מקץ-Jewish Unity

This week’s Parsha, מקץ, speaks of the rise of יוסף to go from prison slave to the viceroy of Egypt. He is confronted by his brothers and devises a scheme to see if the brothers have remorse for their terrible crime of selling him.

Rabbi Soloveitchik makes an interesting observation about the entire saga. He says that Egypt was the first of many exiles that the Jewish people would be confronted with. And every exile either ended in expulsion, assimilation, or annihilation. All of these exiles could have been avoided if there would not have been divisiveness among Jewish brothers.

In short, all of our problems come from our inability to get along among ourselves. If we would have אחדות, unity, nobody from the outside could ever harm us. This is a very sobering statement that should motivate us to find love and brotherhood among all Jews. It is not an easy task but one that is essential for the well being of our people. שבת חנוכה שלום

Message of Chanukah

There is an underlying idea about Chanukah that is often not emphasized. We always speak about the victory of the few over the many, and the miracle of the cruse of oil that lasted eight days. However, there is another message worth mentioning.

Before the confrontation between the Maccabees and the Greeks, a transition was taking place among the Jewish people. It all began with the meeting between Alexander the Great and the Kohein Hagadol, Shimon Hatzaddik, many years earlier.

Although Alexander was impressed with the High Priest to the extent that he promised that he would not harm the Jews, he did bring Greek culture into Israel. Over time, many Jews became Hellenists and abandoned their Jewish values. Therefore, the real message of Chanukah was that we needed to stand firm in our faith and not give in to the temptations of other cultures. חנוכה שמח

Ten Commandments

The Talmud asks an interesting question regarding the Ten Commandments. If they are so important and they represent fundamental beliefs in Judaism, why are they not incorporated into our daily prayers? A suggested place would be to recite the Ten Commandments right after the morning Shema.

The reason given by the Gemara was that because of the arguments of the heretics, the Torah would be undermined. The uncensored Rashi describes these heretics as גוים תלמידי ישו, meaning Gentiles, the students of J.C. They will claim that only the Ten Commandments are true as they were given directly by G-d to the Jewish people. But the rest of the Torah is false,(G-d forbid).

The Rabbis determined that it was better to leave them out so as not to fan the flames of heresy and falsehood.

Hashem Creates Good and Evil

The Bracha that we say each morning is very significant in terms of certain leftist beliefs. The exact words are, יוצר אור ובורא חושך עושה שלום ובורא את הכל, that Hashem creates light and darkness and creates “everything”. The Talmud teaches that the word הכל should really have been the word, רע.

In other words, this blessing is based on a Pasuk from Isaiah 47 that says that Hashem also created רע or evil. It is a clear proof that evil exists. The Talmud says further that הכל substituted רע so as to use a “nicer” language.

One of the leftist arguments is that evil does not exist and the only reason why crimes or terrorism is committed, is due to the frustration of the perpetrator . If he received more love or hugs or economic opportunity, he would behave.

It is amazing that our daily prayers contradict this foolish notion.

Hashem created evil in order to reward the righteous and punish the wicked. It’s all about choices and man needs to choose good or evil.  If he chooses good, he is a Tzaddik and will receive abundant blessings. If he chooses evil, he will be punished and will fall. It’s as simple as that.

אבר מן החי

One of the difficulties in understanding the saga of Yosef and his brothers, was the לשון הרע that Yosef spoke about them. The Midrash says that Yosef accused his brother of eating אבר מן החי, tearing the limb from a live animal.

Obviously, such an accusation is absurd. The Rabbis try to explain this by saying that it was more of a philosophical difference of opinion than a practical one. There are two answers that are given.

The first answer is that there is a difference in the law of אבר מן החי for Jews and for Noachides. The Jew is allowed to begin cutting up the animal for consumption even when it is still shaking after slaughtering. The Noachide must wait until the animal stops moving completely. The brothers felt they were already עם ישראל while Yosef felt they were still strangers and the Noachide laws applied to them.

The second answer involved the law of בן פקועה that applies only to Jews. If a pregnant animal is slaughtered and the fetus comes out alive, it is considered to be slaughtered with its mother. According to Torah law, this animal would not need שחיטה and אבר מן החי would not apply to it for Jews. (The Rabbis did require שחיטה.) The same argument applied here between Yosef and his brothers. Were they עם ישראל already or not?

Tamar’s Patience

Shavua Tov. Rabbi Soloveitchik points out that a great deal can be learned from the behavior of Tamar, who ultimately became one of the mothers of the Mashiach.

Tamar was considered a בת כהן, as she descended from Shem, who was considered a Kohein. She realized that it was important for her to connect with the Tribe of Yehuda. She knew that kings would descend from that tribe.

Although she suffered disappointments with the deaths of her first two husbands, ער and אונן, and she was not given to the third son, שלה, she did not give up. She waited and persevered.

This was the lesson Tamar taught us. When you believe in something and know it is truth, persevere. Your convictions may be questioned, but you must not waver. The truth wins in the end.

Even in business, I once read that the biggest reason why some businesses fail, is that people give up too soon. If they would have had a little more patience, they would have succeeded. We have to stop expecting instant results.

Tamar did not give up and kings and Mashiach will have descended from her.

Yosef’s Preparation

There are many who questioned whether Yakov was correct in showing favoritism towards Yosef. This might have been an equal factor as to why the brothers hated him, to his annoying dreams of rulership.

Rabbi Soloveitchik felt that the special relationship between Yakov and Yosef, had a profound effect towards shaping Yosef for his future role as viceroy to Paroh.

Yosef was referred to as the בן זקונים, the son of his wisdom. Yakov loved Yosef for his wisdom and intelligence. Yakov was the father-teacher. His Home allowed Yosef to develop his personality.

Yosef was both a visionary, a dreamer, as well as implementer. His goal was to somehow blend his economic, organizational skills with his own spirituality. Ultimately, he succeeded in a big way.

A lesson to be learned from both Yakov and Yosef is how adversity and difficulties should be embraced. For without learning how to overcome them, we never are able to achieve big things in the world. Shabbat Shalom

Jews Must Get Along

Parshat וישב enters a new phase in ספר בראשית. Until now, the Torah was focused on the relationship between Jew and non-Jew and the various struggles of the Patriarchs. In this Parsha, we see the struggle between Jew and Jew.

The tragedy of Yosef and his brothers was in large part due to misunderstanding one another. In this case, the parties involved were righteous with good intentions. Despite this, the results led to great suffering and grief.

There is a Pasuk in the Navi that says מהרסיך ומחריביך ממך יצאו, that our destroyers come from within. Loyalty and unity among our people is critical for our success.

We have so many enemies from the outside wishing to destroy us. When we are unified, nobody can touch us.

It is very possible that we have suffered more because of the enemies from within. There are many opinions that such self hating, trouble making Jews come from the ערב רב, the mixed multitude.

Just as Yosef ultimately made peace with his brothers, there should also be a way to find peace and harmony among our people today.

Relevant Talmud

It is interesting how the Talmud covers every facet of life and can never be accused of being outdated or irrelevant. In one small section in מסכת ברכות, the Gemara deals with the question of accepting gifts in one’s capacity as a leader, as well as a case of sexual harassment.

The Gemara compares the Prophet Elisha to the Prophet Shmuel. Elisha accepted gifts from the Shunamite woman in the form of a luxury suite in her home. It was equipped with a bed, table, chair, and lamp. The room was referred to as מעולה, an excellent dwelling.

Nevertheless, Elisha is not viewed as having overstepping boundaries by using his exalted position for extra privileges. He resuscitated the woman’s child as an act of הכרת הטוב, recognizing good, and not as an obligation for her generosity. It is also a Mitzva to serve a Talmid Chacham, so Elisha behaved properly.

Shmuel, on the other hand, did not want to take the risk of being accused of using his position to accept gifts. He traveled with a tent and his basic necessities and never accepted any gift of any kind.

Both prophets acted appropriately and set an example for future leaders as to how to serve the people. That position was not meant to be a vehicle to gain wealth or for personal advancement. Amazing how relevant the Talmud is.

And, by the way, Gehazi was the one who acted inappropriately with the Shunamite woman and was unable to keep his hands to himself. Elisha was holy. His servant, Gehazi was not.

No Eating Before Praying

There is a Halacha that states that one should not eat before davening in the morning. This is learned out as an אסמכתא, which means that it has its basis from a Pasuk in the Torah.

The verse is לא תאכלו על הדם which means that one should not eat “on” the blood. This is an awkwardly worded sentence that is explained in the Gemara as follows: It is inappropriate for one to pray for “his blood”, which means, his very existence when he has a full belly.

It is not right to eat a hearty meal before praying to Hashem.

It is viewed as an act of haughtiness to first worry about satisfying one’s physical needs before praying and putting G-d first.

The only time one is allowed to eat before prayers is when he knows that he will not be able to concentrate unless he eats or drinks a little. This can also apply to one who is old or sick and he needs to eat. Otherwise, it is forbidden to eat or drink before praying each morning.

Bruria

Bruria was the wife of the great Tanna, רבי מאיר, and was the daughter of רבי חנינא בן תרדיון. She was considered a great Torah scholar in her own right and was greatly respected.

The Talmud in מסכת ברכות tells one of the stories that made Bruria famous. Her husband, רבי מאיר, was constantly being taunted by thugs in their neighborhood. He felt that they were evil men and decided to pray that they die. Bruria asked her husband why he felt justified in asking for their demise. He based his reasoning on a Pasuk from תהילים that said, יתמו חטאים מן הארץ, that sinners needed to be destroyed. Bruria corrected her husband by saying that חטאים means “sins” and the word, חוטאים means “sinners.” Therefore, she told רבי מאיר that he needed to pray that the thugs did Teshuva. This way the sins would disappear and there would no longer be evil. He prayed and they repented.

Stories like this gained Bruria, fame and recognition for her specialness even in the days of the Tannaim.

Galut Lessons

Shavua Tov. Rabbi Soloveitchik makes several references from our Parsha as to how we are to learn from the examples of our patriarchs survival techniques while living in the Galut.

Yakov Avinu showed how to survive in poverty and Yosef Hatzaddik showed how it can be done in a situation of wealth and power.

Yakov had to deal with Lavan in Padan Aram. He remained a stranger during the entire twenty years he spent there. The Talmud speaks of one who settles in a new city. After thirty days, he is considered יושב העיר, one who dwells in the city. After twelve months, he is considered אנשי העיר, one of the regular residents of that place.

In the case of Yakov, he remained a גר, a stranger, and never allowed himself to be assimilated into that community. 

In the case of Yosef, he never forgot the teachings of his father. Even after he became a powerful leader, he remembered his origins and did not allow his fame and status to get to him.

Jews throughout the ages have had to find similar challenges. The examples set by Yakov and Yosef always remained an inspiration for following generations.

Holy and Profane

Rabbi Soloveitchik makes an interesting observation in this week’s Parsha, וישלח. The Rav explains that a great deal is learned about how the Jewish people have survived in Galut and how to interact with non-Jews.

We see from the massive gift that Yakov gave Eisav that included precious stones and pearls, that Jews are willing to give away everything to avoid expulsion or an edict. All were profane objects and Israel exhibited submissiveness and inferiority.

However, when Eisav challenged Yakov’s sacred Mitzvot like Shabbat and Kashrut, he became defiant. Over the centuries, we always won religious debates. We will compromise on the profane. We will never compromise on the spiritual.

It is interesting to also note that Rabbi Yehuda Hanassi once said that he always studied פרשת וישלח before negotiating with the Roman governor on behalf of the Jewish people. This Parsha taught how best to negotiate with the gentile. Shabbat Shalom

Respect for Kings

There is a little known Halacha that the Gemara alludes to in מסכת ברכות. Rabbi Yochanan rebukes Rabbi Zeira for complaining that he’s forced to bring a gift to the king.

Rabbi Yochanan tells him that one should always try to receive one of the kings of Israel. And he should even try to receive or greet a king from the nations of the world. For if one merits life in עולם הבא and he sees the מלך המשיח, he will see the contrast between a holy king and one who is not.

This is brought down in the Shulchan Aruch as a Halacha that the Yerushalmi says applies to leaders of countries. The Rabbis even instituted a ברכה to be said upon seeing a king, and is even found in the Artscroll Siddur.

We were once in Eilat when the king of Jordan arrived there. Many made reference to this Halacha of ראיית פני המלך, seeing the face of a king.

Respect Your Elders

The Talmud in מסכת ברכות has a section where various great Rabbis give advice to their children as they enter adulthood and set out on their paths in life.

One example of such advice was given by the great רבי יהושע בן לוי. He tells his children to be careful with the honor they must give to an elder who was once very learned, and forgot his Torah that he once knew.

Rashi explains that his forgetfulness could have come because of illness, or the stress of years of struggle to earn a living.

Whatever the case may be, such an elder is compared to the שברי לוחות, the broken pieces of the first set of Ten Commandments. These were collected and placed in the Holy Ark with the second tablets and they were not discarded. רבי יהושע בן לוי told his children that they must never discard this תלמיד חכם. They must remember to show him the greatest respect.

Giving Thanks

One final point worth mentioning about פרשת ויצא is Leah’s response to giving birth to a fourth child, Yehuda. She said הפעם אודה את ה׳, this time I will give thanks to Hashem.

The Talmud says in the name of רבי שמעון בר יוחאי that from the time Hashem created the world, there was nobody who thanked Hashem as Leah did. Rashi explains that Leah understood that Yakov had four wives and he was to have twelve sons. She realized that she received more than expected as she thought each wife was to have three sons. She now had four.

Rav Elazar Abuchatzeira זצ״ל once said that others gave thanks for things that were למעלה מן הטבע, above nature or miraculous. Leah was the first to realize that even טבע, what is natural like having a baby is really למעלה מן הטבע, above nature, and a miracle.

Leah taught us that we must give thanks for everything and nothing should be taken for granted.

Insane Lavan

Rabbi Soloveitchik makes a distinction between פרעה and לבן. He says that while פרעה was a slave driver, לבן was criminally insane. He was a mad man. He clearly was a Jew hater.

It took a dream from Hashem Himself to convince לבן that he better leave Yakov alone. He tells Yakov that he did have the power to do them great harm if not for the Divine warning he received.

Lavan’s hatred could have allowed him to hurt his own children and grandchildren. Only a madman is capable of not wishing well to his own family. We must certainly be aware of such individuals who cover up their disdain for us with their smooth tongue.

Another lesson from this is that it is not normal for any parent not to wish their children. When parents are jealous of the success of their children, something is terribly off. A “normal” parent loves all of his children unconditionally and is thrilled if their children surpasses. Anything else, is simply not normal.

Lavan was beyond not normal but valuable lessons can be learned from his extreme behavior.

רחל אמנו

Shavua Tov. Today’s Parsha has great emphasis on Rachel Imeinu. Her act of Chesed towards her sister, Leah, was one of the greatest acts of kindness in the entire Torah. Leah would have been a laughing stock and not been counted among the matriarchs of Israel.

When she cried out to Yakov that she must have children, and if not, מתה אנוכי, I am like a dead woman, was more than a cry for motherhood. She was demonstrating her desire to be a mother in Israel. She wanted to have her place in helping to establish the Jewish nation.

Rachel Imeinu was the only one chosen to be worthy of the prophecy of Jeremiah that we read on Rosh Hashanah. Her deep love for her children, and her sadness at seeing them go into Exile, left her crying relentlessly. Jeremiah comforts only her and tells her to stop her crying. There is reward for her actions. She will again witness her children returning to their sacred land, as our long and painful Galut is finally ending.

פרשת ויצא

Parshat ויצא begins with Yakov Avinu leaving the holy city of Beer Sheva on his way to חרן. He is directed to the place of הר הבית where he has the very  exciting dream of the ladder and angels going up and down. He is rejuvenated as he realizes this is the future site of the Beit Hamikdash and that Hashem is with him.

Rabbi Soloveitchik points out that there are several instances of revelation during times of crisis. Crying out to Hashem from the depths of despair and distress, is a basic principle of Judaism. Hashem does not reveal Himself to a contented soul.

Yakov came close to Hashem in a dream. Moshe Rabbeinu came close at the burning bush, and Yechezkel at the River Kevar. Hashem reveals Himself through tragedy and suffering.

The message is crystal clear. When we cry out to Hashem from the depths of our hearts, He will not forsake us. As we say in תהילים, מן המעמקים קראתיך ה׳, From the depths, we call out to Hashem. No matter how difficult a situation might be, Hashem will always answer our sincere prayers. Shabbat Shalom

ראובן

Another example of how the Talmud adds more information to biblical stories, comes from this week’s Parsha, ויצא. The incident involves Leah’s naming her first son, ראובן.

The Torah seems to indicate that Leah was longing for Yakov to love her like he loved Rachel. Hashem answered her prayers by giving her Yakov’s first son. She said, ראה ה׳ את עניי, that Hashem saw my affliction, and she named him ראובן.

The Talmud has a different take to the story. It says the name ראובן is really two words, ראו בן, see what a son I have. Leah allegedly said, “Look at my son, Reuven. He’s not like my father in-law’s other son, Eisav. He willingly sold the birthright and then complained about it. My son, Reuven, had the birthright taken from him ( with the incident of moving Bilha’s bed) and he did not complain. He even tried to save Yosef when he was thrown in the pit!”

This accounting of what transpired, seems to allow to get more of an understanding of our saintly ancestors and their struggles.