Vayechi 5782

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Bad intentions, Good results[1]

ויאמר אלהם יוסף אל-תיראו כי התחת אלקים אני: ואתם חשבתם עלי רעה אלקים חשבה לטבה וגו’‏
Yosef said to [his brothers]: “Do not fear. Am I instead of G-d[2]? You thought to do evil to me, but G-d considered it for the good…”[3]

After Yaakov’s funeral, his sons were worried that Yosef bore a grudge against them for their selling him into slavery. They made up a whole story[4] that Yaakov requested that Yosef forgive them. What was Yosef’s response? He reassured them. He asked rhetorically: “Am I instead of G-d?” He explained that although they had bad intentions by selling him, Hashem was behind the scenes. The whole sale was a way to get Yosef to Egypt, so that he could be promoted to viceroy. With his prestigious position, he was able to secure food for the Egyptian empire despite a devastating famine. This ended up being the salvation for Yaakov’s whole family. So, despite their intentions, it was for the best. What was Yosef stressing by saying that “am I instead of G-d”?

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Mikeitz 5782

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Previous ingratitude[1]

וידבר שר המשקים את-פרעה לאמר את-חטאי אני מזכיר היום
The Minister of the Cup Bearers said to Pharaoh, saying: “I bring up my sins today”[2]

When Pharaoh had two troubling dreams, it distressed him greatly[3]. He searched all over Egypt, but no one could satisfactorily interpret the dreams. The Minister of the Cup Bearers, commonly referred to as Pharaoh’s Butler, recalled that Yosef two years earlier had interpreted the former’s dreams. Yosef told the Butler while they were both in jail that the Butler would soon be freed. Yosef requested that the Butler upon his release tell Pharaoh of his innocence. Yosef was framed and didn’t deserve to be in jail. The Butler was indeed released, and failed to give Pharaoh Yosef’s message. Pharaoh’s predicament reminded the Butler of all of this, and he was forced to tell Pharaoh of Yosef’s abilities.

The Butler began by admitting to Pharaoh that this recommendation had negative connotations for himself. It recalled the fact that he was once in jail for sinning against the king. Nevertheless, due to Pharaoh’s need for his dream to be interpreted, the Butler was willing to take the personal hit. However, if we analyze what he says, we’ll be surprised. Instead of him saying that he has to bring up his sin to Pharaoh, he says sins. This means by mentioning Yosef, he was recalling multiple sins. What else did the Butler do wrong? Our Sages say[4] he was referring to two additional[5] sins: that he forgot of Yosef’s existence, and that he failed to keep his promise to him. If so, why would the Butler feel the need to mention this to Pharaoh? What does Pharaoh care about the Butler’s wrongdoing to Yosef?

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Vayeishev / Chanukah 5782

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Snakes, Scorpions, and Chanukah Celebrations[1]

ויאמר אלהם ראובן אל-תשפכו-דם השליכו אתו אל-הבור וגו’ למען הציל אתו מידם וגו’ ויקחהו וישלכו אתו הברה והבור רק אין בו מים
Reuven said to [his brothers]: Don’t spill blood. [Instead,] throw him into the pit…[this was] in order to save [Yosef] from their hands…They took him and threw him into the pit. The pit was empty; it didn’t have water[2]

After sensing their brother Yosef as a threat to their family’s wellbeing and Divine mission, the sons of Yaakov sentenced him to death. They intended to kill him and hide his death from their father. Reuven, the firstborn, knew this was the wrong move. Instead, he insisted that they throw Yosef in a pit. The Torah testifies that Reuven’s intent was to save Yosef. He seemingly wanted to stall for time, with the hope that the brothers would calm down and not act rashly. Unfortunately, while he was momentarily away from his brothers, they sold Yosef as a slave to Egypt, and the rest is history.

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Vayechi 5781

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A recipe to avoid decline[1]

ויברכם ביום ההוא לאמור בך יברך ישראל לאמר ישמך אלקים כאפרים וכמנשה וגו’‏
[Yaakov] blessed them on that day saying: “In you[2] the Jewish people will bless, to say that Hashem should make you like Efraim and Menashe”…[3]

Towards the end of Yaakov’s life, he blessed his children with various prophetic pronouncements. Before blessing his twelve children, he gave Yosef’s two sons their own special blessings. He informed them that the Jewish people will bless their own children to be like Efraim and Menashe. Indeed, the standard practice in a Jewish home is that Friday night the parents bless their sons to be like Efraim and Menashe[4]. What’s the intent behind blessing our kids that they should be like Efraim and Menashe? What aspect did they have that we hope our children will share?

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Shevii shel Pesach 5780

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A sense of gratitude[1]

הים ראה וינס הירדן יסב לאחור
The [Reed] Sea[2] saw and ran away, the Jordan River turned backwards[3]

During the holiday of Pesach (as well as every other holiday), we recite Hallel during the morning prayers. It consists of chapters 113 to 118 from Psalms. Chapter 114 describes how when the Jews left Egypt, nature was entirely subservient to them. Nothing stood in their way. Most pronounced was the miracle of the splitting of the sea. On the seventh day of Pesach, we commemorate this event with the Torah Reading being the Song at Sea that the Jews recited[4] after this miracle[5]. In Psalms the sea is described as “running away” from the Jews, meaning that it split in two, after seeing something. What did it see that made it split? Chazal teach us that it was the coffin[6] of Yosef[7]. Why would the coffin of Yosef be the reason the sea split?

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Mikeitz 5780

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The goblet of the wise[1]

הלוא אשר ישתה אדני בו והוא נחש ינחש בו וגו’‏
Is [this goblet] not that which my Master drinks from? He also divines with it…[2]

Yosef, as the viceroy of Egypt, had his brothers fooled. They didn’t recognize him as their brother, and he sent them home without a clue. More than that, Yosef had a plan to set up his brother Binyamin. Yosef had someone plant his precious goblet in Binyamin’s bag. As the brothers journeyed home, they were arrested for theft. What was Yosef’s purpose for this whole ruse?

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Balak 5778

Personalized rebuke[1]

ותאמר האתון אל-בלעם הלא אנכי אתונך אשר-רכבת עלי מעודך עד-היום הזה ההסכן הסכנתי לעשות לך כה ויאמר לא
The donkey said to Bilaam: “Am I not your donkey which you have ridden upon from when you first started[2] until now? Have I ever been in the habit[3] of doing this to you?” [Bilaam] replied: “No”[4]

As the wicked gentile prophet Bilaam was on his way to curse the Jewish people, an Angel of Hashem blocked his path[5]. He could not sense the Angel, unlike the donkey he was riding on. As the donkey kept trying to change course, Bilaam hit it. A miracle happened, and his donkey spoke to him. She asked him why he would hit it. This donkey had served him faithfully all these years, and surely this change in behavior was for some yet-unknown reason. Bilaam couldn’t deny the donkey’s logic. Chazal note[6] that there are two instances in the Torah were a person was rebuked and became speechless; they had no way to respond. These instances are to teach us to heed the final day of judgement, where Hashem will show us our failings, and we will be unable to respond. The first instance is with Yosef and his brothers[7]. Despite having his brothers sell him to slavery, Yosef became the viceroy in Egypt. When he finally revealed his identity to them, they were speechless. The second is with Bilaam and his donkey. When Chazal teach this lesson, they phrase it in a strange way. They say that when Hashem will rebuke us, He will do so in a manner that is in accordance to each person. What does this phrase mean?

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Beha’alosecha 5778

Salvation for those who stumble in loshon hara[1]

ותדבר מרים ואהרן במשה על-אדות האשה הכשית אשר לקח כי-אשה כשית לקח
Miriam and Aharon spoke about Moshe regarding the Cushite woman he had married, for he had married a Cushite woman[2]

Miriam and Aharon felt that Moshe wasn’t treating his wife properly, and they discussed the matter between themselves[3]. While they had positive intentions, their facts were incorrect. As a result, their discussion was deemed loshon hara, evil speech[4]. The Torah describes[5] that Miriam was stricken with tzaraas, a leprous-like malady which results from loshon hara[6]. There’s no mention that Aharon was punished. This is odd, as both of them were discussing Moshe. Some say[7] that in fact, Aharon was stricken with tzaraas. This is inferred from the fact that the Torah says[8] that Hashem was angry at them, meaning both Miriam and Aharon. The reason the Torah only mentions Miriam getting tzaraas is because Aharon was quickly healed from this condition[9]. Why was he healed so quickly, while Miriam had to wait seven days before she recovered[10]?

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