Thursday, November 29, 2018

to'eh ba'sadeh

The Torah tells us that when Yosef was sent to look for his brothers, he could not find them.  A man found Yosef "to'eh ba'sadeh," wandering in the fields, and asked him what he was looking for,  "I am looking for my brothers," Yosef replied, and the man then directed him to Dosan to find them.

Do we really need to know that Yosef stopped to ask for directions?  Do we really need a blow by blow report of that conversation?

Obviously there is more going on here than a conversation about directions.  "Va'yimtza'eihu ish," the man offering directions found Yosef.  Normally you go looking for help when you need directions -- the person offering directions doesn't go looking for and find you.  And normally when you ask for directions you specify a place, a street, and address -- "I'm looking for my brothers" is none of the above.  (Parenthetically, this also hints to a deterioration of relations between Yosef and his brothers.  Surely the brothers had certain regular places that they went, yet Yosef seems clueless as to where to find them.  It seems like he spent so little time with them that he was not aware of their habits or usual haunts.)  Why would Yosef assume this man who he has never met would know who his brothers are or where they are?  These clues are perhaps what led Rashi to explain that the unnamed man here is the angel Gavriel.  By including this episode the Torah is revealing G-d's fingerprints all over what happened.  There was no chance Yosef would not find his brothers, return home, and avoid the fate that awaited him. 

But if Rashi is correct that the man Yosef met is an angel, the question that begs asking (and Ibn Ezra does the asking) is why the Torah doesn't explicitly tell us so.  Why couch the man's identity in mystery and rely on us to infer the truth? 

"V'hinei anachnu m'almim alumim b'toch ha'sadeh..."  Yosef in his dreams sees himself as standing in a field, his brothers bowing subserviently to him.  By bringing their "dibasam ra'ah" to their father, but placing himself on a pedestal above them, might Yosef have misjudged his brothers and not treated them favorably enough?  Might this be the "to'eh ba'sadeh" the Torah is hinting at (Mishnas Sachir, Alshich)? 

I think this may be why the Torah never explicitly reveals to us the identity of the unnamed man Yosef met.  Perhaps this was a final chance for Yosef to make amends.  If an angel could appear to be an "ish," and we only know otherwise based on inference and clues, might Yosef's brothers, whose crimes he reported to their father, in truth be far more saintly than he gave them credit for, but he was missing the subtle clues and signs? 

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Ya'akov's real estate deal

1. After his encounter with Eisav, Yaakov returned to Eretz Yisrael and built a mizbeiach, fulfilling his vow of "V'haya Hashem li l'Elokim" which he made when he first left home (Seforno 33:20). 

The Torah adds one other detail: Ya'akov bought the property upon which he built the mizbeiach from Chamor for $100.

Why do we need to know the details of the real estate transaction?  What does that have to do with Ya'akov's fulfillment of his religious aspirations?

Ibn Ezra writes that buying a cheilek in Eretz Yisrael is like buying a share in olam ha'ba.  Buying land in Eretz Yisrael is not just a real estate deal, not just a hechsher mitzvah to have a place to make a mizbeiach, but this is part and parcel of Ya'akov's religious mission that he was now able to fulfill upon his return and escape from Eisav.

The Seforno (33:19) has a slightly different explanation that I am unable to understand.  He writes that Ya'akov bought the land because "eich nashir es shir Hashem..."  Meaning, just like we say in al naharos Bavel, in galus it is impossible to serve Hashem properly.  Therefore, Ya'akov made a point of acquiring the land.

What is the comparison?  The Jews who were going into captivity in Bavel were leaving Eretz Yisrael for a foreign country.  "Eich nashir... al admas neichar."  Regardless of who owns the land, Eretz Yisrael is still Eretz Yisrael, not admas neichar.  Avraham and Yitzchak had also offered sacrifices on altars and the Torah does not record that they bought the land for that purpose.

I don't have a good explanation.

2. I believe I saw R' Shlomo Amar as pointing out that although it sounds from our parsha like Shimon and Levi were tremendous warriors and it was their might that led to the conquest of Shechem, in parshas Vayechi, when Ya'akov gives Shechem to Yosef (48:22), he refers to taking the city "b'charbi u'b'kashti," which the Targum translates as Ya'akov's power of tefilah (see also Rashi and Mizrachi there).  Ya'akov may have disapproved of their actions, but it was his koach ha'tefilah that have Shimon and Levi their success. 

Thursday, November 22, 2018

preparations and promises

1. About 10 years ago we discussed the machlokes Rashi and the Rosh as to the source for the age of 13 being the age of bar mitzvah.  Rashi (Nazir 29b) writes that Shimon and Levi were 13 years old when they attached Shechem, and they are called "ish," mature adults, at that age -- "VaYikchu... ish charbo."  We don't find the term "ish" being used for anyone at any younger age.  The Rosh writes that the shiur is a halacha l'Moshe m'Sinai with no rhyme or reason attached to it.

The halachic nafka minah between the two views is whether the shiur gadlus of 13 applies to a ben noach.  If the halacha is just a giluy milsa that 13 is the age of da'as, when a person reaches maturity, then the same should hold true for a ben noach.  However, if it is a halacha l'Moshe m'Sinai without any reason attached, then it would apply strictly to a yisrael.

There may be a philosophical nafka minah as well.  The Lubavitcher Rebbe (Likutei Sichos vol 15) suggests the machlokes here may hinge on whether there is a rational basis for mitzvos or whether they transcend reason.  Rashi  aligns himself with the rationalist camp, and therefore the chiyuv in mitzvos depends on the age at which one attains da'as and maturity.  The Rosh, however, disagrees.  (The Rebbe then goes on to suggests even according to Rashi the kabbalas ol of mitzvos is something that transcends da'as.)

2. Although Ya'akov invokes G-d's promise "Hashem ha'omeir eilay shuv l'artzecha u'l'moldtecha v'eitiva imach" in his tefilah, he still prepares for battle, sends presents to Eisav, and is worried about the encounter.  Chazal tell us that he was concerned "shema yigrom ha'cheit" and he would not be worthy of the promise.  If so, what good is mentioning it in his tefilah?

Alshich explains that Ya'akov's words are meant to justify his behavior.  Why the need for preparation, why the anxiety, when G-d made a promise?  The answer is "Hashem h'omeir eilay..."  Hashem = the midas ha'rachamim.  In last week's parsha Ya'akov responded to that promise with a neder, "Im yihiyeh Elokim imadi..."  Elokim = midas ha'din.  Ya'akov wanted to earn his reward, not receive it simply because of G-d's grace or mercy, a free gift.  Here too, Ya'akov acknowledges the promise, but notes that it was given as an act of rachamim.  That opens the door for the midas ha'din to raise objections.  Therefore, promise notwithstanding, the encounter with Eisav poses a danger.

I was wondering if you could answer the question more simply.  Perhaps tefilah has its own rules.  Even if shema yigrom ha'cheit, one can ask for G-d's help anyway.  After all, isn't every tefilah really a request for G-d to intercede even if we are unworthy? 

Thursday, November 01, 2018

Eliezer's tefilah / test

My son was complaining to me that if I don't write anything on the parsha it will be 2 straight weeks with nothing...

Had Eliezer followed Avraham's instructions he would have travelled to Aram Naharayim, asked around to find Avraham's family, knocked on the door, and hoped to find a suitable match for Yitzchak there.

But that's not what he did.  Aside from the whole test he setup to find a girl who excels at doing chessed (and if Avraham didn't tell him to do that, we should ask ourselves why Eliezer thought it necessary, but that's a different topic...), the Torah tells us that he davened.  "Vayomar Hashem Elokei adoni Avraham hakei na lifanay hayom v'aseh chessed im adoni Avraham..." (24:12).  According to Rashi, even the conclusion of Eliezer's description of the test he was setting up, "u'bah eidah ki asisa chessed im adoni," (24:14) is not a statement of fact. i.e. the test proves that Hashem did a chessed and he found the right girl, but rather is part and parcel of his tefilah, i.e. "u'bah eidah..." through this test I pray that I will know who the right girl is.  It's not a tefilah + a test, but it's one big tefilah that things work out (Ramban and others disagree). 

I think it's safe to assume that if we would say a little tehillim before embarking on an important project, the Avos and the people in their household would do no less.  Had the Torah not told us that Elizer davened, would we have assumed otherwise?  Of course not.  So while the details of the test might be necessary and relevant to the story, the question begs itself: why does the Torah feel the need to stress Eliezer's tefilah here?

The Sefas Emes asks the question, but I want to offer a different answer than the one he gives. 

There is an interesting machlokes in the meforshim how to interpret the tefilah of Eliezer.  Most (Targum Yonasan, Ibn Ezra, Ramban, Kli Yakar) interpret "hakrei na lifanei" to mean that Hashem should cause the right girl to appear before Eliezer.  However, Alshich and more clearly the Netziv read it differently.  Before Eliezer left Avraham's home, Avraham gave him a bracha: "Hu [Hashem] yishlach malacho lifanecha..." Hashem should send his angel along with him to help (24:4).  Now Eliezer gets to Aram Naharayim and he davens to Hashem, "hakrei na lifanei," you, Hashem, please appear before me.  It's not enough for me to have the help of a malach to pull this off -- I need you here with me.   

I think the Chazon Ish is quoted as saying that the last remnant of open hashgacha that we have left is in inyanei shidduchim.  It's not the shadchan, it's not even malachim, but it's Hashem himself who makes a match happen, even sometimes in the most unlikely situations.

That's perhaps why the Torah makes a point of including the tefilah of Eliezer.  Of course everything the Avos did was accompanied by tefilah.  But when it comes to the parsha of marriage, tefilah is not just a nice thing to do to accompany the mitzvah, but it is part and parcel of the mitzvah itself.  Since direct intervention of the yad Hashem is necessary, tefilah, dveikus with Hashem, asking Hashem for that direct involvement, is a must.