Back to this week's parsha | Previous Issues

Parashat Mikess


"And behold, seven cows rose up from the river"

The Ramban zs"l explains, "Since the Egyptians drank from the river, and it is thus their source of hunger and prosperity, he saw them rising from the river. The cows symbolize plowing, while the sheaves symbolize the harvest, as Yosef said to his brothers, '.that there is no plowing or harvest.' Pharaoh thus saw that the river would rise only a little bit, and there will therefore be no plowing. And where there will be a bit of planting in the moist areas, an eastern wind will come and consume them, as he saw them withered by the eastern winds."

"And behold, seven cows rose up from the river"

Many commentaries have asked, why did Yosef volunteer advice to Pharaoh? Did the king appoint him as an advisor? Rav Ovadia Seforno zs"l answers that, in truth, the solution suggested by Yosef was actually part of the interpretation of the dream, and was thus warranted as part of the task for which he was brought. If the seven healthy cows symbolized the seven years of prosperity and the seven emaciated cows represented the seven years of famine, then why did the dream present the two groups of cows as standing next to each other? What significance is there to the fact that the two groups of cows were situated near each other? It must be that the seven years of famine would be "right next to" the years of plenty. This was facilitated through Yosefs plan of storing grain during the years of plenty to prepare the impending famine.

"And behold, seven cows rose up from the river"

Although we do not claim proficiency in the hidden areas of Torah, it is worthwhile to at least get a glimpse into the sheer depth of our sacred Torah. The "Siftei Kohen" zs"l, one of the students of theAr"I zs"l, cites from the Zohar that this dream refers to Yosef and his sublime quality, specifically the quality of "yesod" which receives gives sustenance, as it were, to the seven "sefirot" of goodness and blessing. The river, which provided water for the entire land of Egypt, alludes to Yosef, who sustained Egypt during the years of famine, as "Nilus" (Hebrew for "Nile") has the same numerical value as Yosef. The seven cows represent the seven "sefirot" which receive their sustenance through him. "Olot sheva parot" ("Seven cows rose") has the same numerical value as "shefa" (bounty, sustenance) - and thus, the entire dream symbolizes the hidden workings of the Upper Worlds.

"And behold, seven cows rose up from the river"

Rabbenu Behayei zs"l writes (his source being the Midrash in our parashah) that the seven healthy cows and the seven emaciated cows in Pharaohs dream equals fourteen; he then recalled the dream to Yosef, another fourteen; Yosef repeated the dream over the course of his interpretation, for a total of forty-two. Now two years into the famine, Yaakov came down to Egypt and the famine ended as a result of the blessing which accompanied him. However, the promise of the forty-two years was still to be fulfilled, as over a thousand years later the pasuk states, "Egypt will be desolate, it will not be settled for forty years" (Yehezkel 29) - thus completing the total of forty-two years of famine.

"It was, after two years"

The Hid"a zs"l cites from Rabbenu Efrayim zs"l that this expression alludes to Hanukah, as each letter of this phrase - "Vayehi mikess shenatayim yamim" - stands for a word: "Vkaasher Yohanan hishmid yevanim mibet kodshenu, ssivanu shenadlik nerot tamnia yomei MeHanukah, yanihenah missad yamin mehayossei" - "And when Yohanan defeated the Greeks from our sacred house, he commanded us that we should light candles throughout the eight days of Hanukah, it should be placed on the right side when leaving."


Rabbi Yosef Hamaaravi zs"l

Rosh Hodesh Tevet marks the anniversary of the passing of Rabbi Yosef Hamaaravi zs"l, who is buried in Elhamamah, Tunisia. Commemorations of the day will take place in several locations throughout Israel, the central one being in the Bet Kenesset named for him, in Ramlah.

Rabbi Yosef Hamaaravi seems to have come from one of the North-African countries to Ssefat and became one the of great students of the Ar"I zs"l. It is told that when the Ar"I gathered in Meron to teach his students the hidden secrets of the Torah, he arranged his students in the same arrangement as was used by Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai with his students. The Ar"I sat in the spot where Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai sat, he had one of his students sit in the spot where Rabbi Elazar, the son of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai, sat, a second was told to sit in the place of Rabbi Yehudah, a third in the seat of Rabbi Abba, and Rabbi Yosef Hamaaravi was seated in the place of Rabbi Yossi, as he emanated from the root of Rabbi Yossis soul. Once, the Ar"I and his students went out into the field to receive the Shabbat, and he suddenly asked them, "Do you want to receive Shabbat in Yerushalayim? We can go there, right now [with a miraculous kefissat haderech]!" His students hesitated a moment: their wives would be worried, their husbands suddenly leaving the city. After a moment of their hesitation, the Ar"I clapped his hands in frustration and said, "Oh! If you would have immediately responded with fervor that you want to go, it would have been a moment of appeasement before the Almighty, and the redemption would have arrived. But because you hesitated, the redemption has been delayed!" He continued that for this hesitation, anger has been aroused in the Heavens and a death penalty has been issued for them, but the ArI intervened on their behalf, and they would instead be exiled.

Rabbi Yosef Hamaaravi was one of these students, and he was exiled to Tunisia, settling in El Hamamah where he disseminated the Torah of his mentor until his death. May his merit protect us, forever.


The Viper

There exist thirty-eight species of snakes in Israel, including eight kinds of poisonous snakes. The most common and most dangerous of these is the viper, the topic of our discussion this week.

The viper belongs to the same family as the horned snake and the rattlesnake. However, whereas these are found mostly in desert regions, the viper can be found in settled areas, as well, not only in fields and orchards, but often it will penetrate into storage houses, stables and chicken coups, as well. It grows up to a meter-and-a-quarter long, its body is thick and its three-part head is covered with small scales, smaller at least then the scales on the rest of its body. Glands secreting poison are located on each side of its head. As these glands are quite large, the snakes head appears significantly larger than its actual size. The danger involved in approaching the viper lies not in the tongue, which it thrusts out to smell, and not even its frightening breath - but rather in its poisonous teeth. Its teeth are quite sophisticated, long and hollow, and they are doubled backwards. When the viper comes upon potential prey, it straightens its neck, and at the same time its two poisonous teeth straighten in the upper cheek and then penetrate straight into the particle like a syringe into a persons flesh. The poison is then transferred from the glands in the cheek into the victims body. Like other snakes, the viper does not bite of its own initiative, nor will it chase after someone without provocation. Most cases of tragedy occur when a person unknowingly sticks his hand or foot into a place where the viper happens to be residing.

The biting is the snakes method of defense against either real or apparent danger which looms before him. Today, after years of research and experimentation, victims of snakebites are treated with a special injection.

After the injection, the chances of fatality are lowered, but people should still be warned not to place their bare hands or feet in potentially dangerous areas.

When discussing poisonous snakes who have the capacity to kill a person with their poison, we are immediately reminded of Hazals comment, "The best of snakes - crush its brain!" If this militant attitude applies to the snake which threatens our physical existence, certainly we must apply this message to the "snake" which endangers us spiritually, the evil inclination.

When he attacks, either with sly words of enticement, fear or in the form of a kind, gentle snake, a person must stand strong and withstand the appeal. He must gird himself with strength and discipline and, quite simply, "crush its brain." One must never argue with his yesser hara or even try to explain - just deal him a mighty blow, thereby achieving a further level in his service of Hashem.


Measure for Measure (20)

Flashback: A rich man once, through his insensitivity, led to the untimely death of an impoverished Torah scholar. The scholars soul was denied entry into Gan Eden since the wealthy man was decreed to die on account of the poor man. The poor man was, however, granted permission to appear to the wealthy man and guide him along a path of repentance. He ordered the wealthy man to dress up as a peasant and study Torah day and night, refusing food from everyone. When he was hungry he was allowed to ask food only from his own family. When he went to his home, they beat him and laughed at him, allowing him to eat only from the bread left out for the chickens. His constant return to his home to receive insults, blows and stale bread earned him a widespread reputation as an insane and mentally disturbed person.

And thus, when the peasant proceeded to get something to eat together with the mockery of beatings, a procession of children accompanied him, and they called him names and threw dirt along the way. This vocal entourage escorted him all the way until the magnificent house of the wealthy miser, and the family went to see what all the commotion was about. They saw this stubborn peasant who stuck to their home like an awfully strange visitor, continually subjecting himself to shame and mockery, not to mention punches and kicks. They saw the group of frivolous children who accompanied the peasant with a cacophonous chorus of hisses, insults and curses. They, too, assumed the behavior of these immature schoolchildren, forgetting for a moment their anguish over the loss of the head of the family who suddenly disappeared. They joined the brigade of clowns, clapping their hands at the peasant who was surrounded by insults and shameful laughter. They cried delightfully, "Behold, the lunatic comes!" As he humbly approached their home to ask for something to eat, his own children ran up to him. He wanted so much to hug them and hold them tightly against his chest. But they would not smile at him - they laughed at him. One pulled his hair, the other at his beard. While one would hold his clothing, the other dragged his feet, as others jumped on his back or obstructed his path. They laughed uncontrollably when he fell to the ground. They had acquired a new game, a game which cost them only a few pieces of stale bread. They could even add some vegetable peels, as well. And so, with song and glee, the children escorted him - for the first time - into their home.

to be continued


The young Yosef, the victim of false charges, is cast into the dungeon, an eternal prison. He managed well in his prison cell, attending to the needs of the inmates and eventually earning special privileges. But his situation was irreversible, as he remained a lowly slave, forgotten by all, with no family to lobby for his release. A small ray of light appeared when the wine-bearer was freed from the cell and promised to plead on Yosefs behalf upon being freed. A half a year, a year, two years pass by - and nothing happens.

And then, all of a sudden, with amazing speed - "They hurried him from the dungeon, he cut his hair and changed his clothing, and he stood before Pharaoh." Before he knew it, he was the viceroy of Egypt.

How did all this happen? "It was after two years" The Midrash associates this term, "mikess," with the pasuk, "He [Hashem] put an end [kess] to the darkness." It only appeared that the darkness would remain forever, that the situation would never be changed. But there was a limit to the darkness, and once the moment arrived - there occurred a quick turn of events, and Yosef emerged from darkness to the ultimate light!

Indeed, so will occur when the time comes for our ultimate redemption. One moment, we will be stuck in the mire of exile, with all the national and individual crises, problems of health and poverty from which we suffer. And then, in an instant, the light of salvation will shine through, bringing us to the highest of peaks. May this unfold speedily, in our day!


A Collection of Halachot According to the Order of the Shulhan Aruch, Based on the Rulings of Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a

by Rav David Yossef shlit"a, Rosh Bet Midrash Yehaveh Daat

Chapter 4: The Laws of Washing Ones Hands in the Morning

Continued From Last Week

If one hears one of the "devarim shebikdushah" - such as "kadish," kedushah" or "borchu" - before washing his hands in he morning, or, similarly, if he hears a berachah before washing his hands, he should quickly wipe his hands on some surface (for we are afraid that he touched unclean parts of the body) and answer that which needs to be recited. Similarly, if one hears thunder in the middle of the night or in the morning before washing his hands he should wipe his hands on a surface and then recite the appropriate berachah. If he does not plan on going back to sleep afterwards, then he should wash his hands first. One who is stringent to wash his hands before even thinking about matters of Torah is deserving of blessing.

The Berachah, "Al Netilat Yadayim"

One must recite the berachah of "al netilat yadayim" after washing his hands in the morning. Optimally, the blessing should be recited before drying his hands. However, if one did not recite the berachah before drying his hands, he may recite the berachah afterwards.

Similarly, if one cannot recite the berachah before drying his hands, such as if he is in an unclean room, he should recite the berachah afterward. Even one who recites the berachah in the Bet Kenesset has authorities on whom to rely. In any event, it is preferable to recite the berachah as soon after the drying as possible. (All this applies specifically to the washing in the morning. Regarding hand-washing prior to meals, however, the berachah may not be recited after the hands are dried, because a berachah is never recited when its requirement is in doubt.)

One who cannot wash both hands, such as one who has a cast or bandage on one hand which he cannot get wet, or one who only has one hand - may still recite the berachah "al netilat yadayim," both when he washes in the morning and when he washes prior to eating.

Washing Ones Face and Rinsing Ones Mouth

The Berayta (Shabbat 50b) states that a person must wash his face, hands and feet each day for the sake of his Creator, as the pasuk states (Mishlei 16:4), "Everything which Hashem has done is for His sake." According to the Rambam (Hilchot Tefilah 4:3), this refers to washing in the morning before tefilah. However, as far as the actual halachah is concerned, it seems that there is no requirement to wash ones feet in the morning. One should preferably wash his face in the morning after washing his hands before reciting Shaharit. One should rinse his mouth, as well.

The Berachah of "Asher Yassar" in the Morning

The custom of the Sefaradim and Eastern communities is not to recite "asher yassar" in the morning if one did not perform his bodily functions. Some Ashkenazim have the custom of reciting "asher yassar" in the morning upon waking, together with "al netilat yadayim," regardless whether one had performed his bodily functions. After waking up, however, one does not recite "asher yassar" unless he performs his bodily functions. Even according to this custom of the Askenazim, one should preferably perform his functions in the morning so that he can recite the berachah according to all opinions and thereby avoid a situation of doubt. The same applies to the Sefaradim and Eastern communities.


A story appears in Sefer Hashmonaim. This work is not part of the canonized Tanach as it was not written with "ruah hakodesh." However, experts claim that this book was written by people of that period and presents an accurate testimony of the history of the time. The book tells of the revolt against the Hellenists, of Yehudah the Maccabis brilliant leadership of a tiny army, with just a small arsenal, overturning the forces of the Greek overpowering empire. First, they defeated the enemy post in Samaria which was led by Apolonius. Siron, the general of Aram, drafted all the soldiers in the region, but the Hasmoneans defeated them in the battle of Bet Horon. But the empire responded when Antiochus assembled all his forces under the charge of three experienced generals: Gorgiash, Ptolmey and Niknor. The army numbered 40,000 soldiers and seven-thousand horsemen, and all the soldiers received their salary from Antiochus in advance. He allocated this budget by selling ninety Jewish slaves, confident that he would win them back in victory. The Greek army encamped in the Amaus Valley and filled the valley to capacity.

How did Yehudah prepare for this battle, which seemed doomed to failure? Incredibly, he gathered his soldiers for a day of fasting and prayer in Misspah, near Jerusalem, which was, by that time, desolate and under conquest. Instead of bringing entertainers and food, he ordered a day of fast and crying, he actually weakened the strength of his fighters by withholding food and insisting upon repentance and prayer.

Yehudahs tactic can be better understood through the following story. Secular Jews in the city of Brisk, in an attempt to make a mockery of the religious community, staged a play depicting what a religious army under Torah authority would have looked like. The curtain rose over a group of soldiers dressed in black as the kohen spoke to the group: "Whoever has built a new home and did not dedicate it - should return to his home, lest he die in battle and another dedicate it" A group of soldiers marched and left their position. The kohen continued, "Whoever has planted a vineyard and did not perform hilul or who was betrothed to a woman and did not marry her - should return to his home" Again, a handful of got up and left. The kohen then proceeded to announce the final release: "Whoever is afraid and soft of heart - referring to those afraid on sins which they have committed - should return to their homes"

Immediately, panic broke out among the soldiers. Who has not committed one sin or another? Who has never spoken any "lashon hara" or wasted any time from Torah study? They all picked themselves up and left.

On the stage stood only three people - the kohen, and two elderly men. The first was the Vilna Gaon, and the second was the author of "Shaagat Aryeh." They engaged in an involved "halachic" discussion as to which one of them has the privilege of beginning the battle against the enemy. The frivolous audience broke out in hysterical laughter.

Understandably, the secularists relished this or any opportunity to poke fun at the Torah. The religious community, however, turned to Rabbi Hayim of Brisk to ask for his response.

Reb Hayim answered, "What can I say - they are correct! This is exactly how it appeared when the Jewish people went out to fight. Bu the actors forgot just one thing - those two won the battle!"

Strange as it may seem, there is precedent for such a lopsided defeat. The Humash tells how Mosheh sent spies to scout the region of Yazer, and they proceeded to actually conquer the entire area (Rashi, Bemidbar 21:32). Similarly, Shimon and Levi themselves captured the city of Shechem, and Yehonatan, son of Shaul, defeated an entire Philistine battalion with his servant (Shemuel I, 14). When the Creator is on our side, then we merit the fulfillment of the pasuk, "Five of you will chase after one hundred, and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand." When our Creator wishes, even just two are more than needed. Not a single individual chased after Pharaoh and his army - they themselves went into the sea to drown therein. Large stones fell from the heavens upon the Philistines, the Kishon river swept the entire army of Sisra, Hashem scattered the army of Aram in every which direction, and 180,000 soldiers in Sanherivs army suddenly died one night as they besieged the city of Jerusalem.

Our most critical job is to ensure that the Almighty is on our side. Once we accomplish this, "These come with chariots, others come with horses - but we come with the mentioning of Name of Hashem our God.

They - leaned and fell, but we stood up and were jubilant. Hashem save us, the King will answer us on the day when we call Him!"

All we have to do is call out to Him and await His salvation.

It is no small wonder that Yehudah the Maccabi acted this way. He stood with just several hundred soldiers opposite an organized, well-trained army of forty-thousand. What chance did he have? He therefore called for a day of teshuvah, of fasting and prayer, and after the fast he led his troops along an all-night march from Misspah until the Amaus Valley. At daybreak, he and his men overpowered the forty-thousand enemy troops. "For salvation belongs to the Almighty, on Your blessed nation, Selah!"

Back to this week's parsha | Previous Issues

This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper,

provided that this notice is included intact.

Jerusalem, Israel