Bris Milah 5783


Revealing the hidden potential[1]

ואברהם בן-תשעים ותשע שנה בהמלו בשר ערלתו
Avraham was 99 years old when he cut off his foreskin[2]

A common theme found in our Sages’ writings[3] is that Avraham Avinu kept the entire Torah before it was given. This creates a question that many are bothered by, which is why didn’t Avraham perform bris milah until Hashem told him to do so? Many answers are given[4]. One answer[5] is that it is forbidden to injure oneself, so without an explicit command from G-d, it would have been forbidden to voluntarily circumcise himself. Once Hashem told him to do so, Avraham didn’t delay.

The problem with this approach is it seems to clash with another teaching. There are two stages of bris milah, one known as milah, where the foreskin is cut off, and the second is priyah, where the thin membrane surrounding the eiver is pulled down. Today the halacha is that without both stages, the bris milah is incomplete and thus invalid. Our Sages say[6] that Avraham was an exception to this, and was only given the mitzvah of milah[7]. It was only when the Torah was given that the mitzvah of priyah was added[8]. Nevertheless, Avraham voluntarily performed priyah[9]. If it’s true that Avraham delayed performing bris milah because it was forbidden for him to perform voluntary surgery on himself, then how could he voluntarily perform the mitzvah of priyah[10]? He was only given a permit for the first stage of milah, but not priyah. This is a problem that some try to address.

Rav Chaim Kanievsky was asked this question, and he proposed two answers[11]. One, is that priyah isn’t considered injuring. Rather, it’s considered improving the body. The second answer is that priyah isn’t considered injuring, rather it’s simply part of the process of injuring. Both of these answers require clarification. On another occasion[12] he explained the second answer to mean that blood that comes out during priyah isn’t from the priyah. Rather, it’s blood that came out during milah, but is only revealed during priyah. Since no new blood is emerging, there’s no issue[13].

With all this discussion about priyah, one wonders if there are any lessons behind the ritual. If we delve deeply, we can find a meaningful lesson within the symbolism behind priyah[14]. When we give our kids a bris milah, we are entering them into a covenant with the Almighty. One might think that us lowly humans have no chance of forging such a bond, and would have to change ourselves immensely to make that happen. Happens to be, Hashem teaches us that that is not the case. He does not want us to deny who we are. Instead, He simply wants us to remove any barriers to forge such a relationship. This is symbolized by milah. Furthermore, he wants us to reveal the potential hidden within us, as symbolized by priyah. Hashem wants us to take what we already have and release it into fruition.

May we all merit to bring out our inner potential.

[1] Based on various sources that I found and collected

[2] Genesis 17:24

[3] Kiddushin 4:14; Yoma 28b; Bereishis Rabbah 64:47

[4] For example, Mizrachi to Genesis 17:25 says that he knew he would be commanded to perform bris milah, and one who is commanded and performs is greater than one who volunteers (Bava Kamma 38a). He was preceded by Rabbeinu Peretz, brought by Riva to Genesis 17:24, as well as Minchas Yehuda ad. loc. in the name of “The Rav” (one manuscript explicitly cites Rabbeinu Tam (of Orleans, see note 9), who the former had just cited, and three manuscripts explicitly cite Rabbeinu Peretz). The Yefeh Toar to Bereishis Rabbah 47:8 seems to be quoting the Riva. Yefeh Toar then brings an anonymous answer that other mitzvos can be performed more than once, unlike milah, so Avraham waited until he was commanded. This seems to just be an extension of the first answer. Indeed, that’s how the Tzeidah LaDerech to Genesis 18:1 explains things (albeit to address a different issue). He cites it from Teshuvos Mishpetei Shmuel § 13, by Rav Shmuel Kalei, a contemporary of the Yefeh Toar. He in turn cites it from “Likkutim” on that verse. This Mishpetei Shmuel is also brought by the Chida in his Rosh Dovid parshas Lech Lecha and Kisei Dovid Derush § 4 L’Shabbos Kallah. This comment of the Tzeidah LaDerech is brought by Sifsei Chachamim ad. loc. Kesav Sofer to Genesis 21:4 says this is actually the intent of the Mizrachi, although the Yefeh Toar clearly disagrees. Bartenura to v. 25 and Maharsha to Yevamos 100b s.v. אלא מעתה say Avraham only kept the Torah after he received his bris milah. They were preceded by the Riva, Paneach Raza to Genesis 17:25 in the name of Rav Yaakov, as well as the Minchas Yehuda, also brought by the Yefeh Toar

[5] Panim Yafos to Genesis 17:1 s.v. ומה שהקשו. He bases himself on Rashi to Genesis 9:5, quoting Bereishis Rabbah 34:13, understanding him to say that a non-Jew is forbidden from killing himself (Cf. Minchas Chinuch 34:8, who says that this prohibition doesn’t apply to non-Jews). The Panim Yafos extends this prohibition to any form of self-mutilation or injury (see Bava Kamma 91b and Tosefta Bava Kamma Chapter 9 (end)). In his Makneh to Kiddushin 82a s.v. מצינו he cites this comment of his in Panim Yafos. Rabbi Eliezer MiMitz, in his Sefer Yereim Amud 7 § 402 (19), asks Tosafos question (see below), and writes “I didn’t hear any answer”. The Toafos Re’eim ad. loc. § 5 suggests that he held like the Panim Yafos, and was thus bothered by the question on Tosafos that is to follow. The Chida, a contemporary of the Panim Yafos, says the same idea in his Kisei Dovid loc. cit. The Kesav Sofer to Genesis 17:1 somewhat partially says the same answer as the Panim Yafos (who happens to be his father’s teacher), although he doesn’t cite him. The Kesav Sofer suggests that when Avraham kept the Torah before it was commanded, he didn’t do it with full confidence. He could never be sure if he intuited Hashem’s will correctly. Usually this wasn’t a problem, for if he was wrong about not wearing shaatnez or not eating treif, no harm done. This was not so with bris milah, for if he was wrong and it wasn’t a mitzvah, he would have committed a prohibition by injuring himself. He therefore waited until Hashem commanded him to be sure it was proper to do.

In contrast, Rash from London, brought by Riva and Minchas Yehuda loc. cit., (the latter brought by Yefeh Toar loc. cit.), says that Avraham didn’t voluntarily perform milah on himself because he didn’t want to injure himself. It sounds like it was permissible, but for whatever reason Avraham didn’t want to voluntarily do a painful mitzvah. Cf. Torah Sheleimah to Genesis Chapter 17 § 157, who understood the Rash to be saying it’s prohibited to injure oneself (like the Panim Yafos). The Rash argues on the approach of Rabbeinu Peretz loc. cit., that Avraham wanted more reward, because if Avraham knew he wouldn’t be commanded in priyah, why didn’t he at least volunteer that, before the command to circumcise himself? I don’t understand this question, as I don’t know how it’s physically possible to do priyah before milah. Unless he means he should have done both milah and priyah early, since he would never be commanded in priyah, but I don’t understand that logic, as he loses out on being commanded in milah. Regarding this question of the Rash on Rabbeinu Peretz, Riva and Minchas Yehuda loc. cit. conclude that there’s no question of why Avraham didn’t do priyah early, since, as Rashi and Bereishis Rabbah explain (see below), he didn’t need priyah.

[6] Yevamos 71b; Zohar III parshas Shelach p. 163b

[7] The gemarra says this as a fact, and provides a proof from Joshua 5:2, which says the Jews performed circumcision again, a second time. The gemarra retorts that perhaps this is referring to those who weren’t able to perform the mitzvah while wandering for forty years in the wilderness. To this, the gemarra responds that the verse stresses that they circumcised again to teach that they were already circumcised, but were now performing the mitzvah of priyah. The gemarra then asks why the verse adds that it was the second time, and answers it’s to teach us that all the necessary pieces of the foreskin have to be removed. This is how Rashi ad. loc. has the gemarra, and how Tosafos ad. loc. s.v. בקונטרס likes to read it. However, Rashi brings a second version of the gemarra, and Tosafos says it’s the version that Rabbeinu Chananel had, which reads very differently. This version, instead of asking two separate questions of what again and a second time are coming to teach, asks it as one question: what are these two extra words coming to teach? The gemarra responds that it’s coming to teach that they were now introduced with the mitzvah of priyah. However, in this version, the gemarra deflects this proof and suggests that perhaps the extraneous words are coming to teach us that the necessary pieces of the foreskin have to be removed. According to this version of the gemarra, there’s actually no source for the statement that Avraham wasn’t given the mitzvah of priyah. Tosafos notes this, somewhat impartially. However, Tosafos Yeshanim ad. loc. don’t like this conclusion, as the gemarra would then be falling off this statement without any resolution, and thus prefer Rashi’s initial reading of the gemarra. Halachos Gedolos Hilchos Milah and Sheiltos § 93 bring Rashi’s initial reading. The alternative version of the gemarra is how the Radak to Joshua 5:2 explains the verse there. It is also brought by the Meiri ad. loc., and he seems to prefer it to the version we have, although he explains the verse in a different way “lefi peshuto shel mikrah”. Ritva ad. loc. s.v. א”כ מאי brings both versions. See also Nimukei HaRid, brought in note 9. See as well Tosafos Yom Tov to Shabbos 19:6. Finally, see Kesav Sofer to Genesis 21:4 for a fascinating explanation for why Hashem commanded Avraham in milah but not in priyah

[8] Tosafos ad. loc. s.v. לא ניתנה and Moshav Zekeinim ad. loc. explain that it’s a Halacha L’Moshe MiSinai, and when the gemarra learns it out from a verse in Joshua, it’s an asmachta. The Meiri ad. loc. says similarly, that the command was given to Moshe but only revealed in the days of Yehoshua. Although, he calls it a stretch. Tosafos Maharam MiRottenburg and Tosafos Rabbeinu Peretz ad. loc. s.v. לא ניתנה (it’s the same text) bring those that say Moshe was commanded in priyah, but only told Yehoshua at the end of their forty-year journey. However, their problem with that is how could the Jews eat meat during that time if they had the status of ערלים. Ramban ad. loc. s.v. הא דאמרינן לא ניתנה says that the gemarra means that Moshe was commanded in priyah. Perhaps he means like the Rashba ad. loc. s.v. לא נתנה says, which is that Moshe was commanded to start the mitzvah of priyah from Yehoshua onward. Or perhaps like Ritva ad. loc. s.v. שנאמר בעת, who says that Moshe was commanded to do priyah once they enter the land. Halachos Gedolos loc. cit. says that Moshe was commanded in priyah in Egypt, which is interesting. Perhaps his intent is to Yerushalmi Shabbos 19:2, Yerushalmi Yevamos 8:1, Yerushalmi Nedarim 3:9, and Devarim Rabbah 10:1, which learns from Exodus 4:26 that Moshe was expected to perform priyah before he went to redeem the Jews

[9] Tosafos loc. cit., based on the above-mentioned idea that Avraham kept the entire Torah before it was given. Rashi to Genesis 17:25 brings an idea from Bereishis Rabbah 47:8 that Avraham’s milah was easier to do than Yishmael’s, since the former had been married for a long time, unlike Yishmael, who needed his foreskin cut and to perform priyah. The Mizrachi ad. loc. understands that Rashi and Bereishis Rabbah mean to say Avraham physically didn’t need to do priyah, as once he cut the foreskin, the priyah happened on its own. However, we see that Avraham performed priyah on Yishmael. The Mizrachi is bothered by Yevamos loc cit., that Avraham wasn’t commanded in priyah, and answers like Tosafos, that Avraham fulfilled the entire Torah, and thus volunteered to do priyah on Yishmael. His second answer is that this comment of Rashi and Bereishis Rabbah might be going with the opinion expressed in Bereishis Rabbah 46:12 (and Yerushalmi Shabbos 19:2), which disagrees with the sources in note 6. Avraham was in fact obligated in priyah. Radak ad. loc. reads Bereishis Rabbah that Rashi brought like the Mizrachi and explains like his second answer. In one of his answers to this contradiction on the Midrash, the Ritva ad. loc. s.v. א”ר יצחק says that Rav Yitzchak, who brought the teaching that Avraham wasn’t commanded in priyah, must have learned a different teaching for Rashi’s verse. See Torah Sheleimah ad. loc. § 159, 160 who brings alternative teachings from Chazal for this verse. See also Tosafos HaShalem ad. loc. § 3. The Ritva’s second answer is like Tosafos. Riva and Minchas Yehuda loc. cit. also understood Rashi like the Mizrachi, and bring from Rabbeinu Tam of Orleans the same answer as Tosafos. The same is in the Paneach Raza, Rav Chaim Paltiel, Moshav Zekeinim, and Chizkuni ad. loc., as well as the Yefeh Toar loc. cit. Ramban and Rashba loc. cit. as well understood Rashi this way, and answer like Tosafos. As previously mentioned, Sefer Yereim loc. cit. brings the gemarra from Halachos Gedolos loc. cit., and asks on it from Rashi as above, and says he hasn’t heard an answer. Considering all of these Ba’alei Tosafos address this issue, he presumably means he hasn’t heard a reasonable answer (see note 5 for Toafos Re’eim’s explanation as to why). Interestingly, Nimukei HaRid ad. loc., brought by Penei Dovid ad. loc., asks the Mizrachi’s question and answers by bringing the second version of the gemarra in Yevamos (brought in note 7), whose conclusion is that Avraham did in fact receive the mitzvah of priyah. In a different vein, the Meiri ad. loc. explains that when the gemarra says that Avraham wasn’t given the mitzvah of priyah, it means that he didn’t need priyah, as it says in Bereishis Rabbah, but then he says what the Gedolei HaRabbanim, i.e. the Mizrachi et al. say. See also Tosafos Maharam MiRottenburg and Tosafos Rabbeinu Peretz loc. cit., who bring from Rav Shlomo of Troyes (הקדוש מדרוי”ש, although the latter brings from הקדוש מרואם; it might be a typo), that Avraham was commanded in priyah, and when the gemarra says he wasn’t, it means he wasn’t commanded to perform it on his children, nor their descendants on themselves. This could be the intent of the sources that say Avraham was commanded in priyah, but it wouldn’t resolve the issue with why he did priyah on Yishmael. Cf. Gur Aryeh to v. 25, who, quite interestingly, disagrees with how all of these Rishonim read Rashi and Bereishis Rabbah

[10] As mentioned previously, the Toafos Re’eim loc. cit understood that the Sefer Yereim sees Avraham’s delaying his bris milah as proof that he was actually commanded in priyah, as he would have been forbidden to volunteer for it. He thus rejects Tosafos loc. cit.’s resolution that Avraham volunteered in priyah, and has no resolution to Yevamos loc. cit. which says that Avraham was not commanded in priyah

[11] Da’as Noteh Lech Lecha § 267

[12] Shomer Emes to Genesis 17:9 § 2. See there, where the author suggests his own answer according to Mishneh Torah Hilchos Chovel U’Mazik 5:1 that one may injure themselves when there’s a need, and suggests that doing it for the sake of a mitzvah is a need. One could perhaps argue that if he’s not commanded to do priyah, it’s not considered a need. Also this revives the question the Panim Yafos was coming to answer, which is why didn’t Avraham volunteer milah? See Panim Yafos HaShalem VeHaMevuar to Genesis 17:24 fn. 255 who says something similar to the Shomer Emes, and clarifies that a large injury like milah wouldn’t be allowed, but a small injury like priyah is fine due to the mitzvah need

[13] Cf. Radal to Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer Chapter 29 § 48, who says that perhaps the reason why the Jews didn’t perform priyah in the desert was because it expels more blood than milah. Toafos Re’eim loc. cit. says the same as the Radal, and perhaps he’s even quoting him, since he cited this Radal a few lines earlier. Although, one could possibly squeeze Rav Chaim’s proposal into this

[14] Heard from Rav Yitzchak Breitowitz

Vayakhel/Pekudei 5783


Kindling traits of passion[1]

לא-תבערו אש בכל משבתיכם ביום השבת
Do not kindle a flame on the Sabbath day in any of your dwelling places[2]

Of all of the 39 forbidden categories of creative activities which are forbidden on Shabbos, the Torah finds the need to specify one of them. It says that it is forbidden to kindle a flame. Why was this activity singled out? Rashi brings[3] that it’s a dispute amongst our sages[4]. One opinion is that it’s to teach us that kindling a fire is for whatever reason considered a lower-level prohibition in comparison to the other forbidden creative activities. It gets downgraded to a regular transgression. The other opinion says it’s to teach us that even someone who performed one creative labor has desecrated Shabbos, as opposed to thinking it takes performing all of them to be guilty. This latter opinion still requires analysis. If this is the intent of the Torah, why was specifically the activity of kindling a flame chosen to teach this lesson? Seemingly the Torah could have chosen any other of the 38 forbidden activities.

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Vayishlach 5780


Commemorating a tragic childbirth[1]

ויהי בצאת נפשה כי מתה ותקרא שמו בן-אוני ואביו קרא-לו בנימין
As [Rochel’s] life departed (since she was dying), she called [her son’s] name Ben-Oni, [whereas] his father called him Binyamin[2]

The death of Rochel during childbirth was tragic enough on its own. However, it was further marred by what seems to be an awkward case of spousal disagreement. Rochel decides to name her second child the name Ben-Oni, which literally translated seems to mean “the son of my mourning[3]”. Her intent would appear to be to call to mind the fact that this boy was the cause of her death, which caused others to mourn for her. Yaakov had a different name which he intended to call their son, Binyamin, which literally means “the son of [my] right hand[4]”. Yaakov appears to want his son’s name to have a more positive connotation. What exactly was their disagreement? What were they both thinking?

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Sheva Berachos #4 – Torah


The Week of Sheva Berachos, Day #4 – Torah[1]

במערבא אמרי בלא תורה…דכתיב האם אין עזרתי בי ותושיה נדחה ממני
In the West they say: [Any man who doesn’t have a wife lives] without Torah…as it is written[2]: “Is it that I have no help in me, and that sound wisdom is driven from me?”[3]

As part of the Jewish wedding ceremony[4], seven blessings known as sheva berachos are recited under the chuppah. As well, our Sages tell us[5] that once a couple gets married, they are to spend the first week of their marriage rejoicing. During these seven days, the sheva berachos are again recited, at the end of a festive meal. Some say[6] that these seven blessings correlate to the seven things[7] that a man acquires[8] when he gets married. Our Sages inform us[9] that until a man gets married, he doesn’t have joy, blessing, goodness, Torah, fortification, peace, nor is he a complete Man[10]. As such, it would be appropriate during this week to elaborate on each of these seven qualities, and how they relate to marriage.

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Behar-Bechukosai 5778

Ensuring the redemption[1]

וזכרתי את-בריתי יעקוב ואף את-בריתי יצחק ואף את-בריתי אברהם אזכר והארץ אזכר
I will remember my covenant with Yaakov; as well, my covenant with Yitzchak, and I’ll remember my covenant with Avraham, and I’ll remember the land[2]

Parshas Bechukosai describes all the devastating things that will happen when the Jews will be exiled from their land. After all these events are described, Hashem assures us that we will not be forgotten. We are assured[3] that we will evade total annihilation, despite our enemies’ plans otherwise. Hashem tells us that He will recall the covenant He made with our forefathers: to be an eternal nation[4], living peacefully in our homeland[5]. When the Torah writes the name of Yaakov, it is written as יעקוב, with an extra “ו”. Rashi points out[6] that this happens five times[7] in Tanach. This is to correspond to the five times[8] that Eliyahu the prophet’s name is written אליה, missing the final “ו”. This is to teach us[9] that Yaakov, so-to-speak, “took” a letter from Eliyahu’s name as collateral, to ensure that Eliyahu will come and announce to Yaakov’s children the imminence of their final redemption[10].  If this is the lesson of the extra letter in Yaakov’s name, then why did it need to be demonstrated five times[11]? If this had happened just once, it would have been sufficient.

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Vayechi 5778

Correcting a blemish[1]

ויקרא יעקב אל-בניו ויאמר האספו ואגידה לכם את אשר-יקרא אתכם באחרית הימים
Yaakov called out to his sons: “Gather together and I will tell you what will happen to you in the end of days”[2]

When Yaakov fell ill, he knew his end was near. He decided that as this might be his final opportunity, he would reveal to his children their ultimate fate[3]. As they gathered to hear his words, his power of prophecy suddenly left him[4]. Yaakov was disturbed how this could happen. He felt it must be because of one of his children. Just like Avraham had two sons, Yitzchak and Yishmael, one good and one bad, and Yitzchak had two sons, Yaakov and Eisav, one good and one bad, Yaakov worried maybe one of his children had turned rotten[5]. He asked if any of them had any complaints against Hashem[6]. Perhaps their faith wasn’t as strong as he thought. His children responded in unison: “Hear O Israel[7]! Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is One”[8]. “Just like in your heart there is only One, so too in our hearts there is only One”. “Just like you have nothing in your heart against Hashem, neither do we”. Yaakov, delighted at this response, called out “Blessed is the name of His Glorious Kingdom forever!”. When Yaakov suspected his children of wrongdoing, why did he specifically suspect them of having a faith problem? Maybe it was something else?

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Vayeitzei 5778

The Torah is not in Heaven[1]

ויעש יעקב כן וימלא שבע זאת ויתן-לו את-רחל בתו לו לאשה
Yaakov [celebrated his marriage to Leah][2]. [When] the week was complete [Lavan] gave his daughter Rachel to [Yaakov] to be his wife[3]

After working seven years for Lavan for the right to marry his daughter Rachel, Yaakov was tricked. He thought he was being given Rachel as a bride, but after all was said and done he realized he had married Leah[4], Rachel’s sister. Lavan tried to justify his treachery, and concluded that Yaakov could marry Rachel as well once the week of celebrations ended. Yaakov did so, and thus was married to both sisters. Many authorities assume the Avos, the patriarchs, kept the entirety of the Torah before it was given[5]. This is based on various allusions to such an idea[6]. However, many struggle[7] to reconcile this with the fact that the Torah explicitly prohibits[8] a man from marrying two sisters. How then could Yaakov marry two sisters, which the Torah explains usually leads to strife?

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Lech Lecha 5778

Rabbi Reznick requested that I remove all divrei Torah that I wrote up from him. He didn’t want them in a public forum. If you would like to see a copy from this week’s parsha, please email

Vayishlash 5777

The Hidden Daughter[1]

ויקם בלילה הוא ויקח את-שתי נשיו ואת-שתי שפחתיו ואת-אחד עשר ילדיו ויעבר את מעבר יבק
And [Yaakov] got up that night and took his 2 wives, his 2 maidservants and his 11 children, and he passed the river Yabok[2]

As Yaakov and his family were about to confront his wicked brother Eisav, they were frightened for their life. The Torah describes their journey the night before the encounter. Rashi is bothered[3] why the verse specifies that Yaakov only took eleven of his children. At that time, he had eleven sons and one daughter, Dinah. Where was Dinah? Quoting the Midrash[4], Rashi says we learn from here that Yaakov hid Dinah in a box, so that Eisav wouldn’t notice her and want to marry her. Chazal say that this decision caused Yaakov to be punished, since he prevented his daughter from being a positive influence on his brother. She could have helped him change his ways.


There are numerous questions that can be asked on this Midrash. The Torah only mentions eleven children. Who says it was Dinah that was missing[5]? Maybe it was one of Yaakov’s sons? Another question is why was Yaakov punished for not wanting his daughter to be married to Eisav? Eisav could have just as likely been a negative influence on her as she a positive influence on him! As well[6], we see Leah was praised for not wanting to marry Eisav[7]; why wasn’t she punished? She could have been a positive influence on him as well. Also, how could Yaakov ever think that Dinah could get Eisav to change his ways? He grew up around Avraham, Sarah, Yitzchak and Rivka, and nothing they did affected him. Why was Yaakov held accountable for this?

To answer the first question, another needs to be asked. Why was the Temple built in the portion of Israel belonging to the tribe of Benjamin? Chazal say[8] the reason is because he was the only one of the twelve tribes to not bow down to Eisav (as they did in this parsha[9]), since he wasn’t born yet. This gave him a merit above his other brothers. If when Yaakov took eleven of his children to confront Eisav, the twelfth was one of his sons, then they also wouldn’t have bowed to him. Why then would the Temple have been built in Benjamin’s portion? It must be that all the sons were present, leaving Dinah the one missing[10].

There’s a short story related in the gemarra[11] about the great-grandson of Rabbi Elazar[12]. He was known to have a very bad reputation, and was involved in several lewd activities. Rebbe[13] sought him out in order to help him mend his ways. Rebbe offered his daughter to this person in marriage if he promised to return to observance. He changed his ways, and there are two versions of what happened next. One version is they got married, and then got divorced; the other is he never agreed to marry her. Regardless of what happened, the gemarra says it was because he was concerned, lest people think he changed his ways because of her. This is very surprising. How could this person be so ungrateful? He finally got his life in order, and he doesn’t want to give her credit?

The answer must be that it wasn’t this woman who changed him. It was Rebbe’s offer to this man. Giving your daughter to someone shows an incredible amount of trust. The mere offer tells the person that you believe in them. This show of faith had a tremendous impact on the person. They felt like they were somebody, that they could do so much more. They weren’t as bad a person as they thought. This is why he didn’t want people to think she changed him, because it wouldn’t be true. Just the offer alone was enough to trigger him to change his life around.

It could be suggested that the same is true with Dinah. It’s not that she would have been able to affect Eisav. Eisav at this point wouldn’t have thought he could ever change. He was too deep in his bad ways. No one could have been a positive influence. However, if Yaakov showed Eisav that he believed in him, that he knew he was better than this, by offering his daughter in marriage, this would have had a similar effect on him. Because Yaakov didn’t show Eisav this trust, he was punished[14].

There’s another approach to this Midrash that I want to share. Eisav’s modus operandi was pure din, strict justice[15]. With pure din there’s no such thing as repentance. A person does something wrong, there’s no way to undo it. Eisav felt that since he had separated himself from klal yisroel, the Jewish people, there was no way for him to ever return. This led him to go deeper and deeper into sin. This explains why he could do some of the worst sins all in one day, the day his grandfather died[16].

The Ramchal[17] explains why Hashem created the universe. Hashem is koolo chesed, the embodiment (so to speak) of loving-kindness. He wanted to bestow good onto others. What’s the best way to bestow good? Not to simply give it. Bread that is given as a gift doesn’t taste as good as that which was earned[18]. He gave us a world and the opportunity to earn our good. We earn it by doing mitzvos and following His will. Chazal say that the world was originally created with middas hadin, the attribute of strict justice[19]. Hashem saw that the world wouldn’t last this way, so he joined together with it middas harachamim, the attribute of compassion. This gives us the ability to repent. Why is strict justice preferable? It would have been the ultimate chesed. Without the ability to repent, life would be much more challenging. The more challenge, the more reward earned[20]. The motivation was purely giving. The problem is it’s not practical. Therefore, compassion was made part of the equation. We see from here that din and chesed are not contradictory. In fact, din in its essence is chesed itself.

We see an example of this with Dinah. What’s the significance of the name Dinah? The verses describe what went into each of the names of Yaakov’s children[21], but by Dinah the Torah doesn’t give an explanation. Rashi[22] explains the background to Dinah’s name. At that time Leah already had six sons, Bilhah and Zilpah each had two, giving Yaakov ten sons in total. Rachel still had no children. Leah knew through prophecy that Yaakov was destined to have twelve sons from his four wives. Rashi says that she was דנה דין בעצמה, made a judgment for herself. Leah was pregnant, and if she gave birth to another son that would mean Rachel could have only one son. This would make her have fewer sons than any of Yaakov’s other wives. After realizing this, Leah prayed that her child be a daughter[23]. She wanted to prevent her sister from this humiliation. This is why her daughter was named Dinah, from the word din, judge.

The question could be asked: why was this consideration called din. It was really a simple math calculation, or cheshbon. She should have been called Cheshbonah. Rav Beryl Whitman explains that the prayer of Leah was pure din, the attribute of strict justice. From the aspect of din, each of the four wives should have had four sons, to make twelve. The fact that Leah got more was because she felt rejected by Yaakov[24], so Hashem showed her compassion and gave her more than the rest. Leah prayed that Hashem not give her compassion, rather treat her according to strict justice. This was all so her sister Rachel wouldn’t be embarrassed.

Now we can understand what Dinah could have done for Eisav. Dinah was the manifestation of din expressing חסד, loving-kindness. Her mother’s concern for her sister was the reason for Dina’s existence. This would have showed Eisav that he could return to good, he could be part of klal yisroel, and still keep with his mode of din. Repentance for the past and changing for the better are not a contradiction to that. It’s never too late to return.

Good Shabbos

[1] Based on a devar torah told to me by my chashuve roommate Chezky Freund from Cleveland, quoting Rav Beryl Whitman

[2] Genesis 32:23

[3] Ad. loc.

[4] Bereishis Rabbah 76:9 and Tanchuma Yashan Vayishlach § 19

[5] This is asked by the Vilna Gaon in Kol Eliyahu ad. loc. and Torah Temimah Chapter 32 § 9.

[6] This and the previous question are asked by Sifsei Chachamim ad. loc., see their answers, as well as Torah Temimah’s shocking answer, loc. cit.

[7] See Rashi to 29:17

[8] The Torah Temimah loc. cit. quotes this from the “Aggados” found in parshas Vezos HaBeracha, but it’s unclear what he was referring to. Kol Eliyahu loc. cit. quotes this idea from the gemarra, but this doesn’t seem to be in our versions of the Bavli or Yerushalmi. The Chida in Chomas Anach to Mikeitz § 16 quotes this in the name of רז”ל, again unclear as to who he is referring to. Yalkut Me’am Loez to Deuteronomy 33:12 brings this idea, and the editor sources it from “מפרשים”. The rishon Akeidas Yitzchak parshas Vayishlach Sha’ar 26 states this as an unsourced fact. The earliest sources I could find for this idea were the commentaries of the Baalei Toasafos to Deuteronomy 33:8 as well as Hadar Zekeinim (also from the Baalei Tosafos) to Deuteronomy 33:12, both citing יש מפרשים. This is probably the מפרשים that Me’am Loez was quoting. Presumably this refers to Rabbi Yehudah ben Eliezer (a.k.a. Riva, one of the Baalei Tosafos), since in his commentary to Deuteronomy loc. cit., he quotes this idea in the name of Rabbeinu Tam from Orleans (not to be confused with Rashi’s grandson). This seems to be the earliest source for this idea. However, I later discovered the Penimim MiShulchan HaGra agree that what we have in Kol Eliyahu is mistaken, and this idea is not found in the gemarra. They say the source is from Targum Sheni to Esther 3:3. See there with Pas’shegen HaKesav

[9] Genesis 33:3

[10] This is the Kol Eliyahu and Torah Temimah’s answer, loc. cit.

[11] Bava Metzia 85a

[12] The son of Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai, both he and his father were very righteous scholars

[13] Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi, also known as Rabbeinu HaKadosh

[14] I heard a similar idea in the name of Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg, that Yaakov should have at least offered her to Eisav. In truth though, this doesn’t completely work with what Rashi loc. cit. wrote, שמא תחזירנו למוטב, lest she return him to good, or Tanchuma Yashan loc. cit. which he is quoting

[15] Zohar Bereishis p. 137b

[16] See Bava Basra 16b

[17] Deresh Hashem 1:2, Da’as Tevunos § 18, and Klalei Pischei Chochmah VeDaas § 1 Cf. Maharal’s Be’er HaGoleh 4:6 (Machon Yerushalayim ed., see fn. 555), who gives a different explanation

[18] This concept is known as נהמא דכיסופא, the bread of shame

[19] See Rashi to Genesis 1:1 s.v. ברא אלקים, quoting Bereishis Rabbah 12:15

[20] Avos 5:23

[21] For example: see Genesis 29:32

[22] To ibid 30:21, quoting Berachos 60a and Midrash Tanchuma Vayeitzei § 8

[23] Cf. Bereishis Rabbah 72:6, which says it was Rachel’s prayers which made Leah have a girl

[24] See ibid 29:31

Vayeitzei 5777

Tzaddik VeRah Lo, Rasha VeTov Lo – The righteous suffer and the wicked prosper[1]

ויצא יעקב מבאר שבע וילך חרנה
Yaakov left Be’er Sheva and went to Charan[2]

This week’s parsha begins Yaakov’s journey to find a wife. He had just found out his brother was planning to kill him, so he took the opportunity to find refuge with his uncle Lavan. Rashi[3] is bothered that the Torah already described at the end of last week’s parsha[4] (only five verses earlier) that Yaakov went to Padan Aram, which is located in Charan. Why is the Torah repeating itself, telling us again at the beginning of the parsha that Yaakov went to Charan? He answers the reason is because the Torah interrupted the narrative of Yaakov’s flight to describe Eisav marrying the daughter of Yishmael[5]. Now that the Torah is resuming Yaakov’s journey, the story is started anew.

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