Wednesday, December 31, 2014

new years and holiday gifts

The gemara (Avodah Zarah 65) writes that R’ Yehudah sent a gift to a non-Jew on their holiday because he knew this particular individual was not an idolater.  A similar story is told about Rava.

R’ Ya’akov Emden asks m’mah nafshach: if these individuals did not worship avodah zarah and were therefore not celebrating, what was the point of sending a gift?  And if they were celebrating, then sending the gift should have been asur?

He answers that the holiday in question was New Years.  For ovdei avodah zarah, the day has religious significance - New Years was originally a pagan holiday dedicated to the Roman god Janus.  However, the day also has secular significance, as it was the start of the new Julien calendar year, when new civil servants took office and the Roman Senate convened. 

Had the non-Jews in question been idolaters celebrating the New Year as a religious holiday, then R’ Yehudah and Rava would not have sent gifts.  But since they were not idolaters and were just celebrating the day as a secular holiday, the gifts were just expressions of good will. 

I have not looked into whether there are teshuvos on this issue, but it seems to me that most people today do not celebrate even December 25 as a religious holiday, and certainly not New Years.  Last week I heard one radio talk show host (who happens to be Jewish, though not religious) discuss his visit to a certain cathedral the night of yom eidam not to celebrate their religion, but stam, because it was a beautiful building and the prayers and singing were nice.  It’s the aesthetic appeal that was the attraction, not the religious meaning.  I think most people share that sentiment.  Isn’t that why churches advertise that people should put you-know-who back into the holiday?  The “holiday season,” as they call it, is more about shopping than worship.  L’havdil (I guess that term is appropriate), if you were to attend a service at a Reconstructionist temple, the chazzinit would probably have a beautiful voice and the prayers would speak about G-d (if they even mention him) bestowing his grace on all humanity and other such empty platitudes.  Religion for the masses at best boils down to belief in a generic god that makes few demands (i.e. not too many do’s and dont’s) along with an assortment of liberal values and virtues.  In other words, secular humanism without the taint of atheism. If that's the case, then I would guess that gift giving during this season is not that different than the cases in the gemara.  Again, I'm just writing off the cuff as a hava amina, but one would have to check if there are sources that deal with the issue.  

UPDATE: For more on this topic, see Shu"T Bnei Banim vol 3 siman 35.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

rabeinu bachyei: two types of hashgacha

In the past weeks we’ve discussed the famous statement of the Ohr haChaim that a ba’al bechira, a person who has free choice, can cause harm to someone even if he/she doesn’t deserve it.  How is this possible – doesn’t Hashem’s hashgacha control everything that happens? 

Rabeinu Bachyei in Parshas VaYeira (Braishis 18:19) writes that Hashem’s hashgacha on animals is hashgacha klalis – it is only to the extent necessary to preserve the species, but does not govern each individual animal.  Only humans have hashgacha pratis on the individual.  He then further divides hashgacha prartis on people into two parts or levels: 1) Hashem’s knowledge of events – this applies to all people; 2) Hashem protecting the individual from harm – this level of hashgacha is earned only by the most righteous (see Michtav m’Eliyahu vol 5 who uses this distinction to resolve a number of contradictory statements in Rishonim regarding hashgacha pratis).
We can use R’ Bachyei’s chiluk to formulate the Ohr haChaim’s point and make it a bit more understandable (and this is basically the same idea the L. Rebbe suggested that we discussed in this post): Hashem of course is aware of every event that happens to a person (hashgacha type # 1).  However, unless you are a big tzadik, Hashem will not interfere with events that unfold (hashgacha type #2) to get you out of hot water, especially hot water that comes about when dealing with a ba’al bechira.
When I bounced this topic off my wife she reminded me of the gemara that says that the principle that shluchei mitzvah do not come to harm does not apply when there is a clear and present danger at hand.  We learn this from the fact that Shmuel haNavi, sent as a shliach by Hashem to anoint David, was afraid lest Shaul hear about it and try to kill him.  According to the Ohr haChaim, how is this a proof?  Perhaps a shliach mitzvah is protected through Hashem’s hashgacha, but when it comes to a ba’al bechira, e.g. Shaul haMelech, all bets are off?

Perhaps this very point is what the gemara means by “bari hezeika,” there being a clear and present danger -- it was precisely the ability of Shaul to do as he pleased as a ba’al bechira which made the situation so dangerous.  The problem is, if this is true, it means “bari hezeika” has a very high bar, as many other situations that are truly dangerous still do not measure up to the danger of confronting a ba'al bechira. 

UPDATE: would it be possible to say that Shaul was not a ba'al bechira because "lev melachim b'yad Hashem?"  Does that apply where Shaul would be acting in his personal interest and not in his role as king?

Monday, December 29, 2014

Is there a posek for modern orthodoxy? -- revisiting Rabbi Walter Wurtzburger's 1994 Tradition article on RYBS

In Fall 1994 Rabbi Walter Wurtzburger penned an article for Tradition entitled “Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik as Posek of Post-Modern Orthodoxy.”  Putting aside Rabbi Wurtzburger’s choice (which he discusses in the article) of the term “post-modern” as opposed to the more common term “modern orthodoxy” (which I will use going forward), what exactly defines a “modern orthodox posek” as opposed to any other posek?  Rabbi Wurtzburger writes that he disagrees with Moshe Sokol's and David Singer's contention (in an article in Modern Judaism vol 2), “…that the Rav, for all his philosophical brilliance and his extensive scientific knowledge, really cannot be invoked as an authority figure for Modern Orthodoxy, since in his halakhic decision-making he operates exclusively with traditional methods and does not permit philosophical ideas or the findings of modern textual scholarship to impinge upon the formation of his halakhic rulings.”  Instead, Rabbi Wurtzburger argues that, “What differentiates the approach of Rav Soloveitchik from that of Haredi poskim and makes him the authority figure of so-called "Modern Orthodoxy" is his endorsement of secular studies, including philosophy, his espousal of religious Zionism, and his pioneering of intensive Jewish education for women.”  In other words, it’s not the Rav’s method which distinguished him as a modern orthodox posek, but rather it was his conclusions in particular areas that distinguished him.

Whether the modern orthodox movement has or should have a categorically distinct type of psak or posek is an assumption worth examining, but for now, let’s let the assumption stand. One of my son’s Rebbeim refers to a certain YU Rosh Yeshiva as a “modern orthodox gadol.”  I don’t know if he could define what makes the individual in question “modern orthodox,” but not being able to define what makes something different doesn’t mean one can’t recognize that there is indeed a difference.  So let’s play along and accept that there is a difference and ask ourselves the following question: it’s been 20 years since Rabbi Wurtzburger’s article appeared.  The Rav is no longer with us.  Is there a present day posek for modern orthodoxy?  Is there in fact a "modern orthodox gadol?"
I would argue that if we use Rabbi Wurtzburger’s criteria for what made the Rav into the posek of the modern orthodox community, namely, 1) his endorsement of secular studies; 2) his espousal of religious Zionism; and 3) his being a pioneer of intensive Jewish education for women, then there is no one in the diaspora who has successfully followed in the Rav’s footsteps.  That is not to say that there are not great talmidei chachamim and poskim within the modern orthodox community – there certainly are.  But if Rabbi Wurthburger’s measure of what made the Rav unique is accurate, then it seems to me that these other poskim are no more uniquely modern orthodox than a rebbe ordained in Lakewood who happens to teach in a modern orthodox yeshiva high school is.  We have poskim for modern orthodoxy, but I don't know if we have any truly modern orthodox posek.
Without naming names, even without the migration of some of the senior Roshei Yeshiva in YU to Touro, anyone who has attended YU will recognize that many of the Roshei Yeshiva are more sympathetic to a Touro-like philosophy of Torah u’Secular-studies-for-the-sake-of-making-a-Living than Torah u’Mada.  (I think it is fair to say that Touro and its philosophy sits at least in the outer orbit of the RW world while YU does not.)  I can't see any of them endorsing the study of secular philosophy for its own sake, something that Rabbi Wurtzburger identifies as a sign of the Rav's openness.  While Rabbi Avi Weiss and a few others have been very vocal in advancing women’s issues, these figures have largely been marginalized and pushed to the fringe by a much stronger center/right-wing contingent within modern orthodoxy, and besides which, I think Rabbi Avi Weiss would himself acknowledge that he is not a go-to posek for the larger community. I don't see any major Roshei Yeshiva or poskim going to Stern to deliver a lomdus-packed shiur to make the point that it could/should be done.  It is only in support of religious Zionism that I think the likes of Rav Hershel Shachter and others distinguish themselves from their colleagues outside the modern orthodox world.  A one for three batting average is OK if you are playing baseball, but I don’t know if it says much if we are weighing commitment to a particular philosophy such as modern orthodoxy.
Debating whether Rabbi Ploni or Rabbi Almoni fits the bill invites too much ad hominum discussion.  I would be more interested in what criteria you would use -- other than those given by Rabbi Wurtzburger in judging whether the Rav was a modern orthodox posek -- to assess whether someone fits the bill.  Perhaps the modern orthodoxy communtity of 2014 sees itself differently than the community of 1994 and therefore attaches itself to Rabbinic figures with different values than those identified by Rabbi Wurtzburger.  Perhaps we are truly in a post-modern orthodox period, though in a far different sense than Rabbi Wurtzburger meant.

oy lanu m'yon hadin

After Yosef revealed himself and declared, “Ani Yosef – ha’od avi chai?” his brothers were startled and frozen in place.  Yosef then asked them to come close and he repeated himself, telling them, “Ani Yosef achichem asher michartem osi Mitzrayma.” (45:3) What did Yosef hope to accomplish by telling them the same thing again?

The Ohr haChaim answers that when Yosef saw his brothers in shock, he realized that either they did not believe him or were overcome with fear.  His responded to both concerns.  Ani Yosef achichem” – “I am your brother.”  Even when you despised me, even when you sold me into slavery, even despite all the travails I have endured, my brotherly affection did not waiver.  There is no need for fear.  Asher michartem osi” – “…Whom you sold.”  No one – not Ya’akov, not Pharoah, not any other family member or friend – knew that Yosef had been sold into slavery.  Only Yosef himself and his brothers knew that fact. Yosef asked them to come close so as not to reveal the embarrassing truth in public, and then he told them a fact that only he and they could have known to prove that he was telling the truth and he was indeed their long lost brother.
Chazal comment on this parsha that if Yosef’s brothers were so overcome that they could not say anything when Yosef revealed himself, imagine what our reaction will be when we face our Maker and he reveals the truth about what we did with our lives!  The Tolna Rebbe says an amazing vort based on this Ohr haChaim.  What Yosef revealed was that he remained “achichem,” his feeling of achavah remained through think and thin.  When we meet our Maker, what he will reveal is that he remained always by our side as well, through thick and thin, even when we thought he had abandoned us and we ran off to do aveiros or be involved in other things.  It is Hashem’s enduring love which will overcome us.

(I hate to ruin such a nice vort with a pshat question, but aren’t Chazal are commenting on the first half of Yosef’s statement, which seems to have been the cause of the brothers “behalah,” not the second half of the statement, which is the focus of the Ohr haChaim?)   

Friday, December 26, 2014

was Pharoah's dream of seven years of famine false?

Towards the end of the parsha, the Torah tells us (48:23) that Yosef distributed seed to the Egyptians so that they could plant crops and have food to eat.  What food were they hoping to grow when based on Pharoah's dreams there were years of famine left to go?  Al pi peshuto shel mikra one could learn that a few years had already passed and the famine was at least close to being over, or perhaps the famine itself was not equally harsh in all years.  Rashi (48:19), however, offers a different answer.  He quotes from Chazal that a tzadik brings bracha to wherever he goes and Ya’akov’s presence in Egypt caused the famine to end.  (We know that Ya’akov and his sons suffered from the famine in Canaan; it was only hunger that drove Ya’akov to send Yehudah down to Egypt with Binyanim.  Why did Ya’akov’s presence in Cannan not alleviate the famine and bring bracha there?  My guess is that the bracha needs the ingredients of teva to work through.  It was not Ya’akov’s presence alone, but specifically his presence alongside the Nile, the teva conduit that produces crops, that was significant.)

The difficulty with Rashi’s answer, as the Ramban writes, is that it undermines the interpretation Yosef had given to Pharoah’s dreams.  We can easily imagine a disgruntled Pharaoh coming to Yosef and saying, “We invested in preparations for a seven year famine.  We put you in charge because we thought that famine was coming.  Now there’s no famine.  Remind us why we trusted you…?”  Even if Yosef could defend himself – without his leadership, who knows if Egypt would have survived even the famine that they faced – Ramban is still bothered by the fact that the dream itself was proven false.  Why would G-d reveal a future that was not to be?  Therefore, he disagrees with Rashi’s interpretation.
Perhaps the machlokes between Rashi and Ramban here revolves around how to understand the bracha the occurred though Ya’akov’s arrival.  Surely Ramban would not argue that Yosef’s warehousing of wheat in the days of plenty so that the effects of the famine were mitigated somehow undermined the truthfulness of Pharoah’s dream.  The fact that human ingenuity in the form of Yosef’s planning could eliminate the harmful effects of the famine does not make the fact that there was a famine any less true.  A thought experiment: what if Yosef created an invention that would cause the Nile to flow as normal, no matter what the weather conditions in Egypt?  Would that have undermined the prediction foretold in the dream?  I think one could make a good argument that this would be no different than warehousing crops.  And you can see the next step in my reasoning: instead of a mechanical invention, what if Yosef simply asked his father to stand by the river and give it his blessing so that it flowed as usual and crops could be irrigated?  Is that so different?  Perhaps Rashi did not think so. 

This doesn’t fit so nicely into the words of Rashi, “kalah ha’ra’av,” which implies that the famine truly ended, not just that its effects were mitigated.  And this line of reasoning certainly does not fit the views in Chazal which hold that the famine was only temporarily suspended during Ya’akov’s lifetime.  If the bracha was just a means of mitigating the effects of the famine, then the count of all seven years should have exhausted itself completely. 
So what do we do with the Ramban’s question?  Yosef prefaced his interpretation of the dreams with the following statement – “Es asher ha’Elokim oseh higid l’Pharaoh.” (41:25) The Berdichiver explains that this was not just a show of humility on Yosef’s part, but was an important caveat to the dreams and their interpretation.  Pharaoh was being shown what “Elokim,” G-d’s midas hadin, had in store for Egypt.  The reason Egypt was being dealt such a hard blow was clearly shown to Pharoah as well:  Pharoah dreams that he is standing, “al ha’ye’or,” above the Nile.  This detail caught Pharaoh’s attention, as he repeats it in recounting the dream to Yosef as well.  Yet despite the importance Pharoah assigned to it, we find nothing in Yosef’s interpretation of years of plenty and years of famine that relates to this detail.  Did Yosef just ignore it?  The Berdichiver suggests that it’s not that Yosef thought the detail lacked significance, but he rather he realized that it had omni significance.  It is not a particular aspect of what would happen that was being foretold, but rather something about the dream as a whole.  What Pharoah was being shown was that it’s the elevation of his persona above the Nile, above all of Egypt, the deification of the self, that was behind everything that would happen.  Yosef’s advice to Pharoah to appoint “ish navon v’chacham,” a wise man to tend to Egypt during the years of plenty to prepare for the famine, was not just a gratuitous insertion of his own two cents, but rather was part and parcel of the message of the dreams.  Only by Pharoah relinquishing power, releasing the reins to someone else, stepping down from being “al ha’ye’or,” could calamity be avoided.  Now we can understand, says the Berdichiver, how Ya’akov’s arrival cancelled the famine, yet was entirely consistent with Pharoah’s dream and Yosef's interpretation.  So long as Pharoah himself was “al ha’ye’or,” the midas hadin of “es ha’Elokim oseh…” would cause Egypt to suffer.  Once Ya’akov arrived and entered the scene, there was a greater man than Pharaoh that stood “al ha’ye’or,” as a tzadik stands above and commands the natural world.  The midas ha’din of the shem Elokim was now tempered with rachamim brought by the tzadik and its effect was no longer felt.  The condition the dream was predicated on no longer held true.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

does the Mishna say it is assur for women to study gemara?

Daughter #2 recently asked me for some background on R’ Soloveitchik’s position viz a viz women learning gemara since her teacher was unfamiliar with that position.  In one of her classes in school they learned that learning gemara was assur, no exceptions, but she knew (I’m not exactly sure how) that there were other views and wanted some sources.

I didn’t present it this way to her, but since this is just a blog, let’s be bold about it: there is no source in the Mishna that says it is assur for women to study Talmud.
“What!?” you ask incredulously.  Did I forget the Mishna in Sotah (21), “R’ Eliezer omeir kol hamelamed es bito Torah k’ilu lomdah tiflus?”

Aderaba, I would say this very Mishna is proof to my assertion.  The Mishna one line earlier quotes the view of Ben Azai that “Chayav adam l’lamed es bito Torah…”  One would expect the opposite view to argue that, “Assur l’lamed es bito Torah…” Yet that’s not what Rabbi Eliezer says.  The Mishna, quoting Rabbi Eliezer, never used the word “assur” – it is prohibited – but rather instead simply says as a matter of practical fact that if one teaches one’s daughter Torah it is tantamount to encouraging her foolishness.   One can make a very good argument that if the metziyus changes, if the social and educational facts on the ground change so that women are as educated as men, then even Rabbi Eliezer would withdraw his objection. 
Puk chazei that even in the times of Chazal (e.g. Bruriah) and throughout Jewish history there have been women who have learned in depth.  Were we dealing with a prohibition, how can there be exceptions?  However, if we are dealing with a metziyus, then there is latitude to adjust the curriculum to the individual and to the circumstances at hand.

My son argued in response to my diyuk that the Mishna is telling us a kol she’kein: not only is teaching Torah to one’s daughter assur, but worse than that -- it causes stupidity and foolishness.   I like his thinking: what’s worse than doing something that’s assur?  Doing something that’s stupid!  I can’t argue with that.  I just don’t know if that’s really pshat in the Mishna.
Secondly, he argued that R’ Eliezer’s view is not based on circumstance, but is based on an assessment of immutable differences that exist between men and women’s thinking and ontology.  R’ Soloveitchik himself argued that umdenot and chazakot of Chazal never change, even if societal circumstances do.  Why should this case be any different?  Gender differences are innate, not socially conditioned. 

The answer, as I alluded to above, is that we know this case is different because historically there have always been exceptions.  It must be that the Mishna is simply is a description (not a prescription!) of the state of most women’s education.  Most, but not all, being the key word.
Is everything or anything I’ve written here correct?  I don’t know.  Nor do I know if R’ Soloveitchik would have agreed with my formulation.  I don’t pretend to be offering a final answer -- I'm being deliberately provocative to ellicit debate.  That's because I believe that debating the question is perhaps more important than the final answer, because it's through grappling with the text of a Mishna (and I haven’t even gotten to the Rambam’s formulation of this din, which raises other questions), in testing different formulations of a din, in unpacking assumptions and thinking critically, the Torah becomes alive and a person becomes engaged.   (Isn't that what learning torah sheba'al peh ultimately is about -- not just knowing that on daf X Abaye holds A and Rava holds B?)The Chofetz Chaim already in his time encouraged exposing women to more learning because he knew that producing engaged Jews is the only way to combat assimilation and ensure committment.  Are we doing that in women's education?  Are we doing that in young men's education?

hoisted by his own petard

The Midrash comments that the pasuk, "Ashrei ha'ish asher sam Hashem mivtacho," refers to Yosef, who exemplified the trait of bitachon.  Yet the very same Midrash writes that Yosef was forced to stay in prison two extra years for asking the Sar HaMashkim to get him out of jail, since that showed a lack of bitachon.  It seems like the Midrash contradicts itself! 

Over the years we’ve discussed a few approaches (here, here, here) to explain this Chazal.  One of the famous answers is that for any other person, asking the Sar haMashkim for help or making whatever efforts could be made to get out of jail, would be viewed as proper hishtadlus.  It’s only for Yosef, who exemplified such a high level of bitachon, that these efforts are viewed as wrong.  He should have relied on G-d alone to bring him deliverance.
I want to add 2 extra cents to this answer.  Ramban in last week’s parsha asks why Yosef never once tried to contact his father.  Why for 22 years did he not even send one letter home to let Ya’akov know that he was alive and well?  Ramban answers that Yosef realized that were he to contact his father and return home, any possibility of his dreams coming to fruition would be dashed.  It was his bitachon in his dreams that led Yosef to maintain his concealment, in the hope that his brothers, and even his father, would come to Egypt and bow to him.

It’s understandable that seeing his rise in rank to majordomo in Potiphar’s home and his tremendous success there might lead Yosef to hold onto the hope that this would lead to the fulfilment of his dreams.  Yet Yosef maintained his faith in those dreams even after he was thrown in prison, even when just becoming a free man again was no more than a remote possibility (Shem m’Shmuel).  Even under those dire circumstances, Yosef’s faith in his dreams prevented him from sending word to his father.   
The Midrash’s internal contradiction reflects the contradiction inherent in Yosef’s own behavior.  Chazal are hoisting Yosef by his own petard.  On the one hand, when it came to alleviating his father’s pain, Yosef placed total faith in his dreams and did nothing.  On the other hand, when it came to his own painful plight, he tried to use the Sar haMashkim to get out of jail and did not rely on miraculous deliverance alone.  You can’t have it both ways.  Precisely because Yosef demonstrated such great bitachon and trust in his own dreams, to the point of not alleviating his father's pain because of that trust, was he held to such a high standard with respect to his own behavior.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

another type of 'mosif v'holeich'

We all know that we pasken like Beis Hillel and are ‘mosif v’holeich,’ we and add an extra candle each night of Chanukah.  R’ Shmuel Eliyahu quotes his father, the Rishon l’Tzion R’ Mordechai Eliyahu, as being medayek from the Rambam another type of being ‘mosif’ that applies to Chanukah.  The Rambam writes (Chanukah 4:12) that the mitzvah of ner chanukah is a very precious mitzvah; therefore, a person must be very diligent and careful in lighting in order to publicize the miracle, “u’l’hosif b’shevah ha’K-l v’hodaya lo…”  The “l’hosif…” is not just an additional reason to light the menorah, but is a kiyum mitzvah in its own right.  One should be 'mosif v'holeich' not just by adding candles, but also in appreciating what Chanukah is all about.

Ya'akov's tefilah: better to be punished by G-d and avoid the threat of a ba'al bechira

When Ya’akov finally gives in and allows Binyamin to go down to Egypt with his brothers, he davens for them, “K-l Shakai yiteim lachem rachamim lifnei ha’ish…” (43:14) The Midrash has an enigmatic comment: R’ Pinchas b’shem R’ Chanin d’Tziporin opened his derasha on the parsha as follows:  “Ashrei ha’gever asher tiyasreinu K-h…”  The Midrash then goes on to list tzaros that were brought upon Avraham Avinu and his various sufferings.

Do we need a Midrash to tell us that Ya’akov or the other Avos had tzaros?  And why raise that point specifically here?  Perhaps the Midrash is connected to Rashi’s comment that Ya’akov used the shem “Shakai” because he was calling on G-d to end his tzaros (yomar ‘dai’ l’tzarosai), but the connection seems tenuous.
Last week we discussed the Ohr haChaim’s chiddush that a ba’al bechira, a person’s free will, can overcome hashgacha.  The Ksav Sofer suggests the Midrash is reading Ya'akov's prayer in that same light.  “Ashrei hagever asher tiyasreinu K-h,” a person whom *Hashem* afflicts with suffering is lucky.  If Hashem is the one causing the suffering, then Hashem can take away the suffering as well.  But when suffering comes through human hands, through a ba’al bechira, then hashgacha cannot help (see last week’s post).  The Ksav Sofer writes that we mention this in our davening almost every day.  In tachanun we say, “Niplah na b’yad Hashem ub’yad adam al epolah” – better to be punished by G-d’s hands than fall into the hands of man.  Ya’akov was willing to accept Hashem’s punishment (as we see from the end of the pasuk, “…ka’asher shakolti shakalti”), but he davened that his children be spared punishment “lifnei ha’ish,” at the hands of a ba’al bechira, as that is a far more dangerous situation.

While on the topic, I just want to point out the Midrash a few lines later:
אמר ליה רבי אלכסנדרי: אין לך אדם בלא יסורים, אשריו לאדם, שיסורים באים עליו מן התורה, שנאמר: ומתורתך תלמדנו.

Chazal tell us that you can’t go through life without suffering.  The question is what kind of suffering it’s going to be.  You can toss and turn on your pillows worried about your business, your children, your health, or all kinds of other depressing things.  Or, “ashrav l’adam she’yisurim ba’aim alav min haTorah,” you can have yissurim and suffering from Torah – you can lie awake because you can’t figure out pshat in a Tosfos or you are worried about a difficult Rambam.  I would like to hope that a person has the right to choose, and if you worry about the latter, you will be spared the worries about the former.

Friday, December 19, 2014

achichem acheir -- a changed man

Last post I mentioned the Maor v'Shemesh's interpretation that Yosef's changed appearance, as opposed to his brothers', indicated that he had undergone a change in character while they remained the same. The Netziv has a beautiful pshat along these same lines.  When Ya'akov finally relents and allows the brothers to go back to Mitzrayim along with Binyamin, he davens that Hashem will cause the Egyptian viceroy [Yosef] who interrogated them to have mercy on them and "v'shilach lachem es achichem achier v'es Binyamin." (43:14)  The meforshim explain al pi peshuto that "achichem acheir," your other brother, refers to Shimon, who had been left behind in prison.  Why does Ya'akov not refer to Shimon by name?  Ramban answers that Ya'akov still was angry at Shimon for his killing of the people of Shechem.  He doesn't call him "Shimon b'ni" and would have just as well left him in prison and never sent Binyamin if not for the need for food.  Netziv offers a different explanation based on the pasuk's use of "shilach *lachem*" -- why stress that Shimon will be "sent *to you*?"  Shouldn't the pasuk have simply said that Shimon will be freed or released?  Netziv explains that Ya'akov suspected that Shimon was left behind because of some conflict between Shimon and the other brothers; perhaps Shimon was even deliberately turned over as a convenient way to get him out of their hair.  Ya'akov was davening for that rift between the brothers to be healed.  "V'shilach lachem acheichem acheir" -- "acheir" here means not just your *other* brother, but it means a *different* brother.  A man does not emerge from prison the same person who went in.  Ya'akov prayed that the experience of prison should change Shimon into a different person.  He should now become "achichem acheir," a different person, and therefore, "v'shilach *lachem,*" he should be welcomed back, and peace among them be restored.  

Thursday, December 18, 2014

it's not the beard that the brothers didn't recognize

The Torah tells us that Yosef was able to recognize his brothers, but they were not able to recognize him.  Rashi explains that the brothers’ appearance was unchanged since Yosef had last seen them, but he had grown a beard in the intervening years. 

The Ma’or v’Shemesh writes that it’s not Yosef’s physical appearance alone which made him unrecognizable.  There are plenty of people whom we recognize even after they’ve grown a beard or changed their hairstyle or dress.  What Rashi is telling us is that in the years that had elapsed since Yosef left home, the brothers did not grow – they remained spiritually stagnant.  They were exactly the same people as they were 20+ years earlier.  Not so Yosef.  He had gained in maturity, he had grown and developed as a person.  It was not Yosef the boy, the Yosef who had told their father tales of his brothers’ wrongdoings and taunted them with his dreams, that stood before the shevatim. It was an older and wiser Yosef, a completely different person.

the miracle on the first day

It’s easier to post questions than to take the time to post answers : ) 

Chaunkah question #3: The Beis Yosef famously asks -- shouldn’t Chanukah be celebrated for seven days and not eight?  Since there was enough oil for one day, there was no miracle in being able to light the menorah that first day.  The miracle was only in the menorah burning for seven days after that.
There are dozens and dozens of answers to this question.  Someone told me the reason this question has so much torah written on it is a midah k’neged midah.  The Greeks wanted to cause us to forget about Torah, so davka on these halachos we have a multitude of torah discussion.
The Pri Chadash answers that the first day is not a celebration of the lighting of the menorah.  The first day is a celebration of the victory over the Greeks in battle.
If the Pri Chadash is correct, then why do we light a menorah on the first day?  Why should we commemorate the victory in battle the same way – through lighting a menorah – that we commemorate the miracle of the oil on the other days? 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

zichartani v'hizkartani

1. The Rishonim (Rashi, Rashbam, Ibn Ezra) already ask why the Torah uses the double-language of “lo zachar Sar haMashkim es Yosef” and “vayishkacheihu.”  If you don’t remember, obviously it means you forgot.  I noticed the Chasam Sofer says a brilliant pshat: “vayishkacheihu” is not talking about the Sar haMashkim – it’s talking about Yosef.  So long as Yosef remember his request to the Sar haMashkim and had an iota of hope that his redemption would come through basar v’dam, via the channel of the Sar haMashkim, nothing was doing.  It’s only when Yosef forgot about his request did Hashem step in and intervene.

2. The Ksav v’haKabbalah discusses the strange phrase “zichartani itcha…” that Yosef used – you normally don’t use a possessive when talking about remembering something – and, as we discussed once before, he suggests that it was not a request, but a statement.  Yosef was telling the Sar haMashkim that his fate was remembered, i.e. mentioned in the same context, as that of the Sar haMashkim.  The same dream that foretold the Sar haMashkim’s fate also foretold Yosef’s own fate. 
The Ma’or vaShemesh suggests a different explanation.  The natural reaction of anyone in the Sar haMashkim’s circumstance would have been to tell neighbors and friends about this wonderful dream interpreter he met in prison.  Yosef could have been the talk of the town and been featured on talk shows, wined and dined with celebrities, etc.  Yosef didn’t want any of that.  He reserved using his gift only for kavod shamayim.  Therefore, he told the Sar haMashkim that he would help him only on the condition that “zichartani itacha,” that he keeps the remembrance of Yosef’s ability to himself, “v’hizkartani el Pharoah,” and otherwise only mention him when it really counts, when he has an audience with Pharoah in Pharoah’s time of need.       

the ohr hachaim on hashgacha and bechira

My daughter e-mailed me from seminary to ask how to understand a famous Ohr haChaim in last week’s parsha (37:21) that we’ve mentioned before here and here.  Chazal tell us that the pit that Yosef was thrown into was filled with snakes and scorpions.  Why then does the Torah credit Reuvain for saving Yosef?  All he did was take him out of the frypan, out of the brothers’ hands, and toss him into the fire, into the scorpion pit? 

The O.C. explains that Hashem has complete control over animals and everything else in the natural world.  If Yosef didn’t deserve to die, the snakes and scorpions would not be able to harm him.  It was the perfect test to see if the brothers were misjudging Yosef or whether he really was guilty.  However, a human being is different because he/she is a “ba’al bechira.”  Hashem does not interfere with free choice.  Had Yosef been turned over to the brothers or other people, even if he didn’t deserve to die, they would still have been able to harm him had they chosen to do so. 
For better or worse, most kids, like my daughter, come out of yeshiva thinking about hashgacha along the lines of the Chovos haLevavos, who assumes that nothing can happen unless Hashem decrees it so.  Person X can pull a gun on person Y and pull the trigger, but unless Hashem has decreed that person Y will come to harm, nothing will happen to him. On the one hand, it seems “frummer” to assume there are no exceptions to Hashem’s hashgacha, but on the other hand, if you take this approach it means there is no such thing as random violence and anyone who is harmed must have deserved it.  Seems to me that the question of theodicy is no less difficult than the issue of hashgacha.  In any case, if you’ve been taught or absorbed through osmosis that the Chovos haLevavos is correct, then this Ohr haChaim is not going to be easy to swallow.

R’ Elchanan Wasserman (Koveitz He’Oros) claims that other Rishonim (e.g. Tosfos Kesubos 30) disagree with the Chovos haLevavos, and the Zohar does as well, so the Ohr haChaim’s view is not unique.  According to R’ Elchanan, we are left with a basic machlokes about the scope of hashgacha.  The Lubavitcher Rebbe, however, tries to reconcile the two views (link).  By way of analogy, he compares dealing with a ba’al bechira to the gemara’s caution not to stand in a dangerous place.  Why can’t a person try to walk a tightrope over the Grand Canyon or do some other dangerous stunt?  M’mah nafshach: if he/she is destined to come to harm, then he/she will come to harm whether he/she goes on the tightrope or not; if he/she is not destined to come to harm, then there is no danger!  The answer is that whether or not a person will come to harm is not an absolute yes/no issue – it’s a matter of degree.  A person may have enough merit to warrant not coming to harm in the normal course of events, but that same person may not have sufficient merit to cause Hashem to change the laws of nature and allow him/her to survive a fall into the Grand Canyon.  It’s not Hashem’s hasgacha which makes the difference between the cases – it’s the person’s merits which make the difference.  What the Zohar/O.C./Tosfos may be saying is that to survive an encounter with a “ba’al bechira” requires much greater zechuyos, as it requires Hashem interfering with the laws of nature (that allows for free will) much more openly.  Therefore, it is far better to face a threat from an animal or an object.       

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

ner chanukah: mishtatef b'perutah and ma'os konos

Last week I threw out one Chanukah question.  Time for another:

The Rishonim try to come up with rules to explain when nusach of a bracha is “al…” (like “al biyir chameitz”) and when it is “l…” (like “l’haniach tefillin).  One suggested rule is that when a mitzvah can be done by another person on one’s behalf, the bracha is always is “al…”
The Ran in the first perek of Pesachim challenges this rule that from the case of ner Chanukah.  A ba’al habayis can light on behalf of everyone in his home, including guests.  Even though the guest does nothing – he is yotzei through the ba’al habayos -- the bracha is still “l’hadlik” and not “al hadlakas...”

Ran answers that the case of a guest (achsinai) is different because the guest has to give a perutah in payment to the ba’al habayis if he wants to participate. The guest is being yotzei through his own oil, not through the oil of the ba’al habayis.
It’s seems from the Ran that the mitzvah of ner chanukah is not in doing the ma’aseh hadlakah (how would contributing a perutah help in that regard?), but rather the mitzvah is in having a cheftza shel mitzvah that is lit.  By contributing payment, you have a share in the oil that is burning. 

Be that as it may, how does contributing a perutah help?  The halacha is that a kinyan requires a meshicha to be valid, not just payment.   What kind of kinyan is this?


RE: the JA article on neo-chassidism -- It’s very hard for me to understand why some have reacted by arguing that chassidus has no place in YU because chassidus exposes the masses to kabbalah (or some other reason), while there is no objection to teaching Milton at YU even though you can’t read Milton without some exposure to Christian theology. Milton is OK, but R’ Nachman not?

I also don’t understand some of the other objections to chassidus and/or neo-chassidism that try to sketch out what misnagdus is all about but end up with platitudes that anyone, misnagid or chassid, would have no problem with.

L'shem framing the issue, three questions, one historical, one about the present, one looking toward the future:

1) It’s hard to object to (or embrace!) something without defining it first.  Is chassidus just a shift in emphasis, e.g. greater emphasis on tefilah, on joy, on kabbalah?   You say tomato, I say tomah-toh; I say Ba-RUCH, you say BOO-reech?   Hard to accept that the GR”A had such a problem with that. What was the philosophical chiddush/paradigm change that the BeSH”T brought about that others found so objectionable?   (See The Piecezna in Mavo haShe’arim ch 4 and kuntres Toras haChassidus by the Rebbe RaYaT”Z for answers, and if anyone knows other mareh mekomos that directly address this question, I would appreciate if you would send them to me.)  

2) Is it the appeal of this BeSHTian worldview that makes neohassidus so attractive, or is a neohassid just a mitnaged who likes Carlebach niggunim, feel good spirituality, and plays the part of a counter-cultural (relative to the rest of his community) rebel by adopting the dress and other customs of chassidus?  Yes, that is a reductionist and somewhat coarse way to put it, but you get my point. Again, are we speaking about a “mere” difference in emphasis or a philosophical shift?

3) Lastly, to what degree will this infatuation with chassidus in the modern orthodox world last? Is it a passing fad, or a movement that will alter modern orthodoxy for the future?

Monday, December 15, 2014

Ibn Ezra on the use of foreign words in Tanach

The Ibn Ezra in Parshas VaYeishev writes that Tanach incorporates words from foreign languages and oftentimes when it does so, it will translate the word for us.  His example is interesting: “ha’achashteranim bnei haramachim” – the word “achashteranim” is a Persian word, so the Megillah immediately explains to us that it means “bnei ramachim.” I don’t feel bad in not understanding the translation any better than the original, because Chazal (Meg18a) use this very phrase of an example of words in the Megillah that we don’t have a good explanation for.  Perhaps in light of the Ibn Ezra we can suggest that the gemara deliberately used this example to make the point that the text is so difficult to translate that even when it does the job for us we don’t understand it.

The Ramban, in quoting this Ibn Ezra, gives another example from the Megillah: “hipil pur hu hagoral” – “pur” is a Persian word, so the Megillah immediately tells us that it means “goral.”
The Ibn Ezra raises this issue to explain a pasuk in our parsha: “beis ha’sohar makom asher asirei hamelech asurim” (39:20) – “beis hasohar” is not a Hebrew word, so the Torah translated that it is “makom asher asirei hamelech asurim.”  Ramban disagrees with this example.  Beis hasohar,” says Ramban, simply means prison.  There are all kinds of prisons; therefore, the Torah adds that this was specifically a prison “makaom asher asirei hamelech asurim,” where the king’s prisoners were held.

Assuming the Ibn Ezra is correct, the question that begs asking is why Tanach uses foreign words at all.  Why use a word like “beis hasohar,” that needs explanation, adding to the length of the pasuk, when an equivalent Hebrew word or just the explanation “makom asher asirei hamelech asurim” could just as easily be used?  What assumptions about the vocabulary of the reader are built into the text? 

Jumping from pshat to derash, the Tiferes Shlomo suggests that the word “beis hasohar” alludes to the moon, which in Aramaic is called “si’hara.”  The waxing and waning of the moon is symbolic of the rise and fall of the Jew in galus.  Yosef is not just being thrown into a physical prison – he, and eventually his brothers, will be imprisoned by an exile that will last over 200 years.  So we have the Hebrew text of the Torah using what the Ibn Ezra thinks is an Egyptian word being interpreted by the Tiferes Shomo as an allusion to an Aramaic phrase – how’s that for a linguistic roller coaster ride!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

jealousy and sibling rivelry have nothing to do with our parsha

Rashi interprets “v’hu na’ar es bnei Bilha” to mean that Yosef “hung out” with Bilhah and Zilpah's children.  Because he saw that the other brothers rejected them, he befriended them.  The pasuk continues and tells us that Yosef brought “dibasam ra’ah,” bad tidings and gossip about his other brothers to Ya’akov.  Rashi again tells us that it was Leah’s children in particular and their abuse of their siblings (see Ramban) that Yosef reported on.  It seems from Rashi that Ya’akov’s children were divided into two camps: 1)Leah’s children, and 2)the children of the maidservants.  Yosef allied himself with the latter group even though he was the son of Ya’akov’s primary wife.

Ramban asks: if Rashi is correct, then why did none of Bilhah or Zilpah’s children speak up to defend Yosef or try to save Yosef when the other brothers were planning to kill him or sell him?  Not only did they not object, but it seems from the story that ALL the brothers, except for Reuvain, consented to the sale! 
This point would be a davar pashut if not for certain blogs and sites that pretend otherwise.  I’ll put it bluntly: if you read the story of Yosef and his brothers as revolving around petty jealousies, dysfunctional family relationships, or sibling rivalry, you are not learning chumash – you are reading a novel or a work of literature.  An isolated Ramban or a statement by Hirsch or some other comment here or there that is critical of the Avos does not change the fact that the meta- assumption when learning chumash, as opposed to reading the Bible as literature, is that the Avos, the shevatim, etc. were tzadikim that did not share the same gross character imperfections and faults that the average Joe does. 

The question of what to do with Yosef was debated by the shevatim as an issue of devarim ha’omdim b’rumo shel olam, a din Torah that they knew would have repercussions for the future of Klal Yisrael.  Personal interests had nothing to do with it!  To think otherwise is to completely misunderstand the issue and the personalities involved. 
Therefore, whether Yosef was close to the children of the shefachos or not close to them could not help (or hurt) his cause.  All that mattered was getting to the objective truth of what needed to be done.
(So you’ll ask: what’s the Ramban’s question then?  It could be that what bothered Ramban is the fact that things got to that point.  Why didn’t any of the brothers friendly to Yosef step in earlier to defuse the situation?)

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

is zman gerama a ptur by mitzvos derabbanan?

Whether or not women are exempt from a mitzvah derabbanan which is zman gerama seems to be a machlokes Rishonim.  The gemara (Brachos 20b) according to our girsa suggests that one might have had a hava amina that women are exempt from tefilah because it is zman gerama, kah mashma lan the Mishna that this is not true.  Rashi writes that this girsa must be wrong.  Since tefilah is derabbanan, women are obviously obligated, whether it is zman gerama or not.  Tosfos disagrees and proves from various other cases (e.g. hallel) that the ptur of zman gerama applies to dinim derabbanan as well. 

What is the crux of the machlokes?  The reason why we must observe dinim derabbanan (b’pashtus) is because the Torah commands, “lo tasur.”  Yesh lachkor whether this means we treat each particular din derabbanan as if it was commanded by the Torah, or whether “lo tasur” is a general umbrella obligation not to disrespect Beis Din by ignoring their laws.  If the first approach is correct, then Tos would seem to be right – the same rules, such as zman gerama, that apply to dinim d’orasya should apply to dinim derabbanan.  According to the second approach, that all dinim derabbanan fall under one general umbrella of “lo tasur,” since that obligation is a lav, not an aseh, there is no exemption of zman gerama.
Chanukah is fast approaching!  The gemara tells us that women are obligated in ner Chanukah because “af hein hayu b’oso ha’nes,” they shared in the miracle of being saved from the Greeks (other Rishhonim learn that they were the cause of that miracle.)  According to Tosfos, that women are exempt from mitzvos derabbanan that are zman gerama, I understand why the gemara needs this reason of “af hein…” to tell us that they are obligated in ner Chanukah.  But according to Rashi, that there is no ptur of zman gerama by dinim derabbanan, why does the gemara need this extra reason to obligate women??? 

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

the paradox of tefilah

Some interpret this (5633 d”h v’atah amarta) Sefas Emes to be commenting on the fact that Ya’akov did not specify HOW G-d should save him, only that he BE saved.  Ya’akov did not try to figure out what Hashem would do to get him out of the situation; he just put his trust in Hashem that somehow he would get out of it (see the sefer Sifsei Da’as).

I think the S.E.’s comment is motivated by Ya’akov’s reference to Hashem’s promise of “heiteiv eitiv…” You don’t need to be a Ya’akov Avinu or have a promise of protection to turn to Hashem in a time of need.  Why did Ya’akov refer back to the promise Hashem had given him years earlier – why didn’t he just say, “Hatzileini na m’yad achi m’yad Eisav…?” 

Whenever we daven and ask Hashem to protect us from X or save us from Y, we are implicitly foisting our judgment that X or Y is bad for us into the mix.  Who knows?  Maybe what you think is a tzarah is really necessary to drive you to grow or to bring about a needed kapparah.  Maybe what you are asking for would in the end prove more harmful than the one you are in now.  Ya’akov suspended and reserved all judgments.  If not for the fact that Hashem had promised that he would not be harmed, he would have accepted whatever circumstance came his way with equal equanimity.  It’s only because “atah amarta heiteiv eitiv” that he davened to be saved.
I find (and I've done a post on this before) the whole idea of teflah in response to crisis to be paradoxical.  On the one hand, how can a person question what G-d has doled out to him?  Doesn't that imply a lack of trust?  On the other hand, isn't turning to G-d in tefilah to ask for the situation to be changed the greatest expression of trust?

Thursday, December 04, 2014

even an excused absence has consequences

1. Rashi comments on the words, “Im Lavan garti” that Ya’akov observed the tarya”g mitvos (same letters as garti) and did not learn from the actions of Lavan.  Rav Amiel in his Hegyonos El Ami asks: if Ya’akov observed tarya”g mitzvos, doesn’t it go without saying that he did not learn from the ways of Lavan?  Maybe it’s me, but unfortunately I don't think it's that hard to imagine people who keep the technical do’s and don’ts of mitzvos, but in their demeanor, attitude, outlook on life, learn from Lavan and live in his world. 

2. Rav Gifter asks what Ya’akov was so afraid of in this encounter with Eisav.  He was the bechir of the Avos; Eisav was a rasha.  Why would Hashem not protect Ya’akov?  Maybe it’s me again, but I don’t see why this is a question.  Sadly, there are many examples in our history of great tzadikim suffering at the hands of evildoers.  Perhaps the Avos were different, in which case the question is very narrow in scope. 

Be that as it may, he answers with a story from his days in Slabodka.  A student was ill and was not in yeshiva for Yom Kippur.  When he came to the Alter afterwards, the Alter gave the student sharp mussar.  Even though the student was ill – it was an excused absence, if you will – the Alter explained that the very fact that the bachur found himself in that situation was a sign that in shamayim they did not want his avodah.  The bachur told the Alter that in fact he had been able to daven and he did fast despite his illness, and then the Alter kissed him and praised his great effort. 

The Alter’s chiddush is based on the Mishna that speaks of rain on Sukkos being a sign that Hashem rejects one’s mitzvah of yeshivas sukkah.  True, if it rains one is exempt from the mitzvah, but the very fact that one finds oneself in that situation is a sign that something is wrong. 

Ya’akov had been away from home for years and years.  He had not been a position to fulfill the mitzvah of kibud av; he had not been in a position to fulfill the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz.  He had a great excuse for his absence – but the very fact that he needed an excuse bothered him!  Perhaps his inability to do these mitzvos, combined with Eisav’s ability to do them, was in some way an indication that his avodah was lacking and not fully accepted.

Adds Rav Gifter, if Ya’akov was so afraid that these two mitzvos of kibud av and yishuv ha'aretz would give Eisav power over him, what does that tell us about the tremendous power of a single good deed!  (See Rambam in the Peirush haMishnayos at the end of Makkos.)  Furthermore, what does it tell us about the zechus of yishuv ha’aretz if Eisav, who certainly did not say a “l’shem yichud” before coming to Eretz Yisrael, did not even consider it his real home (which was in Se’ir), and did not have any thoughts about kedushas ha’aretz when he came there, could accrue such great spiritual benefit just from being in the land!

I hate to throw cold water again, but, coming back to the Rashi I started with, Ya'akov in fact boasts that he did in fact observe all tarya"g mitzvos.  As for kibud av, Rashbam comments that when away from home he was obeying his parents' directive to go to Lavan's home and find a wife.  So could Ya'akov's fear really be based on a concern that he was missing something in his avodah? 

3. If you take the PATH train in NY from WTC toward Hoboken, you can’t help but notice a huge billboard on the way down to the tracks advertising a new game for your device.  The ad says, “Make your day Divine.”  You have to feel sorry for those people who think "divine" is all about looking at little candies on a screen.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

overt and hidden reasons for the names of the shevatim

The gemara (Brachos 7b) explains that Leah named her firstborn Reuvain to say, “See [re’u] the difference between [bein] my firstborn son and my father-in-law’s firstborn son.”  Eisav tried to kill Ya’akov because he felt Ya’akov had usurped his place as the bechor; Reuvain not only did not harm Yosef when Yosef tried to take a leadership role, but Reuvain was the one who went back to try to rescue Yosef from the pit when all the other brothers were trying to kill him.

Why do Chazal offer a derush to explain the name Reuvain when the pasuk (29:32) tells us very clearly why Leah gave him that name – Leah was saying, “Ra’ah Hashem b’onyi,” Hashem saw her pain and gave her a child?

If you look at the way the pesukim describe the names of Leah’s other children, you will see something interesting.  I’ll work backwards:

Va’tomer ha’pa’am odesh es Hashem, al kein kar’ah shemo Yehudah.” (29:35)

“Va’tomer ha’pa’am yilaveh ishi eilai… al kein kara’ah shemo Levi.” (29:34)

“Va’tomer ki shama Hashem ki senu’ah anochi… vatikra es shemo Shimon.” (29:33)

Va’tikra es shemo Reuvain ki amrah ki ra’ah Hashem b’onyi…” (29:32)

By Yehudah, Levi, and Shimon, first the Torah first tells us the reason behind the name and then the name.  When it comes to Reuvain, first we are given the name, and only then the reason.  The Torah's placement of the justification for the name only after the fact hints that there was another hidden reason that had already led Leah to already choose the name Reuvain.  That reason is revealed by Chazal.

We find  inother cases as well that there is an overt reason given for the name chosen, but behind the scenes there is a subtext that reveals something different.  When Rachel gives birth to a child she exclaims, “Asaf Elokim es cherpasi.” (30:23) The Torah then tells us that she named the child Yosef, saying, “Yosef Hashem li ben achier.” (30:24) Don’t we already have a reason for the name Rachel chose, i.e. “asaf Elokim es cherpasi?”  And given that reason, wouldn’t it be more fitting for her child to be called Assaf rather than Yosef?  Ksav Sofer explains that in her heart Rachel felt “asaf Elokim es cherpasi,” but she did not want to saddle her child with a name that would be a constant reminder of the embarrassment she suffered.  Therefore, she used the name Yosef, “leimor…,” so that people should say, “Yosef Hashem li ben achier.” 

Another example:  the name Yis(as)char.  Leah says she chose the name because “nasan Elokim sechari,” (30:18) yet one cannot help but hear overtones of “sachor sicharticha,” (30:17) the fact that she “rented” Ya’akov.  Chasam Sofer writes that the reason we usually pronounce the name Yisachar and not Yisaschar is because “sachor sicharticha” is something to be kept private; it’s the hidden subtext.  Only in this parsha, in the context of the name being given and sachor sichaticha being overtly mentioned, it should be pronounced Yisaschar.

Getting back to our starting point, why did Leah feel such a strong need to contrast the behavior of Reuvain with that of Eisav?  Remember that Leah was actually destined to be the wife of Eisav, which is why (as Rashi explains) her eyes were sore from crying.  Eisav should have been a helper to Ya’akov, supporting his study of Torah, enabling him to achieve spiritual success.  Eisav, however, rejected that role completely.  When Ya’akov dressed up as Eisav and took the brachos, Ya’akov in effect took on the role of Eisav in addition to his own.  With that new identity as Eisav, explains the Sefas Emes (5647), came the relationship with Leah.  The deception by Lavan in Leah’s marriage parallel’s Ya’akov’s “deception” to take on the role of Eisav.  The relationship between Reuvain and Yosef, Leah’s children, parallels the relationship that should have existed between Eisav and Ya’akov.  While Eisav rejected his role and failed in his mission, Leah’s children achieved success in theirs, validating their mother’s tikun of that role.