Post Archive for December 2017

Parashas Vayechi

This week’s parashah begins: “And Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years.” Several commentators remark that during these seventeen years Yaakov was able to “truly live,” in that he enjoyed a life of serenity, free from the ordeals he had suffered throughout his previous years. The Midrash in Bereishis Rabbah 66:4 teaches that a righteous man initially suffers afflictions, but afterward, in the end, is granted serenity. We previously presented some of the Maggid’s discussion of this matter. Among other things, the Maggid says that the same pattern applies to the Jewish People as a whole. The Maggid expounds on this point at length, and here we present a portion of the Maggid’s discussion.
In Tehillim 142:6-7, David HaMelech declares: “I have cried out to You, Hashem. I have said: ‘You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.’ Hearken to my cry, for I have been brought very low.” And in Tehillim 13:2-4, David pleads:
Until when will You endlessly forget me? Until when will You hide Your face from me? Until when must I devise strategies for myself, to deal with what troubles my heart all day long? Until when will my enemy be exalted above me? Enlighten my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death.
In a similar vein, Yirmiyahu exclaims (Eichah 5:20): “Why do You endlessly forget us – forsake us for length of days?” The Maggid notes that since forgetting is something that happens unintentionally, it seemingly does not make sense to ask how long it will last. Also, there seems to be an inconsistency in the verse from Eichah. In the first half of the verse, Yirmiyahu speaks of a period of forgetting of unlimited duration, but in the second half he speaks of a period of time which, while long, does have a limit. The Maggid sets out to explain the idea behind the foregoing passages.
He brings out the point with a parable. An aging man had an only daughter, young in age. Before his death, he asked one of his friends to serve as his daughter’s custodian, managing all the assets that she would inherit from him. The friend agreed. The father instructed his friend emphatically to hold all these assets in safekeeping for the daughter’s marriage. He should not give her any of the money for food, clothes, or other living expenses; rather, the daughter should support herself by working.
Eventually the father died, and the daughter’s inheritance came into the hands of the custodian. Meantime, the daughter supported herself, as her father had directed. After some time, some of the relatives approached the custodian, reported to him that the girl was downtrodden because of the limited income she was able to earn, and told him he had to supplement her income with funds from the inheritance. The custodian replied that he could not do so, for the father had told him to hold the money for the girl’s marriage. Some time later, the relatives approached the custodian again. They reported to him that the girl was walking around barefoot and almost naked, but the custodian did not respond.
More time passed, and the girl was struck with a mortal illness. A considerable sum was needed to cover doctor fees and other medical expenses. The relatives approached the custodian once again to tell him to give the girl money, and the custodian again replied that he could not do so because of the father’s instructions. The relatives then berated the custodian, saying: “Let it be as you say. But if you hold back from giving her the money she needs for the medical expenses, who exactly are you going to marry off? The girl is close to dying. If you don’t give her money now, until when will you hold the money in safekeeping?”
The parallel is as follows. The Maggid explains in a previous segment of his discussion of our parashah’s opening verse (and elsewhere as well) that the eternal blessings we are due to receive in the end of days are the product of the afflictions we have been suffering during our long exile. Accordingly, Hashem cautioned us not to be anxious and try to hasten the redemption. Thus, Yeshayah declares (verse 28:16): “Let the believer not expect it soon.” In Shir HaShirim 2:7, it is written: “I adjure you, O daughters of Yerushalayim, by the gazelles, and by the hinds of the field, that you not awaken nor stir up love, until it please.” The Midrash in Shir HaShirim Rabbah 2:18 explains that Hashem is warning the Jewish People not to press for the end of the exile.
We can liken the blessing of the end of days to a growing fruit. So long as the fruit remains on the tree, it will continue to develop properly, and ultimately it will ripen well. Similarly, so long as the exile with its afflictions continues, the eventual blessing grows correspondingly, progressing to the state of completion it will reach when, in the words of Yeshayah 60:20, our days of mourning are completed. But we cry out to Hashem that our afflictions have grown too great to bear. We say that we are at the brink of death. How can we be comforted by the promise of ultimate blessing?
This is the idea behind David’s declaration: “I have cried out to You, Hashem. I have said: ‘You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.’ Hearken to my cry, for I have been brought very low.” David is saying: “When I cried out over the trials I am suffering, I would say to myself, ‘You are my refuge, my portion of in the land of the living.’ I would hope for the eventual blessing that would sprout from the afflictions. But now I can no longer bear the suffering. I have been brought very low. If not now, when?” The theme is echoed by the other passage from Tehillim that we quoted at the outset: “Until when will you endlessly forget me?”
We can explain along the seeming inconsistency in the two halves of the verse from Eichah. True, there is a limit to the duration of the exile, but if the exile goes on for too long, it will be as if all memory of us has died off and we are forgotten forever. Accordingly, in Tehillim 143:7: “Answer me soon, Hashem, my spirit is spent. Do not conceal You face from me, lest I become like those to descend into the pit.”

Parashas Vayiggash

This week’s parashah describes Yosef and his brothers making peace with each other. This prompts the Midrash in Bereishis Rabbah 95:1 to expound on the end of days, where peace and wholeness will prevail:
It is written (Yeshayah 65:25): “The wolf and the lamb will graze together, and the lion, like the cattle, will eat straw.” Come and see how, in the end of days, the Holy One Blessed He will turn to those whom He smote in this world and heal them. The blind will be healed, as it is written (ibid. 35:5): “Then the eyes of the blind will be opened.” And the lame will be healed, as it is written (ibid. 35:6): “Then the lame will skip like the gazelle and the tongue of the mute will sing forth.” … And even the wild animals will be healed, as it is written: “The wolf and the lamb will graze together.”
The Maggid sets out to explain this Midrash.
His starting point is another prophesy of Yeshayah about the peace that will prevail in the end of days (ibid. 11:6-9):
The wolf will dwell with the sheep, and the leopard will lie down with the kid; the calf, the young lion, and the fatling will [walk] together, and a young child will lead them. The cow and the bear will graze, and their young will lie down together, and the lion shall eat straw like the cattle. The sucking child shall play by the hole of the viper, and the newly-weaned child will place his hand on the adder’s den. They will neither hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of Hashem, as the waters cover the sea.
Yeshayah is saying that the spread of knowledge of Hashem throughout the world will automatically lead to peace among all creatures. We will explain why this is so. We know that the only reason Hashem created the world was to give us the opportunity to serve Him and to bring us good. Thus it is written (Tehillim 89:3): “The world is built upon kindness.” This being so, we are prompted to ask why creation is so filled with beings that cause distress and injury, from the destroying angels in heaven to the ravaging animals on earth. The answer is that everything Hashem created is for our benefit, including the harmful beings, and the purpose of these beings is to stir us to fear Hashem and keep us from straying. Thus, Hashem warns us that if we stray, He will “send the wild animals of the field against you, and they will leave you bereft of your children, decimate your livestock, and diminish you” (Vayikra 26:22).
Accordingly, Shlomo HaMelech declares (Koheles 3:14): “God made it [all of creation] so that He be feared.” Elsewhere Shlomo declares that “there is benefit to the world in everything, and the Midrash remarks (Koheles Rabbah 5:6): “R. Yehudah says: ‘Even the things within the world that you look upon as superfluous – these very things are among those that maintain the world in existence.’” Every element of creation plays a role in bringing creation as a whole to its perfection, even the beings that bring destruction, as we have explained.
In the world as we know it now, people are prone to sin due to the incitements of their evil inclination, and so the harmful beings are needed to maintain our fear of Hashem and keep us from sinning. But regarding the end of days, it is written (Yechezkel 36:26-27): “I will give you also a new heart, and a new spirit I will place within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from within your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My spirit within you, and lead you to walk in My statutes, and You will keep Mine ordinances, and do them.” The evil inclination will be no more. As a result, there will no longer be any need for harmful beings. Accordingly, Hashem will strip these beings of their violent nature and make them docile and peaceful. This is the message of the prophesy of peace and harmony in Yeshayah 11.
The same message is conveyed in the Midrash with which we began. When the Midrash speaks of Hashem’s opening the eyes of the blind, it is speaking of His curing us from the blindness of the mind that results from the evil inclination’s efforts to confuse us and prevent us from seeing what is just and right. And when the Midrash speaks of Hashem’s healing the lame, it is speaking of His curing our legs and keeping them from straying from the proper path. Hashem smote us with the evil inclination, but in the end He will heal us of it. And when He does so, He will also cure the wild animals of their violent nature, for its purpose will have come to an end.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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