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Parashat Vayehi


As part of his blessing from his father, Yehudah was told, "He launders his clothing in wine...and white of teeth from milk." Needless to say, this pasuk cannot be understood literally; no one would want to approach someone whose clothes had been washed in wine. Obviously, this blessing must be understood metaphorically. Wine is red, and it is referred to as "the blood of grapes." Milk, by contrast, is white. Red thus represents the quality of "gevurah," strength and power, whereas milk symbolizes the attribute of "hesed," kindness, above and beyond the strict letter of the law. A king must abide by both qualities. He must incorporate into his reign the value of "hesed" without sacrificing the stability and integrity of his monarchy: "A king will establish the country with judgment."

The redness of wine - the "gevurah" - does not constitute an independent quality, a value of supremacy purely for supremacy's sake, to assert one's prowess over powerless subjects. Rather, power must serve the function of "laundering": "He launders his clothing in wine..." This quality must be used only for the purpose of directing the people along the proper path, punishing and reprimanding those guilty of wayward behavior. Immediately thereafter, however, the ruler must bear a kind, warm countenance - "the white of teeth," the pleasant smile and loving care for his subjects. Indeed, each parent assumes the role of "king" in the household. The children are dependent upon them, and, in turn, parents must know how to properly utilize the characteristic of "gevurah." This authority must be asserted only for the sake of cleansing, of guiding the youngsters towards proper behavior. Concurrently, however, the quality of hesed must emerge - the warmth, love and compassion which must form the basis of every parent-child relationship. The "right hand" which brings the child closer must work together with the proverbial "left-hand" which admonishes; parental warmth must accompany reproof - and then the educational success of the home is guaranteed!


The work "Ma'aseh Shushan" presents a story relevant to this week's parashah and bearing a critical message. A fire once broke out in a certain neighborhood, destroying all the homes therein, leaving the residents without a roof over their heads. In search of help, the local rabbi traveled from one community to another beseeching the Jews of each locale to show compassion and help their fellow Jews in need. The people responded to his appeal, some more and some less. Each sum collected was immediately sent to the town so as to encourage the people and begin the reconstruction as quickly and promptly as possible.

In one city where he visited, the rabbi went from one shop to another, arousing the storekeepers' compassion. He approached a beautiful shop which sold extravagant, gold jewelry. The room glowed from its merchandise - precious jewels and stones. Just as the rabbi walked in and began explaining the purpose of his visit, the owner of the shop greeted him with a warm smile and extended him a "Shalom aleichem" greeting. "I see that you are not from around here," he said to the rabbi.

"How did you know?" asked the rabbi.

"Because if you were from the neighborhood you would have known already that I do not give a penny to charity!" answered the miserly store-owner. "Let us change places," suggested the rabbi. "Instead of you fulfilling the missvah of helping others, I will do it, instead."

"How so?" asked the wealthy man.

"By virtue of the fact that I am visiting the sick, which is included in the category of 'gemilut hasadim,' of helping others."

The wealthy man didn't understand. "Who is the ill patient which the rabbi is visiting?"

"You," answered the rabbi. "You are the sick one."

The wealthy man objected. "This is not true! I am strong and healthy, with no ailment whatsoever."

The rabbi explained, "Do not be so brazen as to contradict the words of King Shelomoh, the wisest of all men. In his great wisdom, he wrote, 'There is an evil disease which I have seen under the sun: wealth kept with its master for his own detriment' (Kohelet 5:12). If the Almighty blessed you with wealth, and yet you boast about your unwillingness to share some of your wealth with the underprivileged, there is no doubt, then, that your wealth is being kept with you for your own detriment. Eventually, you will have to account for the fact that you did not take proper advantage of your resources. Thus, Shelomoh testifies to the fact that you are ill, and I am therefore fulfilling the missvah of visiting the sick."

The wealthy man laughed and said, "If you really want to fulfill the missvah of visiting the sick in the truest sense of the word, you would be in a hospital where you will find dozens of sick patients who long for company and companionship. You would not have come here to visit me only in the sense of involved, complex extrapolation."

The rabbi answered, "There is very good reason why I want to fulfill this missvah specifically here. I will reveal it to you only if you first make a pledge to contribute to the cause for which I am collecting."

"Okay," said the wealthy man, "let's hear."

The rabbi explained, "Surely you are aware of Hazal's comment that Yaakov was deathly ill, and only when Yosef arrived does the pasuk say, 'Yisrael strengthened himself and sat up on the bed.' Why did he receive additional strength once Yosef came to see him? Because one who visits a sick patient removes one-sixtieth of the illness, as alluded to in the word 'hamitah' (the bed) with has the numerical value of fifty-nine, one less than sixty. It is therefore clear why I prefer to visit you, whose illness is money, and I rather come and take with me one-sixtieth of your illness..."

Although, at first glance, the story seems merely a nice, cute incident, when we think about we will realize that there is nothing funny about it. The wealthy which is "kept to its master for his detriment" relates to other resources other than money, as well. Everyone has his form of "money." Some have been blessed, clearly, with money which enables them to help the indigent. As we know, there are currently many families who starve for bread. Just ask people involved in organizations such as "Yehudah Yaaleh" or "Yad Eliezer." One who is graced with a keen sense of management can be an invaluable resource in the functioning and maintenance of a Bet Kenesset, his community or society at large, organizing Torah study groups or major projects of hesed. One who was granted the ability to explain complex concepts in a clear, coherent fashion can assist in giving Torah classes. The point is that an individual was not created for himself, but rather to help others, to contribute to society and increase the Glory of Heaven, each according to the talents with which he was blessed, in his specific field of expertise. How great is the difference between the rabbi, who traveled tirelessly from town to town to help his brethren, and the miserly jeweler who chose for himself the "evil disease"!


Once, the Mir Yeshivah found itself in dire straits. The Rosh Yeshivah, Rav Eliezer Yehudah Finkel zs"l, requested a loan from a certain wealthy individual. The condition was stipulated that the yeshivah would repay the loan anytime on at least one month's notice. Eventually, towards the beginning of a certain year, the wealthy man needed money for what seemed an attractive investment. He remembered the loan he gave to the Rosh Yeshivah, but realized that the Rosh Yeshivah was promised a full month's notice before having to repay the money. The businessman devised a plan. He approached the Rosh Yeshivah and said, "Erev Yom Kippur is in two days. I read in a certain 'sefer' that Erev Yom Kippur is an appropriate time to repay debts."

"Really?" wondered the Rosh Yeshivah. "I never heard that. I would be very interested to know the source. Where did you read this?"

The lender was in somewhat of a quandary, as this was his own idea. "In any event," continued the Rosh Yeshivah, "even if it is written, it is my responsibility, not yours."

The wealthy man was now even more confused, as he did not understand that which was just said to him. The Rosh Yeshivah smiled warmly and explained. "You see, the Torah presents different misvot to different people. How wonderful would it be if everyone would fulfill his own misvah! The problem is that too many people fulfill specifically the misvot of other people... "Let me explain what I mean. Yosef's brothers approach him to ask him forgiveness for what they did to him: 'Please, forgive please for the sin of your brothers and their wrongdoing, for they have treated you badly.' Yosef responded by comforting them: 'You plotted evil against me, but the Al-mighty plotted it for good,' and the brothers were appeased. "But imagine what would have happened if they would have switched positions. Think how the conversation would have proceeded if Yosef would have told them that they wronged him. They would have responded, 'What are you talking about? Because of us you became the viceroy of the most powerful empire in the world! What hatred could there possibly have been in what we did to you?'

"This is what I meant," concluded the Rosh Yeshivah. "The lender has the misvah to lend money to those in need. The borrower has his misvah, too, to pay back the loan in time. When everyone involves himself in his own, independent misvah, then the world can function beautifully. But when you come along and tell me what I need to do and I respond by telling you of your own obligations, then what results is a series of conflicts and confrontations, anger and resentment, arguing and ill-will."

This thought-provoking story requires each of us to take a closer look into ourselves. If we think about the message latent in the Rosh Yeshivah's words, we can save ourselves many severe headaches. We can spare ourselves all the "lashon hara" which we violate. Why should we always concern ourselves of the requirements of other people, of their shortcomings and unfulfilled obligations? Let every person concentrate on his own faults and complete that which he needs to do. If everyone would just perform his own responsibilities, the household would be managed so much more smoothly, along with the Bet Kenesset, the community and society. It is worthwhile to try it, maybe even just for a week, and see the amazing results in our lives!


"Each one, according to his berachah, he [Yaakov] blessed them"

Rabbi Levi Ben Gershom zs"l, the Ralbag, asks, weren't there sons of Yaakov who were not blessed, such as Reuven, Shimon and Levi? In fact, one was punished by having his birthright stripped from him and the other two were admonished, "Cursed is their wrath," "I will divide them...I will disperse them..."!

He answers based on a beautiful principle. The loss of the birthright by someone who does not deserve it is, in actuality, a berachah, a great gift. What purpose is there in assuming a position or responsibility for which one is unequipped and hence doomed to failure?

Furthermore, it is truly a blessing when one points out to another his faults, for Yaakov to admonish Reuven for his inappropriate rashness. The latter now knows on which qualities he needs to work and in what areas he needs to improve. Similarly, it was indeed a berachah when Yaakov informed Shimon and Levi of their improper zealousness and when he separated them so that too many overly zealous people would not live in the same vicinity.

The Alshich zs"l also asks this question, how could Yaakov's harsh words to Reuven, Shimon and Levi be considered a blessing? The answer, he suggests, lies in the continuation of the pesukim: "All these are the twelve tribes of Yisrael." "Yisrael" refers to exalted level and the higher spheres, and Yaakov knew that all his children were on such an exalted level. "This is what their father spoke to them, and he blessed them." Even if he spoke harshly with them, he did not blame them, but rather a specific quality of their personalities, such as "Cursed is their wrath for it is brazen." But the individuals themselves - they were definitely blessed! The fact that some received longer blessings while the berachot extended to others with short and succinct can be understood based on our pasuk: he blessed each one, according to his berachah. In other words, he had to bless each one according to the berachah which was prophetically revealed to him; he had no alternative. But in terms of his own personal blessing to them - he loved each equally and blessed them all accordingly.

The "Siftei Kohen" zs"l, one of the close students of the Ar"i zs"l, notes that the word "otam" (them) appears in the beginning of the pasuk with the letter "vav," but it appears later in the pasuk without the letter "vav." He explains that Yaakov actually extended a double blessing to his sons. The first blessing is the "revealed" blessing, as the simple meaning of the text implies. Therefore, "otam" is first written complete, with the "vav." Behind this berachah, however, lies a blessing of a more obscure, spiritual dimension, symbolized by the second word "otam," which is written "hidden," without the "vav."


The "Pahad Yisshak" zs"l

Rabbi Yisshak Lampronti zs"l, who lived around three hundred years ago, compiled the the largest and most comprehensive Talmudic encyclopedia ever composed. All the statements in the mishnah, Gemara, together with the comments of the poskim, the halachot through the responsa of his contemporaries - they are all arranged in his work according to the Hebrew alphabet. This ambitious project, which today is being undertaken by an entire institute, was accomplished by a single individual who simultaneously served as a rabbi of his community, a Rosh Yeshivah who taught hundreds of students, and a full-time practitioner of medicine. His students tell that every night, towards daybreak, the rabbi could be found walking the streets of Pirara, Italy, the city where he served as rabbi, with a torch in hand, going from house to house to visit the sick patients of his community. He claimed that this was part of his duty as a physician, as during that part of the night one can more accurately determine the condition of the patients and thus prescribe the appropriate medications.

In the year 5480, the supporters of his yeshivah decided to refurnish the yeshivah building. Rabbi Yisshak asked that they give him the old table which he used while learning and teaching in the yeshivah. When they granted his wish, he approached the carpenter and asked that he turn this table into a coffin. He explained that he wished to be buried in the same wood used for his Torah learning and teaching. When the coffin was prepared, the rabbi wrote on it the following inscription:

"Look, human being, and abandon your ways,
For to here comes the end of every man.
Your Creator, during the days of your youth
Remember, and in the end of your days you will find a grave."

He placed the coffin in his bedroom in order to constantly remind him of the account which he will eventually be forced to give in the Heavenly Court. Rabbi Yisshak lived a long life, and towards the end they would carry him to the yeshivah in a wagon. He was always overjoyed at seeing the benches of the yeshivah crowded with great Torah scholars, all of whom were his own students!



When examining a hair, one must distinguish between the part which grows on the surface of the skin and the part which is situated in the skin, the root of the hair. The bottom edge of the root is the thicker part of the hair. In this area the hair grows, and there is located a rich supply of blood and nerve fibers. New cells are created in this area, and these cells contain grains of pigment which determine the color of the hair. The cells undergo a series of changes, resulting in a hair which is composed of all these cells. The hair is actually composed of a collection of cells which are attached one to another. The hair is situated in a pocket called a follicle. The direction of the hair's growth depends upon the direction of the follicle, and they create a angle over the surface of the skin. A muscle is attached to the hair, and when this muscle contracts, the hair stands up straight.

The central function of the hair on the head is to protect the head from moisture. In fact, a gland is attached to the follicle which moisturizes the hair. Furthermore, the hair on the head serves to protect the head from the sun's rays.

Clearly, another function of the hair is the charm and beauty which it adds to one's appearance. We Jews afford further significance to the hair, and in this way we elevate the hair from the physical to the spiritual. We refer of course to the requirement of covering one's head, which, in the case of the Jewish woman, receives added significance and testifies to the proper "sseniuit" (modesty) of the Jewish woman. Sseniut constitutes a critical principle in the establishment of the Jewish home. Despite the fact that the woman naturally wants to beautify herself with her hair, she nevertheless overcomes this natural inclination, thus serving as an example to her entire generation. Hazal laud the modest woman who covers her head, and promise her in this merit sons who are Torah scholars. Furthermore, the sseniut of the woman is one of the protectors of the home and sources of blessing therein. For those who are still ambivalent, we will cite the Almighty's promise to all those who take the first step towards him: "Open for me an opening as tiny as the head of a needle, and I will open for you an opening like the opening of the 'ulam'!" Each woman is promised assistance and support from the Almighty - what more does one require?


Measure for Measure (22)

Flashback: A rich man acted insensitively towards an indigent Torah scholar and caused his death. The soul of the poor scholar appeared to him and instructed him along a path of repentance. He was to dress up as a pauper and study Torah day and night. He was not allowed to accept anything from anyone except his own family, which had been trained to ignore the needs of the poor. They unsuccessfully tried sending him away, but he insisted on coming back until they decided he was insane. They then brought him into the house to be like a pet to play with. In short, his life became a bitter mockery in his own home.

This is how it was day after day, week after week, and the months gradually passed. The man slowly began growing accustomed to his pathetic situation, to his poverty and shame, and the year eventually passed. One day, as he sat in the empty Bet Midrash studying Torah and thereby forgetting his troubles, his concentration was suddenly distracted. He raised his eyes and was startled to see the poor scholar, the same pauper who died on his account, the poor man who is responsible for his current state of poverty and embarrassment, was now standing over him. Trembling, the man asked, "What...what do you want now?"

The poor man looked at him warmly and said, "That's it. A year has passed, and you have held true to the terms of your punishment. You sin has been forgiven; your wrongdoing has been atoned for. You will not be punished any longer, and I will therefore no longer be punished on your account. My path to Gan Eden is now paved, and you will not see me ever again. Take your clothing, and give me back the clothes of poverty which I had lent you."

The poor man then placed the pile of the wealthy man's clothing on the table. The man stood up, his head spinning, with but one thought in his mind: "If you don't mind," he said humbly, "I would ask if you can leave me the clothes which I am currently wearing."

"If you wish," responded the poor man's soul, which then disappeared into thin air.

The man looked around him wondering, was this just a dream? No - there in front of him were the clothing which the poor man left for him. These were his old clothing of distinction, made from silk with sparkling, golden buttons. He quickly packed away the clothing, in fear that somebody will suspect him of stealing them. He hid them in an old, tattered bag which he found on the floor and placed the bag in the box set aside for materials to be buried.

The people who came to the Bet Midrash for minhah were shocked at the sudden change of behavior they witnessed in the "crazy scholar." Suddenly, he walked around asking for donations. He collected coin by coin, but received only a small handful of silver coins.

The next day, they saw that the mysterious pauper had disappeared. They had grown accustomed to his entertaining presence for a year. Now, suddenly, it was as if the ground had swallowed him alive.


A Series 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 One's Hands in the Morning

Strictly speaking, one may perform his bodily functions before washing his hands in the morning. Some, however, are stringent and insist on washing their hands prior to performing their bodily functions. One must then wash his hands again afterwards and then recite an "asher yassar."

One who feels a real need to perform his bodily functions should not wait to first wash his hands; rather, he should immediately take care of his needs and only thereafter wash his hands.

One who wakes in the middle of the night and wishes to drink does not need to first wash his hands. Rather, he may simply wipe his hands on some cleaning agent - such as a stone, dust, a twig, a wall, a beam, a firm handkerchief, a sheet, cloth, or clothing - and then recite the appropriate blessing and drink. If he drinks a "revi'it" in one sitting, he must also recite a berachah aharonah. (He should be careful not to touch the actual liquid itself, making sure to touch only the glass from the outside.)

If he had slept in clothing worn specifically at night, such as pajamas, and we may therefore assume that he did not touch unclean parts of his body while sleeping, he does not need to wipe his hands and may immediately recite the appropriate blessing and drink. During the summer, however, when one sleeps in an open garment and may have thus touched unclean parts of the body, he must first wipe his hands before reciting the berachah.

Some authorities maintain that one who wishes to drink in the middle of the night before washing his hands should think the berachah in his mind rather than actually articulating the berachah. The correct ruling, however, is that doing so is of no avail, and one should not think the berachah in his mind, as we assume that thinking is not equivalent to actual recitation.

If, prior to washing his hands in the morning, one hears "devarim sh'bikdushah," such as kadish, kedushah or borchu, or if he hears a berachah for which he is to answer "amen," he should quickly wipe his hands on some cleaning agent, as there is the chance that his hands came in contact with unclean parts of the body. Only thereafter may he respond. Similarly, one who hears thunder in the middle of the night or in the morning prior to washing his hands should immediately wipe his hands on some material and then recite the berachah (within a few seconds of the thunder), "shekoho ugevurato..."

One who wakes in the middle of the night and plans on going back to sleep may think in matters of Torah without washing his hands. He should, however, first wipe his hands on his sheets or clothing, as we are concerned his hands touched unclean parts of the body. If he does not plan on going back to sleep, he should preferably wash his hands before thinking matters of Torah. Nevertheless, one who is careful always to wash his hands prior to thinking matters of Torah is deserving of blessing.

The Berachah "Al Netilat Yadayim"

After washing his hands in the morning, one must recite the berachah "al netilat yadayim." Optimally, the blessing should be recited before drying one's hands. Nevertheless, if one did not recite the berachah prior to drying his hands, he may recite it afterwards. The same applies if he was unable to recite the berachah before drying his hands, such as if the room in which he was located when washing was unclean and thus unfit for the recitation of a berachah. Even those who recite the berachah in Bet Kenesset due to the uncleanness of the room in which they washed have authorities on whom to rely.

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