Tuesday, February 01, 2022

tov acharis davar m'reishiso - Adar and Yosef

On Shabbos I made a siyum on Bechoros in to commemorate my father's yahrzeit, and I tried to tie together the siyum, the parsha, and the fact that it was shabbos mevorchim.  Don't know if I succeeded, but this was my idea:

At the end of the parsha we read (24:5)  וַיִּשְׁלַ֗ח אֶֽת־נַעֲרֵי֙ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וַיַּֽעֲל֖וּ עֹלֹ֑ת.  Rashi explains את נערי – הבכורות.  Ramban challenges this interpretation: ולא ידעתי למה יכנה הבכורות בלשון נערי, אולי בעבור שהזכיר הזקנים שהם אצילי בני ישראל, קרא הבכורות נערים, כי הם נערים כנגדם.  Why would the Torah refer to the bechorim as ־נַעֲרֵי֙ when the bechor is the eldest of the famly and ־נַעֲרֵי֙ implies someone young?  We could ask a more fundamental question along the same lines: if the Torah meant that the bechorim offered korbanos, then why not use the term bechor?  Why introduce ambiguity by using the term ־נַעֲרֵי֙?

What is it that makes a bechor special?  The Sefas Emes explains (I believe Maharal has this same idea) that a bechor represents hischadshus.  Let me explain with a story.  The first Rosh haShana after my son was born we stayed by my MIL a"h and davened in Yeshiva Far Rockaway.  At some point before tekiyos by wife brought my son to shul in his stroller, where he sat happily sucking his pacifier.  At some point my my son either dropped or tossed his pacifier out of the stroller onto the floor, where it was retrieved by a toddler who was standing there with his mother and some other children.  The little toddler was just about to stick the pacifier back into my son's mouth when his mother, perhaps seeing the aghast look of shock on my wife's face, stopped him and said, "This is a first baby -- first baby's don't take pacifier's from the floor."

When you are still on baby #1, the bechor, the pacifier that falls on the floor gets sterilized.  You have a collection of backups that you can give the kid until you can properly clean the one that dropped.  By the time you are a few babies into building your family, when the pacifier falls on the floor it's enough to rub it on your sleeve, or maybe the 5 second rule applies if you pick it up fast enough (of course I am talking pre-Covid).  When you are dealing with a bechor, everything is new, everything is special, everything is still exciting.

The harm of Amalek is "asher karcha ba'derech."  Amalek cools us off -- our avodah loses its newness, its freshness.  Right after the war against Amalek described at the end of Ki Teitzei, the next parsha is the mitzvah of bikkurim = bechor.  Bring back that excitement to your avodas Hashem  and treat every mitzvah as if it was the first time you were doing it.

That freshness and excitement, "his'naari mei'adar kumi," is what makes the bechor special.  Therefore, the Torah uses the term naar when it calls the bechorim to offer korbanos, since this is the reason they were called to serve Hashem.

The 12 months of the year correspond to the 12 shevatim (Tur Hil Rosh Chodesh).  Chodesh Adar is the month of Yosef.  In a year like ours we have two Adars, and Yosef is the one sheivet that splits into two, Ephraim and Menashe. 

Yosef is the antidote to Eisav/Amalek.  Rashi right at the beginning of VaYeishev tells us היה בית יעקב אש ובית יוסף להבה ובית עשו לקש, ניצוץ יוצא מיוסף שמכלה ושורף את כולם.  The name Eisav, explains Shem m'Shmuel, comes from the same root as a-s-u, made.  Eisav was born with covered with hair -- he looked like a middle aged man right from the womb.  His life was complete from the get-go, with nothing to strive for and nothing left to achieve.  הִנֵּ֛ה אָֽנֹכִ֥י הוֹלֵ֖ךְ לָמ֑וּת וְלָֽמָּה־זֶּ֥ה לִ֖י בְּכֹרָֽה.  Why do I need bechorah -- hischadshus, renewal, rejuvenation -- when I am complete, when I've achieved it all already, and am just going through the motions day after day, waiting to die?  Yosef is the opposite.  He is a "ben zekunim," which the Targum explains to mean "wise," and we know that wisdom usually comes with maturity and age, but at the same time, "v'hu naar," he was and remained a naar, he retained the freshness and excitement of youth.  When Yosef was born, Rachel said, "Yosef Hashem li ben acheir..."  (30:25)  Yosef is never complete -- yosef, Hashem should add more, we should add more and strive for more.  It's no wonder that when Reuvain is displaced as bechor, it is Yosef who takes his place, as Yosef more than any other sheivet has the midah of naarus = hischadshus which defines the essence of what makes bechorah special.  It's no wonder that it is only once Yosef is born that Yaakov takes his leave of Lavan to take on the challenge of meeting Eisav.

When we get to the last month of the year, we might feel that we are out of energy, that we've been through so much these past months that we just want to put it all behind us.  Comes Adar and links us to Yosef, to naarus, to bechorah, to the possibility of renewal at all times, even at the very last moments of the waning year.  "Tov acharis davar m'reishiso" -- the goodness of this last month comes from the reishis, the element of bechorah, naarus, hischadshus, that is latent within it, even though it comes at the end.  Adar and Yosef challenge us to never stop growing.

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