the day that Moshe erected the Mishkan on earth, a corresponding Mishkan was erected in heaven. The Maggid explains that as the service was performed in Moshe’s Mishkan, using the service vessels made by Betzalel and his staff, the spiritual elements of the acts of service rose up to the Mishkan in heaven and went through a parallel process of service there.
We consider now the inauguration of the Mishkan. The Hebrew term for inauguration, chinuch, bears the meaning of preparing something for its intended use. In connection with the inauguration of the Mishkan, the Maggid draws an analogy to a road. In the Maggid’s time, a new road that had not yet been used was hard to travel upon. The road would become suitable for general travel only after it had been broken in by people with strong wagons bearing heavy loads. The path linking the Mishkan to heaven had to undergo a similar breaking-in process. This process was accomplished through the inaugural offerings of the tribal princes, who were men of awesome spiritual stature, whose offerings bore great spiritual weight.
Now, in general, the acts of service in Moshe’s Mishkan came to completion only when their spiritual elements reached the Mishkan in heaven and went through the service performed there. There was one exception: the lighting of the menorah. As the Midrash teaches, the menorah in Moshe’s Mishkan was not the work of man – it was made by Hashem Himself. Consequently, once Aharon lit the menorah in Moshe’s Mishkan, the service of lighting the menorah was complete, without need for the spiritual elements of the service to travel up to the Mishkan in heaven for further processing.
The Maggid brings out the idea with analogy. When a person buys on credit, usually he makes a small down payment on the spot, and then pays the rest later. The down payment constitutes a preliminary stage of the transaction. But if a buyer pays the full price on the spot, the transaction is completed immediately. Similarly, all the acts of service in the Mishkan had to undergo an inauguration process, except for the lighting of the menorah. As we explained, the act of bringing an offering did not reach completion until the spiritual elements of the offering were offered in the Mishkan in heaven. Accordingly, as reported in Sifra, Shemini 15, when Moshe completed the building of the Mishkan, he prayed (Tehillim 90:17): “May the sublimity of our Master, our God, come down upon us. Our handiwork, establish for us; our handiwork, establish it.” He was praying that the acts of service performed in the Mishkan would undergo the full process of completion in the Mishkan in heaven. But the act of lighting the menorah came to completion immediately.
Accordingly, with the menorah there was no need for an inauguration procedure; there was no need to break in a path to convey the spiritual elements of the menorah lighting to the Mishkan in heaven. Thus, when Aharon felt upset at not participating in the inauguration of the Mishkan, Hashem reassured him by explaining to him the fundamental difference between the lighting of the menorah and the rest of the service performed in the Mishkan. Aharon’s lot was greater than that of the princes, for the lighting of the menorah was a uniquely lofty component of the service. Moreover, the practice of bringing offerings would continue only while the Mishkan or Beis HaMikdash stood, but the menorah would abide forever.
The Maggid goes on to describe the eternal aspect of the menorah. David HaMelech declares (Tehillim 119:89): “Forever, Hashem, Your word stands firm in heaven.” Just as Hashem is eternal, so, too, His works are eternal. Accordingly, the Midrash in Bamidbar Rabbah 15:10 relates when the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed, the menorah was not destroyed, but rather was hidden away. The Midrash lists five things were hidden away when the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed – the Holy Ark, the menorah, the fire, the spirit of Divine inspiration, and the keruvim (cherubs). The Midrash states that they will all be restored when the Beis HaMikdash is rebuilt in the end of days.
The Midrash in Bamidbar Rabbah 15:6 concludes by saying that Hashem told Aharon that the blessings with which he and his descendants would bless the Jewish People would also abide forever. In this vein, in connection with Birkas Kohanim, the Midrash in Bamidbar Rabbah 11:2 expounds:
Said the Holy One Blessed Be He to the Jewish People: “Even though I told the Kohanim to bless you, I stand along with them and bless you.” Therefore, the Kohanim spread out their hands, to indicate that the Holy One Blessed Be He is standing behind them. Thus it is written (Shir HaShirim 2:9): “He watches through the windows; He peers through the shutters.” He watches through the windows – from between the shoulders of the Kohanim. He peers through the shutters – from between the fingers of the Kohanim.
Like the lighting of the menorah, Birkas Kohanim did not have to undergo any inauguration process. Because Hashem plays a direct part in the bestowal of the blessings, the service of bestowing the blessings came to completion immediately, without any need of any transfer between earth and heaven. For the same reason, Birkas Kohanim continues to be practiced over the entire course of time.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Naso

The last segment of this week’s parashah describes the offerings that the tribal princes brought as part of the inauguration of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). On each of the first twelve days of Nisan, one of the princes brought an offering. The first to bring his offering was Nachshon ben Aminadav, prince of the tribe of Yehudah. The Midrash expounds (Bamidbar Rabbah 13:14):
Nachshon began and brought his offering according to the order of the kingship, for Yehudah’s father Yaakov had designated him to be king over his brothers. As it is written (Bereishis 49:8-11): “Yehudah, your brothers will acknowledge you. Your hand will be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons will bow down before you. … The scepter will not depart from Yehudah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until the arrival of Shiloh [Moshiach], and unto him will be the obedience of the peoples.” … And there was a tradition in the hands of the tribe of Yehudah, their sages and leaders, passed down from our father Yaakov, regarding what would happen to each tribe up to the time of Moshiach. And similarly, there was a tradition in the hands of each tribe, passed down from Yaakov, regarding what would happen to that tribe up to the time of Moshiach.
In recounting the blessings that Yaakov gave each of his sons just before his death, the Torah states that Yaakov assembled his twelve sons together, and then goes on to relate the specific blessing that he gave to each of his sons. The Torah concludes by saying (Bereishis 49:28): “All these are the twelve tribes of Yisrael, and this is what their father spoke to them and blessed them – each one according to his blessing he blessed them.” The Maggid explains that this verse is telling us why Yaakov’s blessings to his sons were lengthy. These lengthy blessings stand in contrast with the blessings that the Torah directs the Kohanim to pronounce upon the Jewish People, as recorded in our parashah right before the account of the princes’ offerings. These blessings are brief, although they surely encompass all good things for the entire Jewish People. The Maggid sets out to elaborate on the reason for the length of Yaakov’s blessings to his sons.
Sefer Shemos begins as follows (Shemos 1:1-5): “These are the names of the sons of Yisrael, who came to Egypt with Yaakov …. Reuven, Shimon, Levi, and Yehudah; Yissachar, Zevulun, and Binyamin; Dan and Naphtali; Gad and Asher. And all the souls who came forth from the loins of Yaakov were seventy souls, and Yosef was in Egypt.” The Midrash remarks (Shemos Rabbah 1:7): “Although Yosef gained sovereignty, he did not pride himself over his brothers and his father’s house. Just as he was small in his eyes at the beginning, when he was a slave in Egypt, so was he small in his eyes after he became king.” This description characterizes the general attitude taken by Jewish leaders. They take no greatness for themselves, not even as much as a hairsbreadth. Indeed, they regard the eminence and honor extended to them as a burden.
Shaul HaMelech, for example, shied away from the kingship; during the ceremony in which Shmuel HaNavi was going to designate him as king, he hid himself among the baggage (Shmuel Alef 10:22). And when Aharon was annointed as Kohen Gadol, he worried that he might have improperly taken satisfaction in this honor, thereby embezzling the annointing oil (Horayos 12a). All the great Jewish leaders regarded it as a serious prohibition to derive benefit from the things of this world, from their wealth and their eminence, beyond the extent necessary for their service to Hashem. David HaMelech summed up the matter by declaring (Divrei HaYamim Alef 29:11-12): “Yours, Hashem, is the greatness, and the strength, and the splendor, and the triumph, and the glory, even everything in heaven and earth. Yours, Hashem, is the kingdom, and the sovereignty over every leader.” Here, David is saying that eminence belongs to Hashem alone.
In the same vein, Yosef attributed no eminence to himself on account of his position. Regarding Yosef, it is written (Bereishis 42:6): “Now Yosef, he was the ruler over the land; he was the one who apportioned provisions to all the people of the land.” The Torah is telling us that Yosef’s rulership over Egypt consisted solely of his being the one who apportioned provisions among the people of Egypt – in effect, he was working as a servant of the people. His attitude was exactly in line with that which the Torah would later prescribe for Jewish kings (Devarim 17:20): “… he will not become haughty toward his brethren, and will hold back from turning away from the commandments either to the right or to the left.” But we are left with a question: How did the Midrash in Shemos Rabbah see an allusion to Yosef’s humble attitude in the Torah’s simple statement that “Yosef was in Egypt”?
The Maggid builds his answer to this question on a statement that Moshe made to the Jewish People shortly before his death. Moshe declared (Devarim 29:9): “You are standing, all of you, this day before Hashem your God.” Seemingly the phrase “all of you” is superfluous, especially since Moshe goes on to list all the different segments of the Jewish People. But the phrase is needed in conjunction with what Moshe says later (ibid. 29:13-14): “Not with you alone do I make this covenant and this admonition, but with him who stands here with us this day before Hashem our God, and with him who is not here with us this day.” Moshe was saying that the covenant being made encompassed all Jews of all time, for each Jew who was physically present at the assembly represented all the future generations of Jews who would descend from him. Moshe stressed that “all of you” – all the living members of the Jewish People – were present at the time of the making of the covenant, for if any Jew were not present, the covenant would not encompass all Jews of future generations: Those who descended from the Jews who were not present would not be included.
In a similar vein, Mishnah Pesachim 10:5 states that on Seder night each Jew must see himself as if he personally went out from Egypt. For the First Commandment says (Shemos 20:2): “I am Hashem your God Who took you out of Egypt” – with the word you written in singular form. Our ability to fulfill the law in the Mishnah depends on the premise that at the time of the Exodus all the Jews in the world were subjugated in Egypt. For if there were Jews who were not subjugated in Egypt, a Jew of today might be in doubt as to whether his ancestor was among the Jews who were subjugated in Egypt or was one of those who were not. We thus have to say that Yosef, along with the rest of the seventy members of Yaakov’s family, was in some sense subjugated by Egypt. Now, since Yosef was viceroy of Egypt, it is very odd to say that he was among those subjugated. Yet, when describing Yaakov’s family at the beginning of Sefer Shemos, the Torah counts Yosef in with the rest of the family. Accordingly, the Sages were led to conclude that Yosef regarded himself as a slave for his entire stay in Egypt.
The Maggid now returns to Yaakov’s blessings to his sons. These blessings were lengthy because they encompassed all the events that would occur to his sons, and their sons, and all the actions they would take, for good or for bad, throughout all the generations. Thus, as Rashi notes in his commentary on the blessings, the blessing to Dan included a prophesy about his descendant Shimshon, and the blessing to Shimon includes a prophesy about his descendant Zimri ben Salu. The blessings that Kohanim pronounce on the Jewish People, on the other hand, are brief, since they are meant to cover only the Jews of the present generation. To reflect the far reach of Yaakov’s blessings, the Torah concludes its account of the blessings by saying: “All these are the twelve tribes of Yisrael, and this is what their father spoke to them and blessed them.” The Torah adds the word all at the beginning of this statement to indicate that Yaakov’s sons represented all the Jews who would walk the earth up to the time of Moshiach, and that Yaakov’s blessings encompassed everything they would do and everything that would happen to them. This point is emphasized in the final phrase of the Torah’s statement: “Each one according to his blessing he blessed them.”
David Zucker, Site Administrator