Put Hashem First

One of the challenges that we have in life, is to constantly realize our complete dependence on Hashem for everything we have.

We are reminded by our Rabbis that we must never attribute our successes to ourselves. Success only comes with Hashem’s help despite the diligent efforts we invest.

The same is true during our extremely happy moments in life. We have to keep in mind Hashem’s kindness that made this happen.

Yakov Avinu taught this to us when he was reunited with his long lost beloved son that he had not seen for twenty-two years. The Torah says that Yosef wept when he embraced his father. But Yakov first said קריאת שמע to accept the yoke of Heaven and give gratitude. Only afterwards, did he rejoice with his G-d given miracle. Shabbat Shalom

Priorities

In Parshat ויגש, we have Yosef revealing himself to his brothers. There is tremendous Mussar in this meeting.

When Yosef finally said, “I am Yosef. Is my father still alive?”, the brothers were shocked and unable to answer. They were in a state of shock.

The lesson to be learned from this is clear. If the brothers were unable to answer Yosef, how are we going to be able to answer to Hashem when we stand before Him at the end of our lives!

This story of Yosef and his brothers, is meant to be a wake up call to get our priorities right. It is always important to remind ourselves what is permanent and lasting, and what is foolishness. It is the Torah, Mitzvot, and good name that we take with us, and that should be our focus.

מענה רך

In Mishlei, it is written, מענה רך משיב חמה, a gentle response conquers anger. Shlomo Hamelech is telling us the importance of not raising our voices in any conversation. This is seconded by the Ramban in אגרת הרמב”ן, when he refers to this gentle response as דיבור בנחת.

Rabbeinu Bechaye felt that this was the key to Yehuda’s handling of Yosef. He did not allow himself to lose his cool, even though he was very annoyed with Yosef.

Anger, or כעס, can be one of the most harmful negative character traits that one can have.

The Ramban says it very succinctly in his letter to his son. Conquer anger and you achieve humility, ענווה. When you have humility, it opens the door to all of the good things in life; and the most important one is the closeness to Hashem that comes with humility.

חרטה

An essential ingredient towards doing Teshuva, is חרטה, or regret. Some commentators felt that one of the reasons Yosef did not notify Yakov sooner that he was alive, was because he wanted to see if his brothers had repented.

This might explain why he asked them to bring Binyamin and why he made accusations against them. The brothers clearly recognized their mistake. They assumed that all of the difficulties they were experiencing in Egypt was directly related to their treatment of Yosef.

They openly acknowledged this when they said that they were guilty for not hearing their brother’s cries and his begging for mercy.

Yosef was moved to tears when he heard their admission of guilt was a clear demonstration of חרטה. Yosef accomplished what he set out to do. His brothers had done Teshuva.

Trust in Hashem

There is a Pasuk in משלי that is related to yesterday’s Parsha. It reads: בטח אל ה׳ בכל לבך, ואל בינתך אל תישען. The translation is that we are to trust in Hashem with all our hearts, and not rely on our own wisdom.

The reference in the Parsha was to Yosef who relied to heavily on the butler for salvation. He was punished for this with two extra years in prison.

Rabbeinu Bechaye mentions that there are three great gifts that man may be given. They are wealth, wisdom, and strength. One who possesses one or all of these gifts, must always be reminded that they are gifts from Hashem. Just as they were given, they can be taken away. One must never waver in his complete reliance on G-d, as everything comes from Him.

Seventy Languages

Shavua Tov. The Talmud in מסכת סוטה tells of the dialogue between Pharoah and his advisors. They protested the fact that a slave purchased for twenty silver coins could be worthy of royalty.

Pharaoh insisted that he sensed that Yosef was not a common slave but truly was worthy of his position. The advisors challenged this claim and agreed that if Yosef knew seventy languages, nothing more would be said.

A miracle occurred and that night the Angel Gavriel taught Yosef the seventy languages required for his position.

King David alluded to this in תהילים where Yosef is called יהוסף. The extra ״י״ from Hashem’s name and gave him extra wisdom.

The Pasuk in Tehillim 81 says, עדות ביהוסף שמו בצאתו על ארץ מצרים שפת לא ידעתי ואשמע. Yosef received his testimony when he went out over Egypt. A language I did not know, but I listened.

This is all about this particular story.

Don’t Arouse Jealousy

In this week’s Parsha, we learn of Yosef’s rise to power in Egypt. He turned that country into the world’s superpower during the seven years of famine.

When Yakov Avinu realized that the famine had spread everywhere, he told his family, למה תתראו, “Why should you be afraid?”

The Talmud in מסכת תענית 10b, explains what he really meant. At this time, Yakov still had food. Nevertheless, he gave not only his family advice, but advice to future generations as well.

“Do not show yourselves as full, or having more in front of Eisav and Yishmael, in order that they not be jealous of you.”

He was warning his children not to flaunt their wealth but to remain humble before the Gentiles. Arousing their jealousy is never a good idea. This is especially true for Jews living in the Diaspora. Jews are guests in חוץ לארץ and should quietly go about their business without attracting too much attention.

Yakov’s advice was prophetic and needs to be followed now more than ever. Shabbat Shalom

Chanukah in the Torah

There are a few hints about Chanukah in the Torah. The first is that the twenty-fifth word in the Torah is “אור” and Chanukah takes place on the twenty fifth day of Kislev.

A second reference comes from פרשת מסעי where the travels of the Jews are mentioned. The twenty fifth place visited was called “חשמונה” which sounds like the חשמונאים.

And a final reference comes from the Ramban in פרשת בהעלותך. Hashem sees that Aharon is a little sad at the dedication ceremonies of the Mishkan. All twelve tribes had special sacrifices on each of the twelve inauguration days. The Kohanim did not have a role to play. Hashem consoles Aharon by telling him that there will be a holiday in the future when the Temple will be re-dedicated. All of this will be because of the heroism of Aharon’s descendants, the חשמונאים.

Paradox of Chanukah

The holiday of Chanukah carries with it a paradox. A very high percentage of Jews observe this holiday in Israel and the Diaspora. Probably more Jews observe Chanukah than any other holiday except for maybe Pesach and Yom Kippur.

The paradox is that the message of Chanukah seems to run contrary to those who observe it. Most do not realize that the main struggle of the Maccabees was to fight assimilation and Hellenism. Jews were leaving the observance of Torah for the Greek way of life.

The rebellion by Matityahu himself, began when he killed a Jew who was publicly eating swine. The cry of מי כמוך באלים ה׳ (a mnemonic for the name מכבי), was an open announcement that those who follow Hashem, should join the revolt against the Greeks.

The lighting of the Menora in the Temple, was a sign that sanctity prevailed and the Torah and those who observe it, were the victors.

It’s great that so many Jews participate in the lighting of the Menorah. It would be even greater if the message of Chanuka was fulfilled in our day as well.

High Priest But Not King

The Talmud in מסכת שבת discusses the laws of חנוכה. It is found among the laws related to which oils are permitted for Shabbat candles.

The authors of the Talmud barely mentioned the incredible war victory of the Chashmonaim over the Greeks. Instead, a great deal of emphasis is placed on the miracle of the cruse of oil and how one fulfills his obligation of lighting the Chanukah candles according to Halacha.

Rav Eliyahu Ki Tov in ספר התודעה, claims that it was intentional that little was said about the war. The Tannaim and Amoraim were upset that the חשמונאי Family overstepped the boundaries of what was permitted to them. They were Kohanim and were able to even assume the role of כהן גדול. They were not allowed to declare themselves as king in addition to High Priest. Because they did this, they were shunned by the Talmud. And even worse, there ceased to be descendants of the חשמונאים. There are no כהנים from this family line.

Nevertheless, the על הניסים prayer that is said in ברכת המזון and שמונה עשרה, does acknowledge in detail the miracle of the war victory.

Chanukah Laws

Tonight we begin Chanukah. There are three important concepts connected with this holiday.

The first is הדלקה עושה מצוה. This means that the lighting of the Menorah is what fulfills the Mitzva. The Menorah must be placed in a place that should allow the allocated amount of oil to burn for thirty minutes after the stars come out. If placed where a wind will likely blow out the candles, we have not fulfilled the Mitzva. If an unexpected wind blows out the candles, we have fulfilled the Mitzva. It is customary to re-light the Menorah, but not mandatory.

The other two concepts are related. They are פירסומי ניסא and עד שתכלה רגל מן השוק. The first means to advertise the miracle to make it known to all passers by. The second means until there are still feet in the market place. This refers to the fact that people are still walking around and will see your Menorah as they pass your dwelling.

We fulfill פירסומי ניסא as long as there are people who fulfill עד שתכלה רגל מן השוק. In the old days, this was only for a short time after dark. Today it is much later and depends where you live. חנוכה שמח!

Anticipate Shabbat

Shavua Tov. When Yosef told his father and brothers, his second dream, the Torah tells us that the brothers hated him for this. But his father שמר את הדבר.

Rashi translates the word שמר to mean that he anticipated the matter. Yakov wasn’t so sure that Yosef’s dreams were meaningless and the words of an arrogant young man. He thought he would wait and see how things played out.

There are Rabbis who felt that there is a reason why we say זכור ושמור in connection with Shabbat. זכור is to remember Shabbat and we do this by making Kiddush Friday night. But perhaps שמור doesn’t really mean observe Shabbat but “anticipate” Shabbat’s coming. We have a precedent that Yakov meant שמר to mean anticipate.

How do we anticipate Shabbat? We do this already by Friday afternoon. We can Daven Mincha Gedola and have our Shabbat preparations completed early, in anticipation of Shabbat. The siren announcing Shabbat in Jerusalem is meant to mean that Shabbat has begun; it is not an announcement to now jump in the shower!

We must anticipate Shabbat in order to observe שמירת השבת.

Unable to be Comforted

We learn this week of the selling of Yosef by his brothers. This was a horrible crime that was later rectified by the Ten Martyrs who were thought to be a reincarnation of the ten brothers.

When Yakov is sent the bloody Coat of Many Colors, he goes into mourning for his beloved son. The Torah tells us, וימאן להתנחם, that he refused to be comforted.

The Rabbis have a statement that says, גזירה על המת שנשתכחים מן הלב, that it is a decree that when one passes away, he is forgotten after twelve months. However, if the person has not really died, the mourner will not be comforted. This could apply to one missing in action or one who went overseas and was not heard from.

In Yakov’s case, this was a clear sign that Yosef was still alive. He refused to be comforted and the usual rules of mourning did not apply to him. Shabbat Shalom

Yakov and Yosef

This week’s Parsha, וישב, begins with Yakov’s return to Eretz Yisrael with the hope that he will finally have some peace of mind. Immediately, we learn of his special relationship with Yosef, and the problems that immediately followed.

Rabbeinu Bechaye lists numerous similarities between Yakov and Yosef. Aside from looking alike, both had brothers that hated them. Both of their mothers, Rivka and Rachel, were barren and had to pray hard to conceive. Both were born circumcised. Both were shepherds and married their wives in Chutz L’Aretz. Both were escorted by angels. (It was an that helped Yosef find his brothers.) Lavan was blessed because of Yakov and Potiphar because of Yosef. And finally, both died in Egypt and both were mummified.

It is quite interesting how a thorough examination of the text and commentators, gives us such a deep insight into our biblical characters.

New Beginnings

One of the beautiful aspects of Judaism is that no matter how far a person falls, he can always start over and pick up the pieces.

At the end of last week’s Parsha, we learned about the lineage of Eisav. They were very corrupt, evil people. We are also told that Eisav’s wife’s name was בשמת. Rashi points out that her name was also מחלת. This was meant to teach us that when one gets married, his sins are forgiven. The name מחלת, has the word, מחילה, forgiveness, contained in it.

We are also taught that when one moves to Israel, his sins are forgiven as well.

If one gets himself into a financial mess and cannot see how he will ever pay off his debts, the שמיטה year comes when all of his debts are forgiven. One must never despair. One can always resolve to start over and get things right.

Yakov’s Truthfulness

Yakov Avinu was known for being truthful and honest. The commentators say that because a Tzaddik does not steal. Therefore, Yakov went back to retrieve forgotten small packages.

Rabbeinu Bechaye claims that the reason Yakov’s name was changed to ישראל, was in order to remove any stigma that he may have had in order to outsmart crooks like Lavan and Eisav.

In Eisav’s case, he even used the words, ויעקבני זה פעמיים, implying that he was deceived by Yakov two times. He was referring to his selling of the birthright and Yakov taking away his blessing.

Being able to be smart and avoiding being cheated by dishonest people, does not diminish from one’s pursuit of truth.

It is always important to have integrity and high moral standards. It is not a Mitzva to allow oneself to be taken advantage of and degraded. This we learn from Yakov/Yisrael, the man of truth.

The Dina Incident

The incident of Dina and Shechem Ben Chamor is very troubling. Rabbeinu Bechaye claims that Dina was eight years old at the time, and Shimon and Levi were thirteen and twelve years old.

The Rambam does not go into this question of ages but does justify that the acts of Shimon and Levi, were correct.

It was known to all that it was necessary to observe the Seven Noachide. A violation of any of these seven laws was punishable with death. The inhabitants of that city, were collectively guilty of two of the Seven Noachide Laws.

They were guilty of kidnapping as they all knew that Dina was taken against her will, and they did nothing. The city was expected to set up courts of justice, as dictated by the Torah. They were obliged to try Shechem for his sin against Dina. They did nothing in this case, either.

For these reasons the Rambam believed they acted properly. Yakov Avinu cursed their anger but did not curse their action. A very troubling and difficult episode, indeed.

Be a Mentch

Shavua Tov. One of the interesting historical stories related to today’s Parsha, is the relationship that existed between Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi and the Roman Emperor Antoninus.

The latter was a descendant of Eisav and yet, had great admiration for רבי. When רבי wrote letters to אנטונינוס, he began with the words, כה אמר עבדך יהודה, so said your master, Yehuda, similar to the way Yakov addresses Eisav. Antoninus would reply with, וכי עבדי אתה, and do you think you are my servant!

Numerous times during our Galut, such relationships were critical for our survival. We must always maintain a cordial relationship with our Gentile neighbors. We only need to keep our distance from turning this relationship into a social relationship. Being cordial, well mannered, and acting like a “mensch”, is always the correct path to take.

Surviving Galut

In פרשת וישלח, we learn how we are to deal with an oppressive רשע, evil person. The Rabbis say, מותר להחניף רשע בעולם הזה, that it is permitted to flatter an evil person in this world. Yakov’s handling of Eisav had hints as to how we were to cope with our long, horrible exile.

When Yakov sent gifts to עשו, he told his servants, רוח תשימו, make a space or gap between one gift and another. Yakov was asking Hashem in a way, to give breaks to עם ישראל between one difficult period and another in our exile.

When Yakov divided his camp into two, Yakov was asking that when we were in Galut, if Jews had it bad in one part of the world, things would be easier for Jews in another part of the world.

We are also taught that when Yakov bowed seven times before Eisav, he would one day rise above him.

Our Galut has been long and bitter. Finally, today we live in a world where there is no religious persecution for Jews anywhere. This seems to be a clear sign that the Galut is ending and Mashiach is knocking on the door. All we need to do, is let him in. Shabbat Shalom

Dreams and Birkat Kohanim

Regarding dreams and Birkat Kohanim, there is a big difference in the way the Priestly blessing is recited in Israel and outside of Israel.

For Ashkenazi Jews, ברכת כהנים is said approximately 450 times a year. In חוץ לארץ it is said about ten times a year. When it is said on those ten occasions, before the end of each of the three blessings, there is a traditional melody that is sung by the Kohanim (usually very off key!).

The reason for stretching out the ברכת כהנים in חוץ לארץ, was to give time to the congregation to say the more lengthy version of cancellation of dreams, during this singing.

In Israel, we do not need to wait for one of the festivals to hear ברכת כהנים. Therefore, we recite one paragraph beginning with the words, אדיר במרום to nullify our dreams. We also have the option of a shorter prayer where we make a more direct request of Hashem to turn bad dreams into good ones.