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Vayishlach (Genesis 32-36)

32:5 And he (Yaakov / Jacob) commanded them (his messengers) saying, "Say the following to my master Aisav (Esau), 'Your servant Yaakov says the following: 'I sojourned with Lavan and delayed (my return) until now.''"

Yaakov is trying to appease Aisav. Rashi provides the following commentary on this verse:

… The letters of the Hebrew word 'I sojourned' (garti) has the numerical value of 613 (which is the number of commandments in the Torah). (Yaakov was also stating that) he sojourned with Lavan and guarded all of the 613 commandments, that he did not learn from his evil ways.

Given the tradition that the forefathers fulfilled every precept of the Torah, one of the commentators asks how Yaakov (Jacob) was able to marry two sisters. His answer is that there were overriding issues that justified this deviation in his special circumstances.

When he took both Rachel and Leah for wives, Yaakov operated under two special circumstances.

First, prior to the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai to Yaakov's descendents, no one was every charged to fulfill the bulk of the 613 commandments.

Prior to the emergence of the forefathers, Mankind was charged with only seven Noahide commandments. G-D charged Avraham (Abraham) and his household with circumcision so they and only they had eight commandments. Yaakov's household was eventually given an additional commandment, the prohibition of eating from the Nashe sinew. However, the forefathers voluntarily accepted upon themselves the rest of the commandments, which included prohibition of marrying two sisters.

Since this commandment was voluntarily assumed, it was able to be overridden by special issues.

The second circumstance was that the forefathers only assumed responsibility to fulfill the non-Noahide commandments during their residence in the holy land. As the marriage took place in the Diaspora, Yaakov was not bound by this prohibition.

Overriding issues that posed themselves to Yaakov are of no relevance to us in our observance of the Torah today as we live in the post-Sinai era. Also, prohibitions such as marrying two sisters are in effect regardless of where we live.

Given the above, how do we understand the Rashi in our Torah reading, who writes that Yaakov "guarded all of the 613 commandments," as he clearly did not observe the prohibition from marrying two sisters?

The following came to mind.

Observing the Torah and guarding the Torah are somewhat distinct.

Leviticus 26:3 states, "If you walk in My statutes and you guard My commandments and observe them."

There, Rashi's reading of guarding the commandments is to labor in Torah study.

Intensive study preserves our Torah because without it there is no clarity, and a lack of clarity in Torah leads to distortion, versioning, and dissention.

Decisions of Torah law must be traceable to precedence, to that which Moshe (Moses) said or would have said, based on what we know he said. They are not based on politics, persuasiveness, or personal preferences. Our Rabbis are charged research the law, not to legislate law, unless there are unique circumstances and protective safeguards are required. This is how Torah study relates to preserving the Torah. Through study we are preserving G-D's will which was expressed to us through Moshe some thirty-three centuries ago.

So let's now take a second look at our Rashi.

Yaakov was also stating that he sojourned with Lavan and guarded all of the 613 commandments, that he did not learn from his evil ways.

In his intensive role as a student, he was careful to draw the bounds, letting only the Torah be his influence, not Lavan's evil ways.

32:5 And he (Yaakov / Jacob) commanded them (his messengers) saying, "Say the following to my master Aisav (Esau), 'Your servant Yaakov says the following: 'I sojourned with Lavan and delayed (my return) until now.''"

Yaakov is trying to appease Aisav. Rashi provides the following commentary on this verse:

"I sojourned:" I (Yaakov) did not become a noble and important person. Rather, my status was that of a sojourner. It is therefore not fitting for you to hate me for the blessings that your father blessed me when he said, "You shall be a master to your brother" because this was not fulfilled through me.

Also, the letters of the Hebrew word 'I sojourned' (garti) has the numerical value of 613 (which is the number of commandments in the Torah). (Yaakov was also stating that) he sojourned with Lavan and guarded all of the 613 commandments, that he did not learn from his evil ways.

Especially with Rashi's commentary, it is difficult to see how the words in this verse met Yaakov's need to appease Aisav.

Why shouldn't Aisav still bear a grudge against Yaakov for having received the precious paternal blessing? The blessing didn't appear to have a start and end time. Perhaps the reason for Yaakov's humble status in Lavan's community was because the blessing had not yet taken effect.

Also, the blessing was for Yaakov to be a master over his brothers. Unlike Aisav, Lavan was Yaakov's uncle and not his brother. Why shouldn't Aisav still feel threatened and jealous?

Finally, how does Yaakov's observance of the 613 commandments fit in?

The following came to mind.

The wicked Aisav was interested solely in physical mastery and domination.

Perhaps Yaakov was trying to tell him that the blessings were for spiritual mastery, something that was of no interest to Aisav at that moment.

Sharing a parent with another man makes him your physical brother. While every other man is not a physical brother, he can be a spiritual brother.

So perhaps Yaakov was saying that he was blessed with wisdom, charisma and strength to become everyone's 'big' brother, including Lavan.

The blessings took effect immediately and as proof, Yaakov's was able to retain his spiritual piety despite his residence in Lavan's morally decayed home and environment.

The big brother role needs no position of public honor and recognition. If anything, competing for status within the community can even work against achieving success in this role.

Thus, Yaakov was reminding Aisav that the blessings had no relevance to that which Aisav valued, which was physicality.

Apparently, this did not provide a full appeasement to Aisav because he still went after Yaakov.

Indeed, we later find in history that Aisav's Roman descendents sought in both physical and spiritual domination over mankind.

In the very end, Aisav said, "My brother, I have a lot. Keep what is yours. (33:9). He finally reconciled himself with Yaakov being the 'big brother' of humanity.

And from the writings of our prophets we can expect the same to occur on a much larger scale in the end of days.

32:6 And I (Yaakov / Jacob) own oxen and donkeys, sheep, male slaves, and female slaves. And I sent (this gift) to tell my master (Aisav that I am coming to meet him and I seek) to find favor in your eyes.

We find a different ordering of Yaakov's assets in an earlier verse.

30:43 And the man [Yaakov] became extremely successful. He owned much sheep and female slaves and male slaves and camels and donkeys.

As people are above animals, one would expect the Torah to list the slaves first. Indeed, in chapter 30 Rashi explains why the sheep were listed first. It is because Yaakov was paid by Lavan's sheep and he sold some to purchase other property. So people are in fact listed first in chapter 30.

But why are humans listed last in our Torah portion's chapter 32?

The following came to mind.

Within the realm of the Torah, the institution of slavery is permeated with compassion, rights, and dignity for the slave. If the master is Torah observant then the slave has this protection. Otherwise, the slave can be subject to exploitation, abuse, and indignity.

In chapter 32, when recording the message to Aisav, perhaps the Torah is reminding us of this by listing the animals before the human slaves as this is can appear to be a valid prioritization in the eyes of a wicked person such as Aisav.

32:7 And the messengers returned to Yaakov (Jacob) saying, "We came to your brother to Aisav (Esau) and he is going to meet you and there are four-hundred men with him."

32:8 And Yaakov was very afraid and distressed …

Aisav was coming with a small army to attack and kill Yaakov and it is understandable that he was very afraid and distressed.

One of the commentaries said that the Yaakov's distress was because he sensed that he was very afraid.

I understand this in the following manner.

G-D had promised him twenty years earlier that He will be with him. (28:15). G-D commanded Yaakov to leave the cover of Lavan's home and return to the land of his birthplace and he was doing so. (31:13)

Yet he still was worried that he had not always acted as best as he could have, that he may have been unintentionally tainted by a shortcoming or sin.

So he was afraid that he would lose some Divine protection and Aisav would be able to penetrate his defenses and kill him and/or his family.

If he would have been afraid then this would have been justified. But what bothered this great human being was that he sensed that he was afraid too much, that he was *very* afraid.

What ever happens is decreed by G-D to be the very best for us, even when a tragedy occurs because of our own shortcoming. Our property can be destroyed, our body can be destroyed. But this serves as a correction we continue to live on in a different form.

Yaakov could not justify to himself the excess fear and this made him distressed.

32:8 And Yaakov (Jacob) was very afraid and distressed …

G-D previously told Yaakov that He would protect him (28:15). The Talmud therefore asks why Yaakov was afraid of his brother Aisav (Esau). The Talmud answers that Yaakov was concerned that he may have committed a misdeed and this could have caused him to lose this protection. (Brachos 4a).

However, this notion appears to contradict the following verse from Deuteronomy:

And if you will say in your heart, "How will I know (from) a (prophet's) word that G-D did not say (that)?" Should a prophet speak in the name of G-D (that something will happen) and it does not happen then this is something that G-D did not say … (18:21).

Yaakov himself heard that G-D would protect him. How could he now think otherwise?

Now, we do know of an exception. It is possible for a true prophet to foretell doom but it never occurs. This is because G-D is merciful and will retract a decree if those affected repent. Indeed, this is what happened when the prophet Yonah (Jonah) told the inhabitants of Nineveh that their city would be destroyed.

So it appears that while G-D may retract the threat of doom, He would never retract something that is good.

So how do we understand the Talmud's answer? Why was Yaakov worried?

The Chavatzeles Hasharon commentary provides an answer from the Rambam's teachings. I understand it as follows.

G-D is unchanging. His decisions are always final unless they are dependent on something that can change.

G-D gives us free-will and we chart our individual destinies. It is we that can change and G-D adjusts/compensates accordingly, on the fly.

So while G-D can decree that something good will happen, that good can become a liability, depending on the person's free-will choices, and G-D in His mercy may retract it if the retraction is now better for that person.

This explains why Yaakov was afraid of Aisav. Maybe he needed to get beaten up by his brother to atone for a misdeed, not that he did but that he may have done.

So if G-D can retract both a decree of punishment and also a decree to do something good, then how will we ever know if a prophet is telling the truth?

If the prophet predicts a bad thing and it happens then the prophet can use it as evidence that he is a true prophet. If it doesn't happen then he will say that we repented. If it's a good thing and it happens then he has his evidence. If it doesn't happen then he will say that we sinned.

How will G-D protect us from all the phonies, con-artists, deceivers, crooks, and religion inventors?

The answer is that G-D always backs his prophet because those with whom He does not directly communicate with need evidence that His prophets are true. The only exception is a prophecy of doom. So if a person says in the name of G-D that something good will occur and it never happens then he/she is a phony, just as the Torah tells us.

Perhaps, since G-D does not communicate directly with everyone, the need to uphold the identity of His prophets and keep people from being exploited supersedes the need to retract something good. Or, perhaps G-D manages what He tells His prophets so that whatever they say always turns out good, there is never a need to retract anything.

But if G-D speaks directly to someone then that person himself needs absolutely no evidence that G-D spoke to him.

So it was possible for G-D to retract the protection He promised directly to Yaakov and this is why he was worried.

But had G-D told it to someone else about it and then directed that person to tell Yaakov in His name that G-D will protect him then Yaakov would have been calm and collected, with nothing to worry about at all.

32:10 And Yaakov (Jacob) said, "The G-D of my father Avraham (Abraham) and the G-D of my father Yitzchak (Isaac), Hashem (G-D's Name of Uniqueness) who said to me 'Return to your land and your birthplace and I will do good to you.'"

Rashi provides the following commentary:

(In Genesis 31:53 Yaakov) refers to (G-D as) 'The Fear of Yitzchak' (and here he makes reference to the 'G-D of Yitzchak.' Why is this a different reference towards G-D?) Also, why does he a make summery reference to G-D with His Name of Uniqueness? Yaakov should have just said, "He who said to me 'Return to your land..'" Rather, (we can understand this as follows.) Yaakov was saying to G-D: You made two promises to me. The first was made when I left my father's home in B'eer Sheva. (At that time) You said to me, "I am the G-D of Avraham and the G-D of Yitzchak.." (Genesis 28:13) There You said to me, "And I will protect you wherever you will go." (The second promise was made) in the home of Lavan (when) You said to me, "Return to the land of your fathers and your birthplace and I will do good to you." There You revealed yourself with just the Name of Uniqueness, as it states "And Hashem said to Yaakov, 'Return to the land of your fathers.'" (So,) with these two promises I am coming before You (and requesting your goodness).

By the manner in which Rashi poses his question it seems that it would have been most appropriate for Yaakov to refer to G-D as the Fear of Yitzchak. This is even though G-D Himself used the reference of the G-D of Yitzchok.

Furthermore, why does Yaakov in 31:53 refer to G-D as the Fear of Yitzchak? Why didn't he use the same reference that G-D Himself used?

The following came to mind.

Rashi provides the following commentary for Genesis 28:13, where G-D referenced Himself as the G-D of Yitzchak.

Throughout the Scriptures, we normally do not find G-D associating His name with a righteous person while the person is still alive, such as the G-D of so and so. This is because of (the verse in Iyov / Job 15:15) "Behold He (G-D) has no faith in his holy ones (i.e. righteous people while they are alive because they have free will and they are subject to be influenced by evil."

(However,) here G-D associates His name with Yitzchak. This is because Yitzchak lost his eyesight and he was home-bound. (Therefore,) it was as if he was no longer under the influence of evil.

In his state of old age and frailty, Yitzchak had lost some of his ability to do free-will choices.

We are required to manage the risks associated with having free-will. We are even encouraged to take steps to reduce these risks, even if this reduces our ability to be tested. As examples for the latter, I was taught that it is praiseworthy for a playful student who is prone to being distracted to request that his seat be placed near the teacher to make himself more inclined towards study. Also, a person should strive to establish his family within a Torah community where the extent of spiritual peril is relatively limited.

I was taught that a person can receive great dividends through ongoing and consistent positive behavior, even though this reduces his own free-will. For example, the newcomer to Torah observance who decides to keep Kosher may initially feel tested during travel when he is hungry and he sees a non-Kosher restaurant on the road. He will be rewarded greatly for resisting temptation. Over months and years of consistent Torah observance, this temptation disappears until he ceases to consider entering a non-Kosher restaurant regardless of his hunger. Yet, although he is beyond this test in his spiritual development, G-D will reward him for each time he would have been tested, since he was responsible for moving himself out of this sphere of temptation.

So, it can be praiseworthy for a person have reduced free-will.

However, if a person loses his free-will as a result of circumstances then this is a tragedy, for life with free-will is a special and short-lasting gift from G-D. In some way it is the essence of the human experience on this Earth.

G-D 's reference to Yitzchak's saintly stature implied a life with free-will reduced by circumstance. It was a teaching.

In no way did this require Yaakov to make the same reference, even though it was a reality. Rather, as a son who strives to take every opportunity to give his father honor, it was more appropriate for Yaakov to focus on his father's fear of G-D because it associated more distinction to his father.

32:22 I am small from all of the kindness and from all of the truth that You did with Your servant for I (initially) crossed this Jordan (River) with (only) my staff and now I am (blessed) with two camps.

The Rashi commentary teaches that this reference to being small reflected Yaakov's concern that some of his merits may have been used up to justify the kindness that G-D bestowed upon him. And he was also worried that he may have been tainted in some way by sin through his interaction with Lavan and that this plus the lack of merits would cause him to fall into Aisav's hands.

The Gur Aryeh commentary is puzzled by Yaakov's concern as G-D had previously assured him of Divine protection (28:15).

We know from the Torah that the words of a prophet must come true (Deuteronomy 18:22).

We also know from the story of Yonah (Jonah) that a Divine decree of calamity can be overturned by repentance and this is why the city of Nineveh was not destroyed.

This is consistent with a teaching that when G-D decrees something good then it must occur regardless of the behavior of those affected and when G-D decrees that evil will occur that it can be overturned by the behavior of those affected.

Since Divine protection is something good then why was Yaakov worried about falling into Aisav's hands, even if he was tainted in some way by sin?

The Gur Aryeh answers that the assurance that good will always happen is only when the promise is made through a prophet, as G-D will back the reputation of His messengers.

However, G-D's promise to Yaakov of Divine protection was made directly to Yaakov, not through an intermediary. Yaakov was therefore afraid that he was not as righteous as he was when G-D promised him.

This gives us assurance that all of the great Biblical promises and consolations for the Jewish people that were made and recorded by our prophets will and must occur, regardless of whether we are as great and noble as our ancestors were when the promises were made.

32:22 I am small from all of the kindness and from all of the truth that You did with Your servant for I (initially) crossed this Jordan (River) with (only) my staff and now I am (blessed) with two camps.

The Rashi commentary teaches that Yaakov's reference to being small reflected a concern that some of his merits may have been used up to justify the kindness that G-D bestowed upon him. He was worried that he may not have sufficient merits to justify additional protection for emergencies, such as his imminent confrontation with Aisav (Esau).

One would expect that Divine kindness is done without compensation and merits should not be reduced for providing it. However, Yaakov was worried that he may have been tainted in some way by sin and that this would use up his merits. The interaction between a Divine kindness and a person later being associated with sin is not explained. Perhaps sin could cause a kindness to terminate and merits could be used to keep it from ending.

It is typical for the righteous to worry about having been tainted by sin. Those who are less righteous that our great ancestor Yaakov should take heed. (Present party included.)

At any rate, the verse also states that the truth which G-D did for him was also a concern for reducing merits.

Rashi provides the following explanation: The truth of Your words, that You guarded all of the promises that You made to me.

What does guarding a promise mean?

We find a similar expression in the Passover Hagaddah: "Blessed is the One who guarded His promise to the Jewish people. The commentaries explain this in the following manner.

G-D promised Avraham (Abraham) that He will redeem the Jewish people from slavery in what later became Egypt. However, there was an implied condition that the Jewish people would not do anything to disqualify themselves from the redemption.

Unfortunately, the Egyptian culture impressed them towards assimilation and many sank into idolatry. Given the rate of decline, had they remained in Egypt for the full term of four-hundred years, their connection with Avraham and G-D's promise would have been reduced to insignificance and they would have been eternally trapped.

In His kindness, G-D guarded the promise by moving up the redemption by one-hundred-eighty years so that the decline would not overtake the Jewish people and they would not become disqualified. In doing so, the truth of the promise remained visible. Had the Jewish people become disqualified due to their activities then the truth of the promise would have remained, but would not have been visible due to the implied condition.

Applying this to Yaakov, he was afraid that his merits were used up to maintain his eligibility.

I believe that this applies to us all today.

Current events as reported by journalists can make use feel that history is closing in on the Jewish people. The redemption that we anxiously await seems to be increasingly impossible.

It wouldn't be so frightening if we could clearly see that we are spiraling upwards towards eligibility. However, given the rate of assimilation, intermarriage, materialism, and a host other social and spiritual ills, the picture sometimes looks to the novice (present party included) like a downward vortex.

Are we going to run out of merits to maintain eligibility? Are we going to make it out of this darkness and meet our great destiny as foretold by our prophets?

The Talmud (Makos 24b) tells us of the encounter our sages had with the temple mount that was in ruins. They tore their clothes in mourning. They all wept except for Rabbi Akiva, who laughed.

They asked Rabbi Akiva, "Why are you laughing?" He questioned they why cried.

Their response was obvious. They had just seen a fox run out from the very place where only the high priest was permitted to enter one time a year, the holy of holies.

To their astonishment, Rabbi Akiva responded that this is what gave him great joy.

Both the great destruction and the great redemption were both foretold in the scriptures. What all but Rabbi Akiva did not realize at that moment was that both events are also bonded together in the scriptures, that if the destruction occurs then so must the redemption, in full and corresponding detail. They had just witnessed the fulfillment of Micha 3:12. This and the other great tragedies were paving the way for the redemption and consolations.

So there you have it.

We've already paid plenty for the redemption. It's unstoppable. It's going to happen, merits or not.

The ride is getting increasingly rough and seems sluggish. With a bit more effort, sincerity, and unity we can make it better.

I said this before and will repeat it again. Perhaps the redemption has yet to occur because it is not yet impossible enough.

Who knows?

32:25 And Yaakov (Jacob) remained by himself and a man struggled with him until dawn.

32:26 And he [the man] saw that he could not overcome him [Yaakov] and he touched the socket of his hip and Yaakov's hip-socket became dislocated as he struggled with him.

32:27 And he [the man] said, "Send me away because the dawn arrived." And he [Yaakov[ said, "I will not send you away unless you bless me."

32:28 And he [the man] said, "What is your name?" And he said, "Yaakov."

32:29 And he said, "Your name will no longer be called Yaakov, but instead Yisroel because you dominated ('Sarisa') before G-D and man and you have succeeded."

32:30 And Yaakov asked and he said, "Please say your name." …

32.31 And Yaakov called the name of that place …

32:32 And the sun shown for him as he passed by Penuel. And he was limping on his leg.

32: 33 It is for this that the Children do not eat to this day the displaced sinew that is on the hip socket because he touched Yaakov's hip socket on the displaced sinew.

Why didn't G-D protect Yaakov from being injured?

One could suggest that a more appropriate place for verse 32:33 is right after 32:26, which describes the injury itself. Why was it written after verse 32:32, which says that Yaakov was limping because of the injury?

The following came to mind.

We have a tradition that this 'man' was actually the guardian angel of Aisav (Esau).

The Baal Haturim commentary says that the angel wanted to make Yaakov a cripple to disqualify him from serving in the temple. This is because Aisav was jealous that Yaakov had the rights of the first-born, among which is the privilege of serving in the temple.

Yaakov's disability worked in his favor during his very dangerous encounter with Aisav, which occurred shortly thereafter. His disqualification calmed Aisav's jealousy.

This is perhaps why G-D let the angel inflict the injury.

Perhaps a central message in our not eating the dislocated sinew is not that our ancestor got injured in that area of the body. Rather the point is that Yaakov had to endure the effects of an injury in order to calm his brother's jealousy.

We are not simply remembering that Yaakov got hurt. Rather, we are reminding ourselves about the evil of jealousy.

32:29 And he (Aisav’s / Esau’s angel that struggled with Yaakov / Jacob) said, “Your name will no longer be called Yaakov but rather Yisroel (Israel) ...

35:10 And G-D said to him, “Your name is Yaakov. Your name will no longer be called Yaakov. Rather your name will only be Yisroel” …

Rav Moshe Bick of blessed memory asks the following.

Why did G-D change Yaakov’s name to Yisroel after His angel already did so?

The Ramban says that G-D first states “Your name is Yaakov” to indicate that the new name of Yisroel is not a replacement, but that Yaakov will also be called Yisroel.

Rav Bick provides the following explanation.

Yaakov was given that name because he grasped the ekev (heel) of his brother when they were born. The name represents serving G-D within physicality.

The name Yisroel represents a higher level of service, one that exclusively involves spirituality.

The angel’s blessing suggested that Yaakov would only be involved with spiritual matters, thereby making himself dependent upon Aisav for his physical needs. G-D’s blessing was that Yaakov will be involved in both levels of service. Even when he is involved in physicality, he will serve G-D in a way that transforms physicality into spirituality.

The Chasam Sofer offers another explanation. The heel represents lowliness.

A person’s life is filled with periods of success and failure, both materially and spiritually.

We are taught that Aisav’s angel is also the evil inclination. It sought to retain control of the spiritually low periods in a person’s life, when he is susceptible to discouragement.

33:4 And Aisav (Esau) ran towards him (Yaakov / Jacob) and he hugged him and he fell on his neck and kissed him. And they cried.

A reader without the benefit of tradition may view this as a warm and touching brotherly reunion. This may also make a reader wonder if Yaakov was overreacting when he prepared for Aisav's attack.

However, we are taught otherwise.

The Targum Yonosan Ben Uziel provides the following reading of this verse:

And Aisav ran towards him and hugged him and he fell on his neck and kissed him. And Aisav cried from the pain of his teeth that were dislocated. And Yaakov cried because of the pain in his neck.

The Medrash provides the following amplification, in the name of Rabbi Yanai:

(In the script of the Torah there are markings over the word, "And he kissed him.") This is to teach that (Aisav did not initially intend to kiss Yaakov. Rather), he approached to bite him (in his neck). The neck of Yaakov our ancestor (suddenly) became hard as marble and the teeth of that wicked person (Aisav) broke. What does the verse mean when it says, "and they cried?" This one cried because of his teeth and that one cried because of his neck.

We know that the Torah is very selective in recording details. We derive Aisav's plan from the markings that are over the word, "And he kissed him." Why does the Torah also record that these two ninety-seven year-old brothers cried? What message or lesson is the Torah trying to teach us?

Another related question that comes to mind is since G-D is performing a miracle to save Yaakov, why does it also have to hurt?

The following came to mind.

I suspect that there was something to make this ninety-seven year-old man cry that was far more significant than his dental problems. Aisav tried very hard to kill his brother but it was Divine intervention that protected Yaakov. He lost all hope in carrying out the murder. He was defeated, down and out. And, Aisav deserves losing his teeth for his planned misuse of them.

For Yaakov, this should have been a time for great joy. But, perhaps Yaakov could not show his joy at this time for this would have been inappropriate since his brother was suffering.

Perhaps, to insure that Yaakov does not show even a subtle sign of joy, G-D limits the effects of His miracle so that it saves Yaakov, but at the cost of Yaakov's discomfort.

We see the Torah's great sensitivity to feelings, even to those of a wicked person and even at a time when the wicked person is being punished.

33:4 And Eisav (Esau) ran towards him (Yaakov - Jacob) and he hugged him and he fell on his neck and he kissed him and they cried.

There are different traditions regarding Eisav's intentions at this moment.

According to Rabbi Shimon Ben Elazar, both brothers were overcome by emotions so Eisav kissed Yaakov and they both cried.

According to Rav Yanai, Eisav was attempting to kill Yaakov. He fell on Yaakov's neck in a disarming manner, to kiss him. Once in this position, Eisav tried to sink his teeth into Yaakov's neck. G-d cause Yaakov's neck to become as hard as marble, so they both cried. Eisav cried because of his teeth and Yaakov cried because of his neck.

Why did Yaakov cry? Could it be that this miracle was painful for him?

The following came to mind.

We have a general rule that the events which happened to our forefathers foretell what will happen to the Jewish people.

G-d hardened Yaakov's neck in order to protect him from Eisav. The Jewish people are later described in the Torah as being a 'hard-necked' (stiff-necked) people.

Judaism teaches that there is no such thing as a bad character trait. Rather, it depends on how it is used. A person can exploit a trait for the good and a person can also misuse it.

We therefore need not be ashamed of being called a stiff-necked people. We just have to be more careful about it.

Over the past two-thousand years we have been a cultural minority that has been endangered by assimilation. We have used this trait many times for self-protection, for maintaining the religion, identity, lifestyle, and standards of our forefathers. Given the enormous stress that we had to endure throughout this period, we would have disappeared long ago, had we not been endowed with this trait.

We have also been scolded for using this trait for the wrong things.

Perhaps this is why Yaakov cried.

34:31 And they said, "Should our sister be made into a harlot?"

Many aspects of Yaakov's (Jacob's) encounter with the wicked people of Shechem are puzzling.

The following insights are proposed by Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky of blessed memory, as recorded in the Emes LeYaakov commentary.

It appears from verses 34:5-13 that Yaakov did not answer Chamor and Shechem when they proposed an 'after-the-fact' wedding ceremony with Yaakov's daughter Dina, a victim of Shechem's lust. Instead, Yaakov left it to his children to deal with the father and the rapist.

Yaakov's children responded by insisting that the entire city be circumcised. Chamor and Shechem sold the idea to their people.

Yaakov planned to attempt a rescue on the third day after the procedure. But Shimon and Levi went a bit further and killed all of the males, instead of just rescuing Dina.

Yaakov admonished them and they responded, "Should our sister be made into a harlot?" The Torah does not record Yaakov's response.

It is notable that Yaakov never criticized them for tricking Chamor and Shechem into the circumcision. The only thing that was amiss was that Shimon and Levi killed out the city.

On his death bed some fifty years later, Yaakov cursed the anger of Shimon and Levi. 48:7. He ends by stating, "I shall divide them among (the people of) Yaakov and I will scatter them among (the nation of) Israel.

It sounds like he is cursing them for what they did in Shechem. However, we know from other sources that Yaakov appointed Levi, now a great and noble Torah sage, to head of the Yeshiva that was established in Egypt.

Furthermore, the Medrash reads Yaakov's parting words as an assignment to a noble mission. The meaning of the division and scattering is that many of Shimon and Levi's descendants will become school teachers and they will relocate to where their students reside.

To further explain, Chamor was a leading figure in the city of Shechem. His son violated Dina in public and was never brought to justice by the local authorities. This told Yaakov and his family that the city and its legal system were corrupt.

Dina was held captive in Shechem's residence, pending the outcome of the negotiations with Yaakov's family. Yaakov had no recourse to deal with the injustice other than to resort to trickery to extricate his daughter.

Some commentaries explain that according to Noahide law it is a capital offence for the inhabitants of a city to accommodate the fact that they do not have a system of justice. This provided sufficient grounds for Shimon and Levy to kill them out.

Yaakov's objection was that doing so placed his family in jeopardy, as the surrounding inhabitants may opt for revenge. Although Noahide law justified Shimon and Levi's act, there was no actual mandate for them to do it, especially when it put others in danger.

While their decision was improper, Yaakov was impressed by their response to his challenge. It reflected that these two young men felt the pain of their sister as if it were their own to the degree that they were willing to risk life and limb to save her.

Yaakov saw from this that the descendants of these two great sons will be able to forget about personal comfort, will take walking sticks in hand, and will tread from city to city as teachers to ensure that the children of the Jewish people will have a Torah-true education.

His parting words were a blessing that they will have children who are just as worthy as they are.

35:8 And Devorah, Rivkah's (Rebecca) nurse, passed away...

Rashi tells us that Yaakov learned by Devorah's passing that his mother Rivkah also passed away.

35:9 And G-D again appeared to Yaakov (Jacob) as he was coming from Padan Aram. And He blessed him.

Rashi tells us that G-D recited for Yaakov the blessing that is made for mourners.

Verse 16 says that Yaakov continued on with the journey to his father's home.

The verses that follow tell us that Rachel, Yaakov's wife, went into labor and passed away.

The Torah appears to be saying that G-D recited the blessing for mourners after the loss of Yaakov's mother but before the loss of Yaakov's wife.

But G-D knew in advance that Yaakov would lose both his mother and his wife. Why wasn't the blessing written or made after the loss of both loved ones?

The following came to mind.

The blessing is written between a great loss that occurred in the past and before another great loss that was about to happen in the future.

Perhaps this is to bring to mind there are two goals in consoling to a mourner. One is to help the mourner cope with that which he lost from his past. The other is to give him strength to cope for the future.

35:10 And G-D said to him, "Your name is Yaakov (Jacob). Your name will no longer be called Yaakov. Rather, your name will become Yisroel (Israel). And He called his name Yisroel."

The name change does not appear to be universal because the Torah refers to him as Yaakov in verse 15. The Torah sometimes calls him Yaakov and other times he is called Yisroel.

Avraham's (Abraham's) name was changed from Avram in 17:5: "And your name will no longer be called Avram. Your name will be Avraham for I have made you as a father of a multitude of nations" (17:5).

From that point on, the Torah never refers to Avraham as Avram. In fact, the Talmud derives from 17:5 that it is forbidden to refer to him as Avram (Brachos13a).

Why was Yaakov's name change different? Why does the Torah sometimes refer to him as Yaakov and other times it uses Yisroel?

The Nesivas Shalom commentary offers the following explanation.

Each of our founding fathers had a unique approach to serving G-D.

Avraham's focus was doing acts of kindness. This corresponds to worship out of love and personal desire.

Yitzchak's focus was discipline and respect. This corresponds to worship out of awe and reverence.

Yaakov's focus was to achieve and balance both approaches.

The recommended path for most types of personal growth is to master a basic level of competence and to then add enhancements.

Self-discipline and worship out of a perceived need to comply is our basic level for spiritual growth, a starting point.

Serving G-D out of love and a desire to do so is a higher level of quality. But it is also difficult maintain.

A person whose relationship with the Torah relies solely on love and desire may not be able to maintain the same level of meeting Torah obligations when his feelings cool down. Furthermore, he is at risk because a lapse in observance may discourage him. However, with the basic level of compliance as a backup he will continue on and eventually pick up where he left off.

Yaakov started by focusing on the basic level that his father mastered. He worked upwards from there.

His new name Yisroel represented two things. One was mastery in being able to worship with love and desire. The other was a mastery to balance the two.

Therefore, the name change was not permanent because he used both approaches to keep on growing.

The lesson for us is to aim high and have a back-up plan. The expectations that we impose on ourselves must be realistic, with the realization that our feelings and performance can vary. We must function in a way to maintain growth without incurring excessive risk.

It's hard for a person to figure out the right balance and it's best to work this out with a G-D fearing and competent mentor.

The Chamudei Tzvi commentary suggests an alternate explanation.

The Torah gives us two frameworks for serving G-D. One pertains to spiritual endeavors, such as prayer and studying Torah. The other pertains to physical and mundane endeavors, such as making a livelihood and eating. Just as a person can serve G-D through prayer or fasting, one can serve G-D by eating with the proper intentions and limits, by transforming physicality into becoming a vehicle for spirituality.

The name Yaakov refers to serving G-D within physicality. Yisroel refers to serving G-D within a spiritual framework.

The extra 'h' in Avraham's name signifies that his impact on humanity will become greater. A person that ignores the extra letter is belittling that greatness.

One begins the journey towards his greatness from the physical framework. As we grow we increase our connection and involvement with the higher framework.

G-D recognized Yaakov's potentials and accomplishments in both frameworks. The name Yisroel was given in addition to Yaakov with the intention that Yaakov and his descendants are destined to grow and succeed in both dimensions.

And yet the Yaakov is told, "Your name will only be Yisroel." This means that while we will be involved throughout our lives in both frameworks, our essence will be that of Yisroel. We will always be a Yisroel whether we do things in the framework of a Yaakov or in the framework of a Yisroel.

35:11 And G-d said to him (Yaakov / Jacob), 'I am G-d Sha-dai. Be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a community of nations will come forth from you, and kings will come forth from your loins.'

The term to, 'be fruitful and multiply' is mentioned several times in the account of Creation, at the beginning of the Book of Genesis:

1:21 And G-d blessed them (the insects, fish, and birds), saying: 'Be fruitful and multiply..'

This is obviously a blessing and not a commandment because only people have Torah commandments.

1:28 And G-d blessed them (Adam and Chava) and G-d said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply ..'

This is more than a blessing. It is also a commandment, the first of the Torah's six-hundred-thirteen Torah commandments.

How do we understand the statement to 'Be fruitful and multiply' in our Torah portion?

It is difficult to view it as a charge for Yaakov to have more children. Rashi reminds us that at this point in his life, Rachel was already pregnant with Binyamin (Benjamin), his last child. G-d was well aware of this. What is the Torah trying to tell us?

The following came to mind.

It is not so obvious that this is a blessing because the verse does not begin with the phrase, 'And G-d blessed,' as we find in the earlier verses in Genesis.

Rather, perhaps this reflects a teaching in the Oral Torah:

Says Rabbi Shemuel Bar Nachmeini: 'Regarding a person that teaches Torah to the son of his fellow, the Scripture considers that (it's as if) he gave birth to him.

It says (Numbers 3:1), 'And these are the generations of Aharon and Moshe (Aaron and Moses)' And, it says (Numbers 3:2), 'And these are the names of the sons of Aharon'.' (This is) to tell us that (although) Aharon gave birth to them, (since) Moshe taught them, they are therefore ascribed as being (Moshe's children.) (Sanhedrin 19b).

The commandment to be fruitful and multiply must be taken literally. That is, a person must try to have children in the physical sense and in the proper manner. However, here perhaps the Torah is charging us to think about the context of this commandment, that we should not be satisfied with just having children in the physical sense. Rather, our focus should be to increase the awareness and service of G-d in this world. Being fruitful and multiplying must be addressed qualitatively, not just quantitatively.

It seems that in the pure physical sense, this commandment will prove to be personally irrelevant for Yaakov, for he is aged and his most beloved wife Rachel will soon die during the childbirth of his final child.

However, spiritually, this charge is most relevant, now that the number of offspring that he is destined to bring into this world is complete.

Perhaps this is why G-d gives Yaakov this charge, using a phrase that is similar to that which He said to the first couple in the Garden of Eden.

Yaakov is about to loose his wife, but he will not lose his opportunity to be productive. Perhaps G-d is now preparing him for the tragic loss.

It is now a time for Yaakov to actively focus on giving his children the great guidance that will and has sustained the Jewish people for the rest of history.

35:17 And it was when she encountered difficulty in childbirth (that) her midwife said to her, "Fear not for this also a son for you."

35:18 And when her soul left her, for she was dying, and she called his name, "Son of my suffering." And his father called him, "Binyamin" (Benjamin, Son of the right.).

25:22 And it was, when Yisroel (Israel) settled in that land (that) Reuven (did something that is written up as if he disgraced himself.)

The commentaries discuss the significance of the Torah writing the death of Rachel adjacent to the story of Reuven.

The following association between the birth of Binyamin with the story of Reuven came to mind.

The southern and eastern sides of the outer altar of the Temple did not appear to have a foundation stone. The Talmud (Zevachim 53b) notes that the area immediately adjacent to these sides of the altar belonged to the tribe of Yehudah (Judah) and the rest of the altar was in land that was allocated to the tribe of Binyamin.

Blood of atonement was placed only on the foundation stone and it was for this reason that none was put on the south-eastern corner.

The Talmud states the following: "A strip of land extended out from the portion of Yehudah and into the Binyamin's land. Binyamin the Righteous was constantly upset about this. Therefore, Binyamin merited to be the host of G-D('s Temple, as the main compound was built in his land."

The Marsha commentary finds this difficult to understand because the logic appears to be circular. That is, it appears as though the prophetic foresight of his not fully hosting G-D's holy places gave him distress but that this distress gave him merit to host G-D's holy places. The Marsha says that it would be easier to understand if Binyamin merited the hosting through the merit of his children who were the first ones to jump into the sea during the Exodus, which is what the Talmud says in another place (Sotah). The Marsha ends off by saying that it here appears that the Talmud is taking the view that the children of the tribe of Yehudah were the first ones into the sea.

How do we understand this Marsha?

The following came to mind.

Perhaps the foresight that upset Binyamin was the reason that Yehudah received a share in hosting the Temple. Yehudah instilled an attitude into his children that gave them the energy to be the first ones into the sea. While he may have been very happy for Yehudah's success as a parent, this made him wonder if he had done all that he could to properly raise his children.

Perhaps G-D foresaw this as an opportunity to associate Binyamin's special distress with a person coming to the Temple to achieve atonement for his/her shortcomings.

Binyamin feared that he suffered a lapse in proper parenting.

Binyamin is unique among all of Yaakov's (Jacob's) children for he was the only one that was fully raised without his natural mother, for she died at childbirth.

Elsewhere, the Talmud lists Binyamin as one of a handful of people who passed away from this world without having doing even one sin.

So, Binyamin represented great success despite a lapse in parenting.

Conversely, Reuven's childhood represented the best of opportunities for he was the oldest and benefited most from the combined efforts of his two great parents, Yaakov and Leah. And yet, he suffered a downfall

Perhaps this is another meaning in the adjacency of Binyamin's birth to Reuven's story.

It is so easy for a person who seeks atonement to blame his background and/or environment on his/her shortcoming. Some schools of psychology place great significance on associating a person's failure with the failings of his parents.

Given that Binyamin succeeded in hosting the Temple's main compound, his life and his distress signify great success despite a real or perceived lack of parenting. It demonstrates that G-D is aware of a person's limitations and that He can help a person overcome them and rise to great achievements. It shifts the responsibility of the sinner on the sinner himself, not on his parents.

36:6 And Aisav (Esau) took his wives, his sons, his daughters, all the people of his household, his flock, all of his cattle, and all of his possessions that he acquired in the Land of Canaan, and he went to a land because of Yaakov (Jacob) his brother.

36:7 Because their belongings were too much (to enable both brothers to) live together, and the land of their sojourning was not able to support (both of) them because of their (abundant) flocks.

Rashi's commentary on 36:6:

'and he went to a land' - to live wherever he could find a place.

Rashi's commentary on 36:7:

'and the land of their sojourning' - could not provide sufficient pasture for their flocks. The Medrash comments on the phrase, 'because of his brother Yaakov' as follows. This was because of the debt that the children of Yitzchak (Isaac) had to pay for the privilege of inheriting the Land of Canaan. (G-d told Avraham in 15:13) 'your children will be sojourners.' (Said Aisav,) 'I'll move from here. I want no share, not in the land and not in the obligation of paying the debt.' Also, (Aisav moved) because he was embarrassed from selling the birthright to Yaakov.

Why does Rashi in 36:7 provide comment for a phrase in 36:6? Why didn't he say it n his comment of 36:6?

Now, the Medrash provides reasons for Aisav's move.

The last reason, that of Aisav's embarrassment, can perhaps be taken as the Medrash's interpretation of the phrase in 36:6, 'because of his Yaakov his brother.' That is, Aisav moved away because he was ashamed from selling the birthright to his brother.

The rest of the Medrash appears to be providing additional rationale for the move.

Why isn't the reason that the Torah itself provides in 36:7 sufficient? There was really not enough room for them both. Why does the Medrash provide more reasons?

The following came to mind.

Aisav moved to Seir (36:8). We must first speculate when this occurred.

The move was due to the abundance of Yaakov's flocks (36:7). Yaakov built up his flocks during his last six years with Lavan (31:41). This was immediately prior to his encounter with Aisav.

It appears from 32:4 that Aisav was already living Seir when Yaakov met him.

We must therefore say that the move of Chapter 36 occurred some time prior to Chapter 32.

We have a general rule that a section in the Torah can be placed out of time-sequence (Ain mukdam u'meuchar baTortah). It is therefore not unusual that the move occurred in time prior to Chapter 32 even though it was presented in Chapter 36.

Now, at the encounter, Yaakov was afraid that Aisav would kill him and take everything away (32:12). Per the Oral Torah, Aisav was indeed planning to do this.

As referenced above, the Torah says that Aisav left the land because there was not enough room for them both. If Aisav was planning to kill Yaakov on sight, why would the lack of room for Yaakov's flocks make Aisav feel pressured to leave the land before he met Yaakov?

We must therefore say that Aisav himself did not consider the lack of room as a reason to make a move.

Rather, the Medrash provides us with Aisav's personal motives.

It came to mind that the Medrash is providing us with three reasons: a public, a private, and a sub-conscious reason.

The public reason is that despite his personal behavior and convictions, Aisav maintained his claim to the heritage and therefore to the destiny of the Children of Isaac. Perhaps he publicly demonstrated his claim by undertaking a self-imposed exile. In fact, he may have felt compelled to do this because Yaakov was already in exile, suggesting that Yaakov was further on his way to assume the destiny, which included an exile.

The private reason was that Aisav really did not want any part of the pre-destined exile, which included a four-hundred-year period of suffering (15:13). Perhaps, he hoped that the self-imposed exile would suffice to disqualify him from this noble undertaking. Perhaps it would demonstrate to G-d that the Land of Canaan was of little significance to him.

The sub-conscious reason was that Aisav was ashamed of what he had done.

So, from the Medrash we now have three reasons that Aisav could have personally considered. However, how do we reconcile them with the Torah's reason? Furthermore, if the Torah's reasons were not Aisav's then whose were they?

Perhaps they were G-d's. Was it not G-d who made Aisav think of the Medrash's three reasons?

During Yaakov's last six years with Lavan, G-d helped him grow wealthy.

During this time, G-d saw the need to clear Aisav from the land prior to Yaakov's arrival so that Yaakov would have a place to pasture the great flocks that He was giving him.

There really was not enough room for them both. As a rule, G-d does not perform miracles. While Yaakov may have been worthy of a miracle, Aisav certainly was not.

Therefore, the reasons in the Medrash's complement that of the Torah's.

With this, we can perhaps understand why the Rashi in 36:7 provides a comment for a phrase in previous verse? Rashi may be alluding to the link between the true reason for Aisav's move, which was G-d's and the reasons that Aisav himself had in mind.

Vayeshev (Genesis 37-40)

We recite the Tashlich service during the High Holiday season, a time for introspection and atonement. This ceremony is performed near a body of water.

Some have a custom to throw bread crumbs into the water, symbolizing the need to cast away our sins.

There is a legend of a great Chassdic master whose followers once dived into the water to retrieve his Tashlich crumbs. He was astonished and asked them why they did this. They responded as follows: Rebbe, what for you is a sin is for us a mitzvah, a good deed.

While the legend may be fictitious, the moral is true.

For the next several weeks, we deal in the Torah sections that discuss the relationship that Yosef (Joseph) had with his brothers.

Without the insight of the Oral Torah, it is easy to write these episodes off as set of petty and dangerous squabbles.

However, from the Oral Torah we know that Yaakov's (Jacob's) twelve sons were righteous, pious, and outstanding individuals. We are unable to relate to their greatness and we are unable relate to whatever shortcomings they may have had.

37:1 And Yaakov (Jacob) settled in the land of his ancestor's sojourning, in the Land of Canaan.

37:2 These are the chronicles of Yaakov: Yosef (Joseph) was seventeen years old…

Commenting on "And Yaakov settled," Rashi says that Yaakov sought to live in tranquility.

This is understandable, especially after the extreme personal and family stress that he experienced for so many years.

Commenting further, Rashi says that the righteous seek to live in tranquility. G-D said, "What is prepared for the righteous in the next world is not sufficient for them. They still seek to live in tranquility in this world?" Thereupon, the trauma of Yoseph's (Joseph's) episodes 'jumped' into Yaakov's life.

How do we understand this?

Sometimes stress interferes with growth and self-development and other times it enhances it.

Possibly, Yaakov may not have realized that additional stress would make him and his family greater, but G-D knew otherwise.

But there have been so many great and righteous people who lived out their lives in tranquility. We have no record of Heaven getting on their case to generate more stress.

Yaakov was truly unique in greatness. Was there something especially unique about Yaakov that created this need?

Rabbi Akiva Eiger of blessed memory suggests that indeed there was.

Heaven guaranteed Yaakov's conditions in the afterlife by informing him that he would not see Gehenim (Hell) if all his children survived him. (Rashi 37:35).

Except for Yaakov, the great among us never had such a guarantee. This meant that in the back of their minds they were always concerned about what their ultimate fate would be. And this kept them more on their toes and made them turn out even greater.

So it appears that Yaakov was given more stress to compensate for the guarantee.

But let's think about this.

I assume that Yaakov was relieved when he first heard the guarantee. But would he have remained happy had he known its cost?

The following came to mind.

What happened afterwards in the story of Yaakov's life?

He sees Yoseph's blood-stained cloak and assumes that his beloved son was killed by a wild animal.

Yosef was no more and he had no guarantee. Yaakov's life plunged into great darkness and doubt.

After twenty-two years of mourning he was suddenly told that Yosef is alive and that he even rules over Egypt.

They reunited and Yosef cared for Yaakov's entire family. Yaakov lived out his remaining years in great honor, and happiness. His life was indeed a complete success. He achieved extreme tranquility.

We are taught a great rule for Jewish history: Whatever happened to the forefathers reflects what will occur to their descendants.

I believe we can say that Yaakov paved the way for future and distant generations who will also have some sort of a guarantee that they will succeed but will be plunged into darkness and doubt for a very long time. And just like Yaakov's life took an unexpected and great turn for the better, so will the same occur to his offspring.

So perhaps Yaakov would not have been so happy had he known the toll the guarantee would take on his life. But in his greatness he would have gladly assumed all of its costs and even much more, had he known how it would benefit his children in the future.

May the end of our darkness come speedily in our lifetimes.

37:2 These are the offspring of Yaakov (Jacob). Yosef (Joseph) was seventeen years old and he pastured the sheep with his brothers and he grew up together with the children of Bilha andZilpah, who were wives of his father. And Yosef brought told their father about their childish talk.

Many commentaries understand the introductory words, "These are the offspring of Yaakov" as though it was written, "This is the history of Yaakov and his descendents."

The Sefurno commentary says that from the time Yaakov left his parents home, his life story is a reflection of the future history of his offspring. The events during his exile to Lavan's house map to that which happened to the Jewish people when we were exiled to Babylon. The events that occurred after his return to the land of Israel map to that which happened subsequently to the Jewish people, from the time of the Second Temple down through its destruction and exile of the Jewish people, and to the eventual redemption of the Jewish people, may it occur speedily in our days.

The Sefurno makes several references to this mapping in his commentary of this dramatic story.

In 37:28 the Sefurno says that the sale of Joseph is a reflection of the Hasmonean period of our history when money was used to manipulate the Romans to take sides with one of the warring factions.

In 41:14 Yosef was suddenly freed from prison, to be subsequently made viceroy of Egypt. The Sefurno writes that this reflects that which is foretold about the end of days, when G-D will suddenly reveal His power to all of mankind as stated in Malachi 3:1, Behold I will send My angel and he will clear out a path for me and he will suddenly enter His palace, the Master that you are seeking and the angel of the covenant that you desire has come, says G-D (of) H-osts).

In 46:5, where Yaakov began his journey to reunite with his beloved Yosef, the Sefurno notes that this final period in his life marked the beginning of a time when Yaakov would have no more sorrow and suffering. This reflects how the end of history will be for the Jewish people as stated in Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) 31:6, "For so says G-D: Sing happily for Yaakov, cheering by the leadership of all nations. Make it heard, make praise. Say that G-D saved your nation, those who remain from Yisroel (Israel)."

The Torah says (37:2) 'And Yosef brought their (his brother's) ill conversation to their father (Yaakov).'

The Oral Torah does not label Yosef as a slanderer. In fact, the commentaries note that in discussing the matter with his father, Yosef was careful to do so within the Torah's guidelines for slander.

Children have a saying, 'Sticks and stones can break my bones but names will never hurt me.' This may be helpful when consoling a small child, but it does not reflect reality, nor does it reflect Torah values. Words can hurt and damage.

A slanderer does not realize the significance of the spoken word.

The Oral Torah teaches that the plague of Tzoraas (popularly translated as leprosy) afflicts a slanderer. The one who is afflicted with this plague is socially devastated. It is interesting to note that its laws of ostracizing do not take effect until a Kohen says the word, 'Tomay.' In doing so, the Torah begins to teach the slanderer the significance of one spoken word.

It came to mind that perhaps Yosef was so much above slandering that G-d guided his life to provide a focus on the power of speech and the mouth, in preparation for his great role in Egypt, which was to feed the Jewish people.

Yosef's has many encounters with the significance of speech.

Yosef gets his dreams shortly after the talk with his father. These dreams foretell his greatness. They also cause a temporal but devastating downfall.

Yosef evokes interpretations for his dream. He later becomes known as a great interpreter of dreams and this is what brings him out of the dungeon and into Pharoah's court.

The Oral Torah teaches that a dream can be of significance. It also teaches that a dream follows its spoken interpretation.

Thus, Yosef lives through the significance of his dreams and his interpretations. He also changes his destiny by experiencing the significance of speech.

The Oral Torah uses the snake as a symbol of slander. A snake causes damage with its mouth. It derives no physical pleasure from doing so. The slanderer acts in a similar manner.

We soon find Yosef confronting snakes.

37:13 And Yisroel (Israel/Jacob) said to Yosef (Joseph): 'Aren't your brothers tending the flocks in Shechem? Go and I will send you to them.' And he (Yosef) said to him, 'Here I am.'

The Targum Yonosan Ben Uziel translates this as follows: And it was after some time. And Yisroel said to Yosef, 'Aren't your brothers tending the flocks in Shechem? I am concerned that the Chivites will come and strike at them because of their attack against Chamor, Shechem, and the people who lived there (See Genesis 34:25). Go and I will send you to them.' And he (Yosef) said to him, 'Here I am.'

Yosef sets out to find them. He meets a 'man' who tells him, 'They went away from here, because I heard them say, 'Let's go to Dosan.'' (37:17).

Rashi (37:15) says that this 'man' was the angel Gavriel (Daniel 9).

The Targum Yonosan Ben Uziel translates 37:17 as follows: And the 'man' said, 'They went away from here, because I heard from behind the Heavenly curtain that the Egyptian enslavement is beginning today and it was told to them through prophecy that the Chivites are planning to attack'

This was apparently Yisroel's source for concern.

Avraham (Abraham) was told by G-d (15:13) that his children will becomes enslaved. The angel provided Yosef with additional detail and apparently related the attack with the enslavement.

Did this actually happen? Did the Chivites attack? Did the enslavement begin at that time? Why was Yosef being lured away with these particular prophetic visions?

The following came to mind.

Yosef was put into an empty pit. It had no water but the Targum Yonosan Ben Uziel says that it contained snakes and scorpions. The Aramaic word for snakes is chavin. In Hebrew this word is very similar to Chivites.

The Chivites were associated with snakes in a positive sense. Just as a snake tastes soil, the Chivites were gifted with an ability of being able to recommend planting a crop by just tasting the soil.

Yosef's encounter with the snakes may have been a partial fulfillment of the prophecy.

He was subsequently sold into slavery on that same day and he was brought down to Egypt. Perhaps this was the completion of this prophecy.

If foretold enslavement began with Yosef, he initially acted as an agent for us. Eventually, all of the Jewish people became enslaved.

And recall that this is all tied to the theme of slander, for the symbol of slander is the snake.

Yosef was subjected to rejection and family isolation. This is a source of depression. Perhaps G-d provided this detail to Yosef so that he would be able to find strength and meaning in his plight.

The Torah teaches that we are in this world to be tested. G-d is always testing us.

This was a great test for Yosef.

G-d always makes sure that the tests match our resources and ability. Perhaps Yosef needed this insight in order to be able to cope with his situation.

In any event, this serves as another link to Yosef and the power of speech.

Pharaoh becomes Yosef's boss. The Hebrew word for Pharaoh consists of four letters. The first and the last letters spell the Hebrew word for mouth. The two middle letters spell the word, evil.

Pharaoh gives Yosef the following charge (41:40) 'By your mouth will my nation be sustained.'

It is quite fitting that Yosef should provide a focus for the power of speech. His mother is remembered for her silence.

Rachel did not protest when her father put Leah in her place during her own wedding ceremony. She let her sister marry the person who she waited seven years for. Rachel didn't now whether Yaakov would afterwards agree to marry her, also. She kept silent because she did not want to embarrass her sister.

G-d gave Rachel a son who would sustain the Jewish people.

47:12 'And Yosef supported his father, his brothers, all the household of his father, bread (even) according to the mouths of the children.'

37:21 And Reuven heard and he saved him (Yosef / Joseph) from their hands and he said, "Let's not kill him."

37:29 And Reuven returned to the pit and behold, Yosef was not in the pit. And he tore his clothing.

Rashi provides the following commentary for 27:29

He was not there during the sale [of Yosef] because it was his day to (return and) take care of his father. Another comment is that he was busy with his sack cloth and fasting for the (sin he committed when he) jumbled his father's bed.

The Medrash mentions that Reuven was busy serving his father. However, it associates this reason with verse 21, not verse 27.

Here is the text of the Medrash:

37:21 'And Reuven heard and he saved him.' Where was he? Rav Yosi, Rav Nechemia, and the Rabanan say the following. Rav Yosi says that each of them took turns serving their father and this was Reuven's day. Rav Nechemia says that Reuven thought to himself that since he was the first-born, the calamity (of Yosef's death) would be blamed on him. The Rabanan say that Reuven thought the following. He (Yosef) counted me among the brothers. How could I therefore not save him? (That is,) I thought that I was pushed away (from my destiny) because of the act (with my father's bed). (Yet,) he counts me among my brothers as it says, "And the eleven stars are bowing down to me." How could I not save him?

Rabbi Yosi's medrashic words are difficult to understand.

Since Rashi focuses on the simple meaning of the Torah's verses, perhaps he felt that Rav Yosi's approach provided a good explanation for 37:29, where the Torah openly says that Reuven returned and was surprised to find the empty pit.

However, how do we understand the medrash, which associates Reuven stopping his brothers from killing Yosef with his returning from serving his father? If serving Yaakov somehow caused Reuven to not want Yosef killed, why did the other brothers think to kill Yosef, as they all took turns serving their father?

The following came to mind.

Perhaps this can serve as an example how a person derives spiritual strength and elevation from performing a commandment.

Performing a commandment is a resource. Since Reuven had the freshest experience with this commandment, he was able to rise above the moment and stop the brothers.

37:25 And they [the brothers] sat down to eat bread. And they raised their eyes and behold there was a caravan of Yishmaelites coming from Gilead, their camels bearing spices, balsam, and lotus. (They were on their way) to bring (this cargo) to Egypt.

Rashi says that such caravans usually transport foul-smelling things such as naphtha and tar. G-D saw to it that this particular caravan would transport a sweet-smelling cargo to spare Yosef (Joseph) from offensive odors.

Yosef had just been sold into slavery by his brothers, he was disconnected from his father, and his future looked very bleak. If this would happen to the people I know, myself included, they would have felt very hurt and afraid. They would probably have been so stressed out that the odors wouldn't have mattered very much.

Rav Riesman sees the following powerful message from this Rashi.

G-D manages the affairs of mankind and nothing happens by accident.

Some things appear to bring success and others appear to bring disaster.

When we're in a crisis and things look bad, we must always keep in mind that it's for good reason, although we may not see it right away. G-D is good and all that happens to us are for the good.

Furthermore, when things look dark, G-D may drop clues to let us know that he is with us. Picking up on these clues can give us strength and encouragement to deal with crisis.

Yosef was well aware of this. The spices weren't there to just make him comfortable. They served to help him find strength when he needed it.

37:32 And they (the brothers) sent the coat of many colors and they brought it to their father. And they said, 'We found this. Please identify, is this the coat of your son or not?'

We note some possible extra phrases in this verse.

The brothers could have just said, 'We found this.' Yaakov (Jacob) should have recognized the coat and would have come to the conclusion that Yosef (Josef) was lost. Perhaps he had trouble dealing with the possibility that Yosef died and was subconsciously avoiding the recognition of the coat.

Psychologically, momentary denial is a natural reaction to such terrible news. Perhaps the additional statements, 'Please identify, is this the coat of your son or not' brought some temporary discomfort to Yaakov but it was felt that they were needed to be said for him to deal with the tragedy.

Perhaps the bothers could have waited a bit longer for Yaakov to come to this conclusion on his own. One never knows.

From the commentaries, we do know that the brothers sold Yosef out of what they perceived as a necessity, out of self-defense. For, Yosef appeared to be conniving to have them disinherited from the destiny of the Jewish people.

It took the brothers twenty-years to realize that they were wrong.

The story continues further.

38:1 And Yehudah (Judah) went down from his brothers at that time, and he turned to an Adulamite man, and his name was Chirah.

Rashi provides the following commentary on why he went down, and at that time.

.. to teach that his brothers took him down from his prestige. For when they saw the distress of their father (over the loss of Yosef), they said to him, 'You suggested to sell him (and we listened to you). Had you suggested to return him (back to father) then we would have (also) listened to you.'

This was the beginning of a series of personal tragedies for Yehudah.

His two sons died. His wife died. He found himself unable to control himself from living out of wedlock with a woman who looked like she was of ill repute. Finally, Tamar, his former daughter-in-law, appeared to be pregnant out of wedlock.

Little did he know, but the woman he met was indeed Tamar. She felt compelled to take unconventional action to have children from Yehudah, as she felt she was being shunned. Tamar was eligible to marry Yehudah and he or his son Shelah was supposed to marry her. Technically, Yehudah's being with Tamar was the continuation of a legitimate marriage and was fully proper. Unfortunately, he did not know this, so that act caused him embarrassment.

The Oral Torah teaches that Tamar was a woman with great status as she was the daughter of the High Priest Shem, son of Noach (Noah). Due to her status and the resulting disgrace, she was brought to court. The judges felt that she needed to be executed as an object lesson for the women of her generation.

38:23 (As) she [Tamar] was being brought out to be (executed by being) burned (at the stake), she sent (a message) to her father-in-law [Yehudah] saying, 'I am pregnant from the man to whom these belong to. Please identify. To whom does this ring, garment, and staff belong to?'

We not the similarity between this verse and 37:32. Both contain the phrase, 'Please identify.' In 37:32, it was said to Yaakov and in 38:23, Tamar said it to Yehudah.

38:26 And Yehudah recognized (them), and he said, 'She is (more) upright than I. ..'

This was an extreme in Yehudah's misfortunes. This confession was in public, in front of his family, his peers, and in front of the greatest people in his generation.

In 38:22, the Targum Yonasan Ben Uziel provides the tradition of what Yehudah was thinking during this most painful moment in his life.

'Because I told Yaakov my father, 'Please recognize, is this the coat of your son,' for this it had to be heard in court, 'To whom does this ring, garment, and staff belong to?''

From this Targum, we now know that it was Yehudah who prodded Yaakov into realizing that Yosef was killed.

Perhaps Yehudah can now see that the string of prior misfortunes had a hand in this downfall. Had Tamar remained married to his sons, had he had a wife for her to consult with, then perhaps she would not have acted in this manner.

To Yehudah at this moment, it appears to be entirely plausible for the entire string of misfortunes to be justified because of what he said to his father.

Yehudah was not loosing his mind. Rather, we take this as his insight into the significance of causing distress to a person, to a father, to a righteous person such as Yaakov.

This is awesome.

We have another tradition with a similar message.

Serach, daughter of Asher was among those who went down to Egypt with Yaakov. The Oral Torah teaches that she helped Moshe (Moses) recover Yosef's body, just prior to the Exodus, some two-hundred-ten years later.

The Oral Torah teaches that she merited long life because she helped ease Yaakov into realizing that Yosef was alive.

The brothers were concerned that Yaakov would go into shock from hearing the news. Just prior to them telling him, Serach, his little granddaughter, took out an instrument and made up a song about Yosef being alive. Her aged grandfather dismissed the song as wishful thinking but it apparently had some effect when he was subsequently told.

For giving some slight east to a person, a grandfather, a righteous person such as Yaakov, Serach lived at least another two-hundred-ten years.

This too is awesome.

37:31 And they [the brothers] took Yosef's coat and they slaughtered a goat. And they dipped the coat in the blood.

37:32 And they sent (out) the coat of many colors and they brought it to their father and they said, 'We found this. Please identify (it,) whether it is you son's coat or not.'

37:32 And he recognized it. And he said, '(This is) my son's coat. A bad animal devoured him. Yosef was ripped apart (by the animal).'

Rashi provides the following commentary on 37:32 from the Medrash: (Rav Huna said,) A prophetic (like) inspiration burst forth within him [Yaakov]. 'A bad animal devoured him' refers to the wife of Potiphar (who tried to seduce Yosef.)

Why was the encounter with Potiphar's wife introduced to Yaakov at this time? Also, Yaakov assumed that Yosef was killed. However, Potiphar's wife did not kill Yosef. It seem inappropriate to even mention it here.

The following came to mind.

Divine justice is carried out measure for measure. The heavenly court always matches the punishment to the crime.

Once Yaakov saw a physical reason for Yosef's death, we can assume that he sought to understand the spiritual reason for the tragedy.

While not everyone who commits incest is eaten up by a wild animal, this fate certainly matches the crime.

You see, in some cases, when a man loves a woman, he does indeed love the other person. This is true love. The physical attraction only enhances their relationship. This type of love grows over time. It may hardly even exist at the beginning of a marriage. It endures.

In other cases, when a man loves a woman he is simply loving himself, regardless of how he acts towards her or what he tells her. That is, he loves her in the same manner that he loves ice cream, in that both make him feel good. This is conditional love. The physical attraction is the cause of the relationship. This type of love can occur at a moments notice. It does not endure and is a relatively inferior type of love. He really doesn't care about her. Instead, he only cares about her body.

When a wild animal attacks, it doesn't care about the person, either. The animal only cares about its stomach and how person's meat will satisfy its hunger.

Perhaps this is what led Yaakov's thoughts to the crime of incest, which in turn may have led the prophetic inspiration towards the encounter with Potiphar's wife.

Commercialism bombards us today with a false emphasis on inferior love. A person must remain strong and put this pressure in its proper perspective. Tragically, many people do not. No doubt, this contributes to an abnormally high divorce rate.

37:35 … and he [Yaakov / Jacob] said, "For I will go down to my son as a mourner to the grave."

38:1 ... and Yehudah (Judah) went down from (being with his) brothers …

39: And Yosef was brought down to Egypt …

The Egyptian exile begins in this Torah reading.

The theme of lowering or descending is mentioned several times. It references reductions in spirit, status, and personal freedom.

In the verses that follow we find a theme of survival and the ability to thrive in the bleakest of surroundings.

39:2 And G-D was with Yosef and he was a successful person and he was in the house of his Egyptian master.

39.4 And Yosef found favor in his eyes and he served him. And he appointed him [Yosef} over his house and gave him (authority) over all that he had.

39:21 And G-D was with Yosef and endowed kindness towards him. And He gave his favor in the eyes of the jail master.

39:22 And the jail master gave over into the hands of Yosef all of the inmates of the jail. And he did everything that was done there.

39:23 The jail master saw nothing amiss with what was in his hands as G-D was with him. And G-D made successful everything that he did.

We are taught that the Egyptian exile is the forerunner of the exiles that are destined for the Jewish people.

To date we have experienced many downfalls. And we can also point to G-D's hand in ensuring that we survive and even thrive throughout the bleakest moments in our sometimes painful history.

37:35 And all of his sons and daughters arose to comfort him and he [Yaakov] refused to be comforted. And he said, "For I will descend into the grave as a mourner over my son (Yosef)." And his father (Yitzchak) cried over him.

Rashi cites a Medrash that Yaakov had been previously told by Heaven that he will not descend into hell after his death if he survives all of his children. He therefore saw the apparent death of his son Yosef as a heavenly omen that he was a spiritual failure.

Rabbi Gedaliah Schor (Ohr Gedaliah) notes the great sorrow and darkness that enveloped this spiritually sensitive person. And yet, Yaakov did not abandon his lifestyle. He didn't swerve an iota from his prayer and observance, and he continued on despite what looked like a lost hope for a sign of success. He remained in this state for twenty-two years. And then, he received the sudden and unexpected news that Yosef was still alive and that he even ruled over all of Egypt.

Rabbi Schor teaches that Yaakov's endurance and persistence gave us, his descendents, the spiritual energy to survive the current long and dark exile despite the fact that it sometimes appears hopeless and despite any way one can interpret our history as being a heavenly omen of failure.

And I believe that we can still see this energy today for a huge percentage of our brothers and sisters are under the influence of heretic and sterile teachings, such as that there is no afterlife or that there will be no Moshiach, G-D forbid. And yet they persist in wanting to be identified as Jewish, at all costs.

And we have been taught that the redemption of the Jewish people will come upon us suddenly and unexpectedly, just like Yaakov's personal redemption.

38:1 And it was during that time (that) Yehudah (Judah) descended from his brothers and he inclined towards an Adulamite man whose name was Chira.

In explaining the meaning of this descent, Rashi says that the brothers removed Yehudah from his position after they saw the agony that their father was experiencing over the loss of Yosef (Joseph). They held him responsible because it was Yehudah's idea to sell Yosef. They said to Yehudah, "You told us to sell him (and we listened to you.). Had to tell us to return him (home) we would have listened to you."

Rashi states that Yehudah had a position from which he was brought down. Until this point in the scriptures there is no mention of any appointment that Yehudah received. What was the nature of this position, especially given the fact that he had three older brothers that were more in line to have a position within the family?

The following came to mind.

Perhaps it was just their regarding his opinion about what to do with Yosef that Rashi calls a position.

38:11 And Yehudah (Judah) said to Tamar his daughter-in-law, "Live as a widow in your father's house until Shela my son gets older." For he expressed (his concern that) perhaps he will die just as his brothers. And Tamar went to live in her father's home.

38:14 And she changed out of her widow clothing and she put on a veil and covered herself. And she sat in a public place by the road to Timna. For she saw that Shela was grown up and that she was not given to him for a wife.

The Rashi commentary understands that it was Yehuda's intent to permanently separate Tamar from his family for health reasons because it seemed that anyone she married was prone to die, which is what happened to his first two sons. Yehudah therefore pushed her away by suggesting that she live in her father's home.

The Ramban commentary is puzzled by Rashi.

Why would Yehudah not be open with Tamar? Why wouldn't he tell her that she is forbidden to marry any more of his children because the preceding two marriages indicate an unhealthy and life-threatening mismatch? Why would he instead deceive her? Also, from the sentence that he later imposed on her at the trial, it seems that he expected her to be waiting to marry someone in his house-hold. Finally, it is unlikely that Yehudah would attribute the deaths of his two sons to some physical or genetic mismatch. Rather, it is more likely that Yehudah knew of the misconduct that they were involved with (38:9) and this was the reason for their deaths.

The Ramban therefore views the interaction between Yehudah and Tamar in a different light.

Yehudah learned of the improper behavior of his two sons and he viewed this as a result of their immaturity, since they were only twelve when they got married. Tamar was exceedingly beautiful and Yehudah wanted to be certain that Shela was mature and responsible before he married her. His caution delayed the marriage more than what Tamar expected. And so, with her great desire to bear children from this holy family, she did what she did.

According to the Ramban, given what Tamar did to become pregnant from Yehudah, it appears to me that Tamar was acting impulsively, albeit in a holy context. It's difficult to understand that she viewed the encounter as a spiritual high point in her life.

From what is recorded in the scriptures and in the Oral Torah, it is most probable that Yehudah did not view this unexpected encounter as a spiritual high point in his life, either.

The Medrash states that initially Yehudah did not give the woman any of his attention because she covered her face (as prostitutes did in his time). He sought to travel on but G-D dispatched the angel controls passion and it overpowered Yehudah.

(Note: This was a unique occurrence in the history of mankind. People who succumb to passion should not rely on this to absolve themselves of responsibility, especially if they fail on a routine basis.)

Yehudah had no knowledge that the encounter was forced on him by G-D. Rather, he probably viewed this as a failure in his personal self-control.

So, the encounter probably left both Yehudah and Tamar with feelings of spiritual inadequacy.

It is quite unusual for G-D to send angels to interfere with a person's free-will.

The Medrash assigns further significance to this encounter and states the following.

The sons of Yaakov were involved with the (repercussion of) Yosef's (Joseph's) sale. Yosef was busy with his sackcloth and fasting (in prayer for his salvation). Reuven was busy with his sackcloth and fasting (for slighting his father's privacy). Yehudah was busy finding a wife. And G-D was busy creating the light of the Moshiach (Messiah) (for the child that came from the encounter of Yehudah and Tamar was the ancestor of the Moshiach).

As stated earlier, in all probability both parents felt that they were at a spiritual low point in their lives. And it was within this context that G-D was preparing for the light of the Moshiach. Was the appearance of a person's spiritual inadequacy a necessary ingredient for this preparation?

The following came to mind.

Most definitely.

We are taught that the Messianic Era will occur when the Jewish people will be spiritually at either their highest point or lowest point. The Talmud states that at that time, every Jewish person will be either virtuous or guilty.

Regardless of the state of the Jewish people at that time, G-D will send the Moshiach because this is what He said He will do and this is what He wants to do. And nothing will stop it. And all the people that plotted to stop this will be held fully responsible for their rebellion against G-D's will, whether they tried to hurt us physically or spiritually.

Perhaps Yehudah and Tamar's encounter was a preparation for the second and less appealing course of Jewish history.

38:25 She [Tamar] was being taken out (to be executed) and she sent (a message) to her father-in-law saying, "I am pregnant from the man that owns these (items)." And she said, "Please recognize to whom the seal, cords, ad staff belongs."

Yehudah's confession saved her life. Had Yehudah not confessed then she would have been killed.

Tamar refused to name Yehudah as the father of her child because it him in public. It was so important to avoid the humiliation that she risked being executed.

The Talmud uses this as a source for the teaching that it is better for a person to throw himself into a furnace of fire than to humiliate someone else in public.

We find a similar story in the Talmud (Kesuvos 67b). Mar Ukvah had been anonymously supporting a neighbor. Curiosity eventually overcame the recipient. During one visit he began to open the door to learn the identity of his benefactor. Mar Ukvah ran away and was chased by his neighbor until he jumped into a furnace that had just been swept clean from hot coals. He suffered burns on his feet.

At least two approaches are provided as a basis for this law.

Generally, human life takes precedence over Torah observance in all but three areas: Idolatry, incest, and murder. For example, if a person points a gun at another and demands that he kill a third person then the person under gunpoint is forbidden to commit murder, even at the cost of his life. (See Pesachim 25a.)

Rabeinu Yonah (Shaarei Teshuvah 3:139) says that public humiliation is sufficiently similar to death to justify its being viewed as a form of murder with respect to the above rule.

This is why Tamar risked her life.

Another approach is provided by Tosfos (Sotah 10b). The ban is so severe that the Talmud (Bava Metziah 28b) teaches that this is one of three infractions for which transgressors (who do not repent) will remain in purgatory for eternity. Tosfos states that humiliation is not included in the above three major infractions because the prohibition is not openly stated in the Torah.

It is possible that there is a practical difference between the two approaches.

We know that a person must avoid doing an act of murder at all costs. However, passive compliance is another matter. For example, if a murderer wants another to remain stationary so that he can push him into someone else and cause that person's death, then he must remain still if the murderer will kill him if he doesn't comply.

The reason that a person is forbidden to kill another is because he has no basis for killing someone else to save his own life, for how does he know that his blood is 'redder' than the other's. Regardless of how things appear, it is only G-D who can rule whose life is more valuable.

So the victim must do nothing and can't take someone else's life. However, he can also do nothing and let himself be used as a murder object, for how does he know that the other's blood is 'redder' than his.

According to Rabeinu Yonah it would appear that one must do nothing to cause another's humiliation. However, we do not know if one can do something that would risk his life if that action would avoid another's humiliation. So perhaps a person would be forbidden to throw himself into a furnace that is on fire if it would avoid the public humiliation of another.

We do not know how Tosfos would rule in this circumstance, as the basis of this ruling has nothing to do with murder. Tosfos could possibly rule that a person should throw himself furnace that is on fire if that would avoid humiliating another person.

At first glance, the story of Mar Ukvah seems to support Tosfos.

However, the Talmud states that that it is better for a person to throw himself into a furnace of fire than to humiliate someone else in public. It does not state that the furnace is on fire at the moment. So perhaps it is forbidden to do so but Mar Ukvah jumped into the furnace because while it was hot enough to burn his feet, it was clear of fire. Perhaps this is how Rabeinu Yonah understands the story of Mar Ukvah.

We stand back in awe at the high regard that the Torah has for a person's dignity and self-respect. We must always keep sight of the Torah's standard, even we don't always see compliance by others in our daily life.

While on a mad dash to reach the hospital, the process of giving birth happened too fast for us and we pulled into a police station. Fortunately, the officer on duty was a female. I brought her flowers afterwards.

I later got a call from a newspaper reporter. I requested that the story not be published. It was too late.

It wasn't good enough for him to write about a couple from Lakewood NJ. He had to mention our names. And he spiced the story a bit with some of his conjectures.

To the reporter it is a right. To the Torah it's a wrong.

38:25 She (Tamar) was being taken out (to be executed) and she sent (items) to her father-in-law (Yehudah) saying, "I became pregnant from the one who owns these. Please identify who owns this seal, strings, and staff."

Had Yehudah not confessed that he was the father then Tamar would have been killed, despite the fact that her relations with Yehudah were appropriate.

She chose to remain silent so as not to cause him embarrassment.

The Talmud (Sotah 10b) derives from this verse that if need be, one should chose to allow himself to be thrown into a fiery furnace so as not to cause embarrassment to another person.

In his discussion of the responsibility to correct our fellow man, the Rambam (Daos 6:8) initially writes that it is forbidden to use humiliation as a tool for rebuke. He then clarifies this to apply only in matters that pertain to how people treat one another. However, if a person sins to G-D then if necessary one may use humiliation to stop the person from sinning to G-D.

This is puzzling because sinning against another person is also a sin to G-D who forbade such behavior.

The Minchas Chinuch (239) clarifies the Rambam by differentiating between whether the victim is the one giving the rebuke or whether it the abuse was done to another person.

We are not allowed to use embarrassment to rebuke those who wrong us. Rather, we are charged to forgive the abuser if gentle correction is of no avail. However, when someone else is wronged then we must save the abuser from corruption, using even shame and embarrassment if needed.

The Minchas Chinuch ends with a prayer that G-D should help us develop to be able to receive and grow from rebuke.

39:8 And he refused (her advances). And he said to his master's wife, "Behold, with me here (in charge) my master does not know what (he has) in the house. And he put whatever he has under my responsibility."

39:9 "There is no other (servant) in this household that was given so much prestige as myself and he [my master] withheld nothing from me other than you because you are his wife. And (so) how can I do this great evil act, which would make me sin to G-D?"

Our sages teach that Potiphar's wife saw through astrology that Yosef would have children through her and she acted for the sake of Heaven to make it happen. Only, she could not tell whether Yoseph would have children directly through her or indirectly, through her step-daughter Osnas. (Medrash Rabah 85:3)

Indeed, prior to receiving the Torah there were others who had children in a manner that was forbidden afterwards. The most notable was Yaakov, who married sisters that gave birth to the twelve tribes. And there was Amram who married his aunt and had Moshe, Aharon, and Miriam who led the Jewish people out of Egypt.

Prior to receiving the Torah, people married those whom the Torah would later forbid when they saw great benefit in doing so. This practice ceased once the Torah was given and these guidelines became mandatory.

Similarly, Potiphar's wife saw great benefit in having children from Yosef and this is why she repeatedly approached him.

But she was wrong and the Shiras David commentary explains Yoseph's response to her in the following way.

There can be times when doing questionable behavior is permitted when those involved are acting for the sake of Heaven.

However, acting for the sake of Heaven is never justified when such behavior wrongs another person, in this case Potiphar

But her astrological consultants were indeed on the money.

41:45 And Pharaoh called Yoseph's name "Tzofnas Paneach." And he gave him Osnas, daughter of Poti-Phera priest of On for a wife. And Yosef went out over the Land of Egypt.

41:50: And two children were born to Yosef before the year of the famine, born to him by Osnas, daughter of Poti-Phera priest of On.

39:9 (After his master’s wife suggested to Yosef that he sin with her, he responded:) “There is no other (servant) in this household that was given so much prestige as myself and he [my master] withheld nothing from me other than you because you are his wife. And (so) how can I do this great evil act, which would make me sin to G-D?

39:12 And she grabbed him by his clothing ("be-vigdo") ...

The Nesivos Shalom commentary suggests that we interpret the last word as "be-vigidoso," which means "with his rebellion."

Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. For many of us, they are reflected in the types and frequencies of our personal successes and failures.

To entice him into sin, this woman sought to make Yosef focus on his weaknesses, inadequacies, and prior failures, his past “rebellions.”

A person can sometimes successfully navigate through the challenges of life by focusing on his lowliness, causing to act with humility.

But there are times when humility can work against us, such as when we are tempted to sin. Like this wicked woman, our evil inclinations try to make us reason that since we are so insignificant, it really doesn't matter much to G-D if we sin, especially sin we have done other wrong things in the past.

When Yosef was pressured in this way, he successfully navigated through the challenge. He focused instead on his greatness, the esteem that he held from his work and that, like every one of us, both he and his behavior do matter to G-D. And not happening to be perfect doesn’t justify misbehavior.

39:10 And it was as she spoke to Yosef (Joseph) day after day. And he did not listen to her to lay down by her, to be with her.

Rabbi Yonasan Eibuschutz provides the following insight (Yaarei Im Divshi 4: 2-14)

The Medrash speaks of a Roman noblewoman who couldn't bring herself to believe that the seventeen year-old Yosef was able to control himself. So the sages showed her that the Torah records what Reuven did with his father's concubine and what Yehudah did with Tamar. They reasoned that if the Torah did not cover up what they did then we should expect the same for Yosef if he did anything wrong. Since the Torah does not cite Yosef for weakness then we know that he did not succumb. It appears that the noblewoman accepted their proof.

Now, either this noblewoman believed in the truth of the Torah's words or she didn't. If she did believe in the integrity of the Torah then on what basis did why did she ask the question? And if she didn't believe in what the Torah writes then what good would any proof from the Torah be?

Rabbi Eibuschutz provides the following explanation.

The Talmud (Succa 52a) teaches that the evil inclination will be deactivated in the end of days and that it will appear to the righteous people as a huge mountain. The Talmud says that they will cry out of astonishment that they were able to overcome this great force in spite of its power. The Talmud states that G-D will be astonished at them.

How do we understand these teachings? Why will they cry over what occurred after the fact?

Rabbi Eibuschutz answers that it is possible for the forces of temptation to be more than a person can handle and that G-D will sometimes intervene and help the person overcome the situation.

It is understandable that the person would not expect heaven to reward him/her for maintaining their standards in this situation because the only did so with G-D's help.

So in the end of days when we see how great the powers of evil used to be, it will natural for many of us to suspect that we were only able to maintain our righteousness because of G-D's help and that we will not have a share in the reward that is reserved for those who overcame their tests by applying themselves.

This is why G-D will appear to be astonished at their reaction, as if to say that He sees no reason for them to be concerned and that He will credit them for remaining righteous.

In this light, we can say that the noblewoman believed in the Torah. However, from her perspective, Yosef's temptation was beyond human capability to withstand without assistance from G-D. She believed that Yosef maintained his moral standard. Her problem was with Yosef receiving credit and being praised for doing so. To her, he must have had at least the intention to sin.

She thought that the fact that the Torah did not cite Yosef for having this intention is because the Torah only cites people who bring their intentions into action. So if Yosef intended to sin then why was he praised?

The sages brought proof of Yosef's greatness from both Reuven and Yehudah.

While the Torah states that Reuven slept with his father's concubine, the Medrash explains that he really did not do so. Rather, he had intentions of doing so and his father appeared on the scene, thereby preventing him from carrying this out. Here we see that the Torah cites a person for having the intention to sin.

Yehudah succumbed to a strange woman who turned out to be the former wife of his late son. During those times, it was customary for a father-in-law to live with the widow of a childless son and raise children to take his son's name. Here to, Yehudah intended to do something that did not match his standards but as it turned out, heaven made it that he was fulfilling his obligations by living with Tamar.

So we see that indeed the Torah cites people for merely intending to make compromises. Had Yosef intended to sin then he would have been cited also, even if he was prevented from carrying it out by Divine assistance.

The fact that the Torah does not cite Yosef is therefore sufficient proof that Yosef did not even have the intention to sin and he was therefore worthy of great praise.

40:23 And the cup bearer did not remember Yosef (Joseph), and he forgot (about) him.

The end of this Torah reading leaves Yosef in what appears to be a totally hopeless situation. He is wrongly viewed and treated as a criminal in a foreign and friendless land, spurned by his brothers and cut off from the rest of his family.

In just a few verses later we find him appointed viceroy of Egypt, second to Pharaoh

Eventually, the brothers that sold him into slavery bow down to Yosef, who sustains them and all their families.

The contrast is startling.

Rav Bick of blessed memory comments that this is an indication of how G-D manages history.

The magnitude of a salvation is embedded in the contrast between its before and after states. A great salvation is always preceded by a situation that is greatly hopeless.

This is why Rabbi Akiva almost rejoiced when he saw a fox run into the ruins of the Temple. The magnitude of destruction that he witnessed brought him to reflect on the magnitude of the restoration, may it come speedily in our days.

40:23 And the cup officer did not remember Yosef (Joseph) and he forgot (about) him

Rashi provides the commentary that follows.

Yosef needed to be in prison for another two years because he put his hope in the cup officer. This is reflected by the verse, "Fortunate is the man who puts his trust in G-D and does not turn to bullies or those who tend towards falsehood. (Tehilim / Psalms 40:5)."

Rashi's source appears to be from the Medrash (89:2):

"Fortunate is the man who puts his trust in G-D and does not turn to bullies or those who tend towards falsehood." - This refers Yosef (Joseph).

From this alone, it seems that the Medrash is assigning Yosef great distinction because of his trust in G-d.

However, the Medrash continues with the following:

Two years were added to his imprisonment because he said to the official cup bearer, 'and you shall remember me and mention me (to Pharaoh)'.

Now the Medrash appears to be criticizing Yosef for his lack of trust in G-D.

This appears to be a contradiction. What is the Medrash trying to tell us?

The Targum Yerushalmi on our verse (40:23) provides the following additional information.

Yosef abandoned the kindness that was bestowed from above in favor of kindness that is bestowed on this earth. He also abandoned the kindness that accompanied him from his father's home until now and (instead) placed his trust in the cup officer, in temporal flesh, in flesh that tasted from the cup of death. He did not remember the scriptures that state, "Cursed is the man who trusts in (his) fellow and who places his hope in flesh (Yermiyahu / Jeremiah 17:5)," "Blessed is the man who trusts in G-D and who places his hope in G-D (Yermiyahu 17:7)." Therefore, the cup officer did not remember Yosef and he forgot him until the (heavenly assigned) time came for his release.

It came to mind that perhaps the very last sentence of this Yerushalmi provides the key to resolving the contradiction.

Consider how our story would have turned out with three different personalities.

The first is with a person who consistently places his/her trust in the politics and power of flesh and blood and who asked the cup officer for help.

The second is with a person who is on a level of trust that is higher than what Yosef exhibited and who did even bother to ask the cup officer for help.

The third is with the righteous and G-D-trusting Yosef who at that time didn't think that asking the cup officer for help was inappropriate.

In each scenario, heaven initially planned for an 'impossible' redemption to occur two years from now, whereby this lowly and long-forgotten captive would suddenly be propelled to the highest and most powerful appointed office in the Egyptian empire.

In the scenario of our first candidate viceroy of Egypt, the person about whom it states, 'Cursed is the man who trusts in (his) fellow and who places his hope in flesh," I would submit to you that heaven would have cancelled its plans for the miracle and the person would have spent the rest of his years in jail. This is because had he indeed made viceroy then he would have assigned the success to his having wits to take the opportunity when it presented itself when he asked the cup officer to mention his name to Pharaoh. Thus, the miracle would have worked against him, for given the extent and impact of the miracle, it would have significantly corrupted the already distorted view that this fool already has about the world and about Who calls the shots to make things happen.

Our second candidate would indeed have made viceroy. Furthermore, heaven may have very well provided him with insights on how his plight would soon be resolved, thereby easing his anguish.

Yosef was similar to the second candidate, only he exhibited a slight weakness that only a great person would have been faulted for. He will definitely make viceroy, just turn the pages and read on. However, Yosef could not do so. Instead, it was best for Yosef to spend the next two years in an even greater darkness, wondering if he had sinned by asking the cup officer for help, thereby being condemned by heaven to die in jail. He spent that time refining his trust in G-D even more and when his daybreak broke, he was able to step into the awesome political greatness that relatively matched his awesome greatness as a person.

"Fortunate is the man who puts his trust in G-D and does not turn to bullies or those who tend towards falsehood." - This refers Yosef (Joseph).

Miketz (Genesis 41-44)

41:1 And it was at the end of two years and Pharaoh dreamed. And behold he was standing by ('al') the river.

The Hebrew word 'al' can be translated as 'over', meaning that Pharaoh was standing over the river. The Medrash explicitly uses this translation, as follows:

"And Pharaoh dreamed:" Rav Yochanan said, "The wicked set themselves over their god, as it says 'And Pharaoh dreamed. And behold he was standing over the river' (Nile that Egypt worshiped.)"

However, the righteous set their G-D over them (as it states in Yaakov's - Jacob's dream, Genesis 28:13) 'And behold G-D was standing over him '[Yaakov].

The Yefas Toar commentary on the Medrash explains this to mean that the religions of idol worshipers are based on falsehood. They therefore need to stand over their god(s) to guard them because these falsehoods would not exist without the support of those who made it up and promote it.

In contrast, G-D existed before there was a world and he does not need people to ensure that others recognize His existence. It is therefore He who stands over His people to guard them, not the reverse.

41:1 And it was at the end of two years and Pharaoh dreamed. And behold he was standing by ('al') the river.

The Radal commentary notes that the Pirkei D'Rabbi Eliezer says that Yosef's imprisonment was for twelve years and the Seder Olam says that it was for ten.

The Rinas Yitzchak commentary uses a teaching of the Rav of Brisk to reconcile the difference.

The Rav says that the process of the Exodus from Egypt had two time limits. Heaven decreed one limit for how long the Egyptians would be able to enslave the Jewish people and another for when the redemption would occur.

The Jewish people in Egypt were initially enslaved. When the enslavement timed out they were still in Egypt, only they were no longer enslaved. They stayed there until they reached the time limit for the redemption.

The Rinas Yitzchak applies the same to Yosef and reconciles the difference between the two commentaries. Heaven decreed Yosef's imprisonment for ten years and decreed his release by year twelve. Had Yosef merited, he would have been released at the end of the first time limit.

He also applies this to the current exile.

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 98a) states that there is a time limit for the redemption. However, no time limit was provided for the suffering of exile that precedes the redemption. Its duration is up to us. Also, the Talmud states that our good merits can hasten the redemption.

Thus, it is possible for us to be in a mid-way state where the suffering ceases but the redemption has yet to occur. May it happen speedily in our days.

41:1 And it was at the end of two years and Pharaoh dreamed. And behold he was standing by ('al') the river.

The Hebrew word 'al' can also be translated as 'over'. Thus, Pharaoh was standing over the river. The Medrash explicitly uses this translation, as follows:

And Pharaoh dreamed: Rav Yochanan said, "The wicked set themselves over their god. 'And Pharaoh dreamed and behold he was standing over the river' (Nile that Egypt worshiped.)

However, the righteous set their G-D over them (as it states in Yaakov's - Jacob's dream, Genesis 28:13) 'And behold G-D was standing over him '[Yaakov].

Since G-D is everywhere, what difference does it make where the Torah describes His location?

The following came to mind.

Dreams reflect a person's thoughts and attitudes. Wickedness places a person above his/her god(s) and this was reflected in Pharaoh's dream.

Given the myriad of mutually exclusive religions that Mankind has been confronted with for millennia, a number of wicked people are guilty of actually fabricating a god. They stand over their god.

Their followers who have matured enough to see the farce but who still insist on holding onto the falsehoods are also guilty, for the only basis of their worship is self-empowered. They also stand over their god.

The typical follower who is an innocent believer is usually very reluctant to subordinate him/herself without understanding every demand that the religion makes, insisting on having a human-understood rationale for everything. This is an insistence on intellectual mastery, as if G-D's intellect is bounded and can be grasped.. They also stand over their god.

The righteous, in sincere and true faith, is encouraged to question and to rigorously pursue answers. However, the righteous doesn't expect to have all the answers, neither does he/she make this a demand, a pre-requisite.

Thus, the righteous places him/herself beneath G-D and this was reflected in Yaakov's dream.

41:1 And it was at the end of two years and Pharaoh dreamed. And behold he was standing by ('al') the river.

The Medrash provides the following commentary:

Psalms 40:5 'Fortunate is the man who makes G-d his trust and who does not turn to the arrogant, (those) who turn to lies.' – This refers Yosef (Joseph).

From this alone, it seems that Yosef is assigned the reputation of being a person who greatly trusts in G-d.

The Medrash immediately continues with the following:

Two years were added to his imprisonment because he said to the official cup bearer, 'and you shall remember me and mention me (to Pharaoh)'.

Now the Medrash appears to find fault with Yosef, that he shouldn't have made this suggestion to the cup bearer.

This appears to be a contradiction. What is the Medrash trying to tell us?

The following came to mind.

The element of shock and astonishment can be used to help a person. G-d can use also it, to bring people to a deeper and firmer awareness of His existence and role. I understand this to be one of the reasons that we do no know much about the final redemption. When it occurs, and may it be soon, the extent and force of its surprises will help bring us over the top (finally).

Let's look at Yosef's plight.

Prior to the encounter with the cup bearer, it looks certain that he'll spend the rest of his life in prison as a social and political outcast, cut off from his family forever.

It is perfectly normal for the average person to loose all hope. Things look impossible, but not to Yosef. He trusts G-d, so anything can happen.

Now, the cup bearer presents Yosef with a way to get out of jail. It this G-d's way of bring him out? Maybe. Perhaps because Yosef has such a strong feeling of trust in The One Above, G-d is using the cup bearer as a test to see if he will feel any reliance towards that person. Maybe.

The cup bearer is freed and Yosef's status remains unchanged. Let's try to put ourselves in Yosef's shoes.

He is now living in darkness, in doubt. Because he has placed such an emphasis in trusting G-d throughout his life, he now fears that perhaps he felt or acted with some unnecessary reliance towards the cup bearer and that these feeling could provide the heavenly court with justification to punish him with life imprisonment. The days grow into weeks, to months, to almost two years.

Doubt fester. Is he lost?

Suddenly, the cell door swings open. Pharaoh needs him, immediately. The drama is awesome.

Perhaps G-d presented Yosef with this situation precisely because he trusted in G-d so much. His special feelings towards G-d and the extra two years of imprisonment only served to propel him to great spiritual heights when he was finally released. This is especially necessary for Yosef, a person who will lay the foundations for a great exile and subsequent redemption for the Jewish people, ourselves included.

So, when you pick up the next newspaper and see how impossible our redemption appears to be, just tell yourself that perhaps it's not yet impossible enough.

41:12 "And there was with us a Hebrew lad, a slave to the jail master, and we told him (our dream) and he interpreted our dreams for us, he interpreted for each man like his dream."

Rashi provides the following commentary.

"A Hebrew lad, a slave:" The wicked are cursed and their good deeds are not complete, as the cup-bearer described Yosef to Pharaoh in a derogatory manner. "A lad" - he is a fool. "A Hebrew" - he doesn't even understand our language. "A slave" - it is written into Egyptian law that a slave is disqualified from being a king and that he may not wear royal garments."

The cup-bearer's attitude and words are very puzzling.

Did the cup-bearer have any doubt that Yosef would be not successful? If he had doubts and if Yosef proved to be a dud then Pharaoh would kill the cup-bearer for making a fool out of him by suggesting that he reach out into the dungeons for a good-for-nothing interpreter of dreams.

We must therefore say that the cup-bearer was certain that Yosef would be successful. And indeed we can see between the lines that the cup-bearer thought that Pharaoh would want to appoint Yosef as his viceroy for he chose to remind Pharaoh of Egyptian law, which Pharaoh subsequently flaunted anyway.

So why would the cup-bearer make derogatory remarks against his future boss, the next viceroy of Egypt?

Furthermore, a number of wicked people are mentioned in the Torah. Why does Rashi curse just the cup-bearer?

The following came to mind.

Perhaps Rashi had no intent of cursing anybody. Rather, Rashi is stating a fact, which is that wicked people are cursed. Therefore, whatever good they succeed in accomplishing is flawed and is only partially successful, at best.

If true, then this curse is a blessing in disguise, for it must also apply when the wicked try to do evil, as well. If Heaven blunts the effect of their good deeds then Heaven must also blunt the effect of their evil deeds, thereby reducing the damage that they would later be held accountable for.

41:12 "And there was with us a Hebrew lad, a slave to the jail master, and we told him (our dream) and he interpreted our dreams for us, he interpreted for each man like his dream."

Rashi cites the cup bearer for speaking about Yosef in a derogatory manner, despite the favor that Yosef did for him. The reference to Yosef being an Ivrite lad portrayed that Yosef was a fool and that he did not know how to speak Egyptian.

Granted that the cup bearer could assume that Yosef would not impress Pharaoh with his wisdom, but how could he state Yosef did not speak the language of the land if he was about to be presented to Pharaoh, thereby revealing that the cup bearer was a liar? It's suicide to intentionally do this to Pharaoh.

One must say that this was indeed true. Furthermore, the Medrash (Bamidbar 14:5) states that an angel of G-D appeared to Yosef the night before and taught him the seventy languages that were spoken at that time, one of which was Egyptian.

How could it be that such a brilliant and capable young man, one who rose to two management responsibilities during his tenure in slavery, but yet he did not master the tongue of the nation that he lived in for thirteen years?

I suspect that the disability was intentional, for it provided Yosef with a barrier against assimilation, which was far more important to Yosef than upward mobility in slavery.

Despite this hindrance, and perhaps partially because he accepted the consequences of ignorance in order to maintain his relationship with G-D, Heaven gave him unprecedented success three times, the last of which propelled to the highest level of governance under Pharaoh.

41:14 And Pharaoh sent out and called for Yosef (Joseph) ; And they rushed him (Yosef) out from the jail pit; And he cut his hair and changed his clothes and he came before Pharaoh.

We are taught that we can learn many valuable lessons from each word, letter, and verse of the Torah.

Why did G-d in His Torah tell us that Yosef took a haircut?

Rashi references a Medrash which perhaps is telling us an answer. The Medrash says that Yosef took a haircut out of respect to the king.

It seems unusual that the Torah is teaching Mankind for all eternity that one should groom himself before meeting a king. Shouldn't one do this out of common sense. What are the Written and Oral Torah (the Medrash) trying to tell us?

Here is another question.

In 40:14, Yosef asked the cup bearer to mention his plight to Pharaoh. Upon his release, the cup bearer forgets about Yosef (40:23) Yosef remains in jail for another two years (41:1).

Rashi (40:23) provides the following comment from the Medrash.

It was decreed that Yosef must remain in jail for an additional two years because he placed hope in the cup bearer mentioning his plight (to Pharaoh). We see this in the following verse: 'Fortunate is the person who places his trust in G-d and does not turn to the arrogant (Psalms 40).

This appears to be a criticism against Yosef.

The full text of the Medrash is as follows:

'Fortunate is the person who places his trust in Yosef' - This is Yosef.

'and does not turn to the arrogant' - Two years were added to Yosef's sentence because he said to the cup bearer 'Remember me and mention me to Pharaoh.

The Medrash appears to contradict itself. It first names Yosef as a role model for trust in G-d. Then it appears to be criticizing Yosef for a lack of trust.

What is this Medrash trying to tell us?

So far we have two questions.

  • Why is the Torah telling us that Yosef took a haircut?
  • Is Yosef being praised for his trust in G-d or is he being criticized for a lack of trust?

Here is one final question.

Who in their right mind would not have done what Yosef did? He is stuck in jail with no obvious way to get out. G-d puts Pharaoh's own cup bearer into his hands. G-d must be sending him a ticket to get out.

Did you ever hear of the following fictitious story?

A man is shipwrecked on a desert island. A helicopter sees him and lands. He refuses the help because he believes that G-d will rescue him. It flies away. Then a coast-guard cutter spots him. Again he refuses assistance because he believes that G-d will rescue him. It sails away. He starves and he dies. When he gets to heaven he demands to know why he wasn't saved. He is told the following: 'Look. we sent you a helicopter and we sent you the coast-guard. What more did you expect us to do?'

So, why is Yosef being criticized?

The following came to mind.

Judaism and experience teaches the following principles:

  • In order to maintain our ability to make free will choices, G-d sees to it that it should not be obvious to us that He is managing the world.
  • It is our responsibility to come to the realization that G-d exists, that the Torah is true, and that the Torah is G-d's instructions to us for living.
  • We come to view our lives and all of history in a different light as we grow in our acceptance, study, and practice of the Torah.

Applying and internalizing trust in G-d within our lives is a prime example of the these principles.

The non-believer has nothing to rely on but himself. He comes to be deathly afraid of poverty. His needs for security may push him to become preoccupied with accumulating wealth. He may come to associate security and even his very existence with having a large bank account and many assets.

The Torah teaches that G-d takes responsibility for the world and He manages it. Everything that He decides for us is for our best. Each Rosh Hashana, G-d decides how much we are to earn and how much we are to loose. The Torah requires us to make efforts to earn a livelihood. We will acquire the pre-destined assets as long as we take the required effort to earn them.

Thus, according to the Torah viewpoint, financial success is dependent on free will choice, not luck or superiority.

The believer may come to take the same measures for earning a livelihood as the non-believer does. However, he does so with a peace of mind. He does not rely upon them for his existence. Instead, while going through the required motions he places his hope on G-d. He prays to G-d for success. He lives worry-free.

People who fully internalize these teachings will not cheat in business.

True success is measured not in whether a person earns a livelihood. Rather, it is measured by how a person earns his livelihood.

The truly successful believer will thus feel entirely dependent on G-d.

The Oral Torah teaches us that Yosef is our role model for righteousness. We can assume that he dedicated much effort to internalizing and managing his dependence in G-d.

Yosef is about to become the viceroy of Egypt. He will save Egypt his civilization from the brink of poverty. Everyone will come to depend on Yosef.

Power can corrupt.

It therefore makes sense for Yosef to undergo a training period to strengthen his dependence on G-d so that he will be able to cope with this power and still maintain his high level of righteousness.

If we take this as true, then we can view the events in a different light and answer our questions.

Yosef is not being criticized. Rather, he is fortunate for being so righteous and dependent on G-d that he is being given a unique mission which perhaps only he can handle. 'Fortunate is the person who places his trust in Yosef' - This is Yosef (Medrash).

The two-year extension in jail served to reinforce his ability to focus his trust in G-d and not in people. It was not a punishment.

He was fully refined by the end of this ordeal.

Most people who go on a job interview try to look their best in order to impress the prospective employer and land the job.

Most people who try to get a good job in a royal court don't take a hair-cut because of protocol. They associate their success with their appearance.

Not Yosef The Righteous One.

To Yosef there was no relation between how he looked and whether Pharaoh would take care of him. He groomed himself because it was the proper thing to do. Period.

Perhaps we can take these lessons from the Torah telling us that Yosef took a haircut.

41:14 And Pharaoh sent (a messenger) and he called for Yosef (Joseph). And they rushed him out from the (jail) pit. And he shaved and changed his clothing. And he came before Pharaoh.

Rashi provides the following commentary for the phrase, "and he shaved:" (He did this) to show honor to the Government.

Why is Rashi making this point?

The Yalkut Shimoni is frequently Rashi's source and the Yalkut does say that Yosef shaved and changed his clothing to show honor to the Government. This now directs our question to the Yalkut. However, it also raises another question. Why does Rashi mention only that Yosef shaved? Why doesn't he also include Yosef's changing his clothing, as the Yalkut does.

The following came to mind.

We are taught that a person's time of stress and discomfort may very well be planned by G-D to refine a character flaw. Given the eternal stakes that are at hand, a person will someday realize that G-D was doing him a great favor by directing this.

During our relatively short tenure on this earth we are not always privileged to realize that we have made progress. Also, we are not always privileged to understand how stress and discomfort helps to rectify flaws.

We find three references to Yosef doing something with his hair. This is very unusual.

The first reference is in Rashi's commentary for 37:2 where it says that Yosef shared his youth with the sons of Bilha and Zilpa. Rashi says that Yosef acted in a youthful manner and fixed up his hair and eyes in order to look pretty.

We find a requirement for a king to look pretty. Also, a person should look presentable and not disheveled. I don't believe that it is a Torah goal for a male to be pretty, unless there are unusual circumstances.

Perhaps Yosef felt that there were unusual circumstances since he was part of a family that represented Mankind's spiritual aspect. Perhaps he felt that looking pretty would help influence someone else to become more spiritual.

However, we later find that Yosef making himself look pretty was a direct cause of his downfall.

39:6 And he (Yosef's master) left all that he had in Yosef's hand. And he had no knowledge of what was with Yosef, except the bread that he ate. And Yosef was pretty in form and appearance.

Rashi provides the following commentary on that verse: Since he saw himself having power, he began to eat, drink, and curl his hair. G-D said, "Your father is in mourning over you and you can still curl your hair? I shall therefore incite a bear against you." Immediately: And it was after these matters that his master's wife lifted up her eyes towards Yosef. And she said, "Lay down with me."

If Yosef needed refinement in these matters then we can note some progress. After going through the stress and suffering of being sold into slavery, while Yosef is still focusing on looking pretty, he is doing so only out of professional necessity. That is, given that he is a ruler in the home of a nobleman, Yosef felt compelled to attend to his grooming.

Given the downfall that he suffered, perhaps something else was expected. And so, Yosef begins a deeper level of deprivation and suffering, that of an inmate in jail.

Yosef is suddenly out of jail. Whatever refinement is needed, it is now complete.

Here it says that Yosef shaved. The Torah does not say what Yosef shaved and how he looked afterwards.

Elsewhere, shaving denotes a complete removal of hair. I wonder whether this is what Yosef did to himself here. That is, perhaps he took a razor to his beautiful but somewhat unkempt head of hair and shaved it off completely, instead of fixing it up to look pretty.

If true, then Yosef's sole focus was to look presentable for a bald head is just as presentable to Pharaoh as one with a hairdo.

I wonder if Rashi had this in mind when he quoted only the part of the Yalkut that talked about Yosef's preparation for his audience with Pharaoh.

41:14 And Pharaoh sent and he called for Yosef (Joseph) and they rushed him out of the (prison) pit. And he shaved and changed his clothing. And he came before Pharaoh.

It is interesting that the Torah added detail that Yosef groomed himself. Rashi says that he did this for the honor of the kingdom.

The Medrash (89:7) says that the dreams and the lack of an appropriate interpretation made Pharaoh very upset, to the point that he was near death over the uncertainty. Yosef was therefore urgently needed. If Pharaoh were to die because of the delay that was injected by Yosef grooming himself then that kingdom would be no longer exist for Yosef to honor.

Earlier, the Medrash praises Yosef for being a prime example of a person who trusts in G-D.

Trusting in G-D can take on many meanings. Here, I suggest it to mean that a person should never despair, for G-D is with us and there is nothing that is impossible for G-D to do.

G-D can even take an unknown, downtrodden, and disconnected slave who is imprisoned and cause the supreme ruler of the land to suddenly recognize and free him. And this poor slave can even suddenly rise to become second in command, a viceroy.

And that’s exactly what happened!

It must have been a shock to everyone, but not to Yosef. For Yosef trusted in G-D, who can do anything. As Rashi says, he shaved and changed his clothing for the honor of the kingdom. Note that Rashi doesn’t say whose kingdom. Perhaps Yosef had in mind that it was for the honor of a kingdom that he would be soon granted, for G-D can do anything.

41:16 And Yosef (Joseph) answered Pharaoh saying, "It is beyond me (to correctly interpret Pharaoh's dream). (May) G-D respond for Pharaoh's welfare."

42:21 And they [Yosef's brothers, accused as spies] said to one another, "Surely we are guilty of (mistreating) our brother (Yosef) inasmuch as we saw his anguish as he pleaded with us and we did not listen (to him). This is why this calamity is occurring to us."

Rav Elchanan Wasserman of blessed memory notes that an average person attributes his good fortune to his own capabilities and blames his misfortune on the misdeeds or faults of others.

We the reverse in the words of these great people. Yosef refused to attribute a successful interpretation to his own talents. And his brothers assumed blame and responsibility for the apparent tragedy that was about to occur.

This lends support to an insight from the Nesivas Shalom commentary. He explains the following Medrash.

Rabbi Shmuel son of Nachman introduced the episode of Yosef and his brothers with the following verse: "For I (G-D) know the thoughts" (Yirmiyahu / Jeremiah 29:11).

The tribes [brothers] were busy with selling Yosef. Yosef was busy with his sack cloth and fasting. Reuven was busy with his sack cloth and fasting. Yaakov (Jacob) was busy with his sack cloth and fasting. Yehuda (Judah) was busy taking a wife. And the Holy One blessed be He was busy creating the light of the Messianic King. And it was at that time that Yehuda went down (38:1).

Before feeling pangs (of child birth) she gave birth (Yeshiah / Josiah 66:7). The final redeemer emerged before the first subjugator (Egypt) went into action. (Medrash Rabah 85:2)

It's not difficult to see the connection between Yehuda's encounter with Tamar and the light of the Messianic King. She gave birth to the ancestor of King David who was himself the ancestor of the Messianic king (may we all be worthy to soon greet him).

But it's hard to put all these snapshots together because they appear to defy chronology.

The brothers sold Yosef before Yaakov went into mourning, not at the same time. Yehuda took his wife after Yosef was sold, not during the sale. But this Medrash seems to be saying that everything occurred at the same time, which is puzzling.

The Nesivas Shalom commentary sheds light by saying that the events about the sale refer to a time after the sale, when they were all dealing with the consequences of selling Yosef or some other misdeed.

The common time period in this Medrash could therefore be that of Yehuda's encounter with Tamar.

The tribes [brothers] were trying to correct the grave damage they caused by selling Yosef. Their decision threw their aging father into extended morning. And it put their brother at risk of succumbing to the vices of Egypt. We see from our Torah reading that they sincerely regretted doing this. Rashi says that they sought to redeem Yosef (42:3). And we see their introspection in verse 42:21, quoted above.

Yosef was repenting. He worried that his behavior may have triggered suspicion and caused his brothers to view him as a threat.

Reuven was repenting over protesting his father's treatment of Leah, Reuven's mother (Rashi 35:22).

And Yaakov's sack cloth and fasting may have been his response to what appeared to be an indication of a personal spiritual failing. This is because he was once told by G-D that if all of his children survived him then he would not see Gehenim (Hell) when he died.

This resolves the chronology. But how are the events connected with Yehuda and with "creating the light of the Messianic King?

The Nesivas Shalom offers the following explanation.

The common denominator among the brothers, Yosef, Reuven, Yaakov, and Yehuda is that everyone was possessed by what appeared to be a personal spiritual failing.

Here they all were, grandchildren and great grandchildren of Avraham (Abraham), all responsible for building a solid foundation for their descendants, for a nation that would emerge to receive the Torah and become the Chosen People.

And then Reuven jolts the holiness of his father. He felt failure and was broken.

And then all but Binyamin are involved in selling Yosef into slavery. At the time truly believed that Yosef was a threat to their destiny, that his reports to their father were an attempt to get Yaakov to reject them. But as they looked back they started suspecting that they acted improperly. They felt failure and were broken.

Yosef suspected that he was responsible for his brother's mistake. He felt failure and was broken.

Yaakov tried his utmost to succeed in life. But he took Yosef's death as an omen that he did not try as hard as he could have. He felt failure and was broken.

And Yehuda was broken over what appeared to him as a personal failure to restrain himself from temptation. He lacked the privileged information that we have today, that Heaven intervened and turned up the pressure until he had no choice but to have an encounter with Tamar.

And why did G-D intervene between Yehuda and Tamar? Because He was "busy creating the light of the Messianic King." What is the Medrash trying to tell us with that?

The Nesivas Shalom brings a teaching that the development of every Heavenly enterprise must begin with a relative absence and void. For example, the seed that will someday grow into a giant tree must first decompose in the ground.

But seeds don't totally decompose. There is always a tiny glimmer of life which carries the seed through.

G-D was putting the finishing touches on the great foundation for the Jewish people and the Messianic Era. He did this by creating in every corner of Yaakov's household the frightening appearance of a void in spiritual success. All were broken by design, not by circumstance.

But note that nobody gave up and threw in the towel, even though things looked hopeless.

While they all feared the worst they were able to find confidence that G-D would not abandon them. They were down but somehow they would never be out. This was their tiny glimmer of life.

And it looked very hopeless when the mightiest empire in the world decided to impose their culture and religion on the Jewish people. But a tiny group didn't throw in the towel. Instead they remained steadfast and we've been lighting Chanukah candles ever since.

Fast forward to now. Can anybody see the world nearing perfection? It's hard to see the emergence of an era of peace when people are afraid of getting stabbed or shot while shopping. Nobody really knows how to cope with the emerging threats, from without and from within.

Open up a siddur and read the second paragraph of the Aleinu prayer. It captures the ancient vision of life in the Messianic Era. Can you see it happening tomorrow?

People are indeed discovering and running to Torah life. But people are also running away. So many have been lost. How fragmented can we get? How much more can the Messianic Era appear to be hopeless?

But we all know that appearance is not substance. If the Jewish people were able to get through 32 centuries of an impossible history, then some One must have been pulling the strings all along.

Maybe its simply not impossible enough for the Messianic era to occur. But it will because G-D made that the light to get us there and He keeps it shining. We must hang on a bit longer and try a bit harder.

Look what happened to Yosef, transformed from inmate to viceroy in a moment. G-D can do anything in a moment.

Have a wonderful Chanukah and see you soon in Jerusalem, please G-D.

41:45 And Pharaoh called his [Yosef's / Joseph's] name Tzafnas Paneach and he gave him Osnas, daughter of Poti-Phera priest of On, for a wife. And Yosef went forth over the land of Egypt.

The Medrash provides the amazing background story of Yosef's wife Osnas.

Recall that Yaakov's daughter Dina was violated by Shechem. (34:2).

Osnas was the product of that union.

Apparently, the tragedy and associated trauma had its toll in many ways and eventually drove Yaakov to the conclusion that Osnas needed to be separated from the family. He wrote her a special amulet with Hebrew letters, placed it around her neck and sent her away. She wound up by the walls of Egypt and began to cry over her lot.

Potifar 'happened' to be passing by and heard her. Upon learning that she had no family he decided to take her into his home and raise her as his daughter, for his wife was not able to have children.

Note that this is the same Potifar who was Yosef's master in the previous Torah reading. It is not clear whether Yosef and Osnas were in his home at the same time.

So here we have two people, both having been involuntarily separated from Yaakov's home, both Jewish and wanting a Jewish spouse but having no idea where they would find one in the land of Egypt.

The story I heard was that this very young, handsome, and very eligible newly appointed viceroy of Egypt named Tzafnas Paneach (Yosef) was constantly accosted by young women wherever he went. They would pelt him with their jewelry in hopes that he would he would take notice of them.

Osnas was nearby during one of these encounters. She joined in and threw her amulet towards Yosef. Of all the unidentified flying objects that Yosef was trying to avoid, for 'some' reason this one caught his eye. He was stunned by the Hebrew lettering and decided to investigate further.

Mazal Tov Yosef and Osnas.

And now we know what compelled Yaakov to make this strange decision. Or rather, now we have a reason for the One who compelled Yaakov to make this strange decision.

It is so remarkable that these once rejected people came to enjoy the highest prestige among Yaakov's family. It was they who Yaakov's family relied upon for their sustenance and they fulfilled this charge very well.

The stone that the builders had rejected became the cornerstone. (Psalms 118:22)

42:15 You shall be tested with this, by Pharaoh's life, that you will only leave here if your brother (Binyamin / Benjamin) comes here.

Rashi provides the following commentary.

"By Pharaoh's" life means that the statement's veracity is dependent on Pharaoh's living. Yosef (Joseph) swore by Pharaoh's life when he wanted to swear falsely.

Now, the Torah prohibits false oaths.

The Talmud and Rambam (Oaths 1:3) use the following four cases to define a false oath: One swears that he ate and he didn't. One swears that he didn't eat and he did. One swears that he will eat and he doesn't. Finally, one swears the he will not eat and he does.

It is very difficult to see how Yosef's words fit the definition of a false oath, for he didn't explicitly say that he would do or not do something.

In fact, Yosef sent most of them away during Pharaoh's lifetime without requiring Binyamin to first appear.

I view this as an example of how careful a righteous person is with his/her words and the significance that they place on making false oaths.

42:21 And each brother said to the other, "We are truly guilty because of (what we did with) our brother, that we saw his distress when he pleaded with us and we did not listen." This is why this calamity is happening to us.

Rabbi Sternbuch cites the Sefurno commentary who writes that the brothers judged Yosef (Joseph) guilty of plotting against them and they disposed of him in self-defense.

We never find them regretting their decision, even after Yosef revealed himself to them as Viceroy of Egypt and subsequently sustained them.

The decision may very well have been correct, given the impression that Yosef gave them.

Rather, from the above verse it appears that they regretted their behavior when they sold him.

They felt that they could have done it better. They should have stopped to listen to Yosef and show that they sympathize with his plight.

They were all giant human beings.

42:21 And each man said to the other, "But we are guilty for (what we did) to our brother (Yosef / Joseph) that we saw his distress when he pleaded with us and we did not listen. Therefore, this calamity is happening to us."

For the next verse, the Kli Yakar commentary on the Torah provides the following insight:

When the brothers decided to sell Yosef many years ago, they deemed him worthy of being killed.

They independently made their decision in light of a Torah teaching that slander can kill three parties: The speaker, the listener, and the subject of the slander.

Yosef slandered them to their father and this appeared as though he was seeking to kill their opportunity for spiritual greatness. Also, he appeared to be spying on them when he came to Dosan where they were pasturing the sheep.

Therefore, the brothers decided to kill Yosef according to the another Torah teaching which says that protect himself from death by killing one who is trying to kill him, if necessary.

(Don't try applying this ruling on your own to kill a slanderer today!)

We therefore find no regret in their words for trying to kill Yosef. Rather, they now accept guilt for the way that they handled the trial. They now see that they acted in a cruel manner in that they did not listen to Yosef when he pleaded with them.

Thus, they were not sorry for condemning Yosef to death. They view the threat that is confronting them as an act of G-D for their not listening to their brother.

From this Kli Yakar we see that heaven judges a person on what he does and also on the way that he does it. In this case, they failed to adequately listen to their brother.

This is also a powerful lesson on the importance of listening. We can apply this lesson in many ways. Here's my example.

In our neighborhood we are visited by fund collectors.

On some nights, one or more people ring our bell and request to have a few words with us. They can come at any reasonable time, regardless of whether we happen to be busy with supper, homework, housework, study, or relaxation.

And so, we stop what we are doing and hear one of several stories. This person (or a family member) is sick and short of money for doctors. That person (or a relative) is marring off an nth child and is short of funds or the person himself is the groom. Another person is collecting for an institution that is involved with outreach or education. Once in a while we get a businessman who fell into hard times and is now haunted with creditors.

Almost all of the people come from overseas. Almost all of the institutions are not from our community.

Frequently, they are driven by a professional who lives out of town but who knows the neighborhoods. He packs a number of fund collectors into his car and gets a percentage. And so they come in waves but not at the same time so that each one can maximize the collection opportunity. And so, we can get interrupted more than once. And, it happens sometimes that more than one driver is working the neighborhood.

In rare instances, the collector is not pleased with the amount that we gave and he verbalizes his disappointment, sometimes in the presence of my family.

I don't remember how this came about, but I must have been wracking my brain to find some way to get to heaven in a hundred-twenty years in a peaceful and non-traumatic manner. So, this fund collector rings my bell and after hearing his story, I offer him something to drink. Then for some reason I still felt anxious. So I offered him the opportunity to use my bathroom. (Think of jumping in and out of a car for several hours, non-stop. Something has to give, especially if a number of people offer you something to drink).

After several evenings, with a good number of rounds of fund collectors behind my belt, I went off the ledge. It was a hot summer night and I brought out a drink for their DRIVER!

I'm still struggling with how to manage the fund collectors, their drivers, and my checkbook.

However, from the above Kli Yakar commentary on the Torah I see a new horizon.

I can take each collector deeper into my home then just the doorway. I can to sit him down on a chair and I can sit down next to him. He will take out his letter or he will open his book of pictures and letters and I can spend a few seconds (minutes?????) to read it. He will tell me his story in English or Yiddish or Hebrew and I can appear to be listening to it.

Handing over money is one form of giving. Listening is another.

42:21 And each one said to the other, 'Aval' we are guilty for (how we reacted with) our brother, in that we did not listen (to him) when we saw the suffering of his soul as he pleaded with us, therefore this misfortune came upon us.

The word 'aval' has two translations: However and truely.

We have a tradition that the concept behind every word in the Hebrew language matches its spelling, a combination of Hebrew letters. That is, the design and intent of everything within the creation is somehow encoded by the Hebrew spelling.

The following came to mind.

The Hebrew spelling of this word is identical to the word, 'avel,' which is commonly translated as a mourner.

Translating 'aval' as truely, we have another way to understand the 'avel.'

A 'avel' is a person who has a deep and personal encounter with one of the greatest and most difficult truths of human life.

When paying a visit to an 'avel,' some people strive to provide a distraction away from the tragedy. This isn't always helpful.

The 'avel' needs to somehow compensate for his/her loss. However, the 'avel' and his/her visitors also have an opportunity for growth in that this experience can help them bring this great truth more into their lives and to deal with it in a positive manner.

41:32 And (that) the dream was imparted to Pharaoh twice (indicates) that this (plan) is ready from G-D to implement and G-D is going to act rapidly (on it).

As the story unfolds, the seven years of plenty began immediately, followed by the seven lean years.

Last week’s Torah reading also had two dreams. Yosef dreamt that his brother’s sheaves bowed to his sheaf. He then dreamed that the sun, moon, and eleven stars bowed down to him.

Yosef was seventeen when he had these dreams and is now thirty, standing before Pharaoh. That’s a difference of thirteen years.

But then we have Yosef’s personal experience appearing to be a counter-example to the principle he is now stating to Pharaoh! Apparently duplicate dreams do not necessarily indicate an immediate implementation.

Unless, as the commentaries say, Yosef’s second dream was not a duplicate of the first. Unlike Pharaoh’s two dreams, his dreams did not portray the same message. Rather, each had its own and unique message.

A clue is that in the first message, the sheaves bowed to his sheaf, not to him personally. Whereas in the second dream, the planetary objects bowed to him, personally.

The message of the first dream was that Yosef was destined to coordinate support for his father’s entire family, sustaining them through a difficult seven years of hunger. They needed the food so they bowed to the sheaves.

The message of the second dream was that Yosef would assume a great position. They therefore bowed to him, personally.

Furthermore, says the Chavatzeles Hasharon commentary, the first dream indicates that the brothers would bow to what they perceived as their source of food, the sheaves and not Yosef. Indeed, when they bowed to Egypt’s viceroy the first two times, they had no idea that it was Yosef.

The dream was almost fulfilled when his brothers bowed down the first time. But Yosef remembered that the dream showed eleven sheaves, not ten. As the Raman explains (42:9), Yosef perceived a heavenly requirement to ensure that both dreams would be fulfilled. He thus felt compelled to lure Binyamin to Egypt to fulfill the first dream in its entirety, so that all eleven brothers would bow down to him.

The requirement was so profound that it needed to be satisfied even though it would generate significant anxiety for his father. Had he revealed himself then, or for that matter during the seven years of plenty, the entire family would have come down and the opportunity for having only his brothers bow to him would have been lost, according to the Ramban.

43:11 And their father (Yaakov / Jacob) said, "If so, then do the following right now. Take from the best (fruits) of the land in your containers and carry down a gift to the (Egyptian) man. (Take) some balm, a bit of honey, spice, laudanum, nuts, and almonds.

43:12 And take double money in your hand. And bring back the money that was returned in the openings of your sacks, perhaps it was a mistake (that it was returned).

43:13 And take your brother (Binyamin / Benjamin). And arise and return to the (Egyptian) man.

43:14 And may G-D provide you with mercy before the (Egyptian) man and send out for you your other brother, together with Binyamin. And (as for) me, just as I have been bereaved so shall I remain bereaved.

43:15 And the men took that present and they took (the) double money in their hand and they took Binyamin. And they arose and went down to Egypt. And they stood before Yosef (Joseph).

Why did the Torah have to document in 43:15 what the brothers of Yosef took with them? It can certainly be both expected and derived from the previous verses that they would take what their father suggested, together with Binyamin.

Also, why is Binyamin listed last?

Perhaps we can find a clue from verse 43:13 where their father also listed Binyamin last.

Perhaps Yaakov mentioning Binyamin last reflects the emotional difficulty he was going through in agreeing to send his beloved Binyamin on this dangerous mission.

Perhaps the sons taking Binyamin last reflects their sensitivity to their father's pain. Had they perhaps felt more for their father's feelings when they were twenty-two years younger, they would not have sold Yosef in the first place. Maybe this ordering reflects their spiritual restoration.

42:37 And Reuven said to his father saying, "Kill my two sons if I don't bring him [Binyamin] (back) to you. Give him over in my charge and I will return him to you."

42:38 And he [Yaakov] said, "My son (Binyamin) will not go down with you. …"

Yaakov did not consent to Reuven's proposal. Rashi comments that Yaakov said to himself, "He is a foolish first-born. He says to kill his children. Are they his children and not my children?"

Reuven's proposal sounds extreme and irrational. It doesn't fit with our tradition that Yaakov's children were mature and great individuals.

It is a bit curious that the Torah prefaces Reuven's words with "and Reuven said to his father saying." This suggests that Reuven did not say those exact words.

It is also a bit unusual that this interchange is recorded in the Torah for all posterity to know. The story of the family's restoration and the Egyptian exile could have read very well without it.

What great lesson is the Torah trying to tell us with it?

The following came to mind from the Chasam Sofer, cited in Rabbi Sternbuch's explanation in his commentary, "Taam Vodaas."

The Talmud says that Yehoshua and Kalev received shares of land that were destined for the spies (Bava Basra 117b).

The Talmud (118b) derives this from the following verse, "And Yehoshua son of Nun and Kalev son of Yefuneh lived from (among) those men who were going to spy out the land." (Numbers 14:38)

The Talmud reads this to mean that they lived from the shares of land that were to go to the spies.

The Marsha commentary connects this with a teaching that the Land of Israel is called the "Land of the living."

Apparently the Marsha is saying that extra shares provided Yehoshua and Kalev with more life and this is how the Talmud was able to derive the lesson from the verse in Numbers.

From what the Marsha says it appears that losing a share in the Land of Israel is a form of death.

The Chasam Sofer suggests that Reuven never proposed that Yaakov kill his grandchildren. Rather, he proposed that if he would not succeed in returning Binyamin back to his father then he would relinquish his birth-right. This would mean that his descendants would lose the extra share in the Land of Israel when it was later divided among the tribes.

We now see that by including Reuven's proposal in the narrative, the Torah is telling us not having the extra share in the Land of Israel would be a form of death.

How do we understand this?

What does it mean that having a share in the Land is a source of life and losing one is a form of death?

I understand this as follows.

But what type of land was at stake? It was a land that the tribes received as a direct inheritance from their great forefathers, Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov.

The Land of Israel is our connection with our ancestors.

By including Reuven's proposal, the Torah is therefore telling us that the difference between being having more opportunity to connect to Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov is so significant that losing the extra opportunity is likened to a form of death.

But the Tribe of Levi had no share in the land.

"Therefore Levi shall not have a share or an inheritance with their brethren … (Deuteronomy 10:9).

Was that a form of death?

The answer comes from the second half of the verse in Deuteronomy 10:19, "… G-D is his inheritance just like He said to him."

It all depends on the nature connection itself.

If the connection through the land to our ancestors is meant to connect us through mere biology then indeed Levi would have been at a severe disadvantage, for his biological connection was no different than that of his brothers and yet he had no land.

Rather, living on our ancestral land was and is meant to connect us to the lifestyle and values of our great ancestors. These great people developed and lived them to connect themselves and all of mankind to G-D.

G-D is Levi's inheritance. Compared to the rest of the Jewish people, Levi's connection to G-D was superior because it was direct.

And for the rest of the Jewish people who connect to G-D through their ancestors, any downgrade in connection impacts their connection to the Source of all life.

So by portraying Reuven's proposal in the above manner, the Torah is perhaps telling us the significance of the difference, that Reuven's children not having the additional share in the land would have been a form of death for them.

44:16 And Yehudah (Judah) said (to Yosef's messenger), what can we say to my master. What can we say and how can we justify ourselves. G-D found the sin of your servants. We are all (now) servants to my master, also us, also the person with whom the cup was found in his possession.

This appears to be a partial confession of guilt for stealing the viceroy's cup. However, according to the Sefurno this is not a confession and it also reflects guilt back upon the accuser. He writes as follows:

We are not being punished (by G-D) for this reason. We are innocent of stealing the cup. Rather, G-D wishes to exact compensation for a sin that we did a long time ago. He is causing this to happen through you in a manner (that is described in Shmuel / Samuel I 24:14,) "Evil comes forth from the wicked."

The Sefurno is referring to a principle that it does not reflect well on the person who is selected by G-D to cause a misfortune to occur to others.

We have several examples in our literature of this principle. One cited by the Sefurno refers to a monarch overacted in a discriminatory manner and caused two Jews to confess to a capital crime for which they were innocent. Another example is cited by Rashi in Exodus 21:13 and refers to a person who accidentally caused another person to die.

We should take the inverse of this principle as a source of strength. That is, if natural events appear to bring a person to do good to another person then this is an encouraging sign.

Vayigash (Genesis 44-47)

44:18 And Yehudah (Judah) came towards him (Yosef / Joseph) and he said, "It is me, my master. (So) let your servant say something in the ears of my master and let him not become angry with your servant. For you are like Pharaoh."

The Kli Yakar commentary says that part of Yehudah's presentation was an explanation for why he now seeks to take the brunt of the responsibility for the alleged theft.

In saying "It is me," Yehudah blames the entire fiasco on a prior misdeed that he committed and that G-D is now holding him responsible for. With this he justifies his proposed life-long enslavement in lieu of Binyamin (Benjamin).

The misdeed seems to be his promoting the sale of Yosef into slavery some twenty-two years ago.

However, in his commentary on the sale, the Kli Yakar says that the brothers justified their condemnation of Yosef because he appeared to be slandering them in a menacing way.

If Yosef deserved to be condemned, then what is Yehudah blaming himself for?

Now, when Yosef finally reveals his identity, he immediately asks, "Is my father still alive? (45:3)" He had just asked this in 43:27. Why is Yosef continually questioning his brothers about their father's welfare? Is he fearful or is he trying to make a point?

The following came to mind.

Some two-hundred-ten years later, G-D will charge Moshe (Moses) to redeem the Jewish people. As he starts on his mission, G-D tells him the following, "And you shall say to Pharaoh, 'So says, G-D. My first-born son is Israel (the Jewish people).' (Exodus 4:23)"

From creation to that point in the history, Mankind had a servant-to-master relationship with G-D. In fact, the name of G-D as it is pronounced contains the word, 'Adon,' which means master. Until then, a parent-to-child relationship between G-D and a group within humanity was never formally legitimized, much less was it authorized for any use.

This new statement of relationship was therefore profound. It is a critical cornerstone in the formation of the Jewish people and of all civilization from that time and onward.

We are taught that the formation of the Jewish people depended on the actions of their early ancestors. To a large extent, the behavior of Avrohom, Yitzchak, and Yaakov (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob), defined the nature and mission of the Jewish people. To a lesser extent, the behavior of Yaakov's twelve sons had also a definitive role.

It is therefore quite possible that there would be very serious repercussions if any of Yaakov's children displayed any insensitivity toward their father's feelings.

So, while the brothers may have been correct in condemning Yosef, the manner in which they carried out the sentence was subject to a high degree of scrutiny. Had they left Yosef in the pit instead of selling him, there would have been hope for reconciliation and the subsequent restoration of Yosef to their father. Yehudah's approach destroyed this possibility.

Perhaps, had he been more sensitive to his father's feelings toward Yosef, Yehudah would have never come up with the idea.

Perhaps this is the defect that Yehudah is now blaming himself for.

Perhaps this is what Yosef was trying to tell his brothers by his continual questioning about their father's welfare.

Perhaps this approach can shed light on another puzzling teaching.

Asher's daughter Serach is listed among the people who emigrated to Egypt. The Oral Torah teaches that during the Exodus, two-hundred-ten years later, she assisted Moshe in recovering Yosef's remains.

She was rewarded with an extremely long life. The Oral Torah also teaches that she passed onto the next world while she was still alive. The Oral Torah teaches that she was granted this reward was because she gently and thoughtfully used music to break the news of Yosef being alive to her grandfather Yaakov.

(Actually, I recently saw a teaching in the P'sikta that Serach interrupted a lecture of Rav Yochanan and corrected his assessment of how it looked when the sea split for the Jewish people. She said, "I was there and it looked like glass." The emigration of Yaakov's family occurred in the year 2238. Rav Yochanan lived in the Talmudic period, some time after the year 3979 when the Mishna was recorded. One could say that by then Serach had already passed into the Garden of Eden and she was just paying Rav Yochanan a visit from the next world. But who knows!)

We are puzzled by the excessive reward that she received for what seems as a minor accommodation for her grandfather Yaakov. In light of the above approach, perhaps we now better understand this decree of the heavenly court.

The Oral Torah teaches that Avraham (Abraham) received the reward of the generations that preceded him because he succeeded where they did not. Perhaps the same can be said for Serach.

44:22 And we (Yehudah and his brothers ) told our master (Yosef - Joseph as Viceroy of Egypt that) the lad (Benyamin-Benjamin) can not leave his father (Yaakov - Jacob); Were the lad to leave his father then he would die.

What type of person did the brothers initially make Binyamin out to be? Only an infant or, G-d forbid a retarded child would be in danger from leaving the supervision of his parents. Binyamin is standing before Yosef as Yehudah speaks. He is a perfectly normal adult.

Rashi makes the following comment on 'Were the lad to leave his father then he would die:' If he leaves his father then we are worried that he will die during the trip, because his mother also died during travel.

What is the logic in associating Rachel's manner of death with a danger of travel for her son, Binyamin? She died from childbirth! Within this context, the location of her death appears to be circumstantial.

What is Rashi trying to tell us?

The Sifsei Chachamim commentary on Rashi makes another point. Yehudah claims that the viceroy was forewarned that the lad would die if he left his father. Rashi links this to Rachel's death. However, Yaakov was with Rachel when she died! The example of the risk of travel has nothing to do with leaving Yaakov.

Also, Rashi (41:12) says that the term 'lad' has the connotation of a fool. We can assume that this true when one references an adult as a lad. Binyamin is an adult. Why is Yehudah referring to Binyamin as a lad? This is insulting.

44:29 (Yaakov speaking to the brothers) If you take also this (son - Benyamin away) from me and he occurs death, then you will bring down to the grave my old age in a wretched manner.

Rashi makes the following comment on 'and he occurs death:

(His death may occur) because the Satan files complaints (in the heavenly court) when a person is in a time of danger.

The Satan should only be complaining about a person who committed a sin. The Talmud (Shabbos 55b) teaches us that Binyamin was one of four people in history to die without ever having committed a sin. Why was Yaakov worried about Binyamin? What sin was he worried about?

What is Rashi trying to tell us?

In general, how is Yehudah trying to handle this problem. He can't deny that the cup was not in Binyamin's sack. He is not denying that Binyamin took the cup.

Yehudah may not be able to afford telling the truth, which is that the viceroy planted the cup in Binyamin's sack in order to frame him.

Rashi (44:18) tells us that Yehudah is ready to declare war against Egypt. The Yerushalmi references the brothers' great power. Egypt won't stand much of a chance once the war begins.

So even though the brothers can take Egypt on, Yehudah is apparently trying avert a war and he is negotiating for peace. How does the reference to Binyamin's travel risk fit in?

The following came to mind.

The viceroy befriended Binyamin.

The cup that Binyamin was accused of stealing was used by the viceroy for sorcery.

The Torah discourages sorcery (Numbers 23:23) The Torah prohibits the Jewish people from engaging in sorcery (Lev. 19:26).

The viceroy made himself out to be a G-d fearing person.

Rachel was Binyamin's mother. She stole her father's tools of witchcraft in order to dislodge him from idolatry (Gen. 31:19). This was done during a period of great stress, during their escape. She did this without first consulting Yaakov, her husband. One may presume that the difficulties of travel interfered with their ability to communicate.

So, out of love for her father, Rachel took the risk of stealing his tools of witchcraft.

Perhaps Yehudah is trying to present Binyamin as a very good friend of the viceroy. He cared so much for the viceroy that he took the foolish step of stealing the cup in order to distance the G-d fearing viceroy from sorcery, just like his mother did for her beloved father.

Perhaps Yehudah is telling the viceroy that they knew of Binyamin's inclination to take foolish risks in order to save another person from sin. They therefore sought to keep Binyamin within his father's sphere of influence for as much time as it would take Binyamin to refine this trait and use it in a constructive manner. Just like the travel interfered with Yaakov's relationship with Rachel, Yehudah was concerned that it would interfere with Binyamin's personal development.

Perhaps Yaakov's awareness of this problem is reflected in Rashi's reference to the Satan. Yaakov was concerned about Binyamin doing a little sin, such as theft, to keep a friend from doing a big sin, such as idolatry. This is what the Satan would have complained about.

45:1 And Yosef could not hold himself back from all those who stood before him and he called, "Take everyone away from before me." And no man stood with him when Yosef revealed himself to his brothers.

Rashi says that Yosef could not bear having Egyptians see that his brothers were embarrassed when he revealed himself.

The Talmud (Bava Metzia 58b, 59a) portrays the shaming of another in public as being an extremely serious infraction. It says that a person who does so has no share in the next world. Tosfos remarks that this is only if the person does not repent prior to his death.

Why is this behavior such a serious infraction?

Perhaps it has something to do with the very purpose of our existence in this world.

It is taught that we were created for G-D to bestow the greatest possible pleasure upon us, for G-D is good and it is the way of the good to bestow good to others.

But if so, then what are we doing in such a stressful place as this world? Why did we wake up on this earth instead of the Garden of Eden?

The answer is so that we should feel that we to some degree earned the goodness that G-D wants to bestow upon us. So we therefore have commandments to fulfill in order to receive the greatness of the next world in the form of a reward for what we did here. Would we have been installed immediately in the Garden of Eden then regardless of how nice it would have been, it would have been likened to eating 'Bread of Shame' for all eternity.

So since the entire purpose of our sojourn on this earth is to avoid personal shame, if one does not give adequate significance to shaming others, the person forfeits his/her share in the next world, which was designated to be free from personal shame.

45:1 And Yosef could not hold himself back from all those who stood before him and he called, "Take everyone away from before me." And no man stood with him when Yosef revealed himself to his brothers.

Rashi says that Yosef could not bear having Egyptians see that his brothers were embarrassed when he revealed himself.

Yosef did not know how his brothers would react to the disclosure.

The Medrash says that their initial reaction was outrage. Yosef would have been harmed if it was not for an angel who interceded to protect him.

Had the Egyptians been present, Yosef would have probably not mentioned that they sold him into slavery. He knew that they would have felt shame whether he mentioned it or not. Yosef showed great sensitivity and even risked harm by ensuring that their feeling ashamed would be in private, even though those who would have been around would not have known the reason for their shame.

45:3 And Yosef (Joseph) said to his brothers, "I am Yosef. Is my father still alive?" And his brothers could not answer him because they were overwhelmed before him.

45:5 And now, do not be sad and do not be angry that you sold me here. For G-D sent me (here) to sustain (you and your families).

45:6 And now, do not be sad and do not have anger in your eyes that you sold me here. For G-D sent me before you for a sustainment."

The Daas Zekainim references Rav Yosef Kroh's commentary of 45:3 where it states that Yosef's brothers were overwhelmed. He understands this to mean that in the initial moments following Yosef's revelation they did not fully believe that this great head of state was indeed the same person who they sold into slavery some twenty-two years ago.

Together with Yosef's words of 45:6, this brings to mind a model of human behavior that was recently identified by a Dr. Kubler-Ross.

She says that when a person is deeply shocked by news, that it is natural for the person to transition into several states before he/she comes to accept the news. The states are: Denial, Anger, Depression and Bargaining.

While Yosef preceded Dr. Kubler-Ross by several millennia, this need not preclude him from managing this most unusual encounter with this model.

He perhaps picked up their transition into denial as per Rav Yosef Kroh's reading of 45:3. He directly addressed two additional transitions in 45:6, that of depression and anger, by pleading that they not be sad or angry. The transition into bargaining may have been addressed by his reference to his assuming a role of their benefactor. That is, there was nothing for them to bargain for because he was going to care for all their physical needs.

45:4 And Yosef (Joseph) said to his brothers, 'Please come near to me.' And they came near. And He said, 'I am Yosef your brother, that you sold me to Egypt.'

45:5 And now, do not be sad and do not be angry that you sold me here. For G-D sent me (here) to sustain (you and your families).

45:6 'For these two years there was a famine in the land and there is yet to be five years when there will be no ploughing or harvesting.'

45:7 'And G-d sent me before you to make for you a remainder in the land, and to sustain you for a great salvation.'

45:8 'And now, you did not send me here. Rather, G-d did so. And He made me for an advisor to Pharaoh, a master in all of his house, and a ruler in all the Land of Egypt.'

The brothers sold Yosef to Egypt. It is only natural for a person to be upset about this. In 45:5, how could Yosef ask them to not be upset?

In 45:4, Yosef says that the brothers sold him to Egypt. In 45:8, he says that they did not send him, rather G-d did. This appears to be a contradiction.

What is the Torah trying to tell us?

The following came to mind.

The Oral Torah says the following in the Talmud (Yoma 86b):

Resh Lakesh says, 'Repentance is (so) great that (if a person fully repents for) misconduct that was done unintentionally (in heaven) it is transformed into an act of virtue.'

No doubt, Yosef's brothers repented for their misdeed. Perhaps Yosef is telling them that he recognizes this and that their successful repentance should now be viewed in a different light.

Now that they repented, it is time to reconcile and there is no longer a need for anybody to be upset, neither him nor his brothers.

Due to their repentance, they can now be viewed as having been G-d's agents in sending Yosef to Egypt.

Despite our failings, we should never loose hope. Let's get busy and return to the ways of G-d.

45:5 And now, do not be sad and do not be angry that you sold me here. For G-D sent me (here) to sustain (you and your families).

45:15 And Yosef kissed all of his brothers and he wept over them. And afterwards, his brothers spoke to him.

Why did Yosef feel the need to address the anger of his brothers?

The Medrash says that Yosef's wept to appease his brothers. Why did he need appease them when it was they who did evil to him? They should have been weeping to appease Yosef, not the reverse.

Rav Yerucham Levovitz of blessed memory notes that the Torah has guidelines of behavior for one who causes evil to another and it has guidelines for victims.

In his great righteousness, Yosef judged his brothers favorably and avoided the assignment of blame to anyone other than himself. He therefore suspected that it was his behavior that caused his brothers to overreact and sell him into slavery. His conviction that his fine brothers would have otherwise never stooped to do this was so strong that it brought him to tears and he begged their forgiveness.

45:9 Rush and go up to my father and say to him, "So says your son Yosef (Joseph), 'G-D made me for a master for all of Egypt. Come down to me and don't wait.'"

Yosef asked his brothers to go up to his father. Rashi explains that the upward direction was used because the Land of Israel is geographically at a higher elevation than Egypt.

This is somewhat puzzling because the first verse of chapter 13 uses a similar phrase: "And Avram (Abraham) went up from Egypt ..." Why didn't Rashi explain it there, thirty-two chapters earlier?

The following came to mind.

Yosef's current location was geographically lower than that of his father. However, from the viewpoint of social and political status, Yosef's position was on a much higher plateau than anyone in his father's household.

Perhaps by making this reference here, Rashi is telling us that Yosef never adopted Egypt's social and political values and he didn't let his position go to his head. He valued more the spiritually of the Holy Land and the Torah values that his father's family reflected.

45:9 Rush and go up to my father and say to him, "So says your son Yosef, 'G-D made me for a master for all of Egypt. Come down to me and don't wait.'"

45:13 And you will tell my father (about) all the honor that I have in Egypt and all that you saw. And you shall rush and bring my father here.

45:14 And he fell on the neck of Binyamin his brother and he cried. And Binyamin cried on his neck.

45:15 And Yosef kissed all of his brothers and he wept over them. And afterwards, his brothers spoke to him.

It is understandable that Yosef wanted to see his father. However, why do the verses emphasize Yosef wanting his father to be quickly brought down to Egypt?

The Targum Yonosan Ben Uziel reads into verse 45:14 that Yosef was crying over the destruction of both temples that were destined to be built in Binyamin's ancestral inheritance. He also reads into 45:15 that Yosef was crying over the bondage that the Jewish people will suffer from in exiles that were destined to occur. Why is Yosef focusing on the future exiles?

The following came to mind.

We can assume that reconciliation with his brothers was paramount in Yosef's eyes.

Perhaps we can understand his approach within the context of the following Talmudic teaching: It was fitting for Yaakov (and his family) to be brought down (into the destined exile of) Egypt in iron chains except that his (great) merit made it happen otherwise (and he was brought down by Yosef instead.) (Shabbos 89b).

If his slavery was the means to begin his father's exile in an honorable manner then his brothers were compelled by heaven to sell him and they bore no responsibility for it, other than perhaps the way that it happened. However, if his father were to pass away prior coming down to Egypt then the sale had no redeeming features and could only be viewed as an act of malice.

Perhaps this is why Yosef was especially concerned that his father get to Egypt as soon as possible, placing the sale in a context that would ease the reconciliation. Also, since the Egyptian exile was in his mind, perhaps this is why he made the connection with future exiles.

45:17 And Pharaoh said to Yosef (Joseph), "Say (the following) to your brothers, 'Do this: load up your herds and go, come to the Land of Canaan.'"

45:18 "And take your father and your household and come to me. And I will give you the good of the Land of Egypt, and eat the fat of the land."

Our sages teach that it was in Egypt's national interest for Yosef's family to live in Egypt. This is because Yosef's appointment was in violation of Egyptian law which precludes a slave from holding a high office and Yosef had been enslaved. His family being nearby would demonstrate that Yosef was from aristocracy and that he was wrongly enslaved.

Despite Pharaoh's eagerness for them to live in Egypt, and despite Pharaoh's generous invitation, the brothers made the following statement to him:

47:4 And they said, "We came to sojourn [not to stay] in the land, for there is no pasture for the flock because the famine is intense in the Land of Canaan. And now, please let your servants settle in the land of Goshen."

Pharaoh wanted to hear that they came to settle in Egypt. Why did they tell him that they came to just sojourn? Also, they conclude by requesting permission to settle there. This appears to be contradictory. Could it be that they left their homes to just sojourn but they afterwards changed their mind and wanted to settle in Egypt? What made them change their mind? Why did Pharaoh need to hear this? Why did the Torah record this?

The following came to mind.

Perhaps the intensity of their love of the Promised Land's sanctity brought them to speak in this manner. It was just too difficult to say up front that they were settling in Egypt. It had to be expressed in stages, that they left to just sojourn but they now want to live in Egypt.

The Torah records this for us, because we need the inspiration. Those who are fortunate to live in Israel are performing a great commandment.

45:22 To each man he gave changes of clothing. And he gave to Binyamin (Benjamin) three hundred (pieces of) silver and five changes of clothing.

The Talmud provides the following in Megilla 16a.

Could it be that that this righteous person would make a mistake with the very thing that caused him suffering? For Rava son of Machsia said in the name of Rav Chama son of Guria who said in the name of Rav, "It was because of a piece of cloth that weighed two sela coins, which is what Yaakov (Jacob) gave more to Yosef (Joseph) than to his brothers, that events occurred and our ancestors went down to Egypt." Rabbi Binyamin son of Yefes said, "He did this to make an allusion (for Binyamin). For a descendent will come from him who will leave the presence of a king and he will wear five royal garments. As it states, 'And Mordechai went forth wearing royal garments….'"

Why was it important for Yosef to make this allusion at this time? Why does the Purim story have to be brought in just now, when Yosef is reconciling with his brothers?

The following came to mind.

A major theme of the Purim story is that G-D's agenda prevails, despite the plans and actions of people that appear to run contrary to it.

Yosef was very sensitive to the fact that his brothers were ashamed that they sold him and caused so much grief.

Upon revealing his identity, his first words were of reconciliation

45:5 And now do not be upset and do not be angry with yourselves that you sold me here. For it was to sustain you that G-D sent me (to Egypt) before you.

45:6 For it is already two years of famine and there will be another five years during which there will be no plowing or harvesting.

45:7 And G-D sent me before you to give you a way to remain (alive) on the land and to sustain you ...

45:8 And now, it was not you who sent me here but (it was G-D)…

We can now view the link to Purim as another way that he tried to comfort his brothers.

45:26 And they told him saying, "Yosef (Joseph) was still alive and he rules over all the land of Egypt." And his heart rejected [their words] because he did not believe them.

We are taught that Yaakov's children were concerned that he would go into shock from hearing the good news. Just prior to them formally telling him, Serach took out an instrument and made up a song about Yosef being alive. Her aged grandfather dismissed the song as wishful thinking but it apparently had some effect and reduced the shock when he was afterwards told the good news by the family.

46:17 And the sons of Asher were Yimna and Yishva and Yishvi and Briya and Serach their sister. And the sons of Briya were Chever and Malkiel.

The Targum Yonasan Ben Uziel tells us that Serach entered the Garden of Eden while still alive because she was the one who told her grandfather Yaakov about Yosef.

It is amazing that Serach merited such reward for giving her grandfather some ease.

The following thoughts came to mind.

Parents bring their offspring into this world, giving them life. It is therefore fitting that when children consider feelings of their parents and honor them that the Torah promises long life, either in this world, the next world, or both. (Exodus 20:12)

Yosef asked his brothers several times whether Yaakov was still alive. There are some who understand this as Yosef's way of rebuking his brothers for not being considerate of their father's feelings when they decided to sell him.

Perhaps Heaven wanted to make this point by rewarding Serach with long life as she partially compensated for the lack of consideration that had been done to Yaakov in the past.

The following is an alternate understanding.

The world came into being because G-D willed it. We are taught there is nothing of intrinsic existence other then G-D. Therefore, the continual existence or life of the world is constantly dependent on G-D's will.

The Torah is an expression of G-D's will. One who observes its commandments shows regard for G-D's will. One who studies the Torah does something even greater for he preserves the record of G-D's will for the rest of mankind.

It follows that those who show regard for the feelings of a great Torah scholar should merit life and great reward.

We are taught that Yaakov founded the model of a Torah scholar and student.

It is therefore fitting for Serach to be rewarded eternal life for making it easier for her grandfather to cope with the wonderful news of Yosef.

Rabban Gamliel says: "Make your will like His (G-D's) will so that He will make His will like yours. Give in to His will so that He will make the will of others give in to yours. (Avos 2:4)

45:27 And they told him (Yaakov / Jacob) all of Yosef's (Joseph's) words that he spoke to them. And he saw the wagons that Yosef sent to carry him. And Yaakov's soul became revived.

Rashi defines this revival of Yaakov's soul to mean that the Divine Presence was restored to him, for it left him during his period of mourning over the apparent loss of Yosef.

The Sefurno commentary in 37:35 teaches that Yaakov accepted upon himself a lifetime state of mourning because he felt responsible what looked like Yosef's death, as he was the one who sent Yosef on the mission to find the brothers.

Upon learning that Yosef was still alive, he had no reason to continue on in this state and the Divine Presence was thus restored to him.

The book, "Paths of the Just" provides a context for this relationship in a chapter that is devoted to a person being happy.

The author provides an analysis of various types of happiness. He differentiates between happiness and joking.

He presents the following context for the recommended type of happiness:

One who fully believes in G-D and who trusts in being helped by the Rock will always be happy. He will tolerate everything, just like the sick person who tolerates bitter medicine because of its cure. One who tolerates the events of life in this manner is free from the worries of this world. He will also be satisfied with the little that he has for he will say to himself that whatever the Creator designated for him is sufficient.

Happiness encompasses everything.

Anyone who feels anxiety over the matters of this world will have no rest. He will continually plan to make money and will feel that whatever G-D allotted to him is not sufficient.

He who is happy with his portion is wealthy, even if he is financially in poverty.

A person should focus on making the fulfillment of the Torah as his source of happiness. When fulfilling commandments his heart can be happy for being able to serve the King on High, Whom the celestial beings bow down to.

Fulfilling a commandment with happiness is a thousand times greater than doing it with the attitude that it is a burden.

Avraham (Abraham) and David were engaged in Torah their entire day. They acclaimed G-D with song and praise, they raised their voices in happiness.

A person will become a success in every way by doing this, he will obtain common sense, and G-D will provide him with Divine inspiration. His heart will be happy and he will become filled with love towards G-D. His soul will become bound up in joy and he will have great insights, for he will come to fear G-D and he will become proper and he will have common sense.

The Divine Presence will only rest on a person who is happy.

45:19 And you (Yosef - Joseph) are commanded (by me, Pharaoh) to do thus. Take for yourselves carriages from the Land of Egypt for (transporting) your children and wives, and carry your father and come (live in Egypt).

46:1 And Yisroel [Israel] traveled, (together) with all that was to him and he came to Be'er Sheva. And he offered sacrifices to the G-d of his father Yitzchok)

46:2 And G-d spoke to Yisroel in visions of the night and He said, 'Yaakov, Yaakov.' And he said, 'I am here.'

46:3 And He said, 'I am the G-d, the G-d of your father. Do not be afraid of going down to Egypt because I shall make you into a great nation there.

46:4 I will go down with you to Egypt and I will bring you up, also up. And Yosef will place his hand on your eyes (after you pass away in Egypt).

46:5 And Yaakov got up from Be'er Sheva. And the sons if Yisroel carried Yaakov their father and their children and their wives in (the) wagons that Pharaoh sent to carry them.

46:6 And they took their flocks and their property that they acquired in the Land of Canaan. And they arrived in Egypt, Yaakov and all of his descendants.

The account of the move to Egypt appears to begin in verse 46:1. They first went to Be'er Sheva. Verse 46:6 seems to be discussing their packing up for the move. This is written after their stop in Be'er Sheva, not by the beginning of their move. People usually pack up before they begin to move.

Also, it is not stated that Yaakov got into the long-distance carriage until after the stop over in Be'er Sheva. Why? In what did he travel beforehand?

One would expect the following sequence of events. Yaakov and his family packed up. Then Yaakov got into the carriage for the trip, together with the children and women. They stopped over in Be'er Sheva. They then continued on with the move.

The following came to mind.

I wonder if Yaakov even packed up his belongings prior to G-d's speaking to him in Be'er Sheva. Perhaps he even refused to get onto the carriage until then.

The move appeared to be necessary from the perspective of physical survival. However, G-d has many resources for sustaining people. Furthermore, the move placed the future of his family in danger of assimilating into the dominating culture of Egypt. In fact, by the Exodus, only a fraction of his descendants succeeded to survive as Jews throughout this great spiritual ordeal.

Events gave Yaakov a good reason to suspect that G-d wanted him to move. However, his concerns as a parent to safeguard the destiny of his descendants gave him good reason not to move.

So, perhaps he decided to take just a trip to Be'er Sheva. It was not the first leg of a move. He didn't pack up. He didn't travel on Pharaoh's long-distance carriages. His first objective was to obtain additional signals and assurances from G-d that he was doing the right thing.

After G-d appeared to him, he sent his children back to pack up and he then got onto the wagons.

Time and time again throughout our history, movement away from the spiritual centers of mass brought with it both the promise of material gain and the peril of spiritual loss.

Yaakov was signaling for all generations that they have a reluctance and a hesitation to move into an area of spiritual peril, regardless of the perceived material opportunities for gain. When considering a move, as parents and as Jews, we always need to take this into consideration.

46:3 And He said, “I am the (Supreme) Power, the G-D of your fathers. Do not be afraid of going down to Egypt, for I will make you a great nation there.”

46:4 “I will descend with you to Egypt and I shall bring you up, also higher. And Yosef (Joseph) will place his hands upon your eyes (when you depart from this world).”

In 28:15 G-D told Yaakov (Jacob) that He is with him. Now that Yaakov is going down to Egypt, G-D says that He will descend with him. What does this statement add? What is its significance?

A great king once asked his advisor for proof that G-D exists. The response was, “The Jews, your majesty.

Indeed, the fact that you read this from a member of a nation that still exists after 33 centuries of (impossible) Jewish history is your best proof that G-D exists and is also managing the affairs of Mankind.

We have a prayer named Hallel. Its theme is praises of G-D and consists of verses from the Book of Tehilim (Psalms). Hallel is said on every holiday but Purim. The Talmud (Megillah 14a) asks why and answers that the miracle of Purim occurred outside of the Land of Israel. The Talmud then asks why we do say Hallel on Pesach (Passover) for the miracles of the Exodus and answers that this constraint began only after the Jewish people entered the Land of Israel. Why should that matter?

The Talmud says that we say Hallel on Chanukah over the miracle of the temple’s menorah oil, which should have lasted for one day but lasted eight days (Shabbos 21a). It is interesting that Hallel was linked to that miracle and not to the miracle that a small, ad-hoc, and untrained Jewish army defeated the hordes of the Greek Empire’s army and myriads of phalanxes. Although the odds of victory were off the wall, Hallel is not said for that. Why?

Rabbi Yaakov Moshe Kulefsky of blessed memory provides the following explanations, using insights from the Bais Halevy and other sources.

Hallel is called for only open miracles that provide undeniable proof of G-D’s existence and management to all but the very biased observer.

Note the caveat. Hallel was called for when the sea suddenly split and instantly gave tunnels made out of congealed water with dry land afoot to millions of people to escape from their enemies, when those who pursued them made the ridiculous decision to enter the tunnels, and when several hours later the sea suddenly returned to its natural state and drowned all but one of the enemies while all of the Jewish people exited safely. And the biased observer will note that there were high winds at that time which could somehow stretch an explanation to make this as a totally natural phenonium. And the biased observer will note while that the timing of this ‘natural’ event worked out well for the Jewish people, it could have been due to random chance. But, I have yet to hear a good explanation for how anybody, much less an entire nation, could survive a storm having winds with such velocity as to hold back a sea and dry its bed for several hours.

The Talmud in Megillah is telling us that place for open miracles to occur became, by Divine decree, the Land of Israel once the Jewish people entered there. Beyond its hallowed borders miracles still occur, only they are hidden. Each individual miracle is executed in a way to give the biased observer an opportunity to explain it all away to nature and luck.

So we don’t recite Hallel for defeating the Greek Empire because sometimes – albeit rarely – the weaker force wins. And we don’t recite Hallel for the stunning twist and turn of events of the Purim miracle that occurred in Iraq because it was all indeed a series of natural occurrences.

The Bais Halevy explains the statement that G-D will descend with Yaakov to mean that G-D linked His prestige as the world perceives it with the fate of the Jewish people. When they descend into exile it precludes precluding open miracles from happening. This causes G-D’s ratings with the rest of the world to take a dip because they have to work harder to discover G-D’s existence

Well, we’re now back in the Land of Israel. Nobody says that open miracles must occur, or when. Then again, there’s something very special and unusual about this return and what has been going on over there for the past seventy years. Hold onto your hats.

46:27 And the sons of Yosef (Joseph) that were born to him in Egypt. (There were) two soul. All of the soul of the house of Yaakov (Jacob) that are coming to Egypt are seventy.

It seems more appropriate to reference Yaakov's household as souls in the plural tense.

Earlier in the Torah, in its discussion of Aisav's (Esau's) household, the Torah does use the plural tense.

36:6 And Aisav took his wives and his sons and his daughters and all of the souls of his household and his herd and all of his animals and all of his possessions that he acquired in the land of Canaan. And he went to a land because of Yaakov his brother.

What is the Torah trying to tell us here by writing the word 'soul' in the singular tense?

Rashi cites an answer from a Medrash in Leviticus.

Aisav had six people and the Scripture called them 'souls of his household,' in the plural tense, because they worshiped many gods. Yaakov had seventy and the Torah calls them soul because they (all) worshiped one G-D.

What is the connection between the number of gods and the number of souls?

Also, Aisav had five descendants and Yaakov had seventy. If Rashi says that Aisav had six people then Aisav must be included in the count. But Yaakov is not included in his count. Why is Aisav included but not Yaakov?

This is so serious a question that the Sifsei Chachamim commentary suggests the possibility that this is a typographical error in this Rashi. However, he points out, this same inconsistency is repeated in the Medrashic source itself. He closes by saying that more research is needed.

Let us see the Medrashic source itself.

A gentile scholar once made the following remark to Rabbi Yehoshua son of Korcha: "Your Torah directs you to follow the majority. If so, why don't you reconcile yourselves with (pagan) idolatry (since this is the major religion)?" In his reply, Rabbi Yeshoshua asked whether the scholar had children. The scholar remarked that the question reminded him about his distress. Rabbi Yehoshua asked him why. The scholar replied that his sons sit around his table and each one worships another god. They don't disperse without (getting into such an argument that they) smash each other's skulls. Rabbi Yehoshua asked whether he is able to bring reconciliation within his family and he responded no. Rabbi Yeshoshua then said that before he can expect us to reconcile (with pagan idolatry), he should first bring reconciliation within his own household. The scholar went away in despondence. Rabbi Yehoshua's students requested an answer for themselves. Rabbi Yehoshua responded that it the Torah writes the word souls by Aisav who had six souls. Yaakov had seventy soul and the Torah uses the word soul. This is because Aisav worshiped many gods so it is written by him (that he had) many souls. But Yaakov worshiped one G-D so it is written one soul.

How does this answer the scholar's question?

What is the Torah trying to tell us?

The following came to mind.

It appears that religions are based on claims of some transmission of G-D's will to humanity. Most members of the set of all religions appear to be mutually exclusive. That is for most religions, if their claims are true then the claims of the other religions are false. So, within the set of all religions, some are based on false claims of transmission. Those that are based on false claims are fabrications that were made up by people. Put differently, religion can be defined by G-D and it can be defined by people.

If a religion is defined by a person then in the truest sense it is dependent upon that person. It lives for only as long as its inventor. Furthermore, if another person adopts that same religion, since it has no other basis and existence outside of its inventor, each follower gives it a new existence that is solely dependent upon the follower, not the founder.

This probably contributed to the violence within the scholar's family as their religions were deeply personal matters.

So, at the time of Rabbi Yehoshua, if there were three-million Jews and two-hundred-million pagan idolaters, the reconciliation would not have been for a minority religion of three-million to adopt a religion that had two-hundred-million followers. This is because no pagan faith existed with two-hundred-million adherents. Instead, there were two-hundred-million pagan faiths, each with a following of one. If anything, the pagans were in the minority.

Perhaps this was Rabbi Yehoshua's intent when he used a discourse about Aisav's polytheistic family as a reason for not adopting paganism.

We can now see the connection between the number of gods and the number of souls.

Perhaps we can now understand why Aisav is included in the count but not Yaakov. As Aisav's household was into human-defined faith, Aisav is counted because he is another person and this contributed another faith.. However, as the faith within Yaakov's household was based on true transmissions of G-D, Yaakov's being another person had no relevance and he was able to maintain transparency.

Yosef was concerned that his brothers and their families not be exploited and involuntary impressed into Government service by Pharaoh, a selfish despot.

Yosef did not give his father Yaakov any advice. We can assume that this was done out of respect to his father. Besides being his elder, Yaakov was very wise and he can take care of himself.

When his father was presented to Pharaoh, the monarch's first recorded query was 'How many are the days of your life?' Yaakov's responds first with his age and then proceeds to give a short synopsis of his life, saying that his 'years were few and harsh.' Why did he add comment about the quality of his life?

The Torah T'mima says that Yaakov detected from the question that Pharaoh was interested in both the quantity and the quality of Yaakov's life. He did not just ask, 'How old are you?' From the additional words, the Yaakov reasoned that Pharaoh wanted to know about the quality of his life, also.

Wise people resolve many problems with few words. Perhaps, by going into his life story with being directly asked to do so, Yaakov provided an impression to Pharaoh that the old man standing before him is a rambler and he would be of no use to him as a chief advisor. Too bad for Pharaoh.

46:28 And he [Yaakov - Jacob] sent Yehuda (Judah) ahead to Yosef (Joseph) to Goshen to clear (a place for their arrival). And they came to Goshen.

Rashi cites a Medrash that Yehuda was sent to set up a place for a yeshiva, a Torah academy.

Rabbi Hoberman of blessed memory notes a Rambam which says that Yaakov gave Levi and his descendants the lead responsibility for ensuring that the teachings of Avraham (Abraham) will never be forgotten (Yad Hachazaka, Avoda Zarah, 1:3).

If so, then why did he send Yehuda to set up the yeshiva and not Levi?

I understand his answer as follows.

Torah study demands both depth and breadth, or analysis and application. Many people gravitate towards one or the other, somewhat like people today gravitate towards either science or engineering.

Yehuda focused on the theory, depth and analysis, defining and refining the model.

Levi focused on applying the Torah's principles to everyday life.

Yaakov was planning for the transformation of his family into a nation of the Torah and saw that they were beginning an exile into a spiritually hostile foreign land.

He therefore saw a need to focus on applying Avraham's teaching to everyday life and this is why he asked Levi to assume the lead responsibility to teach.

But to reduce the risk of distortion, application must be based upon clear models, which was Yehuda's strength.

So he asked Yehuda to set up and found the Yeshiva to emphasize this need.

Vayechi (Genesis 47- 50)

47:28 And Yaakov (Jacob) lived in the land of Egypt for seventeen years…

The teachings of Eliyahu Hanavi (Elijah the Prophet) say that the Torah is emphasizing here that Yaakov lived during his final years. This is telling us that towards the end of Yaakov's life, although he lived in exile in Egypt he was able to be free from discomfort and also free from stress from the evil inclination. (Tana D'Bei Eliyahu 5:12)

There is a principle of Maaseh Avos Siman Labonim." This means that whatever occurred to the forefathers is an indication of what will occur to their descendents.

Rabbi Gedaliah Schor of blessed memory taught that we should apply this principle to what Eliyahu Hanavi is telling us and not view it as a mere historical fact. (Ohr Gedalia).

Long ago, our prophets knew full well that the Jewish people needed to undergo a long and painful exile to prepare them for the grand finale at the end of days, may it occur speedily in our days.

The Torah is telling us here that G-D will help us get through our history by giving us periods of respite.

47:28 And Yaakov (Jacob) lived in the land of Egypt for seventeen years …

The Ohr Gedaliah commentary (Rabbi Gedaliah Schor of blessed memory) says that these were the most blissful years of Yaakov's later life.

In a small way they were like the world to come in that they were free of stress and worry.

In contrast, the previous twenty-two years were shadowed by mourning over his beloved son Yosef (Joseph), whom he presumed was dead.

The saga of Yosef is introduced in Parsha Vayeshev, several Torah readings ago. At that time he had emerging unscathed from his encounters with Lavan and Aisav (Esau).

Rashi (37:2) writes that Yaakov sought to live his later years in tranquility but the wrath of Yosef jumped upon him.

Rabbi Schor reads this to mean a Divine wrath that Yaakov perceived to be upon him because of what happened to Yosef.

He explains that Yaakov was guaranteed by G-D that if all of his children survived him then he will have a peaceful transition into the afterlife. Yaakov took this to mean that if one or more of his children dies during his lifetime then this will indicate a spiritual failure that he had and that he would need to be purged from his defect(s) in the next world.

Besides mourning over the loss of his son, he also was haunted by the notion of one or more spiritual failures that G-D held him accountable for.

Rabbi Schor says that this served as a test for Yaakov, for the perceived failure could have caused him to go unto depression and either deflate his spiritual status or give up altogether.

But Yaakov did not react in this manner. His life was one of unvarying truth and despite the perceived setback he maintained his spiritual practices and growth.

In one moment, the news that Yosef was still alive and spiritually healthy dispelled the darkness of the previous twenty-two years. He saw in a flash how the background events of those dark days were actually paving the way for the rescue and future support of his family.

Now, we have a general rule that the actions of our ancestors are a sign for what is to happen to their descendents.

Rabbi Schor teaches that during these twenty-two years, Yaakov was enabling his children to survive the long and painful Exile of Edom that we have been enduring for now over nineteen centuries.

Like Yaakov, we have frequently experienced stress to make us give up. People have insulted us and tried to impose shame. We encountered pogroms, attempts to convert us, attempts to annihilate us, pillages, imprisonments, assimilation, you name it and we've been there.

And like Yaakov, we have managed to survive. And like Yaakov, some day the darkness will suddenly dispel and we will see in a flash how the painful events of our history were actually preparing us for a great redemption and a subsequent life of tranquility, in some way like life in the world to come.

47:28 And Yaakov (Jacob) lived in the land of Egypt for seventeen years…

There is normally a blank space between the Torah readings. Rashi notes that this portion does not begin after a break. So to speak, this portion is closed in with the previous verses.

Rashi writes that this is because the eyes and hearts of the Jewish people became closed in with the death of Yaakov as the Egyptians began to obligate them and this caused them distress.

The Jewish people knew well the words of G-D's covenant with Avraham (Abraham), that his descendants will be enslaved and oppressed for an extended period.

We know from Biblical chronology that Yosef (Joseph) was fifty-six years old when Yaakov passed away and he passed away at the age of one-hundred-ten.

It is difficult to see how the enslavement of the Jewish people could begin during the subsequent fifty-four years that Yosef was still in power.

Furthermore, the opening verses of the Book of Exodus imply that the enslavement did not commence until the last of Yaakov's son's passed away.

The following came to mind.

There is a distinction between obligation ("shibud") and servitude ("avdus").

Yosef was appointed viceroy by Pharaoh. Although he was the most powerful person under Pharaoh and therefore had the greatest freedom throughout the realm, he was definitely under obligation. So if Yosef was obligated then surely were his siblings and their children.

Look again at Rashi's words. They were in distress because of the obligation.

But what is wrong with being obligated? They were surely not seeking to shirk responsibilities.

I believe that the issue is not whether they assumed obligations but rather the context within which it was assumed.

Avraham represented and promoted G-D's will within mankind. He was held in great esteem and was given the title of "G-D's Nobleman" (Genesis 23:6).

He also lived in a manner that was consistent with G-D's will.

His son Yitzchak (Isaac) was also held in similar esteem by his peers (Genesis 26:28) and so was Yaakov.

Say Avraham (or for that matter, the President of the United States) needed a dollar and asked someone to lend him one. Compare this with an ordinary person who borrows a dollar from his fellow. Despite the fact that both obligations are paid back, they are completely different loans, they have different flavors. Both Avraham and the common person will honor their obligations. However, the common person will internalize them.

This is because there is a distinction between having an obligation and being obligated. Avraham could assume an obligation. Because he fully obligated himself to G-D, Avraham could not internalize his obligations.

As long as Yaakov was alive, the Egyptians associated his descendents with the prestige that was due him as being a man of G-D. They did not treat his descendents as though they were obligated.

With Yaakov's departure, the descendents who survived him lacked the spiritual resources to be held in esteem by the Egyptians as a Nation of G-D.

Without the spiritual energy of Yaakov, the Egyptians viewed the Jewish people in a manner that made them internalize their obligations.

It would be several hundred years before they would experience spiritual esteem, when they accepted the Torah on Mount Sinai and fully obligated themselves to G-D.

We afterwards entered the Promised Land, anointed kings, and built G-D's temple.

Understandably, we were collectively entitled to this prestige as long as our deeds matched the title.

The eventual destruction of the temple marked the beginning of another period of "shibud," of obligation. With the relative loss of our sense of obligation to G-D, we began to internalize the obligations to our fellow man.

We are taught that this period of obligation will end with the coming of the Moshiach, when all of mankind will realize the true spiritual context within which they live, as well as their relationship with G-D.

This will be a time when the Jewish people will refocus on their mission as it was transmitted to Moshe (Moses) and their deeds will bring them to the spiritual greatness that eluded them for millennia.

We may very well have obligations and we will meet them all, but we will no longer internalize them, for we will be fully connected to the greatest Source of freedom and greatness.

47:29 And the days of Israel came near to die. And he called to his son Yosef (Joseph). And he said to him, "Please, if I have found favor in your eyes, (then) please place your hand (in an oath) under my thigh and do with me kindness and truth. Please do not bury me in Egypt."

Rashi comments on the phrase, "kindness and truth:"

The kindness that people do to dead people is (called) kindness of truth because the one (who does the act of kindness) doesn't expect any reciprocity (from the one who receives his services).

We find later that (48:5) Yaakov (Jacob) assigned the inheritance birthright to Yosef. We also find later (48:22) that Yaakov gave Yosef an extra section in the Land of Israel, the city of Shechem.

If Yosef was indeed going to be compensated for his work, why was this termed an act of "kindness and truth"?

The following came to mind.

The Sifsei Chachamim commentary on Rashi says that Yaakov thought of these gifts later. Since at this point in time he had no intention of compensating Yosef, the act was properly termed.

However, the Orach Chayim commentary says that at this point in time, Yaakov did have intentions of rewarding Yosef. The Orach Chayim provides several answers.

Perhaps we can add another.

While Yaakov knew about the gifts, Yosef certainly didn't. Had Yaakov disclosed the gifts then Yosef would have certainly agreed to fulfill Yaakov's wish. However, since Yosef didn't know about them at this time, from his perspective and at that time, the agreement was an act of truth and kindness.

As a father-par-excellance, Yaakov always strove to maximize the spiritual quality of the acts his children did. He thus gave Yosef a chance to commit in a commendable way. Had Yosef refused, then Yaakov would have either told him about the extra gifts. Or, perhaps he would have asked an older son to assume this honor.

Spiritual training and growth doesn't stop at the Bar Mitzvah.

48:13 And Yosef took them both. Ephraim was to his right which was to Yisroel's left and Menashe was to his left which was to Yisroel's right. And he came near to him.

48:14 And Yisroel stretched out his right hand and placed it on Ephraim's head, the younger (brother), and his left hand on Menashe's head. He maneuvered his hands, for Menashe was the first-born.

Why did Yisroel place his right hand on the grandson who was to his left and his left hand on the grandson who was to his right? What message or lesson was he trying to convey?

Rabbi Sternbuch cites the following from Rav Chaim Velozhon, of blessed memory.

It is common for people who are still maturing to magnify their own greatness and to belittle their own weaknesses. And it's not uncommon to find the reverse when it comes to others, to belittle their greatness and to magnify their flaws.

As the right side is frequently stronger than the left, the right side symbolizes strength and the left symbolizes weakness.

When two people face each other, their right is to the other person's left and their left is to the other person's right. This symbolically reflects the above, to put more emphasis on the other person's weakness and less on their strengths.

By crossing his hands, the sagely Yisroel was telling his young grandchildren to view the strengths and weaknesses of every person in a true and undistorted light.

48:14 And Yisroel extended his right hand and placed in on Ephraim's head, though he was younger, and his left on Menashe's head. He maneuvered his hands for Menashe was the first-born.

Rabbi Moshe Bick of blessed memory sees the following sagely message in the hand switch.

The Talmud (Shabbos 88b) associates right and left with Torah study. Those to the 'right side' engage in Torah study in a selfless manner. They have no personal agenda other than to know what is right and wrong, what to do, and how to help others with their knowledge. In contrast, those to the 'left side' study Torah for personal gain, such as to dominate others by using their knowledge.

We know that Menashe was an administrator and we can assume that he acted with benevolence. His brother Ephraim focused on Torah study.

By putting his right hand on Ephraim, Yaakov (Jacob) was telling his grandson to study Torah for the sake of Heaven, exclusively.

His message from putting his left hand on Menashe was that one must never hold back from doing kindness to others, even if his motives are not purely for the sake of heaven. This is because of the bottom line, that others will receive benefit.

48:16 May the boys become blessed by angel that rescued me from all tragedy and may they be called by my name and the names of my ancestors Avraham and Yitzchak. And may they multiply abundantly in the midst of the land.

Why does Yaakov associate his salvation with G-D's angel and not with G-D himself?

Rabbi Yisochor Frand explains that Yaakov's had a stressful life, associated with G-D hiding his face, so to speak, and appearing to operate though agents. As his life was near its end, Yaakov saw in retrospect that everything turned out for the good.

For example, the terrifying period during which it looked like Yosef was dead became the vehicle by which he came down to Egypt to begin the era of servitude of the Jewish people, so necessary for the refinement of his descendants and the cause of their ultimate ascension to a role that will enable mankind to achieve perfection.

His blessing was for Yosef's children to be able to see the same for their own lives and that everything turns out to be for the best.

This being the case, one can ask that if it's G-D's objective to care for a person then why does He put the person in a situation that needs rescue instead of managing the person's life in a way that avoids the danger in the first place?

It came to mind that such encounters bring a person to be tested as to whether he/she will give up. Hard as it sometimes is, we should never give up, for it detracts from the possibility that G-D will make his miracle.

Alternately Yaakov's had a stressful life can be viewed as setting the stage for life and survival of his descendents when they were in exile, which turned out to be the bulk of Jewish history.

In the mode, caused by behavior that distances us from G-D, He appears to manage our affairs from a distance and therefore rescue frequently appears to come from an indirect source, such as though an angel or other agent.

It is for us to recognize this as a signal for us to address the problem at its source and improve our ways.

48:20 And he [Yaakov] blessed them on that day saying, "May Israel bless [their children] using you [Yosef] saying, 'May G-D make you like Ephraim and Menashe'"

The Be'er Yosef commentary notes that the blessing has a dual reference, first to Yosef and then to his two sons.

Also, no detail is provided for the blessing itself.

He provides the following explanation.

Yosef succeeded both spiritually and materially in an environment and through circumstances that were hostile to both.

G-D raised him from slavery and imprisonment to become Egypt's viceroy.

He maintained his Jewish identity and commitments in a land that was steeped in idolatry and immorality. Whether he was a slave, a convict, or viceroy, he did not swerve.

G-D blessed him with two wonderful sons. Menashe was at his side and helped him run Egypt. Ephraim was busy at study with his father Yaakov. In their own way they represented Yosef's successes in the material and spiritual realms.

Indeed then, the dual reference, first to Yosef and then to his two sons, was actually one.

49:1 And Yaakov called his sons and said, "Come together and I will tell you what will occur to you in the End of Days."

Rashi cites the Medrash that Yaakov sought to reveal when the End of Days would occur but was prevented by Heaven from doing so.

Commentaries say that is better for the Jewish people to not know how long the period of exile would be. This is because living with the possibility that the end is near helps carry us through our vast and sometimes painful exile.

Rav Bick, of blessed memory reminds us that the exile can end much sooner than planned if the Jewish people would only exert themselves and restore their relationship with G-D on their own. Therefore, knowing the time limit could cause us to relax from doing so.

So we have some very good reasons for concealing this and I'm sure there are others.

But why did Yaakov want to reveal it in the first place? What would this have provided?

He and his children must have been well aware that the Egyptian exile had already commenced. This was a fulfillment of that which G-D told Avraham:

15:13-14 "…You shall surely know that your seed will be a stranger in a land that is not theirs. And they will serve them [their tormentors] and they will torment them for four-hundred years. And I will judge the nation that they serve and they will afterwards emerge with great possessions."

The emerging Jewish people would have enough on their hands to get through the next two-hundred years of history. What would have the benefit for them to know that the Messianic Era would occur some thirty-six centuries later?

The following came to mind.

Note that Yaakov prefaced the revelation by asking them to come together.

We know that discord and jealously were behind Yosef (Joseph) being sold.

And we are taught that the destruction of the second temple over nineteen centuries ago and the resulting seemingly endless exile were caused by discord and a lack of unity.

And we are taught that the pangs of exile are a process that is managed by G-D to correct these deficiencies.

49:3 Reuven, you are my first-born. My strength and the first of my might. You should (have children who inherit) the enhancements an extra portion of inheritance, priesthood and rulership.

49:4 You were impetuous like water so you will not receive anything extra. For you went up onto the couch of your father (and ruffled it). From then on you became common, you went up on my bed.

49:5 Shimon and Levi are brothers. Their weapons are violence.

49:6 My soul will not enter into their scheme. My honor will not be designated in their gathering. For they killed a man and in their anger and in their will they uprooted an ox (Yosef / Joseph).

49:7 Cursed be their anger for it is fierce and their fury for it is hard. I will divide them among (the children of) Yaakov (Jacob) and I will scatter them in Israel.

49:8 Your brothers will praise you, Yehudah (Judah). Your hand will be on the neck of your enemy. The sons of your father will bow down to you.

The Oral Torah teaches that Reuven's sin was that he reacted inappropriately to a decision that his father made when Rachel passed away. Rachel was Yaakov's primary wife and Reuven expected this status to be transferred to her sister Leah, who was also his mother. The symbol of this status was Yaakov's couch, which was in Rachel's tent during her lifetime. When she passed away, Yaakov moved it into her associate's tent, Bilha. This appeared to Reuven as a snub against his mother and he protested by ruffling the bed covers.

Reuven was the first-born but because of his behavior, he lost the rights for his children of receiving an extra portion in Yaakov's inheritance, of becoming priests in the Temple, and leadership within the Jewish people.

Priesthood was given to the children of Levi and monarchy was given to Yehudah.

Shimon and Levi were castigated for taking revenge against the city of Shechem for their role in their sister's kidnapping. They attacked and killed every male (Genesis 34:25). They took this action without consulting their father and they were scolded by Yaakov in Genesis 34:30. When Yaakov questioned their behavior, they provided him with an answer.

Here, Yaakov is reprimanding them for their violence. Apparently, he is also holding them responsible for Yosef's loss.

Yaakov states that both brothers will be scattered within the Jewish people. The Oral Torah teaches that for Levi, this refers to the need for his offspring to collect the priestly gifts that are due to them. For Shimon, this refers to his offspring being gifted with the ability to teach young children. And so, they were in great demand and they scattered throughout the land for their profession.

Yehudah was responsible for the sale of Yosef (Joseph). However, he is not reprimanded. Instead, he receives the gift of monarchy.

Now the Oral Torah teaches that Reuven was constantly preoccupied with repentance for his misconduct. We don't have any record of Shimon or Levi succeeding in doing a full repentance for the misdeeds that they are now being reprimanded for. Neither do we have any record of Yehudah succeeding in doing repentance. (I'm sure that they were very sorry for what they did and they must have accomplished some degree of repentance.)

The Oral Torah teaches that Reuven was praised by G-D for his repentance. Apparently, it was successful.

The Orah Torah teaches that right before his death which is now, Yaakov knew the secrets of the Messianic Era, events which have yet to be unfolded to Mankind. I therefore do not believe that this great prophet was oblivious to the accomplishments and failings of his children.

It therefore appears difficult to match the behavior of Reuven, Shimon, Levi, and Yehudah with the consequences that Yaakov is meeting out.

Reuven acted wrongly but he fully repented. Yet, his children did not receive any enhancements of his birth-right. Without any further explanation, this punishment can appear to be somewhat extreme.

Shimon and Levi acted wrongly. Yet, Levi's children received one of Reuven's enhancements and they became priests. Shimon's children were also gifted.

Yehudah acted wrongly but he is not castigated. Instead, his children receive monarchy.

And, parental birthright seems to be stressed so much both here and by the story of Yaakov and Aisav (Esau).

It came to mind that part of the difficulty in understanding the above is due to an assumption that Yaakov is acting preferentially to his children. With such a mind-set, this child is liked so father gives him something and that one once made father angry so father is getting back at him.

G-D forbid!

Our great and wise ancestor is one of our greatest role-models for being a father. He could not be acting preferentially, especially during his enlightened moments right before his death. Rather, he is taking both instructional and corrective measures.

All four brothers exhibited some form of disregard for the feelings of their father. This is obvious in Reuven's case. Shimon and Levi acted in a manner that had repercussions for their father but they did not consult with him before acting. Although there was some logic in promoting Yosef's sale, Yehudah's approach caused Yosef to become lost for twenty-two years and this caused much grief to Yaakov.

As mentioned in prior discussions, the actions of our early ancestors had great impact on their offspring. They defined the objectives and course of Jewish history.

Also mentioned earlier, the designation of the Jewish people being G-D's children was a landmark for all Mankind. Until Moshe's (Moses) confrontation with Pharaoh, only the servant-to-master relationship was recognized and authorized as an expression of how we relate to G-D and now G-D relates to humanity.

And so, the degree of perfection that Yaakov's sons had in the relationship that they had with their father may very well have been pivotal in defining our resources and mission throughout all of history.

With the above introduction, the following comes to mind.

Yaakov's reaction to his children's infractions were therefore not extreme. To the contrary, the historical repercussions of his children's infractions were extreme and Yaakov felt compelled to deal with them.

The birthright is special within the context of a father-to-son relationship. But, Reuven's infraction had seriously impaired this relation. Perhaps he therefore had to be disqualified from the birthright.

Apparently, Shimon, Levi, and Yehudah did not achieve the same level of success in repentance as Reuven achieved. Perhaps then, Yaakov's distribution of the birthright gifts of priesthood and monarchy were done to complete their correction.

Since Reuven fully repented, there was no need for his children to add to the correction that he succeeded in achieving. Because of his success, his children did not have an additional corrective mission and so they received no additional resources.

Shimon and Levi's infractions were open. They neglected to seek counsel and they answered their father when he challenged their behavior. However, Yehudah meant well but perhaps his idea would have never come to mind had he had sufficient regard for his father's feelings. Relative to his older brothers, Yehuda's infraction was minor and sub-conscious and perhaps this is why he was not reprimanded in Yaakov's final words.

And so, in their additional corrective mission, Levi's children were the facilitators between the Jewish people and their Father In Heaven. Perhaps this is how we can view their corrective mission.

The Oral Torah teaches that a person's students are likened to his children. And so, Shimon's offspring became school teachers to correct the defect in the child-to-parent relationship that their great ancestor defined.

Regarding Yehudah, the father's disciplinary role came to mind. Like all monarchies, the Judaic monarchy needed to impose discipline within the Jewish people. Had Yehudah not failed then perhaps the nature of Jewish monarchy would have consisted of just providing coordination and representation. Given the failing, we now needed our monarchy to impose discipline and Yehudah's children were charged with executing this correction.

As stated above, it is an error to view Yaakov's final words as being petty, reflecting favoritism.

Yaakov is not petty.

Neither is G-D.

Therefore, when the Torah later assigns titles and roles to the Jewish people, it is a great disservice to Mankind when people teach them as reflecting favoritism. There is absolutely no room for jealousy and discouragement between G-D's creations. Just like with Yaakov, every assignment and delineation is meant to be instructional and corrective for both the Jewish people and for all of Mankind.

People who stand on soapboxes and point to the Jewish people's distinctions in order to promote anti-Semitism are bothered by the fact that there is a Power above them who created the world some six-thousand years ago and Who has been calling the shots since then. They don't' want to be corrected. They don't want to be bossed around. They want to be the boss. G-D interferes with their personal lust for dominance. And so, they try to frustrate whatever they understand to be G-D's means and objectives in this world. And one day they will be totally destroyed, together with those who choose to follow them.

This destruction will definitely happen to them when they die, for no anti-Semite has exhibited immortality. The Scriptures also describe a horrific cataclysm which will occur someday, within the lifetime of one of their groups. Maybe we'll live to see it. Who knows.

Those among us with wisdom will sincerely question what G-D is trying to communicate to Mankind by assigning titles, jobs, and distinctions to certain people. They will seek honest answers with all their might, for achieving these answers are vital to their achieving true success in life, to their achieving true inner peace. Only approaches with a solid and time-tested basis will be acceptable to them. They will not be satisfied with answers from falsifiers and theo-politicians, manipulative and greedy con-men and women who are foolish enough to select religion as a way to earn a living instead of selling used cars. They will not be confused with the myriad of mutually exclusive theologies that Mankind is mired in. They will not be interested in a theology that lacks any significant authentication.

And the Jewish people among us who take this to heart will not be satisfied with a substitute for anything but authentic and time-tested Judaism. Theologians and social contexts that lack an honest and precise traceablity back to the eternal teachings of Moshe (Moses) will be unacceptable. They will link themselves to their past so that they will have a future. And this is so important, for without a past and a future there can be no meaningful present.

Insight provides opportunity and loss is a potential characteristic of opportunity.

There is no time like the present to think, change, return, to rebuild and to restore.

49:13 Zevulun will dwell by the seashores. And he will conquer with his navy. And his border will be adjacent to Sidon.

49:14 Yisachar is (like) a donkey that is burdened (with great wealth). He will lie down between the borders.

The Sefurno provides the following commentary.

Zevulon is mentioned before Yesachar because of their mutual arrangement, which is that Yisachar will go into business and earn money to support Yisachar, thus enabling the members of the tribe of Yisachar to fully devote themselves to Torah study.

We find the same precedence when Moshe (Moses) blessed the tribes before his death when he said, 'Rejoice Zevulun with your going out and Yisachar in your tent.'

It is not feasible for someone to become fully involved in Torah study without having met his physical needs beforehand.

When one provides for the needs of another so that he can study, that service of G-D, which is exerting oneself in Torah study, is associated to them both.

This was the intention of the Torah when it mandated the support of the priests and Levites through the various tithes and gifts. In this manner, the entire nation would thus be assisting those who take hold of the Torah, the priests and Levites, and thereby they will all merit an eternal life. This is reflected in the Mishnaic teaching, 'Every member of Israel has a share in the world to come.'

This Sefurno notes the precedence and relates it with the support of Torah study.

I would like to provide the following amplification.

The Talmud in Brachos (17) provides the following teaching:

"G-D's promise to women is greater than that which was given to men."

Rav Yosef Pinter, cited in Ayn Yaakov, relates this to the teaching that follows, "How did women achieve greatness? By bringing their children to the Torah academy and by waiting for their husbands to return from their Torah studies."

He explains that G-D gives them preferential treatment because they are supporters of those who study Torah. He concludes his remarks by associating this with another teaching, "One who causes another to achieve is greater than the person who made the achievement itself (Bava Basra 9a)."

The Talmud in Bava Basra relates this principle to the following verse, "The (causing of an) act of (giving to) charity will be peace …"(Yeshiah/Isaiah 32).

Thus, the model that the scriptures provide for this principle is that of one who is collecting funds for a noteworthy cause. The scriptures credit this person with a greatness that exceeds that which is assigned to the donors.


Rashi in Bava Basra provides the following clue in his commentary: "The trouble/bother that is required for one to get another person to give charity ..."

This is how I understand Rashi:

If you have the resources to donate, then it's wonderful to be a donor.

However, the Torah does not overlook those who need to wrestle with donors, who must deal with egos, schedules, and deflections.

Some donors are easier than others and they cooperate fully with fundraisers. Still, his job is easier than the fundraiser's because he is performing a commandment. Why? I was taught that the spiritual energy of performing a commandment helps carry a person through to its fulfillment. This extra assistance from heaven is provided to the donor who is fulfilling the commandment of giving charity, but not to the fundraiser. Therefore, the fundraiser must exert himself more and it is for this reason that he credited with more greatness.

We can thus apply this principle to women and to anyone else who helps another achieve Torah scholarship.

Fulfilling the great commandment of studying Torah provides the student with great spiritual energy to study. Those who provide their support must exert themselves without this added boost. They are therefore credited with a special greatness.

This is how I understand why the promise that was given to women is greater than that which was given to men. This also explains why the tribe of Yisachar was mentioned twice before the tribe of Zevulun.

In the realm of spirituality, it is thus possible for exertion to be greater than achievement.

So in his final moments of life, Yaakov sought to impress his children with the significance of their living together in harmony and good will, as measured by the huge amount of time it would take for deficiencies in these areas to be corrected.

48:22 And I (Yaakov / Jacob) gave (Yosef / Joseph) you an extra portion over that which I gave to your brothers, that which I took from the Emorites with my sword and my bow.

This extra portion was the city of Shechem.

The verse seems to be saying that Yaakov acquired the city through battle. However, the Targumic translation provides the following reading: "that which I took from the Emorites through my prayer and supplication (to G-D)."

I gained the following insight from a lecture that was given by Rabbi Shimshon Pinkus, of blessed memory.

The sword and bow represent different approaches to prayer. Much of the sword's effectiveness comes from the amount of force that is behind the thrust. However, most of the bow's effectiveness comes from the marksman's aim.

Stress, as represented by force of the sword, and aim both contribute to the effectiveness of a person's prayers, each in their own way.

Stress brings out the dependency a person has on G-D and this perfects the person, as it brings him/her closer to reality.

In the context of prayer, aim demands that a person be aware of the One that he/she is praying to.

With the literal bow and arrow, the marksman must aim directly at the bird that is flying above and he/she must also be aware of the bird's make-up. The latter insures that the arrow has maximum effect by hitting the right place on the bird's body.

So to with prayer, we are charged to understand G-D to the best of our ability. We direct our prayer to G-D and we focus on the aspect of our relationship with Him that has the greatest relevance at the time.

For example, when seeking Divine mercy, one focuses on the fact that G-D is the Source of all mercy. The prayer experience thus brings this relationship into a higher level of consciousness.

49:33 And Yaakov (Jacob) finished giving charge to his children and he gathered together his feet (in his) bed and he expired and was gathered to his people.

The following discussion is recorded in the Talmud (Taanis 5b)

Rabbi Yochanan said, "Yaakov our father did not die."

They said to him, "Did they eulogize and embalm him for no reason?"(50:2-10)

He said to them, "I derive this from a verse: 'And you, fear not My servant Yaakov, says G-D, and have not dread oh Israel, for I will save you from afar and your children from captivity...' (Yirmiyahu / Jeremiah 30:10).

Just as his children will be alive when G-D redeems them, so was Yaakov alive.

The Chachmas Manoach commentary explains that the verse in Yirmiyahu speaks about G-D's promise to Yaakov in 46:4, "And I will bring you back up." In that verse G-D provided assurance that Yaakov will be taken out from Egypt and buried in Israel.

The reference in Yirmiyahu to Yaakov being afar is for when he will be in Egypt. The prophet is saying that just like G-D brought Yaakov back to Israel, so will G-D bring Yaakov's children back to their ancestral homeland.

Rabbi Yochanan noted that the association between what occurred to Yaakov and what will occur to the Jewish people should work in both directions. That is, we can learn about what will happen to Yaakov's children in the future from what happened to Yaakov and we can also learn what happened to Yaakov when he was brought back to Israel for burial from what will happen to the Jewish people.

That is, just like G-D saved Yaakov and brought him to Israel, so will G-D save the Jewish people and bring them back there, too. And since we will be alive when G-D will redeem us, we must also say that Yaakov was still alive when his children carried him back for burial.

In fact, another commentary says that Yaakov died right before he was carried into his burial chamber.

In 27:45, Rivka told her son Yaakov, "Why shall I be bereaved from you both [i.e. Yaakov and his brother Aisav] on one day?"

We have a tradition that Aisav tried to prevent Yaakov from being buried in the ancestral burial chamber. Aisav noted that their parents left over two burial spaces and that both he and Yaakov were each entitled to one space each. Since Yaakov used up his space to bury Leah, Aisav claimed the remaining vacant spot, next to Yaakov's wife.

However, Aisav chose to overlook the fact that he sold that plot to Yaakov.

Yaakov's children didn't plan for Aisav's protest. The only way out of the confrontation was to send someone back to Egypt to get the deed.

Yaakov had a deaf grandson and his name was Chushim, son of Dan. He was there and noted the fracas. When they communicated to him what was going on he became incensed that his holy grandfather's body would remain unburied for an extended time. He grabbed a club and clobbered Aisav and this decapitated him. Aisav got his wish, for the force of the blow propelled his head into burial chamber. At that moment, Yaakov opened up his eyes, saw the revenge, and that's when he died, thereby fulfilling his mother's prophecy.

So Rabbi Yochanan meant that Yaakov didn't die in Egypt but rather later, after he was carried back to Israel

I believe that we can apply Rabbi Yochanan's teaching a bit further.

We started off with the verse in 49:33, "And Yaakov (Jacob) finished charging his children and he gathered together his feet (in his) bed and he expired and was gathered to his people."

We now know that when Yaakov was brought back to Israel he appeared to be dead, but in fact he wasn't dead.

We should be able to say the same about Yaakov's children when they will be redeemed. That is, it is possible for us to appear as if we are dead when G-D redeems us, also.

So while we are pained by all those who appear to be lost to assimilation, intermarriage, forced conversion, and indulgence, we should never lose hope, for the Jewish people will be redeemed no how lost they may appear to be.

May it occur speedily in our days.

49:33 And Yaakov (Jacob) finished giving charge to his children and he gathered his legs (together) on the bed. And he expired and he was gathered to his people.

The Torah records the death of almost every forerunner of the major nations, including even Yishmael (Ishmael) son of Avraham (Abraham).

25:17 And the years of the life of Yishmael were a hundred-thirty-seven years. And he expired and he died and he was gathered to his people.

The Oral Torah notes that the way the Written Torah presents the death of Yishmael is similar to that of Yaakov and the other righteous forefathers.

The Oral Torah points out from the following verse that Yishmael died as a righteous person as he repented before his death.

26:9 And Yitzchok and Yishmael his [Abraham's] sons buried him [Abraham] into the Cave of Machpela …

The Written Torah brings focus to the fact that Yishmael allowed Yitzchok to lead the funeral procession for their father even through Yishmael was fourteen years his senior. This was because Yishmael recognized the great stature of Yitzchok and the lifestyle that he stood for.

In contrast, when Yaakov and Aisav buried Yitzchok it is written:

35:29 And Yitzchok expired and he died and he was gathered to his people (as an) old person, satisfied (with his) years. And Aisav and Yaakov buried him.

Aisav refused to publicly give deference to Yaakov even though Yaakov was a saintly person and even through Aisav's seniority was only physical, being born a few moments before Yaakov, and even through he sold his birthright to Yaakov.

The Torah seems to using the minor difference in the two funeral processions as a major point of contrast between Yishmael and Aisav.

Yishmael learned to humble himself and respect a higher lifestyle. In contrast, Aisav maintained an air of supremacy even though he and his family led a morally controversial lifestyle.

According to the Oral Torah, Aisav eventually demanded burial in the Cave of Machpela, together with his righteous ancestors. He went so far as to obstruct the funeral of his brother Yaakov, protesting that Yaakov was taking more than his share. He got his wish and he was decapitated in the ensuing struggle. His head rolled somewhere into the cave.

Apparently, had Aisav not insisted in maintaining supremacy over Yaakov, he would have died a righteous person.

Our sages note elsewhere that the difference between gaining entrance to Paradise and being condemned to suffering is the width of a mere hair-breadth.

We see from Yishmael the power of repenting prior to death.

Our sages teach that the wicked are considered dead even during their lifetimes. Aisav's death is not recorded in the Torah. Perhaps his life never ended in death because as a wicked person he lost touch with being alive long before his funeral.

There are many reasons in the Torah and in the commentaries for Yaakov's (Jacob's) body being transported to Israel by his family for burial.

  1. Yaakov did not want to be buried in Egypt (47:29)

    Rashi gives three sub-reasons.

    1. Yaakov foresaw that Egypt's soil will be transformed into lice during the third plague. Yaakov didn't want to have them crawling under his body.
    2. Those who are buried outside of Israel will endure a temporary discomfort when G-d revives the dead. The revived can only emerge in Israel. The bodies of those who are buried outside will have to be shuttled under ground until they reach Israel.
    3. Yaakov was afraid that the Egyptians would convert his grave site into a shrine and that hey would worship him as a god.
  2. Yaakov made Yosef (Joseph) swear that he would bury him in the grave of his ancestors (47:31). Thus, Viceroy had a personal obligation to bury his father in the Cave of Machpela.
  3. Yaakov asked all of his children to bury him in Chevron's (Hebron's) Cave of Machpela. (49:29)

    There appears to be two sub-reasons.

    1. In 49:29 he says that the cave is his ancestral burial plot.
    2. In 49:31 he adds that he buried Leah there, also. This appears to be another reason, to be buried next to his wife.
  4. Yaakov dug/purchased the grave for himself (50:5).
  5. Pharaoh agreed to the burial plan (50:6).

Why were all of these reasons necessary? In what way did each reason contribute to the end result?

The following came to mind.

They could not go without Pharaoh's permission.

Egypt was very fussy about letting people out. Many can remember the 'Iron Curtain' that surrounded the former USSR. Egypt had a 'Magic Curtain.'

Yaakov knew that he couldn't rely upon Pharaoh's good will to grant the permission. This is why he made Yosef swear. Without the oath, Pharaoh would have refused. 50:6 - 'Go up (to the land of Israel) and bury your father just as he made you swear (to do.)

Why did the oath make a difference?

Rashi tells us that Pharaoh made a secret deal with Yosef. To be qualified for the job of Viceroy, Yosef needed to speak every foreign language. Pharaoh himself gave the test. Yosef passed. However, Pharaoh flunked when Yosef started to speak to him in Hebrew. Pharaoh made Yosef swear to keep this private. So, in his relations with Yosef, Pharaoh couldn't afford to downplay the seriousness of an oath.

Yosef's main justification for obtaining permission from Pharaoh was the oath. He also mentions that his father dug/purchased the grave. Perhaps this was introduced to demonstrate the extent of his father's resolve to be buried there. Pharaoh could not claim that this last wish was merely a whim.

Now, Yosef's mother, Rachel, passed away and she was buried off the road, in what is now Bais Lechem (Bethlehem). Yaakov was concerned that Yosef would have liked his mother buried in a normal cemetery (Rashi).

Yaakov privately discussed or referenced his burial with Yosef on two separate occasions. He realized that the request may evoke this painful memory and that it may adversely affect Yosef's actions.

At first, Yaakov told Yosef where he did not want to be buried in Egypt. He gave the three reasons mentioned above.

The commentary M'harshal (Sifsei Chachamim 47:29) explains the need for them all.

For the lice problem, Yaakov could have been buried in a metal casket in Egypt. He therefore needed to mention the subterranean shuttle. For these two reasons alone, Yaakov would not have wanted his children to take the trouble of making the special burial trip. Rather, he would have obligated the Jewish people to take his remains with them during the Exodus for reburial in the Promised Land. In fact, this is precisely what the Jewish people did for the remains of Yosef and his brothers. Yaakov therefore needed to mention the concern of his being deified.

The deification by itself would not have been sufficient. Yosef himself was not buried in a cemetery. His casket was sunk in the Nile. Since the Egyptians worshipped the river, I would assume that this prevented Yosef's deification, as doing so would have competed with the Nile's clientele. So, rather then ask his children to carry him back, Yaakov could have asked them to sink his remains into the Nile. He therefore needed to mention the subterranean tunnels. In and of themselves, these two reasons would not have sufficed because Yaakov could have requested that the Jewish people carry his remains to the Promised Land during their Exodus.

According to the M'harshal's approach, one can ask why Yaakov didn't request his remains to be placed in a metal casket and sunk in the Nile for now, and for the Jewish people to take them during the Exodus. This is what was done for Yosef. Perhaps Yaakov realized that this task may prove to be too difficult for the Jewish people to accomplish during the last and rushed moments of the Exodus. In fact, the Medrash tells us that Yosef's remains were recovered by miraculous events. Perhaps Yaakov did not want to rely upon a miracle.

So, Yosef was first given reasons for not burying Yaakov in Egypt. After some time, Yaakov referenced his burial in connection with that of Yosef's mother (48:7). Perhaps he did this in stages to help Yosef deal with his feelings about the way his mother was buried.

Rashi tells us more. At that time, Yaakov revealed to Yosef the real reason for Rachel being buried at that location. Yaakov foresaw the destruction of the First Temple and that the Jewish people would be led away into captivity near her grave site. They broke away and cried out to their mother Rachel. She arose in heaven and beseeched Divine mercy and G-d accepted her prayer. G-d made her a commitment that they shall someday return (Jeremiah 31).

So, her place of burial was more than justified as it was the cause of a great redemption.

The commentary Sifsei Chachamim notes that Yaakov kept this a secret until this last moment because he wanted to minimize the anguish his children would have when they would learn about this tragedy.

Now, Yosef was ready and able to accept and additional reason for Yaakov's burial in the Cave of Machpela. Besides being the ancestral burial plot (49:29), Leah was buried there, also (49:31).

Perhaps to solidify the unity among the children of his four wives, Yaakov asked them all to bury his remains in the Cave of Machpela. Standing together with the children of Leah, the eldest son of Rachel readily agreed to bury his father next to Leah.

48:22 And I [Yaakov / Jacob] gave to you [Yoseph / Joseph] an additional portion (of land), that which I took (‘lokachti’) from the Emorites with my sword and with my bow.

The Beraishis Rabah says that this extra portion refers to the city of Shechem (97:6).

The only record in the Torah of Yaakov having any property in Shechem is in 33:19, where he purchased a plot of land in that city. His children did later wage war against the inhabitants because they supported a criminal who attacked and abused their sister (34:25). It says that they took spoils of war but it doesn’t mention anything about seizing land.

The root of the word ‘lokachti’ is ‘locach.’ Elsewhere, the Torah uses that verb to refer to a transaction, such as an acquisition (Deuteronomy 20:13, see Talmud Kedushin 2a). So this verse could be referring to his purchase. But 33:19 states that he paid money for the property, not that he seized it with force.

The Targum Unkelus here translates ‘with my sword and with my bow’ as ‘with my prayer and supplication.’ This translation supports the notion that Yaakov was indeed referring to his purchase of a plot of land in Shechem. He is merely saying that the purchase was successful because of his prayer and supplication to G-D.

We need to understand the difference between prayer and supplication. We need to understand their relationship to a sword and bow. And we need to understand what the Torah is trying to tell us by adding this detail.

The Mesilas Hamarsha cites a teaching from the Meshech Chochma. This gives insight into prayer and these weapons.

The ability of a sword to pierce comes from its sharp edge. It cuts with little effort. In contrast, an arrow does not have to be very sharp. Its pierce comes from the force of the bow that propelled it.

Similarly, some prayers were endowed by our sages and prophets to be able of having an effect regardless of the amount of effort we expend when we say them. An example is our Shmoneh Esreh prayers. We recite this sublime prayer three times a day. It was carefully worded and designed by great people. They linked it to our three ancestors and also to the daily sacrifices that were made in the temple. Understandably, the more we focus and extend ourselves when we recite the Shmoneh Esreh, the more effective it will be. Such prayers are likened to the sword.

Other prayers are not as well linked. Their success is more dependent upon the focus and energy we extend when we recite them. Such prayers are likened to the bow and arrow.

With this we can now connect Yaakov’s purchase with the sword and the bow. His success in purchasing land was an answer to the various types of prayers that he did. But what drove his prayers for this purchase in the first place? And what is the Torah telling us here by making this connection?

The following came to mind.

Yaakov knew that he was soon going to pass away and that his children will be living in “a land (of Egypt) that was not theirs” for a very long time (15:13).

He and his ancestors dedicated their lives to make the future Jewish people successful in their spiritual mission. For the Jewish people to succeed some two-hundred years later, they will need to vacate Egypt at the right moment and return to the land of their ancestors. They will need the motivational energy to abandon the comfort and familiar routine of ‘motherland’ Egypt. It was therefore vital for the next four generations to maintain a yearning for the Land of Israel.

Yaakov’s relocation to Egypt was the second time in his life that he vacated this holy land. The first time was when he fled for his life and had to remain for twenty-two years in what we now called Iraq, where he built his family.

Here, Yaakov was telling his Yosef and his future descendants that when he lived in Iraq, he never sought to sink roots there. Rather, he always yearned to return to the land of his ancestors and he entreated to G-D for his return. His love of the land was so great that he prayed intensely to purchase a plot of land of his own in this great ancestral homeland.

The graphic words that he used to describe his prayers were used to inspire his children to always yearn to return to Israel, just like he did.

A holocaust survivor once said that it was the hope of hearing at any moment the Messianic shofar of redemption that carried him through the horror of each day.

He survived and merited to witness an unbelievable reconstruction of the Jewish people’s settlement in the land of Israel. But the shofar has yet to be heard.

I have no doubt that had this holocaust victim heard the shofar then he would have dropped everything and immediately jumped onto the cloud, or whatever will transport us back.

How ready are we today to do the same, should we merit to hear the shofar of redemption, may it occur speedily in our days?

At the right moment in history the Jewish people will need the motivation and energy to disconnect ourselves from the shackles of comfort, convenience, and apparent security of our environment and move upwards and on.

We must follow the footsteps of our ancestors and repeat what they did during the Exodus, some thirty-three centuries ago. Our love of the land, our yearn for return and growth must always endure.

50:15 And the brothers of Yosef (Joseph) saw that their father passed away and they said, 'Perhaps Yosef will hate us. And he will surely return upon us the evil that we did to him.'

What made the brothers think that Yosef would take revenge?

The Medrash Rabah brings the following teaching from Rabbi Yitzchak (100:8).

On the way back from his father’s funeral, Yosef visited the pit that his brothers threw him in, some 39 years ago. He peered down into it.

This made his brothers fear that Yosef was still bitter over what they did to him. Perhaps Yosef’s brotherly and supportive behavior was out of respect to his father. Perhaps with his passing, Yosef would now take revenge.

The Medrash says that Yosef had only good intentions. The Talmud and the Medrash Tanchuma provide the following clarification.

Chanukah candles are invalid if they are placed more than 20 cubits above a person’s view. (Shabbos 22a). This is because they are not readily observable and are therefore ineffective in publicizing the miracle.

Right afterwards, the Talmud speaks about Yosef’s pit.

“And the pit was empty, it contained no water (37:24).”

Given that it was empty, asks the Talmud, why does the Torah tell us that it had no water? This is to teach that although it had no water, it did contain snakes and scorpions.

Commentaries link this to the previous teaching about the Chanukah candles.

The Torah states that his brothers had just decided that they were not going to kill Yosef (37:22). Yet, they decided to put him into this deadly pit. Why?

This was because the pit was more than 20 cubits deep and the snakes and scorpions were out of their view. Similarly, candles that are more than 20 cubits high are ineffective because they are out of view.

In reality, Yosef harbored absolutely no animosity towards his brothers and taking revenge was completely off the chart. When he said that it was G-D who sent him to Egypt and not they, he sincerely meant it.

On the way back to Egypt he remembered the pit and that it was an absolute miracle that he survived its creepy critters.

Jewish law teaches that anyone who experiences a miracle must make a blessing upon passing by the place where it occurred.

Yosef peered into the pit because he wanted to better see the place where the miracle occurred (Medrash Tanchuma).

50:15 And the brothers of Yosef (Joseph) saw that their father passed away and they said, 'Perhaps Yosef will hate us. And he will surely return upon us the evil that we did to him.'

50:19 And Yosef said to them, 'Fear not, for am I in the place of G-d?'

50:20 'And you thought evil towards me. G-d thought this (for the) good, in order to make (things turn out) like (they did) today, to sustain a numerous nation.'

Rashi provides the following explanation for 50:19 and 50:20.

This [50:19] is in (the form of a) question. Perhaps (you think that) I am in His place? Could I do evil to you even if I wanted to? Didn't you all think to do evil to me and G-d thought it for the good. How could I (therefore) do evil to you?

According to this reading, how do we understand the first word of 50:20, the 'and?'

Without the 'and', this is how a free translation of these verses would have been written and punctuated:

And Yosef said to them, 'Fear not, for am I in the place of G-d? You thought evil towards me. (Rather,) G-d thought this (for the) good, in order to make (things turn out) like (they did) today, to sustain a numerous nation.'

We are taught that there are numerous ways to read the Torah's words. The following alternate reading came to mind.

And Yosef said to them, 'Fear not, for am I in the place of G-d and you thought evil towards me?' G-d thought this (for the) good, in order to make (things turn out) like (they did) today, to sustain a numerous nation.'

How can this be understood?

Let's first try to understand some verses in Exodus.

17:8 And Amalek came. And it waged battle with Israel in Refidim.

17:16 And he said, 'As the Hand is on the Throne of G-d, there is battle of G-d against Amalek from generation to generation.'

Amalek attacked Israel. How does this become G-d's war?

The answer is that Amalek's real target was G-d. They didn't want to accept His mastery, including the guidelines and constraints that He established for Mankind.

G-d is physically invisible so the thugs couldn't confront Him in battle. So, they attacked those who best represent His kingdom as documented in the Torah, the Jewish people.

Numerous times throughout history, many nations and groups have used the Jewish people to project the frustrations that they have about their inability to dominate, that there is truly a Power above them. Rather than learning to be humble and accepting the constraints that G-d made for Mankind, those who sought physical dominance came openly against the Jewish people with the sword. Others sought spiritual dominance and tried to pry the Jewish people away from their religion, coming against them with threats and trickery, with sweet words, toys, and money. The latter includes those who actively seek to convert the Jewish people into their religion.

In this context, an attack against the Jewish people is therefore an attack against G-d Himself. This is why 'there is battle of G-d against Amalek from generation to generation.'

Yosef's brothers were upright and G-d fearing people. They made a misjudgment about Yosef character. At worst, they were guilty of not properly dealing with family-related emotions. The root of their aggression had absolutely no theological implications.

In this light, perhaps we can better understand the Torah's words, 'And Yosef said to them, 'Fear not, for am I in the place of G-d and you thought evil towards me?''

50:15 And the brothers of Yosef saw that their father died and they said, 'Perhaps Yosef bears hatred against us and he will return against us all of the evil that we bestowed upon him.'

50:19 And Yosef said to them, 'Don't be afraid. Am I in the place of G-d?'

50:20 And (while) you thought evil against me, (yet) G-d considered it for the good, in order to do (what I am doing) today, to sustain a great nation.'

Why did Yosef's brothers suspect his revenge? How do we understand Yosef's response?

The Targum Yonosan Ben Uziel provides the following translation and commentary for 50:15

And Yosef's brothers saw that their father died and Yosef no longer sat around them to eat together. And they said, 'Perhaps Yosef bears hatred against us and he will return against us all of the evil that we bestowed upon him.'

Why did Yosef change his routine and stop eating with his brothers?

The Targum provides the following explanation for 50:20.

And you interpreted (my behavior,) that I did not eat together with you (as being the result) of evil thoughts, that I had born hatred against you. (However), G-d considered this as being good. (This is) because father sat me at the head of the table (when he was alive.) I consented to sit there because (I could not refuse him,) due to his honor. Now (that he is no longer with us,) I do not wish to accept (this honor.) Thereby, I can (now) have the privilege to do (what I am doing) today, to sustain the great nation of the House of Yaakov.

I understand this Targum in the following manner.

Yosef is renown for his sensitivity towards the feelings of others. Two things were of great concern to him. One, that his family should not feel ashamed by their being dependent upon him. Two, although he was the Viceroy of the Egyptian Empire, he was concerned that his sitting at the head of the family table would make his older brothers feel put down.

In Yosef's reply, he shared his feelings that providing for the family was to him a great privilege. He therefore eliminated the reason for his brothers to feel ashamed by having to come onto him for their support.

He then went on to use this to provide a rationale for not eating together with them. As he was the Viceroy, he was bound by the rules of protocol to sit at the head of the table. Yosef was concerned that this would be misinterpreted as a projection of his superiority. He shared his belief that G-d is committed to sustain the Jewish people in Egypt and that He is quite able do so with or without Yosef's involvement. As his brothers feelings were so important to G-d, had they felt embarrassed by Yosef then G-d would find some other means of sustaining them.

After Yaakov Avinu (Jacob) passed away, the family feared Yosef's (Joseph) revenge and wrath. The brothers fell before him and pleaded for mercy.

Yosef was shocked. He never had any intentions to do evil to his beloved brothers. He wept as they spoke.

He spoke to their heart.

Rashi records two thing that he said to them.

First, prior to their arrival the Egyptians looked down at him, a mere slave who became a viceroy. The presence of the distinguished family of Yaakov and his relationship to them provided Yosef with prestige. Were Yosef to kill them, the Egyptians would suspect that this was a hoax.

Second, Yosef gave them a parable. If ten candles were not able to extinguish one candle, then how would one candle be able to extinguish ten?

Why wasn't the first argument sufficient? Alternately, what was on the minds of the brothers for which both arguments were necessary?

The following thoughts came to mind.

'Ner Hashem nishmas Adam', 'The candle of Hashem is the soul of a person.'

Our nashamos are unique. Each person has a unique role and mission in life. Every person is therefore different and unique. This is on an individual basis and this is also on a collective basis. There are twelve tribes. Within the framework of the Oral and Written Torahs they each have a unique approach.

The brothers were concerned about the loss of both their physical and spiritual existences or identities.

Yosef told them that neither were at risk. Not only didn't he want to harm them, he couldn't. They won't be killed. He could not impose his own approach upon the families of his brothers.

50:24: And Yosef (Joseph) said to his brothers, "I am (about to) die. Remember will G-D remember you and He will bring you up from this land (of Egypt) to the land that he swore (about) to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Yaakov (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob).

The Nesivas Shalom commentary explains the double reference of G-D's remembering us.

Every exile of the Jewish people is a corrective adjustment that can be achieved over a finite span of time. Therefore, every exile has a time limit.

However, the benefit of the correction can also be achieved at any time if the Jewish people exert themselves. Therefore, an exile can terminate before it's pre-defined time limit.

The Talmud uses this to understand the following verse: "… I am G-D. I shall rush it in its right time (Yeshiah / Isiah 60:22)." The Talmud reads this to say that if the Jewish people obtain extra merits then G-D will rush the redemption that we all wait for. Otherwise, it will occur in its right time, when our exile times out. (Sanhedrin 98a)

The Egyptian exile was unique in that neither mode was practical or applicable.

The cultural forces and stress of servitude were very intense and the Jewish people did not maintain their spiritual posture. Had the exile continued to full term then the Jewish people would have lost their connection with their ancestors and would have never been able to transform into the Chosen People. Therefore, the "In its time" mode was not practical.

And they lacked the merit to bring the exile to an early end. So the "I shall rush it" mode was not applicable.

Therefore, G-D had to bring the redemption in a non-conventional way.

The Nesivas Shalom describes this way with the following parable.

A king took a private stroll with his son. The boy slipped and fell into a deep sewer. The king saw that his son was drowning and there was not enough time to summon help. So he dived into the filth and rescued his son.

This explains why the Hagadah says that G-D redeemed the Jewish people on his own, "I and not a messenger."

It also explains that when Moshe (Moses) emerged upon the scene he told Pharaoh that the Jewish people were G-D's first born son. Pharaoh saw the grip that his country had on the Jewish people and there was no conventional way out for them.

The Nesivas Shalom uses this to explain the double remembering, as each represents a method of redemption. That is, G-D will redeem the Jewish people with either a conventional method or with a non-conventional method.

This also explains a teaching of the Nesivas Shalom in the Torah reading of Vayeshev. The Medrash (86:1) implies that the sale of Yosef was engineered by G-D to ensure that Yaakov would descend into the Egyptian exile in a dignified manner. The Nesivas Shalom says that had Yaakov resisted then he would have been brought down to Egypt in chains and this would have compromised "My first born son is Yisroel" (Exodus 4:22).

This puzzled me. The repercussions of selling Yosef were very traumatic. Had Yaakov been given the choice he would have gladly opted for the chains over the suffering he experienced for twenty-two years.

But now that we know that "My first born son is Yisroel" was key to the redemption, it could not be compromised in any way.

Return To Forethoughts And AfterThoughts



In Loving Memory Of Our Father, Mr. Joseph Black (Yosef Ben Zelig) O"H
In Loving Memory Of Our Mother, Mrs. Norma Black (Nechama Bas Tzvi Hirsh) O"H


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