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Posted on December 11, 2009 (5770) By Shlomo Katz | Series: | Level:

Hamaayan / The Torah Spring

“Stand Tall!”
Volume 24, No. 9
25 Kislev 5770
December 12, 2009

Today’s Learning:
Nach: Melachim II 3:4
Parah 12:8-9
O.C. 372:15-17
Daf Yomi (Bavli): Bava Batra 125
Daf Yomi (Yerushalmi): Horiot 1

The Midrash Rabbah on this week’s parashah observes: What is written above [at the end of last week’s parashah]? “These are the kings [who reigned in the land of Edom before a king reigned over Bnei Yisrael].” Here it says, “Yaakov settled [in the land where his father was a ger / stranger, in Eretz Canaan].” This may be compared to someone who was walking along the road and came upon a pack of dogs. He was afraid of them, so he sat down among them. Similarly, when Yaakov saw Esav and his generals he was afraid of them, so he sat down among them. [Until here from the midrash.]

R’ Yitzchak Ze’ev Yadler z”l (1843-1917; Yerushalayim) explains: The midrash was bothered by the fact that Yaakov is called a “resident” in Eretz Canaan, while his father Yitzchak is called a “stranger” in the Land. To this the midrash answers that when one sees a pack of dogs, the best defense is to act like one is not afraid of them. Similarly, when Yaakov saw Esav and his armies, Yaakov became a resident in the Land to demonstrate that he was not afraid of them. Had Yaakov shown fear of Esav’s forces, they would have driven him out of Eretz Yisrael. However, because he acted like he was not afraid of them, they feared him and they abandoned Eretz Yisrael.

Why is Yitzchak called a “stranger” in the Land? R’ Yadler explains that, until such time as Hashem sees fit to give us the Land and redeem us from the oppression of the gentile nations, we are obligated to feel in our hearts that we are guests in the Land. However, our outward appearance should be one of being residents there. (Tiferet Zion)


    “Yisrael loved Yosef more than all his sons since he was a child of his old age, and he made him a fine woolen tunic.” (37:3)

The Gemara (Shabbat 10a) teaches: “One should never single out one of his children for favoritism, for as a result of the two selaim of silk that Yaakov (Yisrael) gave Yosef, the brothers became jealous and one thing led to another until eventually they were exiled to Egypt.”

Commentaries ask: Was not the exile to Egypt already foretold in a prophecy to Avraham? How then can Yaakov’s favoritism be blamed for causing the exile?

R’ Eliyahu z”l (1720-1797; the Vilna Gaon) explains: Yaakov’s favoritism was not the ultimate cause of the exile. However, we are taught, “G-d brings about good through good and bad through bad.” Thus, from the fact that Yaakov’s favoritism was used by G-d as a catalyst or a tool to bring about the exile, we learn that favoritism is bad. (Quoted in Perushei Ha’GRA: Chad Gadya p.287)


    “Reuven heard, and he rescued him [Yosef] from their hand; he said, `Let us not strike him mortally!’ Reuven said to them, `Shed no blood! Throw him into this pit in the wilderness…’ [T]he pit was empty, no water was in it.” (37:21-22, 24)

Rashi z”l quotes the Gemara (Shabbat 22a): Since the verse says that the pit was empty, don’t I know that there was no water in it? Rather, the verse means that there was no water in it, but there were snakes and scorpions.

Many commentaries ask: If Reuven suggested throwing Yosef into a pit full of snakes and scorpions, how can the verse say that Reuven saved Yosef? R’ Moshe ben Nachman z”l (Ramban; 1194-1270) answers simply that the snakes and scorpions were hidden in crevices or the pit was deep and Reuven could not see the bottom. If this were not the case, Ramban writes, then when the brothers saw that Yosef was not harmed, they would have realized that a miracle had occurred and that Yosef must be a tzaddik.

Others explain that Reuven suggested throwing Yosef into one pit, but the brothers threw Yosef in a different pit.

However, other commentators offer answers that touch on our basic understanding of the concept of reward and punishment. The following are some of their answers:

R’ Meir Simcha of Dvinsk z”l (1847-1926) notes that, while a bet din can execute a criminal who is over the age of 13, the Heavenly Court does not punish a young person before the age of 20. Yosef was 17 years old at this time. Therefore, by extracting Yosef from the human “court” of his brothers and handing him over to G-d’s agents, Reuven felt that he was saving Yosef. (Meshech Chochmah)

R’ Chaim ben Attar z”l (Eretz Yisrael; died 1743) explains: Reuven was unsure whether Yosef deserved the death penalty. However, man’s free will allows him to harm even a person who does not deserve to be harmed. Thus, if the brothers had killed Yosef, they would never know if they had done the right thing. Maybe he was innocent, but because they had free will, they were able to harm him anyway. Therefore, Reuven reasoned, “Let’s throw Yosef into a pit full of snakes and scorpions. Snakes and scorpions have no free will to act against G-d’s wishes. If Yosef deserves to die, the snakes and scorpions will kill him, and if he does not deserve to die, they will not kill him.” Thus, Reuven effectively saved Yosef. (Ohr Ha’chaim)

One might ask: Granted that a person has the free will to murder or harm a person who may not deserve to be killed, but how can G-d allow a person who is not deserving of death to be killed?

R’ Simcha Zissel Ziv z”l (the Alter of Kelm; died 1898) explains (based on Ramban’s commentary to Bereishit 18:19): Nothing happens in the world contrary to Hashem’s Will. However, Hashem’s Will includes two distinct “hanhagot” / ways in which G-d relates to the world: the hanhagah of nature and the the hanhagah of miracles. A person who chooses to live “close” to G-d is subject to G-d’s constant protection; he lives a life of constant miracles. However, one who sins may be punished by being abandoned to nature for a given period of time, the length of which depends on the severity of his sin. (Chochmah U’mussar II No.214)

R’ Chaim Friedlander z”l (mashgiach ruchani of the Ponovezh Yeshiva in Bnei Brak; died 1984) records a tradition that the Vilna Gaon z”l said as follows: “It is a mistaken idea that one person can harm another person in the absence of a Divine decree that the second person be harmed. However, the reason it is nevertheless a sin to harm another person is that G-d does not decree which master of free choice (i.e., which person) will be the one to harm the person upon whom harm was decreed.”

R’ Friedlander elaborates: Whenever one person harms another, there are three independent perspectives from which the event must be viewed: First, there is the viewpoint of the victim, upon whom G-d has decreed harm because of some sin. Second, there is the viewpoint of the one doing the harm, who sins by volunteering to be G-d’s emissary to do harm. Third, there is the viewpoint of the bystander (as well as the victim himself) who has a mitzvah to try to stop the harm from occurring if at all possible. But if it cannot be stopped, the victim is obligated to see the event as a message G-d is sending him. (Siftei Chaim: Emunah Ve’hashgachah pp.380-388)


Shabbat Candles & Chanukah Candles

The Gemara (Shabbat 23b) states: Rav Huna said, “One who regularly lights candles will have sons who are Torah scholars.”

Rashi z”l explains: Since it is written (Mishlei 6:23), “For a mitzvah is a lamp, and Torah is light,” therefore, through the mitzvah lamp–i.e., Shabbat candles and Chanukah candles–the light of Torah comes.

R’ Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook z”l (1865-1935; Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Eretz Yisrael) explains this connection further. He writes: The parallels that our imagination draws between our observed experiences and esoteric spiritual concepts should not be readily dismissed. G-d created man with all the powers that he needs to grow spiritually, and the powers of imagination and illustration also have a role in accordance with G-d’s goodness and wisdom. Since we instinctively feel a connection between physical light and the wisdom of Torah, that instinct must be something that can direct us to the correct path in life, to follow in G-d’s ways. [Ed. note: In English, too, we speak of someone who is educated as “enlightened,” while the period in history when there was relatively less education or scholarship is called the “Dark Ages.”]

R’ Kook continues: One who regularly lights candles will develop an appreciation for the benefits of light and will realize how unpleasant it is to dwell in darkness. Such a person will not think of light as a luxury. Moreover, the more light that a person is used to, the more he will appreciate each additional lamp that is lit, even if it does not add to the amount of observed light. This should help a person understand that the same thing is true of Torah study–the more that one studies Torah regularly, the more he will appreciate additional study. And, the more that one has enjoyed his initial Torah studies, the more he will recognize the necessity of additional study. It is this personal growth that makes it more likely that one will have children who are Torah scholars. (Ein Ayah)

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