Thursday, January 12, 2017

Yosef's shtar eirusin

When Yosef brings his children to Ya'akov for a blessing, the parsha tells us that Ya'akov asks, "Who are they?"  (48:8)  Rashi explains that Ya'akov saw Yeravam and Achav coming from Ephraim, and he saw Yeihu coming from Menashe, and he did not want to bestow a blessing that would trickle down to such evildoers.  (Parenthetically, we see that the potential for bracha to be misused by those who are evil outweighs all the good that might come from the tzadikim in Ephraim and Menashe's offspring who could use the bracha properly.) 

Yosef responds to his father, "They are my children..."  Rashi explains that Yosef showed his father the shtar eirusin and kesubah, his marriage contract.

What kind of answer is that?  Ya'akov is bothered by the fact that his great...great grandchildren will be resha'im, so Yosef shows him a marriage contract? 

The Kozhiglover points out that although Chazal tell us (Sanhedrin 90) that Yeravam and Achav have no portion in the world to come, the "Dorshei Reshumos" disagree.  The Kozhiglover (and R' Tzadok haKohen as well) explains that the "Dorshei Reshumos" were able to detect a "roshem," some mark and spark of goodness and yahadus, where all others just saw evil.  There is always something left, some faint remnant -- a Jew is never lost.

Where does that inextinguishable spark come from?  We say every morning when we put on tefillin, "V'eirastich li l'olam..."  Hashem has betrothed us forever.  Hashem is eternal, and so the bond he has with us is eternal. 

This, says the Koshiglover, is the shtar eirusin that Yosef showed his father -- the shtar of "v'eirastich li l'olam."  The keubah he showed his father is the Torah that we got "b'yom chasumaso," as the Mishna (end of Ta'anis) calls ma'amad Har Sinai.  Yosef was from the school of the Doreshei Reshumos, who held that despite the great evil of Yeravam and Achav, there still remains a core of eternal goodness within.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

how can Ramban argue on Chazal - what is the "true" meaning of the text?

I wanted to write a fuller post about this issue, but haven't had time, so I figure better a chatzi shiur than nothing at all.

The Ramban at the end of VaYigash (47:18) tries to reconcile Joseph's interpretation of Pharoah's dream, which called for 7 years of famine, with the events at the end of the parsha, which seem to indicate that the famine ended after only two years (as is Rashi's position quoting Chazal).  If the famine indeed ended, wouldn't that call into question Yosef's prediction and advice?  Ramban offers three possible solutions:

1) The famine ended completely in Egypt, bas Chazal teach, but it continued in Canaan and the surrounding areas;

2) The view of the Tosefta: the famine temporarily ended in Egypt after 2 years until the death of Ya'akov, after which it resumed for another 5 years;

3) Ramban's interpretation al pi peshuto: the famine ran for seven consecutive years as Yosef had predicted, and the events in the parsha are speaking about the final two years of famine.

R' Friedlander in Sifsei Chaim (Pirkei Emunah u'Bechira vol 2 . 261) asks the following question: the famine lasted either 2 years or 7 tears -- it couldn't have been both.  The two views are mutually exclusive.  Ramban and Chazal are arguing on a matter of metzi'us, a matter of historical fact.  If Chazal, as Rashi quotes, and as the Tosefta teaches, tell us that the historical fact is that the famine lasted only 2 years, how can the Ramban contradict Chazal and tell us that it lasted 7 years?   

In other words, when the pshat and the derash contradict as to what happened -- matters of fact -- either one or the other is true.  How  can we disregard what Chazal teach us is the TRUTH in favor of some other interpretation?   If Torah she'ba'al peh gives us the facts, what license do we have to argue?

I'm surprised that R' Friedlander makes no mention of the fact that his rebbe, Rav Dessler, addresses this very same question in a letter printed in Michtav M'Eliyahu vol 4 letter 31 (post on it here). 

Be that as it may, his answer in a nutshell is that we have to distinguish between the way the Torah expresses itself, what I would call the signon, and the true meaning of what is being said.  The TRUE meaning is of course what Chazal tell us the text means.  However,  the Torah deliberately expresses itself in a way that suggests other meanings because those other meanings have value for us as well.  For example, when we are told to put tefillin "bein einecha," the TRUE meaning of those words is not between your eyes, as that is not the proper place for tefillin.  But we need to appreciate that the pshat does mean between your eyes because that also teaches us a lesson -- the ideas contained in tefillin should be before our eyes, i.e. in our minds, always.

Two points: 1) It works well for the tefillin example, but I don't see how this approach resolves the Ramban; 2) More importantly, I hesitate to say it, but I don't really think the  pashtanim understood things this way.  My impression (e.g. see hakdamah to Ohr haChaim) is that the pashtanim understood that they did have license to argue with Chazal as to what the meaning of the text is.  They understood that Chazal are suggesting a possible meaning to the text, but not THE meaning, at least as it applies outside the realm of halacha. 

Developing this idea would take a lot longer to do than I have time for now, so that's it for the chatzi shiur.  A mareh makom to the idea to think about.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

rejoicing in the midas hadin

The Torah tells us that one his way down to Mitzrayim, Yakaov stopped to offer korbanos "Elokei aviv Yitzhak," the G-d of his father Yitzchak (46:1).  Why did he single out Yitzchak?  Why not "Elokei avosav," or "Elokei Avraham v'Yitzchak?"  (see Rashi)

Yitchak represents the midas ha'din.  Ya'akov had suffered for so many years and through so many sorrows, the culmination of which was the loss of Yosef.  He was certainly familiar with din and mishpat.  Suddenly he discovers that Yosef is alive, that he is a leader in Egypt, that the family will be safe.  What he had seen as punishment had in fact been rachamei Shamayim.  Suddenly, he has a completely different perspective on what din is all about, and so he turns, "l'Elokei Yitzchak," to offer korbanos in appreciation for that midas ha'din, which was really rachamim in disguise.  

The Navi tells us "Tzom he're'vi'i v'tzom ha'chamishi..." will become days of "sason v'simcha," days of rejoicing.  Chasam Sofer (Toras Moshe, end of Vayigash, d"h "v'yiten") explains that it doesn't mean that Hashem will take away the fast days and we will forget all about them and that's why we will be happy.  It means that the fast itself will bring us rejoicing.  So long as we fast and pray, so long as Hashem inspires us to fast and pray, it means we have a connection to Him.  That connection itself is a sign of rachamei Shamayim, that we are not forsaken even amidst the galus.  Like Ya'akov Avinu, we will one day look back and give thanks and celebrate even the midas ha'din.


Thursday, January 05, 2017

the unspoken argument

1. The Midrash writes that Ya'akov should have been brought down to Egypt in chains, but Hashem didn't want to do that to him; therefore he caused Yosef to be brought to Egypt in advance and Yaakov then went willingly, to meet his long lost son.

What did Ya'akov do to deserve to be brought in chains?  Why did he deserve that punishment?

Like we saw last week, sometimes what looks like a bug is really a feature.  Sefas Emes explains that the holiness of Ya'akov was so great that it could not be contained or be placed in a spot like Egypt.  It would be like trying to connect the wiring in your house directly to the power station -- you would blow up the entire house.  You need transformers to reduce the power step by step along the way so that it can be contained.  This is the chains that the Midrash is referring to -- "transformers" that would modulate the holiness of Ya'akov step by step.  But that's not how it happened.  Thanks to Yosef being there, Ya'akov was able to come into Egypt in one step.  The kedusha of Ya'akov was able to be preserved in full force even in the darkness of galus. 

2. Yehudah's plea for mercy for Binyamin culminates with his telling Yosef, "How can I possibly return without the lad [Binyamin] and have to witness the pain of my father?"  (44:34)  Similarly, earlier in his speech, Yehudah says that "nafsho keshurah b'nafsho," his father's soul was bound up with Binyamin's; Ya'akov was liable to die should he lose Binyamin.  It is Ya'akov's pain which is the focal point of Yehudah's entreaties. 

Two weeks ago I quoted from Chazal that Yehudah was punished for putting his olam ha'ba on the line should he fail to bring Binyamin home.  Even saying such a thing with conditions attached is deadly serious!  It was only Moshe Rabeinu's tefilos on Yehudah's behalf that undid the decree.  So why does Yehudah barely mention this in his plea?  Why does he bring it up only in passing, as a justification why he more than any other brother was doing the talking (Rashi 44:32)?  You would think the potential loss of his own olam ha'ba would be of central concern to Yehudah.

Had you asked me I would have said that maybe Yehudah, thinking he was addressing an Egyptian viceroy, might have figured that the loss of olam ha'ba would not have made much of an impression on an Egyptian.  The truth though is that Egyptian culture was very much concerned with the fate of souls after death.  They may not have known what olam ha'ba is, but the concept would not have been completely foreign.

The Sefas Emes (5640) answers that this missing argument of Yehudah's -- what he failed to say more than what he did say -- is what caused Yosef to reveal himself.  Years ago these same shevatim had seen Yosef as a threat to themselves, and they acted to preserve their own standing at the expense of their father's pain.  Now, Yehudah was concerned only for his father's pain, ignoring his personal concerns.  If Yehudah could put aside his personal plight and focus only on the needs of his father, was it too much to ask the Viceroy to do the same and put aside his own claims to Binyamin for the sake of another's welfare?  These are shevatim who have been cured of their past sin.

ha'od *avi* chai - is MY father still alive?

When Yosef revealed himself, "Ani Yosef -- ha'od avi chai?" the shevatim were too stunned to answer.  Chazal see this as a model of how we will react when G-d reproves us on the day of judgment.  If the great shevatim could not answer the reproof of their brother, surely we will be struck dumb when G-d reveals the truth of what we should have done with life to us. 

Chazal refer to Yosef's words as reproof, rebuke, but the meforshim struggle to see how that description fits.  Yosef didn't give his brother's a musar shmooz and tear into them.  To the contrary, he just revealed who his is as a statement of fact.  R' Chaim Shmuelevitz in the Sichos Musar suggests that this is what real reproof consists us -- a revelation of truth that undermines all false assumptions.  Imagine a scientist who constructs an elaborate theory as to how and when species X went extinct.  You can argue from today till tomorrow whether the theory is right, but if someone walks into with a living specimen of species X, all bets are off.  That's tochacha.  The brothers theorized that Yosef would amount to no good.  "Ani Yosef" -- I am Yosef the tzadik, even though I have been in Egypt.  You declared my Torah extinct and my religiosity extinct, but here I am. 

The Netziv points out that Yosef asks, "Ha'od *avi* chai?"  -- Is *my* father still alive.  Yosef was telling the brothers that although Ya'akov was the father of the entire family, he had a unique relationship with each one of his children.  To think that getting rid of even one brother would make no difference -- after all, there were 11 others -- missed that point.  How could *my* father continue to live absent that special relationship all these years?

Rav Charlap (the son of Rav Y"M Charlap)  says an amazing pshat in this pasuk.  He suggests that it is not speaking about Ya'akov at all.  We know that when the brothers came to Egypt, they did not recognize Yosef, but he was able to recognized them.  This was by Divine design in order so that Yosef would be able to bring about the fulfillment of his dreams.  Yosef, however, did not know that.  He wondered the entire time how it was possible that his brothers could be around him and fail to recognize him.  After all, Rashi tells us (37:2) that he resembled their father Ya'akov Avinu!  Yosef wondered to himself whether he had lost his yiddishe panim, the dmus d'yukno, the spiritual resemblance to his father.  Perhaps he had been influenced too greatly by Egyptian society.   When he now reveals himself, he asks his brothers, "Ha'od avi chai," is the semblance to my father that I left home with still alive within me?  Do I still look like one of the shivtei K-h, like Ya'akov Avinu? 

At this point there was no longer a need for Divine intervention to keep up the charade, and so the mask was off.  The brothers now saw in the face of Yosef that this was indeed their brother, that he still retained the resemblance, spiritually as well as physically, so their father.  They could not answer, "ki nivhalu mi'panav," because they were astounded at his face, the face they now recognized. 

Sunday, January 01, 2017

zos chanukah

"V'Choshech al pnei tehom" -- We all learned in history books about the Dark Ages between 500-1000, but Midrash darshens that there was a different dark ages.  "Choshech," explains the Midrash, is the time of the Greek empire.  Even though there was culture, philosophy, art, etc. in Greece, it was a time of great spiritual darkness.

We unfortunately have been in a few galiyos -- Bavel, Paras, Edom, and Greece.  Couldn't each galus be rightfully described as a time of spiritual darkness?  Why is the Greek empire in particular singled out?

Sefas Emes answers that in each of the other galiyos we lacked the Beis haMikdash.  It's no big deal to say that galus caused darkness when the greatest source of light in the world was absent.  The tragedy of the Greek oppression is that it happened when we had a Beis haMikdash, the oro shel olam.  To bring darkness to the world when there is that bright light that should be shining -- that's something.  Because we were able to overcome Yavan, we celebrate the Festival of Lights.  Because they tried to extinguish the light, in the end there is more light brought into the world.

I think I once posted the Sefas Emes' question: Moshe went up to Sinai for 40 days to get the Torah, he spent 40 days there davening for Hashem to forgive the cheit ha'eigel.   Why did he need to spend another 40 days there to get the luchos sheniyos and get the Torah a second time?  He knew it all from the first 40 days -- it's the same Torah laws? 

Sefas Emes answers that b'makom she'ba'alei teshuvah omdim afilu tzadikim gedolim einam yecholim la'amod.  After the middle 40 days Bnei Yisrael were on the level of ba'alei teshuvah as they had repented from the cheit ha'eigel.  The Torah of the ba'al teshuvah is a different Torah, a higher Torah.  It took another 40 days to learn that Torah.

Chanukah is the chanukas hamikdash, the rededication of the Temple.  But the Mikdash had not fallen, it had not been dismantled or destroyed.  Why did it need to be rededicated?  

Here too, explains the Sefas Emes, Bnei Yisrael had sinned and become corrupted by Greek ideology.  Chanukah was a time of teshuvah.  Bnei Yisrael rejected that ideology and returned to Torah.  B'makom she'ba'alei teshuvah omdim afilu tzadikim gedolim einam yecholim la'amod.  The Beis HaMikdash post-teshuvah is a different Beis haMikdash, a higher, more exalted Beis haMikdash, than the Beis haMikdash which had always been there from beforehand.  That Mikdash needed to be dedicated.

The Rambam writes that Chanukah marks the restoration of the sovereignty of the Jewish people in Eretz Yisrael, at least temporarily.  We cannot recite hallel on Purim because "akatei avdei Achashveirsh anan," we are still ruled by Achashveirosh, but we do recite full hallel on Chanukah.  Sefas Emes elsewhere writes that the chanukas hamikdash was really a dedication of the mikdash of the future geulah, when we will once again rule Eretz Yisrael independently, have a Mikdash, and be immune from outside influences.  Chanukah is a taste of the future.  

We have a Yom Tov derabbanan, writes Sefas Emes, that corresponds with each one of the Yamim Yovim, the three regalim, of the Torah.  On Shavuos we received the Torah, and so we have a holiday of Purim where "kiymu v'kiblu," we affirm that acceptance.  We have Sukkos where we offer korbanos that correspond to the 70 nations, and on Chanukah, we light counting down according to Beis Shamai, to correspond to those korbanos (there are other links as well).  Pesach is the holiday of redemption, and in the future we will one day have a holiday of redemption as well, a holiday to celebrate our freedom and our return to Eretz Yisrael (check your calendar in a little over four months : ).

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Yosef, 70 languages, shabbos

1. The gemara (Sotah 36) writes that Pharoah's advisors objected to his appointing this unknown slave named Yosef to a position of power.  Pharoah answered that he saw royalty in Yosef.  The advisors responded that if Yosef was indeed royalty, then he should be able to speak in 70 languages just like Pharoah, and he should be put to the test.  The gemara says that Gavriel came and tried to help Yosef cram (better than using rosetta stone), but he wasn't getting it.  Gavriel then added the letter hey to Yosef's name -- "Eidus b'yehosef samo [darshened as shemo=his name] b'tzeiso al Eretz Mitzrayim -- and he was then able to learn the 70 languages.  

If Pharoah was able to master 70 languages, how was it that Yosef, "ish chacham v'navon," not to mention a tzadik, was incapable to doing so?  Was it the time pressure, or the pressure of doing it for the test put forth by the advisors?

Maharal (Gevuros Hashem ch 28) explains that Moshe's speech impediment was not a flaw or a defect.  Speech has to come from the chomer, the body, as well as the nefesh.  Because Moshe was so spiritual, he was disconnected from the world, and was unable to connect to his guf to properly express himself through that medium.

R' Zev Hoberman z"l similarly explains that when the world was first created and was in a pristine, spiritual state, the only language that existed was lashon kodesh.  The 70 languages came into being as a result of the sin of dor ha'palagah.  Yosef's neshoma was still on that pristine, high level of spirituality, and therefore, it connected only with lashom kodesh.  Its inability to express itself in other ways was a feature, not a bug.

2. The Midrash darshens Yosef's instructions "tvo'ach tevach v'hachein" as an allusion to Shabbos, which requires hachana, preparation.  Since Yosef is described as a shomer Shabbos, therefore, his descendent was zocheh to offer korbanos at the dedication of the mishkan on Shabbos.  The prince of Ephraim is the nasi who brought his korban and gift on the 7th day of the chanukas hamishkan. 

Even though Yosef gave those instructions, the other shevatim as well as the Avos also observed Shabbos.  Why is the reward given only to Yosef? 

The Midrash in last week's parsha writes that had Reuvain known that the Torah would write that he saved Yosef, he would have grabbed him from the pit, hoisted him on his shoulders, and brought him home.  Does that mean that Reuvain would have done more if he would have known about the great publicity he was going to get?  Of course not.  The Sefas Emes explains that what Chazal are telling us is not to minimize the significance of our own actions.  A person who does a good deed may think to himself/herself, "What does it matter how I do it, what I do, how much I do?   At the end of the day, what difference is my small effort going to make?"  That mindset leads to discouragement, for doing less than the optimal, for giving less than 110%  The truth is that every action we do makes as world of difference for ourselves and for our offspring, who learn from what we do.  Every action is Torah.   Had Reuvain realized that his efforts were Torah, and were not an insignificant fruitless attempt, he would have put more into it.  (A few years ago I wrote up a different pshat here.)

I think that is what Chazal are getting at in this Midrash regarding Yosef as well.  Of course the Avos and shevatim observed Shabbos, but there observance, for whatever reason, is not recorded explicitly, and therefore is not torah in the same was as Yosef's shmiras shabbos.  What is recorded in the text is a limud for all doros for all eternity.  Only Yosef merited that.  (Why that is true, I'm not sure -- you can say whatever sevara you like.) 

The effect it had on Ephraim being able to offer his gift on Shabbos is not a reward -- it's a consequence (all rewards in Torah are really consequence, but that's a discussion for some other time.)  By definition, since Yosef's shemiras Shabbos was torah, it had an effect generations later, because that's what Torah is -- it is eternity.  (See Bad Kodesh by R' Povarski who has a different approach.) 

3. Put yourself in Yosef's shoes -- what would pop into your mind as soon as you see your brothers?  Wouldn't you think to yourself, "These are the guys who sold me down the river!"  But look at what the pasuk says, writes the Alter of Navardok: "Yayizkor Yosef es ha'chalomos asher chalam lahem" (42:8)  Yosef thinks only of the dreams he once had, not what his brothers had done to him, and certainly not of revenge.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

kitusei michtas shiura and ner chanukah

Tosfos (Eiruvin 80b) asks why is it that kitusei michtas shiura disqualifies a korah made from an asheira but does not disqualify a lechi made from an asheira.  Tosfos answers that a korah requires a shiur of at least a tefach; a lechi has some shiur of height and width, but it is an insignificant amount (the width can be a mashehu).   Tosfos then quotes R' Avraham as answering that if you took the lechi and broke it into little, tiny pieces, so long as you affix those little pieces together on a wall, it is a valid lechi.  The same cannot be said of a korah, as the little pieces would collapse.  

It seems that the two answers of Tosfos differ in their conceptual understanding of kitusei michtas shiura.  According to the first answer, kitusei michtas *shiura* means that there is not enough "stuff" there, there is a lacking in the shiur required.  A lulav made from an asheirah, for example, is pasul because it does not meet the requirement of being 4 tefachim tall.  According to the second answer, there is sufficient "stuff" present -- what is lacking is tziruf, something to hold the parts together.  It is as if that lulav, that korah, etc. are broken into little bits.  That has no effect on the kashrus of a lechi.

The Ran asks why is it that a get can be written on issurei hana'ah -- why don't we say kitusei michtas shiura?  Ran answers that there is no shiur for a get.  It seems that the Ran held like the first model of kitusei michtas shiura, that it is a lack in shiur.  According to the second model, even if get does not need a shiur, it would not do much good if it is ripped into little shreds.  (See the Steipler in Sukkah who tries to get these two models to mesh together.)

Achronim discuss whether kitusei michtas shiura applies to ner Chanukah.  The Aruch haShulchan quotes the second answer of Tosfos in Eiruvin and writes that even if the oil is broken into little drops, who cares?  So long as it burns for the required time, you should be yotzei.  Perhaps one could counter argue that according to the Ran kitusei michtas means it is as if there is a lack in the shiur of oil required to be lit.

Alternately, one might argue that there is in fact no shiur for the amount of oil that must be lit.  This is Chanukah after all!  Assuming the one jug the Chashmonaim found was broken into 8 parts, each day they lit with less than the shiur and nonetheless it burned for sufficient time.  Ad she'tichleh regel min ha'shuk has nothing to do with how much "stuff"/oil there has to be -- it just tells us how long the menorah has to remain lit.