Hamaayan / The Torah Spring
Edited by Shlomo Katz
"In the nick of time"
Volume 24, No. 10
2 Tevet 5770
December 19, 2009
the Vogel family
on the yahrzeit of
Miriam bat Yehuda Leib a"h (Mary Kalkstein)
Milton Cahn in memory of
his mother, Abby Cahn (Brachah bat Moshe a"h) and
his wife, Felice Cahn (Faigah Sarah bat Naftali Zev a"h)
Nach: Melachim II 17-18
Daf Yomi (Bavli): Bava Batra 120
Daf Yomi (Yerushalmi): Horiot 8
The Midrash Tanchuma on this week's parashah opens with a question:
When one sees rain at a time when the populace needs it, what berachah does
one recite? The midrash answers: On rain, one recites the berachah, "Ha'tov
v'hameitiv." [See Shulchan Aruch, O.C. ch.221 for the circumstances under
which this berachah is recited.] The midrash continues: Everything that
comes from Hashem has a fixed measure. He fixed limits for the sun, the
Heavens, and the earth. He fixed a time for the Exodus. He fixed a limit
for darkness. [The midrash cites a verse to support each of these
statements.] Likewise, when Yosef was imprisoned, Hashem fixed a limit on
his imprisonment, as it is written, "It happened miketz / at the end of two
years . . ."
What is this midrash teaching? R' Avraham Meir Rosen z"l (Warsaw;
19th century) explains: How do we know that the berachah for rain is "Ha'tov
v'hameitiv"? Another midrash derives this halachah from the verse
(Mishlei 25:25), "Like cold water on a weary soul, so is good news from a
distant land." Just as the berachah for good news is "Ha'tov v'hameitiv,"
so too that is the berachah for cold water on a weary soul, i.e., rain after
a drought. However, one recites this berachah only if the rain falls when
it is wanted. Rain that falls at the wrong time is not a blessing, but is
rather a curse. Indeed, the same is true of every phenomenon; good things
that happen at the wrong time or in the wrong amount are not blessings, but
The word "miketz" from which our parashah takes its name is usually
used in connection with events that happen at a fixed time, e.g., the
shemittah (see Devarim 15:1). Why, then, is that word used in connection
with Yosef's release from prison? Because, just as He does with rainfall,
G-d chose the moment very precisely, so that it would be a blessing.
Specifically, it coincided with Pharaoh's dream and led to Yosef's
appointment as viceroy. (Be'ur Amarim)
"It happened at the end of two years . . ." (41:1)
We read (Tehilim 40:5), "Praiseworthy is the man who placed his trust
in Hashem, and did not turn to the arrogant." The Midrash Rabbah comments:
"Praiseworthy is the man who placed his trust in Hashem"--this refers to
Yosef; "and did not turn to the arrogant"--because Yosef said to Pharaoh's
chief butler (at the end of last week's parashah, 40:14), "If only you would
think of me . . . and mention me," Yosef had to remain in prison an
additional two years.
Many commentaries point out the seeming contradiction in this midrash.
On the one hand, Yosef is praised as a person who placed his trust in
Hashem, but, on the other hand, he is criticized for asking Pharaoh's chief
butler for assistance!
R' Yitzchak Ze'ev Yadler z"l (1843-1917; Yerushalayim) explains: The
degree to which a person is expected to rely on Hashem rather than on his
own efforts depends on the strength of his bitachon / trust in Hashem. The
midrash refers to Yosef as someone who placed (in the past tense) his trust
in Hashem, i.e., he was already accustomed to relying on Hashem. [Ed. note:
The Midrash Rabbah on verse 39:2, alluded to by Rashi z"l there, describes
how Yosef would pray before beginning each task for his master.] The
midrash is teaching that, for such a person, it was wrong to seek the
assistance of the Chief Butler. (Tiferet Zion)
R' Avraham Yeshayahu Karelitz z"l (the Chazon Ish; 1878-1953) writes:
Yosef knew that his salvation was not dependent on any exertion on his part,
and that everything comes from Hashem. However, since human beings are
obligated to act, and not depend on miracles. Yosef obligated himself to
make use of the opportunity and enlist the help of the chief butler. But,
bitachon places limitations on the efforts that one is allowed to make to
accomplish his goals. A person must carefully consider any act before he
does it, making sure that it is in keeping with the trait of bitachon. In
this case, Yosef erred by enlisting the help of an arrogant person (in the
words of the midrash), i.e., a person who was not likely to remember Yosef
and come to his aid. A desperate person does anything he can--he even takes
futile actions--but someone who trusts in Hashem does not do this; indeed,
the obligation to act before relying on a miracle does not include an
obligation to engage in a futile action.
The Chazon Ish writes further: Lack of trust in Hashem is a fault in
any thinking person, and a person who lacks bitachon comes close to having
no part in the basic tenets of Judaism. What are the attributes of a person
who does have bitachon? He is naturally modest, and one will not hear from
him that be belongs to the camp of those who trust in Hashem. To the
contrary, he bewails his lack of perfection in this trait. His trust and
his feeling of strength based on his belief in Hashem manifest themselves
only in action. For example, he will not be afraid when his friend opens a
store [in competition with him]; rather, he will make efforts to help him,
give him good advice, assist him, and in general be concerned for his
welfare. When a person does acts of kindness for someone who intends to
compete with him, the world is enriched by this additional holiness.
Because of this action, he causes others to honor and praise G-d's faithful;
fortunate are such a person and his generation.
(Chazon Ish: Emunah U'vitachon 2:4-6)
"Let Pharaoh proceed and let him appoint overseers on the land,
and he shall prepare the land of Egypt during the seven years of
Why did Yosef think it was his place to offer advice when all Pharaoh
had asked Yosef to do was to interpret his dreams? R' Yosef ben Moshe Trani
z"l (Maharit; 1568-1639) explains:
Yosef's advice was part of his interpretation of the dreams. Yosef was
explaining why Pharaoh had dreamt about the seven years of plenty that would
precede the seven years of famine. It was a message to Pharaoh that he
should use those seven years to prepare.
Even so, maybe the preparation intended by the dream was for each
Egyptian to store wheat in his own home. Why did Yosef think that it was
his place to suggest that Pharaoh centralize the process?
This, too, was alluded to in the dream itself, Maharit explains. When
Pharaoh saw the seven good ears of grain, they emerged from one stalk, while
the seven withered ears emerged from seven separate stalks. Thus, Yosef
understood that the seven years of famine would be felt differently in
different places; in Pharaoh's palace, near the central stores of food, they
would not be as difficult as in the countryside, where no food was stored.
Yosef was explaining this to Pharaoh when he said (41:26-27), "The
seven good cows are seven years, and the good ears are seven years; it is a
single dream. The seven emaciated and bad cows that emerged after them-
-they are seven years; as are the seven emaciated ears scorched by the east
wind. There shall be seven years of famine." Regarding the famine, Yosef
did not say, "It is a single dream." The seven years of plenty would be
uniformly good; the seven healthy cows and the seven healthy ears alluded to
the same thing. However, when it came to the famine, the cows and the ears
represented two different things. The cows represented the fact that
nothing would grow, which would be true uniformly throughout Egypt. In
contrast, the ears represented the resulting hunger, which would not be
uniform. The emaciated cows and the withered ears were not one dream.
"Then Yehuda said to Yisrael his father, `Send the lad
[Binyamin] with me, and let us arise and go, so we will live and
not die, we as well as you as well as our children." (43:8)
R' Yaakov Kaminetsky z"l (rabbi in Lithuania, Seattle and Toronto; rosh
yeshiva of Mesivta Torah Vodaath in Brooklyn; died 1986) notes that Yehuda's
words are consistent with the halachic order of precedence for saving lives:
first one must save himself, then his parents, and then his children.
Furthermore, R' Kaminetsky observes, we learn from this verse that even
an am ha'aretz / ignoramus should save his own life before he saves a Torah
scholar's life [since Yaakov's sons were of a lower stature compared to
Yaakov, yet they still had to feed themselves first.] (Emet L'Yaakov)
Shabbat & Chanukah
Many answers have been offered for the famous question: Why is Chanukah
eight days long, when the miracle of the oil lasted only seven days? (There
was enough oil to last one day, and it lasted seven additional days.)
R' Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook z"l (1865-1935; Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi
of Eretz Yisrael) writes about this question as follows:
The usual complete cycle of time is seven days, which is one week.
[This is based on Creation.] However, this cycle is incomplete in one
respect, since the ultimate purpose of all that is holy will not be revealed
until the future. On the other hand, even now, a discerning person can see
that the world is progressing in the general direction of its ultimate
destiny. There is no other way, for example, to explain why the Jewish
People have roamed from one end of the world to the other [and back to Eretz
Yisrael] unless it is part of a plan that is being played out.
Shabbat is at the same time part of the seven-day cycle with which we
are familiar, but it also foreshadows the World-to-Come, which is beyond our
time. In the holiness of Shabbat we can taste the holiness that we will
experience in that as-yet unseen world.
The Greeks and those Jews who fell under their influence rejected our
concept of a future World filled with holiness. We see this from the
Mishnah (Berachot 54a) which relates that the Sages of that era instituted
to say in the Temple, "Baruch attah Hashem, the G-d of Yisrael, min ha'olam
v'ad ha'olam / from [this] world until [the other] world."
If there were no need to emphasize the existence of a future world,
Chanukah would have been seven days, which is a complete unit of time in
this world. However, there is such a need, so our Chanukah of eight days
reminds us of something beyond the world as we know it, i.e., the World-
to-Come. (Ein Ayah: Shabbat Ch.2, No.9)
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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