The midrash at the beginning of our parashah comments: "So long as the
yetzer hara exists, darkness and death will exist. When the yetzer hara
is uprooted from the world, darkness and death will cease to exist." What
is this midrash teaching, and how is it connected to our parashah?
R' Moshe Teitelbaum z"l (1915-2006; Sighet-Satmar Rebbe in New York)
explains: At the end of last week's parashah we read that Pharaoh's butler
"did not remember Yosef, and he forgot him." Rashi z"l
comments: "He did not remember him immediately, and he forgot him after
time." What does this mean?
The Gemara (Makkot 10b) teaches: "They lead a person in the way that he
wants to go." The commentator Maharsha z"l observes that the Gemara does
not say that Hashem leads a person in the way he wants to go. "They lead
him . . .," writes Maharsha, refers to the angels that Hashem creates from
a person's deeds. If one does good deeds, he causes the creation
of "good" angels who lead him down a good path. If he does bad deeds, he
causes the creation of "bad" angels who lead him astray.
Another midrash teaches that a person should fight the yetzer hara
with "bundles of mitzvot." In light of the above, we can understand this
to mean that a person should cause the creation of hordes of "good" angels
who will overpower the "bad" angels that try to mislead him.
In this light, also, we can understand Rashi's comment. It means that on
the spot, the butler decided to forget Yosef. Because of this sin (lack
of gratitude), the butler did not remember Yosef after a time either (at
least until it served his own self-interest to remember Yosef in order to
look good in Pharaoh's eyes).
Finally, we can understand the lesson of the midrash with which we began
and its connection to our parashah. Why did two years pass before Yosef
was released from prison? Because as long as the yetzer hara exists it
will cause people to act as the butler acted, and the world, therefore,
will be filled with darkness and death, i.e., with the "bad" angels that
are created as a result of sin. (Beirach Moshe)
"They had left the city, had not gone far, when Yosef said to the one
in charge of his house, `Get up, chase after the men; when you overtake
them, say to them: Why do you repay evil for good? Is it not the [cup]
from which my master drinks, and with which he regularly divines? You
have done evil in how you acted!'
"He overtook them and spoke those words to them. They said to him, `Why
does my lord say such things? It would be sacrilegious for your servants
to do such a thing. Here, look! The money that we found in the mouth of
our sacks we brought back to you from the land of Canaan. How then could
we have stolen from your master's house any silver or gold? Anyone among
your servants with whom it is found shall die, and we also will become
slaves to my lord.'
"He replied, `What you say now is also correct. The one with whom it is
found shall be my slave, but the rest of you shall be exonerated'."
Is either death or slavery the proper punishment for stealing? Also, why
did Yosef's agent say, "What you say now is also correct," and then go on
to contradict the brothers?
R' Aryeh Leib Zunz z"l (Polish rabbi; died 1833) explains this
conversation in light of a verse in Tehilim (19:10), "The judgments of
Hashem are true, altogether righteous." There are two standards by which
a person's actions are judged. One is "justice." In the eyes of justice,
like actions deserve like punishments. Thus, if someone steals $100,
justice is not interested in whether either the thief or the victim is a
millionaire or a pauper.
The second standard is called "righteousness." We read in Shmuel II
(chapter 12) that the prophet rebuked King David for taking Bat Sheva by
likening his action to that of a wealthy man who stole the only lamb of a
poor man. On hearing the parable, but before realizing that it was about
him, King David exclaimed that the wealthy man deserves the death
penalty. Is that the punishment for stealing? Not according to justice.
According to righteousness, however, King David's act in taking the wife
of a commoner and bringing about her former husband's demise deserved
This is what Yosef's brothers said to Yosef's agent: We are rich men and
do not need your master's cup. Furthermore, we recognize how important
your master's cup is to him. Therefore, if one of us stole Yosef's
goblet, then not only justice, but righteousness, should prevail.
Yosef's agent replied: You are correct. Righteousness should prevail, and
strict punishment is called for. However, you have exaggerated what that
punishment should be. (Kometz Ha'minchah)
[Introduction: Our Sages teach that Yosef erred at the end of last week's
parashah by placing his trust in Pharaoh's butler rather than in Hashem.
This week we read that Yosef was forced to remain in jail for two more
years -- according to Chazal, as a punishment for his error. In that
connection, we present the following insights from R' Yaakov Emden z"l
(1697-1776; Germany) regarding bitachon / trust in Hashem.]
There are seven traits that Hashem possesses that make it appropriate to
place one's trust in Him and in no other being:
(1) He is the most merciful and compassionate of all beings.
Moreover, any mercy that other beings exhibit is merely derivative of His
mercy, as we read (Devarim 13:18), "He will give you mercy and be
merciful to you."
(2) He knows all that is good for man and helpful to him.
Likewise, no one knows the cures for diseases and other ailments better
than the One who created them.
(3) His strength is greater than any force that can be imagined,
and no being can contradict His will.
(4) He watches over the actions of all men, and He ignores
nothing. Nothing is hidden from Him, and later events do not cause Him to
forget earlier events.
(5) No being can do anything for himself or for or against another
person without His consent. When one realizes that no being can hurt him
without Hashem's consent, one realizes that it makes no sense to fear any
being except Hashem.
(6) Hashem is good beyond description, and He does untold numbers
of good things for every person with no initiative on the person's part.
(7) Every being (except Hashem) is subject to limitations, and one
can do neither more nor less than Hashem desires. Thus, the laws of
nature cannot change themselves, and any deviation from those laws that
occurs is a purposeful act by Hashem Himself. (Migdal Oz - Bet Ha'middot:
Aliyat Bitachon ch.3)
The mitzvah of lighting Chanukah lights is unique among mitzvot in that a
person has three options for how to perform it. One can fulfill the
mitzvah in a complete manner by lighting one light per household per
night. One who chooses to perform the mitzvah in a more beautiful manner
may have each member of his household kindle one light each night.
Finally, one who wants to do the mitzvah in the most beautiful manner will
add an additional light each night.
Why was this mitzvah "designed" this way? R' Yitzchak Isaac Sher z"l
(rosh yeshiva of the Slobodka Yeshiva; died 1951) explains: We read in
Yeshayah (26:20), "Hide for a brief moment until the wrath has
passed." The Chashmonaim could have followed this approach and hidden
in caves until the danger had passed. However, like Chananyah, Mishael
and Azaryah who chose to be thrown into a furnace rather than run away
(when Nevuchadnezar ordered them to bow to his statue), the Chashmonaim
stood up to resist. Because they went beyond the letter of the law, the
mitzvah that resulted gives us an option to go beyond the letter of the
law. (Lekket Sichot Mussar II p.151)
This week we continue discussing the sanctity of the fruits of shevi'it /
the seventh year. The halachot below are taken from chapter seven of
Sefer Ha'shemittah by R' Yechiel Michel Tikochinski z"l.
Produce of the seventh year may be eaten, drunk, applied to one's skin,
kindled to give light, or made into dye - each item in accordance with its
normal use. Any plant growth (of the seventh year) that is fit for one of
the above purposes is deemed to have kedushat shevi'it / sanctity of the
From when does kedushat shevi'it apply to produce? From the point in its
growth when it is fit for its intended purpose. If a fruit would fall off
the tree before it is fit for its intended purpose, it would not have
kedushat shevi'it. However, so long as it remains on the tree and is
destined, under normal circumstances, to continue to grow, it has kedushat
shevi'it. Accordingly, a tree on which such fruit is growing may not be
cut for lumber. [Ed. note: Even in non-shemittah years, one generally may
not cut fruit-bearing trees for lumber. An exception is made if the
tree's value as lumber exceeds the value of its produce. During the
shemittah, cutting a fruit tree is prohibited even in the latter case. It
should be noted also that our Sages record that terrible suffering has
befallen those who have felled fruit trees. Accordingly, one should not
cut down such a tree at any time even for constructive purposes, for
example, to make room for a home expansion, without seeking rabbinical
Produce of shevi'it which is fit for human consumption may be consumed
only by humans and not by animals. However, one need not stop animals
from eating it on their own.
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.
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