Yosef's treatment at the hand of his brothers, the focus of this week's
parashah, may be the most incomprehensible story in the Torah. Seemingly,
writes R' Simcha Zissel Broide z"l (rosh yeshivah of the Chevron Yeshiva
in Yerushalayim; died 2000), it is the cruelest act ever perpetrated on a
single human being. Even the depraved and immoral Egyptians would have
found the sale of Yosef to be unacceptable behavior; thus, we will read
two weeks from now that before Yosef revealed his identity to his
brothers, he ordered all Egyptians out of the room to save his brothers
Yet, our Sages speak of the Brothers as holy individuals--"Shivtei
Kah" "The Tribes of G-d." The mere presence of their names on the
Kohen Gadol's breastplate is said to bring atonement to their
descendants. How can this be understood?
Many explanations have been offered for the Brothers' behavior. In
particular, we are taught that they felt Yosef was trying to displace them
as Yaakov's spiritual heir, much as Yitzchak had displaced Yishmael and
Yaakov, Esav. So sure were they that their actions were correct that,
when they needed a minyan to declare a cherem / excommunication on
whomever would reveal their secret, they included Hashem as the
tenth "man." (Only nine brothers were present, as Reuven had left for a
It is striking, says R' Broide, that the Torah, which does not hesitate to
criticize tzaddikim like Avraham Avinu and Moshe Rabbeinu for their
missteps, never criticizes the Brothers. Indeed, there is no hint in the
Torah that the Brothers themselves ever decided that they had made a
mistake. They were pained by their father's suffering and they regretted
ignoring Yosef's pleas for mercy (see 42:21), but they never retracted
their belief that Yosef was a "rodef" / "pursuer."
What are we to learn from this? One of the many lessons to take away,
writes R' Broide, is that the Torah's perspective on events and that of a
person steeped the Torah (in this case, the Brothers) may differ from our
own superficial understanding of the same event. Obviously, our duty is
to try to understand that perspective. (Sahm Derech p.305)
"My sheaf arose and remained standing . . ." (Bereishit 37:7)
Commentaries say that many people tried to store produce during the seven
years of famine that are described in next week's parashah; however, their
stores all spoiled. Only the grain that was stored by Yosef in Egypt
R' Baruch of Kosov z"l (18th century chassidic rebbe) writes that this is
alluded to in our verse: "My sheaf arose and remained standing." This is
what caused Yosef's brothers to eventually bow down to him, as the verse
continues, "Your sheaves gathered around and bowed down to my
sheaf." (Yesod Ha'Torah)
"And Reuven heard, and he saved him [Yosef] from their hand; he said,
`Let us not strike him mortally . . . Throw him into the pit in the
wilderness . . .'." (37:21-22)
The Gemara (Shabbat 24a) states that this pit was home to snakes and
scorpions. The halachah is that if a man falls into a pit full of snakes
and scorpions, he is deemed dead and his widow may remarry. Yet, the
Torah refers to Reuven's act as saving Yosef!
In contrast, Yehuda convinced his brothers to remove Yosef from the pit
and to sell him into slavery. Yet, the Gemara (Sanhedrin 6a) says that
whoever praises Yehuda for this angers Hashem. Why?
R' Chaim of Volozhin z"l (1749-1821) explained: Reuven caused Yosef to be
lowered into a pit full of snakes and scorpions, but the pit was in Eretz
Yisrael. Yehuda saved Yosef's physical life, but he caused Yosef to be
taken out of Eretz Yisrael. It is far better, said R' Chaim, to remain in
Eretz Yisrael surrounded by snakes and scorpions than to live outside of
Eretz Yisrael. (Quoted in the journal Yeshurun Vol. VI, p. 200)
"They [the butler and the baker] said to him, `We dreamt a dream, but
there is no interpreter for it.' So Yosef said to them, `Do not
interpretations belong to G-d? Relate it to me, if you please'."
Why did Yosef get involved? R' Hanoch Henach of Alesk z"l (chassidic
rebbe; died 1884) explains:
We read in Tehilim (105:2), "Speak His wonders." Accordingly, Yosef
wanted to bring honor to Hashem's Name by creating opportunities for the
Egyptians to become aware of His wonders. And his plan succeeded, for
Pharaoh said (in next week's parashah -- 41:39), "Since G-d has informed
you of all this, there can be no one so discerning and wise as you." (Lev
The following is an excerpt from the work Yesod Ve'shoresh Ha'avodah by R'
Alexander Ziskind z"l (died 1794), a work devoted to concentration and
focus during prayer and other aspects of Divine service. In Sha'ar
Ha'meffaked, chapter 1, the author discusses the holiday of Chanukah.
The sages of the Gemara spoke very emphatically of the care that one
should take when performing the mitzvah of Chanukah lights and of the
reward for doing so. They said (Shabbat 23b), "One who regularly lights
[Chanukah] candles will have sons who are Torah scholars." Rambam writes
in the fourth chapter of The Laws of Megillah and Chanukah: "The mitzvah
of Chanukah lights is a very beloved mitzvah and a person must take great
care with it in order to publicize the miracle and add to the praise of G-
d and the acknowledgment to Him for the miracles that He did for us." . . .
R' Alexander Ziskind continues: Truth be told, there is no doubt that a
person who has been given wisdom by Hashem to comprehend the deep secrets
of the Arizal's meditations should take upon himself to meditate on those
concepts. However, my intention in this work is to direct ordinary people
like myself down the path that they should take so that they will not
perform the mitzvot of Hashem Elokenu, may His name be praised, by rote.
Therefore, I have come to counsel that one should not perform this beloved
mitzvah without putting one's heart into it. Rather, it should be done
with great joy and with simple intentions in mind, as appropriate for each
of the blessings [that are recited]. . . When one says the words,"To
light the Chanukah candle," one should feel immense happiness in his heart
over the great miracle that took place at this time of year in the Bet
Hamikdash involving the flask of oil as related in the Gemara.
When one recites the blessing, "That He did miracles for our fathers in
those days at this time [of the year]," he should give great thanks in his
thoughts and great praise to our Creator for all the miracles and the
salvations that He did for our forefathers at this time of year. One also
should try to imagine that the miracles and salvations were done for him
This week we continue discussing the sanctity of the fruits of shevi'it /
the seventh year. [As noted last week, applying the laws presented here
also requires defining what is a "fruit of shevi'it," a discussion we
leave for a future issue.] The halachot below are taken from chapter seven
of Sefer Ha'shemittah by R' Yechiel Michel Tikochinski z"l.
When we say that the fruits of shevi'it have kedushah / sanctity, we do
not mean the same thing that we mean when we say that a Sefer Torah has
sanctity. Rather, the term, which does appear in the Torah with reference
to fruits of shevi'it, means that money that is exchanged for these fruits
takes on the legal status of the fruits themselves [and the laws below
apply to the money as well].
The kedushah of the fruits is manifested in the following ways:
(1) They must be eaten. Some say that a mitzvah is fulfilled by
eating them. In either case, they may not be wasted.
(2) They may not be fed to a gentile. If they are fit for human
consumption, they may not be fed to animals.
(3) Those fruits which are fit for use by humans other than as food
or drink may be used in that alternative manner provided that they are
destroyed in the process. For example, oil may be used for fuel.
(4) Business may not be done with them.
(5) They may not be exported from Eretz Yisrael.
(6) As noted above, money that is exchanged for them attains the
same legal status as the fruit itself.
(7) Any fruit that remains at a certain point in the year must be
destroyed. [Many of the above laws will be discussed in greater detail in
The foundation for all these laws, especially the last law above, writes
R' Tikochinski, is to impress upon us that the world and everything in it
belongs to Hashem. When one makes no preparations for next year and even
destroys what he has at the end of shemittah, he demonstrates his total
trust in Hashem.
The editors hope these brief 'snippets' will engender further study
and discussion of Torah topics ('lehagdil Torah u'leha'adirah'), and
your letters are appreciated. Web archives at Torah.org start with 5758 (1997) and
may be retrieved from the Hamaayan page.
Hamaayan needs your support! Please consider sponsoring Hamaayan in honor of a happy occasion or in memory of a loved one. Did you know that the low cost of sponsorship - only $18 - has not changed in seventeen years? Donations to HaMaayan are tax-deductible.