From the Orchards of Jerusalem
Although the holiday may be over it's message has only just begun! In this
weeks parsha, the Viceroy of Egypt let's the brothers know that he is their long lost but
not forgotten brother Yoseph whom they sold into slavery 22 years earlier. At the same
time we share in the brothers euphoria, the thrill is tempered knowing that this is the
beginning of the exile. Yaakov and families are now going to come down to Egypt and in
about 94 years the slavery will begin. Rav Wolfson says this is exactly why Parshas
Vayigash follows Chanukah. We said last week that even though Chanukah itself was about
the Greeks it in fact contains the message of salvation from all the exiles. The 4 sides
of the dreidle are allusions to the 4 exiles. In fact, Yaakov is heading
"Goeshnah"- for Goeshen. Goe-sh-na-h, (gimmel- shin- nun- hey) are the 4 letters
on the sides of the dreidle. The gimmel stands for 'guf'- body, which the Persian exile
tried to destroy. The shin stands for 'saichel'- wisdom, which the Greek exile tried to
destroy. The nun stands for 'neshama'- soul which the Babylonian exile tried to destroy.
And the hey stands for 'Hakol'- all of the above which the Edom exile is currently trying
to destroy. The song Ma'oz Tsur, sung after candle lighting, has a verse dedicated to each
exile. The point being that Chanukah means salvation from all evils. The candle lights are
the lights of the Mashiach. The original light from the first day of creation which G-d
put away till the time of the Mashiach. We go into the exile of Egypt, the precursor of
all exiles knowing that the lights of salvation are already glowing at the end of the
Rav Wolfson also notes it's no coincidence that Chanukah 'welcomes' in the month of Teves.
Teves is the coldest month of the year. It's nights are also the longest. The bitter cold
and darkness over light are all symbols of Din- judgment and the ko'ach Tumah- evil
forces. We fast on the 10th of Teves, mourning the start of the siege on Yerushalayim
which lead to the fall of the 1st Temple. Once again, no matter how cold, dark or painful,
the flames of Chanukah are already warming and comforting us and illuminating the road to
salvation. And Chanukah teaches, the road to salvation is Torah. Chanukah was a fight for
one thing and one thing only, Torah. A message that is a theme of this weeks parsha.
But first, Yoseph finally reveals himself to his brothers and for the next 4 verses he
tells them what they did to him was part of a greater plan of Hashem's. He sums it up in
the final verse, (45:8) "It was not you who sent me here but G-d. He has made me
father to Pharaoh, master to his entire household and ruler throughout the entire land of
Egypt." Rav Moshe Sternbach sees here the Jewish way to do things. It's not enough to
forgive and forget. Yoseph goes to lengths to try and remove any regret the brothers may
have by telling them how critical it was he end up in Egypt and how great is his position
because of it!
Last week, when Yoseph's cup was found in Binyamin's sack the brothers rent their clothes.
Yoseph wanted to give them new clothing. (45:22) "To each of them he gave a change of
clothing but to Binyamin he gave 300 pieces of silver and 5 changes of clothing." Say
what??? The Gemorah Megilla laments, "For 2 measures of cloth did Israel go into
exile," meaning, due to the jealousy over Yaakov's gift to Yoseph, the multicolored
coat, did the slavery in Egypt come about. The very thing that started this whole mess,
"and Yoseph is doing it again?!" Speaking about the Brothers we have to realize
this is not petty jealousy that Chazal are referring to, yet, on whatever level it was
manifest, how does Yoseph do what he just did?!?
The Gemorah answers that Yoseph's gift is an allusion to one of Binyamin's descendants who
will also make an appearance in 5 articles of clothing. Mordechai, Ish Yimini- a
Binyaminite man! King Achashveirosh will order Haman to dress Mordechai in 5 royal
garments and lead him through the streets of Shushan.
The Grah says that's great- now how about answering the question!? The question was HOW
could Yoseph do such a thing. Not, why did he do it? What did the Gemorah answer? The Grah
says the real answer is right in front of our noses. The word for changes of clothing is
'chalifos,' spelled ches, lamed, fey vav, sav. It can also be spelled lacking the vav. The
Grah sees in the verse that the chalifos of the brothers were 'vav' full while the
chalifos of Binyamin were lacking. In other words, Yoseph gave the brothers each a
$1000.00 designer suit while he gave Binyamin 5 $200.00 specials. No favoritism was shown.
Now, the only question is why which the Gemorah answers very nicely.
The story goes that Rav Yitschak Zev Soloveitchik told over this Grah and someone in the
group asked, "What about the 300 pieces of silver?" As the Rabbi pondered to
come up with an answer, his son, the not yet Rav Yoseph Dov Soloveitchik, the future Beis
Halevi, said he thinks he's got it. From a Gemorah Gittin, the Rambam writes in his laws
concerning slaves that if an owner sells his slave to non Jews, the Beis Din, the Jewish
court can force the owner to pay up to 10 times the sale price to redeem the slave.
Regarding the sale of Yoseph, this would be incumbent on each and every brother. A Midrash
last weeks has the brothers saying they would pay anything to get Yoseph back. So let them
pay the maximum!
That maximum, however, is not 300. They sold Yoseph for only 20 silver pieces? And 20 x 10
= 200? There are two possible answers. First, the Torah puts the basic value of a slave at
3o pieces of silver. Let the brothers be accountable for 10 times the highest value.
Second, the brothers sold him to wholesalers, who sold him to distributors, who sold him
to retailers, who sold him to Potiphar. Yoseph's price could easily have ended up at 30
silver pieces and it would be against that final price by which he would need to be
redeemed. 30 x 10 = 300. The way things turned out, Yoseph is not going to need to be
redeemed. Money saved is money earned so it is as if each brother was now up 300 pieces of
silver. Binyamin was not involved in Yoseph's sale and was not spared this expense. To
even the score, Yoseph gave him 300 pieces of silver. Yoseph Dov obviously ate his
The Torah says by the command of Pharaoh, Yoseph loaded up the Brothers with food, gave
special gifts for Yaakov Aveinu, provisions for the return trip and a train of wagons.
Then the Torah tells us (45:24), "And he sent off his brothers and they went. He said
to them, 'Al tirgzu baderech.'- Do not become agitated on the way!" Rashi's first
explanation follows the Gemorah in Taanis which says Yoseph is telling the brothers not to
get caught up in halachic debate. The Gemorah Taanis brings this in the name of Rabbi
Elazar and Rashi on the Gemorah explains Yoseph is saying 'you'll make a mistake' in
A side question is with all the up and back that the brothers have been doing till now,
why is this the first time they are being told not to lose themselves in Torah? Why didn't
Yaakov request the same? Because up until now the law was understood to be that honoring a
parent is more important than learning Torah. So no warning was necessary. Just by Yaakov
telling the brothers to go get food said it all. So what changed?
Yaakov was away from his father Yitschak 14 years at Yeshiva Ehver and 22 years by Lavan.
That's 36 years he was not 'honoring his father'. Measure for measure Yaakov's son is not
going to be around to honor him. That's is until now and now is after 22 years! This means
that for the 14 years in yeshiva Yaakov is not going to be punished! Now it is clear that
learning Torah is more important than honoring a parent and so Yoseph asks his brothers to
please not get caught up in Torah learning and to get home as quickly and safely as
possible. That line floors me.
Let's understand this more clearly. Let's look at the ever popular 'big picture.' What
else might the brothers be thinking? Yoseph just revealed himself to them. The Torah says
they were speechless! The Midrash says there souls left them and Hashem revived them!
Chazal say, "Whoa to us on our day of rebuke! Yoseph, the youngest of the Brothers
was able to stifle them all from their own words. How much more so when Hashem gives us
ours." Yehudah said to Yoseph, "You can't have Binyamin. We have a father who
loves him dearly. A father who will die if he loses him." Yoseph says, "I'm
Yoseph, is MY father still alive?" Did my father love me? Did anybody worry about him
then?" Speechless! Silenced! Knocked out from the accuracy and magnitude of the
rebuke. To these brothers Yoseph only needed to say not to get lost in Torah on the way
The brothers dipped Yoseph's coat in blood and showed it to Yaakov Aveinu. Yaakov Aveinu
sat shiva 7 days. Mourned the 30 days. Said Kaddish for a year...and it didn't end. Yaakov
did not get up from his mourning. The family tried everything, by everyone, in every way
to console him. ZERO effect! For 22 years! Yaakov did not have prophecy all that time! Now
the Brothers are on their way to tell their father what? How will they put it? And Yaakov
is 130 years old now! How will he take it? And it's not just the shock of Yoseph being
alive but they have to explain how he got there! They did it!! After 22 years in 2 words,
"I'm Yoseph," their whole world turns upside down, inside out. And Yoseph says
to them, "One thing. Don't busy yourselves in Torah on the way home"???
This is Yoseph, the 2nd in command of Egypt. That's the second in command of the world.
Yehudah didn't fear him when he thought he was a shagits Egyptian but now there is what to
fear. Sure, "Thou shalt not carry a grudge." Ok. If Yoseph's neighbor didn't
lend him the drill Yoseph would still lend them his weedwhacker. But the Brothers wanted
to KILL him?? Threw him in a pit with scorpions!! Sold him as a slave to the biggest slime
balls on earth!! Maybe he does have a grudge? And he says don't get lost in Torah???
Chazal say that when trouble befalls a person it should be taken as a message. G-d is
signaling, introspection time. When the Brothers first smelled trouble, the very first
trip home when their money showed up in the sacks, they did some souls searching.. They
didn't regret sentencing Yoseph to death. Their court made it's decision. They didn't
regret selling him to Egypt. The Brothers couldn't find a single sin they committed except
when Yoseph was screaming from within the pit, they turned a deaf ear to him. A little too
much cruelty in carrying out the judgment. Maybe Yoseph would have judged the case
differently? Maybe he feels the brothers weren't 100% objective. Maybe 22 years of Egypt
is too much for even a Tsaddik to forget? What does Yoseph really have in store for them
now that they are bringing their families down?!? And yet when the brothers leave, Yoseph
says to them, "Don't busy yourselves in Torah on the way home."???
It's mind boggling that Yoseph would imagine they could remotely be thinking of Torah on
the way home, let alone getting caught up in it. And yet, this is the Torah. And it is
Yoseph Hatsaddik talking. And he does say, "Al tirgzu baderech." And the Gemorah
says, "Don't busy yourselves in Torah on the way home."
We can begin to understand what Yoseph meant by these words. Rav Volensky spoke of a Rabbi
Dovid Rappoport would be walking down the street thinking Torah. He'd bump into a
telegraph pole and say, "Excuse me." and continue walking. Rav Volensky himself
used to learn in Baltimore under a Rav Vuderman, ztl. Rav Vuderman lived just blocks from
the Yeshiva. He would walk home for lunch at 1:00. At 2:00 his wife would call, "Is
the Rabbi coming home for lunch?" He was already 4 miles from home. "Don't busy
yourselves in Torah on the way home." We have an idea of why he said it. That's half
We say an interesting prayer every day in Shacharis, just before the Shema. In all 19
sections of the Shmona Esrai, the pinnacle of our prayers, we don't use such language. The
words are, "Our Father, the merciful Father, Who acts mercifully, have mercy upon
us...!!!" Have you ever seen such build up? For what? Money? Health? Long life? It
continues"...instill in our hearts to understand and elucidate, to listen, learn,
teach, safeguard, perform and fulfill all the words of Your Torah's teachings with
Hashem can give us anything! Absolutely anything! ALL the riches! ONLY good health! ALWAYS
long lives! But He didn't give us any of these. He gave us His Torah. The Torah is G-d's
most prize possession and it's ours! How could we not appreciate such a gift? Not want it?
Not learn it? Not live it?
Some want it so badly that the rest of the world just fades away. There are stories of
Rabbonim from the last generation who underwent surgery without anesthesia by delving into
a Gemorah till they became oblivious to pain!
200 years ago, the Chasam Sofer would go 3 days without food or sleep if he was troubled
with a question that he had to have an answer to. Not as a test. Not as self discipline.
How could he think of eating or sleeping?!
300 years ago, the Vilna Gaon would learn 22 hours a day. He had a half hour nap every 6
hours. He would swallow bread with water. He wasn't even interested in tasting it. Just
something to hold his soul to his body.
What was it like 900 years ago, by our Reshonim? What was their learning like?
1500 years ago, back to the Amora'im? 2000 years ago, the Tanna'im? 3000 years ago, David
Hamelech? How about imagining 3700 years ago by our Forefathers??
Maybe now we can understand a little better a vort from a few weeks back, Parshas
Vayaitsay. When the Torah says Yaakov Aveinu left Be'er Sheva after 14 years of study, to
go to Lavan's, he came upon the temple mount and he "lay down in that place,"
Rashi says in THAT place because the 14 years he was at yeshiva he did not lay down. Only
temporary naps at the table. For 14 years! 14 years he was busy with Torah!!!
That same Yaakov is the father of these brothers, the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Now we have
the other half of the puzzle. Even after everything the Brothers had been through, and
even with everything they were going to go through, the only thing that Yoseph needed to
tell them was, not to busy themselves in Torah on the way home because the sons of Yaakov
couldn't possibly be doing anything else.
These are our ancestors, our forefathers. These are the genes that are part of our make
up. A glimpse of the potential we have as Jews. You think you learned about recessive
genes back in high school? Of the 15,000,000 Jews how many even know what Torah is? R'l.
And of those who know what it is how many want it to permeate every aspect of their lives?
A handful of Jews. A measly handful of Jews want nothing but to study Torah. To be a
fraction like their ancestors. And people yell at them, "Close the book and get a
job!" Even more ridiculous are those who yell, "Close the book and pick up a
gun!" How myopic can one get? Yes, Chanukah was a battle. A real war. And the non
assimilated Jews who won not only defeated the warriors of the Greek army but they even
defeated the assimilated Jews who signed up for army training. The only power we have is
our Torah. The only life we have is our Torah.
"Ki haim chayainu v'orech yamainu u'v'hem nehegeh yomam v'lielah."
Torah is our life. It is our length of days. And by it we will conduct ourselves day and
night. No matter how long, dark and cold the night.
Rav Wolfson uses a different approach to come to the same conclusion. When Yaakov is
readying for the trip to Egypt he sends Yehudah ahead to make preparations in Goeshen.
What preperations? Pharaoh promised them everything they need. Yehudah went ahead to build
mikva's, yeshiva's, seminaries and synagogues. Yaakov Aveinu knew that the only survival
against assimilation is a makom Torah- place of Torah. And if they waited till they
arrived to start building it would be to late. If there is to be a Jewish people in exile
there has to be a Torah infrastructure ready and waiting.
Yoseph took care of the other ingredient. Pretend you're about to meet the president. You
can imagine the coaching you'd receive. Say this, not that. Do this, not that. And what
ever you do don't mention the polls.. Egyptians worship sheep and cattle. They hate
shepherds and cattlemen. Last week, when Yoseph invited the brothers to a meal the
Egyptians sat separate from them. They were repulsed by the brothers. Everyone is now
about to meet Pharaoh. How is Yoseph going to coach the brothers before they meet Pharaoh?
"Ok guys, this is the top dog, big cheese, head honcho, the bread and butter!
Whatever you do, don't say the s-h-e-e-p word!" Right? Guess again.
46:33-34> "When Pharaoh sees you and he asks you what you do you will say, 'Your
servants are cattlemen. Since we were young until now. Us and also our fathers. We'll go
live in Goeshen because you guys hate shepherds and cattlemen!'" Sheep sheep sheep
sheep sheep! As kids, sheep, as teenagers, sheep, as a young adults, sheep, now, sheep.
Did we happen to mention our fathers and grandfathers were shepherds? Sheep sheep sheep
Now they have the key to Jewish success. A Torah society and neighbors who want nothing to
do with them. The intermarriage in the states is not because of how irreligious the Jews
are. It's because of how irreligious the non-Jews are. When Yaakov feared meeting Eisav
for the first time coming back from Lavan's, he prayed to H' for protection from 'Eisav,
his brother'. From 'Eisav' the murderer and from 'his brother' the assimilator.
As mentioned above, Rav Wolfson draws the same conclusion. Chanukah is about Torah and
Torah is salvation. He sums it up with, "es Yehudah shalach l'fonov"- Yehudah he
sent ahead = 945 = "shmonas yimay Chanukah"- 8 days of Chanukah. And
"Goeshnah" = 358 = "Mashiach".
The parsha opened with "Vayigash alav Yehudah." Yehudah represents the Mashiach
ben David and Yoseph, the Mashiach ben Yoseph. Both come together as we enter the exile
assuring us they will be there to take us out. Appropriately enough, the haftorah is about
the unification of Yehudah and Yoseph and David ben Yishai will be established as the one
shepherd over the flock of Israel. If it hasn't happened yet, don't be sheepish (boo,
hiss) and have yourselves a Torah filled Shabbot Shalom.