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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Then Yehudah approached him. (44:18)

The confrontation between Yehudah and Yosef presents abundant material for commentary. Each of these two great individuals represents transmitted qualities to his descendants, which comprise the DNA of the Jewish People. In the Midrash Rabbah (98:6), Chazal say that we are called Yehudim after Yehudah, rather than being named for any of the other brothers. What was the unique character of Yehudah which makes his qualities most worthy of being infused into his descendants?

Horav Aharon Soloveitchik, zl, cites the Rambam in his Shemoneh Perakim, Perek 6, in which he distinguishes between two types of character nobility: chassid me'ulah, ideal saint; and moshel b'nafsho, a person who dominates his spirit. The chassid me'ulah is an individual who is not driven by evil urges. He is naturally good and has it all together. No inner struggles occupy his life. He is free of torment, now that he is able to devote himself wholly to Hashem. Whatever conflicts he experiences are with his environment - not within himself. His counterpart, the moshel b'nafsho, is impelled by indecent urges, driven by inappropriate desires over which he ultimately triumphs, achieving ethical perfection for himself.

The Rambam notes a discrepancy between the opinion of the secular philosophers and Chazal concerning which of these personalities is superior. The philosophers opine that one who has no urges, no inner struggle, who is a chassid me'uleh, is the superior character type. The less one desires to commit a transgression, the less motivation he has to do wrong, the higher level of spirituality he has achieved. Our Chazal disagree, feeling that one who overcomes his inner urges, who transcends the evil motivations within himself, is truly the greater man. The Rambam quotes Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel who, in Toras Kohanim, says that a person's attitude to prohibitive mitzvos should not be one of negativity, such as: "I cannot tolerate eating prohibitive foods; I dislike wearing shatnez, clothing made of wool and linen; I abhor illicit sexual relations." Rather, he should say that he is tempted to transgress these violations; he has a desire for the prohibited and immoral, but the Torah has forbidden them. Thus, he desists from any inappropriate activities, because the Torah demands his allegiance. The Rambam posits that there is no differential between the two qualities. It all depends upon the mitzvah in question. If the particular mitzvah which concerns us is dictated by human consciousness, then it is preferable to be a chassid me'ulah.

Rav Aharon delineates between two forms of mitzvos dictated by human consciousness: First is a sin which is clearly immoral, an accepted act of barbarism, such as murder, robbery, etc. There are also such acts which are considered immoral, but are not necessarily accepted as such by everyone. The fact that Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel includes illicit sexual relations among those mitzvos which are not dictated by human consciousness indicates that morality is a term which is ambiguous in our society. We have, regrettably, seen this in our own time, as our society becomes more utilitarian, where morality changes with the whims of society.

Yehudah and Yosef reflect these two ideals. Yaakov Avinu describes Yosef as a chassid me'ulah. In his blessing to him he says, "Blessings of Heaven Above, blessings of the deep that lies below (Bereishis 49:25)." From the very onset, Yosef was a saint. While he was compelled to encounter and triumph over external struggles, he was able to breeze by the inner conflicts that plague so many of us. Yosef was a chassid me'ulah from the very "get go."

Yehudah, in contrast, was a moshel b'nafsho. Indeed, Yehudah earned significance as a penitent when, realizing his error concerning the incident with Tamar, he publicly confessed to his part in the affair. He had blundered and was willing to accept the humiliation and consequences. In his brachah to Yehudah, Yaakov says, "Yehudah is a lion's whelp; from the prey, my son, you have elevated yourself; he stooped down, he crouched as a lion; and a lioness, who shall raise him up (Bereishis 49:9)." Originally, Yehudah was a lion's whelp, impelled by various urges and drives, but he elevated himself from the prey. After his involvement in the sale of Yosef, Yehudah, the lion, which is the symbol of freedom, was willing to subordinate himself, surrendering his freedom so that he could protect Binyamin. He was a moshel b'nafsho.

Of those possessing each of the two qualities, it is the individual who is moshel b'nafsho that is suitable to rule. A ruler must have the character of moshel b'nafsho, because the majority of his populace cannot relate to the chassid me'ulah. Most people are not born perfect. They have drives, urges and desires, inner conflicts and struggles. Any one of us can be a moshel b'nafsho, however, if he sets his mind to it. Thus, it was Yehudah who was selected to be melech, king, over Klal Yisrael. He had the quality Jews could emulate.

This is why we are called Yehudim, the name depicting struggle and triumph over conflict. Yehudah, the moshal b'nafsho, is the symbol of Judaism, because the task of the Jew is to struggle - not only with the external environment, but also internally, resolving the various conflicts within his own life. We are not born perfect, but we can, and should, strive throughout our lives to achieve that sense of freedom that comes with triumph over struggles.

Rav Aharon offers an alternative rationale for calling Jews Yehudim after Yehudah. Studying Yehudah's plea for the release of Binyomin, we note two points: the anguish that Yaakov would experience as a result of Binyamin's failure to return; Yehudah's commitment to the point of acting as surety for Binyamin. From the point of view of secular law, which actually was all Yosef was considering, Yehudah's acting as surety should have taken precedence over Yaakov's anguish. Yehudah's breaking a commitment should have carried greater weight in the eyes of the Egyptian viceroy than the sorrow of an aged father.

By examining the sequence, we begin to understand the uniqueness of Yahadus, Judaism. Avraham Avinu practiced tzedakah u'mishpat - in that order. Targum Unkelos defines tzedek as k'eshot, that which is correct; and tzedakah as tzidkassa, which is charity, implying an act which is correct, proper - but with no obligation. A charitable endeavor is the right thing to do, but not necessarily an obligatory act. Mishpat is law. It implies certain inalienable rights of man. As a result of an individual's rights, society is not permitted to trespass on these rights. I own something; no one may take it from me. One who trespasses this right is a thief. That is mishpat. Thus, I am allowed by law to watch someone drown, unless I have entered into a contractual agreement with him, whereby I am obligated to save him. In that case, if I would not save him, I would be violating my commitment to him and trespassing his rights.

According to contemporary society's understanding of law, rights precede duty. In Yahadus, the concept of duty leads to the concept of rights. Thus, from the point of view of secular law, the United States government has no obligation to intervene on behalf of oppressed people throughout the world, since no contractual obligation has been made. Perhaps, this - coupled with other paranoia - motivated our country to ignore the plight of six million European Jews during World War II. In Yahadus, duty and responsibility define rights.

We now have two reasons for calling Jews Yehudim: first, to indicate the need for struggle - both inner and external - to fight our way up the ladder of spiritual ascendency; second, to underscore the concept that duty and responsibility, tzedakah, take priority over mishpat.

So said your son, Yosef: "G-d has made me master of all Egypt." (45:9)

The Ruzhiner Rebbe, zl, wonders about the "wonderful" news that Yosef was conveying to his father. Did it really make a difference to Yaakov Avinu that his son had achieved nobility in Egypt? The Patriarch surely did not measure good fortune by material success. Becoming the viceroy of Egypt might have impressed many, but it was a far cry from the values that Yaakov had established for his family. The Rebbe explains that the answer is in the word, samani, which can be defined as sam - ani, "I placed Hashem as Master over Egypt." Yosef was not attempting to impress his father with his position. He informed his father that, as a result of his position, he was able to influence the Egyptian pagans into accepting Hashem as Master of the world. This was good news. Yosef projected his position as a means to an end - not the converse.

Horav Yitzchak Zilberstein, Shlita, notes that one does not have to become viceroy over Egypt in order to influence people. Even in mundane, everyday activities that the individual carries out in a manner befitting a Torah Jew, one can achieve great things. He relates the story of a Yerushalmi Jew who visited a relative in the hospital. The relative was sedated at the moment, so the visitor removed his frock and sat down on the side of the bed, bedecked in his large, woolen Tallis kattan; he proceeded to recite Tehillim.

After a few minutes, an older gentleman of secular persuasion came by. With tears streaming down his face, he said, "You are causing me to have yearnings for my father's home. Looking at you evokes memories of the home in which I was raised many years ago. My father also wore such a large, woolen Tallis kattan over his shirt. Yes, that is the home in which I was raised."

The Yerushalmi sensed that this would be an opportune moment to talk about the past, revive old memories, and perhaps encourage a slight return to a Torah life of observance. They began to speak and after awhile, the gentleman agreed to make definite changes in his life. Shortly thereafter, the influence spread to his two married sons and their families - all of whom are observant Jews today. All because of a Tallis kattan.

Horav Yaakov Neiman, zl, Rosh Yeshivas Ohr Yisrael/Petach Tikvah, feels that the answer lies in the word, Elokim. Realistically, the average person who is fortunate to collar a distinguished position, is likely to announce, "I did it! I got it. So and so made me the boss. I got a promotion!" Rarely do we hear someone declare, "Hashem has seen to it that I was promoted," or "Hashem has delivered the position to me." It is always about "me," "I," "us" - never about Hashem. When Yaakov heard Yosef express himself with such reverence, "Hashem has made me," he was pleased. After all, so many years had transpired since Yosef had left home. Living in exile, in dungeons with the miscreants and dregs of the immoral Egyptian society, it was a miracle that Yosef remembered G-d and that He continued to play a leading role in his life. This was truly a nachas ruach, pleasure, for Yaakov.

The Rosh Yeshivah supplements this idea by calling our attention to our own lives and our individual and collective obligation - to acknowledge and recognize the miracles and wonders that sustain us daily. While some take life for granted, others recognize the miracles, but fail to pay proper gratitude to Hashem. It is almost as if we thought we could pull it off ourselves. How can we expect the "world" to acknowledge Hashem, when we fail to express our debt to Him properly ourselves?

The news was heard in Pharaoh's palace saying, "Joseph's brothers have come!" And it was pleasing in the eyes of Pharaoh and in the eyes of his servants. (45:16)

The Midrash HaGadol notes the use of u'b'einei avadav, "in the eyes of his servants," as opposed to, u'b'einei kol avadav, "in the eyes of all of his servants." This prompts Chazal to say that not all of Pharaoh's servants were overjoyed with the news that Yosef's brothers were also emigrating to Egypt. They said, "If Yosef, who is only one, was able to displace us from our positions, imagine what will be when ten more brothers arrive." This is the meaning of the pasuk in Tehillim 105:38, "Egypt was happy when they (the Jewish People) left." They celebrated their departure; they were not, however, happy when they originally arrived. As king, Pharaoh was happy about the arrival of Yosef's brothers. Considering Yosef's brilliance, he was certain that the other ten brothers would only add to his and his country's good fortune. Pharaoh had benefitted greatly from Yosef's role as viceroy. His management of the country had made Pharaoh a powerful and wealthy king. Clearly, had Yosef not succeeded in directing the country, Pharaoh would probably have been overthrown by the people. Regardless of who the king may be, the country's economic stability has priority and determines his popularity. Thus, Pharaoh realized that considering the added brain power and moral discipline of Yosef's brothers, he and his country had much to gain.

This was not the case concerning Pharaoh's close advisors, who had been demoted as a result of Yosef's ascension to the position of viceroy. They cared about themselves first, and the country was a far second. Yosef's brothers would only endanger their shaky positions even more. These were individuals who were motivated by self-centered idealism, in which every endeavor was worthy as long as it promoted "them." Their concern was not the country or Pharaoh. The focus of their concern and idealism was themselves. If their position might be threatened as a result of the brothers' arrival, they were not happy.

Likewise, when communal decisions in the area of spiritual growth present themselves, we must ask ourselves whether our decision to support or "abstain" is motivated by personal prejudice and vested interests, or by well-thought-out logical concerns which affect the well-being of the community. Regrettably, all too often, our definition of priorities becomes mired in the pursuit of our own interests, hampering our ability to think cogently and rationally.

These are the names of Yisrael's children who came to Egypt. (46:8)

The Torah lists the seventy members of the family of Yaakov Avinu. There must be some significance to detailing this potpourri of names, other than informing the reader of their identity. Horav Eliyahu Munk, zl, suggests that this list indicates their commitment to keeping their Jewish names. As the members of Yaakov's family left the shelter of Canaan to enter a new land, replete with its moral degradation, they decided to keep their names. The Torah brings out the significance of keeping names of Jewish origin as a way of warding off the threat of assimilation. Indeed, it was these original names that served as an important moral and spiritual protector which continued to serve them until their release from Egypt during the Exodus. Chazal teach us that this was one of their principal merits: She'lo shinu es shemam, "they did not alter their Jewish names," thus preserving their Jewish identity.

What is so special about a Jewish name? I think what goes into it, the lessons in life upon which each name is founded, the individual it represents, all these grant it significance. Let us take some of the Biblical names and what they represent to get a better idea of their significance. Yosef called his older son Menashe, because, Ki nashani Elokim es kol amali v'es kol bais avi, "G-d has effaced from my mind all my suffering and all of my father's household (Bereishis 41:52)." At first glance, a name given for such a reason smacks of ingratitude and heartlessness. Did Yosef consider his father's pain as he mourned his son? It seems that he sought to forget that whole chapter in his life.

Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, informs us that the nashoh does not only mean to forget, but also to be a creditor. This would interpret Yosef's naming of Menashe to mean, "Hashem has transformed my misfortunes and my family into my creditors." The Almighty has taken Yosef's travail, suffered in his youth at home and later in exile, and transformed them into instruments for his abundant happiness. Thus, Yosef expressed his debt of gratitude to his misfortunes and his family. They are the reasons for his present joy. Quite a lesson can be derived from a name. Clearly, nothing was haphazard about Menashe's name.

The Malbim interprets ki nashani as Yosef expressing his concern lest he forget his travail later in life when life has become good and his fortune has changed drastically. Yosef worried that he might forget the bad times during the good. Yosef never wanted to lose track of the bad times, because he understood how they temper the good. This is another powerful lesson delivered by a Jewish name given with aforethought.

Binyamin had ten sons. He named each one with a name which alluded to his missing brother, Yosef. Ten names - ten aspects of remembrance - this is the meaning of a Jewish name.

Let us address Yosef's wife, Osnas. Who gave her this name, and who was she? Targum Yonasan tells us that she was born to Dinah, Yaakov's daughter; her father was Shechem who had violated her. Pirkei d'Eliezer states that Dinah returned to her family with her daughter, and her brothers were unable to tolerate this product of sin. Yaakov made her an amulet upon which he inscribed: Osnas, daughter of Dinah, daughter of Yaakov. Hence, the name Osnas is derived from ason, tragedy, implying that she was the child born of a violent tragedy. Yaakov attached the amulet to a necklace which she wore around her neck. She made her way down to Egypt where she was brought up and adopted by Potifar and his wife. When Yosef became viceroy, all of the young maidens stepped up to the wall as the new leader rode through in triumph. The maidens all threw gifts to the new viceroy. Osnas was no different. Since she had nothing else with her, she threw down the amulet. Yosef caught the amulet, read its contents, and knew that Osnas was his niece. When Pharaoh insisted that he marry an Egyptian girl, Yosef chose Osnas; thus, the girl who had been named for a violent tragedy became the mother of two tribes in Klal Yisrael.

In contrast, the wicked either give names that have no meaning or names that call forth negativity and venom. The Sefer Rokeach interprets Yaakov's entreaty to Hashem, Hatzileini na mi'yad achi m'yad Eisav, "Rescue me, please, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Eisav (Bereishis 32:12)," in a novel manner. Apparently, as Yaakov was running away from Eisav, a boy was born to Eisav. Yaakov's evil brother, our archenemy Eisav, made it a point to name the infant Achi, my brother, so that he would never forget what Yaakov had done to him. Eisav conferred a legacy of hatred upon his son, commanding him that whenever he would meet up with Yaakov he should kill him. This is why Yaakov prayed to be saved, both from Eisav and from Achi. In any event, I think this "naming" serves as a paradigm of how someone who is not connected to Torah views a name.

Rabbi Pesach Krohn tells an inspirational story, which demonstrates the meaning of a Jewish name and a Jew's overwhelming desire to pay gratitude to the Almighty. The story takes place during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when the Israelis were attacked on the holiest day of the year by Arabs on all fronts. One of the critical points of the battle was in the area of the Suez Canal. The chaplains involved with the gruesome work of collecting the bodies of fallen soldiers drove up and down the area, with great care and caution gathering the bodies of their comrades. Since it was now Succos, the Rav in charge of the chaplains took along a Lulav and Esrog, so that the soldiers could perform the mitzvah.

Soldiers who were otherwise not observant asked to pray from a siddur and shake the Lulav and Esrog. War brings out the real essence of a person. Beneath the veneer of materialism, physicality and environmental pressures every Jew really wants what is proper and correct. This was their opportunity to express themselves with spiritual integrity.

The Rav arrived on Hoshanah Rabba at the last outpost near the Suez. Since he had himself already shaken the Lulav and Esrog, he could really have left it at the base. Soon a long line of soldiers formed, each waiting his turn to use the Lulav and Esrog. As they were standing in line, a young soldier driving an ammunition truck noticed the crowd that had gathered and, out of curiosity, stopped his truck, got out, and walked over to the group. "What is all the commotion about?" he asked. The soldiers explained that the Rav had come with a Lulav and Esrog. This soldier was not interested in waiting around for his turn. He was totally non-observant. Why bother? When the soldiers mentioned that this was the last day that the mitzvah could be performed for another year, he changed his mind and elected to wait.

Eventually, his turn to recite the blessings came. As he took the Lulav and Esrog into his hands and began to recite the blessing, a bomb hit his truck. The bomb blast set off multiple explosions on the truck. The blasts were so intense that they caused a deep crater where the truck had originally been parked.

Three months later, the Rav who had shared his Lulav and Esrog with so many soldiers that day - and who had noticed a unique, inspired look on the face of the ammunitions truck driver - read an announcement in the army newspaper. Apparently, the wife of the ammunitions truck driver had given birth to a little girl. The announcement included a statement by the father, "I believe with every fiber of my body that I am alive today and that I merited to see my daughter only because of the mitzvah that I was performing when my truck was hit by a bomb."

In remembrance of Hashem's goodness, he named his daughter Lulava.

Pharaoh said to Yaakov, "How many are the days of the years of your life?" Yaakov answered…"Few and bad were the days of the years of my life." (47:8,9)

The Shaagas Arye, Horav Arye Leib Gunzburg, zl, was asked to be Rav of the prestigious Jewish community in Metz, Germany. His appointment at the "advanced" age of seventy was then considered an anomaly. People began to talk. True, he was a scholar of international repute, but his age limited his ability to serve for very long. The talking continued as the malcontents and doomsayers had a field day predicting how long their illustrious new Rav would serve. Word reached the Shaagas Arye, who addressed the issue in a public address on Shabbos shortly after he arrived in Metz.

It was Parashas Vayigash, and the Rav presented a question on the parshah: "Pharaoh's 'welcome' to Yaakov was, 'How old are you?' Is this not strange? A venerable sage arrives from a distant land, the aged father of your viceroy, and this is the way he is addressed? Is this not tacky? Furthermore, Yaakov Avinu's response seems out of character, 'Few and bad have been the days of the years of my life.' Why would Yaakov complain to Pharaoh that he has led a life of adversity? It was none of his business!"

The Shaagas Arye explained that when Yaakov arrived in Egypt, the country suddenly became blessed. The abundance which they experienced was unprecedented and could only be attributed to the presence of this venerable Jew. The problem was: Would it last? Yaakov clearly was not young. How much longer could he be expected to live?

Yaakov sensed Pharaoh's concern. This is why he replied to him in the manner that he did. "You see, Pharaoh, I know I happen to appear to be very old, way beyond my actual age. It is because I have been subjected to great difficulty in my life, struggles that hastened the aging process, making me appear older than I am. Do not worry; I will be around for some time."

The Shaagas Arye concluded his address: "My friends, I am sure that my appearance is far from youthful, but, in fact, it is calumnious. I have experienced a very difficult life in the past. My earlier positions were very testy and far from financially remunerating. I am seventy years old; although I am not young, I assure you that I will enjoy longevity in this community and serve you for quite some time."

The Shaagas Arye lived to be over ninety years old, serving the community of Metz for over two decades.

Va'ani Tefillah

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

Chazal note the word yashir, which is in the future tense; hence, it should be translated as "will sing," rather than "sang." Rashi applies the simple approach to his translation: "Then, it entered their minds to sing." After seeing the incredible miracles, they decided that it was necessary to express their gratitude in song. Horav Baruch Sorotzkin, zl, explains this further. Everyone should express his gratitude to Hashem on a regular basis. We only have to look around to see His amazing wonders and constant miracles. We neglect to do so, because of the affliction called "habit." We take life for granted out of habit. Everything seems natural - almost expected - until it is taken from us. So, while we should sing shirah on a regular basis, we do not, because everything continues on a "regular" basis. When an awesome life-altering miracle occurs, we wake up and realize that each day of life is actually a miracle. Thus, miracles inspire us to acknowledge the daily miracles which we have come to accept as nature. When Bnei Yisrael experienced the miracles accompanying Krias Yam Suf, they understood that they should sing shirah - not only for the overt miracles which they had just seen, but for everything which they had taken for granted. It is all the work of Hashem. Thus, they then decided to sing shirah, for everything, not only Krias Yam Suf.

Mazel tov and best wishes to
Rabbi and Mrs. Simcha Dessler
on the occasion of the
Bar-Mitzvah of their sons
Yehoshua n"y Chaim Ozer n"y
Special wishes to the esteemed grandparents
Rabbi & Mrs. N.W. Dessler
Mr. & Mrs. Moshe Bertram

Peninim on the Torah is in its 20th year of publication. The first fifteen years have been published in book form.

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