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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


The cows of ugly appearance and gaunt flesh ate the seven cows that were of beautiful appearance and robust. (41:4)

There must be some purpose in having the ugly cows swallow up the healthy cows. It seems to be more than a minor detail. Yosef interpreted it to mean that the seven years of famine would be so severe and drastic that they would overshadow the years of plenty to the point that they would be completely forgotten. Yet, the seven meager cows swallowing up the seven robust cows does not seem to express this idea. While the seven years of famine might be ruinous, they did not interfere with the comfort level enjoyed during the seven years of abundance. Why was it necessary for the gaunt cows to swallow up the healthy cows?

Horav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, zl, explains that there is a significant lesson about human nature to be derived from this dream. A person may be blessed with incredible bounty, but, if he knows that the time he has left for enjoying this gift is very short, his enjoyment will be limited, at best. One who is about to be executed hardly enjoys his last meal, regardless of how tasty it may be. The Egyptians were aware that the wonderful years of abundance were to last for a limited amount of time, to be followed by years of famine and disaster. How could they enjoy the gift, knowing fully well what was soon to strike them? Every time they ate a delicious, bountiful meal, they thought of the impending doom that would result in the upcoming famine. The dream was quite accurate in describing the years of famine. The seven years of famine would actually erode any remembrance of the years of bounty. In anticipation of the pain, the enjoyment could hardly be felt.

Then Pharaoh said to Yosef… "There can be no one so discerning and wise as you…You shall be in charge of my palace and by your command shall all my people be sustained. (41:39,40)

Yosef certainly came across as wise, astute and knowledgeable. He was wiser than anyone Pharaoh had previously employed as an advisor. Yet, how does a king of Pharaoh's stature take a "criminal" out of jail and almost immediately make him Viceroy over the land of Egypt? Yosef was given the "keys" to the country! Is that the way a wise king acts? Could he have not simply appointed Yosef as Secretary of Finance and Agriculture? Why make him Viceroy?

Horav Chaim Shmuelevitz, zl, explains that the answer lies in one word - biladoi, "this is beyond me" (41:16). Yosef could just as well have said, b'ezras Hashem, with Hashem's help, I will interpret the dream. No! he did not attribute any power to himself whatsoever. Everything came from Hashem. He attributed all of his success to Hashem. A person such as this was a unique find. Pharaoh had never met such an individual who took absolutely no credit for himself. Such a person could be trusted to direct his country.

In the ensuing years of bounty that Egypt would experience, there was great opportunity for an enterprising individual to put a little away for himself. Later on, during the years of famine, this person could make a healthy profit from his foresight. Yes, this is what the average person might do. A person who was prepared to give everything up and not take any credit for himself, however, was above taking personal gain - albeit legal - from the country's bounty. Such a person was unique. He was worthy of immediately being put into place to govern the land.

As Jews, we should always realize that biladoi - everything comes directly from Hashem. Whatever success we achieve has one source: Hashem. This awareness should fortify our faith and trust in the Almighty as it gives us the fortitude to confront life's challenges stoically, with determination and courage.

They then said one to another, "Indeed, we are guilty concerning our brother inasmuch as we saw his heartfelt anguish when he pleaded with us and we paid no heed; that is why this anguish has come upon us." (42:21)

The brothers' regret and consequent confession regarding their lack of compassion to Yosef's pleas was constituted a turning point in the story of mechiras Yosef, sale of Yosef. They acknowledged the degree of their culpability and recognized that what was occurring to them, the anguish caused by the Egyptian Viceroy, was the result of this previous lack of compassion. The Brisker Rav, zl, was wont to say that every religious decree that is enacted against us by those who seek to undermine our religious observance is the direct result of our own failing in that area. When we are complacent in regard to tznius, moral chastity, decrees are made that endanger our ability to maintain proper morality. When edicts are legislated that are harmful to Torah study, it is because we have been deficient in our attitude toward Torah study. When we deprecate the value and sanctity of Shabbos, injunctions will be made against our observance of Shabbos. In other words, it is Hashem's way of conveying a message to us: you are not acting properly.

When our shemiras Shabbos, Shabbos observance, is of a heightened nature, when we study the laws of Shabbos and are proficient in them, when our Shabbos is replete with Torah study, when our Shabbos table is filled with song, then it will have a far-reaching effect on those around us. Chillul Shabbos, desecration of Shabbos, is directly connected with our own observance. Therefore, before we criticize and malign those of our brethren who have strayed from the fold, let us focus the lens of condemnation on ourselves. The Brisker Rav noted that we find that on Yom Kippur even those who are usually non-observant will make an effort to fast, attend a shul and refrain from traveling by car. Why? He explained that on Yom Kippur the observant are on an unusually lofty spiritual plane, much more so than during the year. This has a positive influence on the non-observant.

"Indeed, we are guilty concerning our brother inasmuch as we saw his heartfelt anguish when he pleaded with us and we paid no heed." (42:21).

The brothers confessed their sin and indicated their contrition. This is the beginning of the teshuvah, repentance, process. It seems like they were properly motivated by heartfelt regret over their past actions. If this was the case, why did Reuven involve himself, interjecting, "Did I not tell you not to commit a sin with the child? You would not listen. Now a (Divine) reckoning is being demanded for his blood" (42:22). Exactly what was Reuven trying to do, add salt to their wounds? They apparently regretted their lack of compassion for their brother's plea. Why make them feel worse? Is this the way a would-be penitent is to be treated?

The commentators view Reuven's criticism in a different light. He was not trying to hurt them, but rather to explain to them that the teshuvah that they felt they had performed was incomplete. They were in error in regard to their notion of the sin. It was not merely a lack of compassion on their part that warranted this anguish. It was because they had "committed a sin against the boy." Unquestionably, cruelty is a despicable character trait, but Hashem does not punish people simply for being cruel. Divine retribution is meted out against those who commit definite sins. Teshuvah is all-important and necessary, but it is only effective if it is performed with the correct sin in mind.

Indeed, we are guilty concerning our brother. (42:21)

Viddui, confession, is a primary component in the teshuvah, repentance, process. Before one takes leave of his earthly experience, he is enjoined to confess his sins so that he enters the World of Truth pure and clean. Ashamnu, "we have become guilty," has become the catchword of Viddui. I recently read a fascinating story of how the Klausenberger Rebbe, zl, assembled thousands of Jewish survivors on Erev Yom Kippur, immediately following the liberation from the infamous death camps. The purpose: to speak to them about maintaining their religious observance. The method: he focused on the Viddui that we recite on Yom Kippur. The Rebbe had just undergone trial by fire in the camps. He had lost his wife and eleven children to the Nazis. Yet, his primary focus was on the deficiencies of faith in Hashem during the persecution that they had all experienced.

The rebbe went up to the lectern and opened his Machzor. With bitter tears, he spoke not from the Machzor, but from the heart. Directing his monologue Heavenward, he began with Ashamnu. Rather than inflecting the word as a statement, he presented it as a question, "Did we sin? Did we rebel?"

"Did we really sin? I hereby challenge the entire congregation. Is there one person here who was remiss in not repaying a loan? Nothing belonged to us - not even our bodies which were nothing more than receptacles for beatings and whippings. Gozalnu, we stole. Did we steal? From whom could we have stolen? No one owned anything. It was all confiscated by the Nazis. Wait - yes. I am guilty of theft! I admit that I stole. One day, upon returning from slave labor I collapsed into my bunk to rest, and my shriveled skin became caught between two boards. When I attempted to free myself, my skin tore from my bones. Blood streamed out, and I moaned softly. Regrettably, my moan was loud enough to wake up a fellow prisoner. Yes, I stole. I stole sleep from an exhausted prisoner. This is the only theft that I committed. I admit my iniquity!"

The Rebbe continued with his litany. Dibarnu dofi, 'We spoke slander.' Did we slander? How could we? We did not even have the strength for idle conversation. If by chance we had any strength left, we saved it so that we could respond to the probing questions of our vicious tormentors. He'evinu, 'We caused perversion?' Hirshanu, 'We caused wickedness.' Latznu, 'We scorned.' Who could do such a thing here? We had no strength to do anything! Moradnu, 'We rebelled.' Against whom did we rebel? We could not muster enough strength to work. Rebellion was the last thing we could think of. We did not even have the strength to cry out as they beat us. We did not rebel against Hashem. We suffered in silence, accepting our fate."

The Rebbe finished the Viddui. After dismissing each and every sin as being physically impossible for them to have committed, he closed his Machzor. "We did not wrongfully sin. We committed no iniquity. This Viddui was not written for us!" The congregation just stood there, shock registering on their faces.

A few moments went by and the Rebbe raised up his voice again. "But we are guilty of sins that are not written in the Machzor. We did sin, perhaps in a minute and delicate manner, but we did sin. We sinned in our faith and trust in the Almighty. Did we not doubt Hashem out of despair and hopelessness in the camps? When we recited Shma at night, did we not hope it would be our last Shma, that the end to our suffering would finally come? How many times did we entreat Hashem, 'Master of the Universe, I have no more strength. Take my soul, so that I will no longer have to recite Modeh Ani.' And when daybreak came, and we were still alive and we were once again obligated to thank Hashem for 'returning my soul with great mercy,' were we not filled with rage? When we removed the corpses from the barracks, were we not envious that they no longer had to suffer?

Yes, Hashem, this is how we sinned. We sinned with a lack of faith and trust. We should have held our heads up high, taking the suffering and pain, but we did not. And for this we beat our chests and confess our sins. Hashem, restore back our faith and trust in You. Help us to establish new families, so that we may perpetuate this faith to future generations. Above all, we must make simchah, joy, our foremost goal."

The Rebbe's words rang eternal for those in attendance. Everyone was moved beyond words. He brought out the inner yearning that every Jew has to return and be close with Hashem.

Va'ani Tefillah

Chazal observe that the Final Redemption for which we yearn so much will come about in one of two ways: b'itah, in its time; or achishenah, I will hasten it. If Klal Yisrael is worthy, Hashem will hasten it; if they are unworthy, it will come in its appointed time. Chazal teach us that there is a direct corollary between the Redemption and Shabbos observance. In the Talmud Shabbos 118b, Chazal say, "Were Klal Yisrael to observe two Shabbosos properly, they would be redeemed immediately." The Talmud Yerushalmi Taanis 1:1 contends that the proper observance of even one Shabbos by all of Klal Yisrael will bring about the advent of Moshiach.

In the Yigdal hymn, the author says, Yishlach l'keitz hayamin, which is translated as, "He will send at the end of the days." This is Rashi's explanation of a similar pasuk in Daniel 12:13 where the word yamin is translated as days. This is consistent with the Mesorah that there are six words in Tanach in which the mem and the nun sofis are interchangeable. However, there are commentators that translate yamin as referring to Hashem's right hand, in which this pasuk and phrase in Yigdal are a reference to the Redemption of achishenah, in which Hashem hastens redemption because of Klal Yisrael's total repentance.

On the concluding words of Yigdal, "To redeem those who wait for His Final Redemption," the Eitz Yosef observes that only those who believe in Moshiach and who await his coming, although he may tarry, will be found worthy of greeting him.

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Niftar 1 Teves 5748

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