R' Simcha Zissel Ziv z"l (the "Alter of Kelm"; died 1898) once
wrote to his son: "I have never heard anybody say, 'Thank G-d I
had enough to eat this year.' I have only heard people say,
'Thank G-d, I managed to put away some money this year to support
me in the future.' I was therefore amazed to read that Yaakov, a
wealthy man, the son and grandson of princes of the land, said,
'The G-d who watched over me' (Bereishit 48:15), a phrase which
Onkelos renders: 'Hashem who fed me.'
"I continued to be amazed until I looked at the
bentching/Birkat Hamazon, and then I became amazed at myself
instead. I have been saying the words but not realizing what I
was saying! After all, the entire Birkat Hamazon expresses our
thanks for the gift of food which G-d gives us. We are impressed
by the miracle of the mahn that rained down on Bnei Yisrael, yet
we are not moved when our sustenance comes to us every day. What
fools we are!" (Ohr Rashaz, paragraph 177)
We would appreciate the miracle of our sustenance more,
observed R' Yisroel Reisman shlita, if we looked at it from the
perspective of someone who grew up on mahn. To such a person,
the falling mahn was a natural occurrence; after all it happened
very dependably every day. On the other hand, when this person
arrived in Eretz Yisrael and saw that a seed placed in the ground
can grow into a tree -- that, he thought, was a miracle!
"He maneuvered his hands because Menashe was the first-
R' Yisrael Isserlin z"l (the "Terumat Hadeshen"; 1390-1460)
asks: Did the fact that Menashe was the first-born cause Yaakov
to maneuver or cross his hands? It was the fact that Yaakov
wanted to bless the younger brother, Ephraim, that caused Yaakov
to cross his hands!
He writes: "My father's father, R' Chaim, who was nicknamed
Henschel from Heinbrucke, son of our master and teacher Yisrael
of Krems who wrote the Hagahot Ashery, answered that because
Menashe was the first-born, Yaakov crossed his hands in order not
to embarrass Menashe by making him switch sides. Our master and
teacher R' Ozer praised this answer."
Another answer: Yaakov's primary goal was not to give the
blessings to the younger son, Ephraim. Rather, it was to not
give them to the older son, Menashe. "He maneuvered his hands
because Menashe was the first-born," and he did not want to give
the berachot to the older son. Why? Because the life of Yosef
[and his children] was to parallel Yaakov's own life. [See Rashi
37:2.] Just as in Yaakov's family, the younger son (Yaakov)
received the blessings, so Yaakov wanted it to be with Yosef's
Why, asks R' Joseph B. Soloveitchik z"l, are the Jewish people
referred to as Bnei Yisrael/ children of Yisrael (Yaakov) more so
than of Avraham and Yitzchak? The answer lies in our unique
perspective on history and time, one which is different from that
of other societies.
A Jew who observes the mitzvot - particularly one who studies
Torah regularly - is a person who is capable of moving back-and-
forth between generations and centuries without feeling the least
bit disoriented or uncomfortable. One moment he is sitting in
his home surrounded by every 20th century convenience; the next
moment, he could be debating with the 12th century sage, Rambam.
The continuity of the family and the community, and the passage
of the mesorah (loosely translated: "heritage") from one
generation to the next, is an important part of Judaism.
Nowhere in the Torah do we read that Avraham or Yitzchak had
any contact with their grandchildren. Yaakov, however, is seen
in this week's parashah blessing his grandsons and taking an
interest in their development. Chazal say that he studied Torah
with them every day that he was in Egypt. He even calls them his
sons. Because Yaakov represents that important ideal, we, too,
are Bnei Yisrael/Yaakov's sons.
(Reflections of the Rav II pp.15-23)
"Yissachar is a strong-boned donkey; he rests between the
"A strong-boned donkey" - a strong-boned donkey who bears the
yoke of Torah, like a strong donkey on whom they load a heavy
burden. "He rests between the boundaries " - like a donkey that
walks day and night and never rests indoors. When it wants to
rest, it rests between the boundaries, on the outskirts of the
cities to which it carries merchandise.
Our Sages teach that the tribe of Yissachar produced a
disproportionate share of the members of the Sanhedrin and other
Torah scholars. Yaakov's blessing to the progenitor of that
tribe alludes to the reason for that tribe's success, as
R' Yisrael Meir Kagan z"l (the "Chafetz Chaim") explains:
A talmid chacham/Torah scholar, like a donkey, toils day and
night and does not rest or pursue physical pleasures. When does
he rest a little bit? When he finishes a tractate, then he
observes a yom tov [i.e., makes a siyum]. Afterward, he
immediately returns to toiling in his studies, just as a donkey
that has rested briefly on the outskirts of the city immediately
returns to bearing its heavy burden.
The gemara (Avodah Zarah 5b) teaches: "One should always act in
relation to his Torah studies as an ox to the yoke and a donkey
to a burden." We have already seen what characteristic of a
donkey the Torah scholar should emulate, but what about an ox?
The Chafetz Chaim explains that just as an ox plows the ground,
so a Torah scholar should strive to break new ground. One should
not think that any portion of the Torah has already been examined
so thoroughly that there is nothing else to discover in it.
Rather, one should plow it again and again.
Another characteristic of a donkey is its ability to carry a
large burden. After one has discovered the depths of Torah, he
must carry the Torah with him in his heart, as it is written
(Devarim 6:6): "And these matters that I command you today shall
be upon your heart."
(Shem Olam: Sha'ar Hachazakat Ha'Torah, Ch. 10)
R' Yosef Chaim of Baghdad z"l (died 1909) writes similarly that
the ox, which plows, represents studying in depth, while the
donkey, which carries a large burden, represents amassing
Why, he asks, didn't the gemara use a mule as its metapho,r
since a mule can carry more than a donkey? Because the mule is
the product of kilayim/a mixture of two species, while Torah
study must be pure of ulterior influences or motives.
Letters from Our Sages
This week's letter is a congratulatory letter from five of
Lithuania's leading rabbis to R' Samson Raphael Hirsch z"l
on his appointment as rabbi of the Orthodox congregation in
Frankfurt am Main, Germany. The letter is reprinted in
Shemesh Marpeh, p.261.
Thursday, 22 Iyar 5621, Vilna [May 2, 1861]
May you carry away the blessing of "a thousand times" [see
Devarim 1:11] from the G-d of the campaign [possibly referring to
R' Hirsch's battle against the reform movement] . . . To the
honorable rabbi who is renowned for his Torah knowledge and his
fear [of Heaven] which precedes his Torah knowledge; his name is
great among Yisrael, our rabbi and teacher, Shimson, may his
light shine, who is called "Rav Hirsch," the av bet din/chief
rabbinical judge and resh matah/town rabbi of Congregation Kehal
Adat Yeshurun that is concerned with the word of Hashem and His
holy Torah in Frankfurt am Main:
Greetings as are due to a trusted friend of the loyal
congregation of Bnei Yisrael. You know well that although the
mountains and hills and seas and rivers separate between us, but
the souls of the children of Yaakov are bound together. [We wish]
a life of contentment and much success and satiation of joy on
your head . . .
Our friend! We have heard a great deal of your wisdom and your
good deeds in sowing righteousness, after which salvation grows,
through your efforts on behalf of the holy flock. More than
that, we heard from our friend, the famous rabbi and gaon, Rabbi
Gershon Tanchum of Minsk, of your talents - how you developed
wondrous strategies and brought about salvation through your
great efforts and strength, that you do not rest and are not
silent [in your effort] to bring to light [that which] will
strengthen the faith of our holy Torah.
Therefore, we, the community of Vilna, the most loyal and the
oldest among the loyal cities of Bnei Yisrael, find ourselves
obligated - because one is forbidden to have pleasure in this
world without a blessing - to thank and praise Hashem that we
have merited that even in this lowly generation there is a loyal
shepherd to oversee in detail the good of our brethren Bnei
Yisrael . . .
[Signed:] [R'] Shlomo Zalman Ze'ev [the Maggid of Vilna]
[R'] Yosef son of R' Meir of Slutsk [i.e., R' Yossele Feimer]
[R'] Yehoshua Isaac of Slonim [i.e., R' Eizele Charif]
[R'] Eliyah Shick of Lida
[R'] Yitzchak Elchanan son of R' Yisrael Isser [Spektor]
Mrs. Helen Spector
in memory of her father,
Henry Greene a"h