Hamaayan / The Torah Spring
Edited by Shlomo Katz
Volume XII, Number 12
12 Teves 5758
January 10, 1998
The Verschleisser family
on the shloshim of mother,
Sarah Rosa bat Moshe Leib a"h
Just before Yaakov's death, he gathered his sons and told them
(49:1), "Assemble yourselves and I will tell you what will befall
you in the End of Days." Then, after they had gathered around
him, he did not discuss the End of Days at all. Chazal explain
that just as Yaakov was about to reveal when the redemption would
take place, the Divine Inspiration left him. At that moment,
Hashem said to Yaakov (in the words of Mishlei 11:13), "He who
reveals a secret is a talebearer, but the faithful of spirit
conceals a matter."
What was G-d teaching Yaakov at that moment? R' Chaim Moshe
Reuven Elazary z"l (20th century; Canton, Ohio and Israel)
explains as follows:
Both Ralbag and the Vilna Gaon interpret the quoted verse in
Mishlei to mean that a teacher must teach his students on their
own level. If one speaks to students above their level, i.e., if
he reveals that which should be kept secret, he is harming them,
just as one who bears tales hurts others.
In a similar vein, writes R' Elazary, Pirkei Avot (1:11)
teaches, "Wise men! Be careful with your words, lest the
students who follow you will drink and die." Rather, one must
teach lessons that are on the students' level.
For whatever reason, Yaakov's sons were not fit to know when
the redemption would be. Thus, if Yaakov would reveal the
secret, he would be harming them. (Netivei Chaim p.429)
An Astonishing Midrash
The students asked the Rabbi Yehuda Hanassi (known simply as
"Rebbi"), "Why was Yosef buried in Shechem?"
Rebbi responded, "Since he was kidnaped from Shechem, they
returned him to Shechem."
The students refused to accept this answer until Rebbi showed
them the verse [in this week's parashah] in which Yosef said,
"You must bring my bones up with you."
R' Yehonatan Eyebschutz z"l explains: The halachah is that a
thief must return the object which he stole. If the object no
longer exists or no longer exists in its original form, the thief
cannot return it and he cannot achieve full atonement. This was
the objection raised by Rebbi's students: Since Yosef was taken
from Shechem as a living person and was returned as a corpse, how
can that be considered to be a true return?
The answer is as follows: The halachah also provides that even
if the stolen object is changed, so long as it has the same name
in its original and present forms, the thief can return it for
full atonement. Thus Rebbi answered, "Even in Yosef's lifetime
he referred to himself (in the quoted verse) as 'bones.'
Therefore, when his body was returned to Shechem, it is as if the
stolen object was returned."
"Then Yisrael prostrated himself towards the head of the
Rashi explains that Yaakov bowed to show his gratitude to G-d
that Yosef had remained a tzaddik despite being a king and
despite growing up in captivity among gentiles.
R' Shlomo Ganzfried z"l (died 1886; author of Kitzur Shulchan
Aruch) asks: Why does Rashi mention the two events in Yosef's
life out of order? In fact, first he grew up in captivity, and
only afterwards he became [deputy] king!
R' Ganzfried explains that sometimes Hashem tests a person with
poverty and sometimes He tests a person with wealth. Which is a
greater test? Wealth is, because a poor person will by nature be
humble, and therefore he is less likely to rebel against G-d.
Yosef was tested with both wealth and poverty. Because wealth
is the greater test, Rashi mentions it first.
"Yaakov was told, 'Behold - your son Yosef has come to
This verse implies that it was unusual for Yosef to visit
Yaakov. Why was this the case? R' Shlomo Kluger z"l (19th
century) explains that Yosef's stature as deputy king of Egypt
might have required Yaakov to stand when Yosef entered the room.
Yosef did not want Yaakov to stand for him, so he did not visit
Yaakov. (Yaakov could, of course, visit Yosef.)
Only now, when Yaakov lay on his deathbed, could Yosef be sure
that Yaakov would not stand for him, and therefore he visited
"He maneuvered his hands, for Menashe was the firstborn."
This verse implies that the fact that Menashe was the firstborn
was the reason that Yaakov crossed his hands and placed his right
hand on Ephraim's head. In reality, however, the fact that
Menashe was the firstborn was a reason why Yaakov should not
have crossed his hands, observes R' Yisrael Isserlin z"l (died
1460; author of Terumat Ha'deshen). He offers two answers:
First, R' Yisrael writes in the name of his grandfather, "The
chassid, R' Chaim, who was nicknamed Henschel of Heinbrucke, the
son of our teacher, R' Yisrael of Krems who wrote glosses on the
Rosh": The verse means, "Yaakov maneuvered his hands rather than
embarrass Menashe by asking him to change places with Ephraim,
for Menashe was the firstborn." [R' Yisrael's reference to his
great-grandfather is of historical interest because it is the
source for our ascribing authorship of those important glosses to
R' Yisrael of Krems. (Shem Hagedolim)]
Alternatively, we are taught that everything that happened to
Yaakov had a parallel in Yosef's life. Yaakov decided to bless
Yosef's son, Ephraim, as the first born just as Yaakov himself
received the blessings of the firstborn. In this light, the
verse can be understood literally: "He maneuvered his hands, for
Menashe was the firstborn," and he did not wish to bless the
"May they proliferate abundantly like fish within the land."
The midrash says: "Fish, even though they live in the water,
surface when it rains to catch the raindrops in their mouths.
So, too, the Jews, even though they live in the water - i.e, the
Torah which is likened to water - when they hear a new Torah
thought, they drink it thirstily as if they had never heard words
of Torah before."
R' Aharon Kotler z"l (died 1962) explains: The midrash does
not only mean that Jews love the Torah. Just as fish recognize
that water is the essence of their existence, so Jews recognize
that Torah is the essence of their existence.
This idea has halachic implications. The gemara states that
when one commits involuntary manslaughter and is exiled to a city
of refuge, his Torah teacher is exiled with him. Why? Rambam
explains that for a true student of Torah, the lack of a teacher
is a fate worse than death. Since the Torah did not condemn an
involuntary manslaughterer to death, he must be given his
(Mishnat Rabbi Aharon, Vol. I, p.30)
R' Avraham ben David Halevi z"l
born 1110 - died 1180
R' Avraham, the first of three sages known by the acronym
"Ra'avad," was a grandson of R' Yitzchak Albaliah (the subject of
last week's biography). Ra'avad I, as he is known, was a student
of his uncle, R' Baruch Albaliah. (The famous Ra'avad who wrote
glosses on Rambam's Mishneh Torah was Ra'avad III.)
Ra'avad I is best remembered for his historical work Sefer
Hakabbalah - "The Book of the Transmission" - which he completed
in 4921 (1161 C.E.). His division of Jewish history into periods
of Zugot, Tannaim, Amoraim, Rabbanan Savorai, Geonim, and
Rabbanim became the norm for later works of Jewish history.
[Zugot were the first sages of the Mishnah, those named in the
first chapter of Pirkei Avot, ending with Hillel and Shammai;
Tannaim were the later sages of the Mishnah; Amoraim were the
sages of the Gemara; Rabbanan Savorai were the sages after the
Gemara (corresponding approximately to the 6th century C.E.) who
edited that work; Geonim were the heads of the Babylonian
yeshivot (until 1038); and Rabbanim were the sages after that
time - today we call them Rishonim - when the Torah centers of
Bavel declined and Jewish learning moved to Spain, North Africa,
The purpose of Sefer Hakabbalah was to refute Karaitic beliefs
by delineating the unbroken chain of tradition from Moshe Rabbenu
until the rabbinic authorities of Ra'avad's own day, thereby
proving the authenticity of the Oral Law. Ra'avad also wrote a
polemic against the Karaites, which has been lost. [The Karaites
were a sect of Jewish descent that denied the validity of the
Ra'avad also wrote a philosophical treatise entitled Emunah
Rabbah on the topics of free will, prophecy and Divine
omnipotence. He died a martyr, hanged by the king of Toledo for
refusing to leave the Jewish faith. (Source: The Artscroll
Rishonim pp.77; Sefer Zemach David; Shem Hagedolim)
Copyright © 1998 by Shlomo Katz
and Project Genesis, Inc.
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