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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

PARSHAS MIKEITZ

And it was at the end of two years. (41:1)

Yosef was only supposed to be in prison for ten years, because he had spoken lashon hora, slander, against his ten brothers. Why did he stay for two more years? Chazal explain that his reliance on the sar ha'mashkin, chamberlain, bespoke a failing in his level of bitachon, trust in Hashem. An individual of Yosef's spiritual level knows better than to rely on people. It is all up to Hashem - or nothing. Only the Almighty has the power to save. Indeed, whatever a man catalyzes requires Hashem's complete assistance.

In his sefer Yado Bakol, Horav Eliyahu m'Izmir, raises a question concerning the application of middah k'neged middah, measure for measure, regarding the ten-year punishment meted out to Yosef. He spoke lashon hora against his ten brothers. His punishment should consist of some sort of pain or humiliation. How is lashon hora related to Yosef being subjected to a restricted environment?

The author explains that, when one slanders another person, he causes him shame, which results in his attempt to "bury himself" from the stares of people who have just discovered his "secret." A baal lashon hora, slanderer, causes the subject of his slander to feel ill at ease in the public sector. He hides from people in such a manner that he ends up living in a self-imposed prison, in order to avoid the stares, the whispers and other innuendo that are endemic to the public reaction to a scandal.

Yosef caused his brothers to feel shame and seek isolation. As a result, he was incarcerated. Perhaps the next time we are about to "save the world" by slandering those who have probably "earned" it, we should consider the repercussions to ourselves.

Now let Pharaoh seek out a discerning and wise man and set him over the land of Egypt. (41:33)

Yosef was asked to interpret Pharaoh's dream - not to add his personal opinion concerning its implementation. Yet, when he rendered the interpretation, he rendered free, unrequested advice. Why did he do this? Horav Gamliel Rabinowitz, Shlita, explains that, actually, the advice was part of the dream's interpretation. He quotes a vignette which he heard from his father concerning the Chofetz Chaim, zl. A man came to the venerable sage, complaining bitterly that, at one point in his life, parnassah, earning a livelihood, had been no problem for him. He did well, and he had money to spare. Now, regrettably, he was barely eking out a living, and he was often subject to counting pennies for his Shabbos preparations.

The Chafetz Chaim explained to him that his lot in life had not really changed. It is just that a person must realize that Hashem sends us His gift in various ways. Some receive a steady income; it might be a lower lump sum, but it is steady and timely. Others receive a one-time lump sum, and it is up to them to be astute in its management. If they spend it all immediately upon receipt, they will be left penniless down the road of life. The Chafetz Chaim explained, "You, my friend, received one large gift from the Almighty. Sadly, you spent it all in a short amount of time. Now, you are complaining that Hashem is not good to you. He was very good to you; you, however, squandered your gift by spending it all right away."

In a similar vein, Yosef explained to Pharaoh that, indeed, he was receiving a wonderful gift - seven years of plenty. He must, however, be aware that this is a one-time gift. If he were to spend it all in "one place," he would starve during the years of hunger. Thus, Yosef was not really rendering advice; he was explaining the dream.

This idea applies likewise to us. We rarely look back in time when we "had it all." Little did we realize then that we were supposed to apportion it in such a manner that it would last. Some are fortunate to receive a large bulk, which replaces the usual steady income. Others are provided with sustenance on a regular basis. In any event, we see that it is not always the size of the gift, but how one uses it, that counts. A large gift, over a long period of time, may not be that large, while a smaller gift, which is consistent and timely, can make all of the difference in the world.

And without you, no man may lift up his hand. (41:44)

Thirty years of servitude is a harsh sentence for a young man in the prime of his life. Yosef knew it was not going to be easy, and he was prepared to live with the consequences of his sale to the Yishmaelim. When it was decreed by Heaven that it was time for Yosef to be released, it came all of a sudden. Yosef had no warning that he was leaving. He never despaired of being released one day. The last thing on his radar was being released, and - almost overnight - the slave becoming the Egyptian Viceroy. This teaches us that one should never lose heart, despair of hope, because Hashem's salvation can come at any time.

Chazal stress that Yosef's release from prison took place on Rosh Hashanah. They intimate a parallel between Yosef's release and the pending decision concerning our own future. What relationship exists between Yosef's release on Rosh Hashanah and our prayers for a happy and healthy new year? Horav Mordechai Eliyahu, zl, explains that, throughout the year, man incarcerates himself in a self-imposed makeshift prison under the control of the yetzer hora, his evil-inclination. As long as the yetzer hora rules over him, enticing him to sin, man remains in prison. If he is able to break free of the yetzer hora's hold over him, he liberates himself from the prison.

On Rosh Hashanah, man is reminded that Yosef had also been in prison and was released. He eventually went on to become the Egyptian leader, controlling the lives of every man, woman and child in that country. As Yosef arose from the abyss of prison on Rosh Hashanah, so, too, do we escape from the grip of the yetzer hora. Man, however, has a way of justifying his weakness in succumbing to the yetzer hora by saying that, after all, "I am only human. The evil inclination is stronger than I am." To him, Hashem replies, "You begin. You make the attempt at breaking the grip the yetzer hora holds on your life." Once you start the process, Hashem will do the rest. We must begin the motions down here; Hashem will complete the process.

On Rosh Hashanah, we tell man that he must break out of prison. Otherwise, he remains a prisoner to his inclinations. When the yetzer hora sees him breaking free of his ties, he leaves him alone. The yetzer hora is not interested in wasting its time. Only someone who manifests a sense of servitude to the yetzer hora will be its focus. If he sees a person attempting to repent, to rise out of the morass of sin, he will move on to someone else. Man must have control over his destiny. Som tasim alecha melech, "Place upon yourself a king" (Devarim 17:15), is the injunction for the nation to select a proper leader. It may also be used as a personal exhortation for one to reign over himself. Hashem helps those who exhibit strength - not cowardice. To declare that one has erred and wants to return takes incredible strength. It is but the first step. Hashem will lend a hand to he who is sincere.

Yosef called the firstborn Menashe, for "G-d has made me forget all my hardship and my entire father's household. (41:51)

Unquestionably, Yosef's home life was difficult. Being reviled and shunned by his brothers, regardless of its appropriateness or misguided nature, did not provide the setting for a happy home life. He had every reason to want to forget the hardships that he had endured in his father's home. Yet, he did not remonstrate over it, because he understood that it had been Hashem's will, as part of a larger Divine Plan. He bore his brothers no ill will and carried no grudge. As the Baal Akeidah explains, he thanked Hashem for enlightening him concerning his difficult past. Now, it all made sense. How could he place blame on anyone if, in fact, they had all been pawns carrying out the will of the Almighty?

Yet, Yosef did carry an emotional burden. He was acutely aware of his Father's pain. To lose a child that was so dear to him, so much a part of his life, was, for Yaakov Avinu, an unbearable tragedy - one that continued to haunt him during this entire time. Surely, Yosef was not belittling his father's pain when he offered his gratitude to Hashem for allowing him to forget his past. No, Yosef carried the emotional burden throughout his exile from his father, because of the ban his brothers had imposed on him, preventing him from informing Yaakov. Hashem helped him to forget the pain by giving him other things to think about. Otherwise, Yosef would have literally broken down from emotion, out of empathy for his father's pain.

Horav Eliyahu Baruch Finkel, zl, quotes Horav Raphael Soloveitchik, zl, who heard from the Brisker Rav, zl, that Yosef was grateful to Hashem for allowing him to forget his home. If Yosef would have remembered Yaakov's home, he could never have survived Egypt. The culture - with its moral depravity, its paganism and licentiousness - was in stark contrast to the idyllic spiritual utopia that permeated Yaakov's home. When one remembers the spiritual beauty and refinement of character that characterized Yaakov's home, confronting the Egyptian lifestyle could cause one to snap! Imagine taking someone who had been raised in a delicate, spiritually and morally pristine environment and placing him in contact with the lowest of the low, making him spend a week with a biker group during one of their periods of cultural depravity, when they do whatever pleases them - without shame, no holds barred. The person would literally go out of his mind. This is what would have happened to Yosef if he would have faithfully remembered his father's home. This is why Hashem allowed him to forget. For this, he was grateful. Sometimes, what we do not know cannot hurt us.

But Binyamin, Yosef's brother, Yaakov did not sendů for he said, "Lest disaster befall him." (42:4)

The words yikranu, spelled with an aleph, is related to kara, to call, to designate. When Yehudah repeats (to Yosef) his father's fear concerning Binyamin's safety, he says, Ulekachtem gam es zeh me'im panai v'karahu ason, "So you should take this one, too, from my presence, and disaster will befall him" (44:29). In this instance v'karahu is spelled with a hay, related to karah, denotes an unrelated occurrence by chance. Thus, we have two words which sound the same: with an aleph, it implies deliberation, designation, calling with a purpose; with a hay, it denotes a chance meeting, an unrelated occurrence which just happens. Why is there a change in the wording when referring to Yaakov Avinu and Yehudah?

Horav Yaakov Galinsky, zl, explains that Yaakov was implying a powerful lesson concerning Hashgachah Pratis, Divine Providence. Chance is not a real category, and the word coincidence should not be in the believing Jew's lexicon. Every occurrence is orchestrated by Hashem for a reason and a purpose. Nothing "just happens." Every creature is Hashem's agent, deliberately placed in a designated place at a specific time, to carry out Hashem's will. To send Binyamin on a journey meant subjecting him to a sakanah, danger. Travel in those days was not like it is today. We have a rule that Satan mekatreig b'shaas ha'sakanah, "Satan prosecutes during a time of danger." When one is in a dangerous position, he is subject to Satan's negative denouncements, which can have an adverse effect on his safety. Yaakov Avinu knew this. Yehudah also knew and believed this. When Yehudah spoke with the Egyptian viceroy, he had to talk a language that a pagan understood. The pagan does not understand the concept of Providence; he is clueless to the dangers which result from the Satan's negative manipulation. To him, it is all coincidence and chance. Thus, Yehudah said karahu with a hay. Otherwise, the pagan would not have understood.

In his commentary to the beginning of Sefer Vayikra, Rashi distinguishes between the manner in which Hashem spoke with Moshe Rabbeinu and the manner in which he spoke to the pagan prophet, Bilaam. The word vayikra, with an aleph, is used when Hashem summoned Moshe. It is premeditated and purposeful. Hashem wished to speak with Moshe. Hashem's prophecy to Bilaam, however, is introduced with vayikar, lacking the aleph, implying mikreh, chance. While Hashem did want to speak to Bilaam, He did not do so with great love. It was almost as if he were speaking to him by chance.

Bilaam's philosophy is one of chance. Nothing in this world is deliberate. It is all random occurrence, often without rhyme or reason. Concerning Amalek's attack against the Jewish People, the Torah writes, Asher karcha baderech, "That he happened upon you" (Devarim 25:18). To Amalek, it is all occurrences, isolated happenings which have no source. Pharaoh thought he could prevail over Moshe's plagues by calling out his magicians. He foolishly thought that he had the power to prevail over Hashem. The frogs, lice - even the splitting of the Red Sea - were all chance occurrences. He could deal with it. How wrong he was.

Indeed, the Ramban writes that the primary lesson of the exodus from Egypt was to open up our eyes, to teach us that every occurrence has a reason and a purpose. In his famous commentary (Shemos 13:16), he writes, "From the great and awesome miracles, man learns to concede in the hidden miracles." The overt miracles teach us that everything - regardless of its overt nature - is a miracle. Nothing just happens!

As Yaakov Avinu was about to take leave of this world, he gathered together his family, and said, "Heiasfu v'agidah lachem eis asher yikra eschem b'acharis ha'yamim, "Assemble yourselves and I will tell you what will befall you in the End of Days" (Bereishis 49:1). Here, too, Yaakov uses yikra with an aleph, because he sought to ingrain in the Jewish psyche the principle that whatever will happen (in the End of Days) will not "just happen," but will be a purposeful and providential message. What will "happen" will actually be Hashem sending a summons.

Rav Galinsky quotes Horav Chaim Shmuelevitz, zl, who observed that people stop their conversation to listen to an announcement. For example, a group of people are gathered together engrossed in conversation when they hear an announcement over the loudspeaker, informing them about a funeral that is about to take place. Immediately, the conversation stops, so that they can find out who has passed away.

Why do we not listen to our messages? Hashem is constantly talking to us. The messages come in various forms. At times, something happens to a friend or acquaintance, and we are supposed to derive a lesson from it. It would be a grave mistake to ignore the subtle and not-so-subtle hints that are occurring around us.

He took Shimon from them and imprisoned him before their eyes. (42:24)

Yosef took Shimon as a hostage until the brothers would return with Binyamin. Rashi explains that it was Shimon who had thrown Yosef into the well, and he was the one who had contemptuously referred to Yosef as the baal ha'chalomos, "the dreamer." Alternatively, Rashi explains that allowing Shimon and Levi to be together could have been dangerous. As the ones who slew the entire city of Shechem, he feared that their companionship could lead to a lethal conspiracy against him. In any event, Yosef felt he had reason to fear Shimon. In his inimitable manner, Horav Aryeh Leib Heyman, zl, draws on his encyclopedic knowledge to weave a historical tapestry concerning Shimon and none other than the holy Tanna, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, author of the Zohar Hakadosh.

Veritably, Hashem's hanhagah, manner of dealing, with a tzaddik of the caliber of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai is one of great ambiguity and incredulity. While we are not able to understand, it is not even our place to question it. Rav Heyman feels that some form of elucidation may be suggested and could very well be illuminating and inspirational. The first question concerning Rabbi Shimon is about the need for him and his son to be hidden for twelve years in a cave; and then, after they came out, he had to return for another year.

Rav Heyman quotes the Midrash Mishlei that states: "The execution of the Ten Holy Martyrs, the Tannaim who were brutally murdered by the Roman government, was in direct punishment for the sin of selling Yosef. Indeed, the effects of this sin prevail in every generation." We have just quoted Rashi who teaches that Shimon was the driving force behind the mechiras Yosef, sale of Yosef. Thus, Shimon's descendants have a greater responsibility to "repay" the debt of mechiras Yosef. They - the collective family - more than anyone else, carry the greatest onus of guilt for this familial tragedy, in which brother sold brother.

Indeed, we find a parallel in Pinchas' slaying of Zimri, the Prince of Shimon. Pinchas was chosen to lead the Jewish People in their battle against Midyan. In one of his explanations, Rashi says that Pinchas' mother was a descendant of Yosef - who had originally been sold to the Midyanim. This was payback time; therefore, he was the general of the army. Rav Heyman adds that, if Pinchas had led the battle against Midyan because of revenge, he likewise had killed Zimri out of a sense of revenge stemming from righteous indignation. Yosef, who had been sold through the efforts of Shimon, maintained his elevated level of moral purity and did not fall prey to cohabiting with Potifar's wife - a pagan; yet, Zimri, scion of Shimon, publicly sinned with the pagan Kosbi!

Alternatively, since in every generation, the sin of mechiras Yosef comes to the fore and "someone" must answer for it, who better than Zimri, descendant of Shimon, primary motivator of mechiras Yosef?

Interestingly, the first two Tannaim to be murdered were Rabbi Yishmael Kohen Gadol, who could be held responsible for the sin of selling Yosef to the "Yishmaelim," followed by Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel, namesake of Shimon, who stood at the helm of the sale.

The Rav now suggests that perhaps Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai was in some way paying for Yosef's twelve-year incarceration in the Egyptian prison - the result of Shimon's advocating the sale of Yosef. Add the one year that he spent in the home of Potifar, we have thirteen years during which Yosef suffered imprisonment. Hashem chose this great tzaddik and his son to be their generation's representatives in repairing the sin of mechiras Yosef.

And may Almighty G-d grant you mercy before the man. (43:14)

Rashi explains Yaakov Avinu's farewell to his sons: "Now that you have the money, a gift for the viceroy, and your brother Binyamin, you lack nothing but prayer - I will pray for you." The decision was made that they were to return to Egypt. If so, they were to take along a gift for the Egyptian ruler. Second, they required funds for purchasing the grain. Third, they should return the money they had discovered in their bags. Fourth, they would take along double money, just in case the price had doubled. Fifth, take Binyamin. It would seem that now they were all set, packed and ready to go. They were prepared for all contingencies. Now, Yaakov made another entry into the equation: prayer. One can have all the necessary provisions. Indeed, he could have everything that might be needed. It was still insufficient - without prayer. Unless they had siyata di'Shmaya, Divine assistance, they could not be certain of success, so Yaakov would pray.

Likewise, we find that when Tamar was about to be burned for her alleged act of impropriety, Targum Yonasan ben Uziel writes that she sought the three items that Yehudah had given her, but she could not locate them. She raised her eyes Heavenward and prayed, "Hashem, I beg for Your compassion. I pray that You answer me today and illuminate my eyes to locate the three mashkonos, securities, which Yehudah left with me. [In return] I will establish three descendants who will walk into the fire to sanctify Your Holy Name (Chananyah, Mishael and Azaryah)." At that moment, Hashem signaled to the Angel Michael to illuminate Tamar's eyes, and, lo and behold, the securities were right in front of her.

They had been present the whole time, but she had not seen them. Why? Hashem was waiting for her entreaty. One should never rely on himself. One should never think that "it is all in the bag." Without Divine assistance - nothing - absolutely nothing - is for certain. Had Tamar not raised her eyes in prayer, the securities would not have been located, and history as we know it would have been altered.

In the Talmud Sotah 48b, Chazal state: "Anyone who has bread in his basket (has a sufficient amount of food), yet he asks, 'What will I eat tomorrow?' is considered to be miketanei emunah, "of little faith." Simply, this means that one who has a sufficient amount of sustenance should not occupy himself with worrying about what will be tomorrow. Today is today - tomorrow is another day. Hashem provided for today - He will, likewise, provide for tomorrow. Horav Moshe Toledano, Shlita, quotes Horav David Abuchatzeira, Shlita, who explains that miketanaei emunah, he of little belief, applies also to the fellow who has bread for today - and, thus, feels secure. He should not be so certain that he will have bread for today. Nothing is for sure! A person must keep this idea firmly entrenched in his mind, so that he does not lose sight of the critical significance of prayer. We can rely neither in anyone; nor on anything - only on Hashem. He is the only reality - the only One upon Whom we may - and should - rely.

Then Yosef rushed because his compassion for his brother had been stirred. (43:30)

Yosef's conversation with his brother Binyamin was an emotion-laden experience. Yosef asked Binyamin if he had a brother from the same mother as he. Binyamin responded in the affirmative, but he did not know his whereabouts. When Yosef asked Binyamin concerning his own family, the latter replied that he had ten sons - each one named in a manner commemorating the loss of his brother. When Yosef heard how far Binyamin had gone in perpetuating his memory, his emotions were stirred.

Two powerful lessons can be derived from here. First, the greatest tribute one can make to the memory of a person is to name someone close after him. While the departed is no longer here, his namesake is, and whenever one comes in contact with the namesake, he recalls the memory of the departed. Binyamin did not know what had taken place concerning Yosef on that fateful day. The family had no clear proof indicating that he had died. He could quite possibly still be alive - suffering in some miserable place, which had been the case for many years. Binyamin did not want to lose sight of his brother's plight. He did not want to forget that he had once had a brother. He was not an only child. He had a brother.

Furthermore, we see the incredible love that Yosef harbored for Binyamin. Horav Gamliel Rabinowitz, Shlita, notes that the Torah writes that Yosef was compelled to leave, for his compassion for his brother had been stirred. Yosef was filled with emotion only because he felt bad for Binyamin. He was causing him pain with every minute that he did not reveal himself to him. It was not about Yosef; it was only about Binyamin. The love for one another that permeated the hearts of Binyamin and Yosef should be a standard for others to emulate.

I am Hashem, Your G-d, Who took you out of Egypt.

The imperative of hakoras hatov, gratitude, is far-reaching. It demands that one introspect and calculate the amount of good fortune which has resulted from a single favor that he received from his benefactor. Thus, the level of gratitude must be commensurate with the favor that he received. If one puts his mind to it, he quickly realizes that he owes much, much more than he ever imagined. Having said this, let us address the above pasuk. Yetzias Mitzrayim, the exodus from Egypt, was a benefit of epic proportions which included many other kindnesses which all go under the heading of yetzias Mitzrayim. This applies to Klal Yisrael being spared physically and spiritually, the splitting of the Red Sea, and their being chosen as His People, with the final crowning event being Mattan Torah, the Giving of the Torah. We must not ignore the gift of Eretz Yisrael, to which we were brought after our forty year sojourn in the wilderness. If the gratitude we owe is to be commensurate with the benefit we have received, then there is absolutely no end to the obligation of gratitude that we owe to the Almighty for taking us out of Egypt! Therefore, the next time we look at the Tzitzis, we should look at them in such a manner that they remind us of yetzias Mitzrayim; we will then realize how much we owe Hashem.

In Memory of
Florence Goldberg Levine
Beloved Mother, Grandmother and
Great Grandmother
Monmouth County, New Jersey


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

The Fifteenth volume is available at your local book seller or directly from Rabbi Scheinbaum.

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