Hamaayan / The Torah Spring
Edited by Shlomo Katz
Volume XV, No. 12
18 Tevet 5761
January 13, 2001
Orach Chaim 363:13-15
Daf Yomi (Bavli): Sotah 23
Daf Yomi (Yerushalmi): Shevuot 19
R' Avraham Yaakov Friedman z"l (the "Sadigerer Rebbe") once
spent Shabbat in Vienna, a city whose Jews were largely non-
observant. After reciting kiddush, he turned to one of his
chassidim and said, "It's good to testify to Hashem's existence
[by saying kiddush] in a place where people deny Hashem's
Later, R' Friedman said that he regretted making that comment.
The Sages say that Yaakov wanted to reveal to his sons when
mashiach would come, but his prophetic powers left him. Why? If
Hashem did not want him to reveal when mashiach would come, He
could have concealed that one fact from Yaakov. Why did Yaakov
lose all of his prophetic abilities?
Chazal teach that there are two schedules for mashiach's
coming: one is called "be'itah" / "in its time," referring to the
pre-ordained latest date by which mashiach will come; the other
is called "achishenah" / "I will accelerate it," referring to the
fact that mashiach can come at any time if the Jews repent.
Which one did Yaakov wish to reveal? Obviously, the former
(be'itah), for the latter (achishenah) is dependent on our free-
will and cannot be known prophetically.
However, the mere suggestion that mashiach will come at the
pre-ordained time is lashon hara, for it implies that the Jews
will not repent. Yaakov was punished for making this suggestion
and his prophetic abilities were taken away. For the same
reason, concluded R' Friedman, his own comment was lashon hara
and was wrong. (Quoted in Otzrot Tzaddikei U'geonei Ha'dorot)
Rashi asks: Why does the first verse of Vayechi not begin a new
paragraph in the Sefer Torah? (See Rashi's commentary to 47:28
where he provides several answers). What is the premise of
Rashi's question? Why should this verse have begun a new
R' Yisrael Yitzchak Halevi z"l (Warsaw; 19th century) explains:
The final verse of last week's parashah says, "Thus Yisrael
settled in the land of Egypt . . . and they were fruitful and
multiplied greatly." This verse appears to be out of place, for
the Sages teach that Bnei Yisrael multiplied in proportion to
their persecution in Egypt. That persecution did not begin until
after Yaakov died, yet at the end of last week's parashah, Yaakov
was still alive!
One might say that this is an example of the gemara's teaching
(Pesachim 6b): "Ain mukdam u'me'uchar ba'Torah" / "The Torah is
not written in chronological order." However, the gemara states
that within one story, events are related chronologically.
Following this rule, if the last verse of Parashat Vayigash is
out of chronological order, the following verse (the first verse
of our parashah) should begin a new paragraph in order to make it
a separate story. Thus Rashi asks: Why does the first verse of
Vayechi not begin a new paragraph?
"Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt for seventeen years,
vayehi yemei Yaakov / and the days of Yaakov - the years of
his life - were 147 years." (47:28)
R' Menashe Klein shlita (the "Ungvar Rav" in Brooklyn) asks:
The word "vayehi" usually introduces a sad or troublesome event;
thus, the phrase, "vayehi yemei Yaakov / and the days of Yaakov -
the years of his life - were 147 years" could be understood to
mean that all of Yaakov's days were unhappy. Indeed, we know
that Yaakov had a difficult life, but the Sages say that Yaakov's
last seventeen years were filled with good. Why then is the word
R' Klein answers: Yaakov's life in Egypt was good by any
objective standard, but in Yaakov's eyes, being dependent on his
son, an Egyptian prince, was not good. After all, Yaakov grew up
in the homes of Avraham and Yitzchak. Avraham was called by his
gentile neighbors "a prince of G-d" (Bereishit 23:6). And, the
Sages say that Pharaoh preferred that his daughter Hagar be a
maidservant in Avraham's household rather than a princess in his
own palace. Avraham and Yitzchak were not dependent on Pharaoh
to give them the status of royalty!
"Ephraim and Menashe shall be mine like Reuven and Shimon .
. . But I, when I came from Padan, Rachel died on me in the
land of Canaan on the road . . . and I buried her there on
the road to Efrat, which is Bet Lechem." (48:5-7)
Rashi explains that Yaakov was justifying his decision to bury
Rachel on the road rather than in the town of Bet Lechem. Why
did he raise this subject now? R' Pinchas Horowitz z"l
(Frankfurt, Germany; died 1805) explains:
The halachah is that a firstborn son gets a double portion of
his father's property so long as the property is "muchzak" / in
hand, rather than than "ra'ui" / coming to the father later.
When Hashem promised Eretz Yisrael to the Patriarchs, did the
Land have the status of muchzak or ra'ui? Avraham was not sure,
and that is why he bought land for a burial place rather than
demanding it by right.
Until now, Yosef might have assumed that Yaakov buried Rachel
on the road rather than carrying her to the town of Bet Lechem
because Yaakov was afraid he would not find a burial place in Bet
Lechem. After all, if his title to Eretz Yisrael did not have
the status of muchzak, he could not demand a burial plot by
right. However, when Yaakov promised Yosef's sons Menashe and
Ephraim their own shares in the Land - in effect, he promised
Yosef a firstborn's double share - Yaakov indicated that he did
consider Eretz Yisrael to be muchzak. If so, he had to explain
why he buried Rachel on the road.
"Yosef said to his father: 'They are my sons whom G-d has
given me by this'." (48:9)
Rashi writes: "This" refers to Yosef's shtar erusin / marriage
document, and Yosef showed the document to Yaakov.
R' Yosef Grunwald z"l (the Pupa Rav; died 1980's) explains:
Yaakov wondered how Yosef married in Egypt without halachically
valid witnesses. However, according to Rabbenu Nissim z"l (14th
century), witnesses are required only if one marries a woman
using a ring or another items of value. However, if he marries
her through a shtar / document, no witnesses are required. Thus,
Yosef told Yaakov, "This is my shtar erusin."
"Because you mounted your father's bed . . ." (49:9)
In Parashat Vayishlach (35:22), the Torah appears to state that
Reuven committed adultery with his father's concubine, Bilhah.
The gemara (Shabbat 55b) explains, however, that Reuven's actual
sin was much less severe.
The gemara explains: After Yaakov's primary wife, Rachel, died,
Yaakov decided that he would make his residence in Bilhah's tent.
Concerned for his mother's honor, Reuven, the oldest son of
Yaakov's first wife, Leah, took Yaakov's bed and moved it to
Leah's tent. Because Reuven interfered with Yaakov's
relationship with his wife, the Torah condemns him as if he had
committed adultery. (The gemara lists several other instances
where the Torah and Prophets describe a seemingly minor sin in
very strong terms. The greater a tzaddik is, the higher is the
standard to which he is held.)
The midrash says that Reuven was the first person in history to
do teshuvah. R' Yisrael Yaakov Lubchansky z"l hy"d (Mashgiach in
Yeshiva Ohel Torah in Baranovitch) observes that this is not
literally true -- Adam, Kayin and Yishmael, among others,
repented before Reuven did. However, explains R' Lubchansky,
Reuven was the first person who sinned "le'shem shamayim" /
thinking that he was doing Hashem's will, and then repented.
Despite Reuven's repentance, Yaakov stripped Reuven of the
privileges of the firstborn. R' Lubchansky explains: If Yaakov
concluded that his residence had to be in Bilhah's tent, who
knows what "spiritual worlds" he intended to affect thereby! Who
knows the extent of the damage that Reuven did by moving Yaakov's
bed for even a short time!
R' Lubchansky adds: If Yaakov's anger at Reuven was so great
because Reuven interfered with Yaakov's marital life temporarily,
how should Yaakov have responded to Lavan's treachery in delaying
Yaakov's marriage to Rachel for seven years? Yet, the Torah does
not relate that Yaakov became angry at Lavan, only that Yaakov
asked, "Why did you trick me?"
Why? The answer is that Lavan didn't know better. Lavan had
no one to teach him that every action on earth affects untold
numbers of invisible spiritual "worlds." Reuven, however, had
Yaakov as a teacher, and was held to a higher standard.
(Quoted in Haggadah Shel Pesach Baranovitch p. 253)
Selected Laws of Shemittah
(From Rambam's Mishneh Torah, Hil. Shemittah Ve'yovel)
[Ed. Note: This year is a shemittah year, and, from time-to-
time, we are presenting excerpts from the laws of shemittah.
As with any halachic issue addressed in Hamaayan, our goal
is to increase awareness of the subject, not to provide
practical halachic guidance. For such advice, consult a
2:13. If a break in a wall [of a field] is filled with dirt
and it does not present a stumbling block to passers-by, it may
not be rebuilt [during the shemittah]. If it does present a
stumbling block to passers-by or is not filled with dirt, but
rather is open to the public domain, it may be rebuilt.
2:14. One may not build a fence during shemittah between his
own field and his neighbor's field, but one may build a fence
between his field and the public domain.
[The laws in Chapter 3 were discussed in a previous issue.]
4:1. All that the land produces during the seventh year may be
eaten according to Torah law, as it is written (Vayikra 25:6),
"The Sabbath produce of the land shall be yours to eat." This
includes produce from seeds that fell before the shemittah,
produce from roots that were cut previously (both of which are
called "sefiach"), and grasses and vegetables that grew on their
4:2 By rabbinic decree, sefichim (plural of "sefiach") may not
be eaten. Why did they decree thus? Because of sinners, i.e.,
so that a person will not secretly plant grain, beans and garden
vegetables in his field, and when they grow, he will say that
they are sefichim.
4:3 From the foregoing you can understand that one may eat
only that produce of the shemittah which grows on trees and those
grasses which people do not usually plant. However, the types of
vegetables which most people plant in their gardens - also grains
and beans - whatever grows from them is prohibited by rabbinic
decree to be eaten, and whoever gathers these is given lashes.
[Ed. note: As anyone who has visited Israel during the shemittah
knows, all types of grains, beans and vegetables are eaten during
the shemittah. This will be explained in a future issue.]
Menashe and Rachel Katz and family, on Adina's bat mitzvah
Copyright © 2000 by Shlomo Katz
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