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Parshas Vayeishev

The Lost Jewel

Last week’s parashah ended with a list of Esav’s descendants and their family groupings. Our parashah opens (37:1): “Yaakov settled in the land of his father's sojournings, in the land of Canaan.” Rashi writes: “After the Torah has described the settlements of Esav and his descendants in a brief manner . . . it explains clearly and at length the settlements made by Yaakov and his descendants and all the events which brought these about, because these are regarded by the Omnipresent as of sufficient importance to speak of them at length. Thus, too, you will find that in the case of the ten generations from Adam to Noach it states, ‘So and so fathered so and so,’ but when it reaches Noach it deals with him at length; Similarly, of the ten generations from Noach to Avraham it gives but a brief account, but when it comes to Avraham it speaks of him more fully. This may be compared to the case of a jewel that falls into the sand; a man searches in the sand, sifts it in a sieve until he finds the jewel; when he has found the jewel, he throws away the pebbles and keeps the jewel.”

What is Rashi adding with the parable about the lost jewel? Moreover, couldn’t the Torah have told us the history of Yaakov’s family without telling us the history of Esav’s family?

R’ Tzaddok Hakohen z”l (1823-1900; rebbe in Lublin) explains: Yaakov’s family is discussed alongside Esav’s family to allude to the Jew who is lost among the gentiles – the jewel lost in the sand. Even that “jewel” still sparkles with the glow leftover from the revelation at Har Sinai, Rashi is telling us. Even that Jew is not really lost, for he will someday return to us. (Quoted in Mi’gedolei Ha’chassidut Vol. VII, p.61)

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    “He said to them, ‘Hear, if you please, this dream which I dreamt. Behold! -- we were binding sheaves in the middle of the field, when, behold! -- my sheaf arose and remained standing; then behold! -- your sheaves gathered around and bowed down to my sheaf.’

    “His brothers said to him, ‘Would you then reign over us? Would you then dominate us?’” (37:6-8)

R’ Eliyahu David Rabinowitz-Teomim (the “Aderet”; 1845-1905; rabbi of Mir and Ponovezh and Assistant Rabbi of Yerushalayim) asks: Why did the brothers react as they did? Where in Yosef’s dream is there a hint that he expected to be a king?

He explains by coupling two comments of the Midrash Rabbah. First, the midrash reports that Yosef told his brothers, “You were gathering fruit and I was gathering fruit. Yours was rotten, and mine had staying power.”

Second, on the verse (Bereishit 41:1), “It happened at the end of two years to the day - Pharaoh was dreaming . . . ,” the midrash comments: “Was only Pharaoh dreaming and everyone else was not dreaming? Rather, the verse is teaching that when a king dreams, he dreams about matters that affect everyone.”

Thus, writes the Aderet, when the brothers heard that Yosef dreamt not only about his fruits, but also about theirs, they realized that he was *dreaming* like a king. (Seder Parshiyot)

R’ Baruch of Kosov z”l (18th century chassidic rebbe) writes that the midrash’s comment 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)

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    “Midianite men, traders, passed by; they drew Yosef up and lifted him out of the pit and sold Yosef to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver.” (37:28)

Targum Yonatan ben Uziel, the Aramaic translation dating to the times of the Mishnah, states: “They sold Yosef to Arabs for twenty pieces of silver and bought shoes with the money.” Similarly, we read in this week’s haftarah (Amos 2:6), “So said Hashem, ‘For three rebellious sins of Israel -- but should I not exact retribution for the fourth -- for their having sold a righteous man for silver, and a destitute one for the sake of a pair of shoes?’”

R’ Shlomo Wolbe z”l (1914-2005) notes that the Torah does not criticize the Yosef’s brothers for their hostile attitude toward Yosef. After all, they considered Yosef to be a rodef / pursuer in that they believed Yosef wanted Yaakov to disown the brothers of their spiritual inheritance as Avraham had disowned Yishmael and Yitzchak had done to Esav.

In contrast, the Torah does criticize the brothers for selling Yosef. Why? Targum Yonatan is teaching that it was because they bought shoes. They derived personal benefit from the deed, thus demonstrating that their motives were not as pure as they themselves believed. (Shiurei Chumash Mi’pi Maran Ha’mashgiach R’ Shlomo Wolbe)

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    “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’.” (Bereishit 40:8)

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 Sameach)

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    “In another three days, Pharaoh will lift up your head and will restore you to your post, and you will place Pharaoh’s cup in his hand as was the former practice when you were his cupbearer. If only you would think of me (‘ki im zechartani’) with yourself when he benefits you, and you will do me a kindness, if you please, and mention me to Pharaoh, then you would get me out of this place.” (40:13-14)

Why did Yosef add the words, “as was the former practice”? Also, what did he mean by the words, “ki im zechartani” (commonly translated, “If only you would think of me”). R’ Noach Rabinowitz z”l (Lithuania; late 19th century) explains: If someone was jailed and then obtained an early release without any conditions or restrictions, it typically is because the authorities have discovered that he is innocent and was, in fact, falsely imprisoned. However, if someone really is guilty – as was Pharaoh’s butler – and he not only is released from prison but also is returned to his royal post, there must be something going on behind the scenes.

This is what Yosef meant: You will regain the same job that you had formerly, even though you deserve to be punished for your crime. Why? ‘ki im zechartani’ / Only so that you will remember me. It is for that purpose alone that Hashem is returning you to the palace. (Toldot Noach)

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    “For indeed I was kidnaped from the land of the Hebrews . . .” (40:15)

R’ Moshe Zuriel shlita (former mashgiach ruchani of Yeshivat Sha’alvim) writes: At first glance, the sin of Yosef’s brothers was kidnaping. However, some kabbalists say that the true severity of their sin was due to the fact that they deprived a tzaddik of the opportunity to live in Eretz Yisrael.

R’ Zuriel continues: The Zohar Chadash teaches that the reason Bnei Yisrael were in exile in Egypt for 210 years was that Yosef’s 10 brothers -- Binyamin did not participate -- forced Yosef to be separated from his family for 22 years (10 x 22 = 220). From this, Hashem subtracted 10 years as compensation for the pain that the 10 brothers felt as a result of dying outside of Eretz Yisrael, leaving a “sentence” of 210 years. (Drishat Zion)

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Memories of Yerushalayim

    R’ Moshe Nussbaum/Reisher z”l, best known as the author of Mishlei Yaakov, a collection of the teachings of the Dubno Maggid z”l, grew up in Yerushalayim in the mid-1800s. Around 1868, he traveled to Europe as a fundraiser, and there he wrote Sha’arei Yerushalayim--a sort of guide book combining Talmudic teachings about Eretz Yisrael with his own experiences in, and observations of, the Holy Land. The following is an excerpt:

With regard to weddings, they [the Sephardim] have wonderful customs. On the Shabbat preceding the wedding they set up a chupah in the synagogue using four parochot / curtains, like a sukkah, against the east wall. The chatan / groom sits under it with his shoshvinin / ushers during the prayers. When they call the chatan to the Torah, his shoshvinin accompany him. After [the chatan] concludes the berachah, the shliach tzibbur reads before him eight verses from the Book of Bereishit (24:1-8) and translates every verse with Onkelos’ translation. At that point, the shamash brings a bowl of rose water and pours a bit into the hands of each man in shul. Also in the chatan’s house they make a chupah, like a sukkah, against the wall. When the day of the chupah arrives, they place the chatan [and kallah] under the chupah and he performs kiddushin [i.e., giving a wedding ring or other item of value] even though he already performed kiddushin at the time of the engagement, for that is still their custom. [Ed. note: In Talmudic times, the wedding ring was given as much as one year before the chupah. The author is relating that this custom was still practiced by the Sephardim in Yerushalayim in the mid-19th century.] Then they cover the chatan and kallah with a talit for about five minutes, after which they make a big feast, albeit it does not last very long. . . The men recite birkat hamazon and sheva berachot and go home. The meal lasts about one hour.


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