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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Then Yisrael saw Yosef's sons and he said, "Who are these?" And Yosef said to his father, "They are my sons whom G-d has given me here" (48:8,9)

The Commentators question Yaakov Avinu's inability to recognize his own grandsons. He had been living in Egypt for seventeen years. Surely, he knew who his grandsons were. Citing the Midrash, Rashi explains that as Yaakov was about to bless his grandsons, the Divine Spirit departed from him because Yaakov foresaw that evil kings would descend from Menashe and Ephraim: Yoravam and Achav from Ephraim, and Yehu and his sons from Menashe. Shocked, he asked Yosef, "Who are these?" In other words, where did these sons, who are apparently not deserving of a blessing, come from? Yosef reassured him that Menashe and Ephraim were both the products of a marriage founded and maintained in holiness and purity. Despite the fact that, unlike Yaakov's other sons, they were to be the ancestors of certain wicked descendants, they were still worthy of blessing.

Horav Eliyahu Schlesinger, Shlita, extends this idea a bit further. There is a great difference between Yaakov's sons and his grandsons, Menashe and Ephraim. The Shivtei Kah, holy Tribes, lived their entire lives in a matzav, situation, of running from evil, constantly vigilant to maintain their spiritual status-quo. They were born in the home of their grandfather, the evil Lavan, the swindler. They quickly learned that the place in which they lived, Lavan's home, was replete with idols and other such forms of spiritual pollution. They had to be on guard as long as they were in his presence. Afterwards, they confronted Eisav, who wanted to accompany Yaakov. Their "running" continued, as they distanced themselves from this new source of contamination. The incident with Dinah and the Shechemites followed on the heels of Eisav. When they went down to Egypt, once again they sought a place that was unpopulated, far away, where there could be alone. Always running, closing the door, separating themselves from their environment - that was the lifestyle of Yaakov's sons. It was good for them. It strengthened their resolve and raised their level of conviction. In the merit of their guardedness, they would be able to withstand the various trials and tribulations to which they would be subjected over time.

What about Menashe and Ephraim? Their upbringing was entirely different. They were never taught to run, because they did not have to do so. They lacked nothing. They were born in Egypt, a country known for its moral and spiritual depravity. Yet, it did not touch them, because their father was the king. They must have been in a good place; otherwise, why would their father be the country's Viceroy? Being raised with a silver spoon in the hierarchy of Egyptian society will do that to you. They never felt they needed to distance themselves, to run away, because they never had reason to believe that they were in the presence of evil. Perhaps, this is why their descendants ended up the way they did. When a family feels that Egypt is "it," it is no wonder that in the future a Yoravam ben Nevat will emerge. When Yaakov imagined his future descendants, he thought along the lines explained above. Thus, he turned to Yosef and asked, "Mi eilah," "Who are these that are not suitable for blessing?" Yosef responded to his father saying, "Logically, you might be correct. Despite the fact, however, that my children were raised in the palace amid wealth and security, we, their parents, have taught them that it is all a gift from the Almighty. They have been inculcated with the exact same chinuch, education, I received from you." When Yaakov heard this, he agreed to bless Yosef's sons.

Horav Yaakov Kamenetsky, zl, posits that Yaakov's sons were acutely aware of the fact that Yosef's children, having been raised in the moral filth of Egypt, would need an extra blessing. They neither saw the beauty nor experienced the holiness and purity that permeated Yaakov's home. This is suggested by the fact that no one seemed concerned when Yaakov singled out Yosef's sons for blessing, something he had not done for any of his other grandchildren.

With this in mind, we understand why Yaakov mentioned Ephraim's name before that of Menashe. Ephraim needed the blessing more. Menashe was born first. At that time Yosef still remembered his father's home. It still exercised a strong effect on him. Indeed, the name Menashe implies, "It made me forget." In other words, when Menashe was born, the memories of home, although bittersweet, were still present. When Ephraim was born, however, Yosef viewed himself to be more of a citizen of Egypt. He was already moving in the circles of power. Indeed, as Rav Yaakov notes, the average Egyptian name was usually comprised of the letters, Pei, Reish, Ayin, which were the letters of Pharaoh's name. Ephraim's name was comprised of these same letters, indicating a greater affinity to Egyptian society and its way of life. Perhaps this is why Ephraim studied with Yaakov, more than Menashe, since Menashe knew the Hebrew language, while Ephraim might not have been as fluent. In essence, since Menashe and Ephraim were born and raised in Egypt, they needed extra spiritual care. Everyone acknowledged this perspective.

So they instructed Yosef, O' Please, kindly forgive the spiteful deed of your brothers… and Yosef wept when they spoke to him… Thus, he comforted them and spoke to their heart. (50:16,17,21)

He calmed them and he soothed them, but we do not find that Yosef actually forgave his brothers for selling him. Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, suggests that even if Yosef had been able to forgive his brothers for what they had done to him, which he did wholeheartedly, he could not overlook the ensuing chillul Hashem, desecration of Hashem's Name. There is only one kaparah, atonement, for chillul Hashem; To do the opposite, to be mekadesh shem Shomayim, sanctify the Heavenly Name. This was fulfilled through the tragic deaths of the Asarah Harugei Malchus, Ten Martyrs, the great Torah giants whose lives were martyred in the most cruel and heinous manner. Indeed, Chazal - cited by the Rikanti - say that the neshamos, souls, of Yosef's ten brothers entered the bodies of the great rabbis. Thus, the brothers were absolved through these tragic deaths, as a result of their unparalleled mesiras nefesh, self-sacrifice.

This is a powerful and demanding statement. Regrettably, one might act unethically in areas of commerce, whether it involves another Jew or in the context of his relationship with the outside world. So, he might get away with it - temporarily. He might even find a legal loophole to legitimize his action. What is he going to do when his lack of ethicality is discovered and publicized over the media? How is he going to respond to the chillul Hashem which is the direct result of his "legitimate" activities? Is he going to quote heterim, dispensations, from Chazal, which - in his mind - justifies his iniquity? Even if he were to find support in halachah, does that support negate the chillul Hashem that he has created?

The Shivtei Kah, holy Tribes, determined that Yosef was a rodef, pursuer. With a clear, collective conscience the brothers decided that he should be killed, or at least sold as a slave. What should we say? This penetrating moral dilemma is addressed to those who act inappropriately, and at those who support individuals who perpetrate evil under the cloak of innocence and even virtue.

Although you intended me harm, G-d intended it for good. (50:20)

Years of ambiguity and question had come to an end when Yosef and his brothers finally confronted each other. The truth was revealed: it was all part of a Divine plan. The dreams foretold it. Yosef sensed it. Time proved that Hashem had desired a plan for Klal Yisrael to go down to Egypt to begin the Egyptian exile. Life is filled with such occurrences, episodes that "seem" isolated, but in reality are intrinsically connected to a Divine plan. Some people are perceptive, sensing that they are part of a greater plan. Others at least look back and realize how Hashem's plan has unfolded. Yet others are regrettably plagued with myopia, even in hindsight. They refuse to see the apparent Hand of Hashem throughout the course of events. There are thousands of recorded episodes that demonstrate this idea. I recently came across a story of Divine Providence that was particularly moving.

The story is about Jerry, a young Jewish American idealist, who left this country and went to Eretz Yisrael. After a brief stint in the U.S. army, shocked by the not so subtle forms of anti-semitism that he had encountered so soon after World War II, he felt it would be best if he went to Eretz Yisrael and try his luck there. Together with other adventurers, he came to a land filled with immigrants and survivors, all trying to make a new life for themselves. He worked on a kibbutz together with many other foreigners, all volunteers. It was there that he met Yehudah, a Holocaust survivor. They were quite different; Jerry was a happy-go-lucky, talkative American while Yehudah, was a close-mouthed, morose European. Realizing that Yehudah must be concealing a lot of emotional baggage, Jerry avoided the subject of the Holocaust.

One hot summer day, they were both working under the blazing sun, when Jerry noticed the numbers tattooed on Yehudah's forearm. When the numbers registered in his mind, he could not help but emit an audible gasp.

"What is the matter, Jerry?" Yehudah asked. "I am sorry, Yehudah. I could not help but notice the numbers on your arm." "Surely, you have seen such numbers on other survivors before?" Yehudah curtly rejoined. "True, I did. It is just that it is odd that the last four digits 7-4-1-6 are the same numbers as the last four digits of my social security number." "Such a meaningless coincidence, and you're excited!" scoffed Yehudah, as he continued with his work. The ice was broken, and Jerry could no longer contain himself. He asked, "Listen, Yehudah, I want to be your friend. I care very deeply about you and your past. Perhaps you would like to talk about it.?"

Finally, Yehudah responded, "Maybe you are right. Maybe I should not keep everything bottled up inside me. Perhaps we have an obligation to serve as witnesses to the German atrocities and tell the world." The two sat down, and Yehudah began to tell his story. It was a familiar story, one of tragedy and survival. An hour later, Yehudah concluded, "We stood in line at selection - my brothers, my sisters, my parents and I - and we were branded with these numbers, all in numerical order. I was next to the last, followed by my brother. Afterward, we were split up, and I never saw any of them again. I was the only one of my family to survive the war." Jerry remained silent as he listened to Yehudah recount the sad story of his life. He now understood why so many of the survivors were loathe to tell their story. It hurt too much.

Years went by, and Jerry left the kibbutz and began to work as a tour guide for wealthy Americans who chose to be chaperoned around Eretz Yisrael in a comfortable limousine. For the most part, it was a soft, well-paying job. Every so often he might get a difficult customer, but he could learn to live with it. One day, he picked up a new client whose attitude was downright insufferable. He was obnoxious, rude and domineering. He always had to be in control. He shouted orders at Jerry as if he was some lowly slave. Jerry made a superhuman effort to remain polite. Finally, as Jerry's patience was about to burst, the man suddenly shouted, "Pull over to the side of the road" "What?!" Jerry asked, confused, "What is wrong? What did I do?"

"I said to pull to the side of the road," the man practically screamed. Stunned, Jerry followed orders and pulled over. He turned around to face his abusive client. Before he could speak, the man looked him in the eyes and said, "I know you don't like me very much." Jerry did not respond. After all, what should he say? It was obvious that he was not the kind of person who was used to being a punching bag for someone's idiosyncrasies. He continued his silence as the passenger began to speak.

"I know that at times my behavior can be obnoxious and offensive. Truthfully, I am surprised at what has happened to me. I'm sorry. It is just that I cannot control my emotions. I am all alone in the world, after having suffered so much. There are nights that I shake and cry myself to sleep." After making this opening statement, the man broke down and began to weep uncontrollably. "You think I am nothing more than an arrogant, pompous wealthy American businessman. You think I have no regard for anyone's feelings but my own. It is not true. I have suffered. I am a Holocaust survivor." As he made this pronouncement, he slowly rolled up his sleeve to reveal his numbers: 7-4-1-7.

The last four digits of Jerry's social security number were 7-4-1-6. Suddenly, the memory of a conversation held many years earlier came to mind. He recalled Yehudah relating the last time his family was together by the infamous selekstia: "We were branded in numerical order…I was next to the last."

Jerry's reverie was broken by the tortured sobs coming from the back of the limousine. "I lost my entire family in the Holocaust. I may have money but I have no family. I have no one in the world," he cried.

Hearing this, Jerry turned around and looked at the American and said, "My friend, you are wrong. You are not alone in the world. Come with me, and I will show you that number 7-4-1-6 is very much alive. I happen to know where he can be found."

So many stories demonstrate Hashem's Hashgachah, Divine Providence. Regrettably, for some of us they remain exactly that - nice stories. We should strive to perceive Hashem's Providence over every aspect of our daily lives. We will then have a greater appreciation of the "stories."

Questions and Answers

1) What three things did Reuven lose as a result of his "sin"?

2) Who did not carry Yaakov's body in the funeral procession to Eretz Yisrael?

3) Is monarchy solely the domain of Shevet Yehudah?

4) Who killed Eisav?


1) Reuven lost the status of the bechorah, being the first-born, as well as the various benefits that accompany this position. He also lost kingship/rulership over the brothers and the Kehunah, Priesthood, which originally was his (Rashi).

2) Yaakov forbade his grandsons, with the exception of Menashe and Ephraim, from carrying his body. He permitted Menashe and Ephraim, since they were taking the place of their father, who was the king. Consequently, Yosef could not carry the coffin. Levi, who was the progenitor of the Kohanim, also did not carry the coffin (Rashi).

3) Monarchy in Klal Yisrael is the sole domain of Shevet Yehudah. Hence, the kings who reigned during the period of the First Beis Hamikdash and the Chashmonaim who reigned during the second Bais Hamikdash period were in violation of this prohibition (Ramban).

4) Chushim ben Dan killed Eisav as the brothers were waiting to bury Yaakov (Sotah, 13a). Other sources imply that Yehudah killed Eisav (Yerushalmi, Kesubos, 1:5). These two accounts may be reconciled by suggesting that the initial blow rendered by Chushim was insufficient to kill Eisav. Yehudah took over and completed the "job".


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