These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Tapes on the weekly portion: #1099 – Havdalah or Ner Chanukah – Which Comes First? And Other Issues. Good Shabbos!
Why Do We Need a Word Count at the End of Parshas Miketz?
The number of pesukim in each weekly parsha is recorded at the end of virtually every parsha. The end of Miketz, as is typical, contains the notation that the parsha contains 146 pesukim. However, it is very atypical that following this notation there is a further notation that the parsha contains 2,025 words. This is the only parsha that contains a word count as well as a pasuk count. What is the significance of this?
I heard a beautiful interpretation in the name of the Vilna Gaon. The pasuk says in Parshas Miketz, “And he (Pharaoh) had him (Yosef) ride in his second chariot, and they proclaimed before him, ‘Avrech!’ And he appointed him over all the land of Egypt.” [Bereshis 41:43]. There is a dispute in the Sifrei as to the meaning of the term ‘Avrech’. One opinion says it is a condensation of two words: Av (father) in wisdom and Rach (soft; tender) in years. Yosef was all of 30 years old. He was running Egypt. He was very wise while still being a young man. That is why young Kollel students in Eretz Yisrael today are given the title Avreichim. It means the same thing – they are young in years but wise beyond their age. The other opinion in Sifrei is that Avrech comes from the root word berech meaning ‘knee’. Whenever Yosef would appear, his assistants would announce to everyone ‘Avrech’ – bend down (as a show of honor to the ruler).
The Gaon explains that a derivative of this dispute in terms of the meaning of ‘Avrech’ is whether the term is a single word (as would be the case if it comes from berech) or two words (a combination of Av and Rach). The Gaon says that the notation at the end of the parsha tells us that there are 2025 words in the parsha, which only works out if one counts AvRech as two words, indicating that we rule in accordance with the opinion that AvRech is a term connoting the two aspects of ‘Av’ (maturity in wisdom) and ‘Rach’ (youthfulness).
Things Are Not Always as They Appear
One of the very perplexing things in this parsha is the fact that Yosef appears to be taking revenge against his brothers. He is playing games with them. He torments them. He knows who they are and puts them through a long charade, accusing them of being spies and accusing Binyomin of being a thief. It goes back and forth like that. What is Yosef doing? We are speaking about ‘Yosef haTzaddik‘ (the ‘Righteous one.’)
The Ramban asks a question that bothers everyone. Yosef was now second in command in Egypt. He certainly could have sent some kind of message to his father and told him, ‘I am alive. Come down and see me.’ Even if he has a grudge against his brothers and wants to torment and torture them, but why was he apparently so callous regarding the emotions of his father? Why didn’t he send Yaakov Avinu a message that he was alive and well?
The Ramban provides a whole approach to answer this question. He says the reason Yosef did not do this is because he was trying to bring his dreams to fruition. Yosef had two dreams. First, he dreamt that the eleven brothers would bow down to him. Then he had a second dream that his father would also bow down to him. The Ramban writes that Yosef had to see the fulfillment of those dreams. Therefore, when the ten brothers came down and bowed down to him, the first dream remained unfulfilled. For that reason, he demanded that all eleven brothers come down. When the brothers came down with Binyamin and bowed before him, the first dream was now fulfilled in totality. However, the second dream was not yet fulfilled. That is why he hatched this plan. It was not that he intended to seek revenge or torture the brothers, but the dreams had to be fulfilled!
Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky, in his sefer Emes L’Yaakov, writes the words, “and I am like dust under the soles of his feet” (in comparison to the Ramban, one of the great early commentaries) “but”, he goes on, “I do not understand what the Ramban is saying.” He asks: What kind of mitzvah is it to see that a person’s dreams become fulfilled? That is no justification to put his brothers and father through the wringer, to play this cat and mouse game with them, just to ensure that his personal dreams from decades ago come to fruition!
Rav Yaakov goes on to give his own explanation for Yosef’s behavior. His explanation is that Yosef had to teach the brothers a lesson. The lesson, succinctly stated, is that things are not always as they appear, and that it is possible to jump to wrong conclusions. This is exactly what the brothers did. They falsely suspected their innocent sibling (choshed b’Ksherim). That is what Yosef was trying to accomplish here. The brothers knew that they were not spies. They knew Yosef was a smart fellow. How could he make such a gross error and accuse them of being spies?
They did not learn the lesson the first time. Rav Yaakov points out that when they found the goblet in the sack of Binyomin, they accused him and said (Rashi brings this surprising Medrash) “You are a thief, the son of a thief (referring to the fact that his mother Rachel stole the ‘Terafim’ from her father Lavan).” This was despite the fact that they were accusing Binyomin—whom they knew to be a Tzadik (righteous individual).
There are some people that we all trust implicitly, such that come what may we know that they would never do such a thing. “Ay” – the ‘evidence’? There must be an explanation! But they did not do that. In spite of the fact that Binyomin was a Tzadik, they said “You’re a Ganav (thief)!” Despite the fact that they knew Yosef was a Tzadik, they said “You’re a Rodef (have intent to murder)!”
“I am going to show you” says Yosef, “that if people jump to conclusions—they look merely at the ‘evidence’—they can make serious mistakes.” That is why he had to put them through these trials and tribulations—so that they would finally see what they did wrong.
When Yosef says the words “I am Yosef—is my father still alive?” they were not able to respond to him “for they feared his presence.” The Midrash says that this was musar (rebuke, reprimand or chastisement) to them, for which they had no response. What was the musar? “We were wrong.” That is the biggest musar! It is the hardest fact to face. They now realized that for twenty years they were making a mistake, they were living a lie. There is no greater musar than this.
That is the lesson he wanted to teach them: Things are not always as they appear.
I heard an incident from Rabbi Isaac Bernstein, who links this Biblical event with a beautiful story involving the Ponnevizer Rav (Rav Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman 1888-1969) and Reb Aryeh Levin (1885-1969). The Ponnevizer Rav called a meeting with all the great men of Eretz Yisrael over the dire financial straits of the Yeshivos in the Holy Land. Reb Aryeh Levin was in attendance at this meeting. In the middle of the meeting, before they came to any type of conclusion, Reb Aryeh Levin excused himself. He said, “I have an important errand that I have to take care of. I need to leave.” And he left in the middle of the meeting. Once Reb Aryeh left, the whole meeting dissipated. It fell apart because they were not going to come to any conclusion without him. There was no point in having further discussion about any major decisions, because no one wanted to undertake a major initiative without Reb Aryeh’s concurrence.
After the meeting broke up, the Ponnevizer Rav starts walking to wherever he had to go. He passed by a florist shop, and who should he see there in the florist shop? It is none other than Reb Aryeh Levin. Rav Kahaneman went into the florist shop and said to Reb Aryeh, “Excuse me, but this was the important errand that you had to take care of that caused you to break up our meeting? Just so you could buy someone flowers!?”
Reb Aryeh responded that he was not in the store to buy flowers. He was there instead to buy a potted plant. Okay. So???
Reb Aryeh told him that he had a friend who was deathly ill who was in a sanatorium. (According to another version of the story the person had leprosy.) He had a disease that was deemed in those days to be so contagious that anything the person owned or brought with him into this facility had to be burned after the person died—his clothes, his bed sheets, his possessions, everything had to be burned. This man was now near death. It bothered the friend that they were going to burn his Tefillin.
Reb Aryeh Levin went to the florist and bought a potted plant. He was going to dig out the dirt that came with the plant and put the Tefillin under the plant in the dirt, since the hospital staff was of the opinion that a living organism was not affected by this illness—so he would be able to remove the plant (under which the Tefillin were buried) from the facility. He would thus be able to make the deathly ill person feel at ease that his Tefillin would not be burnt, because they would be removed along with the plant by Reb Aryeh after the person died. This Jew would be able to go to his grave knowing “My Tefillin were not destroyed!”
The Ponnivizher Rav apologized to Reb Aryeh and begged his forgiveness for being “Choshed b’Ksherim” (suspecting him unjustly).
A person can appear to be as guilty as anything. The stolen goblet can be in his sack of wheat. Someone can excuse himself from an important meeting to go to a florist, but things are not always as they appear. That is why Yosef felt he had to put his brothers through such an ordeal—to teach them that lesson.
Chanukah Is Not Just “Them Against Us”
Many people ask the following question: Chanukah is an eight-day holiday. There are dozens and dozens of laws in Hilchos Chanukah in Shulchan Aruch. The holiday is packed with halachik detail. And yet in the entire Talmud there are barely two and a half folio (blatt or two-sided pages, primarily in Tractate Shabbos) which mention the holiday of Chanukah and its laws. Other than as very peripheral references, it is not mentioned in the Mishna. There is no Mishna and no Masechta (Tractate of Talmud) that deals specifically with Chanukah.
Purim—also a Rabbinic holiday—is all of one day, and it gets its own Masechta (Megilla) but Chanukah, which is eight days, gets just two and a half blatt as incidental mention in a Mesechta dealing with another topic. Why is Chanukah not mentioned in the Mishna?
The Chasam Sofer says something that you need to be the Chasam Sofer to say. He writes that Rabbi Yehuda HaNassi, who was the editor of the Mishna was a descendant of the Davidic Dynasty. The Chashmonean heroes of the Chanukah story, despite the fact that they were righteous individuals, did something that was forbidden. They took the position of Melech (King). Kohanim are not allowed to be Melachim. Yaakov’s blessing to Yehudah was “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet…” [Bereshis 49:10]. The Chashmonaim, who were descendants of the Tribe of Levi, were in violation of this law when they usurped the monarchy for their own family. Consequently, Rabbeinu HaKodosh, the editor of the Mishna, did not want to give Chanukah the same prominence as Purim, because of this spiritual error that the Chashmonaim made.
I heard a different explanation as to why Chanukah is not mentioned in the Mishna, in the name of Rav Yoshe Ber Soloveitchik (1903-1993). The Gemara [Moed Katan 26a] says that if someone sees a Sefer Torah being burnt, he needs to tear Kriyah (rip his clothing in a sign of mourning) twice—once for the parchment and once for the writing. The Gemara cites a pasuk [Yirmiyahu 36:27] to prove this point.
Rav Soloveitchik asks that the Gemara in Avodah Zarah [18a] seems to say the opposite. The Gemara in Avodah Zarah mentions that the Romans took out Rav Chanina ben Tradyon and burned him at the stake. They wrapped him in a Sefer Torah and lit it. As the fire was burning, Rav Chanina’s students asked him, “Rebbi, what do you see?” He responded, “I see the parchment is burning but the letters are flying away.”
Rav Soloveitchik raised the apparent contradiction: From Moed Katan 26a it appears that the letters burn, and a person needs to tear Kriyah over them; yet from Avodah Zarah 18a it appears that the letters fly away unharmed. Rav Soloveitchik resolves the contradiction by explaining that there is a difference between the case where the letters are burnt by a Jew and where they are burnt by others.
The Gemara in Maseches Moed Katan, which rules that one must tear Kriyah twice—once for the parchment and once for the letters – is speaking of a case when Yehoyakim son of Yoshiyahu burned a Sefer Torah [Yirmiyahu 36:27]. The Torah was given to the Jewish nation, and along with the positive comes a negative: a Jew can defile a Sefer Torah. A Jew can destroy even the Kedusha (sanctity) of a Sefer Torah because, since it was given to us, a Jew has a relationship to its Kedusha. He can defile it or even destroy it. The Gemara in Avodah Zarah with Chanina ben Tradyon, however, is speaking of a case where the Romans burned a Sefer Torah. Romans do not have the ability to tamper with the Kedusha of a Sefer Torah. The Letters of the Torah escape their defilement.
Rav Soloveitchik explains that this was the difference between Rome and Greece. The dominant theme of Rome – of Tisha B’Av and of the Destruction of the Temple – is Churban (destruction). The dominant theme of Chanuka is Tumah (defilement). The distinction is the same. Others can destroy but cannot defile the Torah. They cannot burn or affect the Kedusha of the Torah. Ay, Yavan (the Greeks)? The answer, says Rav Yoshe Ber, is that with Yavan, something else happened. Chanukah is not merely about Yavan (the Greeks) but it is about the MisYavnim (the Jews who adapted and wanted to become like the Greeks). The MisYavnim became Greek-Jews or Jewish-Greeks. Therefore, they, because they were Jewish, they had the power to defile (be m’Tameh) the Torah itself.
In the time of Churban HaBayis (Destruction of the Temple), Rabbi Chanina ben Tradyon saw the “letters flying” away because the Romans had no relationship to the Kedusha of the Torah. However, by Yavan, there were also Jews (who have a connection to Kedusha of the Torah) involved, and they have the power to even defile the letters.
Therefore, Rav Soloveitchik says, Chanukah is not given the prominence in the Mishna and Talmud that other Jewish holidays are given, because it is a shame for us. This was not a simple matter of “Them against Us.” This was a matter of “Us against Us.” It was a culture war. It was a fight amongst the Jews themselves. Therefore, to go ahead and give it the prominence that a Haman gets for trying to destroy the Jews (from which they emerged victorious) is inappropriate. The story of Haman and his attempt to wipe out the Jews—that gets more prominence. Chanukah, on the other hand, which speaks of a sordid incident in the history of Klal Yisrael, does not receive the same prominence that other Yomim Tovim receive. Better to keep the details of the story out of the Oral Law.
A Happy Chanukah to everyone!
Transcribed by David Twersky; Jerusalem [email protected]
Technical Assistance by Dovid Hoffman; Baltimore, MD [email protected]
This week’s write-up is adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissochar Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Series on the weekly Torah portion. A listing of the halachic portions for Parshas Miketz is provided below:
- # 035 – Chanukah Issues
- # 077 – Prohibitions During Times of Crises
- # 126 – Dreams in Halacha and Hashkafa
- # 173 – Dreams in Halacha II
- # 219 – Chanukah Issues II
- # 263 – Women and Chanukah Candle Lighting
- # 309 – “Lo Sechanaim” Giving Gifts to Non-Jews
- # 353 – Chanukah and Hidur Mitzvah
- # 397 – Lighting Neiros in Shul; Other Chanukah Issues
- # 441 – Taanis Chalom
- # 485 – Miracle Products and Other Chanukah Issues
- # 529 – Ner Chanukah: Where, When, and Other Issues
- # 573 – The Silver Menorah and Other Chanukah Issues
- # 617 – The Bad Dream
- # 661 – Davening for the Welfare of the Government
- # 705 – Chanukah Candles, Hotels and Chashunas
- # 749 – Solomonic Wisdom
- # 793 – Oops! 3 Candles on the 2nd Night
- # 837 – Hairbrushes on Shabbos – Permitted or Not Permitted
- # 881 – The T’reifa Chicken Scandal
- # 925 – Kavod Malchus – How Far Can You Go?
- # 968 – The Minyan: Must Everyone Be In The Same Room?
- #1012 – Preparing for Shabbos – Thursday or Friday? And other Issues
- #1056 – Oops! I Made A Bracha On The Shammash
- #1099 – Havdalah or Ner Chanukah – Which Comes First? And Other Issues
- #1142 – Must I Give Up My Hiddur Mitzvah For Your Kiyum Mitzvah?
- #1273 – Chanukah Lights Motzei Shabbos: How Early? Havdala Before or After Chanukah Lights?
- #1317 – Oops! I Bentched Shabbos Candles But I Forgot To Bentch Chanukah Licht. Now What?
- #1361 – Can Women Make Latkes While The Chanukah Candles Are Still Burning and other issues
- #(2018) – Can You Light Chanukah Candels In Your Car and other Chanukah issues
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