Hamaayan / The Torah Spring
Edited by Shlomo Katz
Volume XVIII, No. 9
25 Kislev 5764
December 20, 2003
Sponsored by the Evans family
in memory of Bonnie's aunt, Ite Leah (Lillian Eramus) a"h
Daf Yomi (Bavli): Menachot 75
Daf Yomi (Yerushalmi): Yevamot 38
This week's parashah describes the sale of Yosef and begins a
series of three parashot that relate the conflict between Yosef
and his brothers. These parashot are always read on or around
Chanukah. Interestingly, in Tractate Shabbat (22a), in the midst
of discussing the laws of Chanukah, the Gemara seems to digress
to describe the pit into which Yosef was thrown by his brothers.
Since the Gemara was not arranged haphazardly, this further
suggests that there must be some relationship between the
Chanukah story and the "rivalry" between Yosef and his brothers.
Many explanations have been given. R' Shimshon David Pinkus z"l
suggests the following:
When Yosef related his first dream to his brothers, they
challenged him (Bereishit 37:8): "Would you then rule over us?
Would you then dominate us?" Yaakov's sons knew that King David
was destined to come from Yehuda, and they considered Yosef to be
a rebel against King David's dynasty. (Indeed, Yosef's
descendant Yerovam would later rebel against King David's
grandson and would establish the kingdom of the ten northern
However, it was never Yosef's intention to rebel, nor was he
trying to supplant the rule of the tribe of Yehuda or of King
David. Rather, Yosef and Yehuda represented different ways of
serving Hashem, and Yosef was seeking recognition for his
approach. What are these different approaches?
The name "Yehuda" is made up of G-d's Four Letter Name, plus
the letter dalet. The Gemara teaches that the letter dalet
represents one who has nothing (in Hebrew, "dal"). [Note that
the letter dalet lacks sides all around. Like a pauper, it is
incapable of holding anything.] When Yehuda was born, his mother
Leah said, "I thank Hashem." She recognized that all comes from
Hashem, and she gave Yehuda a name that reflects that fact. This
was always Leah's attitude. Thus we read (Bereishit 29:17) that
Leah's eyes were red, for she was always crying her heart out to
Hashem. Likewise, Yehuda's descendant, David, said of himself
(Tehilim 22:7), "I am a worm, not a man." Despite his great
accomplishments, David took no credit for himself, for he
recognized that all comes from Hashem.
In contrast, Yosef attributed to a person greater control over
his own spiritual standing, and, he taught that this requires a
person to be perfect. In our parashah, both Yehuda and Yosef
faced similar challenges. Yehuda seemingly failed his test (with
Tamar), but he confessed and moved on with his life. Likewise,
Yehuda's descendants David and Menashe erred and repented. This
was not Yosef's view. He told Potiphar's wife (paraphrasing
39:9), "If I fail, I shall be considered a sinner." The Gemara
teaches that Yaakov appeared to Yosef at that moment and told him
that his place among the tribes would be forfeited forever if he
failed his test. In contrast to Leah, Yosef's mother Rachel is
described as perfectly beautiful. Rachel's descendant King Shaul
also had to be perfect, and, because of one sin, he forfeited his
Yosef's brothers felt that Yosef's approach was dangerously
close to what would be Greek philosophy. The Greeks, too,
preached self-improvement and perfection, but this ultimately
leads to denying G-d. Unlike the Greeks, Yosef's focus was on
spiritual improvement, but Yosef's brothers felt that any
philosophy that attributes undue importance to man's
accomplishments is heretical.
Ultimately, the approaches of Yehuda and Yosef will be
reconciled, as described in the haftarah for Parashat Vayigash
(the parashah in which the confrontation between Yosef and Yehuda
reaches its climax). Regardless of what tribe we come from, we
all call ourselves "Yehudim" -- spiritual descendants of Yehuda.
Like Yehuda's descendant King David, we say (Tehilim 8:5), "What
is man that You should remember him." Yet, in the next breath we
acknowledge (Tehilim 8:6), "You have made him slightly less than
the angels." One of Judaism's most unique teachings is the idea
that man can be G-d's partner. In the time of the Bet Hamikdash,
fire for the altar came down from Heaven, yet G-d expected man to
feed the fire with wood. Similarly, we work hard at our jobs,
yet we know that success is dependent on His Will.
With this lesson in mind, one can revolutionize his attitude,
R' Pinkus adds. He notes, for example, that even people who
would never waste their time reading certain popular magazines
will look at those publications while waiting with their children
at the pediatrician's office. Why? Because they feel that the
time spent in the waiting room is wasted time anyway. But it is
not. One should instead see that time as minutes or hours spent
in partnership with G-d, healing and raising a Jewish child, not
as time to be "written-off". This is the Jewish outlook.
(Sichot Rabbi Shimshon David Pinkus: Chanukah p. 51)
"And Reuven heard, and he saved him [Yosef] from their hand;
he said, `Let us not strike him mortally . . . Throw him
into the pit in the wilderness, but lay no hand on him' -
intending to rescue him from their hand, to return him to
their father." (37:21-22)
The midrash says (commenting on Shir Hashirim 7:14): "`The
dudaim/ jasmine flowers yield fragrance' - this refers to Reuven,
who saved Yosef; `and at our door are treats' - this refers to
the light of Chanukah." What is the connection between Reuven's
saving Yosef and Chanukah?
R' Yissachar Shlomo Teichtel z"l Hy"d (Slovakia; killed in the
Holocaust in 1945) explains: Numerous commentaries discuss the
following famous question, known as the "Bet Yosef's question":
If the Maccabees found a jug with enough oil to last for one day
and the oil lasted for eight days, the miracle itself was seven
days long. Why then is Chanukah celebrated for eight days?
One answer that is given (by R' David Halevi z"l, the "Taz") is
that miracles always involve making something-out-of-something
("yesh mee'yesh"), not something-out-of-nothing ("yesh
mai'ayin"). For example, we read in Melachim II (chapter 4) that
the prophet Elisha caused a small amount of oil to fill dozens of
jugs. He did not cause a miracle involving flour, bread or some
other commodity because the widow did not have any of those
things. However, because she had a few drops of oil, he could
cause the oil to "multiply" miraculously.
Similarly, writes the Taz, in order for the oil to "multiply"
and last for eight days, there had to be a drop left at the end
of the first day. This means, in turn, that less than one day's
supply of oil was consumed during the first day that the menorah
burned. Thus, the miracle did last more than seven days.
Of course, continues R' Teichtel, Hashem is capable of bringing
about a miracle that involves something-out-of-nothing ("yesh
mai'ayin"). However, the Taz's point is that to whatever extent
a miracle can be made to appear more natural, Hashem prefers
How do we know this? R' Teichtel answers: The gemara says that
the pit into which Yosef was thrown was home to snakes and
scorpions. How then was Reuven saving Yosef by throwing him into
this pit? The answer is that Reuven was counting on Hashem to
save Yosef. But, if Reuven was counting on Hashem, why did he
make any effort to save Yosef? Let Hashem do it! The answer is
that Reuven knew that Hashem prefers that miracles be lessened.
Now we see the connection between Reuven's saving Yosef and
Chanukah. Why do we observe Chanukah for eight days, not seven?
Because, as Reuven taught us, Hashem prefers that miracles be
lessened, and from this we know that some oil was left over after
the first day.
(She'eilot U'teshuvot Mishneh Sachir: O.C. II, No. 24)
"So [Yaakov] sent [Yosef] from the valley of Chevron . . ."
Rashi comments: Is Chevron in a valley? Chevron is on a
mountain! Rather, this refers to the "deep" plan relating to the
tzaddik who is buried in Chevron (i.e., Avraham), to bring about
what was told to Avraham, "Your descendants will be foreigners in
a land which is not theirs" (i.e., Egypt).
R' Mattisyahu Solomon shlita (Mashgiach at Beth Medrash Govoha
in Lakewood, N.J.) elaborates on Rashi's comment as follows:
This is a parashah in which all the major players make mistakes
that not only have serious consequences, but also seem to us to
be obvious errors. Yaakov openly favors one son over the others.
Yosef persists in relating his dreams to his brothers despite
their negative reactions. Yosef's brothers conspire to kill him
and end up selling him into slavery.
How could so many intelligent people - indeed, prophets - make
such blunders? The answer is that Yaakov, Yosef and his brothers
were all "playing into the hands" of Hashem's master plan. This
is what Rashi is telling us - every seemingly irrational event
that occurred happened because of Hashem's "deep" plan.
This lesson, that Hashem stands behind the scenes pulling the
strings of history, is so important that the Torah drew our
attention to it by seemingly making a "mistake" (so-to-speak) and
saying that Chevron is in a valley.
Another point regarding Hashem's hand in history: If we had
been present when Yosef was sold into slavery, we would have
thought it was an immense tragedy. Had we been present when
Yaakov traveled to Egypt to be reunited with Yosef, we would have
rejoiced. Yet, we would have been wrong both times. Yosef's
sale to Egypt was a good thing, for it led to his becoming
viceroy and saving his family from famine. On the other hand,
Yaakov's journey to Egypt was an unhappy event, for it was the
beginning of the long exile in that land.
(Matnat Chaim: Ma'amarim p. 56)
"And Reuven heard, and he saved him [Yosef] from their hand;
he said, 'Let us not strike him mortally . . . Throw him
into the pit in the wilderness . . .'." (37:21-22)
The gemara (Shabbat 24a) states that this pit was home to
snakes and scorpions. The halachah is that if a man falls into a
pit full of snakes and scorpions, he is deemed dead and his widow
may remarry. Yet, the Torah refers to Reuven's act as saving
In contrast, Yehuda convinced his brothers to remove Yosef from
the pit and to sell him into slavery. Yet, the gemara (Sanhedrin
6a) says that whoever praises Yehuda for this angers Hashem.
R' Chaim of Volozhin z"l (1749-1821) explained: Reuven caused
Yosef to be lowered into a pit full of snakes and scorpions, but
the pit was in Eretz Yisrael. Yehuda saved Yosef's physical
life, but he caused Yosef to be taken out of Eretz Yisrael. It
is far better, said R' Chaim, to remain in Eretz Yisrael
surrounded by snakes and scorpions than to live outside of Eretz
(Quoted in the journal Yeshurun Vol. VI, p. 200
Copyright © 2003 by Shlomo Katz
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