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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Yaakov settled in the land of his father's sojournings. (37:1)

Yaakov Avinu settled in the land of his father's sojournings. This implies that Yaakov sought permanent residence in a land in which his father, Yitzchak Avinu, had only sojourned, a term which implies wandering. The Midrash, as cited by Rashi, teaches us that Yaakov wished finally to leishev b'shalvah, settle down in tranquility, but the anguish related to Yosef's sale pounced upon him. The Midrash adds, "Though the righteous seek tranquility, Hashem says, 'Are the righteous not satisfied with what is in store for them in the World to Come, that they expect to live at ease in this world too?' Chazal seem to be conveying the message that the righteous cannot expect to enjoy tranquility in this world. Why not? The righteous should be able to serve Hashem with ease and tranquility. Must they necessarily live with deprivation and anguish?

Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, explains that shalvah, tranquility, as the Midrash employs the term, is not a reference to Yaakov's desire to take a vacation and serve Hashem with comfort and ease. It is a reference to Yaakov's desire to spend his entire day engrossed in Torah study and esoteric service of the Almighty. Avraham Avinu accepted the responsibility to spread the Name of Hashem throughout the civilized world. Yitzchak Avinu was no different. He also called out in the Name of Hashem, albeit on a more limited scale than his father. Nonetheless, he was committed to his mission of spreading the principle of monotheism to the society of idol worshippers in which he lived. He taught the world the beauty of serving Hashem and the manner in which one should do so. This endeavor was as imperative to him as it was to his father. Yaakov continued this tradition. In Shechem and Beis Keil he built altars, teaching everyone the significance of serving the One true G-d. When he arrived back at the land in which his father had previously been a sojourner, he decided that he wanted to spend more time engaged in his own self-perfection. He had devoted his life to reaching out to others. Perhaps it was now time to change his focus to work on himself. The time had come to build the House of Yisrael, to spend more time educating his offspring, the future of the Jewish People. He oriented himself to worry less about the world and concentrate more on his own little world - his family.

This is the meaning of Yaakov's desire to seek tranquility. He was not looking for a vacation. He just wanted to spend less time outside, so that he could spend more time on his own self-development. Is that so bad? He was not shirking his responsibility. He was refocusing it. Hashem's response was: You have a responsibility, as did your ancestors, to disseminate the word of G-d. During the time that you cloister yourself in your four cubits of Torah, you will not be able to teach the world about the One Almighty G-d. The anguish of Yosef occurred, so that Yaakov would end up descending to Egypt and, thereby, revealing to the world that the Name of Hashem was upon them. When the outside population was exposed to Yaakov Avinu and his family, it was an opportunity for Kiddush Shem Shomayim, a sanctification of the Name of Heaven, for they represented Heaven on earth.

And they hated him even more because of his dreams and his words. (37:8)

Yosef Hatzaddik experienced two vivid dreams which seemed to relate a powerful message: he was destined to rule over his family. He decided to share these dreams with his brothers and his father. While his relationship with his father was extremely close, his relationship with his brothers was not. Inideed, the interactions between Yosef and his brothers were characterized by extreme tension and hostility. The Torah tells us, "They could not speak to him in peace" (ibid 37:4). It is, therefore, surprising that Yosef would want to intensify this discord by relating a dream to them that would only antagonize them even more.

His brothers' response was sharp and predictable: "Shall you reign over us?" they asked. The Torah records that their anger increased as a result of Yosef's dreams. While his father, Yaakov Avinu, was more forgiving, he, nonetheless, rebuked him, asking, "Shall I and your mother, and your brothers come to bow to you earthward?" (ibid 37:10) What prompted Yosef's apparently irrational behavior? Certainly, he knew that he was being provocative. Did he not care, or did he have other motives?

Horav Yisrael Belsky, Shlita, derives an important lesson from here. He first demonstrates that Yosef's intentions were pure. He cites the Talmud in Berachos that extensively explains the issues of dreams, their meaning and their interpretation. This sugya, Talmudic topic of discussion, presents principles for analyzing the role of dreams in our lives, particularly their significance and the credibility of the message they impart. Two halachos form the basis for understanding Yosef's actions. First, Chazal teach that if a person has a dream and nafsho agumah alav, "he is distressed by it," he should relate it in the presence of three people, so that he "sweetens" it. The Shulchan Aruch comments that he should retell it in front of three people "who love him." Another principle presented by Chazal is the concept of hakol holeich achar ha'peh, "all dreams follow their interpretation." This is especially true of the initial response to a dream. In other words, if a person has a troubling dream, he should see to it that three people who only want the best for him, interpret it.

Thus, if Yosef approached his brothers with his dreams, we see that he did not want to taunt them, that he clearly considered his brothers to be his true friends. Otherwise, why would he relate the dreams to them? While it is true that there was tension within the family, Yosef viewed the differences that divided them to be superficial. He believed that ultimately they would be supportive of him and look beyond the "petty" issues that separated them. Yosef had no doubt that he could rely on his brothers in a time of need. Indeed, the mere fact that he had asked them to listen to him constituted a message of reconciliation. He was really saying to them, "I need your help."

This is where Yosef erred. Chazal tell us, Sinah mekalkeles es ha'shurah, "Hatred distorts the ruling." When someone hates he becomes blind. He does not perceive anything clearly. Rather than encouraging Yosef's action as an extension of the "olive branch," as a request for peace and harmony, their hatred caused them to misconstrue his overtures and to misunderstand the meaning of his request that they listen to his dream. He sought friendship. They interpreted his gesture as an attack against their position in the family, exacerbating their anger and hatred.

When the brothers replied, "Shall you reign over us; will you have dominion over us?" (ibid 37:8), they sealed the interpretation of Yosef's dream. This is the second principle that was mentioned above, "All dreams follow their interpretation." In other words, their very words sealed the prophetic message of this dream, ensuring Yosef's monarchy over them. They themselves were responsible for Yosef's rise to dominion over them.

Likewise, when Yosef related his second dream, concerning the sun, moon and eleven stars all bowing down to him, they scolded him for his arrogance. After all, what was he trying to prove? It seems that he perceived himself to be superior to his brothers and his parents. Not only was this insensitive, but he was asking for serious trouble. When we delve into the matter, however, we see the immense respect that Yosef exhibited for his parents and brothers. By comparing them to celestial objects, the great Heavenly luminaries, he was granting them significant prominence and himself - nothing! He was a mere mortal. The dream really demonstrates the esteem in which he held his parents and brothers. They made the mistake of misunderstanding what he was implying. They misinterpreted the message of the dream - not he.

Why? How did they not see the truth when it was right in front of their eyes? The answer is simple - but first let us consider the Shivtei Kah, Holy Tribes. They were tzaddikim of the highest order. Any infraction attributed to them is relative to their extreme elevated, spiritual level. Every pasuk in the Torah conveys a profound message that we must apply to our lives. In order to accomplish this, the Torah speaks in our language, the language of human frailty. Thus, to say the Shivtei Kah "hated" is a term the Torah uses relative to our lives. We hate. They did not hate in the manner that we hate. In order for us to understand the lesson, however, the Torah must use a vernacular that human beings understand. We understand hate, but they did not hate on our terms. Their hatred was relative to their own lives.

Having said this, we must say that sinah, hatred, distorts, blinds, alters and perverts. It represents such an insidious form of evil that it had the power to corrupt even the great and righteous shevatim, causing them to misjudge, misconstrue, and misunderstand. Anyone who has ever been angry knows how it affects his ability to be rational. That is what happened to the shevatim - on a relative basis. It is a lesson for us. Yosef was always a tzaddik. He meant well. He was not arrogant. His brothers just did not understand, because the blinders of hatred concealed the truth from them. The lesson is there. How many of us are willing to accept it?

A caravan of Yishmaelim was coming from Gilead, their camels bearing spices, balsam, and lotus. (37:25) Rashi cites the Midrash that teaches us that Hashem intervened on behalf of Yosef. Normally, the Yishmaelim are the purveyors of foul-smelling cargo, such as naphta and tar. In order to spare the tzaddik, the righteous Yosef, another indignity, Hashem provided a caravan which was carrying sweet smelling spices. We wonder if it would really have made much of a difference to Yosef. Examine Yosef's dismal situation: reviled by his brothers who originally had planned to kill him due to their interpretation of the law; then thrown into a pit filled with snakes and scorpions; only to be "saved" from this fate and sold to the Yishmaelim! Would fragrant spices really have made a difference to him? Did he really have a head for smelling these spices, and would it really have mattered?

Horav Mordechai Pogremonsky, zl, explains that the sweet smelling spices were a message for Yosef: "Do not give up. It is not over yet. Help is on the way." Until this point, Yosef had seen nothing but hester panim, Hashem concealing Himself from him. His world was bleak, dark, with no hope. Certainly, a lesser person would have fallen into a deep, insurmountable depression. The moment the traders took Yosef on the caravan and he took one whiff of the fragrant odor, he knew that all was not lost. Hashem was revealing Himself to him amid His concealment. He realized that this was all part of a Divine Plan and that Hashem still cared for him. With this in mind, Yosef understood that yeshuas Hashem k'heref ayin, Hashem's salvation can come in the blink of an eye. Hashem cared. Yosef had reason to hope.

In conclusion, one must always learn to seek the silver lining beneath every dark cloud. Regrettably, when things do not seem to go right, we tend to look only at the negatives, ignoring the positive glimpses that Hashem is conveying to us. It is specifically during these times of Heavenly concealment that we must examine every occurrence to search for a positive sign from Above. Hashem sends His messages. We are obligated to listen for them. His master's wife cast her eyes upon Yosef. (39:6)

The incident that Yosef experienced with Potiphar's wife follows immediately after the episode of Yehudah and Tamar. Chazal draw a corollary between the two, concluding that both women acted as they did as a result of a desire to be the progenitors of the Jewish nation. They both acted l'shem Shomayim, for the sake of Heaven - or so they thought. Apparently only Tamar, who succeeded in marrying Yehudah, was executing a holy mission. The wife of Potiphar might have initially thought that this was her goal, but she was clearly unaware of her real desires. It was nothing more than base desire. How do we determine whether an act is l'shem Shomayim?

Horav Mordechai Ilan, zl, says the way in which each woman acted after she was confronted with a crisis indicates her original intent. When Tamar was challenged to reveal the identity of the man with whom she had her liaison, she refused to embarrass him. She was prepared to die rather than humiliate Yehudah. Why? Because to act for the sake of Heaven while simultaneously ignoring the laws of bein adam l'chaveiro, interrelationships between man and his fellowman, is the antithesis of l'shem Shomayim. The wife of Potiphar abused, humiliated, and slandered Yosef. When she saw that her plan was not accomplishing her goal, she disparaged Yosef, calling him a naar, young and foolish, a slave and a Hebrew. These terms were considered derogatory by the standard of the environment in which the Egyptian pagan lived. When this did not work, she resorted to slander. An individual who has no respect for the feelings of others, who does not acknowledge another human being created in the image of G-d, has no business claiming that he is acting for the furtherance of Hashem's Name. Indeed, Hashem scorns his actions. One who does not have respect for people cannot claim to have respect for Hashem.

His master's wife cast her eyes upon Yosef. (39:6)

Chazal relate that the juxtaposition of the incident concerning Potiphar's wife upon the preceding narrative concerning Tamar and Yehudah implies a common thread between these two women: they both acted l'shem Shomayim, for the sake of Heaven. Upon analyzing the incident with Potiphar's wife, we confront a glaring question. When Potiphar's wife made advances to Yosef, he demurred by saying, "My master has trusted me with everything in his house. The only thing that he has held back from me is you, his wife. How could I do such an evil sin against him?" Then Yosef added that to break this trust would be a sin to G-d. Why did he add, v'chatasi l'Elokim, "and I will sin to G-d," at the end, as if it was a supplementary reason for not responding to her adulterous advances? Adultery was an accepted violation of trust between husband and wife. This is all Yosef had to say. It was wrong. What part of "wrong" was unclear, so that he had to add that it was "also" a violation of his relationship with G-d?

Horav Eliyahu Meir Bloch, zl, explains this with a discourse on the various aspects of mitzvah and aveirah, positive commandments and sin. He views them from two vantage points: the first perception is that of a doctor and patient relationship, in which the doctor instructs the patient to follow a specific pattern of behavior in order to maintain his health. Likewise, Hashem has given the Torah as a prescription for living a healthy,, spiritual life. The Torah tells us what we may do, what we may not do, and what we should do. Thus, one who transgresses a prohibition in the Torah parallels he who does not listen to his doctor. It is not that he is punished for not listening to his doctor. He is hurting himself by violating his doctor's instructions. One who sins does spiritual harm to himself. Such punishment is self-inflicted.

In the second perception, mitzvos are viewed as a royal decree. The king issues an edict, and the people must follow his royal order. He has his personal reasons for this order, and the populace can do nothing but follow. If they listen, they are rewarded. If they violate the king's order, he punishes them. It is all up to the king. Mitzvos and aveiros are Divine edicts from the Supreme King. When we listen, He rewards us. When we do not, He punishes us. It is as simple as that.

There is one major distinction between these two concepts. From the doctor/patient perspective, there is room for special treatment in the event the patient is very healthy and very strong. Under such circumstances, we might find the doctor bending the rules. In addition, if the benefit of not following the regimen supercedes the detriment, the doctor might suspend the regimen. In other words, there is flexibility and room to maneuver under such terms. A royal decree leaves no room for maneuvering. There are no exceptions and no dispensations. Everyone must follow the rules to the letter. In Halachah, the only circumstances under which a prohibitive commandment is null is in the event that it impedes the fulfillment of a positive commandment. We then say that asei docheh lo saaseh, a positive commandment "pushes away"/takes precedence over, a prohibitive commandment. Also, if a human life is threatened, we suspend the mitzvah. Otherwise, there is no room for discussion, it is the Divine decree. A person who feels that he has a personal excuse that frees him from performing a mitzvah or permits him to be in violation of a prohibitive commandment will be punished. He has sinned.

All of this became effective only after Hashem gave us the Torah as His Divine decree. Prior to Mattan Torah, the Giving of the Torah, however, mitzvos were perceived like something a physician would prescribe for his patient. Therefore, the Avos, Patriarchs, who fulfilled the Torah even before Hashem gave it to Bnei Yisrael, were permitted to use extenuating circumstances to act in contradiction of any halachah. For example, Yaakov Avinu married two sisters, a union that the Torah forbids. Likewise, Amram married his aunt. These were exceptions, and the circumstances were unusual. Klal Yisrael had to be built, and this was the only path.

We now understand Yosef's reply to Potiphar's wife. Her astrologers had told her that Hashem would establish the future house of Yosef through her and Yosef. Yosef also knew this through Ruach Ha'Kodesh, Divine Inspiration. This was a circumstance in which the rules had to be suspended. After all, Heaven "seemed" to approve of this liaison. It was before the Giving of the Torah, so why not? This is why Yosef gave Potiphar's wife a litany of excuses why he could not be with her. We know that a doctor's instructions can be circumvented under extenuating circumstances and, indeed, these circumstances were unusual. This is true, however, only when it does not adversely affect another person. In this case, Potiphar would be hurt. How could Yosef commit such an egregious sin against a man who had trusted him with everything? No mitzvah permits adultery with his master's wife! Thus, if he committed this sin he would be sinning against G-d, forever! He would be eternally blemished. The first part of his explanation to her addressed why he could not transgress, even though the circumstances were unique. He concluded by saying that if he were to act inappropriately, it would be a sin. This was not an excuse; it was the consequence of his previous indiscretion.

Yet the Chamberlain of Cupbearers did not remember Yosef, but forgot him. (40:23)

Chazal teach us that because Yosef placed his trust in the chamberlain instead of Hashem Himself, his prison sentence was extended by two years. This is enigmatic. Veritably, one must live with bitachon, trust, in the Almighty, but this does not preclude hishtadlus, endeavoring and seeking out avenues of escape and rescue. Simply, the reason that Hashem punished him is that precisely because Yosef was such a great baal bitachon-- his trust in Hashem unequivocal-- he was held to a different standard than applies to others. On the other hand, if it was inappropriate for Yosef to seek human intercession, why is he considered an individual who had consummate trust in Hashem? He either is a great baal bitachon - or he is not.

Horav Baruch Sorotzkin, zl, explains that when an individual is in an eis tzarah, period of distress, and he does not perceive Hashem's guiding hand in his life, he should certainly perform his hishtadlus. One does not sit back and do nothing. The minute that he sees a spark of light, a breath of fresh air, he should immediately desist from his hishtadlus, because he sees that Hashem has not forgotten him. This was the critique against Yosef. He should have realized that Hashem had orchestrated the entire incident concerning the two servants of Pharaoh, their dreams and his interpretations, in order to effect Yosef's eventual release from prison. Once he realized this, he should have halted his hishtadlus and let events play themselves out. He did not. This superfluous act of hishtadlus resulted in the two year extension of his prison term.

Va'ani Tefillah

Hari'u l'Hashem kol ha'aretz Call out to Hashem, everyone on earth

Why is it necessary to get "everyone" involved in our debt of gratitude to Hashem? Apparently, when others hear about Hashem's benevolence to another person, it leaves a positive impression on them. Does Hashem really need us to publicize His benevolence? We often ponder why Hashem prohibits idol worship. Does this prohibition not give the impression that Hashem cares about Himself? Certainly not! As Horav Shimshon Pincus, zl, explains, Hashem is the essence of reality; He is life; He is kindness; He is light; He is everything good - indeed, He is everything. Without him, there is nothing. Thus, anything that is not connected to Hashem is counter to Hashem. It is not as if Hashem needs us to acknowledge Him. We need it! This is similar to a child who takes the keys to his father's car, only to have them taken away by his father. Does this mean that the father cares only about himself, or is it a reflection of his true love for his child and the fear that he might hurt himself? When we publicly express our gratitude to Hashem, we are availing others the opportunity to come closer to the Almighty, to the Source of everything good in this world.

We are instructed to "call out" or "make noise," to express our gratitude to Hashem actively. Horav Avigdor Miller, zl, explains that Hashem's kindness is so overwhelming that it requires something more than a mere shirah, lyric, or zimrah, melody. It demands a loud sound of enthusiasm, such as expressed by hari'u, trumpeting.

The Chida, zl, cites the Arizal who notes that the roshei teivos, initials, of each word, hay, lamed, chof, hay, form an acronym for the word halachah, code of Jewish law. The Korban Todah, the only sacrifice that will not be abolished in the End of Days, parallels the study of Halachah, which will, simultaneously, never cease.

לזכות רפואה שלמה
שמואל פנחס בן רבקה
and in honor of
the birth of our daughter,
Yosef and Raizy Gross

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