Volume 37, No. 10
30 Kislev 5783
December 24, 2022
Faith Ginsburg on the yahrzeit of her sister Ann Rita Schwartz (Chana Rut bat Naftali Hertz a”h)
The Vogel family on the yahrzeit of grandmother Mary Kalkstein (Miriam bat Yehuda Leib a”h)
Eli and Philip Rutstein and families on the yahrzeits of their mother Pearl Rutstein a”h, grandfather Nathan Rutstein a”h, and uncle Oscar Rudsten a”h
At the end of last week’s Parashah, we read that Yosef asked Pharaoh’s Sar Ha’mashkim / Chamberlain of the Cupbearers to remember him and help him get out of jail. The last verse of the Parashah tells us: “The Sar Ha’mashkim did not remember Yosef, and he forgot him.” This week’s Parashah opens two years later, when the Sar Ha’mashkim finally is caused to remember Yosef.
Midrash Rabbah comments on the verse in Tehilim (40:5): “Praiseworthy is the man who places his trust in Hashem”–this refers to Yosef. But, because he asked the Sar Ha’mashkim to remember him, he had to sit in prison an additional two years. [Until here from the Midrash]
This Midrash appears to contradict itself! Was Yosef the paradigm of a person who trusts in Hashem, or did he wrongly seek the assistance of a human?
R’ Yissachar Shlomo Teichtal z”l Hy”d (1885-1945; rabbi of, and Rosh Yeshiva in, Pieštany, Czechoslovakia) writes in the name of his wife’s grandfather, R’ Menachem Katz Prostitz z”l (1795-1891; rabbi of Tzehlem, Austria): For an ordinary person, there would be nothing wrong in seeking the help of the Sar Ha’mashkim; man is obligated to expend reasonable efforts to accomplish his goals, and doing so does not necessarily indicate a lack of Bitachon / trust in Hashem. However, the Midrash is teaching, even such a modest effort was considered sinful for a person of Yosef’s stature as the model of Bitachon.
How do we know that Yosef was, in fact, on such a lofty level? Because he knew that his brothers hated him, yet he did not hesitate when his father sent him to check on their welfare. Rather, he placed his trust in Hashem and declared, “I am ready!” (Mishneh Sachir)
“By this shall you be tested: By Pharaoh’s life, you will not leave here unless your youngest brother comes here.” (42:9)
Why did Yosef subject his brothers to this ordeal? R’ Shlomo Twerski z”l (1923-1981; Hornesteipler Rebbe and rabbi in Denver, Colorado) answers:
When we say that we are “Mochel” / forgive someone who sinned towards us, that does not mean that we are erasing that person’s sin. Indeed, it is absolute haughtiness for us to think that we can erase another person’s sin.
What then is “Mechilah” / “forgiveness”? R’ Twerski explains: The Gemara (Sanhedrin 103a) states that the angels did not want the repentance of the evil king Menashe to be accepted, but Hashem created a “Mechilah” / tunnel for Menashe that reached directly to the Throne of Glory. We see, says R’ Twerski, that Mechilah is a “path” for a sinner, a way to restore his self-esteem and achieve atonement. That is what we are giving a person when we forgive him.
Yosef, too, was giving his brothers a path to achieve atonement, R’ Twerski continues. Our Sages teach that repentance is complete only when a person faces the same challenge that caused him to stumble before, and this time he does not stumble. Thus, the way for Yaakov’s sons to atone for what they did to Yosef was to stand up for Rachel’s other son, Binyamin. Yosef was creating that opportunity, that path to atonement, so that his brothers’ repentance could be complete.
R’ Twerski cautions: We do not have the right to test others in order to “help them” repent. What we can learn from this is what Mechilah means: The hurt person removes himself from the picture so that the one who hurt him has room to repent. [This also teaches that the one who sinned should not think his repentance is complete just because his friend, neighbor, spouse, etc. says, “I forgive you.”] (Malchut Shlomo)
R’ Dr. Abraham J. Twerski z”l (1930-2021; prolific author, and younger brother of the above) elaborates in the name of his brother: The above idea explains why Yosef never contacted Yaakov to say that he was alive. Yosef wanted his brothers to achieve atonement for what they had done, and he understood that that would require a process, not simply saying, “I forgive you.” Indeed, had Yosef simply said, “I forgive you,” he would have appeared as a magnanimous Tzaddik, while lowering his brothers to the status of groveling sinners. That would not have given them a path to atonement. Moreover, Yosef understood that he was doing exactly what Yaakov would have wanted had he been aware of all the facts.
We read (41:51), “Yosef called the name of the firstborn Menashe, ‘For, Elokim has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s household’.” [Note: This is a different Menashe than the king mentioned above.] Obviously, Yosef had not forgotten all his hardship and all his father’s household! What he meant was: I recognize that everything that has happened to me was by the hand of Hashem, and now Hashem has given me the tools to begin to put my hardship behind me. (Forgiveness p.192-195)
“Then said to one another, ‘Indeed we are guilty concerning our brother inasmuch as we saw his heartfelt anguish when he pleaded with us and we paid no heed; that is why this anguish has come upon us’.” (42:21)
Speaking in Shanghai, China, during the Mir Yeshiva’s exile there, R’ Yechezkel Levenstein z”l (1895-1974; Mashgiach Ruchani in several yeshivot in Poland and Israel) observed: We have a tendency to say, “With Hashem’s help,” when making plans. This implies that our efforts are primary, but that we can use an assist from Hashem. This perspective is misguided, however. We are, indeed, obligated to expend efforts to achieve our goals, but only because of Hashem’s curse to Adam (“By the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread”). As for the outcomes of our plans, it is solely Hashem’s Will that brings success or failure.
Yosef’s brothers understood this, R’ Levenstein noted. When they were accused of spying and given an ultimatum to bring their younger brother to Egypt, they did not say, “We should not have told the Egyptian viceroy (Yosef) that we have a younger brother.” They did not ask themselves what would have been a better strategy for dealing with the Egyptian ruler. Instead, they immediately attributed their troubles to a sin–failing to have compassion for their brother Yosef. It is our good deeds and sins that “drive” Hashem’s Will.
Likewise, R’ Levenstein continued, when Yosef’s brothers found their money bags in their pouches, their immediate reaction was (42:28), “What is this that Elokim has done to us?” And, when the Egyptian told them, “Fear not! Your Elokim and the Elokim of your father has put a hidden treasure in your sacks,” they were immediately assuaged. No better explanation could be hoped for than: Such is the Will of G-d!
R’ Levenstein added: The Chashmona’im also attributed everything to Hashem, and that is what gave them the courage to go to war. They understood that it made no difference that they were outnumbered by the Greeks; numbers and odds do not matter to Hashem. And, that is why the Chashmona’im succeeded.
In short, R’ Levenstein concluded, just as it makes no sense to blame one’s injuries on a stick that is used to hit him, so it makes no sense to blame those injuries on the person wielding the stick,. Only the Creator determines our fates! (Mi’mizrach Ha’shemesh)
The Gemara (Shabbat 21b) teaches: Wicks and oils which may not be used for Shabbat candles may be used for Chanukah candles–even for the Shabbat of Chanukah. The Gemara explains that the light of the Shabbat candles is intended to be enjoyed; therefore, one may use only materials that produce good quality light. If one uses inferior wicks and oils, he may adjust them on Shabbat in the hopes of getting better light. But, adjusting a burning candle transgresses Shabbat. In contrast, one is not permitted to make use of the light of the Chanukah candles; thus, there is no fear that one may adjust the wicks or oil to improve the light’s quality.
R’ Menachem Nochum Twersky z”l (1730-1787; Chernobyler Maggid and Chassidic Rebbe) explains the Gemara homiletically:
Shabbat is a special gift that Hashem gave us in order to draw us closer to Him. However, Shabbat is so lofty that it is difficult for some people to rise to it.
On Chanukah, in contrast, Hashem lowers Himself to us, so-to-speak. Thus, the ideal height at which to light the Menorah is quite low–below 10 Tefachim, approximately 40 inches, off of the ground. Oil, with which we light the Menorah, is frequently used as a metaphor for wisdom–thus, for example, one who wishes to become wiser is advised to face slightly southward when praying, as the Menorah was in the southern half of the Bet Hamikdash. The message, writes the Chernobyler Maggid, is that, on Chanukah, Hashem comes “down” to us to make us wiser and help us come closer to Him.
Man, continues the Chernobyler Maggid, is like a wick, waiting to be “lit” (enlightened) by wisdom, so the he can shine brightly. The Gemara is teaching: Even those individuals who are not yet ready to be set aflame by Shabbat can be enlightened by Chanukah. (Me’or Enayim)