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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


It happened at the end of two years. (41:1)

Acting in a manner which presents a double-standard is not only unethical and inappropriate; it can also be the cause for serious punitive consequences from Heaven. We are taught that Yosef was relegated to languish two more years in prison because he put his faith in the abilities and decency of the chamberlain. He should have realized that everything is in Hashem's Hand: when the Almighty wanted, Yosef would be immediately released. Where was Yosef's bitachon, trust, in Hashem? Veritably, the harsh treatment to which Yosef was subjected is quite puzzling. Throughout history, the Jewish people have relied on intercessors to "sponsor" their release from predicaments. It was understood that whatever means availed themselves the Jew should make use of it, be it bribery, ingratiation, intercession. No one just sat back in his easy chair and waited for Divine assistance. We acted, and Hashem blessed our actions. This is the meaning of hishtadlus, endeavoring.

Horav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, zl, discusses the sin of Nadav and Avihu, Aharon HaKohen's two sons, who died a fiery death in the Mishkan because, as the Torah writes, they offered an extra korban, sacrifice, "which Hashem did not command." In other words, they acted on their own initiative. Is this so bad? They were only trying to serve Hashem! Rav Yosef Chaim suggests that actually the "extra offering" was not the catalyst for their extreme punishment. Rather, it goes back to the sin of the Golden Calf when these two oldest sons of Aharon, leaders in their own right, did not vehemently protest the actions of the idolaters when the Jewish people created the Golden Calf. How could they stand idly by when Klal Yisrael was bending out of shape?

The immediate excuse that protected them was that they could not take a stand in the presence of their father. Aharon HaKohen was in charge. For them to take action would have been considered a lack of respect, a show of insubordination. That was then. Now, however, they did not seem to have a problem acting on their own. They indicated that they were quite capable of defying authority and initiating an uncalled-for offering. Suddenly, they were assertive! The excuse that shielded them during the sin of the Golden Calf came back to haunt them. This is why they were so severely punished.

In Yosef's case, a similar critique applies. The Ramban wonders why, during Yosef's "stay" in Egypt, he did not once make an attempt to reach out to his father. Surely, Yosef must have imagined the grief that Yaakov Avinu was experiencing with the "loss" of his ben zekunim, child of his old age. This question is especially pressing after Yosef was released from prison and became Egypt's viceroy. Nothing stood in his way. The Ramban explains that Yosef viewed his unprecedented rise to power as the result of Divine guidance, thus lending credence to the dreams of his youth. Therefore, his father and brothers were destined to descend to Egypt one day. He felt that it was not his obligation to "assist" Hashem with the coming events. They would take place when Hashem saw fit to set them in motion.

As a result of Yosef's great trust in Hashem, he was able to quell his great yearnings to see his father and wait until events played themselves out. This seems to have all changed when he met the chamberlain and realized that an opportunity for his early release might be available. He decided to take advantage of the opportunity. What happened to his belief in the dreams? When it came to alleviating his father's grief, he justified his behavior with his overwhelming faith in Hashem. Not so, when it might have meant early release from prison. Then, he no longer was willing to sit back and "permit" Hashem to handle matters. It was because of Yosef's inconsistency in matters of faith that he was punished with two added years of suffering.

It happened at the end of two years to the day. (41:1)

The "end" of two years refers to the "two years" since the sar ha'mashkim, chamberlain of the cupbearers, was released from prison after Yosef had correctly interpreted his dream. At that time, Yosef had asked the chamberlain for help in procuring his release from prison. It took two years for the chamberlain to remember that he was in Yosef's debt. In the Midrash, Yosef is taken to task for asking the chamberlain for help. Someone of Yosef's spiritual stature should have relied completely on Hashem. This presents material for much dialogue among the commentators concerning the principle of bitachon, trust, in Hashem, and the amount of hishtadlus, endeavoring, one must expend! Those who have proven themselves to be on a lofty spiritual plane, to whom bitachon is a natural way of life, are not expected to expend that much hishtadlus. Since we are not to rely on miracles, to a certain degree hishtadlus is expected of everyone. If so, why is Yosef criticized? Hishtadlus has been an accepted means of "supplementing" bitachon. Since he was locked away in a dungeon with no visible means of leaving in the near future, one would assume that Yosef had acted appropriately by asking the chamberlain to say a few words in the right ears, so that he could once again see the light of day.

Hishtadlus is certainly appropriate - under the right circumstances. In his famous treatise, Emunah u'Bitachon, the Chazon Ish, zl, explains that Yosef's circumstances did not demand an expression of hishtadlus. In fact, hishtadlus in this situation was an inappropriate response. The Egyptians were a crude and selfish people. Appreciation and gratitude were foreign concepts to them. They understood the meaning of "taking." "Giving" was not a part of their natural lexicon. Remembering a favor and exhibiting gratitude were anomalies to them. Thus, when Yosef asked the Egyptian chamberlain to "remember me," he was grasping at straws. It was not an expression of hishtadlus but, rather, a manifestation of hopelessness, a drowning man's last grasps at anything that might represent salvation. Such grasping at straws demeans the very underpinnings of hishtadlus. One does not request kindness of an individual who has a record of unreliability.

This is indicated by Chazal's interpretation of the pasuk in Tehillim 40:5, "Fortunate is the man who has made Hashem his trust, and turned not to the arrogant and to strayers after falsehood." Chazal say this pasuk is a reference to Yosef, who should not have turned to the chamberlain for help. The chamberlain was one of those rehavim v'satai kasav, "arrogant and strayers after falsehood."

Horav Chaim Kamil, zl, suggests another approach towards understanding Chazal's critique of Yosef's hishtadlus. It was not so much to whom Yosef turned, but the mere fact that he felt the need to "turn" to someone that was inappropriate. Yosef should have realized that for the duration of his exile experience, since leaving his father's home, he had been under exceptional providential guidance from above. Yosef was experiencing unparalleled siyata di'Shmaya, Divine assistance. Hashem was providing Yosef with good fortune wherever he went. He was definitely not living in the realm subject to natural occurrences. When someone realizes that he is living b'derech nes, miraculously, hishtadlus is not only superfluous; it is inappropriate.

Nonetheless, we confront a pressing question. Regardless of why Yosef should not have endeavored to secure his release, ultimately, he was saved through the chamberlain's favor. In other words, hishtadlus did make the difference. It was the tool, the medium which Hashem blessed, facilitating Yosef's release. Thus, his hishtadlus was apparently deemed laudatory. If so, why is he criticized?

The Rosh Yeshivah explains that, whereas Yosef's salvation resulted from his hishtadlus, it occurred after much entreaty, supplication, suffering and degradation. This is certainly not the dignified form of salvation befitting someone of Yosef's spiritual persona.

Yosef was relegated to remain in prison for two additional years, not as punishment, but as an opportunity to learn. It was during these two years that Yosef was able to develop a deeper understanding of the attribute of trust in Hashem. Once Yosef understood the middah of bitachon and integrated it into his persona, it was "time" for him to leave prison. This time he left with dignity, like a king. All of this was the result of his toil in fulfilling the will of Hashem.

David Hamelech writes in Sefer Tehillim 149:4, yefa'er anavim b'yeshua, "He adorns the humble with salvation." This teaches us that the yeshua, salvation, of a righteous person should occur b'derech pe'er, elegant and appealing manner, as befitting such an individual.

This is the unique quality reflected in Chanukah and Purim, two festivals in which the salvation occurred after the Jews went through toil and travail. During the miracle of Chanukah, the Chashmonaim rallied the people; after much prayer, the Jews returned to the spiritual plateau expected of them, and they were spared. Likewise, on Purim, Mordechai and Esther, together with the Jews under the pain of Achashveirosh's decree, fasted and entreated Hashem so that He would save them from destruction. This is why the sages designated these two new festivals. Unlike the Biblical festivals, which had been part of the spiritual calendar before Creation, these were two brand new festivals which were founded and established upon the principles of struggle and toil to fulfill the will of Hashem. Thus, they were eternally etched into the Jewish spiritual cycle of joyful events commemorating Hashem's salvation of His people.

And there, with us, was a Hebrew youth, a slave. (41:12)

Rashi comments, "Cursed are the wicked, because even their favors are incomplete!" The chamberlain referred to Yosef in the most disparaging terms. He called Yosef: a naar, youth, which implies ignorance, a person unfit for distinction; an Ivri, Hebrew, which intimates his foreign background, an individual who did not speak or understand their language; an eved, slave as a slave can never ascend to be a ruler."

What is the meaning of "their favors are incomplete"? Horav Yeruchem Levovitz, zl, explains that while their intentions might be noble, they are nevertheless incapable of performing complete good. Something has to emerge that is just not appropriate. This might be inadvertent. They just cannot help themselves because after all is said and done, they are evil, and blessing cannot flow from someone who is accursed.

What did the chamberlain do that defines him as evil? The mere fact that while he was lauding Yosef he inadvertently intimated three deficiencies about him, this indicates that he is one of those, she'ein tovasam sheleimah, "their favors are incomplete."

This should give us all something to consider. Someone is considered a rasha, evil, if he is unable to refer to someone without alluding to something negative about him. Someone whose "favors are incomplete" is evil. He does favors, but they are not one hundred percent beneficial. He is a rasha. Why? Because a "good" that is flawed is "bad." A flawed good person is not a good person. An incomplete favor is not a favor.

Reuven spoke up "Did I not speak to you 'Do not sin against the boy' but you would not listen! And his blood as well - behold! - is being avenged." (42:22)

The brothers were acknowledging the Divine judgment against them. After all, what else could justify the Egyptian viceroy leveling ridiculous accusations against them? This had to be Divine retribution for the way they handled the Yosef "problem." While they did not regret selling him into slavery they did, however, feel remorse for the way they ignored his heartfelt pleas for mercy.

Reuven then added fat to the fire. This was not the only misdeed for which they needed to do teshuvah, penance. Rashi explains the word gam, as well, as an inclusion which signifies something supplemented to the original sin. He was intimating that not only were they being punished for what they did to Yosef, but also for the grief of over two decades of mourning which Yaakov Avinu experienced. They would also have to answer for that, as well.

The Sefer Chassidim derives a frightening lesson from this. If one commits an injustice against another person, he will be punished for what he did to him, and for kol mi she'nitzta'er alav, "every person who is distressed by how the victim was mistreated." In other words, everyone who has been affected in some way by the victim's maltreatment has a claim of justice against the offender. This includes relatives, friends - anyone who has been adversely affected. The obligation to repent is not limited to what one does to the actual victim, but to everyone who is even remotely touched.

I did not use the word "frightening" lightly. This lesson should have a sobering influence on our interpersonal relationships, especially when we realize the mushrooming effect of the pain we inflict on others. In his latest volume of Horav Avraham Pam's Torah Thoughts on the Parsha, Rabbi Sholom Smith quotes the Rosh Yeshivah, zl, as noting that this concept is especially serious when we acknowledge its ramifications. Rav Pam presents an example that is regrettably often ignored, but which takes an enormous toll on people. When the shalom bayis, peaceful harmony, of a Jewish couple is in a fragile state, it affects more than the two people in question. While the husband and wife think that the acrimony and constant bickering are between themselves, they are very wrong. They have no idea concerning the emotional stress they place on others, especially their respective parents, children, relatives and friends. Perhaps, if they would realize the traumatic effect their infighting has on all those around them, they might even work on seeking a solution to the source of their problem. Indeed, often a sincere desire to patch things up will in itself amend their shalom bayis.

Clearly, once the rupture in their marriage has breached beyond the healing point, this form of soul-searching carries little hope. If in the "early stages" of their dissatisfaction, however, when they began to experience difficulties, they would realize the pain and misery to which they will subject some of the closest people in their lives, and how much Hashem will take them to task for that, it might prove to be a deterrent and a reason to view compromise as a sign of strength - not a sign of weakness.

And Yisrael said, "Why did you treat me with evil, to tell the man that you had another brother?" (43:6)

The Midrash presents a fascinating twist/perspective on Yaakov Avinu's view of what he considers probably the bleakest moment of his life. His favorite son had been missing for over twenty years. Other than that he had been the victim of an unfortunate accident, there was really very little else to believe. His family has been suffering from hunger, and he is now compelled to send his youngest son, Binyamin, to Egypt, at the behest of some cruel Egyptian leader, so that his family could obtain their necessary provisions. It was at this moment that the Patriarch appeared fed-up and complained to his sons, "Why did you treat me with evil by telling the Egyptian viceroy that there remains another brother at home?" It seems like the appropriate reaction of a man who had suffered incessantly and was at his wits' end. Chazal tell us, however, that Hashem replied to Yaakov's question in a compelling manner: "Thus Hashem said (concerning Yaakov), 'I am involved in crowning his son ruler over Egypt,' and he says, 'Why did you treat me with evil?'" In other words, Yaakov had no idea that the Divine plan was being actualized - and he was being faulted for his reaction.

Horav A. Henach Leibowitz, zl, explains that, according to Chazal, Yaakov should not have perceived his predicament as evil. He should have sensed the Divine Hand manipulating events in such a manner that it would eventually all play out to the Patriarch's advantage. Furthermore, Yaakov was criticized not only for viewing his situation in a negative light, he should also have expected what seems to be a series of tragic events as steps in his son's ultimate success and good fortune. This would imply that we are expected to interpret the most devastating circumstances, instances which appear hopeless, as part of Hashem's bounty. Are we expected to see abundance and deprivation as goodness through disadvantage?

The Rosh Yeshivah cites Rabbeinu Yonah in his Shaarei Teshuvah (2:5) who posits that the capacity to see the positive within the negative applies to Yaakov Avinu as well as every believing Jew. He says, "One who trusts in Hashem should have hope during his darkest troubles that the darkness itself will be the cause of the light (of salvation)" Every Jew is capable of achieving such a level of faith in Hashem, to sense that the darkness of misfortune is actually the inception and emergence of a brilliant light that will herald salvation.

Many Jews confront difficult challenges, yet, regardless of the bleakness of the situation, they rise above the feelings of despair and soar upon wings of hope, knowing that the Almighty has a plan. They understand that the seemingly tragic, and the appearances of disaster, are themselves the seeds that will generate and sprout ultimate joy and triumph. It is the story of our people, who have endured thousands of years of exile, replete with suffering, pain and brutal death. Yet, we know that these are the birth pangs which accompany the advent of Moshiach and our Final Redemption.

Stories abound concerning individuals who were in a situation which seemed hopeless, yet ultimately, this specific circumstance served as their source of salvation. I have chosen one which was not so hopeless - in fact, it was more of a nuisance, but the effect was the same: This nuisance was the person's deliverance from tragedy.

In A Touch of Inspiration, Rabbi Yechiel Spero tells the story of a yeshivah student in Eretz Yisrael who had planned on having dinner one night with his grandmother. His grandfather had recently passed away, and he utilized every opportunity that availed itself to spend some quality time comforting his grandmother. He decided that he would first go to the Kosel, daven Minchah, and then take the bus to Bayit V'Gan, where his grandmother lived. We all know that the best laid plans do not always work, and the bachur was running late. He called his grandmother and told her not to worry - he would be a little late.

He proceeded to the bus stop and began to wait. Not one to waste time, he took out his small Chumash and began to review the parsha. While he was waiting, a young man pushing a baby stroller approached him and asked if he could watch his baby for a moment. He left his Siddur at the Kosel and wanted to run back and get it. Happy to be of service, the yeshivah bachur, whom we shall call Chaim, was glad to oblige. He did, however, remind the father of the child that he had a bus to catch.

Well, as these things happen, the number 2 bus came, and the father had not yet returned. Chaim craned his neck looking for the father, hoping he would return in time. He had promised his grandmother that he would be there by a certain time. If he was late, she would worry. Chaim was getting annoyed. The father had not yet returned, and the bus was about to pull out. He then saw the father running toward him, but it was too late. The bus had pulled out. The next bus was in twenty minutes. He went to call his grandmother to inform her that he would be even later than expected. The line, however, was busy. He finally gave up trying to reach her, and returned to the bus stop to wait for the next bus. Twenty minutes, forty minutes, an hour passed and the bus was still not there. Enough waiting - he jumped into a taxi and went to his grandmother's apartment.

Thirty minutes later, he pulled up at his grandmother's home, paid the driver, and quickly ran up the steps to his grandmother. He was late enough. Chaim knocked on the door to her apartment repeatedly, to no avail. It did not make sense. His grandmother would not leave, knowing that he was coming for dinner. He let himself into her apartment and found her sitting in her armchair with her back to the door. He walked over to her, and gently called, "Bubby, it is me Chaim." When she turned around, he noticed that she had been crying. She immediately embraced him, as she continued to cry incessantly. Finally, she looked up at him as if she was seeing a ghost. "Is it really you, Chaim?" she asked. "I thought you were taking the number 2 bus." After Chaim explained to her what had taken place, how he had helped someone, she continued to cry once again. This time, however, it was tears of joy and gratitude. All this was occurring to Chaim's bewilderment.

Later, Chaim discovered why his grandmother was so distraught. That number 2 bus had exploded in a horrible suicide bombing. Twenty-three neshamos were lost, and over 130 people had been injured. Chaim was supposed to be on that bus. Instead, he was helping another Jew. The source of Chaim's annoyance ended up being his salvation.

We do not know nor understand Hashem's ways. To attempt to make sense out of them would be a lesson in futility. Hashem has His reason for everything. One day we will be shown what was, what truly is, and what will be. Only then will we understand. Until that time of clarity arrives, we must go through life, believing, accepting Divine will, and learning to live and take pride in our convictions.

Va'ani Tefillah

Az yashir Moshe u'Bnei Yisrael. Then Moshe and Bnei Yisrael sang.

Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, notes the word shirah/yashir in contrast to zimrah/mizmor. A shirah is not a melody or tune which is expressed by voice or instrument. That is a zimrah. Shirah is the text of a poem. To accompany a poem with music is called mizmor shir.

As this is the fist shirah in the Torah, it is appropriate that it is included in the songs and praises of Pesukei D'Zimra, but why is it last? A praise originated from the Torah should precede the praises that are derived from Neviim and Kesuvim. This prompts the Aruch HaShulchan to posit that the shirah is not part of Pisukei D'Zimra, but rather, a free-standing praise preceding the Bircas Krias Shema.

Rav Schwab suggests that the shirah's very recitation by Klal Yisrael was miraculous in nature; it is, therefore, part of the Krias Yam Suf experience. Thus, the shirah elevates the entire Pesukei D'Zimra. Why is it a nes, miracle? We are taught that the Jewish People recited the shirah responsively after Moshe Rabbeinu. How was it possible for such a massive crowd to all hear Moshe at once? How was his voice amplified so loudly? It was a miracle. By repeating the miraculous song in our Pesukei D'Zimra, we praise Hashem by remembering the miraculous way He spared our forefathers. We express our feelings of joy and gratitude through the recitation of the shirah.

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