Volume 34, No. 9
23 Kislev 5780
December 21, 2019
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)
“Yisrael loved Yosef more than all his sons since he was a child of his old age, and he made him a Ketonet Pasim / fine woolen tunic.” (37:3)
The Gemara (Shabbat 10b) teaches: “One should never show favoritism to one child for, because of the two measures of fabric that Yaakov gave Yosef over his brothers [i.e., the Ketonet Pasim], one thing led to another until our ancestors went down to Egypt.” [Until here from the Gemara]
R’ Yitzchak Maltzen z”l (1854-1916; Lithuania and Eretz Yisrael) asks: Did Yaakov’s favoritism really cause our ancestors’ exile? Hadn’t Hashem foretold the exile to Avraham more than 150 years earlier?
He explains: The Gemara does not mean that Yaakov’s favoritism was the actual cause of the exile to Egypt. Rather, the Gemara is teaching that the fact that Hashem used Yaakov’s favoritism of Yosef as an instrument to bring about the exile indicates that Hashem does not approve when parents show favoritism to one child over others. (Haggadah Shel Pesach Si’ach Yitzchak p. 3b)
“Reuven heard, and he rescued him [Yosef] from their [the Brothers’] hand; he [Reuven] said, ‘Let us not strike him mortally!’ And, Reuven said to them, ‘Shed no blood! Throw him into this pit in the wilderness, but lay no hand on him!’ — intending to rescue him from their hand, to return him to his father.” (37:21-22)
R’ Meir Leibush Weiser (“Malbim”) z”l (see below) asks: When the verse says, “He rescued him,” it implies that Reuven actually rescued Yosef! Also, why is “He/Reuven said” repeated?
Malbim explains: “Reuven heard, and he rescued him from their hand,” indicates that Reuven’s original intention was to save Yosef entirely, such that the Brothers would do him no harm at all. However, the Brothers would not listen to him. Therefore . . .
“He said, ‘Let us not strike him mortally!’” At least do not kill Yosef. Punish him in some other way. But, the Brothers still would not listen. Therefore . . .
“And, Reuven said to them, ‘Shed no blood!’” Kill Yosef indirectly. “Throw him into this pit,” which is deep, and he will not be able to escape from it. Moreover, it is “in the wilderness,” such that no passerby will rescue him, and he will die of starvation.
Why did Reuven make all these arguments? The Torah testifies that Reuven was “intending to rescue him from their hand, to return him to his father.” (Ha’Torah Ve’ha’mitzvah)
“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’.” (40:8)
Why did Yosef get involved? R’ Chanoch 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, as we see that Pharaoh said (41:39), “Since G-d has informed you of all this, there can be no one so discerning and wise as you.” (Lev Samei’ach)
Rabbeinu Nissim ben Reuven Gerondi z”l (Spain; 1320-1376) and several other early authorities write that the name “Chanukah” is a contraction of “Chanu Kaf-Heh” / “They rested on the 25th,” i.e., on the twenty-fifth day of the month of Kislev, the Maccabees’ war against the Greeks ended, and the Jews rested.
This requires explanation, however. Why would our Sages name the holiday after the fact that the warriors rested, rather than after the fact that the Jewish People were victorious in battle? R’ Chaim Friedlander z”l (1923-1986; Mashgiach Ruchani of the Ponovezh Yeshiva) explains:
Victory in war has two aspects: (1) the fact that the enemy was defeated, and (2) the fact that the fighting has ended. The latter can, of course, occur without the former; for example, if there is a negotiated peace or if a third party intervenes. But, generally, one would expect a victor to commemorate the first aspect more than the second.
Our Sages, however, wanted to commemorate the reason why we were fighting against the Greeks. Our battle was not like the wars of nations, a quest for military victory. Rather, it was a quest to be left alone, to be allowed to study Torah and perform Mitzvot as we please, without foreign interference. The military victory itself was of no independent significance; what was important was the fact that the Jewish People could “rest,” that they were finally free of interference.
R’ Friedlander continues: R’ Moshe ben Maimon z”l (Rambam; 1135-1204; Spain and Egypt) writes regarding the future era (in Hil. Teshuvah 9:2), “The reason all of the Jewish People and its prophets and wise men desire the Days of Mashiach is so that they will ‘rest’ from [the oppression of] the kingdoms that do not allow them to occupy themselves with Torah and Mitzvot.” Rambam’s wording, notes R’ Friedlander, is consistent with the above explanation of what the Maccabees were celebrating and with the fact that they named the holiday “Chanukah.” (Siftei Chaim: Mo’adim II p.3)
The nineteenth century saw the publication of several new commentaries meant to reinforce belief in the Divine origin of the Torah and Prophets and in the inextricable link between the “Torah She’bichtav” / Written Law and the “Torah She’b’al Peh” / Oral Law. The most comprehensive of these was written by R’ Meir Leibush Weiser z”l (1809-1879; Poland, Romania, and Ukraine; known as “Malbim”). In the introduction to his commentary on Yeshayah, Malbim explains some of the principles that guided his work.
(1) The words of the Prophets do not contain poetic expressions saying the same thing two different ways. There is no duplication of ideas, no duplication of prose, and no duplication of expressions, nor are there two sentences meaning the same thing, two metaphors alluding to the same idea, or any words simply repeated. [For an example of this principle being applied to a verse in our Parashah, see above]
(2) The poetry and the prose of the Prophets do not contain any words used by chance, without a specific reason. Regarding all the words–nouns and verbs–that make up a statement, not only did they have to be in that statement, the prophet could not have used a different word in that situation, for every word of Divine expression is weighed in the scales of wisdom and knowledge, counted by the Divine wisdom . . .
(3) The expressions of the Prophets do not contain a husk without an inside, a body without a soul, a garment without something being clothed, a statement without a deep message, or a word that does not convey something deep to understand. The statements of the living Elokim all contain the Living G-d within them, a spirit of life is in their breath — a might, awesome spirit.
These three axioms which we have established as the solid foundation for the works of the Prophets will be acknowledged by anyone who believes that the spirit of Hashem spoke through the mouths of the Prophets and that His word was on their tongues. If one believes with his whole heart, without equivocation, that the words of the Prophets are the words of the Living Elokim, could he think that the same exalted Word that was spoken and the Heavens came into being . . . would be in His prophets’ mouths a ragged patchwork quilt of words to cover bare song or poetry?!
. . . [Regarding the third of the above principles:] Every place where it appears that the prophet spoke as a common man, I have shown that his words are lofty and very powerful . . .