February 19, 2013
Parashat Terumah by Jeroen Reuven Bours
Our Sages, Rashi and others, have interpreted the reason why HaShem commanded Moshe to go make the Tabernacle, in many different ways. Some say it was a direct response to the mistake of making the golden calf. In Rashi’s own words: “There is no chronological order to the Torah; the story of the golden calf took place many days before the command to make the Tabernacle, since the tablets of stone were broken on the 17th of Tammuz. On the Day of Atonement, HaShem was reconciled with the Israelites and on the morrow they began their voluntary offerings for the Tabernacle which was erected on the first of Nissan.” On the 10th of Tishri Moshe received the second set of tablets and the news that HaShem had forgiven them. Sforno thinks that the Mishkan is an afterthought and that the Levites were never to administer anything - until the sin of the golden calf. HaShem would have been satisfied with an altar and would descent when His name be mentioned. But now He decides on a Tabernacle. Is this out of spite? Are the careful instructions a way to have His people pay for their sins? Is the half shekel a symbolic punishment? If you listen to the second half of the command, you may hear the most prolific and generous promise: “…And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.” In Zedah La-Derech (17th Century), Rav Eilenburg, wrote that HaShem is not meaning this command to be in the physical way - but in a spiritual way: “He will live in our hearts.” But there is another way to interpret this command. Look at the word “them”. God is speaking to the only human who speaks directly to Him (at that time), that now everyone will enjoy HaShem being ‘around’ them. Does that mean that we need to go to the Mishkan to make that happen? With other words, is this the first mentioning that we must go to synagogue in order to dwell among HaShem or is it Rav Eilenburg’s view that He will dwell in our hearts? The answer may be in Moshe’s way of talking to Betzalel, as discussed in the Gemara (berachot 55A) When HaShem told Moshe to tell Betzalel to - “Make Me a Mishkan, an aron and vessels…”, Moshe reversed the order when explaining this to Betzalel. But Betzalel, although an artist, was also a logical person. He replied to Moshe that you don’t make the things that go into a house before you first build the house. Betzalel continues and suggests to Moshe that perhaps HaShem wants him to build the structure first and then the things that go inside. Rav Shmuel ben Nachami thinks that Moshe replied by pronouncing Betzalel’s name as “Be’Tzel El” - “in the shadow of God” - and that Betzalel overheard God saying it to Moshe in the order of house first, things afterwards. But Moshe has no other choice than to think of the things first. He sees the relationship with HaShem without walls, without needing to be within a structure. After all, HaShem hangs out with Moshe in all kinds of places. The rest of us see the Mishkan as a structure where behind curtains and walls HaShem “lives”. So the question is does HaShem dwell among us in shul only or does He dwell among us everywhere? Do we need to go to shul at all? It is the typical question a child may ask his parents when visiting shul, “is this where God lives?” One simple answer may be that in a good relationship one needs to “visit” each other and not just rely on one party to do all the work. So answer the child with: “Yes, He lives here and at home.”
February 4, 2013
Parshas Mishpotim 5773 Healing Stephen Rabinowitz, MD B”H
Parshas Mishpotim, the sixth of the eleven parshios in Sefer Shmos, contains 118 verses, including 23 positive mitzvos and 30 prohibitions. At the end of the first aliyah, among the laws of penalties, chapter 21 contains the following verses (translation adapted from Rabbi Chaim Miller and based on Rashi (1040-1105)):
The Gemara Bava Kamma 85a-b discusses responsibilities for paying or not paying for lost wages and for healing. Regarding healing, the commentaries note the double language in our verse, “v’rapo y’rapei/ and heal he shall heal.” Onkelos (35-120 C.E.) translates this to mean that the assailant must pay the doctor’s fee. Rashi, commenting on the Gemara, says that this verse prevents us from saying that since HaShem caused this person to be stricken, we mortals therefore cannot presume to heal him. The Tosafists (1100-1300) say the double language means that we must not only try to heal injuries inflicted by man, but also illness that comes directly from HaShem. All the opinions in the Gemara agree that the assailant is not liable for an aggravation of the injury resulting from the victim’s mistreatment of the injury, such as negligent bandaging, or for health issues unrelated to the injury. The discussion considers the victim’s negligence in not following his doctor’s instructions, such as not adhering to a prescribed diet. The victim is not required to accept the assailant as his physician, even if the assailant is qualified. He is not required to accept a physician who is a relative or friend of the assailant, or who will work for free or for a reduced fee as a favor to the aggressor, or who comes from afar and is not concerned about his local reputation. But the victim cannot say he will heal himself and pocket the fee. The Gemara here and also in Berachos 60a quotes a sage of R. Yishmoel’s academy on the phrase “v’rapo y’rapei:” “From here we derive that permission is given to a physician to heal.”
Rabbeinu Bachya (1255-1340): The Torah describes two blows, a hard blow with a stone, and a lighter blow with a fist. The judges must consider whether either one of the blows was hard enough to cause death to most people struck by such a blow. When a person dies from a hard blow, the striker may be executed as a murderer. If the victim recovers from the blow sufficiently after being bed-bound to walk consistently outdoors, even with a crutch, the striker is free of criminal proceedings and faces only civil assessment of damages. The degree and danger of the injuries, including the likely cause of death, is determined by medical experts. The word for healing, when used in Tanach for healing that comes from HaShem, is always spelled with a soft letter “fay,” without a dagesh/dot in it, as in “rofay.” When the word is used in reference to human physicians, as in our verse, the word is always spelled with a hard letter “pay,” as in “rapo.” A cure by HaShem is painless; a cure by physicians is apt to involve pain and suffering, such as when a surgeon must make an incision.
Ba’al haTurim (1269-1343) refers to Gemara Avodoh Zorah 55a: when Hashem decrees suffering upon a person, He specifies that it cannot begin before a certain day, and must end by a certain day, at a defined moment, by the hand of a specified physician, through the use of a particular remedy. Ba’al haTurim sees an allusion to this dictum in the fact that verse 19 begins with an aleph and ends with an aleph. Perhaps the aleph having the numerical value “1″ refers to everything beginning and ending by the Will of HaShem, who is One. This contrasts with alien philosophies that imagine the existence of separate forces of good and forces of evil.
The Gemara Kiddushin 82a, in a Mishneh discussing the disadvantages of various professions, states “tov she’bo’rofim la’gayhinom/ even the best of physicians is destined for Gehinnom.” Rashi explains that they eat healthily and do not fear sickness, and are therefore not humble before HaShem; at times they cause death; and they refuse to heal the poor who cannot pay them. The physician has a responsibility to restore health just as one must restore lost objects says the Rambam (1135-1204). On the other hand, the Rambam and the Chida (1724-1806) are among many who state that halacha requires a sick person to seek a doctor, and not rely on miracles for healing. They relate this obligation to Devorim 4:9, “…guard yourself, watch your soul carefully….” Rav Moshe Feinstein (1895-1986) in Igros Moshe YD 4:8 says that this includes the obligation to seek the most qualified physician whether a Jew or non-Jew. The Lubavitcher Rebbe (1902-1994) maintains that it is preferable to seek a “rofeh yedid/doctor and dear friend.”
The Maharsha (1555-1631) and Tiferes Yisroel by the Maharal (1520-1609) suggest that the Mishneh refers specifically to physicians who consider themselves the best in their fields because they often rely completely on their own judgment and refuse to consult with others, which can bring tragic results. Pardes Yosef by Rabbi Yosef Pazanovski (?-1930) points out that our Shmoneh Esrei consisted originally of 18 prayers, one of which is “heal us HaShem and we will be healed.” A physician who skips this prayer, believing he heals with his own power, says only 17 blessings. The numerical value of “tov” is 17, so “tov she’bo’rofim” refers to those physicians. The double language should remind us that two healers are present, the doctor is only an agent of HaShem. But the Pardes Yosef adds that “the best of physicians” may also refer to those who are too “kind” and permissive to patients, and don’t insist that they must adhere to the necessary regimen. A doctor who wants to be a “tov” person, perhaps out of inappropriate kindness, or perhaps seeking high patient satisfaction ratings, risks all.
January 29, 2013
Peace of Parsha-Yitro
It is in this week’s parsha,Yitro, that the Children of Israel 7 weeks after the exodus from Egypt, gather at the base of Har Sinai and receive the Torah from G-d. Why then is the parsha entitled Yitro and not the 10 commandments?
Yitro, the father in law of Moshe and the Priest of Midian, worshiped every idolatrous practice that existed. But when Yitro heard of the great miracles performed by G-d specifically, according to Rashi, the miracles of the crossing of the Sea of Reeds and the war with Amalek, he left Midian and traveled to the Israelite camp with Moshe’s wife Tzippora and their 2 sons Gershom and Eliezer.
The parsha opens with the words “Vayishma Yitro”(Jethro heard). In Hebrew, the word for hears “shema” also means to understand. Yitro just didn’t hear. He understood and acted. Amalek heard the same things as Yitro but was so obsessed with his hatred for the Jews and was filled with such horrible prejudices that his true sense of reality was distorted. The nation of Amalek rebelled against G-d. The Hebrew word Amalek has a numerical value of 240, which is the same as the word safek meaning doubt.Yitro had no doubt of G-d’s supremacy.
The events of the exodus proved to Yitro that G-d absolutely controlled everything and punished “measure for measure”. Yitro was the 1st gairtzeddek, performed mila on himself and acknowledged Hashem as the only ruler.
Yitro showed selfless gratitude to G-d after hearing of the great miracles by saying “Baruch Hashem”(Blessed is Hashem), which is the ultimate phrase in showing appreciation and thankfulness to G-d. Rabbi Yochanan says the phrase “Baruch Hashem” should be attributed to Yitro because Yitro was the one who taught us to express thankfulness to G-d for miracles not given to His own people but to the Children of Israel. Moshe also thanked G-d after the crossing of the Sea of Reeds when he praised G-d for the miracles he performed for his own people, the Children of Israel. The difference though is that Yitro personified loving kindness when he thanked G-d for the blessings he placed on others. Also, from the respectful manner in which Moshe treated his father-in-law (And he prostrated himself and kissed him…) we learn of the importance for a person to honor their in-laws.
Yitro advised Moshe to appoint a hierarchy of magistrates and judges to help him in governing and administering justice to the Children of Israel. He advised Moshe to choose (”men of accomplishment,G-d fearing people, men of truth, people who despise money…”). This system proposed by Yitro was to assure that the system of courts would be set up efficiently and quickly. The difficult cases were to be brought to Moshe and the leaders would judge the minor ones. Next, the Torah says, “Moshe sent off his father-in-law and he went to his land”. Yitro was willing to change his life for Judaism. He felt that he had to go back home to Midian to try to convert his family and friends and spread the light of Torah there.
Parshat Yitro teaches us many lessons, which were crucial before the Jews received the Torah from Hashem. The 10 Commandments are the foundation of our faith since they represent the entirety of the Torah. According to Rabbi Yochanan Zweig, the purpose of the miracles was to bring the Children of Israel and G-d closer together. Yitro heard of the great miracles, reacted and immediately converted.
How often do we ignore G-d’s warnings and even blessings? We are all so busy in our pursuit of our materialistic “good life” we often don’t hear G-d’s messages. We typically only stop to listen when tragedy unfortunately occurs. Most of us today “listen” to what we want to hear and see only what we choose to see.
Last week we celebrated TuB’Shevat, the New Year for the trees. According to the Talmud it is this date when the trees begin to draw nourishment from their sap and no longer absorb water from the ground. During the times of the Temple in Jerusalem, the 15th of Shevat was used to calculate the tithes from the fruit of the trees. For us it is a time of appreciation for all Hashem has given us!
This d’var torah is dedicated in honor of the memory of my mother Sasha Fagela bat Yosef. May her neshama have an aliyah.
January 22, 2013
Seizing the Initiative
As we all know, the Egyptians, after a sudden change of heart, chased after the departing Jews and caught up with them at the Red Sea. At that point, in reaction to B’nei Yisroel’s great distress and fear, Moshe engaged in lengthy prayer on behalf of his people. Hashem said to Moshe [pasuk 14, 16]: “Why are you crying out to me; command the Jews to forge ahead.” The Talmud comments: Hashem rebuked Moshe by saying: “My people are about to drown in the sea and you are uttering lengthy prayers”. Moshe responded “What shall I do?” Hashem said: “Lift your staff upon the sea, whereupon the sea will split and grant B’nei Yisroel passage”. Sotah [37, 1]
One obvious question is why was Moshe at fault for engaging in fervent prayer, particularly since the Talmud tells us that one should pray at times of distress? It seems, however, that Hashem does not want us to rely on prayer alone. When we pursue a worthy objective (in this case, the redemption of B’nei Yisroel from a lengthy slavery), it is critical that, in addition to prayer, we must make every effort to achieve our objective, even when there appears to be little chance of success.
We have seen this over and over in the case of the modern State of Israel. If the brave pioneers who settled the Land had merely prayed that the swamps would miraculously become fertile and that our enemies would not do everything possible to prevent our settling the Land, it seems quite plausible that the pioneers’ efforts would not have succeeded. However, only after the pioneers risked disease and endured great economic hardship to cultivate the Land, did the Land miraculously blossom. And only after the Holocaust remnants exercised every possible initiative and human ingenuity to bear arms in defense of the State, were they able to defeat their much more experienced and better-armed enemies.
The lesson for each of us is that, no matter how difficult a circumstance we may find ourselves in from time to time, prayer alone, important as it is, is not sufficient. We must supplement our prayers with decisive and courageous action, firm in our belief that Hashem stands ready to bless our efforts, even against all odds, when our faith is strong and our objectives are worthy.
January 14, 2013
Parshas Bo 5773 Redeeming Firstborns Stephen Rabinowitz, MD B”H
Parshas Bo, the third of the eleven parshios in Sefer Shmos, contains 105 verses, including nine positive mitzvos and eleven prohibitions. Chapter 13 contains the following verses (translation adapted from Rabbi Chaim Miller and based on Rashi (1040-1105)):
Rashi (1040-1105) notes that the firstborn of kosher domestic animals must be redeemed, but not of any non-kosher animal other than the donkey. He gives two reasons for including the donkey: first, because the firstborn of the Egyptians are compared to donkeys (Yecheskel 23:20)(and Yecheskel compares Yisroel to lambs); second, donkeys assisted Yisroel in our departure from Egypt. No family left Egypt without many donkeys laden with gold and silver. The donkeys served us for the next forty years.
Why does the Torah follow the redemption of donkeys and babies with the son’s question? The question “ma zos/what is this?” is the one the Hagaddah associates with the simple, but respectful son. Sforno (1470/75 - 1550), says that the question focuses not on the seder, but on the redemption of the donkey. Why redeem a non-kosher animal, an animal that lacks both cloven hoof and chewing cud, a thoroughly impure animal? Why break its neck if it is not redeemed? Sforno answers that HaShem brought us out of Egypt by the strong hand of the Egyptians, who threw us out in haste. Our few wagons were full and we had no time to arrange to carry all the extra goods. Miraculously, donkeys filled the need and therefore earned our thanks, which we express by redeeming the firstborn donkey.
The Kli Yakar (1550-1619) says that the question doesn’t relate to the Pesach Seder and it doesn’t relate to the donkey, but rather to the redemption of a firstborn son. The simple son is content to eat his delicious Seder meal without asking questions. When it comes to a Pidyon haBen to redeem his firstborn son, however, and he has to give a Kohen five expensive silver coins, he gives the money and remains respectful until the next day, as our verse says “machar/tomorrow,” and then he asks his question: ‘Why did I need to do this?’ Furthermore, ‘Why can’t I have a shaliach/agent take care of this for me, just like many other mitzvos?’ We then explain that these mitzvos memorialize the miraculous killing of the firstborn Egyptians and the equally miraculous saving of the firstborn of Yisroel. The Chasam Sofer (1762-1839) adds that HaShem killed the Egyptian firstborns Himself, without intermediaries, and therefore we must redeem our firstborn ourselves, without any agents.
The simple son’s last question is, “Why decapitate the donkey if it is not redeemed by giving a lamb to a Kohen?” Yisroel is sometimes called a stiff-necked people, unwilling to repent sins. Stubbornness and selfishness are the traits of a donkey. Redeeming the donkey is much preferred to the ax. Rabbi Hirsch (1808-1888) says that one who refuses to redeem his donkey is condemning his own wealth to destruction. Netziv (1816-1893) says that the birth of a firstborn is an opportunity to give a lamb to a Kohen. A life filled with opportunity that is never fulfilled is no life at all.
December 31, 2012
SHEMOT by MARK GERSTEN in memory of HELENE
MOST OF US CAN IDENTIFY AT LEAST ONE TIME IN OUR LIVES THAT REPRESENTED A CROSSROADS. WE HAD TO TAKE ONE DIRECTION OR THE OTHER, BUT IT WAS ALSO A POINT OF NO RETURN. WHEN MOSES SAW AN EGYPTIAN STRIKING A DEFENSELESS AND INNOCENT JEWISH SLAVE HE HAD TWO CHOICES. HE COULD EITHER IGNORE IT, OR HE COULD HELP PROTECT THE JEWISH SLAVE. THE TORAH SAYS THAT BEFORE HE “STRUCK” THE EGYPTIAN HE LOOKED HERE AND THERE, BUT COULD NOT FIND A MAN. THE SIMPLE MEANING IS THAT HE LOOKED AROUND TO SEE IF THERE WAS A WITNESS TO TURN HIM IN. WHEN HE DID NOT SEE ANYONE HE KILLED THE EGYPTIAN (BY UTTERING ONE OF G-D’S NAMES WHICH WHEN SAID BY MOSES HAD THE POWER TO KILL). A SECOND LEVEL MEANING TO THE VERSE WAS THAT MOSES LOOKED INSIDE OF HIMSELF AND SAW AN EGYPTIAN HERE AND A JEW THERE.
SUCH A PERSON AT THAT POINT AND PLACE IN TIME COULD NOT BE A VIABLE MAN FOR VERY LONG. HE MUST CHOOSE ONE IDENTITY AND STICK WITH IT. MOSES MADE HIS CHOICE AND THE REST WAS HISTORY. G-D SHOULD GUIDE US ALL THROUGH OUR MAJOR CROSSROADS IN LIFE BUT ALSO THROUGH THE MINOR DAILY ONES THAT CAN BE REVERSED BUT CAUSE ANXIETY, LOST TIME, LOSS OF MONEY OR LOSS OF SPIRITUALITY.
(ENJOY THE POEM BELOW)
MOSES LEFT THE PALACE
TO LEARN HIS PEOPLE’S PLIGHT
SAW AN EGYPTIAN STRIKE A JEW
HE KNEW THAT WASN’T RIGHT
THIS ACT BECAME THE CROSSROAD
TO IDENTIFY HIS LIFE
FOR WHEN HE LOOKED INSIDE HIMSELF
HE SAW AN INNER STRIFE
FOR HE WAS PHAROH’S GRANDSON,
ADOPTED IT IS TRUE
BUT WHEN HE LOOKED INSIDE HIMSELF
HE ALSO SAW A JEW
WHEN HE SLEW THE EGYPTIAN
BUT DID IT SECRETLY
HE REALIZED, “I HAVE ALSO KILLED
THAT PART INSIDE OF ME”
December 20, 2012
Peace of Parsha - Vayigash
Dr. Laura Danoff
In this week’s parsha, Vayigash, Yehuda pleads with Yosef to release Binyamin from prison and to incarcerate him instead. In 17 lengthy verses of the Torah, Yehuda tries to convince Yosef to let Binyamin go free and allow him to return to Ya’acov, his father Ya’acov in Canaan.
Yehuda tells Yosef who is still incognito that his father will die if Binyamin is missing since Binyamin is the youngest and only living child of Rachel. Yehuda continues in Hebrew, “My father’s very soul is intertwined with Binyamin’s soul” and that he alone is responsible for bringing Binyamin home. Yehuda states vehemently that if he doesn’t bring Binyamin home “he will be sinning to my father for all time” (Bereishis 44:33). This is the first time in the Torah that the famous dictum ‘Kol Yisrael areivim zeh b’zeh’- all Jews are responsible for one another is expressed. All of us are Hashem’s children. Yehudah was prepared not only to negotiate but to fight if necessary, and put his life on the line to spare Binyamin.
After Yehuda’s powerful defense, Yosef is moved to tears when he realizes the absolute devotion the brothers have for each other and reveals his true identity to his brothers. This was the ultimate message that convinced Yosef that Yehuda and his brothers had repented. Twenty-two years ago they had sold their brother into slavery to a caravan of Ishmaelites and caused their father Yaacov tremendous agony.
The ultimate sign of repentance according to Maimonides is when one is tempted with the same sin in similar circumstances and refrains. The brothers were given the opportunity to abandon Binyamin but sacrificed themselves instead and repented. In teshuvah (repentance), we must not only say we are sorry but we must proactively reverse the harm caused by past sins and make a promise to ourselves and Hashem never to repeat this action again.
Yehuda has done absolute repentance and is the ultimate model of a Bal Teshuva. He has learned from his mistakes and was prepared to sacrifice himself and assume personal and eternal responsibility in order to save his younger brother, Binyamin.
The story of Yosef is timeless. It teaches us how to forgive, not bear a grudge, how to judge favorably, and even how to love someone who has wronged us. Parsha Vayigash also reminds us that when bad things happen to us we must remember that our vision of things is quite limited. As Yosef told his brothers who sold him into slavery 22 years ago, “It was not you who sent me here but G-d.”
It is said that Moshiach will be a descendent of Yehuda because of his selfless love, his ability to change, to repent for his prior mistakes, to recognize his faults and change his ways.
This d’var torah is in honor of the marriage of Aliza Bracha and Moshe. May you live all the days of your life to the fullest with tremendous blessings!
December 11, 2012
The Sedrah of Miketz is always read around Chanukah time. Although there are some hints to Chanukah in the Sedrah which the Rabbi’s have given, I should like to express the possibility of one more. There are many references to Jacob’s sons dying, being lost or potentially lost. When Jacob is asked to let Benjamin go down to Egypt to meet the viceroy (Joseph), he is afraid he will not return. Jacob also states, “Joseph is missing, Shimon is missing”… Ruven counters, “If I don’t bring back Benjamin you can kill my first two sons.”
With this in mind let us mention that before the Cohanim would do the daily sacrifices, they would take the old ashes and put them in a clean and holy place (not in a garbage heap). This was to show reverence and an understanding that they could only make new sacrifices base on those of yesterday. We too can only serve and sacrifice to Hashem based on those who came before us and made their sacrifices first. We are only observant because of our ancestors who kept the chain of Judaism intact, even when it weakened, but didn’t let it break completely. We only exist because of faithful Jews who came before us willing to give up their lives and even the lives of their children. Chanukah is a joyous festive holiday, but we must temper our happiness and realize the cost that was paid. We can not repay this debt, but should not let it go to waste either. Given our opportunity, we should redouble our efforts to serve Hashem as best as we can.
CHANAH and CHANUKAH
ANTIOCHUS MADE DECREES
THAT ALL JEWS BOW AND BEND THEIR KNEES
BEFORE AN IDOL PLACED NEAR THEM
TO SHOW THEY LOST FAITH IN HASHEM
CHANNAH AND HER SEVEN SONS
WERE MARTYRS EACH AND EVERY ONE
WOULD NOT BOW TO A GOD OF STONE
JUST TO THE ONE TRUE G-D ALONE
EACH SON IN TURN, WAS WARNED HE’D LOSE
HIS LIFE, BUT EACH DID STILL REFUSE
TO REJECT G-D AND BE SET FREE
NO CHANCE HE’D CHOOSE IDOLATRY
AS SHE SAW EACH SON LOSE HIS LIFE
WHO COULD FEEL HER PAINFUL STRIFE
BUT STILL ENCOURAGED EVERY SON
TO LOVE AND FEAR THE HOLY ONE
AND BEFORE HER YOUNGEST DIED
TEARFUL BUT WITH MOTHER’S PRIDE
SAID, “WHEN YOU SEE ABRAHAM
TELL HIM ,THAT WITH FAITH I AM
OFFERING G-D ALL MY SONS
WHILE HE ASKED YOU FOR ONLY ONE,
BUT WHEN I SAW YOUR FAITH IN G-D
I OFFERED SEVEN THOUGH QUITE HARD.”
December 4, 2012
Parshas VaYeishev 5773 Yosef haTzaddik S. Rabinowitz, MD B”H
Parshas VaYeishev is the ninth of twelve parshios in Sefer BeReishis. The parsha contains 112 verses, with no mitzvos. At the beginning of our parsha, Yosef is 17 years old, living with his family. At the end, he has for 12 years been confined to an Egyptian prison, forgotten by Pharaoh’s chief wine steward, upon whom Yosef relied to free him. Yosef erred in his dealings with his brothers, who reacted by selling him into slavery. He erred in relying on the wine steward to free him, resulting in a longer prison term. Despite all this, Yosef is regarded as a tzaddik, a righteous and saintly person. What can we learn from Yosef?
The Torah doesn’t actually use the word tzaddik to describe Yosef. The rabbis take the description from the Navi Amos (2:6):
|כֹּה אָמַר יְקוָק, עַל-שְׁלֹשָׁה פִּשְׁעֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְעַל-אַרְבָּעָה לֹא אֲשִׁיבֶנּוּ: עַל-מִכְרָם בַּכֶּסֶף צַדִּיק, וְאֶבְיוֹן בַּעֲבוּר נַעֲלָיִם.||Thus says HaShem: For three transgressions of Israel, or for four, I will not reverse it; because they sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes.|
The person sold for silver or for shoes is apparently Yosef, who is referred to here as a tzaddik. BeReishis 35:28 says that the brothers sold Yosef for 20 silver coins. Eleh Ezkera says he was sold for shoes.
Later, when Yosef worked in Potiphar’s household for a year, his master saw that HaShem was with him. One way of understanding this is that Yosef was constantly murmuring, reviewing the Torah he learned from his father. Another idea is that Yosef continually referred to HaShem in his conversations. According to the midrash, Potiphar would say to Yosef, “Pour boiling water for me,” and immediately there was boiling water. “Pour tepid water,” and immediately there was tepid water. Potiphar asked Yosef whether he was bringing sorcery to Egypt, which was like bringing coals to Newcastle, until Potiphar saw, said R. Chiya, that HaShem was with Yosef. Potiphar promoted Yosef (BeReishis 39:5):
|וַיְהִי מֵאָז הִפְקִיד אֹתוֹ בְּבֵיתוֹ, וְעַל כָּל-אֲשֶׁר יֶשׁ-לוֹ, וַיְבָרֶךְ יְקוָק אֶת-בֵּית הַמִּצְרִי, בִּגְלַל יוֹסֵף; וַיְהִי בִּרְכַּת יְקוָק, בְּכָל-אֲשֶׁר יֶשׁ-לוֹ–בַּבַּיִת, וּבַשָּׂדֶה.||It happened from the time that he appointed him over his house and over all he had, that HaShem blessed the Egyptian’s house for Yosef’s sake; HaShem’s blessing was on all he had, in the house and in the field.|
The Midrash Rabbah quotes R. Shimon ben Yochai on this verse, “Every place that tzaddikim go, the Shechina goes with them.” In the Zohar 194b, however, “R. Shimon said, ‘Yosef was not called tzaddik until after he stood the test of guarding the purity of the covenant (by refusing Mrs. Potifar’s overtures)…’”
Even Islamic literature records the handsomeness of Yosef. The Quran 12: 30-32 calls Potiphar “Aziz” and speaks of his wife. Her name may have been Zuleika or Zulaikha. Zuleika’s aristocratic-Egyptian lady friends mocked her infatuation with an 18-year-old Hebrew slave. She responded by inviting the ladies to her home, where she gave them fruit and knives to peel the fruit. While they did so, she had the extraordinarily handsome Yosef walk through the room. All the ladies cut their fingers with the knives. She then pointed out to the ladies that she had to see Yosef every day. They no longer mocked her.
The Gemara Yoma 35b teaches in a Baraisa, “A poor person, a wealthy person, and a wicked person come to judgment.” Each is asked why he did not study Torah. The poor person and the wealthy person both say they were preoccupied with their finances. The reproach to the poor man is, “Were you poorer than Hillel the Elder?” The reproach to the wealthy man is, “Were you wealthier than R. Elazar ben Charsom?” Each of these went to great lengths to learn Torah despite their circumstances. But to the person whose excuse is that his good looks ensnared him with the evil inclination, the Heavenly reproach is, “Were you any more handsome then Yosef?” The Gemara refers to Yosef as a tzaddik, and details the pitfalls he overcame. Yosef’s staunch virtue, his ability to focus on right and wrong, serves as an example to all of us in life’s trials.
November 14, 2012
TOLDOS by Mark Gersten in memory of Helene
When we look at Avraham and Yakov we see their relationships with their wives had the status of Azer Kinegdo (a worthy advisor), Sarah advised Avraham to send Yismael out of the house to spare Yitzhok of his bad influence. Yakov spoke with Rachael and Leah to get their advice and permission before leaving Lavan’s house. Rivka had no such relationship with Yitzhok. She related to him with extreme awe more like a parent than a husband. This prevented a meaningful dialogue of equals between the two. Perhaps it was the fact she was only three (and he forty) when they met, or that she always viewed him as the pure “olah” sacrifice, but she always felt inferior and unable to confront or challenge him in a discussion. Bolstered, however with wisdom from life experience and prophecy she acted with subterfuge to insure Yakov’s blessing from Yitzhok. She knew that this was indeed G-d’s will.
A HOST OF G-DLY ANGELS CRIED
WITH ISAAC ON THE ALTER TIED
BY ABRAHAM WHO HEARD G-D’S VOICE
COMMANDING HIM, HE HAD NO CHOICE
THE ANGEL’S TEARS FELL IN BOTH EYES
HIS VISION SUFFERED FROM THEIR CRIES
SOME SAY THAT’S WHY HE COULDN’T SEE
HIS SON ESAU’S HYPOCRISY
FINDING TRUTH NEEDS MORE THAN EYES
WHEN MAN PRETENDS AND TELLS HIS LIES
REBECCA WHO WAS ISAAC’S WIFE
KNEW CHARLATANS THROUGHOUT HER LIFE
HER BROTHER LAVAN, THE FIRST ONE
LATER CAME ESAU, HER SON
ISAAC THOUGHT IT ESAU’S PLACE
TO LEAD THOSE OF THE JEWISH RACE
BUT SHE SAW JACOB PURE AND TRUE
AND KNEW JUST WHAT SHE HAD TO DO
MAKE ISAAC BLESS HER YOUNGER SON
FOR JACOB WAS THE WORTHY ONE
FOR SHE RECEIVED A PROPHESY
WHICH ISAAC WAS NOT TOLD WOULD BE
REBECCA TOOK THINGS IN HER HAND
AND DID WHAT SHE THOUGHT G-D’S COMMAND
GAVE JACOB ESAU’S CLOTHES TO WEAR
THEN COVERED HIS ARMS WITH GOAT HAIR
TO FOOL HIS FATHER JUST THAT WAY
AS FIRSTBORN HE’D BE BLESSED THAT DAY
BEFORE THE BLESSING CAME THE MEAL
HIS WIFE PREPARED WITH CAREFUL ZEAL
SINCE BLESSINGS ARE BEST IF THEY START
WITH PEACEFUL SOUL AND HAPPY HEART
REBECCA WISE, COULD CLEARLY SEE
WHAT ISAAC MISSED, OUR DESTINY