Thursday, December 31, 2015

people reflect the character of their leader

Some parsha thoughts:

1) Hashem told Moshe that if Bnei Yisrael did not believe him, he should give them a sign by pouring water before them that Hashem would miraculously turn to blood.  The Midrash is critical of Moshe for questioning the belief of Bnei Yisrael.  It explains that this sign was meant as a hint for Moshe himself, as he would be judged and found wanting when it came to the episode of Mei Meriva.  It would be his blood on the line and he would be found to be at fault through those waters.

What's the connection between these two events?  Here the pasuk is speaking about Bnei Yisrael's belief; the episode of Mei Meriva was a mistake on Moshe's part years later.  What does one thing have to do with the other?

The character of a nation is a reflection of the character of their leader.  R' Simcha Bunim m'Peshischa in Kol Simcha explains that Hashem was telling Moshe that if Bnei Yisrael don't believe him, it means he needs to search inside himself, not blame them.  If he were on a higher level of emunah, then they would be on a higher level as well.  Such a slight defect in character may not even be apparent or have immediate consequences, but down the road, at Mei Meriva, "ya'an lo ha'emantem bi l'hakdisheini," those consequences would inevitably come out.

A leader also needs to believe in his people and trust that they will follow his direction.  I thought that perhaps this is the message the Midrash is teaching us.  Moshe's sin at Mei Meriva was calling Bnei Yisrael rebellious, "Shi'mu na hamorim!"  Hashem was telling Moshe that his questioning of Klal Yisrael's emunah now, his lack of belief in them, would lead to trouble down the road.

2) At the end of the parsha, Moshe complained to Hashem that he followed directions and delivered Hashem's message to Pharoah, but as a result things got worse for Bnei Yisrael.  Now Pharoah insisted that they produce the same number of bricks, but he did not provide any straw for them.  If Pharoah's goal was simply to make people work harder, why didn't he just increase the quota of bricks they had to produce?  Why introduce this new twist of taking away the straw?

The sefer Ma'adanei Asher quotes the following pshat: Pharaoh's objective wasn't just to make people hard work -- his objective it was to spoil the midos tovos of Klal Yisrael.  When your life depends on finding every piece of straw that you can, it's hard to be nice to your neighbor who is also out looking for the same scraps.  Conflict, jealousy, and greed were bound to appear when people are competing for every crumb (it's just like working on Wall Street : ).  When Moshe complained, it wasn't Pharaoh's wickedness that bothered him - Hashem had warned him in advance that Pharoah wouldn't listen.  What bothered him was that the midos tovos of Klal Yisrael were wearing thin.  "Lamah Ha'rei'osa" - why have you made the people become bad, pick up bad midos, by allowing such a gezeirah to happen?

3) Hashem replied to Moshe that he will see what Pharaoh will get - implying, as Rashi explains, that Moshe will only see the punishment of Pharaoh, but not see the future conquest of Eretz Yisrael and the punishment of the 31 kings there.

What kind of answer is that?  Is Moshe being punished for protesting against Jewish suffering?

The Shem m'Shmuel quotes from his father that the geulah from Mitzrayim is the paradigm for all future geulos.  Had Bnei Yisrael had even had a shred of zechuyos and hope, then the geulah from Egypt would have been a geulah that assumed and built upon that foundation, and that same foundation would have been required for any future geulos.  Hashem wanted to bring a geulah that assumed nothing - a geulah that took Bnei Yisrael from the absolute lowest depths and redeemed them.  This way, in our dor or in any dor, when we are stuck at the bottom, we can still count on the possibility of redemption.

Had Moshe been the one to lead Bnei Yisrael into Eretz Yisrael, that would have been it - final tikun achieved, nothing more needed.  There would have not been other geulos to worry about.  Hashem therefore told Moshe that this was not going to happen -- there would be other stops along the road.  Future doros would be on the lowest of low levels.  Therefore, things had to get worse and hit rock bottom in Egypt so that the paradigm of complete geulah from those depths could be created.

(It's a bit troubling -- why should the dor of Mitzrayim have suffered "extra" just so there would be a paradigm of geulah that would work for all future doros?  Why should that dor have suffered more than that due because of what might be in the future?
Perhaps the answer is because they were the cause of that future.  Had they been worthy of a geulah shleima and a complete tikun, then a lesser paradigm would have been sufficient.)

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

a philosophical pshat of the Rambam and how it relates to eidus: birur or hanhaga?

When Moshe argues to G-d that Bnei Yisrael will not believe that he was sent as their redeemer, it sounds like a question local to the context of the story of yetzi’as Mitzrayim.  Rambam (Yisodei HaTorah 8:2) however reads the whole conversation as a philosophical debate:
וזהו שאמר לו הקב"ה בתחילת נבואתו בעת שנתן לו האותות לעשותן במצרים ואמר לו ושמעו לקולך. ידע משה רבינו שהמאמין על פי האותות יש בלבבו דופי ומהרהר ומחשב והיה נשמט מלילך ואמר והן לא יאמינו לי. עד שהודיעו הקב"ה שאלו האותות אינן אלא עד שיצאו ממצרים ואחר שיצאו ויעמדו על ההר הזה יסתלק הרהור שמהרהרין אחריך שאני נותן לך כאן אות שידעו שאני שלחתיך באמת מתחילה ולא ישאר בלבם הרהור
The Rambam in the first halacha of that chapter writes that signs and wonders, no matter how remarkable, do not prove the legitimacy of a prophet.  The reason we believe in the prophecy of Moshe Rabeinu is because we witnessed ma’amad Har Sinai with our own eyes and heard G-d tell Moshe to speak to us. 
At the burning bush, when G-d gave Moshe signs to prove that he was the real deal, Moshe countered with this philosophical point that signs are not sufficient proof of anything.  Hashem answered that this was only a temporary measure.  The real proof would come later at Sinai.
The Lechem Mishneh points out that the Rambam’s version of the conversation between Moshe and G-d actually inverts the order of the pesukim as they appear in chumash. The way the pesukim appear is as follows:
  1. G-d tells Moshe that there will be a ma’amad Har Sinai (3:12)
  2. Moshe argues that Bnei Yisrael will not believe him (4:1)
  3. Hashem gives Moshe three signs
According to Rambam, it’s exactly the reverse: first Hashem gave Moshe the signs, then Moshe questioned whether they are sufficient proof, and finally Hashem revealed that the ultimate true sign is ma’amad Har Sinai.
Be that as it may, what I find strange is that b’shalama according to the Maharal (Gevuros Hashem) who holds that ma’amad Har Sinai is just one ingredient in the cholent of what brings us to emunah, but we also need the miracle of yetzi’as Mitzrayim and kriyas Yam Suf to establish the notion of hashgacha, I understand why so many mitzvos are “zecher l’yetzi’as Mitzrayim.”  The miracle is a proof.  But according to the Rambam that everything is rooted only in ma’amad har Sinai and miracles and wonders prove nothing, even miracles as great as yetzi'as Mitzrayim, why are there no mitzvos “zecher l’ma’amad Har Sinai?”  It’s not even counted as a mitzvah!  Why is yetzi’as Mitzrayim and not ma’amad har Sinai the focus?   
The Rambam ends that halacha by sneaking in a remarkable chiddush in hilchos eidus: 
נמצאת אומר שכל נביא שיעמוד אחר משה רבינו אין אנו מאמינים בו מפני האות לבדו כדי שנאמר אם יעשה אות נשמע לו לכל מה שיאמר. אלא מפני המצוה שצוה משה בתורה ואמר אם נתן אות אליו תשמעון. כמו שצונו לחתוך הדבר על פי שנים עדים ואע"פ שאין אנו יודעין אם העידו אמת אם שקר. כך מצוה לשמוע מזה הנביא אע"פ שאין אנו יודעים אם האות אמת או בכישוף ולט:
The Rambam tells us that we can never know in reality who is a true prophet and who isn’t.  Even if the prophet performs miracles, that's not proof.  The only reason we rely on a prophet is because the Torah commands us to do so.  In that same way, says the Rambam, we really never know if what two witnesses say is true or not.  The only reason we rely on their testimony is because the Torah tells us to. 
In other words: eidus is a hanhaga, not a birur.   
I don't have the time or ability now to sink into this swamp of a topic, but here's one issue that exploits this chiddush: R’ Ya’akov Moshe Charlap (Beis Zevul I: 5: 7) quotes a teshuvah from the Nesivos who asks as follows: if a treif piece of meat fell into the cholent, you are allowed to eat the meat based on bitul b’rov and are chayav nothing  if afterwards you  figure out that you ate the treif piece.  However, the Mishna in Yevamos (91) says that if a woman remarries based on the testimony of eidim (not an eid echad) who say her husband died and then her husband re-appears,  she is chayeves a korban.  Why the difference? 
In a nutshell, the difference is that rov is a birur while eidus is only a hanhaga.  As long as there is a rov of heter, the cholent becomes heter -– that is the reality.  However, when it comes to eidim, we never know the truth.  The Torah accepts testimony in lieu of factual knowledge.  However, where that testimony proves false, the individual affected is liable for not doing more to ascertain the truth.  It's still shogeg and not meizid, but it's not ones because the person knew full well that the truth remained unknown.

Friday, December 25, 2015


My daughter has a bad habit of reading news on a so called frum site and leaving the browser open so I end up seeing it when I sit down at the computer.  I like to avoid seeing the gross stupidity out there.  Anyway, since the damage is done, does anyone else find the juxtaposition of these pieces a little ironic?

A) A story about a massive anti-IDF demonstration on 10 Teves, because who needs an army to protect us, right?  Who even needs a government? 

B) A story about the good news of the Israeli government allocating 83 million shekel to chareidi educational institutions.

the dear departed spaghetti monster

I've been blogging so long I remember the good 'ol days of fighting with other bloggers about orthopraxy and fundamental beliefs.  Remember the spaghetti monster?  Remember the uber-rationalists who read their Dawkins and Sam Harris and argued that religion is a matter of taste, like what flavor ice cream you like, not knowledge, because religion does not make any claims that are falsifiable.  You can't test belief like you can test a scientific hypothesis, so it cannot be fact -- it's just an opinion. 

Well times change quickly, as I discovered when I read this article.   "Many of today’s theorists — chief among them the proponents of string theory and the multiverse hypothesis — appear convinced of their ideas on the grounds that they are beautiful or logically compelling, despite the impossibility of testing them."   (bolding done by me)  Falsifiability is no longer considered the only grounds for defining a valid theory, or accepting it as true.

As scientists search for a grand unified theory that ties together everything, they move further and further away from assertions that can be tested in a laboratory and closer and closer to the realm of what is rationally compelling, but empirically unverifiable.  In other words, they move closer and closer to reaching the point that we've been at for 3300 years.  Let me go out on  a limb and suggest a name for that grand unified theory that they one day might find: G-d.   

Thursday, December 24, 2015

achalkeim b'Ya'akov -- spread the zeal and passion

Last post was a little lomdus, so this will be a little derush on the parsha. I noticed that fewer and fewer people are reading blogger.  Maybe it's time to switch formats or stop?  Any ideas?

After referring to the kinah of Shimon and Levi, Ya’akov says “achalkeim b’Ya’akov v’afitzeim b’Yisrael.”   The Chasam Sofer explains that Ya’akov was not referring to the members of sheivet Shimon or the members of sheivet Levi – he was referring rather to the kinah of sheivet Shimon and sheivet Levi, the "arur apam" mentioned earlier in the pasuk.  Shimon and Levi reacted too strongly, but the other shevatim didn’t react at all, which is not a good thing either.  Ya’akov said that if only a little of the zealous anger of Shimon and Levi was spread among the other shevatim, then they would all have the proper balance.

This is one of my pet peeves.  You have people who call up WFAN and argue with such passion about the Mets, the Jets, the Knicks, etc. but often it's the same people who are totally pareve and passionless when it comes to their avodas Hashem.  You don’t need to walk around fighting with people and picking arguments, but at the same time, if you are speaking and/or thinking about issues that are devarim ha’omdim b’runo shel olam and/or are integral to your identity and what you feel life is all about, then there should be a little passion there, at least inside.  The opposite of being a Shimon and Levi is not indifference -- it's having the proper balance.
Rashi writes that the members of sheivet Shimon would be teachers who wander from place to place to teach Torah, and the Levi’im have to wander from place to place to collect ma’aser.  The Rambam in Hil Shemita writes that the Levi’im were also teachers of Torah, and it was sheivet Levi who kept the mesorah of the Avos alive in Mitzrayim.  R’ Ya’akov Kaminetzki explains that kana'us without Torah is of no value.  With Torah, it can be channeled and harnessed properly.  Ya’akov assigned Shimon and Levi the task of becoming the rebbe’s of Klal Yisrael, and in this way, the Torah would temper their nature and bring it under control.
This is also a tremendous lesson in chinuch.  Ya’akov didn’t tell Shimon and Levi, “Don’t be so impetuous!”  That wouldn’t have worked – a tiger can’t change its stripes, and Shimon and Levi would not so easily become different people.  Instead, he gave them a means of channeling their strengths properly.  The job of a mechaneich is not to take the talmid who is a Y personality and force him or her to become X.  The job of the mehaneich is to take the talmid who is a Y and show him or her how he/she can best serve Hashem as a Y. 
Ya’akov said to Yosef, “…V’hinei her’ah osi Elokim gam es zarecha.” (48:11)  The simple pshat is the Ya’akov was thanking Hashem that he was able to see his grandchildren, Yosef’s sons.  If that’s the case, the pasuk should say “her’ah li,” not “her’ah osi.”   Why the awkward construction?
A number of meforshim remind us that when Yosef was challenged with the test of Eishes Potifar, what saved him was the vision he saw of his father’s face.  That shield from danger worked for Yosef, but what about the next generation, the generation of Menashe and Ephraim, who never saw Ya’akov Avinu before?  What vision would protect them when their commitment would be challenged?  When Ya’akov saw how Ephraim and Menashe had developed, he realized he did not have to worry.  “Hinei her’ah osi” – Hashem showed me, my image, to these children as well, said Ya’akov.  They may not have seen me in person, but through Yosef, they have before them the “dmus d’yukno” of a Ya’akov Avinu.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

minuy melech/meshicha of a melech -- shitas haRambam

Ramban writes that “lo yasur sheivet m’Yehudah” is not just a bracha (as other Rishonim learn), but it’s a command.  Except for Yeravam, who was appointed by a navi, the appointment of any king from a sheiveit other than Yehudah violates the deathbed wishes of Ya’akov Avinu.

The Rambam in Sefer haMitzos (362) goes a step further and writes that we know from Nevi’im (not from Ya’akov Avinu) that only Shlomo and his descendants, malchus beis David, have a legitimate claim to malchus.  The appointment of anyone else is like a zar trying to serve as a kohen and a violation of “lo tuchal la’seis alecha ish nochri.” 
What makes this Rambam strange is that the Rambam himself in Hil Melachim (ch 1) writes that any king appointed by a navi who observes Torah and mitzvos is a legitimate king.  And in Hil Chanukah, unlike Ramban who is critical of the Chashmonaim because as Kohanim they had no right to the throne, the Rambam lauds the Chashmonaim for re-establishing the malchus.  How does this fit with what the Rambam tells us in Sefer haMitzvos?  How can there be a legitimate king who is not from malchus beis David?
I want to look at another nice chakirah and then maybe through that come back to this Rambam.
The gemara (Krisus 5) writes that malchus is passed b’yerushah from father to son; therefore, the son of a king does not need to be anointed.  Why then, asks the gemara, was Shlomo anointed?  The gemara answers that this was special case because of the machlokes with Adoniyahu as to who would take over.
Yesh lackor what the conclusion of the gemara means.  Does it mean that:
1) malchus passes b’yerusha no matter what, but where there is machlokes a new meshicha is needed to quiet the dispute;
2) machokes interferes with and cancels the din yerusha; therefore a new meshicha is needed to re-establish the king's right to the throne.
Rambam (Melachim 1:12) writes:
אין מושחין מלך בן מלך. אלא אם כן היתה שם מחלוקת או מלחמה מושחין אותו כדי לסלק המחלוקת.
Sounds like the first option – there is still a din yerusha, but you have to do something to quell the machlokes.
Rashi in Kerisus, however, explains “… aval ki ikka machlokes *lo yerusha hi*.”  
Sounds like the second option – there is no din yerusha in a case of machlokes.
Maybe the underlying issue here is what purpose meshicha serves.  According to Rambam, meshicha creates a permanent status, much like the meshicha of a kohen gadol endows the kohen with a certain kedusha, or the meshicha of a kli shareis endows it with kedusha.  It is a transformative experience.  Machlokes cannot undo that status.  According to Rashi, however, meshicha is more of a symbolic gesture, like wearing a crown or carrying a scepter.  It’s doesn’t transform the essence of the person -- it's just a symbol of the position. 
Coming back to the Rambam we started with, R’ Meir Dan Plotzki in Chemdas Yisrael (here) suggests that according to Rambam in Sefer haMitzvos the issur is not *appointing* a new king, but rather in *anointing* a new king.  It's the meshicha that creates the issur, not the minuy.  The Chashmonaim and others who might have ruled were temporarily holding the position, but since they had no meshicha, their claim to the throne was incomplete and there was no issur violated.  Perhaps this is the Rambam l’shitaso in our chakirah, that meshicha transforms and is "mekadesh" the person (Rambam himself in Sefer haMitzvos draws the analogy to kehunah) to fill the role of malchus.  Without that, the king is just an ordinary person playing a role.   

Monday, December 21, 2015

no news is good news

The gemara quotes a machlokes Tanaim as to what the navi meant by “tzom ha’asiri,” the fast of the 10th month.  We pasken that it refers to the 10th day of the 10th month when the siege was laid around Yerushalayim; however, there is another view that holds it refers to the 5th day of the 10th month when the news of the churban reached the golah.
I understand why you have to fast when something bad happens or on the anniversary of something bad happening.  We fast 9 Av for the churban.  But why should there be another fast when you get the news about something that happened months ago? 
It seems that in Chazal's eyes hearing about tzaros is itself a tzarah worth fasting for.  There is a reason the Mishna in Brachos uses the term “besoros tovos” for good news but “shemu’os” – not “besoros” – “ra’os” for bad news.  A besorah means tell your friends.; a shem’ua is something you happen to hear about.  Bad news is not something you want to spread or want to hear.  I don’t know what Chazal would make of 24x7 cable and all kinds of other media that bring every detail of every tzarah in the world to a person’s doorstep or computer screen.  We've lost that degree of sensitivity.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

crying is not enough

"Vayinashek l'kol echav va'yeivk aleihem v'acharei chein dibru echav ito." (45:15)  This is the completion of the story arc, says the Sefas Emes, that began with, "v'lo yachlu dabro l'shalom."  (37:4)  The brothers could no longer communicate with Yosef back then, but now, "v'acharei chein dibru echav ito."
In the preceding pasuk the Torah tells is that Yosef cried on the shoulders of Binyamin and Binyamin cried on Yosef.  Rashi explains that Yosef was crying for the loss of the beis hamikdash, which was built in Binyamin’s portion, while Binyamin was crying for the destruction of Shiloh, which was built in Yosef’s portion.  I saw an interesting diyuk: each one cried for his brother's loss, but not for his own. 
I would say that this is what makes Klal Yisrael great.  A person can suffer loss him/herself, but be able to put that aside and focus on the suffering of a brother or sister or friend.   
R’ Shaul Yisraeli (in Siach Shaul) suggests another lesson we learn from here: it is often easier to see the churban in someone else's backyard than to the churban in your own.  
Finally, the Lubavitcher Rebbe makes the same diyuk and also tells us something powerful: the purpose of crying is to show empathy; crying, however, can't fix the problem.  When the churban is in someone else's portion, then you need to cry with them and show your support and caring.  When the churban is in your portion, then crying is not enough -- you have to go fix the problem!
We are coming up to 10 Teves, a day of ta'anis, a day to mourn for churban.  But mourning, crying, fasting are not enough -- we need to fix the problem in Klal Yisrael that are keeping us in a state of churban.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

mother tongue

Yosef tells his brothers, “Re’u ki pi ha’medaber aleichem.”  Last post I mentioned that Rashi writes that Yosef was trying to prove to the brothers that he was the real deal and not an imposter, so he spoke lashon kodesh to them.  Ramban disagrees and says this would not have proven anything.  Egypt was right across the border from Eretz Yisrael, so there would have been people who knew both languages.  I saw the Chasam Sofer writes that even in galus Bavel, which lasted only 70 years, we find that lashon kodesh was forgotten.  (Even in Sifrei Tanach, Sefer Daniel is writted in Aramaic, as well as parts of Ezra/Nechemya.)  How did they forget their mother tongue so quickly?  Chasam Sofer answers that the lack of kedusha in galus is a block to lashon kodesh.  The two are incompatible.  Since Yosef was able to speak lashon kodesh fluently to his brothers, it proved that he maintained his kedusha throughout the years away from home -- he was the same Yosef haTzadik.  (Maybe it's called lashon kodesh not because the language itself is holy, but because it demands holiness of the speaker.)  Chasam Sofer doesn’t say it, but in light of this maybe we can better appreciate the Chazal that hroughout the galus in Mitzrayim “lo shinu es lishonam,” Klal Yisrael did not change their language.  It’s not just a matter of how they spoke, but it shows a  level of kedusha that was retained.  I would look at it like this: the language you speak is like your passport.  The Jew who went into galus Bavel surrendered his Israeli passport and became a citizen of galus.  That's why lashon kodesh was lost.  The Jews in Mitzrayim may have been in galus, but they still had their passports -- they were citizens of Eretz Yisrael just stuck for an extended stay.  Am I wrong to think that the rebirth of Ivrit as a spoken language in our time is another sign that we are in reishis tzemichas ge’ulasainu?  I wrote this to my daughter in Israel in seminary to encourage her to her to appreciate hearing and seeing Hebrew all around her.  It's enough of a shame that kids go through 12 years of yeshiva and then go to Israel, come down with a cold, and go to the drugstore and say "Ha'af sheli ratz - yesh li kar," if they can even manage to say that much.  While they are there they hear all their shiurim and classes in English, speak to friends in English, and remain foreigners in a foreign land.  It's time to trade in the passport, even if they need to (hopefully only temporarily) come back to galus. 

asher m'chartem osi -- y'yasher kochachem she'm'chartem osi!

When Yosef finally reveals himself to his brothers, "Ani Yosef achichem," he continues and adds, "Asher m’chartem osi Mitzrayma." (45:4) Why did he needs to say that? The brothers had already admitted their guilt in selling Yosef and this was a moment of reconciliation. Why rub it in and remind them of their past wrongdoing?

The Netziv offers a practical answer. How would the brothers know that this was really Yosef and not some imposter? Rashi writes that when Yosef asked the brothers to come close, it was to show that his was mahul and thereby prove his identity (never mind the fact that in last week’s parsha Rashi writes that Yosef had everyone in Mitzrayim do milah.) Rashi also comments on, "Hinei eineichem ro’os ki pi ha’medaber aleichem…" that Yosef spoke to his brothers in lashon kodesh. The implication is that the Egyptians spoke Egyptian and would not have been able to converse in Hebrew (see Ramban). The Radomsker writes that normal speech is heard, but G-dly speech is seen. At Har Sinai we were "ro’im es ha’kolos." Yosef said to his brothers, "eineichem ro’os," you can see my speech -–  that's only be possible when a tzadik is speaking. The Netziv sticks to the plain meaning of the text. There is one fact that only the real Yosef would have known, and that is the fact that he was sold into slavery by his brothers. "Asher m’chartem osi…" was Yosef’s proof that he was the real deal.

The Sefas Emes takes a completely different approach, one that is especially relevant to us. "Ani Yosef" is not just like saying, "Hi, I’m Bob." What Yosef was saying is that even though he is now the second in command of all of Egypt, a man vested with tremendous power who has risen from nothing to the pinnacle of Egyptian society, he is still the same Yosef, still their brother – the same one of the shivtei K-h, the same son who learned the Torah of Ya’akov Avinu. Can you imagine how the brothers felt when they suddenly saw the greatness of who Yosef was? Chazal tell us "oy lanu m’yom ha’din oy lanu m’yom tochacha," and the model of the ultimate rebuke of judgment day is this revelation of Yosef. The meforshim (see Seforno, Beis HaLevi) ask: where is the tochacha here? Yosef did not criticize his brothers and did not give them mussar – at best he just told them the facts of who he is and what they had done. The answer is that this itself in the tochacha. The brothers had deceived themselves into thinking Yosef was a rodef, an enemy, a threat, and they acted accordingly. When Yosef hatzadik revealed who he was and what he had achieved in ruchniyus, that whole illusion fell apart. When the day of real judgment comes Hashem will just show us the truth of who we are and what life is all about, all those illusions we spend a lifetime building up and sustaining will collapse. It won’t be pretty. So the brothers were sitting there thinking to themselves that if this is what Yosef hatzadik has become trapped away from home, surviving for years in the dungeons and prisons of Egypt, faced with temptations and distractions galore, imagine what he would have developed into had we not sold him!

The "Ani Yosef" of pasuk 3 was the shock/tochacha, but the "Ani Yosef" in pasuk 4 is the consolation, a response to the brothers pain, not a repetition. Yosef told his brothers that they had not deprived him of the opportunity for spiritual growth all those years he was away from home. To the contrary -– it wasn’t *in spite* of his being sold to Mitzrayim that he was Yosef hatzadik, but it was *because* he was sold to Mitzrayim that he was Yosef hatzadik. It’s the nisyonos, the challenges, the temptations that he overcame that made him that much greater. "Ani Yosef," said Yosef, and what made me who I am is "asher m’chartem osi."

Imagine a ninth-grader whose algebra teacher works her to the bone (I don't need to imagine -- I can look at one of my kids) leading her to complain nightly to her parents. Fast forward 20 years to when the same kid, after winning a Nobel Prize in math, visits her alma mata and greets her teacher, "Hi Mrs. So and So who worked me so hard in ninth grade!" Is that the same complaint of 20 years ago? Of course not! It's now the biggest praise, because 20 years later the fruits of that supposed hard work are evident. It's a bad mashal but it's the best I can do to give maybe a taste of taste of what's going on in the pasuk here. 

When Hashem spoke to Moshe about the luchos that he broke, "asher shibarta," Chazal darshen "asher shibarta – y’yasher kochacha she’shibarta." Perhaps here too we may darshen "asher m’chartem osi – y’yasher kochachem she’m’chartem." 

Yosef was not criticizing his brothers, but acknowledging that what they put him through was in the end, to his benefit.

Not everyone wants to be or can be a Yosef who can not only survive, but thrive in the outside world while maintaining their identity as a ben Torah. It's a challenge.  But dealing with the challenge should not be seen as a hindrance to growth, a b'dieved, but aderaba, it should be seen as a vehicle through which one grows stronger.

(Thank goodness it's the Sefas Emes giving us the message that dealing with the challenges of the outside world made Yosef a greater, not lesser, person. Sounds like something you would expect from a YU guy like me : )  If you put on a spodek and say it, I guess it's all OK.)

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

beis mishmarchem -- when one brother suffers, all suffer

Yosef imprisons his brothers, but then decides to let them go and only hold back Shimon on the condition that they return with Binyamin.  “Im keinim atem achichem echad yei’aser b’beis mishmarchem…”  (42:19)  Rashi (see Taz on this Rashi) already notes the difficulty with the phrase “beis mishmarchem.”  It wasn’t their prison – they were free to go!  Why does Yosef make it seem like the brothers themselves are still in jail?

The Pardes Yosef answers by quoting a vort from R’ Yitzchok of Vorke.  The gemara (Meg 28) writes that R’ Zeira said that he merited living a long life because (among other things) he never rejoiced in a friend’s downfall.  It seems a very strange thing to boast about.  Surely none of us would be happy to see a friend or colleague have trouble -- this doesn’t sound like a special midas chassidus that would warrant extra praise or extra reward.   What was so special about R’ Zeira’s behavior?
R’ Yitzchok of Vorke explained that we are translating the words wrong.  It goes without saying that R’ Zeira did not rejoice in his friends’ bad luck.  None of us would do that.  What made R’ Zeira special is that he never rejoiced – period – while a friend was in trouble.  His sense of empathy was so great that so long as a friend was in pain, he was in pain. 
Yosef may have held back only Shimon, but all the brothers felt as if they too still remained in prison so long as they were not together.

sometimes the good part of the story is not so good

Generally when a parsha opens with the word “haya” it means something good is going to happen, but “va’yehi” portends bad news (see Megillah 10).  “Va’yehi miketz she’nasayim yamim…”  Yosef is about to get out of prison and rise to become the second in command of Egypt.  Why does our parsha open with the word “va’yehi?”  This is the good part of the story!

One of the answers the Ohr HaChaim gives is that while in the short term things are about to get much better for Yosef, from the perspective of Jewish history, things are about to start going downhill.  Yosef’s rise coincides with a famine that will cause his brothers to come down to Egypt (never mind the pain the famine itself must have caused) and cause his father Ya’akov to enter a galus that will last centuries. 
So often we judge events based only on their immediate effect upon ourselves.  That’s human nature.  The Torah, however, takes a longer view and broader view of things.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

zos chanukah -- the training never ends

When Yosef went looking for his brothers, he met a man on the road who told him "nas'u mi'zeh," they have gone away.  Rashi explains that this was an angel telling Yosef that his brothers had departed from that sense of achvah, familial unity, that bound them together.

Obviously the angel gave Yosef no more than a hint, otherwise he would not have continued on to meet his brothers knowing they were plotting against him.  Yet this begs the question: since Yosef did continue on his way, oblivious to the message, what was the point of telling it to him?  What meaning did those words "nas'u mi'zeh" have if they did not deter Yosef from his journey?

Chazal tell us that the prophets used the expression "koh," but Moshe Rabeinu alone received prophecy that used the expression "zeh." The Maharal explains that "zeh" conveys the fact that the message is eternal.  You can at any and every moment point to it -- "zeh" -- and it will be true.   

The Shem m'Shmuel (VaYeishev 5677) writes that the brothers sentence against Yosef was a hora'as sha'ah, but was not strictly in accordance with the letter of the law.  They felt Yosef posed a danger that had to be dealt with, whatever it took, even extra-legal means.  The angel was hinting to Yosef that his brothers were abandoning "zeh" -- they were sacrificing eternal truth for the sake of expediency and the moment.

Yosef did not realize the hint at the time, but in retrospect, he understood the message.  He may find himself in a pit, in an Egyptian prison, in dire circumstances, but his dreams and his vision were the "zeh" that would ultimately be realized.  

The Kozhiglover writes that the expression "zos Chanukah," sharing the same root as "zeh,"  teaches us that the message of Chanukah does not end on the eighth day -- it continues with us long after the candles have gone out and is in fact always there. 

The name Chanukah comes from the word "chinuch," training and preparation.  It's very strange -- normally you prepare for something, some goal.  Every Rocky movie (I haven't seen Creed, but I imagine it's true for this one too :) has the training sequence with it's music and then you have the big fight at the end.  A movie with just training and no climactic ending wouldn't be as fulfilling.  Yet that's Chanukah -- we are always training, always preparing.  "Zos Chanukah" -- there is no end.  Whatever we achieve is just preparation to go on to something bigger and better.

Friday, December 11, 2015

it's not about me: what Yosef taught Pharoah

1) The symbolism of Pharoah's dream doesn't really seem all that hard to figure out.  Why none of his advisor's could  make sense of it seems more of a mystery than why Yosef got it.

The Midrash contrasts "Pharoah omeid al h'ye'or" with "Hinei Hashem nitzav alav."  The Egyptian diety was  subservient to the Pharoahs -- religion was a tool to control the masses and consolidate power; it served an  instrumental good for mankind.  We believe that religion is not meant to serve our needs and wants; we are meant to  yield to its demands.  

The advisors of Pharoah came from this worldview where everything -- even the will of their deity -- revolved around the "me,"  especially in the case of Pharoah.  Therefore, they interpreted the dreams of Pharoah in that light.  It was about  daughters he would have and bury; it was about rebellious cities that had to be put down.  What would happen to the  Pharoah; what would the result to the Pharoah be.   

When Pharoah tells his dream to Yosef, interestingly he is no longer "omeid al ha'ye'or," but he is "al sefas  ha'ye'or."  His perspective has begun to shift, but it takes Yosef to bring him the rest of the way.  "Es ha'Elokim  oseh her'ah es Pharoah" -- what does G-d do?  He does good for mankind; he does not act for his self-interest.   Explains R' Shaul Yisraeli, this is what Yosef was telling Pharoah - he was showing him a worldview where he must  act not for his own self-interest, but for the good his his kingdom and the good of his people, because that is the  only way the famine will be beat.  

2) The meforshim on last week's parsha discuss why the Torah uses double-language, "V'lo zacahr Sar haMashkim es Yosef  va'yishkacheihu."  Isn't "lo zachar" the same thing as "vayishkacheihu?"

The Sefas Emes explains that "V'lo zachar"  refers to the Sar haMashkim forgetting about Yosef; "vayishkacheihu"  refers to Yosef forgetting about the Sar HaMashkim.  Yosef did not think for a moment that the Sar haMashkim would  actually do anything to help, and so the second the words, "zechartani... v'hizkartani," were out of his mouth,  Yosef immediately put the Sar haMashkim out of his mind.  Yosef's complete trust was that Hashem would deliver him  from prison.

The Midrash criticizes Yosef for saying "zechartani... v'hizkartani," but the same Midrash also calls Yosef a ba'al  bitachon (see the archives for a few approaches to this Chazal).  Yosef for whatever reason felt he had to say  "zichartani v'hizkartani," but the "vayishkacheihu" proves where he true bitachon was.

The Chiddushi haRI"M writes that we see that there is an inverse relationship between asking for "zechartani" and  actually being remembered.  The request of "zechartani" of a Sar haMashkim actually causes "shikcha" and led to two  more years of prison of Yosef.  WHen it comes to Chanukah, the decree "l'hashkicham torasecha" led to us having a  zecher to a nes for dorei doros. 

3) When the brothers return to Egypt a second time and see that they are immediately brought to Yosef's home, to the  palace, they are filled with fear.  "Al dvar ha'kesef ha'shav b'amtichoseinu batechila anachnu muva'im..." (43:18).   The Imrei Emes explains that the brothers were not thinking of the money they found in their bags on the way home,  but rather about the original money ("batechila"), the money they took for selling their brother.  They realized  that they were being forced to pay for their crimes.  

It's interesting that we have so much detail describing how they find the money -- "heim m'rikim sakeihem..."  (42:35).  The Imrei Emes sees in this an allusion to a line in mizmor shir chanukas habayis that we've been saying:  over the chag: "Pitachtah saki va'ti'azreinu simcha."  

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

mitzvah of chinuch for hallel

The Rambam paskens (Hil Brachos ch 5) that a child as an obligation in birchas hamazon based on the din of chinuch.  A child can be motzi an adult who ate less than k'dei sevi'a (i.e. the adult's chiyuv is also only derabannan) because the child's obligation is parallel to that of the adult.  Yet, in Hil Chanukah (ch 3) the Rambam states unequivocally that a child cannot be motzi an adult in kri'as hallel even through the Rambam holds that kri'as hallel is only a chiyuv derabbanan. 

Once upon a time we discussed the machlokes Rishonim whether chinuch is an obligation on the father to train his son, or whether it makes the child chayav m'derabbanan in mitzvos.  It's beyond what I have time now to get into, but it seems the Rambam formulates it different ways in different places, sometimes writing "mechanchin es ha'katan" (or other such terminology), indicating the obligation rests on the parent, other times, like with respect to bentching, indicating that the katan himself is obligated in the mitzvah.  Whether there is any distinction in this regard between bentching and mikra megillah is something worth looking into.

Rav Wahrman z"l in his sefer She'eiris Yosef (vol 7) offers a different distinction, one that we discussed before as well.  R' Shternbruch (see full post here) is mechadesh that chinuch only obligates a child in mikra megillah but not in the seudah of Purim.  The difference between the two is that mikra megillah is a mechanical act; the reading is an end in and of itself.  The seudah of Purim is a means to fulfill the mitzvah of simcha, which is an emotional state.  The kiyum b'lev is the essential component of the mitzvah.  A child may not understand fully what he/she is doing, but he/she can perform a behavior; however, when the emotions and thoughts are themselves part and parcel of the definition of the mitzvah, the katan has no way to do the mitzvah properly.

Hallel, suggests R' Wahrman, is by definition a reflection and expression of simcha.  Without that kiyum b'lev, it's just words.  That's why on Rosh haShana and Yom Kippur, where, as the gemara says, "the books of life and death are open," we are exempt from hallel.  The recitation would be devoid of the joy that makes the reading into hallel.  A child cannot empathize and feel the same emotional response as an adult; therefore, there is no chinuch on the mitzvah of hallel.

Monday, December 07, 2015

pirsumei nisa - at all costs?

The PM"G writes that ideally an onein should have his wife light ner Chanukah for him, but if that is not possible, he should light himself. Why do we not apply the usual rule that an onein is exempt from all mitzvos?

My first thought was that we see that ner Chanukah is an exception in other areas as well. Normally you don’t have to spend more than 1/5 of your money to fulfill a mitzvas aseh (ha'mevazbez al yevazbez yoseir m'chomesh), yet when it comes to ner Chanukah (O.C. 676) a person needs to even sell the shirt off his back to do the mitzvah. Just like pirsumei nisa does not allow exemptions based on an ones of money, so too, pirsumei nisa does not allow exemptions for the onein either.

Interestingly, the PMG (671:3) is not so clear when it comes to the chiyuv to spend what it takes. He writes that if there would be a monetary penalty for lighting, e.g. the state would fine you something for lighting, a person is not obligated to sacrifice more than 1/5 of his money to do the mitzvah.

The poor person who sells the shirt off his back is giving up more than 1/5 of his net worth, yet we say he is obligated to do so because of pirsumei nisa. Why, asks R’ Akiva Eiger, is paying a penalty that amounts to more than 1/5 of a person’s money any different?

R’ Baruch Mordechai Ezrahi poses the following chakirah: is the monetary cap of spending no more than 1/5 of one’s money for doing a mitzvah a din in the chiyuv of the gavra, or a din in the cheftzah shel mitzvah?

Perhaps this is the machlokes R’ Akiva Eiger and the PM"G. R’ Akiva Eiger understood that 1/5 is a cut off for the chiyuv hagavra – beyond that, a person has a right to claim ones, unless we are speaking about pirsumei nisa. PM"G, however, understood that the 1/5 cap is a shiur in spending on the cheftza shel mitzvah. If, for example, someone was charging $100 for an esrog and all you have is $500 to your name, you are at the threshold. If the same was true of the cost of Chanukah candles (pirsumei nisa), then you have no choice but to pay. It’s a different story, however, if the government decides that whoever lights has to pay a $1000 fine. That has nothing to do with the cost of the cheftza shel mitzvah – it’s simply a penalty on the gavra. In that case, says the PM"G, the rule of oneis still applies.

There may be a simpler explanation why an onein has to light. Ner Chanukah is not a personal obligation, a chiyuv hagavra, the way other mitzvos are, but is a chiyuv on the household. One of the many proofs to this idea is the fact that in hil Chanukah (67:;3) the S"A quotes a view that a child who has reached the age of chinuch may light ner Chanukah to be motzi others, but in hil megillah (689:2) the S"A writes that a katan may not be motzi anyone in megillah reading and does not quote any dissenting view. Both chiyuvim are derabbanan – why in one case does the S"A at least entertain the view that a katan can be motzi a gadol and in the other case not?

The Chacham Tzvi answers that reading megillah is a chovas ha’gavra on each individual; a katan cannot be motzi a gadol in that case. Lighting ner Chanukah, however, is not an obligation on each individual, but is rather a chiyuv on the house, "ner ish u’beiso." There is no personal obligation for the katan to be motzi anyone in – it’s just creating the state of the house having candles lit. (Compare with R’ Chaim’s chiddush discussed here that chiyuv of hadlakas menorah in the mikdash is not a chovas ha’gavra to do the lighting, but is rather a chiyuv in the chefzta shel menorah to be lit.)

Even though the onein has no personal obligation to do mitzvos, just as a katan has no obligation, he still can and should light if that is the only way his home will have the light of ner Chanukah.