Yosef's treatment at the hand of his brothers, the focus of this
week's parashah, may be the most incomprehensible story in the Torah.
Seemingly, writes R' Simcha Zissel Broide z"l (rosh yeshivah of the
Chevron Yeshiva in Yerushalayim; died 2000), it is the cruelest act
ever perpetrated on a single human being. Even the depraved and
immoral Egyptians would have found the sale of Yosef to be
unacceptable behavior; thus, we will read two weeks from now that
before Yosef revealed his identity to his brothers, he ordered all
Egyptians out of the room to save his brothers from embarrassment.
Yet, our Sages speak of the Brothers as holy individuals--
"Shivtei Kah" / "The Tribes of G-d." The mere presence of their names
on the Kohen Gadol's breastplate is said to bring atonement to their
descendants. How can this be understood?
Many explanations have been offered for the Brothers' behavior.
In particular, we are taught that they felt Yosef was trying to
displace them as Yaakov's spiritual heir, much as Yitzchak had
displaced Yishmael and Yaakov, Esav. So sure were they that their
actions were correct that, when they needed a minyan to declare a
cherem / excommunication on whomever would reveal their secret, they
included Hashem as the tenth "man." (Only nine brothers were present,
as Reuven had left for a time.)
It is striking, says R' Broide, that the Torah, which does not
hesitate to criticize tzaddikim like Avraham Avinu and Moshe Rabbeinu
for their missteps, never criticizes the Brothers. Indeed, there is
no hint in the Torah that the Brothers themselves ever decided that
they had made a mistake. They were pained by their father's suffering
and they regretted ignoring Yosef's pleas for mercy (see 42:21), but
they never retracted their belief that Yosef was a "rodef" /
What are we to learn from this? One of the many lessons to take
away, writes R' Broide, is that the Torah's perspective on events and
that of a person steeped the Torah (in this case, the Brothers) may
differ from our own superficial understanding of the same event.
Obviously, our duty is to try to understand that perspective. (Sahm
"Yosef was handsome in form and handsome in appearance."
Rashi writes: "As soon as he saw that he was ruler [of the
household], he began to eat and drink and curl his hair. The Holy
One, blessed be He, said to him, `Your father is mourning and you curl
your hair! I will let a bear loose against you.' Immediately [as we
read in the next verse], `His master's wife lifted up her eyes'."
R' Eliyahu Capsali z"l (rabbi in Candia, Crete; died 1555)
comments in his multi-volume treatise on the mitzvah of Kibbud Av
Va'em / honoring one's father and mother: We learn from this that it
is inappropriate for a person to partake of pleasures and be joyous at
the same time that his parents are suffering. Rather, their suffering
should cause him pain, as if a sharp sword rests on his throat.
We learn this same lesson from the behavior of Yosef's brothers,
R' Capsali continues. We see that they regretted selling Yosef
because they could no longer bear their father's pain. They even
risked their lives to search for Yosef in Egypt. (This is evident
from the fact that the Egyptian viceroy accused them of being spies.
Although the charges were trumped up, they were based on the fact that
each of the brothers had entered Egypt by a different route for the
purpose of searching for Yosef.)
Our Sages say (based on Breishit 43:34) that the Brothers did not
drink wine the entire time that Yosef was missing. Why? They should
have rejoiced being rid of their enemy. The answer, writes R'
Capsali, is that they could not drink when their father was suffering.
(Meah She'arim, Ch.21)
"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 Yosef!
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. Why?
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 Yisrael.
(Quoted in the journal Yeshurun Vol. VI, p. 200)
R' Levi Yitzchak of Bereditchev z"l (1740-1810; famed chassidic
rebbe) writes, citing the Zohar, that 36 "lights" are "lit" in Heaven
to parallel the 36 candles that we light during Chanukah. Together,
these 72 candles allude to a certain name of G-d that has 72 letters.
[Ed. note: Although we do not understand the concepts presented by R'
Levi Yitzchak, just knowing that there is more to the Chanukah candles
than meets the eye is itself worthwhile.]
R' Levi Yitzchak continues: When we add to the foregoing the
eight candles that we light as shamashim (plural of "shamash"), one
each day, plus the eight shamashim that are lit in Heaven parallel to
ours, there are 88 candles. This alludes to the word "pach" / "snare"
in the verse (Tehilim 124:7), "Our soul is like a bird that escaped
from the snare of hunters; the snare broke and we escaped." (The
gematria of "pach" is 88.) Because we escaped from the snare of
Antiochus, we cause these 88 candles to be lit. Eighty-eight also is
the gematria of the initial letters of the phrase (Tehilim 33:20),
"Our soul longed for Hashem." These are the same initial letters as
are found in the blessing "Le'hadlik . . ." / "To light the Chanukah
candle." [Ed. note: This is the text of the blessing according to the
Arizal, omitting the word "shel."]
(Kedushat Levi: Drushim L'Chanukah)
Based on the above, writes R' Yaakov Yechizkiyahu Greenwald z"l
(prominent Hungarian rabbi; died 1941), we can better understand the
text of "Ha'nerot hallalu" / "These candles . . . ," the paragraph
customarily recited after lighting the menorah. The text of this
paragraph presents several difficulties: Why do we say these "candles"
(plural) on the first night? Also, why do we say this paragraph after
lighting the candles? (In contrast, when we perform other mitzvot--
for example, when we don tzitzit and tefilin--the paragraph in which
we describe the reason for the mitzvah is said before performing the
mitzvah.) Finally, how can we say "These candles are holy," when the
Gemara (Shabbat 22b) seems to state expressly that the candles are not
holy? (They do, however, have the status of mitzvah objects which
must not be treated disrespectfully.)
R' Greenwald answers: Even on the first night, when we light only
one candle, there is more than one candle lit because our one candle
has a parallel in Heaven. And, it is to those lights in Heaven that
we refer when we say that the candles are holy, not to our own
candles, which have no holiness.
Why do we recite this paragraph after lighting our candles, not
before? Because only after we light our physical candles are we
prepared to light the spiritual lights above.
(Quoted in Yemei Chanukah p.24)
"Yesod Ve'shoresh Ha'avodah"
("The Foundation and Root of Divine Service.")
This year, we are presenting excerpts from the work Yesod
Ve'shoresh Ha'avodah by R' Alexander Ziskind z"l (died 1794).
In Sha'ar Ha'meffaked, chapter 1, the author discusses the
holiday of Chanukah.
The sages of the Gemara spoke very emphatically of the care that
one should take when performing the mitzvah of Chanukah lights and of
the reward for doing so. They said (Shabbat 23b), "One who regularly
lights [Chanukah] candles will have sons who are Torah scholars."
Rambam writes in the fourth chapter of "The Laws of Megillah and
Chanukah:" "The mitzvah of Chanukah lights is a very beloved mitzvah
and a person must take great care with it in order to publicize the
miracle and add to the praise of G-d and the acknowledgment to Him for
the miracles that He did for us." . . .
R' Alexander Ziskind continues: Truth be told, there is no doubt
that a person who has been given wisdom by Hashem to comprehend the
deep secrets of the Arizal's meditations should take upon himself to
meditate on those concepts. However, my intention in this work is to
direct ordinary people like myself down the path that they should take
so that they will not perform the mitzvot of Hashem Elokenu, may His
name be praised, by rote. Therefore, I have come to counsel that one
should not perform this beloved mitzvah without putting one's heart
into it. Rather, it should be done with great joy and with simple
intentions in mind, as appropriate for each of the blessings [that are
recited]. . . When one says the words, "Le'hadlik" / "To light the
Chanukah candle," one should feel immense happiness in his heart over
the great miracle that took place at this time of year in the Bet
Hamikdash involving the flask of oil as related in the Gemara.
When one recites the blessing, "She'asah nissim" / "That He did
miracles for our fathers in those days at this time [of the year]," he
should give great thanks in his thoughts and great praise to our
Creator for all the miracles and the salvations that He did for our
forefathers at this time of year. One also should try to imagine that
the miracles and salvations were done for him personally.
The editors hope these brief 'snippets' will engender further study
and discussion of Torah topics ('lehagdil Torah u'leha'adirah'), and
your letters are appreciated. Web archives at Torah.org start with 5758 (1997) and
may be retrieved from the Hamaayan page.
Text archives from 1990 through the present may be retrieved from http://www.acoast.com/~sehc/hamaayan/.
Hamaayan needs your support! Please consider sponsoring Hamaayan in honor of a happy occasion or in memory of a loved one. Did you know that the low cost of sponsorship - only $18 - has not changed in seventeen years? Donations to HaMaayan are tax-deductible.