Thursday, December 29, 2016

Yosef, 70 languages, shabbos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

kitusei michtas shiura and ner chanukah

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 22, 2016

the seeds of malchus

Yosef was lost somewhere in Mitzrayim, "vayeired Yehudah," Yehudah lost his leadership position for his role in the fiasco, Reuvain was immersed in doing teshuvah for his sins, Ya'akov could not be consoled over the loss of Yosef -- could things get any worse?  Could things look any bleaker?  Yet, the Midrash (85:1), after going through the above list, tells us that while all this was going on Hashem was busy creating the ohr of mashiach.  At the very moment when things look the bleakest, Hashem was crafting redemption.  That's a great lesson about Jewish history and Jewish destiny.

We have the story of Yehudah and Tamar in our parsha.  The gemara (Sotah 7b) darshens that there is a connection between Yehudah's bracha, "V'zos l'Yehdah...," with a connecting vav, in parshas V'Zos haBracha, and Reuvain's bracha that comes right before it.  Yehudah was not allowed to enter gan eden after death because he had pledged his olam ha'ba as collateral in case he did not bring Binyamin home.  Moshe Rabeinu wanted to rectify that.  He asked that Hashem open the gates of heaven for Yehudah in the merit of the special zechus Yehudah had of causing Reuvain to admit his guilt.  When Yehudah publicly admitted that he was the one who had been with Tamar, Reuvain was inspired and admitted his own guilt in being "bilbeil yetzu'ei aviv" with Bilhah.  In that merit, Yehudah earned entrance to gan eden.  

R' Leib Chasman makes a beautiful point.  Why it is that Yehudah's own public admission of guilt, at the cost of great embarrassment, was not enough to earn him olam ha'ba.  Why was it only the fact that he caused Reuvain to confess?  He beautifully answers that it's not only our own tzidkus that ultimately defines who we are, but it's what impact and influence we have on others. 

Be that as it may, I don't understand simple pshat in a Rashi on this sugya.  The gemara says that Yehudah and Reuvain received reward in this world as well as the next.  Rashi (d"h lahem levadam) writes that Yehudah received the reward of malchus; Reuvain received the reward of getting the first portion of land in Eretz Yisrael, in Eiver ha'Yarden.  Putting aside the question of whether Eiver haYarden has a full kedushas ha'aretz, I don't understand why this is a reward.  In Parshas Matos Moshe Rabeinu was highly critical of Reuvain and Gad for asking for that territory.   Taking it was viewed as a negative, and it was only with great reluctance that Moshe agreed that they could settle there.  Why is getting that land a reward?  I don't know.

It takes two to tango, and the reward of malchus given to Yehudah was earned by Tamar as well.   Rashi (38:26) quotes the Midrash that "because Tamar was modest in her in-laws house, therefore I [Hashem] decreed that she should produce kings of Israel." 

The is an amazing Rashi given the context.  Here Tamar says, "haker na," whoever these items belong to is the father of my baby.  She deliberately avoided accusing Yehudah directly, and would have even been willing to give up her life rather than embarrass him in public should he refuse to admit guilt.  Yet, that's not why Tamar earned the reward of malchus!   It's because of her tzeniyus, not her mesirus nefesh, that she was deserving of producing kings.

Were I a Beis Ya'akov teacher, this would be an easy home run derasha for the week.  "Kol kevudah **bas melech** pnimah..." (The 45:14)  The midah of tzeniyus and the midah of malchus go hand in hand.  (Why that should be so is something to explore further.  Friday night is a long night -- plenty of time to think : )

The Midrash writes that Yehudah took no notice of Tamar at first, but a malach caused him to turn aside off the road and go to her.  He was coerced somehow to fall into this situation so that malchus yisrael could arise.  It sounds like a supernatural occurrence, a long shot that you would not bet on.  So what was Tamar thinking?  What was this girl, who was so tzanu'a, hoping for?  Surely she could not have expected Yehudah to notice her or to be with her?  It would be like hoping to win the lottery! 

R' Chaim Shmuelevitz (Sichos Musar 5733 #9) answers that when a person realizes great things are on the line, he/she will grasp at every straw and make every effort, no matter how slight the chance of success, to bring things to fruition.  Tamar realized this was her chance -- a slight chance, but still, a chance -- to perhaps be the mother of malchus, the mother who will bring the lineage of mashiach into the world.  No matter what the odds, no matter what effort she took, it was something she had to shoot for.

Still haven't had a chance to write about Chanukah -- never enough time. 

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Dinah in the box

Rashi (32:23) writes that what happened to Dinah was a result of Ya'akov putting her in a box to keep her away from Eisav.  Had Dinah married Eisav, she might have inspired him to do teshuvah, but thanks to Ya'akov, there was never a chance of that happening. 

Why did the chance that Dinah might influence Eisav outweigh the potential danger of him influencing her, or her having a bad marriage?  How does the benefit outweigh the downside risk?  Why was Ya'akov wrong?

To compound the problem, the Midrash gives a completely different reason for what happened to Dina.  In last week's parsha when Ya'akov made his deal with Lavan regarding which sheep Lavan would keep and which sheep would become part of Ya'akov's own flock, he told Lavan, "V'ansa bi tidkasi b'yom machar," my righteousness will speak for itself in the coming days.  The Midrash (73:6) is critical of Ya'akov for this statement.  "Al tishallel b'yom machar" -- you Ya'akov said "v'ansa... machar," therefore your daughter Dinah will suffer inuy at the hands of Shchem. 

The first question that begs asking is what is the connection between Ya'akov's confident boast (if you will) to Lavan and what happened to Dinah.  But secondly, which is it -- did Dinah come to harm at Shchem because Ya'akov put her in a box and kept her from Eisav, or because of what he said to Lavan?

Chasam Sofer explains that the two reasons go hand in hand.  "V'ansa bi tidkasi b'yom machar" is a statement of tremendous bitachon.  Ya'akov felt confident that what would happen would ultimately support his claims, his position, his righteousness because G-d had promised that no harm would come to him.  The downside of boasting and being supremely confident based on bitachon is that you better be consistent, or you risk getting hoisted on your own petard (see this post.)  Does someone completely confident that Hashem will protect him from all harm lock his daughter in a box?  Ya'akov's own words to Lavan were the ruler against which his actions were judged, and he came up short. 

I think this Chasam Sofer helps answer the question we started with.  A normal person like me is bothered by the question of how we know Dinah would bring Eisav to teshuvah and not the other way around.  But someone who is a big ba'al bitachon, 100% confident that Hashem will work things out in his favor -- that shouldn't be his concern.  Hashem promised that he would come to no harm -- what's the issue? 

Speaking of risk vs. reward, I saw a Brisker Rav quoted that I don't understand.  Ya'akov said that if Eisav fights against part of the camp, "V'haya ha'machaneh ha'nishar l'pleitah," the other half will escape.  How did he know that they will for sure escape?  Rashi explains that Ya'akov meant that he will fight back and beat off Eisav.  Mashma that Ya'akov knew that if he fights, he is going to win.  So why did Ya'akov bother with the presents, the davening, etc. -- why not just fight and be done with it?  QED, says the Brisker Rav, that you only fight when your back is against the wall and you've exhausted every other means of resolution at your disposal.

I don't understand how this Rashi supports making a blanket rule like that.  Ya'akov may have been confident that he would win, but who says there would not be casualties?  Maybe in the risk/benefit scale, the cost of even a victorious battle would have been greater than the cost of the presents sent to Eisav?  

Last point for the week: the Chofetz Chaim asked why is it that the malach of Eisav, the yetzer ha'ra, came to fight davka against Ya'akov?  Why did a bad malach not come to fight against Avraham or fight against Yitzchak?

The Chofetz Chaim answered that the yetzer ha'ra can tolerate a Jew doing chessed (Avraham), the yetzer ha'ra can tolerate a Jew doing mitzvos and avodah (Yitzchak), but the yetzer ha'ra cannot tolerate Torah.  As long as a Jew is connected to Torah, "ohr she'bah machziro l'mutav" and the yetzer can never win.  Therefore, it's against Ya'akov, the symbol of Torah, the yosheiv ohalim, that the heavy guns are brought out.     

Thursday, December 08, 2016

the missed exit

Rashi (28:17) writes that Ya'akov Avinu walked right past the makom mikdash on his journey to Lavan's house.  When he later realized what he had done, he turned around to go back.  Hashem then made a miracle and through kefitzas ha'derech brought Har HaMoriah to Ya'akov to spare him the journey. (see Ramban).

The simple pshat in Rashi -- "ya'hiv da'atei lachzor" -- is that Ya'akov set his mind to go back to the makom hamikdash and daven there.  R' Moshe Scheinerman, however, suggests a different, more creative reading.  Ya'akov set his mind to go back to where he was coming from -- back to the yeshiva of Shem v'Eiver where he had been learning for 14 years.  Ya'akov said to himself, "Here I've been immersed in Torah for 14 straight years, and the second I leave the beis medrash my spiritual antenna become so dulled that I can walk right past the makom mikdash and not feel anything!"  The only solution would be to go back to the beis medrash and improve those spiritual antenna even more.  We have to be so careful when leaving the makom Torah, no matter who we are and no matter how long we have spent there, to keep our spiritual sensitivity intact.

But let's get back to the simple pshat in Rashi.  Why did Hashem wait for Ya'akov to realize that he had missed an important exit on the highway and start to turn around before intervening?  Why didn't Hashem stop Ya'akov before he passed Har HaMoriah in the first place? 

I am going to steal a story from R' Eliezer Eisenberg's blog post from last week:
The true story is that Reb Chaim Shmuelevitz used to spend Ellul with his uncle, Reb Avraham Jofen, in Novarodok. He asked him who is the biggest metzuyan in the yeshiva, and Reb Avraham pointed to a certain bachur. Reb Chaim was surprised, and asked, not the Steipler? Reb Avraham answered "You didn't ask who was the biggest lamdan. You asked who is the biggest metzuyan. That bachur is the biggest metzuyan, because he is the biggest mevakesh in the Yeshiva.

The story gives us the perspective to understand a yesod of R' Yerucham Lebovitz (in Da'as Torah on P' Braishis I think).  When Ya'akov walked by the makom mikdash, he wasn't looking for anything, and so Hashem didn't come looking for him.  Hashem does not ordinarily go out of His way to awaken people from their state of oblivion.  However, the second Ya'akov realized his error, he became a "mevakesh" -- he immediately turned around and desired to be at the makom mikdash and to daven.  When you are a "mevakesh" and are looking for Hashem, then Hashem reveals himself in kind.  When you are a  "mevakesh," then Hashem will even move mountains to help you on your quest.

Ya'akov's instituted the tefilah of arvis here.  At first glance you would say that shacharis and mincha are far superior tefilos to arvis.  There is a chiyuv to daven shacharis and mincha; tefilas arvis is a reshus (whatever that technically means).  Yet we know that Ya'akov Avinu is the bechir of the Avos.  How could his tefilah be the lowest rung on the ladder?

Rav Kook explains that it is precisely because arvis is a reshus that it is the greatest tefilah.  When it comes to shacharis and mincha, the chiyuv is like a halachic gun to your head, so to speak.  There is no choice other than to daven.  When it comes to arvis, there is not that type of obligation.  A person has to choose to daven arvis.  A person has to be a mevakesh.   

Thursday, December 01, 2016

which was the cause and which was the effect

The Netziv in last week's parsha says something very interesting.  The relationship between Rivka and Yitzchak was quite different than the relationship between Avraham and Sarah or even that of Ya'akov and his wives.  Sarah had no qualms about telling Avraham how she felt about Yishmael and demanding that he kick him out of the house.  Rivka doesn't communicate with Yitzchak.  She knows Ya'akov deserves the brachos, but instead of telling Yitzchak directly, she arranges this whole surreptitious way of making sure he gets them.  The Netziv says all this, but I think many a careful reader could figure it out too.  What makes the Netziv fascinating is that the average careful reader would conclude that it's the lack of communication between Rivka and Yitzchak which is the cause of Ya'akov having to steal the brachos.  The Netziv (24:65) says that it's the exact opposite.  G-d wanted Ya'akov to get the brachos by "stealing" them from Eisav (see Harchev Davar to 27:1 as to why).  To allow for the brachos to be gotten by "theft," Hashem caused there to be a different type of relationship between Yitzchak and Rivka.  You have to know which is the horse and which is the wagon, what's the cause and what's the effect.

This distance between Yitzchak and Rivka is not something which develops over time, but rather, writes the Netziv, is set from the moment the two meet.  When  Rivka first sees Yitzchak, she reacts with fear and trepidation, falling from her camel, while Yitzchak is completely focused on his tefilah, blind to Rivka's presence.  That meeting sets the tone for the rest of their marriage. All this so that 83 years later Ya'akov would be put in a position to use trickery to get the bracha meant for Eisav.  Can you imagine Hashem causing something to happen on your first date with your wife that will set the tone of your relationship in such a way so that 83 years later some other event will work out in your lives or your children's lives? 

Chazal darshen "Va'yar Elokim es kol asher asah v'hinei tov me'od" that "tov ME'OD" is the yetzer ha'ra, the malacha ha'maves.  In other words, it's Eisav.   "Va'yeilech haloch v'gadeil ad ki gadal ME'OD." (26:13)  Yitzchak Avinu was as great as that power of "me'od."  The yetzer ha'ra turns good to bad; Yitzchak thought he could inspire and turn bad to good.  Isn't doing that even greater than being good to begin with?  "B'chol levacha" = with both sides of your heart, so that even the Eisav side cooperates.  When Eisav entered the room as Ya'akov was departing after taking the brachos, and Yitzchak finally realized the truth of who Eisav was, it's not just "va'yecherad charadah gedolah," but it's "va'yecherad charadah gedolah ad ME'OD."  (see here)  His dreams of overcoming "tov ME'OD" = the malach ha'maves, the yetzer ha'ra, the evil of Eisav, had been dashed.  (See Sefas Emes 5631)