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Parashat Vayeshev


"It was, when Yosef came to his brothers, they stripped Yosef of his cloak...they took him and cast him into the pit." The author of "Ma'or Vashemesh" zs"l asks, why did they feel the need to remove Yosef's special cloak before throwing him into the pit? Would their actions not have been just as effective were they to throw him in with his cloak? He answers that when Yaakov made this special garment for Yosef, he infused within it special protective powers to guard him from all harm. The brothers knew that so long as Yosef wore this special garment, no harm could befall him. They therefore had to first strip their brother of his cloak before they could throw him into the pit.

Imagine - if such force is imbedded in the product of human being, if a handmade garment could provide such miraculous protection, even if it was produced by the "choicest" of our national patriarchs - how much power must there exist in the laying of tefillin, about which it is said, "All the nations of the earth will see that the Name of God is called upon you, and they will be afraid of you"? How much protection do they offer to those who lay them on a daily basis! And the tallit - the garment referred to as "the surrounding light" which shields from harm - how much power does it have to protect against all forms of crisis and calamity!

Not to mention Torah study, about which it is written, "When you walk it will guide you, when you sleep it will protect you, when you wake up it is your subject of conversation" (Mishlei 6:22). Who would neglect to wrap himself in this heavenly protection, ensuring his safety from all harm and ills!


In the city of Lodz, the large industrial city in Poland, Rabbi Eliyahu Hayim Maizel zs"l would routinely be honored with the third "aliyah." The judges, elders of the community and town dignitaries would generally receive the sixth aliyah to the Torah. The "maftir" aliyah was reserved for hatanim and those who were observing the anniversary of the passing of a relative. The rest of the aliyot were, of course, distributed among the other worshippers. Needless to say, this system fell far from avoiding all strife and tension. On one week two people would be observing days of memorial, on another Shabbat the community would be celebrating both a wedding and a bar-missvah, etc. Unquestionably, the lives of the "gabbaim" in the large Bet Kenesset of Lodz were not easy.

Once, however, there occurred an incident which was, by any standard, exaggerated.

A certain ignorant, ill-mannered man gradually worked his way up the economic ladder and eventually became among the wealthier members of the community. He was proud of his fortune and proceeded to flaunt his wealth. He affixed a gold "atarah" to his tallit, he purchased a respectable seat by the eastern wall of the Bet Kenesset for a huge sum of money, and, one day, he turned to the gabbai and said, "This Shabbat I am celebrating a birthday."

"May you live a long, happy and healthy life," answered the gabbai innocently.

"Thank you. I want to receive an aliyah," continued the wealthy man.

"It would be an honor," responded the gabbai, "but just know that someone is commemorating the memorial day for his relative, so he will receive 'maftir.'"

"No problem," assured the arrogant aristocrat. "The sixth aliyah is good enough for me."

"But this Shabbat is the turn of the old judge," noted the gabbai. "I will call you for the fifth aliyah, like I always have."

"Don't you dare!" warned the wealthy man sternly, his furious eyes flashing like lightening. "You better not insult me this way. You will give me the sixth aliyah, and no other aliyah!"

Threats could never frighten the old gabbai. And so, when the fifth aliyah came around, he called the name of the wealthy man. The latter stood up from his seat by the eastern wall and approached the bimah. Only instead of stopping by the Torah to recite the berachot, he continued to the gabbai and forcefully punched him across the face.

One can only imagine the turmoil which ensued in the Bet Kenesset - shouts, insults, name-calling and fiery spirits.

Needless to say, such an incident can in no way be ignored. After Shabbat, the infuriated gabbaim went to the rabbi's home to decide upon a proper response. One thing was absolutely clear: things cannot continue in this way.

"Of course," agreed the rabbi. "So what do you suggest?"

The gabbai which was hit stood up and raised an amazing proposal: to do away with all "kibbudim," to eliminate the procedure of honoring people with the various aliyot and other parts of the service, thus removing the root of all the ill-will and strife. The gabbai was well-stocked with dozens of examples where someone was insulted, another was hurt, how one individual needed to be asked forgiveness, the other needed to be appeased somehow - the standard headaches suffered by gabbaim throughout the years, in every community. What would be simpler than simply deciding to eliminate this entire system and decide once and for all that all aliyot are to be considered of equal stature? The distribution would be conducted randomly, and peace will finally be restored to the communities heretofore stricken by strife and dissent.

The idea sounded great. Everybody focused their attention on the rabbi sitting at the head of the table, waiting for him to give his stamp of approval to the proposal at hand.

The rabbi finally spoke up. "It certainly sounds like a good idea. No, a terrific idea. Yet, I cannot accept it."

They didn't understand.

The rabbi explained, "As you of course realize, it is a tragedy when people come to the Bet Kenesset looking just for honor. But it would be even worse if people would stop looking for honor in the Bet Kenesset."

Indeed, for good reason Rabbi Eliyahu Hayim Maizel was called "Hakima D'Yehudai," the wisest among the Jews. Certainly, the seeking of honor - not to mention the pursuit of honor - is a trait to be discouraged. But, what can we do? Everyone (except us, of course) are stricken by this negative characteristic, to one extent or another. Perhaps they won't always call it honor. Maybe they'll refer to it as recognition, dignity, a show of appreciation, what have you. If this drive is not channeled in the direction of the Bet Kenesset, people will seek and find honor in all other walks of life. They will find it in large measure in all types of groups and other organizations. It is therefore preferable that the groups and organizations in which they look for honor are part of the system of the Bet Kenesset, that in this structure people satisfy their need for recognition and distinction. To the contrary, by seeking honor specifically in the context of the Bet Kenesset, an individual makes the strong statement that therein he finds his social circle, that particularly in the religious service he looks for appreciation. This will give him impetus to contribute from his time, energies, talents and money to the sacred institution of the Bet Kenesset.

Hazal referred to this phenomenon as "kinat sofrim," the jealousy among Torah scholars, which they saw as healthy, warranted and productive, as it increases the level of scholarship. Indeed, that which occurred to our forefathers alludes to our experiences today. Yaakov made a point of showing favor to his one, particularly wise son who excelled in his Torah studies, and made a special cloak of distinction for him. Even if some degree of criticism is warranted for showing preference to one child over the other, our rabbis nevertheless allowed bestowing honor and awards to those who excel (see "Pele Yo'ess," the chapter dealing with childhood). Better that people compete over their Torah learning than over other pursuits!


"Please Listen to this Dream Which I Have Dreamt"

The Gemara (Berachot 55) asks, in one pasuk in the Torah, Hashem says, "I will speak to him [the prophet] in a dream." Another pasuk, however, posits, "The dreams speak nonsense." The Gemara answers that one pasuk refers to a dream through the agency of an angel, while the other speaks of dreams brought on by a "sheid" (demon, evil spirit). Rabbi Mosheh Hayim Lussato zs"l explains that there exist two different types of dreams. The first is a regular dream, the natural dream, the ones we always experience: "When a person sleeps, his powers rest, his emotions are silent and his intellect rests and remains still. Only the imagination continues operating, and it will illustrate various things according to that which is illustrated before him while he is awake." The Gemara is not discussing these dreams at all. But there is another category of dreams: "But, indeed, the Creator engraved [within the natural order] that at the time of sleep the upper soul will be detached somewhat from its connection to the body and will float in the spiritual worlds...Sometimes, that which has been achieved will be known to the soul upon its return to the body, and the imagination will be aroused and will create illustrations, as is its want. Sometimes this occurs amidst great confusion and perplexity, while at others it appears clearly." Specifically regarding these "achievements" of the soul Hazal asked about their nature in this Gemara. Are they real, in the spirit of the comment, "A dream is one-sixtieth of prophecy," or are they simply one's imagination? The Gemara then responded that this depends upon where the soul was permitted to go over the course of the sleeping hours. Sometimes the soul floats only in the spiritual worlds closer to the natural world, referred to by the Gemara as "a dream through a 'sheid.'" Given the activity of the imagination in these instances, one cannot trust these dreams at all. At other times, however, the soul floats in the exalted spiritual worlds and beholds visions of ultimate truth. Although even regarding these dreams there applies the principle, "There is no dream without nonsense," nevertheless, the dream is to be considered, generally, true and accurate. This dream can occur only in a clear, pure soul, on an exalted level, in a person on a very high spiritual level. Needless to say, not everyone reaches this level.

Additionally, of course, there exists the level of pure prophecy, in which the imagination plays no role whatsoever. These visions are clear and succinct, with no external intervention. This level does not exist nowadays, and it will be restored only after the ultimate redemption, "and your sons and daughters will prophesy," may this occur speedily and in our days.

Regarding such a dream, which has attained the status of prophecy, Yosef spoke to his brothers. Therefore, writes the Or Hahayim zs"l, Yosef stressed to his brothers several times, "v'hinei" ("and behold..."). The Or Hahayim explains, "For the dream which constitutes a prophetic vision and direct message from the Almighty, the sign to this effect is when the dream appears to the dreamer clear and real like a bright day, that the thing is in his eyes as if he were actually awake. Then this serves as a sign to inform that he beholds the vision of God. For the dreams about which youngsters joke is merely the confusion of the imagination and the exaggeration of that which was seen. Therefore, Yosef said, '...and behold' regarding each detail, for everything which was shown to him was clear to the eyes of his intellect as if he saw it then, awake and fully alert, and it is thus without a question a correct dream."


Rabbi Mosheh of Kussi zs"l

Rabbi Mosheh of Kussi zs"l, one of the great Tosafists, would wander among the Jewish communities in Spain and arouse them to perform teshuvah and strengthen themselves in the service of Hashem. He testified to the fact that he was granted special divine assistance in this sacred endeavor: wherever he went, both Jews and gentiles would dream awe-inspiring dreams which prepared their hearts for his arrival, "...the land trembled and became an awesome fear of Hashem, and they performed great acts of repentance. Tens of thousands accepted upon themselves the yoke of missvot."

The masses asked him to compose a work to direct them in their performance of missvot, but he saw himself unworthy for such an heavy undertaking. Again, he was assisted through a dream. A voice said to him, "Get up, and make for yourself a Torah scroll from two parts." He reflected upon these words and understood that he was to compose a work of missvot containing two parts: a collection of the positive commandments and a list of the negative commandments. And so he sat and wrote the "Sefer Missvot Gadol" (generally referred to by its acronym, "Semag"), in which he listed all the missvot and their relevant halachot.

When he completed this major work, each word of which carefully considered and has been scrutinized intensely by scholars throughout the ages, another vision was revealed to him. He was reprimanded by a voice which charged, "You forgot the most important part! The most important missvah was omitted from your work!" The missvah to which the voice referred is that of, "Be very careful, lest you forget Hashem, your God" (Devarim 8:11). Rabbi Mosheh of Kussi immediately got out of bed, distraught and taken aback, and included this prohibition in his counting of the missvot (missvah no. 64): "The warning that Benei Yisrael should not become haughty when the Almighty bestows goodness upon them, as it says, 'Be very careful, lest you forget Hashem, your God...lest you eat and become satiated, and you will build good homes and dwell [in them], and your cattle and sheep will multiply, and you will acquire much silver and gold - and your heart will become high and you will forget Hashem, your God.'" This is the prohibition against not being grateful to the Almighty for everything he has done for us!


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 Da'at

Chapter 4: The Laws of Washing One's Hands in the Morning

1) The Gemara (Berachot 60b) writes that one must wash his hands upon waking up in the morning, and a proper blessing is recited: "Baruch atah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha'olam asher kideshanu bemissvotav vessivanu al netilat yadayim."

Several different reasons have been offered for this requirement of washing one's hands in the morning. The first, which appears in the Zohar (Parashat Vayeishev, p. 184b), points to the fact that one's soul departs when he sleeps at night. He therefore tastes a taste of death, as it were, thus bringing upon himself a "ru'ah ra'ah," a "bad spirit." This spirit remains on the hands even after the soul has been restored to the body when the individual wakes up. In order to remove this spirit, one must wash his hands.

Another reason appears in a responsum of the Rashba (vol. 1, 191), that upon waking in the morning a person becomes a "new creature," as the pasuk states (Eichah 3:23), "New ones every morning, Your faith is great." We must therefore express our gratitude to the Almighty who created us for His honor, to serve Him and bless in His exalted Name. An additional reason is provided by Rabbi David Avudraham (Hilchot Netilat Yadayim Shaharit) who compares one waking in the morning to the kohanim who were required to wash their hands prior to beginning their sacred service in the Bet Hamikdash. Similarly, an individual must wash his hands when he wakes up, thus preparing himself for the pure service of his Creator (see below, paragraph 10, if one must wash his face and feet, as well). These different explanations for the requirement have important practical ramifications, as will be discussed later.

Proper Procedure Prior to Washing One's Hands in the Morning

2) One may dress himself before washing his hands in the morning, though one who is stringent in this regard is deserving of blessing. If one went to sleep after "hassot" (midnight as defined by halachah), he may be lenient with no concern whatsoever.

3) According to the Zohar (introduction, 10b) as well as the Kabbalists, one must be careful not to walk four cubits in the morning before washing his hands. If the water was further away from him, then he should walk less than four cubits, wait a little, walk again less than four cubits, wait a little, and so on, until he reaches the water. Some, however, hold that within one's home there is no need to be stringent in this regard, for the entire house may be considered, for purposes of this halachah, like four cubits. Other authorities argue on this leniency. Some later authorities are of the opinion that one may, strictly speaking, walk four cubits before washing his hands in the morning. Others hold that nowadays we do not experience this "bad spirit" so much, and there is therefore no need to be stringent in this regard. When the need arises, one can rely on these opinions to be lenient, and certainly if one had gone to sleep after hassot, he may rely on these views if he so desires.

4) Strictly speaking, one may perform his bodily functions before washing his hands in the morning. Some, however, are stringent and insist that one wash his hands before using the bathroom, and afterward he should once again wash his hands and then recite "al netilat yadayim" and "asher yassar."

5) One who gets out of bed in the middle of the night and wants to drink something does not need to wash his hands. He may simply wipe his hands on some surface, such as a rock, dirt, a twig, wall, beam, hard sheet, napkin or article of clothing. He may then recite the berachah over the beverage and drink. If he drinks a "revi'it" straight he must recite a berachah aharonah after finishing his drink. (He should, however, be careful not to touch the beverage itself, only the cup from the outside.)


Measure for Measure (19)

Flashback: A wealthy man once caused, through his insensitive neglect, the death of an impoverished Torah scholar. Since the wealthy man was decreed to die on account of the poor man, the poor man's soul was denied entry into Gan Eden. He was, however, granted permission to appear to the wealthy man in order to instruct him along a path of repentance which would annul the decree. He ordered the wealthy man to dress up as a pauper and not to accept anything from anyone except from his own household. When he knocked on the door of his own home, his family and servants greeted him with punches and insults, until they finally allowed him to partake of some of the bread-crumbs which were put out for the chickens in the yard.

The embarrassing image did not leave the minds of its witnesses. They were not surprised at all by the insensitivity of the family and servants. They were accustomed to this behavior. Everyone knew that the wealthy man was stingy and enjoyed his life of comfort and prosperity. He even liked studying Torah, his mind was sharp and inquisitive - but his heart was hard and shut closed. This everyone knew already, so they routinely never bothered asking him for favors or donations for important causes. But they were stunned by this strange pauper who suffered beatings and humiliation so long as they would eventually allow him to eat some stale pieces of bread from the chicken coup in the yard.

Their shock multiplied tenfold when they witnessed how the pauper, immediately after finishing his bread-crumbs, shook the dirt off from his clothes and proceeded directly to the Bet Midrash. Once inside, he suddenly became a different person. Besides his tattered clothing, he was a genuine Torah scholar, capable of diligently concentrating on his studies non-stop, from early in the morning until late at night, finding his life-source in his studies. When asked any question, he would responded quickly and convincingly, demonstrating great breadth and profundity. Strangely, though, when one of the local residents offered to take him to the tailor to provide him with clothing more suitable for such a fine scholar, or at least some garment more respectable than his rags, the pauper refused and would not even hear of the idea. He was invited to the resident's home as his guest but he shook his head. He offered to bring him some food to the Bet Midrash, but the poor scholar would not accept any gifts. He would study Torah night and day until he was overcome by terrible pangs of hunger. At that point he would drag his legs to his home, the home of the missing businessman, knock on the door and suffer the blows and curses of his own family, until he would be granted permission to eat some of the bread-crumbs allocated for the chickens. This stale bread would contain his hunger for a while until his next phase of starvation. Needless to say, his behavior was strange and incomprehensible to onlookers, to the point that many people decided he was insane. Any intelligent person would not behave this way. Once people stamp an individual with this title, his life becomes all the more unpleasant. They would laugh at him, scorn him, children would stand around him and make jokes, the scolding of the adults only fueling the flames of mockery. So long as he sat and studied, he could close his ears and ignore the insults completely. But once he left to go to his home in search of food, the jokers escorted him with a loud harmony of jeers and insults.

to be continued...


The Eucalyptus Tree

The eucalyptus is ranks among the largest trees, as some eucalyptuses reach 150 meters high, the circumference of their trunk as wide as thirty meters. The largest concentration of eucalyptuses is found in Australia, but because of their value and worth they are planted in most warmer countries. Because of the speed at which is grows, this tree is accepted as one of the most important trees of afforestation. Because of its strength and ability to withstand strong winds, it often serves as a wind-breaker in gardens. It also serves as material for building, furniture, wood-products as well as other items. The oil extracted from the eucalyptus is used for medicine and spices. Its roots dig very deep beneath the surface of the ground, and during its rapid growth the roots draw large quantities of water from its surroundings. Therefore, the eucalyptus has become very valuable in drying marshy swamps. There exist about 160 different species of eucalyptus trees. It belongs to the family of the myrtle, which includes several different green trees and bushes. The leaves of the eucalyptus are silver-grey to light green. What's particularly interesting about the leaves is how they change over the course of the tree's growth. In the younger trees, the leaves are wide and grow in pairs, one opposite the other. In older trees, however, they are longer, resembling a ruler, lined along the branch in alternating fashion, hanging downward. The flowers of the eucalyptus, too, are quite unique as they contain a lot of nectar and powder. They also attract many bees, making the tree a very valuable source of honey.

Discussions of the eucalyptus tree draws our attention to that which we can learn from the world of vegetation. For good reason the pasuk states, "For a person is like the tree of the field," for the more we study the trees and their growth patterns, the more we can learn about the life of people in general, of Jews especially. An ignoramus looks at the Torah and concludes that it restricts a person's freedom. Those who make this claim want total freedom, they yearn to be released from the restrictive chains of religion and our ancestral heritage so they can do whatever their heart desires. But one look at the tree clarifies the real significance of this claim. Undoubtedly, the roots and the trunk greatly limit the freedom of the young branches. Why? Why can't the branches be left to swing freely in the wind? Because "freedom" which comes at the expense of detachment from the roots is not freedom but destruction. The application to Torah and religion is obvious.


The Midrash tells of a certain noblewoman who approached Rabbi Yossi and insisted that she cannot possibly believe that Yosef did not sin with Potifar's wife. This assertion, that he resisted the temptations of his master's wife, extends beyond the limits of her comprehension. Rabbi Yossi opened a Humash before her and showed her that the Torah, our sacred, true Torah, did not conceal the sin of Reuven, for example. (Although that sin is not to be understood literally as recorded, as Hazal state that whoever claims that Reuven sinned is mistaken, for he merely concerned himself with the pride of his mother and his intentions were sincere, nevertheless, an individual is judged according to his level, and the accusation was presented in the Torah very sharply.) Similarly, the Torah does not cover up the incident involving Yehudah and Tamar. (Even regarding this incident, the Midrash writes that Yehudah was drawn to this union by special Providence, as it was decreed that the royal line of the Moshiah would come from him.) In this way, he proved to her that the Torah makes no attempt to hide an action deserving of criticism. Thus, if the Torah testified to the fact that Yosef withstood this challenge - "It was, as she spoke to him each day, he did not listen to her" - the testimony is undoubtedly true, and for good reason Hazal refer to Yosef as "Yosef the Righteous."

Truth be told, the noblewoman was correct, according to her perspective, based on her knowledge of herself. Try telling an article made from rubber, which can be bent in any which way, which can be twisted, tilted, crushed and wrinkled - try telling it that there exist hard, rigid, unbending products made from steel. He wouldn't believe you, he wouldn't understand you, he wouldn't know what you are talking about. How is it possible that it cannot bend, it cannot be twisted, how does it have such a strong backbone? Furthermore, she might be able to understand how he could refuse and avoid confrontation altogether. But on that day, the day when the Nile, the Egyptian deity, overflowed its banks and everyone went to celebrate the pagan festival, and Yosef therefore figured there was no one home and arrived to manage his master's accounts, he did not know that the wicked woman feigned illness and remained home. She surprised him, grabbed his cloak, in her house, while they were alone. Yet he still retained his moral strength, as close as he was to losing them. He did not even stay to try to retrieve his garment from her, for he knew he could not afford to stay there even for another moment, as that moment could potentially be the moment of weakness. He heroically decided to forget his garment and escape. What great foresight - a gentile noblewoman could not possibly understand it.

But it's not just her. Hazal, in the Midrash, also struggled with the issue. As much as they admired the greatness and morality of Yosef the Righteous, who is considered in Kabbalistic thought one of the "seven shepherds," representing the "sefirah" of "yesod," the favorite son of Yaakov, and clearly we cannot possibly even imagine the greatness of his piety, Hazal nevertheless asserted that this act did not emerge from his own strength. "He left his garment with her and escaped, and he went outside." Hazal learn from here that he escaped in the merit of the patriarchs, as the pasuk states regarding Avraham, "He [Hashem] took him outside." Hazal comment on that pasuk that the Almighty took Avraham outside the confines of the natural world. Only in this way was he able to father a child and give rise to the Nation of Israel. That "taking outside" brought about a nation capable of going beyond the natural order, to overcome its basic urges for the sake of its Creator, Who exists beyond the natural world. And thus, Yosef jumped, in the merit of his forefathers.

It is no wonder, then, that the noblewoman could not understand. This power of our patriarchs, this strength which has been implanted within us from Avraham, is entrenched within each and every one of us. Therefore, all excuses are automatically eliminated. One can never say, "Well, this is the way I am, I cannot change." True, this is the way you are, but there is no Jew who is incapable of overcoming his natural restrictions, as we all possess this great heritage of Avraham. The Gemara speaks about it explicitly: when the sinner reaches the Heavenly Court after he dies, he is asked, "Why did you not learn Torah..." What kind of question is that? What connection did such a person have to Torah? What interest did he have in sanctity? His inclinations got the best of him, the society corrupted him, he became involved with sinful people who dragged him with them. What is the response to this justification? You should have learned from Yosef. But how can such an individual possibly be compared to Yosef, the wisest son of Yaakov, one of the founders of the Tribes of Israel, an exalted soul of purity? True. But Yosef proves that within every Jew lies the capability to rise above temptation, to break his natural instincts, to run outside, beyond the natural world, like a true descendant of Avraham. This ability is an integral part of our ancestral heritage, as every Jew, like Yosef, is a descendant of Avraham!

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