By Rabbi Yisroel Ciner
This week's parsha, Vayeshev, begins: "Vayeshev Yaakov B'eretz M'guray Aviv
(37:1)" - and Yaakov settled in the land where his father had resided. The
Kli Yakar notes the different terms used in the passuk. In regard to
Yaakov, the term used is "vayeshev", whereas in regard to his father the
term "m'guray" is used. He explains that Yaakov wanted to "vayeshev" -
settle - in this world. He had already gone through his difficult periods -
Esav's murderous intentions, Lavan's treachery, the rape of Dena, the death
of Rachel - he now wanted to elevate his service to Hashem by being in a
state of tranquility. His predecessors, Avraham and Yitzchak, knew that
this world was the place to move! They were in a constant state of
"m'guray" - temporary stopovers during their passage through life.
A story that I've mentioned before is of the wealthy businessman who was
passing through the Polish town of Radin. Not wanting to pass up the
opportunity of seeing the leader of the generation, he went to visit the
Chofetz Chaim. Upon entering, he was struck by his sparsely furnished home.
Unable to control himself, he blurted out, "Where is your furniture!?". the
Chofetz Chaim responded by asking where was his furniture? The businessman,
somewhat surprised, explained that he was only passing through. The Chofetz
Chaim explained that he too, is only passing through...
Rashi quotes the chaza"l that as a result of Yaakov wanting to have this
tranquility, the angry episode of Yosef was then cast upon him. Our mission
in this world is not to obtain that which we are missing in terms of
comfort in order to better serve Hashem, but rather to develop ourselves
spiritually under our present circumstances.
What was this episode of Yosef? Yosef would tell his father of any
wrongdoings on the part of his brothers. Yaakov felt a special love for
Yosef and displayed this love by giving him a "k'sones pasim" - a special
coat. This coat was indicative of Yosef's supervisory role over all that
transpired both in the house and in the field. Yosef then had two prophetic
dreams foreseeing his sovereignty over his brothers. These events all
aroused the jealousy of his brothers.
The brothers were tending their father's flocks in Shchem. Yaakov sends
Yosef to monitor them and to correct any misdeeds on their part. The
brothers see Yosef coming and view him as a 'rodef' - one who was coming to
take their lives. They perceived Yosef as one who, by slandering them to
their father, was trying to have them cursed and their afterlife destroyed.
The law in regard to a 'rodef' is that, in self defense, one must kill him
first. They judged Yosef as deserving of death. Yielding to Reuven's
pleading, they consented to throw him into a pit, instead of killing him
with their own hands. Upon seeing a group of Yishmaelites on their way down
to Mitzraim, Yehuda suggests selling Yosef to them as a slave. This would
be a deserving punishment for his wanting to rule over them. Yosef is thus
brought down to egypt.
This whole episode and what it led to affords us a fascinating glimpse into
Hashem's hashgacha pratis (individualized supervision and orchestration of
events) in this world. The brothers sold Yosef down to Egypt in order to
sabotage his ascent to leadership. Ultimately, it was this very act which
led to his ascent to leadership as he became the second in command over the
entire country of Egypt!
We often think that things we rightfully deserve are taken away from us by
the actions of others. We must realize that no one can touch that which
rightfully belongs to someone else. No one can interfere with the destiny
foreordained for someone else. Any efforts made will, not only be futile in
halting Hashem's plan, but will be incorporated into Hashem's plan and will
actually lead to the fulfillment of that which one tried to block!
The Steipler zt"l points this out later in the Torah, in regard to Paroah's
attempt to destroy the savior of Israel. Having been told by his
astrologers that the Jewish savior would be smitten by water, he decreed
that all males born must be thrown into the Nile. His own daughter saw a
little basket floating in the water and compassionately saved the life of
the baby boy inside. Ultimately, Paroah's decree, intended to destroy
Moshe, directly led to his daughter finding and adopting Moshe and his
being raised in Paroah's own house and being fed by Paroah!
Another intriguing episode contained in this week's parsha is that of
Yehuda and Tamar, who had been his daughter-in-law. Tamar, after the deaths
of the two sons of Yehuda, that she had married consecutively, resolved to
have children from Yehuda himself. This would be a fulfillment of 'yibbum'
(levirate marriage). From this union would come the lineage of King David
which would ultimately lead to the Moshiach. The court, unaware that Tamar
was pregnant from Yehuda, sentenced her to death by burning for her seeming
infidelity. Yehuda, also unaware that it was with Tamar that he'd had
relations, stood by calmly.
As Tamar was being led to her death she sent to Yehuda his signet ring, his
cloak and his walking stick. "L'ish asher ayleh lo anochi harah (38:25)" -
I am pregnant from the man that these belong to. Yehuda immediately
recognized that those were his and acknowledged that it was from him that
she had become pregnant. Tamar thereby had not committed an act of
infidelity but had fulfilled the mitzva of yibbum. Her life and the lives
of the twins that she was carrying were thus spared.
Astoundingly, Tamar was prepared to be burned to death along with the twins
before pointing her finger and embarrassing Yehuda. Chaza"l derive from
this episode that it is preferable to throw oneself into a fiery furnace
rather than to publicly embarrass someone.
Rav Chaim Shmuelovitz makes a fascinating observation. Before the Torah was
given, although the forefathers fulfilled the commandments, there was a
certain leeway that they were allowed. The decision they faced before
performing an act wasn't is it permissible or forbidden but rather, will it
be beneficial or detrimental. With this, the Nefesh Hachaim explains how
Yaakov was allowed to marry two sisters. He foresaw that these two sisters
would mother the nation through their 'shivtey kuh' - the twelve tribes of
Israel. However, once the Torah was given, no benefit can result from any
deviation from its laws. Therefore, the decision we face before performing
an act is if it is permissible/beneficial or forbidden/detrimental.
It therefore follows that tamar had to decide which would be more
beneficial - allowing herself and the twins forbearing the dynasty of kings
and the Moshiach to be burnt to death or to embarrass Yehuda by fingering
him as the father thereby saving the three lives. She chose to allow
herself to be burnt! That would be more beneficial.
In the town of Baranovich there was a gabbai (sexton) whose
responsibilities included arranging and igniting the wood burning stove to
warm the shul (synagogue) before the morning prayers. Being somewhat lazy,
he would try to pass this responsibility over to the poor people who would
sleep in the shul. As could be imagined, the shul was often cold and many
harsh words were passed.
After an angry, tumultuous period, the stove was finally warming the shul
every morning. The congregants thought that the gabbai was finally taking
his responsibility seriously... The gabbai thought that the poor had
finally gotten their act together...
One morning, the gabbai arrived early and saw a person arranging the wood.
The posterior end of this individual was protruding from the oven as he
worked. Assuming it was one of the poor, he delivered a not-so-good-natured
pat on the rump and congratulated him on a job well done. The rabbi, Rav
Yisroel Chaim Lubchansky, who had taken it upon himself to light the stove
every morning to prevent any arguments, realized that if he would remove
his head from the oven he would totally humiliate the gabbai. Even though,
in fact, he would only be showing how the gabbai's action had humiliated
himself, he wanted no part in it. He kept his head in the oven until he was
sure that the gabbai was out of sight, burning off his entire beard while
It is more desirable to throw oneself into a furnace than to embarrass
Copyright © 1997 by Rabbi Yisroel Ciner
and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author teaches at Neveh Tzion in
Telzstone (near Yerushalayim).