Post Archive for December 2017

Haftaras Shabbos Chanukah

The special haftarah for Shabbos Chanukah begins as follows (Zechariah 2:14-15):
“Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion, for behold I am coming and I shall dwell in your midst,” says Hashem. “Many nations will attach themselves to Hashem on that day, and will become unto Me as a people, and I shall dwell in your midst .…” And Hashem shall inherit Yehudah as His portion in the holy land, and He shall in addition choose Yerushalayim.
The Maggid asks: Why is the statement “I shall dwell in your midst repeated”?  He sets out to answer this question. The Maggid describes how the Jewish People, over the centuries, has safeguarded Hashem’s Torah and upheld His honor. As a result, in the end of days, light will shine upon all the nations of the world, and they will recognize clearly that Hashem alone is sovereign over all of existence, from the heights of the heavens to the depths of the earth. They will see clearly how Hashem has constantly watched over us and miraculously preserved us throughout the long exile, and they will behold the glory we will attain when Hashem reveals Himself openly to the world. And Hashem will surely reward us, the Maggid says, for the centuries during which we provided a home for Him and His Torah.
The Maggid then introduces a parable. A merchant arrived, with a large stock of merchandise, to a city where he had several impoverished relatives. He lodged in the home of one of these relatives and used it, for a considerable time, as a base for selling his merchandise. When he was ready to return to his own home, he gave each of his relatives a fitting allotment of his earnings. To the relative he stayed with he gave a larger allotment than he gave to his other relatives. However, he split the allotment into two portions, so that his relative would know that one portion was a gift that he received on an equal basis with the other relatives and the other portion was payment for lodging in his home.
We can now understand the double language in the passage from the haftarah. Hashem will come and dwell in our midst. As a result, many nations will attach themselves to Hashem. On this account, Hashem will intensify His presence among us. We will receive two portions of the Divine Presence. Hashem will take for Himself an estate in Yehudah, just as He will take for Himself an estate in the land of each of the other nations. And, in addition, He will choose Yerushalayim as an estate as well, as reward to us for promoting His honor.
For the complete recovery of my father, Pesach ben Sarah, who is now going through a serious illness. Please daven for him.

Parashas Vayeishev

In the opening section of this week’s parashah, Yosef says to his brothers (Bereishis 37:6-7): “Hear, please, this dream that I have dreamt: Behold, we were binding sheaves in the middle of the field, and – behold – my sheaf arose and also stood upright, and – behold – your sheaves gathered around and bowed down to my sheaf.” Regarding the prefatory phrase “Hear, please,” the Midrash expounds (Bereishis Rabbah 84:10): “He [Yosef] said, ‘Thus will the prophets deliver their rebukes – “Hear, please, what Hashem says (Michah 6:1).”’” Afterward, Yosef has another dream, similar to the first, and he relates this dream to his brothers as well. The Torah states that Yaakov castigated him for doing so. The Midrash remarks (Bereishis Rabbah 84:11): “Said the Holy One Blessed Be He, ‘Thus you will castigate your prophets, as it is written (Yirmiyah 29:27, rhetorically), “Why, then, have you not castigated Yirmiyahu of Anasos?”’” The Maggid sets out to analyze these Midrashim, showing that the first Midrash explains Yosef’s motive in relating his dream to his brothers and the second reflects the reaction of his brothers.
The Maggid begins by discussing Yosef’s motive. Yosef’s conduct is puzzling. It seems that he was pridefully raising himself above his brothers and waiting for the time when he would be king over them. But far be it from us to say such a thing – is this the way a saintly person behaves?
The Maggid explains the matter in terms of a basic principle regarding how Hashem acts toward us. Hashem does not act the way people act. When a person wishes to harm someone else, he conceals his plan so that his intended victim will not hear about it and find a way to escape. But, during the age of prophecy, when Hashem saw a need for punishment, He would inform the people, via a message conveyed by a prophet, about the calamity looming on the horizon. His goal in doing so was to give the people a chance to arouse themselves and find a means to protect themselves. A teaching in Shabbos 88a brings out this idea. It is written (Tehillim 76:9): “From heaven You made judgment heard; the earth feared, and quieted.” Our Sages expound (Shabbos 88a): “First fear, and afterward quiet.” And thus it was the way that a prophet would come forward and exhort: “Hear, please, what Hashem says.” The exhortation is framed as a plea: The prophet is urging us to pay attention and recognize that by repenting from our evil ways we can prevent the calamity from coming upon us. Similarly, Yirmiyahu exhorts (verse 2:25), “Keep your foot from being unshod,” meaning that we should take steps to prevent misfortune. Yirmiyahu is telling us to accept discipline through hearing rebuke, so that we will not need to be disciplined through misfortune.
The converse is reflected in Yeshayah 40:21 (homiletically): “Behold you knew, if you did not hear.” If we are unstirred the prophecy of calamity and fail to hear the warning, by necessity we will come to know of the calamity by experiencing it coming upon us. The same idea is reflected in Yeshayah 6:10: “Indeed you hear, but you do not understand; indeed you see, but you do not know.” If we hear the prophecy of calamity but fail to absorb the message and accept the verbal chastisement, by necessity we will come to see the calamity unfold before us.
Now, the Gemara in Berachos 57b says that a dream is like a sixtieth of prophecy; it is a message from heaven. Thus, when Yosef dreamt his dream, he sought to understand what message it conveyed. Surely the saintly Yosef was not so haughty as to think that Hashem deemed him superior to his brothers and worthy to rule over them, with his brothers being his servants. Rather, he surmised that the purpose of the dream was for him to relate it to his brothers and strike fear into their hearts, so that they would reflect on their ways and mend them. Accordingly, immediately after his dream he went to his brothers and said: “Hear, please, the dream that I have dreamt.” He was acting like a prophet, pleading with his brothers to accept the discipline that the dream conveyed and take it to heart so that the dream would not come to actual fulfillment. It is along the lines of the Gemara’s saying in Berachos 55b: “The discomfiture generated by a bad dream suffices [to accomplish the purpose of the dream, eliminating the need for what it depicts to actually happen]. This is what the Midrash is saying when it draws the link between Yosef’s words and the words of a prophet, as reflected in the verse in Michah.  
We now have a question: Why did Yosef’s dream in fact come true? Why wasn’t the dream nullified? The answer is that Yosef’s brothers felt no fear upon hearing the dream. They did not see a need for them to make a moral accounting in order to nullify the dream. They assumed that Yosef’s elation and haughtiness (of which they suspected him) would lead to the dream’s nullification, along the lines of the parallel saying in the Gemara in Berachos 55b: “The joy generated by a good dream suffices.” But in actuality Yosef did not feel any joy at all, because he regarded his dream as a prophecy that was meant to prompt repentance, as we explained above. Thus, the dream was not followed by any nullifying event, not joy on Yosef’s part and not discomfiture on the part of his brothers. The reaction of the brothers was not remorse over their deeds but rather hatred over what they perceived as aggrandizement. It is precisely the same reaction that the Jewish People would later have to the rebukes of the prophets. And thus the Midrash sees in Yaakov’s castigation of Yosef a hint to the way the Jewish People would castigate their prophets in later times.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Vayishlach

This week’s parashah recounts Yaakov’s encounter with Eisav upon returning to Eretz Yisrael. In Bereishis 32:14, the Torah says that Yaakov “took, from what came into his hand, an offering of tribute to his brother Eisav.” The question arises: What is the point behind the phrase “from what came into his hand”? This phrase seems completely superfluous. The Midrash presents various interpretations, some of which Rashi mentions. The Maggid offers an approach that explains easily the import of the added phrase.
The Maggid brings out his explanation through a discussion of the mitzvah of tithing flocks. In Vayikra 27:32-33, the Torah says that the herdsman is not supposed to select on his own which animals will be sanctified, but instead is supposed to make the animals pass under his staff, and designate every tenth one as sanctified. The Gemara in Bechoros 58b elaborates on the procedure, teaching that the herdsman is to place the flock in a corral with a narrow opening, let the animals through one by one, and tap every tenth one with a paint-daubed stick to mark it as sanctified. What is the reason for this specific method? Why is does it not suffice for the herdsman to select the required number of animals however he wishes, based on the size of his flock, and designate the selected animals as sanctified?
The Maggid answers this question by means of the following principle: Whenever any object in this world, even in the inanimate, plant, or animal domain, is linked to some aspect of sanctity, the object is thereby elevated. The Maggid illustrates this principle with examples.
He begins with two examples from the inanimate domain. The first example comes from the episode of Avraham’s purchase of a field and a cave from the men of Cheis to use as a burial site. In Bereishis 23:17-18, the Torah states that through this purchase the property was secured unto Avraham, with the Hebrew term for secured being ויקם, which literally means that the property arose. Thus, the Torah is indicating that when the property passed into the ownership of our holy forefather Avraham it was elevated. In this vein, Rashi’s commentary on this passage, quoting the Sages, states that through the purchase the property achieved תקומה – it became an enduring entity. The second example comes from the episode of Yaakov lying down to sleep in Beis El, as described at the beginning of parashas Vayeitzei. The Torah tells us that Yaakov laid his head on a stone. Our Sages teach that several stones vied for the privilege of being the one upon which our holy forefather Yaakov would lay his head. Ultimately, Yaakov merged the stones together to form a single stone on which he placed his head, and the entire merged stone was thereby elevated.
The Maggid then presents an example from the animal domain. Melachim Alef 18 describes the famous showdown between the prophet Eliyahu and the false prophets of the idol Baal. Eliyahu told the prophets of Baal to bring two bullocks, choose one that they would try to offer to Baal, and give him the other one to offer to Hashem. The Midrash states that all of the 450 prophets of Baal who were present tried together to push the bullock they chose for Baal to get it to move, but the bullock did not budge until Eliyahu told it that, it, too, would be part of the sanctification of Hashem’s Name that was about to take place.
In view of the foregoing principle, the Maggid says, we can easily understand the reason behind the procedure for tithing flocks. Hashem did not want to put into the hands of the herdsman himself, with his limited human understanding, the momentous decision of which animals would be elevated by being invested with the sanctity of a tithe. With voluntary offerings (nedarim and nedavos), the initiative to bring the offering comes from the herdsman, so Hashem allows him to choose which animal to bring. But the tithe is an offering that Hashem demands, and so He insists on a process that puts in His hands the choice of which animals will be brought.
Similarly, when Yaakov was preparing the gifts for Eisav, he faced the issue of which animals would be removed from his holy sphere of influence and placed in the possession of his despicable brother. He knew he could not make this momentous choice himself. So he set up an automatic selection system of some sort, along the lines of that used for tithing, and whatever animals came into his hand through this system were the ones he gave to Eisav.
David Zucker, Site Administrator