These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Series on the weekly portion: #1184 – Holding the Kiddush Cup – Exactly How? Always? Good Shabbos and a Freileche Chanukah!
Detecting the Wink of the Ribono Shel Olam
In Parshas VaYeshev, the Torah teaches “Then they took him, and cast him into the pit; and the pit was empty, no water was in it. They sat down to eat food; they raised their eyes and they saw, behold! – a caravan of Ishmaelites was coming from Gilead, and their camels were bearing spices, and balsam, and birthwort – on their way to bring them down to Egypt. Yehudah said to his brothers, ‘What gain will there be if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites – but let our hand not be upon him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.’ And his brothers listened.” [Bereshis 37:24-27]
Chazal say that no slave ever escaped Egypt. Yehudah’s plan, therefore, seemed very reasonable to the brothers. Rather than cause Yosef’s death, they could merely eliminate him as a problem by selling him to the Arab traders who were heading down to Egypt.
Rashi raises the question – why was it important in this narration for the Torah to specify the load that the Arabs were carrying in their caravans (“spices, balsam, and birthwort” – all possessing a pleasant aroma)? Rashi answers that this shows the reward that comes to the righteous. Normally, he says, the Arabs would transport foul smelling petroleum and resin, but this time it happened that spices were the cargo, so that Yosef should not be harmed by a foul odor. (It is interesting to note – some things never change – even today the Arabs still sell oil!)
The question is, at this stage of the situation, does it really make a difference to Yosef whether the merchants were carrying sweet smelling spices or whether they were hauling pigs? Look what he has gone through! His brothers kidnapped him, they accused him, they tried and convicted him and then they threw him into a snake pit. In the end, they sell him into slavery. He is headed down to Egypt with little hope of returning home and seeing his father ever again. What kind of “reward” is this that the Ribono shel Olam is giving him that he should have spices to smell rather than oil while he is being transported as a prisoner far away from home? Would he even take notice at such a moment? Is this how the Almighty is “nice” to him? This seems irrelevant at this point. It seems meaningless! What does Rashi mean here?
I saw in a sefer called Nachal Eliyahu an answer in the name of Rav Mordechai Pogramansky, who was known as the “ilui of Telshe”. He suggested the following approach – and the underlying idea is certainly a correct concept:
There are two types of ways the Ribono shel Olam can punish a person. One way is that He can say “I have had it with you. You are on your own. Whatever happens to you, happens. I abandon my Divine Providence over your fate and leave you to the vagaries of statistics and ‘teva‘ (natural happenstance).”
Another type of punishment is when the Ribono shel Olam himself is meting out the punishment. He is the one giving the “Patch“. It is much more reassuring when the person realizes that even though I am being punished, I know it is the Ribono shel Olam punishing me and I know that He is still thinking about me and He still cares about me. He feels that I need to go through the suffering I am now experiencing, for whatever reason it must be, but I am not just a statistic. I am very much in His Consciousness.
This is a fundamental idea (yesod) which we have mentioned on various occasions. We have cited a very famous observation of Rav Yonoson Eybeschutz [1690-1764] in his Yearos Devash. The Gemara [Brochos 7b] brings a famous drasha on the pasuk “A Psalm of David when he fled from Avshalom his son” [Tehillim 3:1]. This is one of the most tragic scenes in all of Tanach. Avshalom rebels against his own father – Dovid Melech Yisrael! Dovid must flee the capital from his own son Avshalom. When that happened, the pasuk says “A Mizmor (song of praise) to Dovid, when he fled from Avshalom his son.” The Gemara asks: Is this a Mizmor? It should rather be an elegy (Kinah l’Dovid), a dirge!
The Gemara explains: Dovid was anxious about a major debt of his which had yet to be paid. The prophet told him he was going to be punished: “Thus sayeth Hashem: Behold I will raise against you evil from the midst of your own household…” [Shmuel II 12:11]. Dovid HaMelech did something wrong and he knew he was going to be punished. This was a price that he was going to need to pay. But he was anxious that the enemy from his household who would rise up against him might be an Eved or a Mamzer who would not have mercy upon him. Dovid was thus expecting that the coup against him would come from some kind of servant or army officer who would be ruthless and cruel to him. When he saw it was his own son, then he was happy.
The Yearos Devash explains: It is not natural for a son to rebel against his father, the king, who was so good to him. When Dovid saw that it was his own son who took up arms against him and was usurping the monarchy, he understood that the “Patch” was coming directly from the Ribono shel Olam. A “Patch” from the Ribono shel Olam means that He is still in charge, He still cares about me, He is still involved with me. That itself is a major consolation.
We once said that this is also the key to understanding a famous phrase from Perek 23 Pasuk 4 of Tehillim: “Your rod and your cane will comfort me.” A cane, we understand, is an aid – it is a comfort and it helps. But a rod in Tanach is a tool for administering punishment. How could that be a comfort? It is the same idea. Sometimes a “Klop” from the Ribono shel Olam is comforting. A person realizes that he still has a connection with Hashem.
We see this in life. Sometimes it is amazing to hear, but people go through terrible tzores and yet they still feel a connection to the Ribono shel Olam. They feel that the Ribono shel Olam is punishing them for whatever reason, but He still is in charge and He still cares for them.
That is the meaning here as well. For Yosef to be taken down to Mitzrayim by a bunch of Yishmaelim, who 99 out of 100 times carry smelly petroleum, and against all odds he finds himself riding in a caravan with sweet smelling spices – this was a source of comfort. “G-d still loves me.” It is like a Potch with a wink and a smile. By smelling the sweet aroma, Yosef saw the Wink of the Ribono shel Olam. He saw His smile. This is not normal.
The Gemara [Nedarim 50] says that Rabbi Akiva and his wife, Rochel, were extremely poor. Rabbi Akiva’s wife was the daughter of an extremely wealthy individual who cut her off from his fortune because he was upset that she was marrying an ignorant shepherd. The couple was destitute. They did not have a bed. They slept on straw. Every morning, he needed to pick the straw out of his hair. One night, Eliyahu HaNavi came in the form of a poor person. He told Rabbi Akiva and Rochel that his wife was in labor and they did not have straw. He asked for some straw. Rabbi Akiva and Rochel gave their straw for this ‘woman in labor’ so that she should at least have a more comfortable bed on which to give birth. Rabbi Akiva turned to his wife and said, “You see, there are people who are poorer than us – they do not even have straw.”
The question needs to be asked: If Eliyahu HaNavi is coming to visit, why does he need to come as a pauper asking for straw? Why doesn’t he come as a millionaire and say, “This is terrible that you need to sleep on straw. Here is a bag of gold that will solve your problem!”
The answer is that for whatever reason, the Ribono shel Olam wanted Rabbi Akiva to grow in Torah out of a state of poverty. He was the key link in the chain of Torah transmission through the ages. After all his original disciples died out between Pesach and Shavuos, he took five additional students who eventually became the foundational transmitters of the entire corpus of Talmudic literature. For whatever reason, it was part of the Divine Plan that Rabbi Akiva should learn m’toch ha’dchak! But He saw that at that moment, perhaps they were depressed about their poverty – how can we live like this? He therefore sent them a message: There are people worse off than you. That gave them the courage to continue. This is the “Potch with the smile; the Potch that comes with a wink.”
This is what the Almighty did for Yosef as well, and this is what Rashi means “The reward of the righteous”. Even when Tzadikim need to suffer, they still feel that the Hand of the Ribono shel Olam is together with them.
Reuven’s Sackcloth and Fasting: Why Now?
The pasuk says, “Reuven returned to the pit – and behold! – Yosef was not in the pit! so he rent his garments.” [Bereshis 36:29]. Rashi asks – where was Reuven when the entire event of picking Yosef out of the pit and selling him to the Arabs was transpiring? He explains that the brothers took turns taking care of their father, and it was Reuven’s turn that day to serve Yaakov. He had gone home to his father, and consequently was not together with the rest of his brothers during that fateful sale.
Rashi then quotes a second interpretation: “He was sitting in sackcloth and fasting, in repentance for the event in Parshas VaYetzei, where he switched the beds in his father’s tent and his father got angry at him.” But make the calculation. How long ago was that? It happened shortly after Rochel died. She died when Yosef was approximately eight years old. Yosef is now seventeen. It happened nine years prior, almost ten years ago! All of a sudden, Reuven decides he needs to do Teshuva because he switched the beds? Why now?
I saw a beautiful interpretation in a sefer called Abir Yosef. We are all subject to negiyus – our biases and agendas. We do not see straight. The brothers hated Yosef. They hated him because they were jealous. Jealousy is the type of thing that can warp a person’s perspective. You do not see straight because you are so obsessed with your jealousy that you cannot see the facts as they are.
Reuven, Chazal say, got cold feet about this whole incident. He said, “My father is going to blame me for this.” This fear put a brake on his jealousy. Once he put a brake on his jealous emotion, he was able to see the facts as they were. He recognized that Yosef was not a Rasha. Yosef was not trying to kill them. Reuven saw how the negiyus of his brothers – their jealousy and their agenda – warped their entire perspective, and they were not seeing things as they should be seen.
All of a sudden, Reuven had an epiphany and he said “You know what? Just like their jealousy affects their perspective and they do not see things right, so too when I protested against my father, that was also out of a sense of jealousy for my mother. I felt it was not right that my father should move his bed into Bilhah’s tent after Rochel died. I felt strongly that he should have moved his bed into the tent of my mother, Leah. But I now realize that my jealousy for my mother colored my perspective. It caused me to act improperly and do things that were not right.
Just at that moment, Reuven realized how much kinah and emotions of jealousy affect a person’s view of reality. “Just like the brothers were dead wrong, maybe I was dead wrong as well.” That brought Reuven to Teshuva – fasting and sackcloth – at that very moment.
Chanukah: Once the Shirah Starts – It Must Keep Going
The Rambam writes [Hilchos Chanukah 4:12]: The mitzvah of Chaunkah is very precious. A person must be particularly careful to publicize the miracle and to add to the praise of the Almighty, and thank Him for the miracles He did for us; even if he has nothing to eat other than from charity funds – he must borrow or sell his clothing to be able to buy oil and wicks and light.
If we pay close attention to these words, we notice a discrepancy. The Rambam begins by saying the goal of the mitzvah is to publicize the miracle (nes), singular. Then he says that we are to add to the praise of the Almighty and thank Him for the miracles (nisim), plural, that He did for us. So, which is it? Is it nes or is it nisim?
I heard a second question on this Rambam from Rav Daniel Lander of Monsey: After lighting Chanukah candles, we say “HaNeiros Halalu” and then we recite “Maoz Tzur.” Maoz Tzur recounts the miracle of the Exodus from Egypt, the redemption from the Babylonian exile, the story of Purim, and the Chanukah story of the struggle with the Greek empire. Basically, it is a brief synopsis of Jewish history: Egypt, Bavel, Purim, and Chanukah.
On Purim we say “Shoshanas Yaakov”. We only mention the story of Purim. What about the rest of the miracles of Jewish history? Why in the Chanukah Pizmon (liturgical poem) do we mention all the major miracles of Jewish history and by Purim, the holiday Pizmon is exclusively about Purim?
Rabbi Lander offered the following answer: The Gemara says [Megilla 14a] that there is a fundamental difference between Chanukah and Purim – namely on Chanukah we recite Hallel and on Purim we do not. There are several explanations why this is the case. Rava, in the Gemara there, explains why unlike the commemoration of the Exodus, where we recite Hallel, in commemorating the Purim deliverance we do not: When we left Egypt, we could indeed say Hallel because we were no longer servants to Pharoah, but even after the “deliverance” of the Purim story, we were still servants of Achashverosh. The “deliverance” of the Chanukah story was more similar to the Exodus: After the successful Maccabean revolt, we were free men, we were in our own country, and we had our own government. We had the Beis HaMikdash. We were not enslaved to anybody! Therefore, on such a Nes, we say Shirah. On Purim, we were very happy that the decree of annihilation was cancelled. That was a terrific miracle. But after all is said and done, we still were in exile, subject to foreign domination by a Gentile king!
Shirah is an expression of the heart. When you say Shirah, you sing! You express your deepest emotions, your feelings of gratitude to the Almighty for all He has done for you. When people engage in Shirah they do not stop with a single expression of thanks. They give thanks for everything! Therefore, on Chanukah, which justifies Hallel, which is Shirah, once we begin singing His praises, we must express thanks for all the tova He has done for us throughout the ages! Purim has various mitzvos commemorating the event, but they are localized to the exact event that happened “in those days at this time of year.” An obligation to say Shirah does not exist “for we are still slaves of Achashverosh.”
So this is what the Rambam means: A person needs to be particularly careful to publicize the miracle (i.e. – of Chanukah) and to add to the praise of the Almighty and thank Him for the miracles that He did for us (i.e. – during the rest of Jewish history as well).”
A Freileche Chanukah!
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 Vayeshev is provided below:
- # 034 – Chanukah Licht on Erev Shabbos
- # 076 – Katlanis: The Twice Widowed Woman
- # 125 – Ha’Malbim P’nei Chaveiro: Shaming Another
- # 172 – The Complex Issue of Child Custody
- # 218 – Grape Juice and Yayin Mevushal
- # 262 – Yichud and the Open Door Policy
- # 308 – Secular Studies
- # 352 – “Chamar Medina” — Used for Kiddush?
- # 396 – Artificial Insemination Before Chemotherapy
- # 440 – Third Night of Chanukah but Only Two Candles
- # 484 – The Ubiquitous Donor Plaque
- # 528 – Sending Someone on a Fatal Mission
- # 572 – Determining Paternity
- # 616 – Chanukah – Women Lighting for Husbands
- # 660 – Birthdays – A Jewish Minhag?
- # 704 – Sparing Someones Humiliation
- # 748 – The Menorah – Inside The House or Outside?
- # 792 – Observing Shiva for Grandparents?
- # 836 – Katlanis: A Third Marriage
- # 880 – Lying For The Sake Of The Truth
- # 924 – Bitachon Vs Hishtadlus
- # 967 – Can Older Brother Object to the Younger Brother’s Engagement?
- #1011 – Davening with a Minyan on Chanukah vs Lighting On Time
- #1055 – Can You Kill Someone Who Hashem Doesn’t Want To Die?
- #1098 – Doing A Mitzvah in Face of Sakana
- #1141 – Business Partnerships With Non-Jews
- #1184 – Holding the Kiddush Cup – Exactly How? Always?
- #1228 – Saved Miraculously from a Car Accident? Special Bracha?
- #1272 – V’sain Tal U’Matar: Some Fascinating Shailos
- #1316 – Endangering Oneself To Perform The Mitzvah of Kibbud Av
- #1360 – Showing Favoritism Amongst Your Children
- #1404 – Is Grape Juice As Good As Wine For Kiddush And Other Halachos?
- (2019) – MaOz Tzur and Its Traditional Tune – Not as Kosher as You Might Think
A complete catalogue can be ordered from the Yad Yechiel Institute, PO Box 511, Owings Mills MD 21117-0511. Call (410) 358-0416 or e-mail [email protected] or visit http://www.yadyechiel.org/ for further information.