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Parashat Vayigash


This Thursday we observe the fast of the Tenth of Tevet, commemorating the beginning of the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem. One may not treat this fast lightly, by any means. In fact, some of our rabbis have written that, theoretically, were the fast to occur on Shabbat, a situation which is impossible by virtue of our calendar system, then we would fast nonetheless, in spite of Shabbat. In this sense, this fast is more stringent than Tisha Be'Av (which will occur on Shabbat this year if the Mashiah does not arrive before then, Heaven forbid) which is delayed until Sunday should it fall out on Shabbat.

Why is this fast so stringent? After all, no serious calamity had occurred! The devastation of the siege had yet to surface, the ravages of hunger had yet to be felt. However, therein lies the answer. The other fasts require introspection regarding events of the past; they force us to reflect on the destruction of the Temple, its causes and ramifications. This can be delayed a day, if need be. The Tenth of Tevet, by contrast, was instituted as a warning to look ahead to the future, to take heed of the indications of heavenly prosecution against us, of the potential calamity which threatens to strike. Such introspection is urgent! It cannot be delayed, not even a single day! Just as in times of severe crisis a fast may be observed even on Shabbat (in certain instances, as governed by halachah), similarly, introspection of this nature, which evolves from a keen recognition of the various signals and warnings which Hashem sends us, cannot be delayed and must be conducted at once.

So many such signals and warnings have been sent to us recently. How urgent it is, then, that we conduct a serious procedure of introspection and repentance, to increase our observance of misvot and protect ourselves from the divine wrath.


In our parashah, Yaakov stands before Pharaoh. Yaakov, referred to as the "choicest" of the patriarchs, a remarkable sadik, one hundred and thirty years of age, who defeated an angel, in whose presence angels stood in awe and reverence, who was granted a divine blessing in a prophetic vision - was Pharaoh capable of appreciating the privilege he had, to behold such an exalted individual of Yaakov's stature?

The pasuk states, "Yaakov blessed Pharaoh." The Ramban explains, "Like the custom of elders and pious individuals who come before kings to bless them with wealth, honor, and the stability of his reign."

The Midrash (Bemidbar Rabbah 8:4) writes, "He blessed him that the famine should come to an end," that the millions of Egyptians and inhabitants of the surrounding countries be spared from the next five years of famine which were to have continued. Once Yaakov arrived, the Egyptians, who had already sold themselves as slaves to Pharaoh, ate from their grain and yielded great dividends for the royal treasury.

It is further written (in Targum Yonatan and Tanhuma, Parashat Naso) that Yaakov blessed Pharaoh that when the king would go to the Nile River, upon which the nation's agriculture depended, the river should rise to greet him and overflow its banks, thus irrigating the surrounding fields. What a marvelous blessing! How much honor, respect, and wealth did Pharaoh gain as a result of Yaakov's greeting!

Not too many years later, Pharaoh enslaved the grandchildren of that same Yaakov, the one who provided so much wealth and honor to the Egyptian monarch. What happened to the blessing that the Nile should rise to greet Pharaoh? Hazal write (Otiyot De'Rabbi Akiva, 100) that when Moshe and Aharon came before Pharaoh to demand that he free the Jewish slaves the king responded, "Who is Hashem that I should listen to him?" Moshe and Aharon answered, "He is the creator of the world, the one who both brings and ends life. By His word does the dew and rain fall, and the fruits grow and feed the Earth." Said Pharaoh, "I don't need Him. I created myself. You say that he brings rain - I have the Nile which rises for me and whose waters are blessed on my behalf," as the verse states, "I [Hashem] will come upon you, Pharaoh King of Egypt...who says, 'My river is for me and I made myself.'"

To claim, "I created myself" is utter absurdity, like the ignorance of the scientists who claim that the world created itself. However, to claim that the Nile is his, to point to the special blessing of having the river rise for him as a proof to his divinity, to deny the existence of G-d who provided these wonderful blessings, to subjugate His children - this is outright evil and gall, beyond stupidity.

The Torah is eternal. We witness this very phenomenon today. The Torah is the source of all blessing, and Hazal write, "One who has an ill patient in his home should go to the sage to ask for mercy." The Torah exists only in the merit of Torah study, as the pasuk states, "If not for My covenant of day and night, I would not have placed the laws of the heavens and earth." Military victory too comes in the merit of Torah study, as the pasuk states, "Our feet were standing" - alluding to military success - "in your gates, Jerusalem" - in the merit of the Batei Midrash of Jerusalem. The industry of Zevulun enjoys prosperity only in the merit of the Torah of Yissachar. "If there is no Torah, there is no flour."

On the other hand, "If there is no flour, there is no Torah." Those who immerse themselves in Torah study require a portion of the blessing for which they are responsible in order that they can continue yielding the fruits of prosperity. The question is, are those who benefit from the blessing of these Torah scholars aware of this, or are they like Pharaoh, who denies the source of his blessing and attributes it instead to himself and his power, and uses it to increase the burden and difficulty of those who study Torah!

The Baal Shem Tov zs"l presented the following example. A battalion of foot-soldiers besieged a rebel city. Eventually, the city surrendered as the effects of the siege became unbearable. When the white flag was flown and the gates opened, the soldiers planned to storm the city and take the spoils of war. However, before they made their way into the city, the chariots sped by and plundered the city. Their faces radiating, they exited the city, their pockets full of spoil and booty. As they passed the disappointed soldiers, they shouted, "Don't worry - we will share our spoils with you. But couldn't you just give us some food to refresh us after this long, arduous siege!"

Similarly, Torah scholars kill themselves in the tents of Torah, and in their merit the world is showered with divine blessing. Those who work enjoy the bounty of these blessings, but they are not willing to share it. If only they knew in whose merit the blessing has come, so that those who study Torah can receive their rightfully-earned portion.

If only they would not be like Pharaoh, who said, "This is my river, and the blessing is from my own power..."


Based on the Rulings of Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a

Arranged by Rav Moshe Yossef shlit"a

The Five Species of Grain Which Grew in Israel

In previous issues we have discussed the distinction between fruits grown in Israel and those grown outside of Israel, in that the berachah aharonah for Israeli fruits ends, "ve'al peroteha" whereas the blessing for fruits of the Diaspora concludes, "ve'al haperot." We cited the source of this halachah, an explicit Gemara in Masechet Berachot (44a).

The poskim are in dispute regarding "pat haba'ah be'kisnin" (baked grain foods such as cake, pie, or crackers, which do not have the characteristics of bread). In "Pe'at Hashulhan," a view is cited from the Tosafists that on such foods made from grain grown in Israel the blessing ends, "al ha'aress ve'al mihyatah." The Ra'ah, however, argues, and contends that only with regard to fruit do we distinguish between Israeli produce and that of the Diaspora, but not with regard to grain. The Nessiv zs"l explains the distinction between fruits and grains, that Israeli fruits are significant in that the Torah praises the Land of Israel on account of these fruits, but for the various species of grain the land was not praised (the pasuk mentions only wheat and barley). Therefore, with regard to grain, there is no reason to differentiate between that which was grown in Israel and that which was grown outside of Israel, and the berachah aharonah for grain will always conclude, "al ha'aress ve'al hamihyah." However, in "She'elot Uteshuvot Halachot Ketanot" (vol. 2, ch. 55) the author writes that the prevalent custom is to distinguish between grain grown in Israel and that grown outside of Israel, and although there is no conclusive source to this effect, we should follow this time-honored custom. The Hid"a, in Birkei Yosef (208:10) adds that the fact that all five grains are not mentioned as species for which Israel was praised is not relevant to the discussion, since several Aharonim hold that bikkurim is brought from all five species, despite the fact that only wheat and barley are mentioned explicitly in the Humash as requiring bikkurim. The reason is that the other three species (oats, rye,and spelt) are included under the general categories of wheat and barley, and they may therefore be considered species for which Israel has been praised.

Regarding the final ruling, Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a has ruled that since the aforementioned Aharonim testified that the widespread custom has been to make a distinction between grain grown in Israel and that grown outside of Israel, this is the proper practice. Therefore, the berachah aharonah for grain grown in Israel concludes, "ve'al mihyatah" whereas the berachah aharonah for grain grown outside of Israel is, "ve'al hamihyah."

In summary, one who eats cake made from the five species of grain, if the grain was grown in Israel he concludes his berachah aharonah, "ve'al mihyatah," but if the grain was grown outside of Israel then the blessing ends, "ve'al hamihyah."


Rabbi Sasson Mordechai zs"l

On 6 Tevet, 5590, the prominent Rabbi Sasson Mordechai died in Baghdad. He composed the work, "Shemen Sasson" and was one of the greatest Kabbalists. Rabbenu Yosef Hayim zs"l cites in his various works several miracles performed by Rabbi Sasson. Many people came to him and asked him to pray on behalf of the ill or for success and prosperity.

He once said, "Do you think that my amulets bring about the salvation? If a person believes in his Creator (In the merit of trust our forefathers were redeemed,' and in this same merit we are saved in each generation) then blessed is the one who places his trust in the Al-mighty, and it is the Creator who will bring salvation. And if he does not have trust in the Al-mighty, then any amulet in the world will be of no avail. Why, then, do I use these amulets? So that the miracle will not be revealed and obvious."

He told the story of a woman whose son became terrified for whatever reason, and as a result of his fear he closed his eyes and would not open them. They consulted with doctors and other professionals, but nothing helped. The boy was not opening his eyes.

One day the woman found a sheet of paper lying in an enclosed area. Being illiterate, she did not know what it was. People told her that it was the page from a Humash which was worn out. She figured, a page of the Humash, which Moshe Rabbenu received directly from the Al-mighty Himself! Certainly this will help my son more than any amulet! She tied the page to a string and hung it around her son's neck. Immediately, his eyes opened and his fear subsided.

Everybody present was astounded, and they all rushed to see what was written on the page. They noticed that it was from the "Tochahah" portion, which warns, "At night you will say, 'If only it was morning!' and in the morning you will say, 'If only it was nighttime!' from the fear of your heart which you will fear and from the sight of your eyes which you will see." As an amulet, such a page should have worsened his condition. However, because of her simple faith, the miracle came about and cured her son.


"When Yosef revealed himself to his brothers"

Rabbi Avraham Azulai zs"l, a member of the inner circle of students of the Ar"i zs"l, notes that Yosef's name is unnecessary in the pasuk, "Not a single person stood with him when Yosef revealed himself to his brothers." The Humash has been talking about him - why does the Torah mention his name in this pasuk? He answers that Yosef wanted to prepare them so that they do not collapse from the shock of his true identity. Therefore, he called, "Yosef, Yosef son of Yaakov!!" The brothers looked around in amazement, as they did not see anybody. Finally, he told them, "I am Yosef, and I was calling the whole time to myself." This is alluded to in the pasuk, "Not a single person stood with him when Yosef" - that Yosef whose name was called - "revealed" - when Yosef finally revealed to them who that Yosef is.

"I am Yosef, is my father still alive?"

Rabbi Shelomoh Nehemiass zs"l of Markash notes that Hazal say that King David was originally to have been a stillborn, but he received seventy years from our patriarchs. They were each to have lived one hundred and eighty years. Avraham died five years earlier, Yaakov twenty-eight years, and Yosef thirty-seven, which adds up to seventy. Thus, Yosef now tells the brothers, "I am your brother Yosef," and if you do not believe me, and you think that Yosef died, then Yaakov would have to give sixty-five years of his life to King David, as Yaakov said, "For I will die mourning for my son" - and yet, he is still alive!

"Hashem has made me a master over all of Egypt"

Rabbi Refael Hamalach Bardogo zs"l of Maknas explains based on the Zohar's comment that if Yosef had not gone to Egypt first and become the ruler of the country, Benei Yisrael would never have been able to overcome the power of Egypt. This is Yosef's message to Yaakov: "Hashem has made me a master over all of Egypt," and in this way our remedy has been prepared even before the onset of the crisis. Therefore, "come down to me," you can now come down to Egypt, "do not delay," because my rule serves as a guarantee that your offspring will not be delayed in Egypt and will be able to leave.


Currents in the Ocean

"Those who descend upon the sea in boats, who do their work in many waters, they saw the ways of Hashem and His wonders in the depths." In many places in the sea there are currents resembling powerful rivers right in the middle of the ocean. Several factors are responsible for this phenomenon. The ocean floor does not have one, single level. Rather, there are hills and valleys under the sea, and a deep slant causes a current.

Winds also take part in this phenomenon. Strong currents are formed when waters from many different rivers stream into the ocean, spilling into a narrow gulf.

The excess water bursts from the gulf and creates a "river" within the ocean. Some currents come from colder areas, and their water is cold, whereas other currents come from warmer regions and their water is warm.

The Gulf Stream, for example, comes from warm areas around the equator, and it carries with it millions of tons of warm water at every moment. It can grow hundreds of meters in width and three hundred and fifty-five meters deep. This enormous collection of warm water directly affects the climate in the area. Experts claim that the fact that this stream flows near the European Continent and England has a profound impact on the climate there and prevents the rivers and creeks from freezing. From such a huge distance warm water arrives and changes the temperature in the place where they flow!

"You have made them all in Your wisdom."


The Severed Hand (10)

Flashback: The gathering of rebels in the home of Mustafa Halil Aga, whom the Sultan had treated so graciously, planned to assassinate the Sultan by having him poisoned by his Jewish doctor, Dr. Shepisser, who agreed to the plan at the threat of death. He was given a signed document guaranteeing his protection in the aftermath of the rebellion. The secret plot reached the ears of the sorceress, who was trying to impress Metildah, the doctor's wife.

Metildah returned home distressed and perturbed, and she went directly to her husband. "Is it true that you are planning to kill somebody?" The doctor's face turned white as his wife continued her interrogation. "Is it true that you are carrying with you a letter with signatures which you cannot lose under any circumstances?" The doctor's pale face turned whiter, and Metildah confirmed her suspicions: "So the sorceress can tell the future!" "Who...who told you all this?" he asked in a panic. "The fortune-teller," she said, and went on to tell him the entire episode. Dr. Shepisser confessed and told her about the gathering of the rebels, the fear of the generals and officers about their posts, the fiery rhetoric of the Moslem religious leaders, and the plot. "The Sultan's days are coming to an end," he said, "they are after his life, and it is now but a question of time. If I refuse, my turn will be next!" Metildah gazed into her husband's eyes and said, "I heard from your mouth that the physician's oath prohibits desperation, and a doctor must deal with even a patient on the brink of death, even if the disease is contagious and threatens the life of the physician himself!"

"Indeed, this is correct," said Dr. Shepisser. "I have lost my strong resolve, and for several days I have been walking around dazed and confused. Thank you for restoring my common sense!"

The next day, Dr. Shepisser visited the German Ambassador in Kushta and told him of the secret meeting. He even showed him the writ of protection. The Ambassador made for himself a copy, and wrote a letter to the Sultan with his signature. He handed the letter to the doctor and sent him to the Sultan with the power of an agent. "With this license," he said, "the gates of the palace will open for you..."

to be continued...


The Cedars and the Wagons

"He [Yaakov] saw the wagons which Yosef had sent to carry him, and the spirit of their father, Yaakov, was brought to life"(45:27). Yaakov was shocked and baffled by the news that his son is still alive, and it first he could not believe it. When he saw the wagons, he was relaxed, and his spirit returned. What was so special about the wagons? The Hid"a zs"l offers a remarkable interpretation with critical ramifications. When Yosef left his father, he saw that he was planting cedars. He asked, "What are these for?" His father answered, "You should know, that my grandchildren will construct a mishkan in the wilderness from these cedars, which will be transported in wagons." Therefore, Yosef sent wagons as a signal, symbolic of the six wagons which carried the boards of the mishkan in the desert. Then, when Yaakov understood the symbol, "Yaakov's spirit was brought back to life." However, we still need to explore further the meaning of these wagons.

The commentaries find great significance in the fact that the mishkan was constructed from the cedars which were planted by Yaakov.

The mishkan houses the Shechinah which Benei Yisrael construct - and each person must erect in his heart a "mishkan" for the Shechinah, as well as in every house which is established among Benei Yisrael, every family which is begun - a mishkan must be built for the Shechinah. The essence of this mishkan is the eternal, Jewish spark which has been implanted within us by Yaakov, a heritage of our sacred patriarchs. True, "Moshe commanded us the Torah," and we are obligated to study it and to grow with it and through it.

But this eternal life was not planted within us on barren wasteland, rather, on "the heritage of the congregation of Yaakov," our world is established on foundation of our ancestral heritage.

If this Jewish quality is already implanted within us, and Yaakov already planted these "cedars," then what is our task?

We have to bring the "wagons," to carry with pride this Jewish heritage, to transmit it from the previous generation - through us- to the next generation, like those wagons which transported the boards in the wilderness from one point to the next, getting closer and closer to the ultimate destination, the Promised Land, to establish the permanent mishkan as a home for the Shechinah.

When Yaakov saw that Yosef was aware of his task, indicated by the wagons which he sent to his father - his spirit was revived!

excerpts from
Sing You Righteous...
by: Rabbi Avigdor Miller shlit"a

Menucha for Pursuit of Da'at (part IIII)

Aaron: Probably they were granted peace for 40 years because of this pursuit, which is also the purpose of the Shabbat-rest.

Mr. Goodfriend: It prophesied concerning Shelomo: "He shall be a man of rest (Menuchah), and I shall give him rest from all his enemies around, for Shelomo shall be his name, and peace (Shalom) and quiet I shall give to Israel in his days. He shall build a house for My name" (I Chronicles 22:9-19). The "rest" (Menuchah) was not merely to allow the erection of the Sanctuary, but also to facilitate the Sanctuary of the Torah-Mind which Shelomo erected: "The more that Kohelet (Shelomo) became wise, the more he taught the nation the True Knowledge (Da'at)" (Kohelet 12:9). Thus the Shabbat day of rest combines the two elements: the Sanctuary and Da'at.

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