Thoughts on the Weekly Parshah by HaRav Eliezer Chrysler
Formerly Rav of Mercaz Ahavat Torah, Johannesburg

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Vol. 22   No. 9

This issue is sponsored by
Eliezer and Rachelle Chrysler,
with gratitude to Hashem,
in honour of the barmitsva of Matan Shmuel
son of Gabrielle and Aviram Ravitsky

Parshas Vayeishev

Yosef and the Sons of Bilhah and Zilpah

"These are the generations of Ya'akov: Yosef, seventeen years old shepherded the flock with his brothers, and he was a youth who kept with the sons of Bilhah and of Zilpah, his father's wives; and Yosef would bring negative reports about them to his father" (37:2).

Anything bad that he saw in his brothers, the sons of Le'ah, Rashi explains, he would report to his father.

If that is true, asks the Ramban, why did the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, who had no reason to hate Yosef, not save him when the sons of Le'ah threw him into the pit and subsequently sold him? After all, they were four, and, combined with Reuven, who sympathized with Yosef, and Yosef himself, they comprised a majority who would have gained the upper hand had it come to the crunch. Consequently, they had no reason to fear the sons of Le'ah.

Moreover, the Pesukim there imply that all the brothers who were present agreed to get rid of Yosef.

And it is also clear from the Medrash Rabah that Yosef spoke Lashon ha'Ra about all the brothers, and that all the brothers hated him for it.

*

The Ramban, based on the simple explanation of the current Pasuk, therefore takes on that due to his youthfulness, Ya'akov placed Yosef under the jurisdiction of the sons of the maidservants, with whom he was constantly to be found. Consequently, when he made a point of reporting his brothers' behavior to his father, it was with reference to the misconduct of Dan, Naftali, Gad and Asher, and not to the sons of Le'ah (in spite of the Medrash Rabah that he just quoted).

The Torah then goes on to inform us how the brothers were affected by the favouritism that their father displayed towards him.

The end result therefore was that the sons of the maidservants hated him on account of his tittle-tattering, and the sons of Le'ah, on account of their father's favouritism. And their hatred was further inflamed once Yosef began relating his dreams.

*

Bilhah & Zilpah

Ibid.

In Parshas Vayeitzei (30:4 & 9) Targum Yonasan explains that before Rachel and Le'ah gave Bilhah and Zilpah (their respective maidservants, who were also daughters of Lavan, but from a concubine) to Ya'akov as wives, they set them free.

The Ramban, commenting on the phrase "his father's wives", likewise explains that Bilhah & Zilpah were Ya'akov's genuine wives, and it is only when they are mentioned together with Rachel and Le'ah, who were their superiors, that the Pasuk subsequently refers to them as maidservants.

Hence in last week's Parshah, the Torah records how Ya'akov "placed the maidservants together with their children behind Rachel and Le'ah and their children", and how Reuven 'removed the bed of Bilhah his father's maidservant from the bedroom - something that he would not have dared doing, had she been one of his main wives.

* * *

Parshah Pearls

(Adapted from the Ramban)
The Land of their Sojournings

"And Ya'akov dwelt in the land where his father sojourned" (37:1).

This Pasuk, says the Ramban, teaches us that, as opposed to the princes of Eisav, who chose to settle down in their own land, as we learned at the end of the previous Parshah, Ya'akov preferred to dwell temporarily in the land that was currently inhabited by the Cana'anim. This was because this was the land that was designated as his homeland. Meanwhile, he was fulfilling G-d's statement to Avraham "for your children will be strangers in a land that is not (yet) their's" - since he bore the title "your children", and not Eisav.

*

Tamar's Death-Sentence

" and Yehudah said "Take her out and let her be burned" (38:24).

Rashi, citing Efrayim Maksho'oh in the name of Rebbi Meir, attributes Tamar's sentence to be burned to the fact that she was the daughter of Shem, who was a Kohen. The daughter of a Kohen who commits adultery is subject to burning (with hot lead).

The Ramban however, queries the above explanation, inasmuch as Tamar did not commit adultery; her sin was that of a Yevamah marrying or committing without performing Yibum or Chalitzah, which is merely a La'av, which is punishable by Malkos (lashes), but not by the death-penalty.

He rejects the suggestion that the B'nei No'ach adopted the ritual of Yibum, treating a yevamah as if she was a married woman, and that the prohibition is considered a warning - notwithstanding the fact that the death-sentence of B'nei No'ah is always by the sword. By citing the Medrash that Yehudah was the first person to perform the Mitzvah of Yibum, it was clearly not an accepted ritual. Moreover, the Gemara in Sanhedrin (58b) clearly takes on that Yibum does not apply to the B'nei No'ach.

The Ramban therefore explains that Yehudah was considered a great authority in the land, and that when his daughter-in-law committed adultery it was a akin to insulting a king, which is punishable by whatever the king decrees. Consequently, when Yehudah decreed 'Take her out to be burned', he was punishing her, not for adultery, but for insulting royalty.

*

On a more simple level, the Ramban cites a custom that was prevalent in his time in Spain, to hand over a woman who had committed adultery to her father, to punish her as he saw fit. Consequently, seeing as Tamar was designated to Sheilah (Yehudah's youngest son), in which case what she did was considered adultery according to the local constitutional law, they brought her to Yehudah (her father-in law) to do with her as he saw fit.

*

Yosef & the Shechinah

" his master saw that G-d was with him (39:3).

The Ramban rejects Rashi's explanation - that Potifera saw how Yosef would always mention G-d's Name.

He explains that what Potifera saw was how successful Yosef was in everything that he undertook - way beyond the norm. And he attributed this to Divine Assistance.

In the following Pasuk, citing the Medrash Rabah, he elaborates: Whenever Yosef carried out his instructions, he explains, he would whisper something and his instructions would materialize immediately. Initially, he assumed that Yosef was simply indulging in witchcraft. If he asked for hot water, then the water that Yosef poured out for him was hot; if he asked for warm water, then it was warm. But this was an art in which the Egyptians were well-versed, and so Potifera accused him of 'bringing straw to Ofrayim' ('carrying coals to Newcastle'), until he merited to see, by way of a dream or a pillar of cloud, that the Shechinah accompanied Yosef at all times.

*

The Land of the Ivrim

"Because I was stolen from the land of the Ivrim " (40:15).

This refers, says the Ramban, to Chevron, where Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya'akov, lived. And they were called 'Ivrim' because Avraham. The founder of the tribe, following the realization of the B'rachah "and I will make your name great", became as well-known as Avraham ha'Ivri, because he hailed from Aram Naharayim, which was situated on the other side of the river (me'Eiver ha'Nahar).

And that is why his descendants became known as 'Ivrim', a name that they proudly flaunted, in order not to become confused with the Cana'anim, in whose midst they lived. Hence, earlier in the Parshah (39:14) Potifera's wife told her husband "You brought us an 'Ish Ivri ", since that is how Yosef had described himself.

Consequently, the location where the family resided became known as 'the Land of the Ivrim', either after its residents, or because the area became known by that name.

* * *

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