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And You Shall Speak of Them
A Compilation of Selected Torah Insights, Thought-Provoking Ideas, Homilies And Explanations of Torah Passages
"Bereishit" - "In the beginning..." (1:1) QUESTION: Why does the Torah start with the letter beit, the second letter of the Hebrew alef-beit, and not with the first letter, alef? ANSWER: The Torah consists of two parts, the Written Torah and the Oral Torah. The Written Torah starts with the word "bereishit," and the Oral Torah starts with the word "mei'ei'matai". Thus, the first letters of the Written and Oral Torah spell the word "bam". This alludes to what our Sages tell us (Yoma 19b) on the words "vedibarta bam" - "and you shall speak of them." A person should use his speech and conversation for the study of the Written Torah and the Oral Torah and not for idle or forbidden talk.
Actually, the Midrash Tanchuma (Bereishit 5) asks this question and answers, "Because alef begins the word "arur" - "cursed," whereas beit begins the word "baruch" - "blessed." But this explanation is difficult to understand. Alef also begins beautiful words, such as "emet"- "truth," or "ahava" - "love," while beit also begins ugly words such as "barad" - "hail" (seventh of the ten plagues of Egypt), and "bli'ya'al" - wickedness. So why does the Midrash offer such an explanation - one that doesn't seem to fully answer the question? The Midrash may be alluding to the following: The letters of the Hebrew alef-beit also serve as numbers. Each has a number-value - alef equals one, beit, two, and so on. By extension, alef can mean to care about only one person, oneself, and to forget about others. Beit, on the other hand, means coexistence, caring and getting along with another. The Torah starts with a beit to teach us that caring about others is baruch the source of all blessing, and not with an alef - which implies selfishly caring only about oneself, which is arur, cursed.
The explanation of the Midrash thus shows how the very first letter of the Torah teaches us the importance of ahavat Yisrael, loving one's fellow Jew! A similar idea is expressed in a story told in the Gemara (Shabbat 31a). A non-Jew came to Hillel, the great sage and leader of the Jews in his time, with a request to convert to Judaism, on the condition that Hillel teach him the whole Torah while standing on one foot. To do this, Hillel chose a brief teaching that summarized all of the Torah: "What you dislike, do not do to others - that is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary." Hillel wanted to show this proselyte, at the very beginning of his way through the Torah, that the basis of the entire Torah is to avoid selfishness and to care about others.
"In the beginning of G-d's creating..." (1:1) QUESTION: On Simchat Torah, when we finish reading all five books of the Written Torah, we immediately start reading all over again from Bereishit. This shows that the Torah has no end, like a circle which has no beginning or end.In this spirit, it is customary when finishing a volume of the Gemara to explain some connection between the start of the tractate and its end. The same is true of the Written Torah; how are the very beginning and the last words connected? ANSWER: One connection between the start and the finish can be understood according to a famous story related in the Gemara (Megillah 9a). The Egyptian king, Ptolemy II (3476-3515 or 246-285 BCE) commanded 72 Torah sages to translate the Written Torah into Greek. He placed them all in separate rooms, where they would be unable to communicate with each other. By placing them all in solitary confinement, he hoped to demonstrate that their separate translations would reflect many differences of opinion, proving that the Torah is not Divine in origin (G-d forbid). Hashem inspired them all to produce the same exact translation, known among non-Jews to this day as the Septuagint, from the Greek word meaning "seventy." All 72 sages made certain identical changes from the literal meaning of the Torah in several places to forestall possible misunderstandings by non-Jews seeking to confirm their own mistaken beliefs.
One of these changes was at the beginning of the Torah, in the words "Bereishit bara Elokim." The sages were worried that non-Jews, seeking to prove that our Torah proves their belief in the existence of more than one god, would try to bring proof that some other god called "Bereishit" created G-d! Therefore, all the sages individually reversed the order of these words to read "Elokim bara Bereishit" - "G-d created in the beginning." This shows that G-d is but one, and He was the First Being and the sole Creator of the world and all other beings. This change, however, was only for the sake of non-Jews, whose mistaken beliefs could bring them to a false interpretation of the verse. But when Hashem commanded Moshe to write down the words of Torah that He taught him, He knew that the Jewish people would not misinterpret these words. He, therefore, told Moshe to write them in their true order. (Many profound meanings lie in the order of the Torah's words and letters.) This, then, is the connection between the very first words of the Torah and its last phrase: "Le'einei kal Yisrael" - "before the eyes of all Israel" (Devarim 34:12). All Jews will see and recognize that "Bereishit bara Elokim," G-d alone created the world, and they will have no need to have the order of the words reversed.
"In the beginning of G-d's creating." (1:1) QUESTION: On this first pasuk of the Torah, the Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni) says that it will be understood with the saying "Rosh devarcha emet" - "The beginning of your words is true" (Psalms 119:160). What is the connection between these two passages? ANSWER: The final letters of the words "Bereishit Bara Elokim" spell the word "Emet" - "truth." The Gemara (Shabbat 55a) says, "Hashem's signet is Emet." Hashem exists simultaneously in the past, present and future. Likewise, the word "Emet" is made up of the first, middle and last letters of the Hebrew alef-beit, corresponding to the past, present and future. The word "Emet" adds up to 441, whose numerals (4+4+1) add up to 9. In mispar katan ("single numerals" - disregarding the "0" in the numerical value of a Hebrew letter so that "Chof" is 2 and "Lamed" is 3, etc.), it also adds up to 9. The uniqueness of the number 9 is that the digits of all its multiples always add up to 9 (e.g., 9x73 = 657, 6+5+7 = 18, 1+8 = 9). Likewise, truth always remains the same and can never be altered. Similarly, Hashem is true from beginning to end.
Moreover, taking the letters of the Hebrew alef-beit, beginning with "Beit", every three letters together add up to 9 (e.g. Beis+Gimmel+Daled = 2+3+4 = 9, and Ches+Tes+Yud = 8+9+10 = 27, 2+7 = 9, etc.). The word "Sheker" - "falsehood" - in single numerals, adds up to 6. Starting with "Alef", the alef-bet can be divided into sequences, each of three consecutive letters, each of which adds up to six, (e.g. Alef+Beit+Gimmel = 1+2+3 = 6, and Zayin+Ches+Tes = 7+8+9 = 24, 2+4 = 6, etc.). The Midrash is questioning why the Torah begins with "Beis" and not with "Alef". This is because the beginning of Hashem's words ("Bereishit Bara Elokim") emphasize the concept of truth. Therefore, the Torah starts with "Beis", as it is the beginning of the sequence of groups of letters adding up to 9.
"In the beginning of G-d's creating the heaven and the earth. And the earth was formless and empty, with darkness over the depths...And G-d said: 'There shall be light.' " (1:1-3) QUESTION: The word "Torah" is derived from the word "hora'ah" - "teaching." What lesson do these very first words of the whole Torah teach us? ANSWER: In a letter to a Bar Mitzvah boy, the Lubavitcher Rebbe once wrote that these opening words of the Torah teach the approach all Jews should take in serving Hashem. Every Jew should always remember the three lessons he or she can learn from these three verses: 1. It was Hashem Himself who created heaven and earth, and therefore He alone is Master of the world and of everything within it. 2. At first the world is dark and empty of Hashem's light, but every Jew has his own share of the world, which he has to improve and illuminate. 3. The way to brighten his share of the world is through "and G-d said" - fulfilling the word of Hashem by studying Torah and keeping mitzvot. Through this, the Jew accomplishes his purpose in the world and "There shall be light" - the world becomes illuminated with the light of G-d's Torah.
"It was evening and it was morning, one day." (1:5)
QUESTION: Why does the Torah say "yom echad" - "one day" - and not "yom rishon" - the "first day" (as for the next five days, which it calls "second," "third," etc.)? ANSWER: The Midrash calls the Yeitzer Hara, the inner voice and evil inclination that tells us to do wrong, "evening" because it brings darkness to the world. "Morning," on the other hand, refers to the Yeitzer Tov, our inner voice that tells us to do good, for it brings only light to the world. The basic selfish instincts every child has at birth come from the Yeitzer Hara. The Yeitzer Tov begins to express itself only gradually in the child, until at Bar Mitzvah when a boy turns thirteen tears old, it is fully expressed. (See Shulchan Aruch Harav 4:2.) This, then, is the meaning of the verse: In man's life, "evening" - the Yeitzer Hara - comes first: Then "morning," the Yeitzer Tov, comes. When do they first meet, both being fully expressed? On yom echad: the day a Jew becomes echad, of which the three Hebrew letters (alef equals one, chet, eight and daled, four) total thirteen!
"And G-d said, 'let us make man.' " (1:26) QUESTION: To whom was G-d saying "let us make man?" ANSWER: As soon as an animal is born, it is complete and fully formed. The passage of time only adds to its size and strength. However, man at time of birth is fully formed but totally lacking in development. He does not speak, walk and is lacking education. Throughout the years of his life he continuously matures through the education he receives and self improvement. When G-d created man, He addressed all generations throughout posterity and told them that the "development" of man, who was created in His image, will be contingent on their cooperation and assistance.
"And G-d created the man in His own image." (1:27) QUESTION: The Midrash Rabbah (8:10) relates that when G-d created man the angels mistakenly considered saying the Song of "Kadosh" - "Holy" - to him. Hashem caused sleep to fall upon him and all knew that he was a mortal.How could
the angels erringly want to say 'Kadosh' to the created man in lieu of saying it to Hashem, who created everything? ANSWER: Unlike the angels, mortal man has inherent physical weaknesses. After a day of work he becomes tired and only after a good night's sleep is he invigorated and able to continue on. Man's spiritual beauty is that regardless of the aggravation and toil of the day before, in the morning, immediately upon rising, he proclaims "Modeh Ani," and before starting his daily routine, he goes to shul to pray. Since angels do not have to deal with the trials and tribulations of the mundane world, in the eyes of Hashem man is preeminent, and therefore they can recite their daily praise to Hashem only after man said his praise (Chulin 91b). When the angels saw the newly created man, their mistake was not to say their song to him but that they should say their song lefanav - before he said his praise to Hashem. They derived this conclusion because they thought him an angel like them, but less prominent being he was created later (see Midrash Rabbah 1:3). Therefore, Hashem cast a sleep upon man so that they would witness that he was mortal but nevertheless, possessing intrinsic spiritual beauty. Hashem said to the angels, 'Separate yourself from the man,' - There is no way that you can compare to him. For in reality he is an ordinary mortal and regardless of all the hardships and difficulties that he encounters, he allows his neshamah to direct him to be dedicated and devoted to My will."
"And G-d blessed the seventh day." (2:3) QUESTION: What special blessing did Shabbat receive? ANSWER: Shabbat is a day when it is forbidden to work, yet one spends more money for Shabbat than for any other day of the week. A person may think that celebrating Shabbat properly will run him into poverty. Hashem, however, gave a special blessing to the Shabbat day: the more one spends for the sake of Shabbat, the more one will earn during the week. The Gemara (Beitza 16a) says that the money a person will have for his expenses throughout the entire year is decided upon on Rosh Hashana. Exempted from this are his expenses for Shabbat. If a person spends much for Shabbat, Hashem will make available to him special sources of income to recover his expenditures.
"No shrub of the field was yet on the earth, and no plant of the field had yet grown, because G-d had not brought rain upon the earth, and there was no man to work the ground." (2:5) QUESTION: Rashi (based on the Gemara, Chulin 60b) explains that although the Torah had previously stated (1:1112) that G-d created all plant life on the third day of Creation, the plants grew only up to the surface of the ground. Not until the sixth day and the creation of Adam, who realized the importance of rain to make the plants grow, and who prayed to Hashem for the rain they needed, did the plants appear on the earth's surface.By not allowing the plants to appear until Adam prayed, Hashem showed him how much He cherishes the prayers of the righteous. However, according to this explanation, why did Hashem create the plants on a previous day? Could He not have created the vegetation on the sixth day, immediately before He created Adam? ANSWER: We can understand this with our sages' teaching (Midrash Psalms 90:4) that "the Torah preceded the world by 2000 years." In accordance with the Torah command (Vayikra 25:8-23) designating every fiftieth year to be yoveil (the jubilee year, in which farmers in Israel are forbidden to work the land), the 2000th year was the fortieth yoveil year. Our sages also tell us that the first day of creation was the 25th of Elul, with man being created on Rosh Hashana, the first of Tishrei (see Rosh Hashana 8a). Thus, the first five days of creation were the last five days of the fortieth yovel year. "He tells His words to Yaakov, His laws and His judgments to Israel" (Psalms 147:19). Our sages explain (Shemot Rabbah 30:9) that whatever Hashem commands us to do in the Torah He Himself "fulfills." To show how He, too, observes the Mitzvah of yoveil, Hashem created the plants on the third day, but didn't allow them to penetrate the ground as it was still the yoveil year. On the sixth day of creation, the first day of the new year following the yoveil, when farmers would once again be allowed to work their fields, Hashem answered Adam's prayers for rain, and made the plants emerge and flower on earth.
"Of the Tree of Knowledge of good and bad, you must not eat thereof." (2:17)
QUESTION: Hashem was very generous and permitted Adam to enjoy all of the trees, why was the Tree of Knowledge excluded? ANSWER: This prohibition teaches a fundamental lesson. Knowledge should not be a source of "food" and financial enrichment, but a means to elevate oneself. For example, one should not study medicine as a means to earn much money, but rather to cure the ills of the world. If people would put aside self-interest, the world would greatly benefit from their knowledge.
"And G-d formed out of the earth each animal... and brought them to the man to see what he would name each one, and Adam assigned names to all cattle." (2:19-20) QUESTION: Why did Hashem want Adam to give the animals their names? ANSWER: When one acquires a property, one changes its title to show its new ownership. We find this in the Torah: Pharaoh appointed Yosef as his viceroy, and changed his name to Tzafnat Paneach (41:45) to show that he remained Yosef's superior. By authorizing Adam to give all creatures their names, Hashem was showing him that he had become a ruler over them all and that he was supposed to assert his influence over them, rather than allowing them to influence him.
"And G-d built the rib which He had taken from the man into a woman, and He brought her to the man." (2:22) QUESTION: In the berachot recited under the chuppah, and during the week of sheva berachot, we say "Grant abundant joy to these loving friends, as You bestowed gladness upon Your created beings in the Garden of Eden of old." What happiness did Adam and Chava experience? ANSWER: According to an opinion in the Gemara (Berachot 61a), Adam and Chava were created together as one, back to back. Hashem afterwards separated them, and they became two individuals.
Strife and suffering occur when people "turn their backs" on each other and refuse to communicate. People experience happiness when they "see" each other face to face. The blessing to the chatan and kallah is that, throughout the years of their married life, they should always communicate "face to face" and never "turn their backs" on each other.
"And the man said: 'This time it is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; this shall be called Woman, because she was taken from man.' " (2:23) QUESTION: The words "zot hapa'am" - "this time" - seem superfluous? ANSWER: According to the Gemara (Niddah 31a), there are three partners in the formation of man; Through Hashem, he receives a soul, through the father the bones, nails, and brain, and through the mother, skin and flesh. Adam emphasized that this time, and only this time, the bone and the flesh both came all from the same source.
"Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother and shall cling to his wife." (2:24) QUESTION: Why does the Torah make leaving one's parents a prerequisite for marriage? ANSWER: According to the Torah, the success of a marriage depends on forsaking the relationship that exists between child and parent. The son during his formative years is usually on the receiving end, and he has not fully developed his capacity to give. One who marries is expected to become the supplier materially and spiritually for his wife and children. One cannot enter marriage, however, expecting to continue being the recipient: The art of giving must be developed. Therefore, the Torah says, leave the parent-child relationship, and the childish inclinations. Learn to be a giver, and thus the marriage will succeed.
Alternatively, many of the conflicts that unfortunately arise after marriage are due to disputes regarding pedigree (yichus). One partner may tell the
other, "My family is more prominent than yours, and you are not my equal." To preserve a marriage, the Torah advises one to forsake "father and mother," forget about pedigree, and focus only on the partner. The two together should endeavor to create a family tree and beautiful lineage, starting with this union. Under the chuppah, we bless the young couple, "Grant abundant joy to these loving friends, as You bestowed gladness upon Your created beings in the Garden of Eden of old." Adam and Chava's unique happiness derived from their lack of argument over pedigree, since both were equally created by Hashem.
"And the woman said to the snake, 'From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat. But from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, G-d said: You shall not eat of it, nor shall you touch it.' " (3:2-3) QUESTION: Surely Hashem had only told them not to eat of it (2:17). Why did Chava tell the snake that they had been told not to touch it? ANSWER: She said this in accordance with an important detail of Torahlaw, which determines when forbidden food may or may not be touched. On Yom Kippur we are allowed to touch food, although we may not eat it. Since no food at all may be eaten, the Rabbis were not afraid that one will forget that it is forbidden and eat it. On Pesach, however, one may not eat chametz (food containing leavening) nor even touch it. Since on Pesach one eats all food except for chametz, one could easily forget and eat chametz by mistake. The Sages therefore forbade even touching chametz (Magen Avraham 612:6). Since they were allowed to eat the fruits of all the trees of the garden, Chava thought the situation was similar to Pesach, when all food besides chametz is allowed. Just as chametz is not to be touched on Pesach in case one comes to eat it, so too would it have been wrong, she reasoned, to touch the forbidden tree so that they would not eat by mistake.
"The snake said to Chava: 'You will certainly not die.' " (3:4) QUESTION:
1. In the original Hebrew, the root word mot which means dying is repeated: mot temutun. This seems to be an extra word. Why is it necessary? 2. The snake pushed Chava until she touched the tree, telling her: "Just as you don't die by touching the tree, you won't die even by eating its fruit" (Rashi). This logic is difficult to comprehend because when Hashem told Adam not to eat the fruit of the tree, He told him: "On the day you eat of the fruit you will die." Since the day was not yet over, how could the snake show Chava that she wouldn't die for touching it or eating the fruit? ANSWER: Hashem commanded not to eat the fruit, but Chava added that they couldn't touch the tree, either. The snake slyly pushed her against the tree, and told her: "Now it makes no difference whether you eat or not, because a person can only die once and not twice! Thus, if you have to die for touching the tree, you can't die a second time for eating the fruit, too. And if you won't die for touching the tree, you won't die for eating the fruit either. So you might as well enjoy the fruit and not worry about anything."
"And the woman saw that the tree was good for eating...and she took from its fruit and she ate." (3:6) QUESTION: Why does the pasuk start talking about the tree and conclude with the fruit? ANSWER: The tree was unique in being entirely edible and tasty including its trunk and branches. Hashem forbade the fruit of the tree, but not the wood. The snake, however, who was very sly, fooled Chava into first eating from the wood. When she realized its harmlessness and even its beneficial quality, she then decided to also partake of the fruit.
"And he ate." (3:6) QUESTION: Why is it necessary to reveal that Adam violated Hashem's command? ANSWER: There are people who claim that 613 mitzvot are too many. If the number were reduced, it would be easier for them to be Torah observant. Adam, on the day of creation had only one mitzvah, which unfortunately he
violated. This teaches, that regardless of how many mitzvot a person has to observe, he must be aware of the yeitzer hara, who will always endeavor to find a way to trap him into sinning. Hashem did not overburden us with His mitzvot. He gave us 613 knowing that it is the amount a Jew is capable of handling.
Two people, each carrying a sack weighing 100 pounds, were climbing a mountain. One was extremely happy, the other very sad. A passerby asked each one if he could add to his sack. The happy one said, "of course," and the other one replied, "oh no!" It turned out that the happy one was carrying valuable gems, and the other a sack full of rocks. Every Jew is obliged to "climb the mountain" through performing Torah and mitzvot. When a person considers Torah and mitzvot a sack of gems, he "carries" it happily, and his yeitzer hara cannot deter him. If he views Torah and mitzvot as a difficult burden, he moans all the way and his yeitzer hara can easily influence him.
"G-d called out to the man and said to him, 'Where are you?' " (3:9) QUESTION: Didn't Hashem know where Adam was? ANSWER: Due to a heavenly decree, the first Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, known as the Alter Rebbe, was imprisoned in Russia. Once a high ranking officer came to his cell to interrogate him. The officer was very impressed with the Rebbe's saintly appearance and asked, "May I ask you a question?" The Rebbe graciously assented. "How do you explain G-d asking Adam 'Where are you'? Is it possible that G-d should not know where he is?" Before the Rebbe answered the question directly, he asked, "Do you believe the Torah is eternal?" The officer replied affirmatively. The Rebbe then continued, "The Torah is teaching that at all times Hashem calls every man and says to him, 'Where are you? A specific amount of years and days were allotted to you; what have you accomplished during your lifetime?' " The Rebbe then turned to the officer and said, "For example, you have lived already such and such a number of years (exactly the age of the officer); did you ever do someone a favor?"
The officer was very impressed. He clapped the Rebbe on the back and shouted "Bravo!" Afterwards he was very helpful in clearing the Alter Rebbe of the charges for which he was arrested.
"Have you then eaten from the tree which I commanded you not to eat from it?" (3:11) QUESTION: In the first Hebrew word of this verse, "Hamin," the Gemara (Chulin 139b) finds an allusion to the wicked Haman, who sought to destroy the Jewish people until Mordechai and Esther thwarted his plans and he was executed. "Haman" has the same Hebrew letters - " HeiMem-Nun"- as in "Hamin."What, however, is the connection between Haman and the story of Adam's sin? ANSWER: Haman did not learn from Adam's mistake. Adam was the only man in the world, ruling over all creatures; he lacked nothing and could have lived forever. Hashem's command not to eat from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge was to limit his domain - but only marginally - and to teach him to be content with what he had. He was not to risk everything he had for what was not meant for him. Unfortunately, Adam did not learn this lesson and suffered the bitter consequences. Haman, too, had everything - vast wealth, many children in powerful places, and the highest position in the realm - and was second only to the king (Esther 5:11). Nevertheless, he could not bear the fact that Mordechai the Jew remained the only one who refused to bow down to him. Not content with almost everything, Haman risked all he had in an attempt to gain what he felt was everything - by planning the annihilation of the Jewish people. Had he not been so greedy, he could have lived a life of wealth and royal honor. But he did not learn from Adam's mistake, and he, too, suffered the bitter consequences.
"The man said: 'The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.' " (3:12) QUESTION: Is this a valid excuse for a grown man?Furthermore, Adam was warned, "On the day that you eat of it (the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge), you will surely
die" (2:17). Yet we find that although he was ultimately punished with death ("..until you return to earth, for from it you have been taken, for dust you are and to the dust shall you return" - 3:18), it would not have been for another 930 years (5.5). Why did he receive other immediate punishments, (3:17-19, 23) and not die on the day that he ate of the fruit? ANSWER: We can answer both questions according to the rule in Jewish law (Gemara, Gittin 2b) that the testimony of "One witness is believed concerning Torah prohibitions." In other words, although two witnesses are required to incriminate someone, or to force someone to give money, in matters of Torah prohibitions the testimony of one witness is sufficient. For example, a husband may normally rely upon his wife when she prepares a meal for him and tells him that is kosher. Adam would never have transgressed a command which he had heard directly from Hashem. He assumed, however, that since his wife was given to him by Hashem Himself, he could rely upon her without hesitation. He therefore excused himself by saying that when Chava - who had been given to him by Hashem - gave him food, he had no doubt that he was allowed to eat it. Since Adam had not transgressed Hashem's command intentionally (bemeizid), the punishment of death "on the day you eat of it" no longer applied. He was therefore given other punishments for having transgressed the prohibition unintentionally (beshogeig).
"To the woman He said: 'I will greatly multiply your pain and your pregnancy; in pain you will bring forth children.' " (3:16) QUESTION: Rashi explains: " 'Itzvoneich' refers to the trouble of rearing children. 'Veheironeich' refers to the pains of pregnancy."Rearing children comes after pregnancy. Why did Hashem reverse the order? ANSWER: Kayin and Hevel were born before Adam and Chava committed the sin of eating the forbidden fruit (Sanhedrin 38b). After being chased out of Gan Eden, Chava gave birth to a third son. Thus, immediately after committing the sin, she began to experience the troubles connected with rearing children, while at a later date she encountered the pains of pregnancy.
"And he will rule over you." (3:16) QUESTION: Why was this the punishment for eating the forbidden fruit? ANSWER: Hashem conducts Himself with a person midah keneged midah - measure for measure. Prior to eating the forbidden fruits Chava was in command of Adam. When Hashem asked Adam why he ate the fruits, his reply was "Hee Natnah Li Min Ha'eitz Veochel". The Ba'al Haturim explains that he meant to say "She hit me with a stick and ordered me to eat." Because she utilized her power in the wrong way, her rulership was taken away from her and she was placed under the rulership of her husband Adam.
"G-d made for Adam and his wife leather garments." (3:21) QUESTION: Why were the garments made of leather? ANSWER: Before a person puts on a new garment he is required to recite the berachah of Shehecheyanu. According to some opinions, an exception to this rule are garments made of leather. Since it is necessary to kill an animal in order to get the skin, a berachah of Shehecheyanu, which denotes joy, is not recited (Orach Chaim 223:6; Sedei Chemed, Berachot 2:20). According to halacha, it is forbidden to recite a berachah when one is unclothed. Therefore, Hashem had no other alternative but to make garments of leather, so that Adam and Chava would not have the problem of saying a berachah unclothed.
Since Chava caused Adam's need for clothing, it is customary for a kallah to send her chatan a tallit before the wedding (Ta'a'mei Haminhagim #947). Through this garment, which is used for a mitzvah, her iniquity is corrected.
"And he drove out the man; and He placed at the east of the Garden of Eden the cheruvim and the flame of the ever-turning sword." (3:24) QUESTION: Rashi explains that "cheruvim" are "angels of destruction."However, among the items housed in the Mishkan was the Holy Ark, which contained the Torah and commandments. Over it was a cover made of pure gold.
Above the cover, the Torah instructs, "You shall make two cheruvim of gold... and the cheruvim shall stretch forth their wings on high, sheltering the cover with their wings, and their faces shall be facing each other, toward the cover shall the faces of the cheruvim be." (Shemot 25:18-20). Rashi, in his commentary, writes of these cheruvim, "They had the form of the face of a child." In one place, the cheruvim are in the form of harmless children, and in another place they are in the form of fearsome destructive angels. How does one resolve the seeming contradiction? ANSWER: Rearing children has always been considered a supreme challenge, and parents have struggled and moaned over the agony of this task. In contemporary times, we live in an atmosphere of turbulence and confusion, in an era when statistics indicate gloomy prospects for children continuing their parents' religious lifestyle. We hear of a generation gap and the estrangement and alienation of our youth. Many parents wonder, "What have I done wrong? Why was I unsuccessful with my children?" Cheruvim are children. They can be wonderful harmless angels, or vicious and destructive. It is important to always bear in mind that it depends on where we put them, and to what we expose them. If we choose to expose the child to the "cherev hamithapechet," the contemporary "revolving swords" of materialism, secularism, and modernism, we must then be prepared to suffer the consequence that the cheruvim - the faultless children - may become destructive angels. However, if one resolves to attach his child to the Holy Ark, teaching him to look toward the ark and to look to the Torah for guidance, he may then anticipate the reward of the cheruvim - faultless children who will be a source of "Yiddishe" nachas.
"Kayin spoke to Hevel his brother. Then, when they were in the field, Kayin rose up against Hevel his brother and killed him." (4:8) QUESTION: What did Kayin say to Hevel? ANSWER: The Midrash Rabbah (22:8) says that Hevel was much stronger than Kayin, and Kayin would normally not have been able to kill him. To gain his brother's confidence, Kayin pretended to be a "good brother," leading him to think that he would never do him any harm. This is the meaning of the verse: "Kayin spoke to Hevel, his brother" - he spoke to him in a kind, brotherly way, so that he could later take him by surprise out in the field and kill him before he had a chance to fight back.
Afterwards, Hashem asked Kayin, "Where is your brother Hevel?" (4:8) This was indeed a rhetorical question; Hashem knew very well what happened. However, He was asking Kayin, "How were you able to kill your own brother, when such a loving 'brotherliness' supposedly existed between you and him?!"
"She conceived and bore Chanoch; he became a city-builder, and he named the city after his son Chanoch." (4:17) QUESTION: Why did he give the name "Chanoch" to his son and the city? ANSWER: When Kayin committed the terrible act of killing his own brother, he realized his demoralization and debased status. After much contemplation, he concluded that without proper education from early youth, a person can easily go astray and commit the most gross and inhumane crimes. To rectify this, he made it his mission to propagate the importance of education. When his son was born, he named him Chanoch, which stems from the word "chinuch" - "education" - and also called the entire city by this name. Kayin was stressing that parents are obligated to educate their children as soon as they are born. Moreover, one should not suffice with this, but also see that the entire city receives a proper education.
And You Shall Speak of Them
A Compilation of Selected Torah Insights, Thought-Provoking Ideas, Homilies And Explanations of Torah Passages
"These are the offspring of Noach: Noach was a righteous man, perfect in his generation; with G-d Noach walked." (6:9) QUESTION: The Torah given to us by Hashem is concise, with no extra words. Why, then, does it describe Noach's virtues in so much detail? ANSWER: Our Sages divide the mitzvot into two categories: 1) our duties towards G-d and 2) our responsibilities towards our fellow human beings.
Some people are strict in observing their duties towards Hashem. They pray with devotion, study Torah diligently, and keep mitzvot like tzitzit, tefillin, Shabbat and Yom Tov etc. meticulously. Although they do these actions for Hashem with great care, they may lack the sincerity and respect for the rights and belongings of their fellows. Others may be very careful in their relations with their fellow men and women, helping those in need and showing respect towards others. However, they are lax in their duties towards Hashem. They may not say their prayers the way they should, study as much Torah as they can, or take proper care to fulfill the mitzvot. In this verse, the Torah tells us that Noach was a righteous man in every sense: "Perfect in his generation" - in his relationships with others. He also "walked with G-d" - serving Him properly.
"Noach was a righteous man, perfect in his generation; with G-d Noach walked." (6:9) QUESTION: A tzaddik is someone who "walks with G-d" who observes carefully whatever Hashem says. To say that Noach was a tzaddik and that "with G-d Noach walked" seems redundant? ANSWER: There are many different types of people. Some people observe Torah and mitzvot at home, but when they are among their friends their observance embarrasses them, and they do things which a Torah-observant Jew should not be doing. For example, at home they are very careful with kashrut, but when they eat out with friends they are not as careful. Others, act very frum (pious) in the company of their friends, but when they are alone at home with no one watching, there is much to be desired. For example, in shul they daven with much kavanah, and at home, they run through a davening in a few minutes. The Torah is testifying that Noach was a tzaddik, and goes on to explain what type of tzaddik he was: 1) "He was perfect in his generation" - when he was among the people of his generation he acted in a very observant manner. 2) "With G-d Noach walked" - when he was alone with only Hashem to see his behavior, Noach walked in the path of Hashem.
"Noach was a righteous man, perfect in his generations." (6:9)
QUESTION: Rashi comments: "There are some among our rabbis (rabboteinu) who explain this as praise for Noach: Were he living among tzaddikim he would have been a greater tzaddik. Others, however, explain it to his discredit: Noach was only a tzaddik in comparison to his generation: were he in the times of Avraham, he would be considered naught." Why in the negative opinion does Rashi omit the word "rabboteinu"? ANSWER: The word "rabboteinu" literally means "our teachers." There are many ways to learn from a teacher. One can learn from his behavior, from his manner of speech, and from the knowledge he instills. In Pirkei Avot (1:6) we are taught to always judge a person favorably, giving him the benefit of the doubt. To judge Noach's status were he living in another generation is to speculate. Thus, the rabbis who praised him are suited to be "our teachers": we can learn from them to always look favorably on another person. The opinion of the others (who project that Noach possibly would not be so great) may be correct, but they would not be qualified to be regarded as "our teachers" who are to instruct us in judging another person.
"All flesh has corrupted his way on the earth." (6:12) QUESTION: The words "et darko" - "his way" - seem to be extra? ANSWER: A story is told about a city in Europe where there lived a man named Chaim. Unfortunately, he derived his livelihood from being the "city thief." Chaim's son was becoming Bar-Mitzvah and he invited the townspeople to the celebration. The residents were in a dilemma: Should they not go, Chaim would get even with them by robbing their homes, and if they did go, how would they be assured that the food would be strictly kosher? They confronted the Rabbi with their problem, and he told them that he would get back to them within a few days. The Rabbi invited Chaim to his study and entered into a conversation. "Chaim, how do you support your family?" Chaim answered, "Everyone knows that when I need something, I go out and steal it." "Tell me, Chaim, if the door is locked, do you also steal?" "Why not," Chaim responded, "I break open the lock and enter." "Should anyone stand in your way, what would you do?" "I would beat him up and remove him." "And what if you find food, would you steal it?" "Of course, I would," was his reply. The Rabbi them became very serious and asked, "Chaim, if you break into a
home and find a piece of non-kosher meat, would you take it?" Chaim looked into the Rabbi's eyes and in all sincerity exclaimed, "Rabbi! do you think I am not a Yid?!" It appears that even Chaim had certain guidelines and limitations as to how far he would go with his wrongdoings. In the days of Noach things had deteriorated terribly. Even all those who had a self-made definition of right and wrong destroyed their own ways and erased all lines of demarcation. They committed indiscriminately every crime in the book.
"G-d said to Noach: 'The end of all flesh has come before me, for the earth is filled with robbery through them.' " (6:13) QUESTION: "Divine sentence was finally passed upon them only as a result of their robbery" (Rashi).Our Sages tell us that Hashem's reward or punishment is in accordance with the nature of the person's original act. What connection is there between humanity's crime of robbery and the flood with which they were punished? ANSWER: The initial 40 days of intense punishment were a result of their commiting robbery - the numerical value of the three letters of "gezel", the Hebrew word for "robbery," totals 40! The flood began with 40 days of continuous rain, followed by with 150 days of unabated flood before the water began to descend in level - a total of 190 days. The numerical value of the two letters of the Hebrew word "keitz" meaning "end" is 190. The "end of all flesh" was decided by Hashem to come in the form of 190 days of intense punishment.
"Make yourself an ark of gopher wood." (6:14) QUESTION: Rashi writes: "There are many ways of relief and salvation before Him. Why, then, did He trouble him with the construction of the ark? In order that the men of the generation of the flood should see him occupied with it for 120 years, and could ask him, 'What is the necessity of this to you?' and he could say to them, 'The Holy One Blessed Be He is about to bring a flood upon the world' - perhaps they will repent."Why did Noach build the ark over a period of 120 years?
ANSWER: According to the Rogatchover Gaon, Rabbi Yosef Rosen, Rashi is of the opinion, that when Hashem told Noach "make yourself an ark," it was with the intention that Noach personally should make the entire ark without assistance. Consequently, 120 years was not much time for one person to complete the entire project. This appears difficult, because in the Gemara (Sukkah 52b), Rashi says that Noach was assisted by his son Shem? According to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the two opinions of Rashi are contingent on the following famous question: If a Noachide has an obligation to do something and appoints another Noachide to do the task on his behalf, is it considered as though he had fulfilled his obligation? Rashi's commentary on the Torah follows the opinion that he must do it alone and cannot appoint an emissary (and therefore it took him 120 years) while in the Gemara he follows the opposing opinion. According to the opinion Rashi follows in the Gemara, there is no mention of the construction taking 120 years, and thus, since Shem assisted, it took Noach a much shorter period of time.
The two opinions may also be contingent on the actual purpose of the ark; was it a means of survival or a source of admonition and direction for the people? If it was meant to provide a means of survival, Noach did not have to make it himself and it could have been completed more quickly. However, if its purpose was to admonish the people, Hashem must have wanted the ark to be constructed entirely by Noach himself, for it was his responsibility as spiritual leader of that generation to continuously guide and direct all of humanity in the proper way of serving Hashem. Hopefully, during the long period (120 years) he was occupied with the construction, he would manage to persuade the people to improve their ways.
"A light shall you make for the ark." (6:16) QUESTION: Rashi offers two explanations of the light: 1) a window 2) a precious stone which shined and illuminated. What is the basis for the different opinions? ANSWER: On a previous pasuk (6:9) "Noach was a righteous man; he was perfect in his generation," Rashi quotes a disagreement among our Sages
(Sanhedrin 108a) about the implication of Torah's emphasis "in his generation." Some say it is meant as a compliment: He was truly righteous even in such a wicked generation; had he lived in a more righteous generation, he would have been even more righteous. Others, however, say it is meant as a qualifier: He was only righteous in comparison to his generation: had he lived in the generation of a truly righteous man like Avraham, he would be considered naught. Rashi's two explanations of the "light" reflect these two opinions concerning Noach's righteousness. According to the first opinion, that he was truly righteous, he fully deserved to be saved, and there could be no objection to his watching the destruction of his contemporaries in the flood. This opinion, then, considers the "light" to be a window through which Noach could see what was happening outside the ark. According to the second opinion, however, that Noach was not truly righteous, and was only called righteous in comparison to his generation, he had no right to watch their destruction. (As we see, when Lot was saved from the destruction of Sodom, the angel told him (19:17) "Don't look behind you," to which Rashi comments: "You [Lot] were wicked together with them...you don't deserve to see them punished while you are saved.") Therefore, the "light" must have been some other source of light - a precious stone which illuminated the darkness inside the ark.
"And you, take for yourself of all food that will be eaten...it shall be for you and for them for food." (6:21) QUESTION: Noach, together with his family and thousands of creatures, would be in the ark for long period of time, and would need a tremendous amount of food. How was it possible to store all of the food necessary for their survival? ANSWER: On a similar phrase, "mikol ha'ochel asher yei'acheil" - "of all food that will be eaten" (Vayikra 11:34), the Gemara (Yoma 80a) explains that the largest piece of food capable of being swallowed by the human throat is no larger then a hen's egg. Therefore, we can say here, too, that when Hashem told Noah to prepare mikol ma'achal asher yei'acheil, He meant the following: "You, prepare 'bite size' portions, no larger than an egg, of each type of food that will be eaten. Miraculously, through this food, you and also they - your family and the thousands of animals in the ark - will be sustained."
Alternatively, when Hashem told Noach, "Ve'ata kach lecha" - "and you, take for yourself of all food that will be eaten," He meant that he should prepare food adequate only for him personally, for the duration of the flood. Miraculously this food would increase and be enough for all the inhabitants of the ark: "For you and for them" - the members of your family and all the animals. This was one of the many miracles that occurred in the ark. Another was the animal's contentment with human food. The following passuk states that "Noach did all that G-d commanded him to do." Superficially, one may wonder, why is it necessary to state this - would Noach dare to deviate? The Torah is accentuating Noach's great faith in Hashem. He entered the ark without preparing any food for the animals, and he relied on a miracle that they would be sated with his food and live through the flood.
"And you, take for yourself of all food that will be eaten ... it shall be for you and for them for food." (6:21) QUESTION: The words "asher yei'acheil" - "that will be eaten" - seem unnecessary? ANSWER: Originally, mankind was allowed to eat only food that grew from the ground (1:29). It was only after the flood that Noach and his descendants were allowed to eat the flesh of animals, too (9:3). According to the Ramban this was a reward to Noach for his efforts to provide and care for all animals in the ark. The extra words "that will be eaten" hint to this reward. They can be taken to refer not only to the food, for the duration of the flood, but to the animals mentioned in the previous two pesukim: "Because you will bring these animals into the ark and take care of their needs during the flood, you will be rewarded and acquire all the animals as 'food that will be eaten.' You and your generations will be allowed to eat of their flesh after the flood."
"G-d said to Noach: 'Enter, you and all your family, into the ark.' " (7:1) QUESTION: The word "Torah" derives from the word "hora'ah" - "teaching." Every detail of Torah teaches us eternal lessons which we can use in our daily lives even now.
What practical lesson can we learn from Hashem's command to Noach to enter into the ark? ANSWER: The Hebrew word "teivah" used for "ark" (meaning here a large, floating "box") also means "word." Hashem is telling us as well to "enter" into the words of Torah and prayer. Sometimes when we study Torah we forget its holiness and the One who gave it; we say our prayers without sincerity or attention to their meaning. Just as Noach was commanded to "enter" with his entire being into the ark ("teivah"), so are we told to "enter" with all our heart and soul into the words ("teivot") of Torah and prayer, reading the words carefully from the Torahbook or prayer-book, saying each word with feeling. In this way we will fulfill, in the spiritual sense, a previous command Hashem gave to Noach: "A light shall you make for the teivah" (6:16) - you shall illuminate the words ("teivot") of Torah and prayer with deeper feeling and holiness, till they become "bright and shining" words that illuminate one's whole being with G-d's holiness.
"And Noach came...into the ark because of the waters of the flood." (7:7) QUESTION: Rashi comments on this: "Even Noach was one of those who had little faith (in G-d); he believed, yet he did not believe, that the flood would come. So he did not enter the ark until the waters forced him." This seems to contradict the opinion of some of our Sages quoted by Rashi (6:9) that Noach was a truly righteous man? ANSWER: We can reconcile Rashi's statement with their opinion by grouping the Hebrew words differently (without changing their order) to provide a different meaning: "Af Noach MiKtanei Emunah Hayah Maamin" - "Noach even believed in those who had little faith." He was sure that they would repent in time to avert Hashem's decree of destruction. As a result of his deep faith in his contemporaries, "VEino Mamin Shyovo Hamabul" - "he did not believe that the flood would come." It was only the rising waters of the flood which showed him that his faith in his contemporaries had been mistaken, and he had no choice but to retreat into the ark to save at least himself and his family.
"And from the animals which were not clean [kosher]." (7:8) QUESTION: The Gemara (Pesachim 3a) asks why the Torah uses the longer expression "which were not clean" (three words and thirteen letters in Hebrew) instead of the briefer word "unclean" (only one word - and five letters). The Gemara answers that the Torah uses eight extra letters to teach us the eternal lesson that we should always try to express ourselves in decent language, even if it means using extra words.The question remains, however, why elsewhere in the Torah, when it teaches which animals may not be eaten, does it indeed use the word "hatemei'ah" - "unclean"? ANSWER: This rule of even using extra words in order to express ourselves decently only applies when telling a story or in normal conversation. But when teaching a Torah law - for example which animals may or may not be eaten - one must be specific and use precise terms. Using extra words, even for a good purpose such as avoiding coarse language, may cause a student to lose the point and not grasp exactly what the law of the Torah requires us to do or not do.
"They and all the animals [were in the ark]." (7:14) QUESTION: The prophet includes in the miraculous events of the days of Mashiach that "the wolf will dwell together with the lamb" (Isaiah 11:6). This was also experienced in the days of Noach. What is so unique about the days of Mashiach? ANSWER: In the time of Noach the whole world was in danger of destruction. In such a situation it is natural for enemies to become friends and live together. All had the common goal of survival and there was no time for fighting. In the days of Mashiach there will no longer be any war and there will be an abundance of goodness. Unfortunately, in prosperous and tranquil times, people find time for strife and fighting. The prophet therefore foretells the miracle that will occur in the days of Mashiach, when everyone will have an abundance of good: even then there will be absolute peace and the wolf and lamb will abide together.
"Two, two, they came to Noach." (7:9)
QUESTION: There is a wondrous Midrash on this pasuk that says "These are the days in the year when we say a full Hallel." What is the meaning of this seemingly strange Midrash? ANSWER: At certain times in the year we say a full Hallel, and at other times parts of the Hallel are omitted. The occasions for full Hallel, as noted in many siddurim, may be remembered through the word "BeBeTaCh." This stands for the first two days of Pesach (Beit), the two days of Shavuot (Beit), the nine days of Sukkot including Simchat Torah (Tet), and the eight days of Chanukah (Ches). Our pasuk is also hinting to the above: "Shenayim" - two - days of Pesach, "Shenayim" - two - days of Shavuot. "Ba'u" has the numerical value of nine, which refers to the nine days of Sukkot. "El Noach" has the numerical value of 89, which is exactly the same numerical value as the word "Chanukah". On these days we say the complete Hallel.
"Of all that was on dry land died." (7:22) QUESTION: Despite the fact that the flood waters were boiling (Sanhedrin 108b), the fish did not die (Zevachim 113b).For what merit did Hashem keep the fish alive miraculously? ANSWER: The fish were the first living creatures Hashem created. They were created on the fifth day of creation, even before the birds, who were created on the same day - and certainly before animals and man, who were created on the sixth day. In consideration of this quality they were not destroyed.
This, incidentally, may also be a reason for our custom to begin our Shabbat meals with fish before we eat meat, for fish was created before fowl and animals. Furthermore, the Hebrew word for fish is "dag", which has the numerical value of 7; it is thus an appropriate food for Shabbat - the 7th day of the week.
"They were obliterated from the earth. Only Noach and those with him in the ark survived." (7:23) QUESTION: How did Og and Sichon survive the flood? ANSWER: Og was the son of Shemchazel, one of the fallen angels (see Rashi, Bamidbar 13:33) and an exceptionally powerful and tall giant. According to one opinion, he survived the flood by riding on top of the ark. According to another opinion, his great height allowed him to walk alongside the ark with his head out of the water. Although the waters of the flood were boiling hot, they were miraculously cool around the ark, and Noach gave Og food through the window. Prior to entering the ark, the wife of Cham, Noach's youngest son, became pregnant with Sichon through a relationship with Schemchazel. Cham brought her into the ark together with him, and there she gave birth to Sichon. Consequently, Sichon and Og were brothers from the same father.
"Only Noach survived." (7:23) QUESTION: Why is he described here as "only Noach"? What happened to the previous titles the Torah (6:9) gives him - "righteous," "perfect," etc.? ANSWER: The Zohar says that Noach sinned by not praying that his generation be saved. Unlike Avraham (18:23-32) and Moshe (Shemot 32:11-13, 31-32), who was even ready to give up his own life if G-d would not forgive His people, Noach was concerned only that his own family be saved. Since Noach did not ultimately act as a truly righteous man by concerning himself with others, he was considered in the final analysis "only Noach" just a simple person shorn of all his titles and praises.
"And the dove came back to him in the evening, and behold, there was a plucked olive leaf in her mouth." (8:11) QUESTION: Why did the dove wait until nightfall to return to Noach? ANSWER: Noach observed the Torah rule not to start a journey at sea fewer than three days before Shabbat. Therefore, he entered the ark on
Wednesday noon, the 17th of Mar Cheshvan. (See Sefer Tzeror Hamor, and Tur Orach Chaim 248, Beit Yosef.) The rain lasted for 40 days (counting from 18 Mar Cheshvan because 17 Mar Cheshvan was not a full day). This was followed by 150 days of unabated flood. Sixty days later, the mountain tops appeared above the receding flood-waters, and 40 days later, Noach sent out a raven. Fourteen days later, he sent out the dove a second time. This was on the 304th day of the flood (40+150+60+40+14= 304), which is equivalent to 43 weeks and 3 days. Since the first real day of the flood was Thursday, day 304 must have been a Shabbat. The dove, not wanting to tear a leaf off a tree on Shabbat, waited until nightfall. When Shabbat was over, she tore off the leaf and brought it to Noach.
"And behold, there was a plucked olive leaf in her mouth." (8:11) QUESTION: Why did the dove bring a leaf from an olive tree specifically? ANSWER: Prior to the flood the inhabitants of the world were very corrupt. Immorality was rampant among humans, and even cattle and fowl consorted with other species. This caused all to lose their unique identities. An olive produces oil; it cannot mix with any other liquid and always separates and floats to the top. The message to Noach was that after the flood, the human race was required to improve its ways. It was forbidden to ever again mix and mingle as abominably as it had done previously.
"And behold, there was a plucked olive leaf in her mouth." (8:11) QUESTION: Why did she bring the leaf and not the olive? ANSWER: According to the Midrash Rabbah (23:6), the dove flew to the Mount of Olives and brought the leaf from there. From fruit that grows in Eretz Yisrael, one is required to separate ma'aser (tithe). The dove, not wanting to create any obstacles for Noach, brought him the leaf and not the fruit.
"And the dove came back to him in the evening and, behold, there was a plucked olive leaf in her mouth.... Noach, the man of the earth, debased himself and planted a vineyard." (8:11, 9:20) QUESTION: Why did the dove bring a leaf of an olive branch and why did Noach plant a vineyard? ANSWER: The closing pasuk of Parshat Bereishit is "Noach found favor in the eyes of G-d." The first pasuk of Parshat Noach begins with the words "These are the offspring of Noach." According to the Midrash Rabbah (29:5), these two pesukim together convey a message that Noach found favor in the eyes of G-d because of his righteous children. Consequently it was in their merit that he survived the flood. This concept is reflected in the significance of the olive tree and vine. In the Beit Hamikdash, wood was used to maintain the fire on the altar. According to halacha (Rambam, Issurei Mizbei'ach 7:3) the wood of olive trees and vines could not be used for this purpose because they produce valuable fruits, and cutting down these trees would be to the detriment of Eretz Yisrael. Bearing the leaf of an olive tree, whose fruits - whose children, so to speak are valuable, the dove was indicating that Noach should not be arrogant or conceited about his survival, because it was in his children's merit and not his own. Noach acknowledged this by planting a vineyard, in which the fruits were more valuable than the trees.
"Noach built an altar and offered burnt-offerings on the altar." (8:20) QUESTION: According to halacha, in four cases one is obligated to thank Hashem with a Korban Todah - a thanksgiving offering (in our times we "bentsch gomeil"). One of the four cases involves a person who travels the ocean in a boat (Orach Chaim 219). Why did Noach bring a Korban Olah (a burnt-offering) and not a Korban Todah? ANSWER: When Noach came out of the ark he was still forbidden to eat meat until Hashem granted him permission. A portion of the Korban Todah has to be eaten by the person who brings it. Therefore, he had no other alternative but to bring a Korban Olah, which is burnt entirely on the altar and not eaten at all.
"One who sheds the blood of man in the man, his blood shall be shed." (9:6) QUESTION: "In the man" seems repetitious and unnecessary? ANSWER: The Gemara (Bava Metziah 58b) states that if one publicly embarrasses another, it is as if he spills his blood, because the one who is embarrassed blushes, and blood rushes to his face (as if trying to leave his body). Then his face pales as the blood rushes to other parts of the body, and it takes on the ashen, pallid appearance of a corpse. The difference between actual murder and embarrassment is that in murder, blood actually leaves the body, whereas in embarrassment, the blood changes location within the body. In this pasuk, the Torah teaches us two things: 1) If one "sheds the blood of man" - by actually killing him - or 2) even if one sheds the blood "in the man" - by embarrassing him and causing him to blush and pale, "his blood shall be shed," for he has committed a mortal sin.
"Cham, the father of Canaan, saw his father's nakedness and he told it to his two brothers outside." (9:22) QUESTION: The Midrash Rabbah (35:5) states: "Due to this incident of seeing and telling, a non-Jewish slave is freed when his master knocks out his tooth or eye." What is the connection between these two occurrences? ANSWER: Noach was very upset with his son's irresponsible behavior. For looking at things he shouldn't have and telling about a shameful occurrence to others, Noach cursed him that he and his descendants would be slaves to their brethren. One who buys a non-Jewish slave acquires him forever. However, if the master knocks out his tooth or his eye, he becomes free. The reason for this is that the slavery resulted from using an eye in an improper manner and using teeth to talk improperly. Thus, once the slave is missing the tooth or the eye, it is as though he has received his punishment and no longer needs to be a slave.
"And they found a valley in the land of Shinar and they settled there." (11:2)
QUESTION: Why did all the people of the world want to cram into one small valley? ANSWER: After the flood, Hashem promised that in the future He would never again destroy the world in such a manner. However, according to the Gemara (Sotah 11a), this promise only meant that He would not destroy the entire world through a flood, but not that He would refrain from bringing a flood on one nation or a group of people. In order to outsmart Hashem, the people decided the following: If they were to spread out and live in different parts of the world, then one day Hashem could bring a flood and destroy a particular group. Therefore, they all decided to live together in one place so that Hashem would be forced to keep His promise and not bring a flood which would destroy all of them at one time.
"And they said 'Let us build for ourselves a city and tower with its top in the heavens.' " (11:4) QUESTION: Rashi explains that they planned to "wage war against G-d." But how did they think they could reach the heavens? ANSWER: Rabbi Yehonatan Eibeschutz (1690-1764), renowned Torah scholar, and Rabbi of Prague and Hamburg, answers that they were aware of the laws of gravity. Their plan was to build a tower so high that its top would be beyond the earth's gravitational pull. They could then ascend to the top of the tower where they would become weightless, enabling them to fly up into the heavens where they imagined they could confront Hashem! (Evidently Newton's Law of Gravity and the space program have been in the Torah for thousands of years.)
And You Shall Speak of Them
A Compilation of Selected Torah Insights, Thought-Provoking Ideas, Homilies And Explanations of Torah Passages
"I will enlarge your name." (12:2)
QUESTION: Rashi explains: "Therefore, they will say "Elokei Yaakov" - "G-d of Yaakov." How does Avram's name become big if we say "Elokei Yaakov?" ANSWER: Yaakov also had the name "Yisrael," which was given to him by the angel and considered a greater name. Why, then, don't we say "Elokei Yisrael" instead of "Elokei Yaakov?" The reason is that the words "Elokei Avrohom, Elokei Yitzchok, V'Elokei Yaakov" have in them a total of 26 letters, which is the numerical value of the Tetragramaton: Yud = 10, Heh = 5, Vav = 6, Heh = 5. By saying Elokei Yisrael we would be saying a phrase of 27 letters which would not add up to the name of Hashem. The only way we could say "Yisrael" so that it would still add up to 26 letters would be to say Avram instead of Avraham. Therefore, Hashem told him, "I will enlarge your name by adding a letter to Avram making it Avraham, and in order that the Jews should be able to say your bigger name in Shemonah Esrei, they will say 'Elokei Yaakov' and not 'Elokei Yisrael.' "
"I will make you into a big nation: I will bless you, and make you famous and you will be a blessing." (12:2) QUESTION: Rashi explains that this refers to what we say in Shemonah Esrei, "Elokei Avraham, Elokei Yitzchak, Elokei Yaakov," "but," Hashem told Avraham, "the berachah will be concluded with your name only - magen Avraham." Wouldn't Avraham be happier if Yitzchak and Yaakov were also mentioned in the conclusion of the berachah? ANSWER: In Pirkei Avot (1:2) we learn that the world stands on three pillars: 1) The study of Torah, 2) avodah - the service of G-d, and 3) gemilat chassadim - acts of kindness, tzedakah. The patriarchs each epitomize one of these pillars. Avraham = chessed (21:33), Yitzchak = avodah (24:63), Yaakov = Torah (25:27). According to Rashi, the pasuk is projecting the history of Klal Yisrael. There will be a time when the major relationship between the Jews and Hashem will be through the study of Torah (Elokei Yaakov). Other times it will be through tefillah - prayer (Elokei Yitzchak), and there will be a period when it will be through chessed - tzedakah (Elokei Avraham).
However, the "concluding phase" of galut and the coming of Mashiach will not be dependent on all three pillars, but in zechut of tzedakah alone, which is personified by Avraham.
"And I will bless those who bless you and those who curse you, I will curse." (12:3) QUESTION: Why doesn't the Torah write both in the same order, i.e., "I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you?" ANSWER: The Gemara (Kiddushin 40a) says that Hashem gives credit to one who plans to perform a mitzvah, even if circumstances prevent the realization of the plan. However, for a transgression (aveirah), one is punished for plans only when they are carried out. When a person blesses or curses, he first thinks about it and then expresses verbally what he has in mind. Therefore, Hashem is saying to Avram, "I will bless those who bless you as soon as they plan to bless you, even if they have not yet blessed you. However, those who curse you will be cursed only after they actually curse you, but not merely for thinking."
"I will bless those who bless you and those who curse you I will curse." (12:3) QUESTION: Why is the expression "mekallelcha" used for "those who curse you," while the expression "a'or," from a different root, is used for the curse they will receive in return? ANSWER: Avram was the prototype of chessed. His entire life was dedicated to acts of kindness for humanity. It is very difficult to comprehend why anybody would want to curse such a person. Obviously one who curses Avram is in the "dark" and does not know Avram's true character. The word "a'or" stems from the word "ohr," which means "light." Hashem told Avram, "Should there be a person who will curse you, I will open his eyes to see the light and understand what and who you are."
With this explanation, we can easily understand Hashem's words, which otherwise seem contradictory. After telling Avram that those who curse him
will be cursed, Hashem concludes, "and all the families on earth will bless themselves with you." Why would the one who curses Avram want his child to resemble him? The one who curses Avram does so only because he is in the dark. Once Hashem helps him to "see" the true light of Avram, he joins all those who pray to have children like him.
"And I will bless those who bless you and those who curse you I will curse; and all the families of the land will bless themselves with you." (12:3) QUESTION: Since Hashem told Avram that all families will bless themselves to have children like him, who will be "mekallelcha" - "The ones that will curse you"? ANSWER: Hashem was telling Avram that his mission was to go out into the world and spread yiddishkeit. There would be many people who would join him and bless him for teaching them about Hashem. As usual, he would come across people who would oppose him and even curse him. "Do not become frightened and abandon your mission," said Hashem, "because even those people who openly curse and oppose you will envy you deep down in their hearts and pray that their children should be like you when they grow up."
"And Avram went according to G-d's instructions, and Lot went along; and Avram was 75 years old when he left Charan." (12:4) QUESTION: Why is Avram's age mentioned? ANSWER: Avram lived a comfortable life in Charan. Picking himself up at the age of 75 and moving to a new country was indeed difficult. Avram was very much attached to Hashem and did anything that Hashem told him, even if it appeared difficult or he did not know its reason or significance. On the other hand, Lot accompanied Avram only because he calculated that he was an old man who would soon die childless, leaving Lot as his sole heir.
"Avram passed through the land to the place of Shechem, and the Canaanite was then in the land." (12:6) QUESTION: What is the connection between these two things? ANSWER: When Avram came to Eretz Yisrael, the Canaanites were engaged in conquering the land of Israel from the children of Shem (Rashi). Usually, during a war, armies are extremely cautious, and all strangers are questioned to make sure they are not spies for the other side. Should they seem suspicious, they are punished and even tortured. The Torah is emphasizing that though the Canaanites were presently in the land and it was a time of war, Avram was miraculously protected by Hashem and very easily went through the entire country without any hindrance.
"Why didn't you tell me that she is your wife? Why did you say 'she is my sister,' so that I would take her as my wife?" (12:18- 19) QUESTION: It would have been enough for Pharaoh to say "Why didn't you tell me she was your wife?" Why did he have to mention that Avram had said she was his sister? ANSWER: Before a man marries, he should investigate the brothers of the bride-to-be, because the children usually resemble the brothers of the mother (Bava Batra 110a). Pharaoh was telling Avram, "As the king of the land, I am a very prominent person. I do not just marry any lady that I meet. However, knowing that you are a great person and that children of your sister will resemble you, such a lady is proper for me to marry." He, therefore, complained to Avram about two things: 1. "Why didn't you tell me that she was your wife so I would not marry her?" 2. "If you were afraid that I might marry her regardless, and therefore decided to lie and say she was only a relative, at least you should have refrained from telling me that she was your sister. Thus, I would have not have wanted to marry her, and you are fully at fault for what happened."
"And he went on his journeys...to the place where his tent had been in the beginning." (13:3) QUESTION: Rashi says, "On his return he paid his debts." Avram was very poor when he started out his journey; why would anyone trust a stranger and lend him money? ANSWER: The "debts" Rashi is referring to are not monetary. During his travels, many people asked him questions which he did not answer and he "owed" them answers. When Avram started out on his trip, he was very poor. On his itinerary he would make stops and speak to the people about the greatness of Hashem. The people had never heard of Hashem, and many asked Avram a question: "If your G-d is so great and good, why doesn't he relieve your poverty?" Avram was unable to give the people a satisfying answer. However, on his way back, after being blessed with riches, he visited the people who previously questioned him about Hashem to "pay" them the answer he owed them. He told them that his riches were a reward from Hashem. A Jew must have faith that if he will deserve it, Hashem will reward him with all the best.
"And he went on his journeys from the South to Beth-El, to the place where his tent had been in the beginning.... to the place of the altar which he had made there at first." (13:3-4) QUESTION: Why does the Torah discuss Avram's return journey at such length? ANSWER: Upward mobility often leads people to change communities. Unfortunately, often the new neighborhood is less compatible with Torah values than the old one. The new area at times lacks proper yeshivot, shuls, mikva'ot, etc., and this causes an obvious decrease in religious observance. Avram started his travels as a poor man and established his residence in the vicinity of Beth-El, an area which was spiritually in accordance with Hashem's desires for humanity. The Torah emphasizes that on his return, after being blessed with an abundance of material wealth, he did not change his style of living. He returned to the area of Beth-El, where he originally lived when he possessed modest means. Despite his affluence, he remained in the "old" Jewish neighborhood.
"Avram said to Lot, 'Please let there not be any strife between me and you ... for we are brothers (relatives).' " (13:8) QUESTION: Why did Avram emphasize his kinship with Lot? ANSWER: A story is told that a piece of wood once asked a piece of steel, "Why is it that when you are hammered you make such loud noises, and when they chop me the noise is not so loud?" The steel answered, "I am hammered with a hammer made of steel, which is my brother. I scream because it hurts when your own brother hits you." Avram told Lot, "People should always avoid conflicts, especially relatives and good friends."
"Let there not be any strife between me and you ... for we look alike." (13:8) (See Rashi) QUESTION: Why is their similarity in appearance a reason for not quarreling? ANSWER: Avram explained to Lot the following: "If you did not have a beard and peiyot and did not look like a tzaddik, then everyone would easily interpret and understand the cause of our quarreling: Either you are fighting with me because you despise religious Jews, or else I am at odds with you because you are my relative and I am unhappy with your irreligious behavior. However, since we both have beards and peiyot, and appear as very religious Jews, the secular world will laughingly exclaim 'Look at the rabbis fighting,' and ridicule Torah-observant Jews. Consequently, our actions will cause a desecration of Hashem (chillul Hashem)."
"And I will make your children as the dust of the earth." (13:16) QUESTION: How are the Jewish people like the dust of the earth? ANSWER: Everyone walks upon the dust of the earth, and similarly, many nations "step upon" the Jewish people. The dust, however, outlasts the people who trod on it, and the Jewish people, too, will prevail over their oppressors.
Alternatively, Hashem refers to the Jewish people as his "eretz cheifetz" "desirable land" (Malachi 3:12). The Ba'al Shem Tov explains the analogy in the following way: When one digs in the earth he can find the most valuable treasures, such as silver, gold, diamonds, etc. Similarly, in every Jew, even the estranged, there are concealed riches. It is necessary to delve and search within them and help to bring their "treasures" to the surface.
A Rabbi who intensely fought the missionaries in his town, was visited by the bishop and asked, "Rabbi, why do you oppose us so strongly?" The Rabbi replied, "When you convert someone to your religion you sprinkle him with your 'ritual water.' Jews are compared to the dust of the earth. When one mixes water with earth, mud results. I cannot sit idly and see someone trying to make mud of my people."
"And they took all the wealth of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their food and they departed.... And he brought back all the wealth." (14:11, 16) QUESTION: In the course of the war, the four kings took away the wealth and food from Sodom. Why did Avram only return the wealth and not the food? ANSWER: Avram went to battle during the night of the fifteenth of Nissan, which is Pesach night. During the first half of that night Hashem miraculously helped Avram to defeat the four kings. The second half of that night was reserved for the slaying of the first born in Egypt and the liberation of the Jewish people. Whatever Avram managed to take from the enemies became his personal property. He instructed his army to be careful to dispose of any food taken from the enemies because it is forbidden for a Jew to have chometz in his possession during Pesach.
"Avram heard that his relative [Lot] was captured, and he armed his servants and pursued them [the four kings] as far as Dan." (14:14)
QUESTION: The four kings were stronger than the five; why was this war so important to Avram that he went to battle putting his life and the life of Eliezer in danger? ANSWER: Amrafel was one of the four kings. He was called Amrafel because "amar pol" - "he said 'fall into' " - he gave the order for Avram to be thrown into the fiery furnace for destroying the idols and propagating Gdliness. He was also known as Nimrod because "He incited men to rebel (Marad) against G-d" (Eiruvin 53a). Lot's appearance was identical to Avram's (Rashi 13:8). When Avram heard that Nimrod captured Lot, he worried that there might be a terrible desecration of Hashem (chillul Hashem). Avram feared that Nimrod would force Lot to declare in public that Hashem was false and that the idols were true. The people would think that Avram was speaking and, G-d forbid, conclude that since Avram himself changed his conviction about Hashem, they surely had no reason to have faith anymore. Therefore, Avram, wanting to avoid a chillul Hashem, endangered himself and went to war to rescue Lot from Nimrod.
"He gave him a tithe from everything." (14:20) QUESTION: According to the Midrash Hanelam quoted in Yalkut Reuveini, Hashem took the letter "Heh" from His Throne of Glory and gave it as ma'aser to Avram, thus changing his name to Avraham. What in the pasuk alludes to this interpretation? ANSWER: The Patriarchs were all blessed with a special blessing of kol everything. Regarding Avraham it is stated, "G-d blessed Avraham with everything (Bakol)" (24:1). Before his death the Torah states, "He gave over his 'everything' (kol) to Yitzchak" (25:5). Yaakov, too, was a recipient of kol and, therefore, told Eisav "I have everything (kol)." (33:11) The word "kol" has the numerical value of 50. Since the Torah states, "He gave him ma'aser, 'mikol' - 'from everything' " - the Midrash derives that Hashem gave Avraham ten percent of kol (50), in the form of the letter "Heh", which has the numerical value of five. With this gift, He changed his name to Avraham, making it possible for him to have a child.
"If so much as a thread to a shoestrap; or if I shall take anything of yours." (14:23)
QUESTION: What does the donning of tallit and tefillin during shacharit prayers have to do with this pasuk? ANSWER: The Gemara (Sotah 17a) says that because Avram refused to take from the King of Sodom even a thread or a shoestrap, his children (the Jewish people) merited to receive two mitzvot from Hashem: the mitzvah of putting a thread of techeilet in the tzitzit and the mitzvah of putting retzu'ot (straps) in the tefillin. According to the Gemara (Berachot 26b) Avraham originated the concept of davening to Hashem each morning. (shacharit). Therefore, during his tefillah we wear the tallit and tefillin. When Avram spoke to the King of Sodom, he first mentioned the thread and afterwards the shoestrap; thus, we first don the tallit, which has in it the thread of techeilet, and afterwards the tefillin, which have the leather straps.
"And He said: 'Look now toward heaven, and count the stars, if you are able to count them'; and He said to him: 'So shall your seed be.' " (15:5) QUESTION: In what ways are the Jewish people like stars? ANSWER: From earth, the stars appear very small. However, in heaven, the stars are actually immense. Hashem assured Avram that although on earth the nations of the world consider the Jewish people "very small" (of minor significance), in reality, up in heaven, they are of primary importance.
The stars twinkle in the high heavens. By their light, even one who walks in the darkness of night will not blunder. Every Jew, man or woman, possess enough moral and spiritual light to influence friends and acquaintances and bring them out of the darkness into G-d's spiritual light.
When one stands on the ground and looks up to the sky, the stars appear to be minute specks. In reality the stars are larger than the earth. As we approach them we can begin to appreciate their size and beauty. The same is true of a Jew. Superficially, one may appear to be insignificant. However, as one becomes closer and gets to know more about him, one can perceive the great and beautiful "Pintele Yid" (spark of Judaism) that is in him.
"He said to Avram, 'Your children will be strangers in a land which does not belong to them.' " (15:13) QUESTION: The words "be'eretz lo lahem" - "In a land which does not belong to them" - seem extra. Obviously, a stranger is not in his own land? ANSWER: When Yosef came before Pharaoh, he predicted that there would be seven years of abundance and seven years of famine. He advised Pharaoh to save up food for the seven years of famine. The people of Egypt came to Yosef to buy food, and when they ran out of money, Yosef took their cattle in lieu of money. When they ran out of cattle, he took their land. Afterwards, Yosef relocated the people to different cities from one end of Egypt to the other. He did this so the Egyptians would not be able to embarrass his brothers by calling them strangers or refugees. Now the Egyptians themselves were also strangers in the places where they lived (Rashi 47:21). Hashem told Avram, "Your children will be in the exile of Egypt for 400 years and be strangers in the land. However, it will not be too bad, because it will be 'eretz lo lahem' - a land which does not belong to them - to the Egyptians. Thus, they will not feel less comfortable than their Egyptian neighbors."
"They shall serve them, and they shall afflict them four hundred years." (15:13) QUESTION: Because Avram asked "How (bamah) can I know that [my children] will be worthy to have it?" (15:8) Hashem told Avram there would be an Egyptian exile for four hundred years (see Nedarim 32a). Why the amount of 400? ANSWER: In Hebrew, in addition to the regular alef-beit there is an alefbeit known as "A-T, Ba-Sh" in which the "Alef" interchanges with the "Tav", the "Beit" with the "Shin", etc. According to this alef-beit, the"Heh" interchanges with the "Tzadik" and the "Mem" interchanges with the "Yud". Thus, the letters of the word "bamah", which Avram used to inquire about the worthiness of his children to inherit Eretz Yisrael, interchange with the letters ".Shin-Yud-Tzadik" The total numerical value of the letters "ShinYud-Tzadik" is exactly 400.
"And also that nation, that they shall serve, I shall judge; and afterwards they shall leave with great wealth." (15:14) QUESTION: In halacha there is a rule: "Kam Ley Bederabah Mineih" - When one is due two punishments (e.g. death and a fine), we do not inflict both, but mete out the severest penalty. Why were the Egyptians punished by losing their lives as well as their money? ANSWER: This rule applies only when the two punishments are for the same act, e.g. stabbing someone to death on Shabbat and damaging his clothes in the process. In such a case, the murderer is put to death but does not have to pay for the clothing he damaged. However, the Egyptians received punishments for separate acts. They deserved the ten plagues as punishment for torturing the Jews (avodat perech), and they deserved to drown as punishment for drowning the Jewish children. They lost their wealth due to their failure to compensate the enslaved Jewish people for the work they performed for them. Thus, it is not considered a case of double jeopardy when punishments are given for separate crimes.
Alternatively; the rule of "Kam Ley Bederabah Mineih" does not apply when heavenly judgment is rendered (Rambam, Hilchot Na'arah 1:14); Thus, Hashem reserves the right to punish individuals as He sees fit. Therefore, Hashem emphasized "Dan Anochi" - "I personally will judge and punish them." Hence, they will justifiably both pay and suffer for their iniquity.
"And afterwards they will go out with great wealth." (15:14) QUESTION: Why didn't Avram say to Hashem, "No thank you, keep the wealth and do not make my children suffer galut (exile)"? ANSWER: In addition to their simple meaning, the words "v'acharei chein yeitzu birechush gadol" also refer to 1) Torah, 2) redemption and 3) the Messianic era.
1. The words "yeitzu birechush" - "go out with wealth" - have the numerical value of 629, which is the same numerical value as "zehu Torah" - "This is Torah" (Zehu Torah). 2. The "Vav" in "v'acharei chein" - "and afterwards" - seems extra. It would be sufficient to say "acharei chein" - "afterwards." Our father Yaakov was very concerned about the Jewish people being in galut. Therefore, he took the letter vav from Eliyahu's name as a pledge that he will come and announce the redemption of his children (Rashi, Vayikra, 26:42). During the Covenant that Hashem made with Avram (Brit Bein Habetarim), Avram was informed of all the different exiles the Jewish people would encounter. At that time, Hashem promised him that, in addition to being redeemed from Egypt, "v'acharei chein" "and afterwards" - there will be an ultimate redemption heralded by Eliyahu thanks to the "Vav" Yaakov took from his name as a pledge. 3. The words "birechush gadol" add up to 565, (counting the statement itself as a total of one) which is also the same numerical value as "Zeh Bizman Melech HaMoshiach" - "This - great wealth - will be in the era of King Mashiach." Avram did not argue with Hashem because Torah, redemption, and Mashiach are worth much more than all the difficult trials and tribulations of galut.
"And Sarai said to Avram: 'My wrong be upon you; I gave my maidservant into your bosom; and when she saw that she had conceived, I was made light in her eyes; may G-d judge between me and you.' " (16:5) QUESTION: If Hagar was insubordinate to Sarai, why was Avram to blame? ANSWER: In regard to Hagar, the Torah says: "And she (Sarai) had an Egyptian maid and her name was Hagar" (16:1). According to halacha, when a woman marries, her belongings are considered melog property, which means that the principal remains her property and that her husband is entitled to the benefits. He may use the products of the principal as long as his wife is alive, but he has no permission to sell the principal, nor is he allowed to give it away.
When a master marries off his slave to a Jewish woman, or even when the master himself chooses his maid to become his wife and marries her, she automatically becomes a free person. Thus, after Avram had married Hagar, she considered herself a free person and no longer subject to Sarai's authority. This upset Sarai very much and she said to her husband: "My wrong be upon you" because "I permitted you to marry my maid, but I never intended that she should become my equal, nor did I authorize you to set her free through your act of marriage." Avram agreed with Sarai, and therefore said to her "Behold, your maid is in your hand. Do to her that which is good in your eyes." Sarai dealt with her harshly and Hagar fled. An angel found her and asked her: "Hagar, Sarai's maid, from where are you coming?" She responded: "From my mistress Sarai I am fleeing." The angel told her, "Return to your mistress and submit yourself to her authority." One may wonder, why did the angel give her such instructions? The answer is, that in the course of their dialogue, Hagar argued that through her marriage to Avram she had become a free person and therefore: "I am running away from Sarai who wants to be my mistress." The angel disagreed with her, and referred to Hagar as Sarai's maid. He explained to her that Avram did not have the authority to set her free through his marriage and she was still Sarai's maid. Hence, "Return to your mistress and submit yourself to her authority."
"He will be a wild man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone's hand will be against him." (16:12) QUESTION: What was the angel alluding to? ANSWER: The Gemara (Sotah 5a) says that Avraham was blessed with "bakol" - "everything" - as it is written, "G-d blessed Avraham with bakol." Yaakov too was blessed with "kol" - everything - as he said, "G-d dealt graciously with me and I have kol - everything" (33:11). The Arabs are Yishmael's descendants and always pride themselves that they, too, are children of Avram. Eventually, they will fall into the hands of the children of Yaakov (Rashi 37:1). The angel was hinting this to Hagar by telling her that, "yado bakol" - "Your son will try to hold on to his 'yichus' that he is related to Avraham, who was
blessed with bakol. However, the end will be "veyad kol bo" - The hand of the children of Yaakov, who was blessed with 'kol,' will overpower and conquer him."
Targum Onkelos explains: "He will be dependent on the entire world, and the entire world will be dependent on him." Possibly, Onkelos is hinting to the fact that Yishmael is the ancestor of the Arab world. The world is dependent on them because they control major oil sources. However, besides oil they have nothing else, and are dependent on the entire world for their existence.
"And she called the Name of the G-d [Angel - see Igeret Hakodesh 25] Who spoke to her: 'You are the G-d of Vision.' " (16:13) QUESTION: The word "atah" - "you" - seems to be superfluous; what was she emphasizing? ANSWER: Many years ago sheidim (demons) were common. They would appear at night or during the day in uninhabited areas, such as fields and deserts. Therefore, our Sages have warned that a person should beware when a stranger approaches him in such places. When Yehoshua reached the outskirts of Yericho, on route to wage war, a "person" engaged him in a conversation. The Gemara (Megillah 3a) asks, "Why did Yehoshua converse with the individual and not fear the possibility of him being a demon?" The Gemara explains that when the person spoke to Yehoshua, he uttered the name of Hashem - even a demon would not mention it in vain. This was proof to Yehoshua that the individual was indeed an angel. When Hagar ran away and wandered in the desert, she was approached by a total of four angels. The first three did not mention that they were speaking as representatives of Hashem, so she had her doubts about their validity. Consequently, she did not talk at length with them or praise them. However, the fourth angel, besides telling her that she would give birth to a child, added the words "G-d has heard your affliction" (16:11). Upon hearing him mention Hashem, she realized that he was indeed not a demon but a true angel of Hashem. Therefore, when she named the angel, who spoke to her in the name of Hashem, she emphasized that "you" are indeed the G-d of Vision.
"Do not call your wife Sarai; her name is Sarah." (17:15) QUESTION: It should have said her name will be Sarah (future tense)? ANSWER: According to an opinion in Midrash Rabbah (47:1), in order to obtain a "Heh" for the name Avraham, Hashem took the "Yud" (which equals 10) from the name Sarai and gave half of it,"Heh" (which equals 5), to Avraham. Thus, Sarai became Sarah immediately.
Alternatively; According to halacha, a woman rises to the standards of the man. When a rich man marries a poor woman, she attains the rights of a rich woman (Ketuvot 61a). Thus, when Hashem added the "Heh" to Avraham declaring, "I proclaim you a father of many nations" (17:5), simultaneously his wife was no longer merely his princess, but the princess of the world and rightfully was called Sarah.
"Your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you shall call him Yitzchak." (17:19) QUESTION: The name "Yitzchak" is because of the laughter (Rashi). Why was the future tense (he will laugh) used for his name? ANSWER: Avraham and Sarah had undertaken the difficult task of changing the course of the world by educating people about Torah and Gdliness. They had encountered great difficulties to the extent that Avraham was cast into the burning furnace by King Nimrod. As Avraham and Sarah aged and remained childless, those who previously feared them began to laugh and rejoice. "Soon Avraham and Sarah will die," they thought to themselves, "and without a child to continue their work, they will be gone and forgotten, and so will the ideas and ideals they propagated." Avraham was concerned about this and prayed to Hashem for a child who would continue the work he had started. Hashem promised him, "Your wife will bear you a son. Name him Yitzchak because he will follow in your footsteps, and 'he will laugh' at all those who think that the efforts of Avraham and Sarah will go to waste and be forgotten."
"Avraham was ninety nine years old when he was circumcised." (17:24) QUESTION: Avraham observed the entire Torah (Yoma 28b). Why did he wait to circumcise himself until he was so old? ANSWER: The physical body is the property of Hashem and not one's personal asset. Consequently, it is forbidden to cause injury, or pain to oneself (Bava Kamma 90b). Therefore, though Avraham definitely wanted to perform a brit milah earlier, the halacha of not damaging Hashem's property prevented him. Once Hashem gave him a direct command, it was no longer considered inflicting injury, but the performance of a mitzvah.
"On this very day Avraham and his son Yishmael were circumcised." (17:26) QUESTION: According to the two preceding pesukim, Avraham was 99 years old and Yishmael was 13 years old when they were circumcised. Thus, this entire pasuk is a redundancy? (See Rashi.) ANSWER: In Parshat Vayeira, we learn about the angels who visited Avraham on the third day following his brit. That day happened to be Pesach (Rashi 19:3). Thus, Avraham's brit took place three days before Pesach. According to the Da'at Zekeinim MiBa'alei Hatosfot the brit took place on Yom Kippur. A brit of a Jewish boy, which takes place on the eighth day after he is born, can be performed on any day of the week including Shabbat. If the brit takes place after the eighth day, it cannot be done on Shabbat or Yom Tov and according to some opinions, it also cannot be done three days before Shabbat or Yom Tov due to the difficulties that are usually experienced on the third day after the brit (Yorah Dei'ah 266:14). Thus, the question may be asked, since the britim of Avraham and Yishmael were not on the eighth day after birth, why were they performed on Yom Tov (Yom Kippur) or three days before the Yom Tov of Pesach? To answer this, the Torah emphasizes that the britim of Avraham and Yishmael took place on this very day when Hashem commanded them. Since it was the day on which Avraham received the command, it was
equivalent to a brit that is performed at the proper time (eighth day) and that can be done on any day of the week.
And You Shall Speak of Them
A Compilation of Selected Torah Insights, Thought-Provoking Ideas, Homilies And Explanations of Torah Passages
"And G-d revealed Himself to him." (18:1) When the Rebbe RaSHaB (Rabbi Sholom Dov Ber Schneerson, the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe) was a little boy of about four or five years of age, he entered the room of his grandfather, the Tzemach Tzedek (Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn, the third Lubavitcher Rebbe), and with tears in his eyes he asked his grandfather why Hashem revealed Himself to Avraham but not to us. His grandfather answered him, "When a Jew who is a tzaddik decides at the age of 99 to circumcise himself, he deserves that Hashem should reveal Himself to him." From this story we can learn two very important lessons: 1. Even a young child who is only four or five years of age, and similarly any Jew, even if spiritually he did not reach the level of chinuch (Torah instruction), should be educated to yearn for Divine revelation. 2. The Tzemach Tzedek's answer teaches that every Jew who resolves to become closer to Hashem and remove any "barriers" that may be existing, can merit that Hashem will reveal Himself to him as he did to our ancestor Avraham.
"G-d revealed Himself to him in the plains of Mamre." (18:1) QUESTION: Rashi comments, "Mamre who advised Avraham concerning the brit." If Hashem instructed Avraham to do the brit, why would he seek advice from Mamre?
ANSWER: Indeed Avraham did not ask Mamre whether he should listen to Hashem. He only asked him if he should circumcise himself publicly or privately. Avraham heeded his advice and did it publicly. The members of his household were greatly impressed with Avraham's courage and emulated him (17:27).
"While he was sitting at the entrance to the tent." (18:1) QUESTION: Rashi explains, "To see if there is a passerby and take him into his home." Why does Rashi call a guest "over veshav" - "passerby" - and not the popular term "orei'ach" - "guest"? ANSWER: Some people feel very uncomfortable as guests at others' tables. Even when they are on the way to the houses of their hosts, they sometimes become shy and turn away. Avraham was very great in the mitzvah of hospitality and wanted everyone to feel comfortable in his home. Therefore, he would sit at the entrance of the tent in order to spot the person who is "over veshav" - keeps passing "back and forth" - and is ashamed to come in.
The term "over veshav" can also be referring to someone who "over" "transgressed" (did an aveirah) and now "veshav" - is returning and doing teshuvah. Avraham's home was especially open for all who became ba'alei teshuva or wanted to do teshuvah and learn how to become closer to Hashem.
"He lifted his eyes and saw, and behold three men [angels] were standing over him." (18:2) QUESTION: According to Midrash Rabbah (48:9) the three angels appeared as a desert merchant, a produce merchant, and a captain of a ship. Why did the angels appear in these three disguises? ANSWER: The world is divided into three parts: water, desert, and inhabited land. Each part of the world has an angel in heaven appointed over it. Thus, the three disguised angels represented the entire creation. The one dressed as a desert merchant was for the deserts, the captain was for the
oceans, and the produce merchant represented the inhabited section of the world. On the passage "These are the chronicles of heaven and earth when they were created" (2:4) - our sages say, "Read not 'behibaram', but read 'beAvraham'. This alludes that the entire world was created for the sake of Avraham (Rabbeinu Bachya). Therefore, the three angels, as representatives of the entire world, came to visit Avraham in whose merit the entire world was created.
"And behold three men [angels] were standing over him." (18:2) QUESTION: Avraham was sick and Hashem came to visit him. One of the three men was the angel Raphael, who came to heal Avraham (Rashi). Why didn't Hashem, who is the healer of all flesh, dismiss Raphael and take over? ANSWER: Often, when people visit the sick, they have a tendency to discuss the ailment and offer uncalled-for advice. Hashem is teaching an important lesson in bikur cholim: When visiting a sick person, do not become his doctor. Let the attending physician use his expertise to heal the patient. Although, Hashem is the true healer and every doctor is His emissary, He permitted the assigned doctor, Raphael, to complete his mission and cure Avraham.
"And behold; three men were standing over him." (18:2) QUESTION: When two of them afterwards went to Lot, the pasuk says, "The two angels came to Sodom in the evening...Lot saw them and got up to greet them" (19:1).Why in reference to Avraham does the Torah refer to them as "anashim" - "ordinary men" - while in reference to Lot it refers to them as "angels"? ANSWER: Avraham was a tzaddik and very great in the mitzvah of hachnasat orchim - hospitality. To him it made absolutely no difference who a guest was. Even if the guest was just an ordinary person, Avraham would take him into his home, treat him with the greatest respect, and give him the best of everything. Lot was different. When a prominent person would come to town, Lot would take him into his home because it was an honor for him to have
important people visiting. If a simple person would come to town and he would stand nothing to gain by taking him in, Lot would not bother with him at all. Therefore, when Lot saw that the visitors were angels and that it would add to his prestige to have such guests, only then did he invite them to his house.
A story is told that once a great tzaddik who did not want to reveal his identity came to a city dressed unimpressively. When he asked for the opportunity to stay at the home of the head of the community, the person refused because he only catered to prominent guests and not ordinary folk. Years later, when the tzaddik revealed his identity, again he came to the city and this time he rode in a chariot which was led by six horses. The entire town went out to meet the tzaddik and the head of the community told the tzaddik's secretary that he would be delighted if the tzaddik would be his guest. The tzaddik instructed his secretary, "Please take the six horses and bring them to the home of the head of the community, and I will eat at the home where I ate a few years ago when I visited this city." The head of the community was very surprised and ran to the tzaddik to ask for an explanation. The tzaddik told him, "I am the same person who was here a few years ago and asked to stay at your home. I have not changed since then. The only difference is that last time I came alone and you were not impressed with me. Today when I came with six horses, you were impressed. Therefore, I sent what impresses you to be your guests for the weekend."
"And he saw, and he ran towards them." (18:2) QUESTION: Rashi explains that Avraham had to run because when the Angels saw that he was sick, they began to go away. Not wanting to lose the opportunity to fulfill the mitzvah of hachnasat orchim, he ran after them. Since the people began to go away, the pasuk should have read "And he ran after them" - instead of "And he ran towards them"? ANSWER: When one leaves the presence of a prominent person, it is not proper to turn one's back. Instead, even when leaving, one faces the person and walks backwards. When the angels came to Avraham, they noticed that Hashem was also there. Realizing that Avraham was very sick, they decided to go away and
not bother him. However, since it is improper to turn their backs to Hashem, they walked away backwards. Avraham, noticing this, ran towards them to bring them into his home.
"And he said, my L-rd, if I have found favor in your eyes, pass not away from your servant." (18:3) QUESTION: According to the Gemara (Shabbat 127a), Avraham was speaking to Hashem and asked Him to wait until he brought the guests into his home, for the mitzvah of hachnasat orchim - receiving guests and taking care of their needs - is greater than kaballat penei hashechinah - receiving Hashem. How did Avraham know that hachnasat orchim was greater? ANSWER: When Avraham was ill after the brit, Hashem visited him. Cognizant of Avraham's great yearning to fulfill the mitzvah of hachnasat orchim, He specifically make it extremely hot so that no one would be walking in the desert and Avraham would not be busy catering to any guests. If both mitzvot are equal, it was not necessary for Hashem to make it very hot. Even if guests had come, Avraham would not have occupied himself with them, since he was already involved in the mitzvah of receiving Hashem. From Hashem's effort to keep away guests during His visit, Avraham learned that receiving guests is a greater mitzvah than receiving Hashem.
"And he [the angel] said, 'I shall return according to this time of life and your wife Sarah will have a son.' " (18:10) QUESTION: When and where did the angel return? ANSWER: At the Akeidah, Avraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son Yitzchak. At that moment an angel called to him saying, "Stop, do not do anything." This was the same angel who 37 years earlier had told him that he would bring a living child into the world. Now he came to give Yitzchak an extension of life. With the words "ka'eit chayah" - lit. "at the time of life" - the angel hinted to Avraham that he would reappear at the time when Yitzchak would be in need of life.
"Sarah heard it in the tent door, which was behind him." (18:10) QUESTION: Who was behind what? ANSWER: It is customary for a guest to bless his host before leaving. Usually, the blessing is connected to something he observes during his stay. For example, if the family is, G-d forbid, childless, he blesses them with a child. If there is sickness, he wishes good health, etc. For many years Avraham and Sarah ran a hospitality center. People from all walks of life enjoyed their benevolence. In their younger years the most common berachah given to them was to be blessed with a child. Avraham and Sarah would always reply "Amen." As they aged, no longer would people wish them children. It would have been considered a mockery for someone to wish an elderly couple a child. Suddenly, at the age of 99, Avraham was blessed that he would have a child. Normally, Avraham should have responded, "Obviously you are not aware of my age - otherwise you would not have mentioned such a ridiculous thought." Instead, when the man gave his blessing, the Torah relates, "vehu acharav" - "And he was after him." Avraham followed him by saying "Amen." Sarah was in the tent and was amazed at her husband and began to laugh at his strange behavior. She wondered how he could expect her to bear a child at the age of 90.
"Sarah laughed within herself saying, 'after I am old can I give birth? My master is old'....G-d said to Avraham: 'Why did Sarah laugh and say Can I give birth? I am old?' " (18:12-13) QUESTION: How is it that Sarah had doubts? ANSWER: Hashem appears in different forms. At Keriat Yam Suf - the splitting of the sea - He appeared as a powerful warrior. At the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai, He appeared in the form of a merciful sage (Yalkut Shimoni 246). According to the Arizal, the different forms of revelation depend on the mission to be accomplished. Keriat Yam Suf was against the laws of nature: Water, which normally flows continuously, stood as a pillar. To emphasize that Hashem governs nature and is not controlled by it, He appeared as a
powerful warrior who conquers and controls. The giving of the Torah was not an act contrary to nature and, therefore, he appeared as a merciful sage. The visitor came to Avraham to inform him that Sarah would give birth to a child. Sarah was a great prophetess and would very often experience Divine revelations. At that time she had a vision in which Hashem appeared as a saintly Torah scholar. For her to give birth now was against the laws of nature. Consequently, she laughed because "Adoni zakein" - "My Master is old." (Hashem is in the form of an old sage.) She thought, "If He had wanted me to give birth against the laws of nature, I would have seen Him as a warrior." Hashem said to Avraham, "Why did Sarah laugh and say, 'va'ani zakanti' that she saw Me as an old man? There is nothing impossible or beyond Me. Be assured Sarah will have a son next year."
"And Avraham answered and said: 'Behold now, I have taken upon myself to speak to my L-rd; although I am but dust and ashes.' " (18:27) QUESTION: Are not all men but dust and ashes and yet speak to Hashem through prayer on a regular basis? ANSWER: Hashem was considering the destruction of the people of Sodom, due to their corruptness, and Avraham prayed that they be spared. In his prayer he argued, "I am only one of Your creatures, made of dust and ashes, yet my mercy has evoked my concern to pray on behalf of other human beings. How much more so should You, King of the universe and Creator of all people, have compassion and permit them to survive!"
"And he said...suppose ten [tzaddikim] are found there?" [Would that prevent You from going through with Your plans of destruction?] (18:32) QUESTION: Sodom was not far away from where Avraham lived. How is it possible that he should not know the tzaddikim of Sodom? ANSWER: The inhabitants of Sodom were extremely wicked. Kindness and righteousness were against the law of the land. People who welcomed strangers or gave charity to the poor were immediately tortured to death. A tzaddik dwelling in Sodom and remaining alive had to be extremely discreet. Therefore, Avraham was saying to Hashem, "Possibly there are some hidden
tzaddikim unknown to me. You, however, are certainly aware of them please spare the city in their merit."
"And they said 'This one man came to sojourn, and he set himself up as a judge!' " (19:9) QUESTION: They appointed him themselves as their judge (Rashi 19:1). Why were they complaining? ANSWER: There was a law in Sodom against having any guests. Lot was appointed as judge to rule in the event that someone violated the laws of Sodom. Sitting in the judicial seat, he began to also judge the laws and decide if they were proper. Lot ruled that the law of not accepting guests was improper. The people's complaint was that he was not given authority to decide if the existing laws of the city were proper or not. The double expression "vayishpot shafot" means "he judged the judicial decisions," which were already decided and enacted.
"He seemed like one who jests in the eyes of his sons-in-law." (19:14) QUESTION: His sons-in-law had indeed heard of how Hashem flooded the world and destroyed the Dor Haflagah The Generation of Dispersal - so why didn't they believe that Sodom would be destroyed? ANSWER: According to the Gemara (Bava Kamma 60a), once permission is given to an angel to destroy, he does not differentiate between the righteous and the wicked. However, this applies only when an angel does the destroying, not when Hashem himself does it: He indeed distinguishes between the good and the wicked. When the angels came to Lot, they told him to take his children out of the city immediately because, "We are going to destroy this place (19:13). Since we cannot distinguish between the righteous and the wicked, if you want your family to remain alive you must take them out of the city." Lot came to his sons-in-law and said to them, "Leave the city, 'Because Hashem is going to destroy the city' " (19:14). Upon hearing this, the sons-in-law laughed, because if Hashem was going to do it Himself, they could remain in Sodom and not be destroyed if He
wanted them to survive. If He did not want them to remain alive, it would have been foolish to run, since it is impossible to run away from Hashem.
"And his wife looked behind him and she became a pillar of salt." (19:26) QUESTION: Rashi comments, "me'acharav shel Lot" - "[She turned and looked] behind Lot." Why not simply say that she turned back and looked behind herself? ANSWER: In Chumash Bamidbar we learn of a dispute which took place between Korach and Moshe. Rashi asks, "Since Korach was intelligent, why did he commit such a foolish act?" Rashi explains that "His eye deceived him." Korach saw that the prophet Shmuel would be his descendant. Therefore, he was confident that he could do whatever he wanted, and in the merit of his great descendant, he would be saved (16:7). Here too, Rashi is explaining why Lot's wife acted so foolishly and ignored instructions not to look behind. The reason is that she "looked" and relied on "acharav shel Lot" - the great people of the future who would be descendants of Lot. ("Acharav" can mean "after him" as well as "behind him.") She knew that one of Lot's daughters would be the ancestor of Eglon the king of Moab and his daughter Ruth. Consequently, King David and Mashiach would be his descendants. Lot's wife figured that because her husband would have such great children, she could do whatever she wanted and be saved in their merit.
"She became a pillar of salt." (19:26) Rashi explains that she was given such a strange punishment because she committed a sin through salt. Therefore, her punishment was connected to salt. Like her neighbors in Sodom, she was totally against hachnasat orchim hospitality. When Lot invited the Angels, he asked his wife to give them some salt in which to dip their bread (for "Hamotzi"). She angrily responded, "Even these bad customs you want to bring into this place?!" QUESTION: Before reciting the grace after meals - Birchat Hamazon - we wash our fingers. This is known as mayim
acharonim. One of the reasons for this is melach Sedomit Sodomite salt. The salt of Sodom is very strong and potentially dangerous. It can, G-d forbid, blind a person who has it on his fingers and touches his eyes.Why, throughout the entire world, even when one lives thousands of miles away from Sodom, does one wash his fingers because of the Sodomite salt? ANSWER: Salt itself is not nourishing; it only adds taste to other foods. The people of Sodom were evil and refused to give food to nourish a guest. Moreover, they even refused to give salt, which has no nourishment value, to a stranger. "Sodomite salt" is a metaphor for the wicked philosophy of the people of Sodom, who were totally "blind" to the needs of others and refused to practice hospitality. A hungry person has sympathy for someone who is in need. Often, once he is sated and satisfied, he becomes insensitive to the suffering of the needy, and like people of Sodom, he becomes blind to the needs of others. Our Sages want us to always have compassion for the needy. Therefore, they have instructed that upon the completion of our meal, when we are full and satisfied, we must cleanse ourselves, and make sure that the philosophy of Sodom (Sodomite salt) does not stick to us and, G-d forbid, blind us. We must be hospitable at all times and "see" the plight of the less fortunate.
"They intoxicated their father with wine that night." (19:33) QUESTION: The word "hu" - "that [night]" - is superfluous? ANSWER: Amalek is the arch-enemy of the Jewish people, and Hashem refuses to forgive him. In Shemot 17:16 it is written, "G-d swore by His throne that he will always wage war against Amalek." The word "Keis" which means a chair (or throne) is written here without an "Alef". Usually, the name of Hashem is written with four letters - "Yud-Heh-Vav-Heh". In this pasuk Hashem is referred to by only two of the four letters. Rashi explains that Hashem swore that neither His name nor His throne will be complete till Amalek is wiped out entirely. The first night when Lot was intoxicated, his older daughter became pregnant with Moab. Moab was the grandfather of Ruth. She is credited for bringing to this world King David, out of whom will eventually come
Mashiach. One of the first things Mashiach will accomplish is the annihilation of the people of Amalek and their memory. At that time, the missing "Alef" and "Heh-Vav" will return to Hashem's throne and name, giving them their full glory. The extra word"Hu" in the pasuk alludes to the missing three letters that started their return through the events of that night.
"And it came to pass when G-d caused me to wander from my father's house." (20:13) QUESTION: Rashi, in his commentary writes, "Onkelos explains as he explains." What uniqueness did Rashi see in Onkelos's explanation? ANSWER: Onkelos writes as follows: "And while all the nations were blindly following the idols they made, Hashem brought me close to fear him." Thus, according to Onkelos, Avraham is saying, "While the nations of the world were wandering blindly after their idols" - "The A-mighty took me out of the house of my father [and brought me close to fear him]." Onkelos, was once an outstanding personality in the Roman empire and a member of the family of Adranus (Caesar). He became convinced of the beauty of Judaism and converted (Avodah Zara 11a). Possibly, Rashi's comment, "Onkelos explains as he explains," means that he believes that Onkelos used his interpretation of the pasuk as a way to personally thank Hashem for opening his eyes to Judaism and leading him to forsake his family.
"Sarah said, 'G-d made laughter for me. Everyone who will hear will be happy for me.' " (21:6) QUESTION: How was Sarah so sure that whoever would hear of the birth of Yitzchak would be happy? ANSWER: The Midrash Rabbah (53:7) writes about the name "Yitzchak" that the "Yud" stands for the ten commandments, which all the Jewish people would hear on Mount Sinai. The "Tzadik" represents the fact that Sarah was 90 years old when he was born. The "Ches", which equals eight, is for his brit. He was the first Jewish child to have a brit on the eighth day.
The "Kuf" represents the fact that Avraham was 100 years old when Yitzchak was born. When the baby was born, Avraham gave him the name "Yitzchak." When Sarah was asked by her neighbors the meaning of her son's name, she replied "'Tzechok Asah Li Elokim' - What the 'Tzadik' and the 'Ches' and the 'Kuf' represent, Hashem already did for me. However, due to 'Everyone who will hear' - all the Jewish people who will be at Sinai and hear the ten commandments; therefore, 'Yitzchak Li' - I have a child named 'Yitzchak.' "
"And she said: 'Who would have said to Avraham, that Sarah would nurse children?' " (21:7) QUESTION: Rashi explains: "On the day of the feast all the princesses brought their children with them and Sarah nursed them."Why did Sarah violate the halacha which forbids a Jewish woman to nurse non-Jewish children, even with payment (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Dei'ah, 154:2)? ANSWER: The reason for this halacha is that through nursing the children we are helping to raise children for Idolatry. In the case of Sarah, her capacity to nurse children at this age was a great miracle. All those who witnessed it praised the G-d that Sarah and Avraham propagated. Eventually, all the children whom Sarah nursed became attached to her and converted to the Jewish religion when they grew up.
"She said to Avraham, 'Chase away this maidservant together with her son.' " (21:10) QUESTION: Hagar did nothing wrong; why did Sarah want her chased out too? ANSWER: Sarah was a very great prophetess. In fact, her power of prophecy was even greater than Avraham's (Rashi 21:12). She knew that when it would come the time for Yishmael to marry, his mother would make all the decisions for him. As the Torah relates, "And his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt" (21:21). Sarah felt that Yishmael was doing bad things because Hagar was not training him properly and not teaching him right and wrong. Therefore, wanting to force Hagar to take an interest in her child, she told Avraham to
also chase out the mother. Hopefully, she would learn her lesson and raise her son correctly.
"G-d's angel called Hagar from heaven and said to her 'What troubles you, Hagar?' " (21:17) QUESTION: Wouldn't anyone seeing a child crying for water in a desert understand why the mother was crying? ANSWER: The reason for Hagar's crying was indeed obvious to the angel, and he was not asking her why she was crying. On the contrary, he was telling her that she was not fulfilling her maternal obligation to her child! The words of the angel, "Mah loch Hagar" (literally, "What is with you, Hagar") can be translated to mean "Hagar, what kind of mother are you? When your child is dying of thirst, the lack of water in the desert does not excuse you from turning over every stone and searching! Sitting in the near distance and crying will not help the situation: A sincere parent does everything for the sake of her child, including what may seem to strangers as the impossible!" Immediately afterwards we read, "And Hashem opened her eyes and she saw a well of water" (21:19). According to Soforno, this was not a miracle; the well was there all the time. She had taken it for granted that there would not be any water in the dessert and had therefore made no effort to search.
"And Avraham said, 'I will swear.' " (21:24) QUESTION: The word "ishavei'ah" means "I will swear." Why the superfluous word "anochi" - "I"? ANSWER: Avraham's mission in life was to make the world aware of the existence of Hashem. The first of the Ten Commandments, the one in which Hashem declares His Supremacy, starts with the word "Anochi" - "I." During his negotiations with Avimelech, Avraham said, "I am ready to swear and will swear in the name of Anochi - the one and only G-d."
Avimelech responded to Avraham's rebuke, "V'Gam Anochi Loi Shamati Bilti Hayom" - "I did not hear about it until this day either." Here, too, the
word "anochi" is extra? In light of the above, it can be explained that Avimelech was saying that the concept of "Anochi" intrigued him. With amazement he said to Avraham, "I must confess that until this day I never heard of the philosophy of 'Anochi.' Thank you for enhancing my knowledge."
"Avraham reproved Avimelech about the well stolen by his servants; Avimelech said, 'I do not know who did this thing; furthermore, you have never told me, and moreover, I myself heard nothing of it except for today.' " (21:25, 26) QUESTION: Why did Avimelech give Avraham three excuses? ANSWER: Avimelech really gave Avraham only one excuse: namely, that he knew nothing about the alleged incident. In addition, the Torah is relating the entire dialogue which took place during the visit. When Avimelech went to visit Avraham, he took with him General Fichol. During their conversation, Avraham complained to Avimelech about the stolen well. Avimelech apologized and said, "I do not know who did this thing." Then Avimelech turned to Fichol and said to him, "Why didn't you tell me that your soldiers did such a terrible thing to Avraham?" Fichol replied, "I, too, did not hear about this till we came here today." (Thus, Fichol was insinuating that Avraham had made up a story.)
To prove that he was the rightful owner of the well, Avraham said to Avimelech, "Take these seven lambs from my hand. It will be my proof that I dug this well." How would this prove who was really the owner of the well? Avraham said to Avimelech, "The proof will come from my animals' refusal to eat things which do not belong to their master. When the animals are my possession, the well water will rise and they will drink. Afterwards, when you will take them and they will become your possession, the well water will not rise, and they will refuse to drink." This is exactly what happened, and everyone was convinced that Avraham was indeed the rightful owner of the well.
"After these events, G-d tested Avraham." (22:1) QUESTION: What is the connection between the Akeidah the binding of Yitzchak - and the peace treaty with Avimelech? ANSWER: Hashem was very upset with Avraham for making a commitment to Avimelech that his descendants would not harm the Philistines. The land of the Philistines is not an actual part of the Holy Land, but it is a part of the territory that Hashem promised to Avraham. In the days of Yehoshua it was included together with the land on which lots were cast and distributed among the tribes (Joshua 13). The Divine command was to rid this territory of all inhabitants and put it totally under control of the Jewish people. The word "nisa" - "tested" - also means "emotionally provoked and pained" (see Bamidbar 14:22). Hashem said to Avraham, "You were proud of the son I gave you, and concerned about his safety. Thus, you made a covenant with the Philistines to assure his well-being. I command you to sacrifice your son and let us see what your treaty accomplished!" (This gives an insight into the Lubavitcher Rebbe's opposition to giving away any Jewish land.)
"And G-d tested Avraham." (22:1) QUESTION: In Hebrew the common term for test is "Bechina." Why doesn't it say, "VeHaElokim Bachan Es Avraham"? ANSWER: The word "neis" in Hebrew means not only a test, but also a banner; as the Psalmist says, "You gave those who fear you a banner to raise themselves" (Psalms 60:6). A banner is something which is raised high to show its beauty. Similarly, when Hashem tests an individual, the purpose is to lift him into a higher sphere. When the individual passes the test, he is spiritually elevated and exalted. Hence, the verse can be rendered: "And G-d exalted Avraham." Through the trial, his hidden potential powers of faith were extracted and brought to fruition.
"And G-d tested Avraham." (22:1)
QUESTION: What constitutes the greatness of Avraham? Throughout history Jews were martyred for the sake of Hashem! ANSWER: After years of childlessness, Avraham's unequivocal reply to the challenging divine test was "Hineini," - "Here I am," I am ready. As father and son ascend the mountain, we read, "And Yitzchak spoke to Avraham his father and said, 'My father'; and he said, 'Here am I, my son.' " We can well imagine how engrossed Avraham was in his thoughts and meditations and how unwilling he was to be interrupted. Nevertheless, when his son called him, he abandoned his lofty activities and responded immediately, "Hineini B'ni" - "Here I am my son." The devoted first Jewish father and teacher realized that his child was his first priority. Many may have died "al kiddush Hashem," sanctifying Hashem's name, but unfortunately not many have had time for their children. Avraham passed his test with flying colors. Our challenge is to always be attuned to hear the call of our children and respond immediately "Hineni!"
"And G-d tested Avraham." (22:1) QUESTION: The Akeidah, the binding of Yitzchak on the altar, would not have been possible without Yitzchak's cooperation. Why do we only refer to it as a test of Avraham without mentioning Yitzchak? ANSWER: Avraham was asked to bring up his son as an offering. Of course, Yitzchak's consent was needed, but immediately Yitzchak's life would come to an end. Avraham, who would personally perform the act of slaughtering his son, would have to live on not letting the fact that he personally slaughtered his son affect his faith in Hashem. This is the most difficult part of the test, which only Avraham would experience.
"And Avraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son." (22:10)
QUESTION: This is the assigned Torah reading for the second day of Rosh Hashana. Possibly, it is because the shofar we blow on Rosh Hashana commemorates the horn of the ram which was brought as an offering in lieu of Yitzchak. Consequently, we ask Hashem to do good for the Jewish people in merit of our Patriarch Yitzchak. If this is so, why do we not lift a big knife to portray Yitzchak's willingness to be an offering to Hashem? ANSWER: With the knife, Avraham would have, G-d forbid, brought the life of Yitzchak to an end. Thanks to the ram, which suddenly appeared, Yitzchak's life was spared. Thus, the shofar expresses life, and the knife the opposite. We blow the shofar on Rosh Hashana and do not display a knife because we emphasize living as a Jew, and not, G-d forbid, dying as a Jew. The wicked prophet Bilam expressed the wish "Tamot nafshi mot yesharim" - "Let me die the death of the righteous" (Bamidbar 23:10). Contrary to Bilam's philosophy, Torah requires that the 120 years allotted to the individual should be lived in accordance with Jewish tradition.
"And Avraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son." (22:10) QUESTION: The Midrash Rabbah (Bereishit 56:8) says, "He stretched forth his hand to take the knife while the tears streamed from his eyes - yet, even so, his heart rejoiced to obey the will of his Creator."Avraham's crying seems to cast a doubt on his sincerity and eagerness to fulfill Hashem's will. Wouldn't it have been better if he had not even shed one tear? ANSWER: Many wonder how it is possible for a father to bring his beloved and only child as an offering to Hashem. Ignorantly, they conclude that he has lost all his paternal instincts and that therefore he was not exhibiting any particular greatness. To dispel this error, the Midrash tells us that when he stretched forth his hand to take the knife, tears streamed from his eyes. He was a genuine father who loved his child dearly and who was filled with compassion for him. Nevertheless, he did not permit his fatherly instincts and love for his child to prevent him in any way from fulfilling the command of Hashem.
"An angel of G-d called to him...And he said: 'Do not stretch out your hand against the lad nor do anything to him.' " (22:11-12) QUESTION: The order to bring Yitzchak as a burnt-offering came directly from Hashem (22:2). Why did the stop-order come from an angel and not from Hashem? ANSWER: A Jew should never harm another Jew without a direct command from Hashem. To help another Jew, however, one needs no command. Therefore, to let Yitzchak live, the instruction of an angel sufficed.
"And he said: 'Do not stretch out your hand against the lad nor do anything to him; for now I know that you are a G-d-fearing man, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.' " (22:12) QUESTION: The word "mimeni" - "from me" - seems superfluous. Would it not have been sufficient to say: "you have not withheld your son, your only son"? In fact, further on (22:16), the word "mimeni" is not employed. ANSWER: For every mitzvah a Jew fulfills, an angel is created in heaven (Pirkei Avot 4:11). When one performs a mitzvah, but does not do so properly, or without all the details, the angel created is incomplete. Thanks to Avraham's passing the test of the Akeidah with flying colors, a perfect angel was born. It was this angel who appeared and instructed him "Do not stretch out your hand against the lad nor do anything to him." Avraham was reluctant to listen to the angel because he was uncertain as to whether he had fulfilled Hashem's wish, since in actuality Yitzchak was still alive. The angel assured Avraham: "I know that you are a G-d-fearing man and that you were wholeheartedly prepared to offer your son to Hashem. I know this 'mimeni' - 'from me' - from the fact that I was created a completely strong and healthy angel.
"And Avraham lifted up his eyes, and saw, behold a ram afterwards, caught in the thicket by its horns." (22:13) QUESTION: What does the word "achar" - "afterwards" allude to? It seems to be superfluous, because the pasuk could
merely have said "Behold a ram caught in the thicket." (See Rashi.) ANSWER: On the sixth day of creation animals were created. Afterwards man (Adam) was created. On Erev Shabbat, bein hashemashot, (immediately before nightfall), the ram which Avraham used for the Akeidah was created (Pirkei Avot 5:6). Thus, this ram was created after all animals. The Torah is hinting this by saying, Va'yar vehinei ayil - "Avraham saw a ram" - which was "achar" "after" (created after all other animals). He realized that there was something unique about the ram, and, used it, therefore, as an offering in lieu of his son.
Alternatively: Avraham named the place of the Akeidah, "Hashem Yireh" "G-d will see" (in future tense). According to the Midrash Rabbah (56:10), Avraham saw that a time would come when the Jewish people would succumb to sin. Hence, he prayed that at that time, Hashem should see how he suppressed the natural and inherent mercy a father has for a child, in order to fulfill the wish of Hashem. Similarly, when the children of Yitzchak would be in trouble, He should remember the Akeidah in their favor and be filled with compassion for them. The Torah is relating that in addition to Avraham's seeing a ram in the thicket which he sacrificed in lieu of his son, he also saw that "achar" "afterwards," the Jewish people will become "ne'achaz" - "entangled," with a different animal - that is "basevach" - "in a thicket." Now if we analyze the word "svach" - "thicket" - we find that in the Hebrew alef-beit, the letter following "Samch" is "Ayin" the letter following "Beis" is "Gimmel" and the letter following "Chaf" is "Lamed". Thus, in the word "sevach" - thicket - is hidden the word "eigel". Avraham foresaw the entanglement of the Jewish people with the eigel and therefore prayed that Hashem spare them.
"Caught in the thicket by its horns." (22:13) QUESTION: Why do we need to know by what it was caught? ANSWER: The "horn" was a message to Avraham of Hashem's unlimited love for the Jewish people. Throughout the year Jews are caught up in sin's clutches and led astray by their troubles. Nevertheless, on Rosh Hashana
when they hear the sound of the shofar (which is made of the ram's horn), they repent and attain forgiveness. Thus, through the shofar they will be redeemed from the clutches of their evil inclination. In addition, Avraham was told that there would be a period in history when the Jews would be entangled in Galut - exile. Ultimately, they will be redeemed by Mashiach, whose coming will be heralded by the blast of the shofar which Hashem will sound (Zechariah 9:14). Since the horn is an allusion to two purposes of the shofar, thus it says, "bekarnov" - "its horns" in plural.
"And his concubine, whose name was Reumah, also bore children... and Maacah." (22:24) QUESTION: The Torah reading for Rosh Hashanah is the akeidah and concludes with this passuk. What does it have to do with Rosh Hashanah? ANSWER: On Rosh Hashanah we beseech A-mighty G-d to grant us a good year and resolve to repent and improve our ways. The words "V'Es Maacah" are an acronym for "Vidui Achar Teshuva Magaas Ad Kisei Hakovod" - the verbal confession after the experience of Teshuvah reaches His throne of Glory.
Alternatively: Rosh Hashanah is the day of the coronation of Hashem as King. The word "Maacah" is an acronym for "Melech Al Kol Haaretz" King over the whole earth - chain of creation.
And You Shall Speak of Them
A Compilation of Selected Torah Insights, Thought-Provoking Ideas, Homilies And Explanations of Torah Passages
"And Sarah lived one hundred years, twenty years and seven years, the years of Sarah's life." (23:1)
QUESTION: Rashi explains that the Torah repeats the words "the years of Sarah's life" to let us know that "they were all equal in goodness." How could we say that all her years were equally good if during her life she was barren for many years and was held in captivity by Pharaoh and Avimelech? ANSWER: In the Gemara (Ta'anit 21a) there is a story of the Tanna who was known as "Nachum Ish Gamzu." Regardless of what would happen to him, even apparently negative things, he would always say, "Gam zu letovah" - "this is also for the good." Once, the Jews selected Nachum to deliver to the King of Rome a box full of valuable stones and gems. While on his journey he slept over in an inn, where some thieves emptied the box and filled it with sand. In the morning, when he realized what happened, he said, "Gam zu letovah." Upon arriving at the King's palace, he presented the gift. The King became very angry and wanted to kill the Jews for making fun of him. Suddenly, the prohet Eliyahu appeared looking like one of the King's advisors and said, "Maybe this is the same type of sand which Avraham used during his war against the Kings, sand that turned into ammunition." The King was at war with a country whom he was unable to conquer. It was decided to test the sand against the enemy. The King's forces were amazed when indeed, thanks to the sand, they were victorious. Upon hearing this, the King had the gift box filled with valuable stones and gems and sent Nachum off with great honors. Rashi's statement that all the years of Sarah's life were "shavin letovah" "equal in goodness" - means that, even when confronted with difficult and unpleasant situations, she would also always say, "Gam zu letovah."
"And Sarah lived...And Sarah died." (23:1-2) QUESTION: The parshah starts with the passing away of Sarah and her burial. Why then is the parshah called "Chayei Sarah" - "the life of Sarah" - and not "mitat Sarah" - "the death of Sarah"? ANSWER: The concept that the name of the parshah is the first significant word of the parshah is inaccurate. For instance, the second parshah of the Torah is named "Noach" and the sixth parshah is called Toldot. Parshat Noach starts with the words "These are the offspring of Noach." Parshat Toldot starts with the words, "These are the offspring of Yitzchak son of Avraham." If the theory is correct, then the second parshah of Chumash Bereishit should be titled "Toldot," and the sixth called "Yitzchak."
Based on this, the Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that the name of the parshah is not just arbitrary, but a one-word description of the essence and primary concepts discussed in the parshah. Thus, in the second parshah, though "Noach" is the third word, it became the name of the parshah because the entire parshah revolves primarily around the life of Noah. The sixth parshah is named "Toldot" because the entire parshah discusses Yaakov and Eisav, who were the "Toldot" - "offspring" - of Yitzchak son of Avraham. "Chayei Sarah" - "the life of Sarah" - was focused on one goal and ideal, that Yitzchak should reach spiritual greatness. Our parshah discusses the life of Yitzchak, who was the realization of Sarah's spiritual dream. Though in this parshah we read of her demise and burial, through Yitzchak her ideals were fulfilled. Though physically Sarah was no longer here, she continued to live on through her son Yitzchak. In actuality "Chayei Sarah" was the righteous life of Yitzchak.
"And Avraham came to eulogize Sarah and weep for her." (23:2) QUESTION: Rashi comments: "The narratives of Sarah's death and the Binding of Yitzchak follow one another, for through the announcement of the Binding, that her son had been prepared for slaughter and had almost been slaughtered, her soul fled from her and she died."Why would a righteous woman like Sarah expire upon hearing that her son was prepared for slaughter for the sake of Hashem? On the contrary, she should have been proud! ANSWER: When Sarah heard of Avraham's mission to Mt. Moriah, she marveled his spiritual heroism. Had she been told that Yitzchak was sacrificed, she would have been filled with joy at the fact that her son was accepted by Hashem. She, however, was told that he had almost been slaughtered. Upon hearing this, she was terribly saddened, because she presumed that at the last moment her son was found unsuitable. Sarah feared that perhaps her influence was in some way inadequate and her education of Yitzchak imperfect. This was so profoundly saddening that her soul departed.
"Avraham came to eulogize Sarah and weep for her." (23:2) QUESTION: Why is the word "V'Livkosah" - "and weep for her" written with a small "Kaf"?
ANSWER: Avraham in addition to having a son, Yitzchak, also had a daughter named "Bakol" (Bava Batra 16b). When Avraham went with Yitzchak to Mount Moriah, she remained home with her mother. When Sarah died upon hearing about Yitzchak and the Akeidah, her daughter, Bakol, also died. The word "V'Livkosah" hints the above. Without the "Kaf" it is "U'Levitah" (and for her daughter) and with the "Kaf" it is "V'Livkosah" which means to "cry over her." Avraham did both: He wept for her (Sarah) and also "U'Levitah" (for her daughter who died at the same time).
According to Ba'al Haturim, the small "Kaf" is to emphasize that Avraham did not cry very much. The opinion that the Akeidah took place on Yom Kippur (Rakanti and see Vayikra Rabbah 29:9) may explain his restraint. From Avraham's house it took three days to reach Mount Moriah, as stated, "on the third day he saw the place from afar" (22:4). Thus, when Avraham returned from the Akeidah, he traveled the 11th, 12th and 13th days of Tishrei, and Sarah's funeral took place on Erev Sukkot, the 14th day of Tishrei. Since he was able to observe mourning only one day (until Sukkot), he was unable to cry for very long.
"And he spoke to the children of Cheit, 'I am an immigrant and a resident among you. Sell me a property for a burial place... Speak on my behalf to Efron to sell me the Cave of Machpeilah....' He weighed out for Efron 400 shekels of the best quality." (23:3-4,8,16) QUESTION: If Avraham was interested in buying a piece of land from Efron, why did he talk to the children of Cheit and not with Efron directly? ANSWER: There is a halacha known as "bar metzra" (Choshen Mishpat 175). When one wants to sell a field, one's neighbors have the right to purchase before anyone else. Avraham was afraid that if he dealt directly with Efron, the neighbors might object to the sale and decide to purchase it. He, therefore, took a number of measures in order to make sure that the law of bar metzra should not apply. 1. When one sells a field back to its original owners, the law of bar metzra does not apply. Originally Eretz Yisrael was the property of the children of Shem, Avraham's ancestor. Afterwards, Canaan, of
whom the children of Cheit were descendants, took the land (Rashi 12:5). Therefore, Avraham said "I am 'geir vetoshav' - 'an immigrant and resident among you.' " Though I am now an immigrant in the country, I am really a full-fledged resident. Since my ancestors were the original owners, I have priority and nobody can object to the sale." 2. Concerned that the children of Cheit might still not agree, he asked them to speak to Efron on his behalf. This would remove any doubt that they all agreed to the sale. 3. Fearing that at the last minute they might decide to buy the land after all, Avraham made sure to use currency of a better quality. According to halacha when the buyer gives better quality money than the neighbors, they no longer have any rights to oppose the sale.
"Let him sell me the Machpeilah Cave...for its full price." (23:9) QUESTION: Efron was originally willing to give the land as a gift. Why didn't Avraham agree to take it as a gift or at a discounted price? ANSWER: Avraham knew that in the Cave of Machpeilah Adam and Chava were already buried and that another six holy people would be buried there. Avraham wanted to make sure that Efron should have absolutely no zechut whatsoever or be able to take pride that he helped a tzaddik in any way. Therefore, he insisted on paying the full price without any discounts.
"For the full price let him give it to me in the midst of you for a burial place." (23:9) QUESTION: What did he mean with the word "betochechem" - "in the midst of you"? ANSWER: Many years ago there was a decree against the Jewish community in Russia. The previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yoseph Yitzchak Schneersohn, went to Moscow to plead with the minister in charge. The minister asked the Rebbe, "Did you bring along money for a bribe?" To which the Rebbe responded, "What the Jews are worth to you I can easily
give you. What they are worth to me is more than all the money of the entire world." Avraham wanted the Cave of Machpeilah very much because Adam and Chava were buried there. To him, this piece of land was priceless. However, to Efron it was just another piece of land, without any significance. Therefore, he offered to pay Efron the "full price," what it was worth to him to have the Cave of Machpeilah - "betochechem" - "in your midst."
"My lord, listen to me; a piece of land worth four hundred shekels of silver, what is that between me and you?" (23:15) QUESTION: How did Efron reach the amount of 400 shekels? ANSWER: The name "Avraham" has five letters and the middle letter is a "Reish". The name "Efron" also has five letters and the middle is also a "Reish". The numerical value of "Reish" is 200. Efron, therefore, said to Avraham, "Since you insist on paying for the land, I arbitrarily decided that you should give me 400 shekels because: 'Beini U'veinvha' - 'the [middle] between my name and your name' - 'Ma Hu' 'what does it add up to? 400.' "
"My lord, listen to me; a piece of land worth four hundred shekels of silver, what is that between me and you?" (23:15) QUESTION: Rashi explains: "Between two loving friends as we are, what is its value? Nothing."Were Avraham and Efron loving friends? ANSWER: Efron said to Avraham: "You love Eretz Yisrael and particularly you love this plot of land because of the righteous people buried there. Thus, you are prepared to pay a fortune. While I do not share your values, I 'love' money and have a lust for large amounts. So between two 'lovers' - you who 'love' the land, and I who 'love' money - 400 shekels of silver is a minimal amount."
"Avraham weighed to Efron... 400 shekels which are current (money) with the merchant." (23:16) QUESTION: The text could have read that the money was good currency. Why is it necessary to emphasize that it was currency accepted by "the merchant"? ANSWER: The words "over lasocher" - "current (money) with the merchant" - could mean that the money was indeed passed to Efron through a merchant. Avraham made his payment through a merchant for the following reason: During the course of the negotiations, Efron affected great generosity. Publicly, he offered Avraham the land for nothing. However, in his heart he was money-hungry, and wanted the full price in the best money. Efron deviously thought to himself, "How will my people view me if originally I spoke so generously to Avraham and now request money?" He, therefore, devised the following scheme: He went to a merchant and told him, "I have to do some business with Avraham, and I want him to pay me 400 shekels. I do not feel comfortable asking Avraham directly for payment and especially to ask for the most negotiable currency. "Therefore, when he offers to pay, I will say: 'I do not wish any money; however, if you insist, you can give money to a merchant to whom I am in debt.' You in turn should demand from him 400 shekels of best quality and later give it to me."
"And Avraham was old and advanced in age." (24:1) QUESTION: Why does the Torah add the words "ba bayamim" - "advanced in age" [literally "days"]? ANSWER: A Jew comes into this world with a mission to study Torah and do good deeds. Often, days and years go by and in retrospect, he realizes that he accomplished very little and wasted precious time. The Torah attests that Avraham was able to account for what he accomplished each and every day of his life. Not only did he age in years, but "ba bayamim" - he was able to recall each day and say what he achieved in it.
"And Avraham was old and advanced in age and G-d blessed Avraham with everything." (24:1)
QUESTION: The word "bakol" has the numerical value of 52, which is also the same value as the word "ben" "son" thus alluding that Avraham had a son (Rashi). What is the connection between Avraham's becoming old and his having everything - a son? ANSWER: There is an old adage, "A father or a mother can manage their ten children, but ten children cannot take care of one father or mother." Often as parents grow older, their children consider them a burden and find caring for them difficult. As a dutiful son, Yitzchak, however, was profoundly grateful for the love and concern provided by Avraham and Sarah. The Torah tells us that Avraham was blessed with "everything" to say that though he remained alone and was advanced in age, his son Yitzchak stood at his side and was totally dedicated to his welfare. He took care of everything Avraham needed to make his old age pleasant and comfortable. Such a child is indeed a blessing to a parent.
"G-d blessed Avraham with everything." (24:1) QUESTION: What was the "everything?" ANSWER: When the letters of the word "Bakol" are spelled out the way they are pronounced, i.e. Beis, Kaf, Lamed, the total numerical value is 586. This is the same numerical value as the word "shofar". Yitzchak was originally destined to be brought up on the altar as a sacrifice. When the angel intervened, he was spared, and instead Avraham sacrificed a ram which suddenly appeared. From the horn of this ram, a shofar was made which was sounded when Hashem gave the Torah to the Jewish people (Rashi 19:3). This shofar will also be sounded to announce the revelation of Mashiach (Isaiah 27:13). Thus Yitzchak plays an important role in the giving of Torah and coming of Mashiach. To the Jewish people, Torah and Mashiach are "everything," and Avraham was blessed with a son who will be involved in the delivery of "everything" to Klal Yisrael.
"G-d blessed Avraham with everything" (24:1) QUESTION: In the Gemara (Bava Batra 16b) some Rabbis explain the pasuk to mean that he had a daughter whose name
was "Bakol." Of what importance is it for us to know the name of Avraham's daughter? ANSWER: It is not the name of the daughter that they are telling us, but the type of daughter he had. Hashem blessed him with a daughter who excelled in "everything." Her modesty, intelligence, and beauty were all unsurpassed.
"And Avraham said to Eliezer, the eldest servant of his house who ruled over all that he had... 'Promise that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of Canaan.' " (24:2) QUESTION: Why does the Torah emphasize at this point that Eliezer was the eldest servant and ruled over all of Avraham's possessions? ANSWER: Once a man was traveling through a city and exhausted his money. He went to a kosher butcher and asked for a loan, promising that when he returned home, he would send him back a check as payment. The butcher very apologetically explained that since he never met him before and knew nothing about him, he could not afford the risk. A few minutes later the butcher received a telephone call, and the visitor noticed that the butcher was very distressed. He asked the butcher, "What is wrong? Perhaps I can help you?" The butcher told the visitor, "I was just informed that the shochet is very sick and will not be able to work for the next two weeks. Without the shochet, I will not have any kosher meat to sell and it will be a grave setback. I am worried about my business." The visitor told the butcher, "You need not worry, because I happen to be a shochet by profession." The butcher's face began to shine and he exclaimed, "Baruch Hashem, you saved me. Are you ready to start immediately?" Upon hearing this the stranger said, "You really surprise me. When I asked for a loan which was a matter of a few dollars, you refused me by saying you did not know if I could be trusted. Now, when it comes to a shochet preparing kosher meat, which has to do with the 'soul' of the Jewish people, you do not ask any questions and you are ready to accept me?!" Avraham was teaching us a very important lesson. In money matters he trusted many different people and especially Eliezer his faithful servant. However, when it came to matters of Yiddishkeit such as choosing a wife for Yitzchak, he would not rely on anyone, unless he was absolutely sure. Therefore, he made even his faithful servant promise that he would follow his instructions carefully.
"Let it be that the maiden to whom I shall say, 'Please tip over your jug so I may drink.' and who replies 'Drink, and I will even water your camels....' " (24:14) QUESTION: Why did Eliezer test her in this way? ANSWER: Eliezer wanted to verify two basic things about the girl. 1) Was she good natured? 2) Was she bright and resourceful in a difficult situation? Therefore, Eliezer asked her to tilt the jug so that he could drink from the jug itself. If she was good-natured, she would have pity on a thirsty man and let him drink. However, he was curious to see what she would do with the leftover water. If she would take it home or drink it herself, she would appear to be foolish because Eliezer was a stranger and might have been sick, contaminating the water. On the other hand, if she would spill it out on the ground, this would be disrespectful to Eliezer. When Eliezer saw that after letting him drink, Rivkah took the remainder of the jug and gave it to the camels, he knew that not only was she goodnatured but also very bright and of refined character.
"The servant [Eliezer] ran towards her [Rivkah]." (24:17) QUESTION: Rashi explains that the servant ran to her because he witnessed a miracle: the water in the well rose to her. The Ramban explains that Rashi derives this from the later phrase "she drew water for all his camels" (24:20); obviously, in the previous pasuk she did not have to draw the water. Why didn't the water rise the second time? ANSWER: At first, when Rivkah came to the well, her intention was to draw water for herself. Hashem didn't want a tzaddeikit to inconvenience herself and therefore caused the well water to rise so that she could fill her jug easily. However, the second time, when she went to the well, it was for a mitzvah - to feed thirsty animals - and Hashem did not want to take away part of the mitzvah by making it easier for her. Therefore, the water did not rise and it was necessary for her to "draw water for the camels."
"Is there room in your father's house for us to spend the night?" (24:23)
QUESTION: Eliezer was a rich man. Why didn't he sleep in a hotel? ANSWER: A poor chasid once came to his Rebbe and asked for a berachah to become rich. He told the Rebbe: "I know and understand the plight of the poor. If you bless me that I should become rich, be assured that all the poor of the city will benefit immensely." The Rebbe bestowed his blessing upon the chasid, and he became wealthy. The wealthier he became, the stingier he became, and it soon became impossible for a poor man to come to his home to receive charity. A group of poor people went to his Rebbe and complained about the chasid's behavior. The Rebbe sent notice to the chasid that he planned to visit his city and would like to stay over at his home. The chasid was elated and prepared lavish accommodations for the Rebbe. Upon his arrival, the Rebbe asked the chasid to give him a tour of his villa. They were standing in front of a large window, when the Rebbe asked the chasid: "What do you see?" Proudly, the chasid responded: "Out there are my gardens, my recreation area, my maids, and my servants." They continued walking through the house, when suddenly, the Rebbe stopped in front of a large mirror and asked the chasid: "What do you see?" The chasid responded: "I see myself." In puzzlement, the Rebbe asked: "Why is it that before, when you looked through the glass, you saw other people, and now, looking through the other glass, you only see yourself?" "Rebbe, there is a very big difference between the two glasses. The window is simple glass, which you can see through, while the mirror glass has a glazing of silver and therefore reflects the image of the viewer." The Rebbe looked at the chasid intently and asked: "Are you telling me that because of a 'silver backing' you can only see yourself? What if we scrape off a little bit of the silver? Maybe your feelings of generosity will come back!" In general, poor people are very generous. Often, they discuss how they would help the needy if they had the money of the rich man, but when they become rich, their behavior is frequently disappointing. Eliezer represented Avraham who was the prototype of chesed. In his home, acts of kindness, hospitality, and generosity were commonplace. Eliezer noticed in Rivkah traits of generosity, but he was not sure if it was because she was from a very poor family or if it was her true nature. He therefore wanted to have a glimpse of her home and see that her family was well-todo. Thus, he would be confident that she would continue her acts of kindness when living in the wealthy home of Avraham and Yitzchak.
"And Lavan ran out to the man, to the fountain. And it came to pass, when he saw the ring . . . and when he heard the words of Rivkah . . . and he came to the man." (24:29-30) QUESTION: Why did he run before he saw the gifts Rivkah received? ANSWER: After Rivkah met Eliezer, she ran home and told her mother that a shadchan (marriage broker), representing Avraham's wealthy family, had come to town. Lavan knew that Avraham had a son and a daughter. The first thing that entered his mind was that the man was looking for a groom for Avraham's daughter, and he therefore ran immediately. In the interim he thought that perhaps he was in error and that he was making a fool out of himself. Consequently he ran back home to ask Rivkah the man's purpose. Seeing the jewelry she received, and hearing all that Eliezer told her, he realized that the shadchan was seeking a bride for Avraham's son, and not a groom for Avraham's daughter. Thus he no longer had any reason to run and therefore "vayavo el ha'ish" "and he came to the man" (hoping he might give him some money, too) whereas before, "vayaratz" - "he ran."
"And he said: 'Come, blessed by G-d.' " (24:31) QUESTION: Why did Lavan consider Eliezer "blessed by Gd"? ANSWER: Lavan came as a villain, casting His eyes on Eliezer's money. Eliezer was petrified with fear and concerned about his well-being. Immediately, he uttered Hashem's holy name, and suddenly Lavan saw him positioned on top of the camels, and the camels on top of the water, and he was unable to reach them. This is obvious from what the Torah relates that when Lavan came near Eliezer, he noticed that: "behold, he stood on the camels on the fountain" (24:30). Grammatically, it should read, "and, behold, he stood near the camels near the fountain." Upon observing this scene, Lavan realized that Eliezer was not a mere magician who performed acts of sorcery, but was blessed and protected by G-d. He concluded this from the story related in the Gemara (Sanhedrin 67b)
about Zeiri who purchased a camel in Alexandria, Egypt. When he wanted to give it water to drink, it turned into a plank of wood of a bridge. After investigating, he found out that this camel was originally made through magic from the bridge plank, and water possesses the power to nullify sorcery. Since Eliezer was able to stand on top of the camels, which were on top of the water, he obviously was blessed by G-d with Divine powers.
"And food was set before him, but he said 'I will not eat until I have spoken my words'....And he said 'I am Avraham's servant.' " (24:33) QUESTION: Why did Eliezer refuse to eat before telling the purpose of his trip? ANSWER: Eliezer took people from Avraham's home with him to assist him and attend to the camels. When Lavan heard that Eliezer gave gifts, he invited him to his house and provided straw and oats for the camels and water for Eliezer and his people to wash their feet (24:32). Afterwards, the Torah tells us "vayusam lefanav le'echol" - "food was placed before him." Eliezer was thinking to himself, "This Lavan must be a very stingy fellow. Water, which is free, he gave for me and all my people. However, food, which costs money, he gave only for me and not to any of my people." Therefore he said, "lo ochal" - "I will not eat alone and let all my people stay outside with the camels. Let me first tell you the purpose of my visit and I am sure that you will then change your behavior." Eliezer told him that the purpose of his trip was to arrange a marriage and that the "chatan" and his father were extremely wealthy. When Lavan heard this he said to himself, "If they come home and tell Avraham and Yitzchak how I treated them, they will consider me stingy and call me a 'miser.' Immediately, he started acting very hospitably and gave a full meal to Eliezer and his entire company. Thus, the Torah tells us, "And he and his men who were with him ate and drank" (24:54).
"I will not eat until I have spoken my words." (24:33) QUESTION: Why did Eliezer refuse to eat before negotiating the shidduch (marriage)?
ANSWER: When Rivkah returned home after receiving the presents from Eliezer, Lavan hastened to greet Eliezer. It was obvious to Eliezer that Lavan was greedily seeking to extract money and gifts from him. Eliezer feared that if he ate a meal without the shidduch succeeding, Lavan would make him pay a fortune for the food he ate. Thus, his first concern was to finalize the shidduch and acquire Rivkah. After that was accomplished, he did not care how much he would have to pay Lavan, because he considered Rivkah worth a fortune.
"I will not eat until I have spoken my words...I am Avraham's servant." (24:33-34) QUESTION: Why was it important to make this statement before eating? ANSWER: Eliezer was Avraham's dedicated servant. Spending much time in the home of Avraham, he faithfully observed the laws of kashrut. Aware that Lavan was not trustworthy, he refused to eat till he made it clear to him that as the servant of Avraham, he totally observed the laws of kashrut. Only after examining the foods placed before him would he decide what was permissible.
"Sarah bore my master a son and he gave him all that he possesses." (24:36) QUESTION: Why did Avraham give everything away to Yitzchak? ANSWER: According to halacha, one may appoint a shliach (emissary) to betroth a woman for him. However, a non-Jew is precluded from being an emissary. An exception to the rule is when a master sends his own nonJewish servant to betroth someone for him. In such a case, though the nonJewish servant cannot be an emissary, he can qualify under the rule of "the hand of the servant is considered an extension of the master's hand." Thus, it would be proper for Eliezer to betroth a woman for Avraham, his master, but not for Yitzchak, who was the son of his master. Therefore, Avraham gave over all his possessions including Eliezer, to Yitzchak; and now his hand was an extension of Yitzchak's and he could betroth a woman for him.
"The servant [Eliezer] brought out silver and gold jewelry and clothing and gave it to Rivkah." (24:53) QUESTION: All types of jewelry could be worn by anyone regardless of age. However, clothing must fit to size. How did Eliezer know in advance what clothing would be good for Rivkah? ANSWER: In the home of Avraham there was much accent put on the laws of modesty. The men and women, boys and girls, dressed according to halacha. Eliezer's mission was to find a suitable wife for Yitzchak. The young lady would undoubtedly prepare a wardrobe of new clothing to wear after her marriage. He therefore carried with him a sample of the type of clothing women were expected to wear in the homes of Avraham and Yitzchak.
"Her brother and mother said..." (24:55) QUESTION: Why did the brother and mother speak and not the father, Betuel? ANSWER: According to the law of the Torah, a father has a right to marry off his daughter while she is a ketana (under Bat Mitzvah). She is considered a married woman and cannot leave her husband unless he gives her a get (divorce). If a girl is an orphan, the Rabbanim gave permission to her mother or brothers to marry her off. Up to the age of 12, if for some reason she does not like her husband, she can perform mi'un (she proclaims that she refuses to be his wife) and has the right to leave him. Lavan and his mother sensed that out of greed for money Betuel might agree to marry off his daughter Rivkah to Yitzchak. They feared that the marriage would not be a good one, and Yitzchak would refuse to give her a get. Not wanting Rivkah to be stuck with him forever, they killed Betuel. Now that Rivkah was an orphan, the mother and brother married her off. They hoped that when she became a little older and smarter, she would realize that Yitzchak was not a suitable husband for her. Consequently, she would refuse to remain with him, and thus be able to leave him without his consent.
"And they called Rivkah, and said to her: 'Will you go with this man?' And she said: 'I will go.' " (24:58) QUESTION: Rashi adds: "By myself, even if you do not consent."Why was the young Rivkah (three years old) so assertive and independent? ANSWER: Originally, Eliezer met with Betuel, his wife and Lavan. When Betuel tried to interfere with the marriage, an angel poisoned him during the meal and he died. Now it was her brother and her mother who were trying to prevent the marriage from becoming reality. Rivkah told them, "Open your eyes and see what is happening. This marriage was Divinely destined. If you do not consent to the marriage, undoubtedly you, too, will die as father did. Thus, I will be left all alone, and it will be in my best interest to go along with Eliezer and join Yitzchak and his family.
"They blessed Rivkah and said to her, 'Our sister be the mother of thousands of ten thousands.' " (24:60) QUESTION: Why did Lavan give his sister such a nice blessing? ANSWER: Lavan really did not want to wish his sister well. All he told her was that "If you become 'le'alfei' - the mother of thousands of ten thousands (the wife of a millionaire) - do not forget your family and relatives. You should always remember, 'revavah' which is the acronym for 'Rivka Bas Besuel HaArami' - 'You are the daughter of the crooked Betuel.' "
"They blessed Rivkah and said to her, 'Our sister, be the mother of thousands of ten thousands.' " (24:60) QUESTION: Before a chuppah, when the chatan covers the kallah's face with a veil ("badekenesh"), it is customary to recite this blessing.What do we mean that the kallah should have a family of tens of thousands of children? ANSWER: When Hashem blesses a person with financial success, it is proper to give a portion to tzedakah. When one supports a yeshivah, the children who are learning Torah thanks to his financial assistance are
considered his children. Years later, the students of those yeshivah students are also considered his children. The berachah to the kallah is that in her marriage she should be blessed with wealth and be imbued with the good sense to give tzedakah to Torah institutions. Through helping children receive a Torah education, she in turn becomes a mother of thousands of children.
"Our sister, be the mother of thousands of ten thousands and may your offspring inherit the gate of their enemies. " (24:60) QUESTION: Why didn't he bless her not to have any enemies at all? ANSWER: The lack of enemies is not always a good sign. A person who is, G-d forbid, stricken with poverty or afflicted with troubles usually has no enemies because everyone has mercy on him. On the other hand, it is inevitable for a wealthy man to have enemies. Out of jealousy people become his enemies and criticize that he is not giving enough or is exerting too much influence, etc. Lavan blessed his sister with wealth and success. Knowing that this would bring her enemies, he wished her that she overcome them and that all their criticism of her be of no avail.
"And she said to the servant, 'Who is this man'... and the servant answered 'He is my master.' " (24:65) QUESTION: Eliezer's master was Avraham not Yitzchak? ANSWER: When Avraham sent Eliezer to find a wife for Yitzchak, he also wrote a document in which he conveyed all his possessions as a gift to Yitzchak (Rashi 24:36). Eliezer, as the shliach (emissary), formalized the marriage (kiddushin) between Rivkah and Yitzchak. As soon as the marriage was consummated, the gift took effect and whatever Avraham had was now owned by Yitzchak. Thus, Yitzchak became the master of his father's servant Eliezer.
"Who is this man walking in the field toward us?" (24:65)
QUESTION: The word "halazeh" - "this" - is extra. Would it not be sufficient to say "Who is the man walking in the field?" ANSWER: Like all the other matriarchs, Rivkah was a prophetess. When she noticed Yitzchak, she became very much impressed because of certain things she saw about him. She saw that he had something special to do with two "hei"s, and that he had a unique connection also with the letters "Zayin" and "Lamed". Consequently, she asked Eliezer what is the meaning of the "Halazeh" that I see about this man? Eliezer identified the man as Yitzchak, son of Avraham and Sarah. He went on to explain: for many years they were childless, and when Hashem added a "Heh" and changed the name "Avram" to "Avraham" and another "Heh" to change the name "Sarai" to "Sarah," they were able to give birth to him. When this man reached the age of 37, which is the numerical value of "Lamed Zayin", his father was ready to bring him up as an offering to Hashem and he fully agreed.
"And Avraham gave everything that he had to Yitzchak, and to the children of the concubines...he gave presents." (25:5-6) QUESTION: If he gave away everything he had to Yitzchak, where did he get the presents? ANSWER: Avraham's wealth consisted of two parts: 1) the money which he earned through his work and business, and 2) the presents which were given to him by Pharaoh when he returned Sarah to him (12:16). Avraham gave everything that he earned and owned to Yitzchak. Hagar was the daughter of Pharaoh and Avraham's concubine. Not wanting to keep the presents that Pharaoh gave him, he gave them to his concubine's children, who in reality were the grandchildren of Pharaoh.
"And these are the years of Avraham, which he lived, a hundred years, seventy years, and five years." (25:7) QUESTION: The words "which he lived" seem redundant. ANSWER: Avraham was really supposed to live 180 years, as his son Yitzchak did. However, his grandson Eisav was growing up and not behaving properly. Hashem knew that Avraham would have much
aggravation from seeing his grandson's behavior; therefore, He shortened Avraham's life by five years (Rashi 25:30). Thus, the Torah writes the words "which he lived" to emphasize that these were the years he lived and not his full allocated lifespan.
And You Shall Speak of Them
A Compilation of Selected Torah Insights, Thought-Provoking Ideas, Homilies And Explanations of Torah Passages
"And these are the offspring of Yitzchak son of Avraham; Avraham gave birth to Yitzchak." (25:19) QUESTION: Why does the Torah repeat that Yitzchak was the son of Avraham and that Avraham was the father of Yitzchak? Moreover, at the end of Parshat Chayei Sarah it says "And these are the offspring of Yishmael, Avraham's son" (25:12) - not repeating that Avraham was the father of Yishmael. Moreover, regarding Eisav, the Torah states "And these are the offspring of Eisav" (36:1), not mentioning that he is the son of Yitzchak, or that Yitzchak was the father of Eisav. ANSWER: When one would meet Yitzchak and compliment him for being a tzaddik and a great talmid chacham, Yitzchak would modestly, respond: "I am really insignificant. The only great thing about me is that I am the son of a great father, Avraham." When one would praise Avraham for his stature and greatness, he would respond: "All this is insignificant. The only important thing is that I have such a son as Yitzchak." Thus, Yitzchak would pride himself on his father Avraham, and Avraham was proud that he had such a son. Yishmael, the ancestor of the Arab world, was proud that Avraham was his father; however, Avraham was not happy that he had a son such as Yishmael. Eisav was so alienated that being the son of Yitzchak meant nothing to him, and of course, Yitzchak took no pride in his son Eisav.
"And Yitzchak entreated G-d opposite his wife because she was barren, and G-d accepted his prayers, and Rivkah his wife conceived." (25:21) QUESTION: Why does the pasuk at first refer to "his wife" without mentioning her name, only to conclude "Rivkah, his wife?" ANSWER: Yitzchak's mother Sarah was barren for many years. It was only after her name was changed from "Sarai" to "Sarah" that she was able to give birth. Had her name remained "Sarai," she would never have been able to conceive. Yitzchak wondered, "Maybe my wife Rivkah has the same problem as my mother Sara." Therefore, when he prayed to Hashem, he pleaded "Please help my wife to have a child," without mentioning her name. In response to his prayers, Hashem made a miracle greater than the one He made for his mother. Not only did his barren wife become pregnant; but moreover, she did so while retaining her original name, Rivkah.
"G-d accepted his [Yitzchak's] prayers, and Rivkah his wife conceived." (25:21) QUESTION: Rashi explains that Hashem let himself be entreated of him and not of her because the prayer of a tzaddik the son of a tzaddik (Yitzchok) is superior to the prayer of a tzaddik the son of a rasha (Rivkah). This seems to contradict the Gemara (Berachot 34b) that a ba'al teshuvah is greater than a tzaddik? ANSWER: Yitzchak and Rivkah both prayed to Hashem for a child. Rivkah's prayer was, "Please G-d, my husband is such a great tzaddik and the son of a tzaddik; he indeed deserves a child." Yitzchak prayed and said, "Please G-d, my wife grew up in the home of such wicked people as Betuel and Lavan, yet she is so righteous. She certainly deserves to be blessed with a child." Hashem accepted Yitzchak's plea and argument and blessed Rivkah because she was such a great ba'alat teshuvah.
"And the children struggled together within her." (25:22) QUESTION: Rashi says that when Rivkah passed the yeshivah of Shem and Eiver, Yaakov wanted to jump out of her womb, and when she passed a place of idol worship, Eisav wanted to jump out. When a child is in his mother's womb an angel teaches him the entire Torah (Niddah 30b). Why did Yaakov want to leave the angel and go to the yeshivah of Shem and Eiver? ANSWER: In the "yeshivah" in his mother's womb, his "chaver" would be Eisav. Yaakov was greatly concerned about having good friends. Therefore, he was willing to give up the opportunity of an angel teaching him Torah in order to go to a yeshivah where he would have good "chavairim" (other little Yaakovs) and not be in the company of Eisav.
"And the children struggled together within her... And she went to inquire of the G-d... And the G-d said to her: 'Two nations are in your womb.' " (25:22-23) QUESTION: Rashi explains: When Rivkah passed a house of Torah learning, Yaakov struggled to emerge. When she passed a place of idol worship, Eisav struggled to come out. This perplexed her, and she went to inquire as to the meaning. A message was conveyed to her through Shem that she was carrying two children.Why was she now more relaxed than before? ANSWER: The prophet Eliyahu held a debate with the false prophets of Ba'al, during which he challenged them: "How long will you waver between two opinions. If Hashem is G-d, follow Him, if it is the Ba'al, follow him" (1 Kings, 18:21). One may wonder: How was Eliyahu able to utter such an option? Eliyahu realized that before confronting a person, it is important to know what his convictions are. As long as a person is ambivalent, it is impossible to deal with him and guide him to the right path. After having his views clarified, then one can debate and endeavor to convince. At the outset, Rivkah thought that she was carrying one child who was confused, unable to distinguish between right and wrong, and thus, G-d forbid, capable of running in a different direction each day. Informed that she would give birth to two separate children, she was relieved, because she could now hope to rear the other child and convince him to emulate his righteous brother.
"And the first one came out red...and they called him Eisav." (25:25) QUESTION: Why did Eisav come out red? ANSWER: While Eisav and Yaakov were in their mother's womb, they had a very interesting conversation. Yaakov said to Eisav, "Listen, brother, before us there are two worlds: Olam Hazeh (this mundane world) and Olam Haba (the World to Come). In Olam Hazeh there is much eating, drinking, and physical delights. In Olam Haba there are none of these things. Everything is spiritual and one enjoys G-dliness. Tell me brother, which you prefer and I will take the other." Eisav, being of a mundane and gross nature, immediately decided that Olam Hazeh was for him and that Yaakov could keep Olam Haba. When a person runs, the blood in his body becomes activated and he turns red from exertion. Consequently, when the time came for Rivkah to give birth, Eisav wanted his Olam Hazeh as quickly as possible, so he hurried red-faced out of his mother's womb.
According to the Gemara (Chulin 47b) when a child is born red, a brit cannot be performed on him till the blood in his blood vessels relaxes. Consequently, when Eisav was born, he was too red to be circumcised. When he became older and returned to a normal complexion, his father then wanted to circumcise him, but he refused.
"Afterwards his brother came out and his hand was holding on to the heal of Eisav." (25:25) QUESTION: There is a story in the Midrash Rabbah (63:9) that a general once asked a Rabbi, "Who will be the last to hold on to the kingdom?" The Rabbi took a piece of paper and wrote on it the pasuk "and afterwards came out his brother holding on to the heel."Why did he omit the word "Eisav," which is the last word of the pasuk? ANSWER: There is a question in halacha whether it is permissible to write a complete pasuk on a piece of paper. According to some opinions it is not permissible. Therefore, it is advisable to skip some words, or in lieu of
writing the pasuk as written in the Torah, to only write the first letter of each word (Gittin 60a about Queen Hillney). The Rabbi who answered the general did the latter. Instead of writing the complete words of the pasuk, he wrote only the first letter of each word and did not include the first letter of the word "Eisav." He thus wrote "Vav-Kaf-Yud-Alef-Vav-Alef-Beis" These letters have the numerical value of 46, and also the first letters of the words "Moshiach Ben Dovid" (Moshiach the son of Dovid) or "Malchus Beis Dovid" (Kingdom of the house of Dovid) have the numerical value of 46. The general, being a descendant of Eisav, was curious to know if his people would continuously be in charge. The Rabbi, in a unique way, answered in the negative. He hinted that Mashiach Ben David, who would continue Malchut Beit David, would be the eventual ruler of the entire world. However, being afraid of the general, he did not want to spell it out very clearly. Therefore, he wrote this pasuk, which the general could interpret to mean that Yaakov would be holding on to the heel of Eisav and that Eisav would be in command.
"Afterwards his brother came out and his hand was holding on to the heel of Eisav; and he named him 'Yaakov.' " (25:26) QUESTION: Why was he called "Yaakov" and not just "Ekev" - "heel"? ANSWER: When Eisav was born, he was covered with hair like an adult (Rashi). Actually, he should have been called (asui) which means "fully made." So named, he would have two letters from the Holy four-lettered Name of Hashem. Should his brother have been called simply "Eikev" he would not have had any letters of Hashem's name. Therefore, Yaakov held on to the heel (end part) of Eisav's name and grabbed the "Yud" for himself. Thus, he too, had a letter from Hashem's Holy Name in his name.
"And Eisav was a skilled hunter, a man of the field." (25:27) QUESTION: The words "yodei'a tza'id" - "a skilled hunter" refer to the fact that with his sly tongue he fooled and captured Yitzchak's imagination. He would approach Yitzchak and ask him questions such as "Father, how does
one give ma'aser (tithe) from salt?" (Rashi)Obviously, Eisav knew that ma'aser means setting aside 10 per cent, thus, the same should be done with salt - ten bushels from one hundred. Eisav's question was apparently pointless - how did it impress Yitzchak? ANSWER: Eisav knew very well that ma'aser means setting aside 10 per cent, and his question was not how does one give ma'aser from salt. He was asking, "Father, What is the halacha?! - Does one have to give ma'aser from salt or not?" When Yitzchak heard how carefully Eisav observed the laws of ma'aser, he thought that his son was indeed very righteous.
"And the boys grew up." (25:27) QUESTION: They now became 13 years of age, and Eisav began to worship idols. On this day Avraham died at the age of 175 (Rashi).When Yaakov and Eisav were born, Yitzchak was 60 years old (25:26). Since Avraham was 100 years old when Yitzchak was born, he was 160 years old when Yaakov and Eisav were born. Avraham was supposed to live 180 years, but died five years earlier so that he would not see his grandchild Eisav worshipping idols (Rashi 25:30). If Eisav began worshipping at 13, why didn't Avraham die when he was 173 years old? ANSWER: When Yaakov came to Yitzchak to get the berachot, Yitzchak smelled an aroma of Gan Eden emanating from him (Rashi 27:27). How did Yitzchak know how Gan Eden smelled? Commentaries (Riva) say that immediately following the Akeidah, Avraham went back home and Yitzchak went up to Gan Eden for over two years. The concept of time and space is relevant only in this world and not in Gan Eden. Therefore, while Avraham lived two years of "real time" in this world, the two years did not count in the age of Yitzchak. Consequently, though Yitzchak was 60 years old when Yaakov and Eisav were born, Avraham was really 162 and he died at the age of 175 when his grandson Eisav became 13 years old.
"Yitzchak loved Eisav because he provided him with food." (25:28)
QUESTION: Yitzchak was a wealthy man. Why was he dependent on Eisav for food? ANSWER: The Gemara (Shabbat 89b) states that in the future Hashem will complain to the Patriarchs that their children (the Jewish people) have sinned. Avraham and Yaakov will respond, "Let them be annihilated for the sake of your Holy name." Yitzchak will come to their defense and plead on behalf of the Jewish people. His defense will be the following: "A-mighty G-d, though they have sinned, they deserve your love, because after all, you are their father and they are your children." Yitzchak will prove his case by stating the fact that he, too, had a son who was far from being a tzaddik, and yet he loved him merely because he was his son. Thus, Yitzchak loved Eisav because through him he had "food for argument" with which to defend the Jewish people and assure their survival.
"Please pour into me some of this red stuff." (25:30) QUESTION: The word "na" means "please"; is it not strange that the ill-mannered Eisav should speak so politely? Moreover, cooked lentils are not red? ANSWER: The word "na" can also mean "raw." Of the Korban Pesach, the Torah says, "You should not eat it while it is raw" (Shemot 12:9). Eisav was a ba'al ta'avah - he had bad table manners and a lust for food. Before lentils are fully cooked they are reddish. Eisav came home and saw that Yaakov had just put up lentils to cook. In his rough manner he said to him, "Throw this red, raw stuff down my throat."
"And Yaakov said, 'Sell me this day your birthright.' " (25:31) QUESTION: The word "kayom" - "this day" - seems superfluous. "Sell me your birthright" would suffice. ANSWER: Yaakov negotiated the purchase of the birthright on the day of Avraham's passing. The world was cast into deep mourning and gloom. Statesmen and dignitaries wept openly and cried out, "Woe to the world that has lost its leader, woe to the ship that has lost its captain!" (Bava Batra 91b) People from all walks of life thronged to pay final tribute to the greatest and
most beloved figure of their generation. The only one absent at the funeral was Eisav. After the funeral Yaakov returned home to prepare the mourner's meal. Suddenly Eisav dashed in "from the field." Instead of weeping and bemoaning the great loss, he had gone hunting. Yaakov was shocked and ashamed. How could a grandson be so brutally insensitive?! In that moment, Yaakov resolved to acquire the birthright. He therefore said to Eisav, "Sell me your birthright, kayom - because of what happened on this day. As a firstborn you are destined to do the service in the Beit Hamikdash. A morally callous hunter like yourself is unworthy of so lofty a spiritual identity."
"Yaakov gave Eisav bread and lentil soup." (25:34) QUESTION: Eisav only asked for the lentil soup. Why did Yaakov give him bread, too? ANSWER: When Eisav came from the field he was terribly hungry. It would not have been right of Yaakov to take advantage of the situation and tell Eisav that if he did not sell him the bechora (birthright), he would let him die from hunger. Yaakov knew that Eisav would claim that he was under duress at the time of the sale, and thus, it was null and void. Wanting to make sure that Eisav would not have any excuses about the sale, he first gave him enough bread to stave off his hunger. When Eisav was no longer hungry, Yaakov asked him if he still wanted the lentil soup in exchange for the birthright. Eisav was then relaxed and with his free will sold his birthright for a pot of lentil soup.
"And he dug a third well and they did not fight over it; he called it 'Rechovot,' saying, 'Now G-d made ample space for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land.' " (26:22) QUESTION: What is the significance of the three wells? ANSWER: The three wells represent the three Batei Mikdash. They are the wells of "living waters" which brought, and will bring, spiritual life to the Jewish people.
In the times of the first "well," the Babylonians led by Nevuchadnetzar fought with the Jews, ultimately destroying the Beit Hamikdash. Afterwards, the second Beit Hamikdash was built. War was declared by Titus (Ceasar) and his armies, and eventually this Beit Hamikdash, too, was destroyed. Now Yitzchak, after fighting over the second well, moved away. A period of time passed, and finally he dug a third well. This time there was peace and tranquillity. Similarly, since the destruction of the second Beit Hamikdash, we were exiled from our Holy Land - Eretz Yisrael - and a long period of time has elapsed. We are eagerly awaiting the third Beit Hamikdash, and hopefully, we will soon happily proclaim, "Now G-d has made ample space for us and we shall be fruitful in the land."
"We have sent you away in peace; You are now the blessed of G-d." (26:29) QUESTION: How were they convinced that Yitzchak was blessed? ANSWER: According to the Gemara (Berachot 64a), when parting with a friend one should say "lech leshalom" - "Go to peace." He should not use the expression "lech beshalom" - "Go in peace" - because this could, G-d forbid, bring him evil. Avimelech and his people were really not interested in the welfare of Yitzchak. Not wanting to wish him well, they said to him "lech beshalom" hoping that something unpleasant would happen to him. To their amazement, not only did he avoid mishap, but on the contrary, he was blessed with tremendous success. When Yitzchak asked them, "Why suddenly do you come to me?" they replied, "We parted with you with the wish of 'beshalom' hoping that you would encounter troubles. Seeing your success, we are convinced that you are blessed by G-d, and therefore, our evil intentions did not affect you."
"Rivkah took the garments of Eisav her older son and put them on Yaakov, her younger son." (27:15) QUESTION: Why is it necessary for the Torah to tell us that Eisav was the older and Yaakov was the younger?
ANSWER: The terms "gadol" and "katan" - "older" and "younger" - do not only refer to the age of Eisav and Yaakov, but also to Eisav's much larger size compared to Yaakov. Yaakov was reluctant to go to his father to obtain the berachot. He pleaded with his mother, "Please do not force me to go, I am afraid that I will be cursed." His mother responded, "Your curse be upon me, my son" (27:13). Though Rivkah made a very brave statement, she still was curious to find out for herself if she was doing the right thing. She decided that the test by which she could prove it would be the clothing. Eisav was physically much bigger than Yaakov. She was amazed when Eisav's clothing fit Yaakov exactly. This proved that she was doing the proper thing in sending Yaakov to get the berachot.
"And he came to his father and said, 'My father,' and he said, 'Here I am; who are you, my son?' " (27:18) QUESTION: Why did Yaakov only say one word, "avi" "my father" - and not the complete statement which he later made, "Sit and eat from my venison that your soul may bless me" (27:19)? ANSWER: When Yaakov came into Yitzchak's room, he was trembling lest he be recognized. Therefore, he was afraid to invite his father to eat. Thus, upon entering he said only one word, "avi" - "my father." When Yitzchak asked, "Who are you?" Yaakov was convinced that Yitzchak did not recognize his voice, and that it was safe for him to continue speaking. He then invited his father to eat the meal he prepared for him and to bless him.
"Yitzchak felt Yaakov and said, 'The voice is Yaakov's voice and the hands are Eisav's hands.' He did not recognize him because his hands were hairy like those of Eisav his brother, so he blessed him." (27:22-23) QUESTION: If the voice and the hands seemed to be of two different people, then there was a strong doubt as to the person's identity. Why did Yitzchak give him the berachot? ANSWER: Yitzchak told Eisav that he would like to give him the berachot but requested that he should first bring him food. Eisav was reluctant to go. He pleaded with his father to give him the berachot immediately, and he would bring him food afterwards. He told his father that Yaakov was very
sly and he feared that during the time he would be away, Yaakov would sneak in and steal the berachot. Yitzchak said to Eisav, "Indeed you are well aware that Yaakov has a refined character and speaks very politely. On the other hand, you speak roughly and without any respect. If Yaakov will try to fool me, he will imitate your voice and speak in a very rough manner. Therefore, I advise that when you bring the food, speak very gently. This will be the sign that you are really Eisav." The Torah relates that Rivkah overheard the conversation between Yitzchak and Eisav and, "Rivkah said to Yaakov her son to say, 'Behold I heard your father saying to your brother Eisav to say' " (27:6). The word "leimor" usually means to say something to others. What did Rivkah mean when she repeated the word twice? According to the above-mentioned it is understood: Rivkah was advising Yaakov how to get the berachot. Thus, she told him "leimor" - to speak in his regular tone of voice when he came before his father, because "I heard your father speaking to Eisav your brother leimor - to talk to him in your tone of voice." Yaakov came before Yitzchak and spoke with Hashem's name on his tongue. Yitzchak thought to himself, "The first sign is true, and Eisav is following instructions. Let me make sure he really is Eisav." He instructed him to come closer so that he could feel if his skin was hairy. After inspecting him, Yitzchak said, "Now that I have two signs - the voice is that of Yaakov and the hands are those of Eisav - indeed he is my son Eisav and I shall bless him."
"Your brother came with wisdom and took away your blessing." (27:35) QUESTION: What was Yaakov's wisdom? ANSWER: This episode took place on Pesach, when we perform the Seder. Rivkah prepared the goats for the festive meal and the angel Michael sent along the wine for the four cups (Da'at Zekeinim MiBa'alei Hatosafot 27:25). The meal concludes with the eating of the afikomen. Afterwards, it is forbidden to eat any food.
The word "bemirmah" has the numerical value of 287, which is also the numerical value of the word "afikomen". Yitzchak told Eisav, "Your brother is indeed very wise. Prior to your arrival he already gave me the afikomen, and thus, I am forbidden to eat any more food tonight."
"It is not in vain that they called him Yaakov, for he already outsmarted me twice." (27:36) QUESTION: 1. When Yaakov was born, he came out holding on to the heel of Eisav. The Torah says that it was for this reason that he was named Yaakov. Why did Eisav give a new reason? 2. Eisav was pouring out his bitterness to his father Yitzchak. He should have said, "It is not in vain that "karata" - "You called him" - instead of "kara," which means "he called"? ANSWER: When Yaakov was born, Hashem said to them, "You have given a name to your swine [Eisav], I will name my firstborn." Thus, Hashem gave him the name Yaakov (Midrash Rabbah 63:8). When Eisav arrived and found that Yaakov had outsmarted him, he said to his father, "It always puzzled me that Hashem gave him the name Yaakov. If the reason was simply that he was holding on to my heel, he should have been called 'akev' which means 'a heel,' and not 'Yaakov.' Now I realize that it is not in vain that He (Hashem) called him Yaakov; obviously He knew that he would outsmart me. And he already did it successfully two times." (Yud begins many future tense verbs.)
"He took my birthright, and now has taken away my blessings." (27:36) QUESTION: Eisav is now upset for losing the berachot. Why does he mention the taking away of the bechorah? ANSWER: When Rivkah felt unusual pains during her pregnancy, she went to seek advice in the Beit Midrash of Shem and Eiver. She was told that she was carrying two children and "The elder shall serve the younger" (25:23), i.e., Yaakov will rule over Eisav. Yitzchak in his berachah said to Yaakov,
"Be a lord over your brothers, and your mother's sons shall bow down to you" (27:29). Eisav, therefore, argued, "Yaakov took my bechorah, - birthright - thus, he is now the rav - older - and I am the tza'ir - younger - so why then was he blessed that I should bow to him?"
"And Yitzchak his father answered and said to him: 'Behold, of the fat places of the earth shall be your dwelling, and of the dew of the heaven from above. And by your sword you will live, and your brother you will serve; and it shall come to pass, when you will break loose, that you will shake his yoke from off your neck.' And Eisav hated Yaakov because of the blessing with which his father blessed him." (27:39-41) QUESTION: When Eisav came to Yitzchak and found out that Yaakov preceded him, he cried bitterly: "Father, please bless me, too!" Yitzchak told him: "I am sorry, your brother took your blessing." 1. How was it possible that Yitzchak suddenly had a blessing available for Eisav? 2. If Eisav was also blessed, why did he hate Yaakov? 3. The words "Vaya'an Yitzchak" - "and Yitzchak answered" - and "hinei" - "behold" - are superfluous. It would have been sufficient to say "And he said to him: 'Of the fat places of the earth shall be your dwelling.' " ANSWER: When Eisav arrived at his father's residence, he cried bitterly and pleaded: "Please bless me, too!" Yitzchak told him that he could not do anything for him because "your brother took your blessing." Eisav persisted: "Have you not reserved a blessing for me?" (27:36) "Vaya'an Yitzchak" - "Yitzchak answered": - "Behold, a lord I have made him over you, and all his kin I have given to him as servants; with corn and wine I have sustained him, what can I do for you, my son?" Eisav responded: "Father, is this only one blessing? These are two blessings! (dominance and wealth) Why not divide this between the two of us and Bless me also with one of them?"
"Vaya'an Yitzchak" - "And Yitzchak answered": "Imagine if" - "Mishmanei Ha'aretz" - "I were to give you the riches. Do you think that" - "v'es achicha ta'avod" - "you would serve your brother and permit him to dominate you?" "Vehaya ka'asher tarid" - "And it shall come to pass when you will want to break loose" - "ufarakto ulo mei'al tza'varecha" - "you will cast off his yoke from upon your neck. Thus, these two blessings are inseparable, and there is nothing I can take from him and give you." Since the entire blessing went to Yaakov, and Eisav received nothing, he hated Yaakov because of the blessings his father gave him.
"Behold, of the fat places of the land shall be your dwelling ." (27:39) QUESTION: Rashi explains that this refers to Italy of Greece (Southern Italy, especially Rome). Since Yitzchak told Eisav that he had given everything away to Yaakov, from where did he take this land? ANSWER: The Gemara (Shabbat 56b) relates that when King Solomon married the daughter of Pharaoh, the angel Gavriel put a stick into the ocean. Around it a sand bank gathered, which became the country of southern Italy. Originally, it belonged to the Greeks, but when the Roman's conquered the Greeks, it became their territory. When Yitzchak blessed Yaakov with the fat of the land, this parcel of land was not included since it was not in existence at that time.
"Eisav said in his heart; 'May the days of mourning for my father arrive then, I will kill my brother Yaakov.' " (27:41) QUESTION: Why did Eisav want to wait till Yitzchak died? ANSWER: Yaakov learned Torah day and night. Eisav knew very well that the merit of learning Torah would protect Yaakov and he would not be able to harm him. (See Gemara Shabbat 30b.) When a close relative passes away, the mourner is an Onein until the burial and is forbidden to study Torah. Eisav's calculation was that at the time of Yitzchak's demise Yaakov would not be learning Torah, and thus lack protection, so that it would be easy to kill him then.
"And stay with him a few days, until your brother's fury turn away; until your brother's anger turn away from you, and he forget that which you have done to him." (27:44-45) QUESTION: Why did Rivkah repeat the words "until your brother's anger turn away from you"? ANSWER: Yaakov hated Eisav also. He was terribly upset with him for distressing his parents with his behavior. Rivkah advised Yaakov to flee to Lavan and stay there until Eisav's fury would cease. Yaakov asked his mother: "How will I know that Eisav's anger subdued?" His mother told him: "When the anger you carry will depart from you, then you can be sure that your brother Eisav has forgotten what you did to him, and no longer has animosity against you." King Shlomo, in his wisdom says: "As water reflects the image of a face, so the heart of man corresponds to the heart of his fellow man" (Proverbs 27:19).
"And G-d A-mighty should bless you and make you fruitful and multiply." (28:3) QUESTION: Why did Yitzchak employ the holy name "Shin-Daled-Yud" when he blessed Yaakov to be fruitful and multiply? ANSWER: G-d vested in man the potential to procreate. The first mitzvah of the Torah is "pru urevu" (Peru U'Revu) - "to be fruitful and multiply." The words "pru urevu" have the numerical value of 500. When the letters of the name "Shin-Daled-Yud" are themselves spelled out, "shin" is spelled "Shin-Yud-Nun", "daled" is spelled "Daled-Lamed-Daled", and "yud" is spelled "Yud-Vav-Daled". The unrevealed part of the letters, i.e. the (60) "Yud-Nun" of the "shin," the (430) "Lamed-Daled" of the "daled," and the (10) "Vav-Daled" of the "yud" total 500. Thus, the Holy name of "Shin-Daled-Yud" has hidden in it the potential of pru urevu (500), which is the power to bring about G-d's great blessing of having children. For this reason, when Hashem blessed Yaakov to multiply, He prefaced it by saying, "Ani Keil Sha-dai - I am G-d A-mighty - be fruitful and multiply" [35:11].
It is customary for a girl to light a candle in honor of Shabbat. When she marries, she lights two. The reason for this may be that a married couple have a total of 500 limbs (man has 248 and woman 252 see Bechorot 45a) and the Mitzvah of pru urevu (500) becomes applicable. The word "ner" "candle" - has the numerical value of 250. Thus, the two candles total 500. Possibly, for this reason it is customary that a chatan and kallah are lead to the chuppah with a candle held on each side.
"And he went to Paddan-Aram to Lavan, son of Betuel the Aramean, the brother of Rivkah, the mother of Yaakov and Eisav." (28:5) QUESTION: Rashi comments: "I do not know what the addition of the words 'the mother of Yaakov and Eisav' teaches us."Why was it necessary to add the words "the mother of Yaakov and Eisav"? ANSWER: To protect Yaakov from being killed by Eisav, his parents decided to send him to Lavan in Paddan-Aram, and Yitzchak advised him to "take a wife from there." Yitzchak and Rivkah had two sons, Eisav and Yaakov. Lavan had two daughters, Leah and Rachel. The popular opinion was that Eisav would marry Leah, and Yaakov would marry Rachel (Bava Batra 123a). Aware of Lavan's unscrupulous character, they feared that he would slyly tell Yaakov, "I would love to have you as my son-in-law, but it is improper for the younger to get married before the older. Therefore, I will call Eisav to come here and marry Leah, and afterwards I will give my daughter Rachel to you as a wife." Undoubtedly, when Eisav would meet Yaakov in Lavan's territory, he would kill him immediately. Consequently, Yitzchak and Rivkah advised Yaakov to tell Lavan that his sister Rivkah, "the mother of Yaakov and Eisav" had sent him, and that he, Yaakov, was her older son. Hence, he could marry before Eisav and there would be no need to bring Eisav to Paddan-Aram.
And You Shall Speak of Them
A Compilation of Selected Torah Insights, Thought-Provoking Ideas, Homilies And Explanations of Torah Passages
"He took from the stones of the place and he placed them around (under) his head." (28:11) QUESTION: Rashi says that he wanted to protect himself from wild animals. Why did he only protect his head and not the rest of his body? ANSWER: From Yaakov's actions, a very important lesson can be learned. Yaakov spent all his years studying Torah in the home of Yitzchak and in the Beit Midrash of Shem and Eiver. Now he had to give up some of his Torah study time and engage in worldly matters. Yaakov knew that in the world at large there are many forces that are alien to Torah and mitzvot and hostile to the religious Jew. They endeavor to influence the mind of the Jew and persuade him to leave the path of Torah. Therefore, Yaakov made a great effort to protect his "head," to prevent negative influences from interfering with his yiddishkeit.
"He took of the stones of the place, and he placed them around (under) his head, and lay down in that place to sleep." (28:11) QUESTION: Why did Yaakov rest his head on a stone? ANSWER: The Gemara (Bava Kamma 30a) says: "He who wants to be a chasid should observe the laws of nezikin - damages" (being careful not to hurt anyone or damage property). Rava says that he should follow the teachings of Avot (Book of Ethics), and others say that he should be observant in the laws of berachot (recognizing the supremacy of Hashem and thanking Him for everything). The word "even" - "stone" - is an acronym for "avot, berachot, nezikin". As Yaakov was preparing to enter the "outside world," his first resolution was to be a chasid, and he therefore placed these three stones as the guidepost for his "head" - his thoughts would always be directed towards how to excel in these three matters. The three stones united to emphasize that each approach is equally important and that through these three things one can make the world a "beit Elokim" a "house of G-d."
It may also be said that "berachot" - recognizing the supremacy of Hashem and thanking Him for everything - is an allusion to the relationship between man and Hashem. Being careful not to hurt or injure a fellow man, "nezikin," represents inter-human relationships. To be exemplary, one must conduct himself within these two realms, in accordance with the guidelines and teachings conveyed by "avot" - our ancestors.
"And he named that place Beth-el [G-d's home]." (28:19) QUESTION: The Gemara (Pesachim 88a) says that unlike Avraham in connection with whom the Torah describes it as a mountain (22:14) and unlike Yitzchak with whom the Torah calls it a field (24:63), Yaakov called it a home. What is the significance of these three titles for a place of worship? ANSWER: The majority of people are not mountain climbers, even those who are, do it rarely. Going out to the fields (vacationing in the country) is done more frequently and by a larger number of people. Living in a home is something all people do and at all times. Yaakov emphasized that the shul should resemble a home - a place visited by all people and at all times.
The less one carries the easier it is to climb a mountain. When going out to the fields (on vacations) people take along baggage and dwell in cottages. However the furnishings do not compare to the comforts of one's personal home. Yaakov emphasized that the place of worship be treated like a home elegantly furnished and beautified to the highest degree.
"He will give me bread to eat and garments to put on." (28:20) QUESTION: The words "le'echol" - "to eat" - and "lilbosh" "to wear" - seem extra? ANSWER: Some people who have food in abundance and a wardrobe full of clothing are unfortunately bed-ridden and unable to enjoy their delicacies or garments. Yaakov prayed for good health so that he could enjoy his food and wear his clothing. To him "Gezunt" was a primary objective.
Alternatively, man works very hard and goes to great extents to earn his 'bread' (parnasah). For example, people work during the night denying themselves sleep, some perform hazardous jobs, and others travel far distances and become detached from their families. In reality one may wonder, are they working "for bread to eat" or is "their bread eating them"? Yaakov prayed to Hashem to give him a tranquil source of parnasah through which he would have "bread to eat" and not an occupation where, G-d forbid, the bread would consume him.
"He will give me bread to eat." (28:20) QUESTION: According to Rabbi Yehoshua (Midrash Rabbah 70:5), Yaakov was asking for the Lechem Hapanim the 12 loaves which were placed weekly on the table in the Mishkan and Beit Hamikdash. Why would Yaakov ask now for Lechem Hapanim when there was no Mishkan? ANSWER: Possibly, the reference to Lechem Hapanim was an allegory: The twelve loaves were baked on Friday and placed on the table Shabbat morning. They remained there till the following Shabbat morning. Normally, bread which is exposed for eight days becomes stale, but these loaves miraculously remained fresh. When they were removed, they were just as warm and fresh as when they were first put on the table (Chagigah 26b). Yaakov spent his life studying Torah in the home of Yitzchak and later in the Beit Midrash of Shem and Eiver. Now he was preparing to go out into the world and encounter Lavan and his contemporaries. Unfortunately, many succumb to the temptations and challenges of the world. Yaakov feared that dealing with the world might influence him to modernize and change his approach to Judaism. Therefore, in his prayer to Hashem, he asked for the lasting power of Lechem Hapanim. He was alluding that in the future, his devotion to Torah and mitzvot would not change.
"Of whatever you will give me, I will give a tenth to you." (28:22)
QUESTION: Wouldn't anybody make such a deal with Hashem? ANSWER: The famous Jewish philanthropist Sir Moses Montefiore lived in nineteenth-century England. Queen Victoria once asked him, "What is the extent of your wealth? How much do you own?" Sir Moses told her it would take him a few days to do some accounting, and afterwards, he would reply. When Sir Moses told her his wealth she became upset, saying, "You are insulting me. Everyone knows that you have much more." Sir Moses explained that he considered as his wealth whatever money he gave away to tzedakah. Anything else that he possessed was only temporary and could be confiscated or lost. Yaakov was alluding to this thought and said to Hashem, "Whatever you will give" - "I realize, that 'for me' - I will only have the ten percent which I will give away as tzedakah."
"Of whatever you give me, I will give a tenth to you" (28:22) QUESTION: According to the Midrash Rabbah (70:6), Yaakov gave his son Levi to Hashem as ma'aser. Why was Levi, the third born son, given as ma'aser, and not Zevulun who was born tenth? ANSWER: Yaakov had twelve children born in the following order: Reuven, Shimon, Levi, Yehudah, Dan, Naftali, Gad, Asher, Yissachar, Zevulun, Yosef, Binyamin. When he was ready to give a son as ma'aser, he brought them all into a room according to the order in which they were born. Afterwards, he took them out following the order of the last one in, first one out. Thus, he counted off ten, starting with Binyamin; and Levi, being the tenth, was declared ma'aser.
"Lo, it is still the middle of the day, it is not yet time for the cattle to be gathered together." (29:7) QUESTION: The word "hein" - "Lo" - is superfluous. It would be sufficient to say "it is still the middle of the day."
ANSWER: In the alef-beit there are 22 letters, which are divided into three sections. "Alef" to "Tes" are the singular numerals. "Yud" to "Tzadik" are the tens, and "Kuf" to "Tav" are the hundreds. In the singular section the first and last letters can be paired to equal ten, i.e., Alef + Tes = 10. The second and second to the last letters, Beis + Ches = 10 etc. The only letter that remains alone without a pair is "Heh". In the tens section, the first and last can be paired together to equal 100, i.e., Yud + Tzadik = 100. The second and second to the last, Kaf + Peh = 100 etc., The only letter which remains alone without a pair is the "Nun". The prophet says of the Jewish people "seh pezurah Yisrael" - "Israel is a scattered sheep" (Jeremiah 50:17). Presently, we are in galut - exile - and eagerly await the coming of Mashiach who will gather us together and end the galut. The pasuk is alluding that as long as we are in the category of "Heh-Nun" - separate entities not united together - the galut will continue, G-d forbid, and Mashiach will not come to gather Hashem's sheep together.
"Lo, it is yet high day, it is not yet time for the cattle to be gathered together." (29:7) QUESTION: Yaakov was a stranger; why did he meddle in the shepherd's activities? ANSWER: The day before, when Yaakov was on the way to Charan, the Torah relates that he slept there "ki va hashemesh" - "because the sun set." Rashi explains that it set much earlier than usual in order for Yaakov to sleep. The shepherds, not knowing the reason for the shortened day, assumed that on the next day as well there would be a recurrence. Therefore, they gathered around the well with their cattle much earlier. When Yaakov saw this, he informed them, "Do not draw any conclusions from what happened yesterday; it was a one-time event."
"And he told Lavan all these things." (29:13) QUESTION: What did Yaakov tell Lavan? ANSWER: Eisav was very angry at Yaakov. When he heard of Yaakov's leaving, he sent his son Elifaz to catch up with Yaakov and kill him. When Elifaz met Yaakov, he told him his father's orders. Yaakov told Elifaz, "A
poor person is equivalent to a dead person (Nedarim 64b). Take all my valuables and it will be considered as though you killed me." When Lavan heard about Yaakov's arrival, he ran and kissed him, and was very disappointed when he found Yaakov empty-handed. He asked Yaakov why Eliezer had carried so many valuables while he, Yaakov, had nothing? Yaakov told him, "all these things" - which is an acronym for "Al Tettamah Ki Lo Heveisi Davar, Birechush Rav Yazasi Mibeisi, Hashoded Elifaz Lokach Hakol" - "Do not wonder why I did not bring anything. I left my house with great wealth. The bandit Elifaz took it all away."
"And Lavan said to him; 'Surely you are my bones and flesh.' " (29:14) QUESTION: They were two separate individuals. How was Yaakov Lavan's bone and flesh? ANSWER: There are three partners in the forming of man. Through the father he receives veins and bones; through the mother, flesh and blood; and through Hashem, the neshamah (Niddah 31a). Yaakov was related to Lavan through both of his parents. Yaakov's mother was Lavan's sister, and his grandfather, Avraham, was a brother to Lavan's grandfather Nachor. Thus, he was a nephew through his mother and a second cousin through his father, Yitzchak. Consequently, through the paternal relationship, they were of "one bone," and from the maternal relationship, they were of "the same flesh."
"And Lavan Said: 'It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to another man.' " (29:19) QUESTION: Why was Lavan so eager that Yaakov marry Rachel? ANSWER: Lavan knew that Yaakov was a great tzaddik. He also knew that his daughter Rachel was a great tzaddeikit. Lavan was sure that if Yaakov would marry another woman, and Rachel would marry another man, Yaakov would make his wife a tzaddeikit and Rachel would make her husband a tzaddik. If this were to happen, Lavan would have to contend with four tzaddikim. Therefore, he would rather that Yaakov marry Rachel so that there would only be two tzaddikim.
Alternatively, in mispar katan ("single numerals" - see p. 4), the word "Titi" adds up to 9, and the word "M'Tiiti" adds up to 13. The name of Lavan's daughter Leah adds up to 9, and Rachel adds up to 13. Lavan was a shrewd operator with a sharp tongue, and Yaakov was a naive yeshivah bachur. Desirous to get the most free labor out of his nephew, Lavan cleverly said to him: "Tov titi otah lach" - "In my opinion, Titi (Leah) is better for you than Mititi (Rachel) because Otah le'ish acheir - She I would prefer to give to another man."
"And Lavan gathered all the people of the place and made a feast." (29:22) QUESTION: When a person plans a wedding, he first prepares the meal and afterwards the guests arrive. Why did Lavan first invite the people and afterwards prepare the meal? ANSWER: Yaakov worked for a period of seven years before Lavan permitted him to marry his daughter. Lavan enjoyed free labor and decided to switch Leah for Rachel, so that Yaakov would work another seven years for nothing. When the first seven-year period was coming to an end, Lavan began planning a wedding. He called together all the people of the city and told them the following: "You all remember very well the difficulty our city had with water before Yaakov came. There was only one well, and all the shepherds had to gather together to uncover it. Luckily, since Yaakov has arrived, our city has been blessed, and we now have a more than sufficient amount of water. "Yaakov is planning to marry my daughter and leave the city, so we may all have to suffer again. If you agree to cooperate with me, I have a plan which will keep him here for another seven years. I will fool him and give him Leah instead of Rachel. I know he wants Rachel very much, so he will stay here for seven more years, and our town will be blessed through him." Everyone approved of the plan. Lavan then told them that in order for him to be sure that nobody would reveal the secret, everyone would have to go home and bring their valuables as a guarantee. Lavan took these valuables to the storekeepers in exchange for all the food needed to make a lavish wedding. Consequently, after first gathering together all the people, he was able to make a beautiful meal without spending a penny of his own.
When the wedding was over, the people came to claim their valuables. Lavan sent them to the storekeepers. The storekeepers told them that they could get back their valuables if they would pay for the food which was given to Lavan in exchange. Wanting back their things, reluctantly they ended up paying all of Lavan's bills. It is, therefore, very befitting that he became known as "Lavan Ha'Arami" "Lavan the Aramean" (with a pun on "HaRamai" - "the Swindler"). Not only did he fool his son-in-law, Yaakov, but he also cheated the entire city in which he lived.
"Lavan gathered all the people of the place and made a feast." (29:22) QUESTION: Why did Lavan only make a big reception for Leah and not for Rachel? ANSWER: Lavan was a crooked person and was going to fool Yaakov into marrying Leah. In order to distract his attention and the attention of all the people of the city, he "wined and dined" them so that they would all be busy with the beautiful party and not have any time to discuss the chatan and kallah. When Yaakov married Rachel this was no longer necessary, so Lavan saved his money and did not make any party at all.
"Lavan said it is against the rules of our city to give in marriage the younger daughter before the older." (29:26) QUESTION: Why did Lavan have to stress "our city?" ANSWER: Wanting to poke fun at Yaakov, Lavan told him, "In our city the people are very honest. We do not do anything unethical. In your city, you were really the younger and your brother Eisav was your senior. You made a crooked deal, and suddenly you became the older one and your brother the younger one. However, in our city such things are frowned upon. Rachel was the younger and will remain the younger, and she cannot marry before her older sister."
"And he also married Rachel, and he loved also Rachel more than Leah." (29:30)
QUESTION: Would it not have been sufficient to say "vaye'ehav et Rachel" - "And he loved Rachel"? ANSWER: Originally, Yaakov wanted to marry Rachel, but Lavan fooled him and gave him Leah instead. Yaakov suspected a trick and therefore arranged secret signs between them. When Rachel saw that her father was going to substitute her sister Leah for her, she became concerned lest her sister be embarrassed. Therefore, she conveyed the secret signs to Leah. When Yaakov became aware of this, his love for Rachel intensified because the way she conducted herself with Leah convinced him even more of her righteousness and good nature. The Torah confirms this by saying: "Vaye'ehav gam et Rachel" - "And he loved (also) Rachel more" - "MiLeah" - "through (because of what she did for) Leah."
"Leah conceived and bore a son. She called his name Reuven, saying, 'G-d saw my affliction.' " (29:32) QUESTION: According to the Gemara (Berachot 7b) the word Reuven is composed of two words - "Re'u Bein" - "See my son." Leah called him Reuven because she said, "See the difference between my son and the son of my father-in-law. Eisav, the son of my father-in-law, sold his bechorah (birthright) to Yaakov and afterwards hated him and complained that he was fooled. Though my son will not sell the bechorah, Yosef will be considered the bechor (first-born) of Yaakov and get an extra share. Nevertheless, my son will not express any resentment" (Rashi).Why does the Gemara give this reason, when in fact Leah herself gave a different reason for the name? ANSWER: Yaakov was very angry when he realized that Lavan had fooled him and had given him Leah instead of Rachel. After he finally married Rachel, he hated Leah and wanted to divorce her. Hashem stopped him by making Rachel barren while Leah bore children (29:30). When Leah gave birth to her first child, she named him Reuven because of the reason the Gemara mentions. However, she did not want to reveal this reason to Yaakov because then he would know that Rachel would eventually have a child, and divorce her. Therefore, when she was asked why she called the boy Reuven, she answered, "Because G-d saw my affliction." It is interesting to note that in the case of all the other children the reason for the name is given first and then the name is mentioned. Only with Reuven is it written, "She gave birth and called him Reuven because she said... ,"
which indicates that this was not the real reason for the name - it was only what she told people.
"She called him Yosef saying, 'May G-d give me another son.' " (30:24) QUESTION: Since the word "acheir" can also mean "different" it would have been better to say "od bein" - "an additional son"? ANSWER: Yaakov was destined to have 12 sons. When Leah became pregnant for the seventh time, she was concerned that if she should have another son, her sister Rachel would be inferior to Bilha and Zilpa, because she would have only one son while they each had two. She therefore prayed for her, and through a miracle, the female in Rachel's womb was transferred to hers and the male in her womb was transferred to Rachel's. Thus, she gave birth to Dinah and Rachel gave birth to Yosef (see Niddah 31b, Maharsha). Thus, when Yosef was born, Rachel prayed to Hashem that He give her "bein acheir" a different type of son, one who would be conceived and carried in her womb from beginning to end.
"I will pass through all your flock today; remove from there every speckled and spotted one." (30:32) QUESTION: When Yaakov told Lavan "remove all the speckled flock," instead of saying: "E'evor bechol tzoncha" "I will pass through all your flock" - he should have said "Ta'avor bechol tzoncha" - "You should pass through all your flock." ANSWER: The Midrash (Pesikta Rabbati, 14) tells of a chasid who sold one of his animals to a non-Jew. When Shabbat came, the animal refused to work until the Jew himself whispered into her ear: "You no longer belong to me, and you may work for your new owner as he requests." Having Yaakov as their shepherd for twenty years, the sheep became attached to him. According to the new agreement, some would remain the property of Lavan, and some would belong to Yaakov. All the sheep preferred being in the holy possession of Yaakov to being in the profane possession of Lavan. Yaakov and Lavan were both aware of this fact, and therefore Yaakov offered: "I will pass through your flock, and I will tell
them of the new arrangement that we made, and then you will be able to remove for yourself all the speckled ones."
"And Yaakov sent and called Rachel and Leah to the field to his flock." (31:4) QUESTION: Yaakov wanted to speak to his wives in privacy and told them to meet him in the fields. Why are the words "el tzono" - "to his flock" - necessary? ANSWER: Lavan and his men knew very well that Yaakov was upset with Lavan's corruptness in dealing with him. If Yaakov would have called his wives to a secret meeting in the fields, immediately Lavan's men would have become suspicious that he was planning to flee, and they would have spied on him. Therefore, he let the word out that he was burdened with taking care of the large flock of sheep and that he was calling upon his wives to help him.
"And Yaakov stole the heart of Lavan the Aramean in that he told him not that he fled." (31:20) QUESTION: Why was Lavan upset? It would have been foolish of Yaakov to tell him that he was running away. ANSWER: One who moves away and takes up residence in a new community tries to establish roots and detach himself from his place of origin. However, one who is forced to flee his city yearns to return at the first opportunity. Before Yaakov left his parent's home, his father told him, "Go to PaddanAram and get married there" (28:2). His mother told him, "Your brother is planning to kill you; therefore, flee to my brother Lavan to Charan"(27:4243). When Yaakov met Lavan he told him only that his father had advised him to come there and that he would like to marry his daughter Rachel, but he did not reveal that his mother had urged him to flee from Eisav. When Yaakov eventually fled, Lavan was angry at him for not notifying originally "ki borei'ach hu" - that he came to his home as a fugitive. Lavan said to Yaakov, "Had I known that you came to me because you were forced to run away, I would have suspected that you intended returning to your
family. Under such circumstances I would never have agreed that you marry my daughters and later separate them from their family."
"And Lavan called it 'Yegar-sahaduta,' but Yaakov called it 'Gal'eid.' And Lavan said, 'This heap of stones is a witness between me and you this day.' Therefore he called it 'Gal'eid.' " (31:47-48) QUESTION: Originally Lavan called it "Yegar-sahaduta"; why did he change his mind and call it "Gal'eid"? ANSWER: While Lavan was eager to reach a peace treaty with Yaakov, he wanted it to be done in his language. Yaakov refused and told Lavan, "If you want a treaty with me, it must be in my language and on my terms." Lavan, seeing Yaakov's persistence, immediately yielded and agreed that everything be done in accordance with Yaakov's conditions. An important lesson can be learned from this: Unfortunately, there are Jews who think that they must compromise in order to find favor in the eyes of society. Torah teaches us never to be ashamed of our authentic ideas and ideals. The world, seeing our sincerity and devotion to Torah, will immediately yield and respect the Jew for his beliefs.
And You Shall Speak of Them
A Compilation of Selected Torah Insights, Thought-Provoking Ideas, Homilies And Explanations of Torah Passages
"And Yaakov sent messengers." (32:4) QUESTION: Rashi comments: "Malachim mamash" "Actual angels."What right did Yaakov have to use Hashem's angels as his messengers? ANSWER: In the final pesukim of the previous parshah, we learn of Yaakov meeting a contingency of angels: "And he (Yaakov) called the name of that place 'Machanaim' " (32:3). From the fact that the Torah speaks of the angels in plural ("Machanaim" being interpreted as "two camps"), it is deduced that there were two sets of angels. One group contained heavenly angels which Hashem created, and the other group were angels who were
created through the mitzvot and good deeds which Yaakov performed (see Avot 4:11). Indeed, Yaakov had no right to use Hashem's angels, but he did have permission to use for his benefit the angels that were created through him. When Yaakov had to prepare for an encounter with Eisav, he sent his angels. Rashi alludes to this by explaining that the angels he sent were "Mamash," an acronym for "MiMaasim Sheloi" - "from his deeds."
"Thus shall you say to my lord, to Eisav: 'Thus said your servant Yaakov: I have sojourned with Lavan.' " (32:5) QUESTION: Yaakov sent a message to Eisav that though he dwelled with the wicked Lavan, he observed the 613 mitzvot (Rashi).Why did Yaakov think that his observance of Torah and mitzvot would make an impression on Eisav? ANSWER: Usually, when two sides are trying to reach an agreement it is necessary for each one to yield a little. Yaakov's message to Eisav was, "I am eager to negotiate with you and to make peace. If necessary, I will make concessions and grant some of your wishes. However, I want you to know that I lived with Lavan and frequently had to negotiate with him. I was always patient and let him have his way. One hundred times he changed his agreement with me regarding my salary (31:41), and I always gave in and never argued. But there was one place where I did not give up one inch: my observance of Torah and mitzvot. "I am therefore informing you that I am easy to deal with, but if you are expecting me to compromise on Torah and mitzvot, then there can be no discussion between us."
"Thus shall you say to my lord, to Eisav: 'Thus said your servant Yaakov: I have sojourned with Lavan.' " (32:5) QUESTION: Rashi comments: "The letters of 'garti' correspond numerically to 613, that is, 'with Lavan the wicked I sojourned, but the 613 Commandments I observed, and I did not learn from his evil deeds.' "Rashi's words, "I did not learn from his evil deeds," are seemingly redundant. If he observed 613 mitzvot, is it not obvious that Lavan had no influence over him?
ANSWER: Yaakov was not expressing satisfaction for not learning from Lavan's evil deeds. On the contrary, he was expressing his dissatisfaction and frustration. Yaakov sent a message to Eisav: "I lived in the home of Lavan for twenty years, during which I observed how enthusiastically he performed his sins. Though I fulfilled 613 mitzvot, I did not apply his level of excitement to my Torah and mitzvot." Yaakov humbly said: "If only I would have performed mitzvot with the excitement and vigor with which he performed his sins!"
The Chiddushei HaRim (first Rebbe of Ger) once said concerning missionaries: "If we were to work for the emet (spreading Torah and Yiddishkeit) with an emet (sincerity), like they work for the sheker (falsehood) with an emet, we would experience immense success."
"I have sojourned with Lavan, and lingered until now. And I have oxen, and donkeys and flocks, and men-servants and maidservants; and I have sent to tell my lord, that I may find favor in your eyes." (32:5-6) QUESTION: Why was it necessary for Yaakov to tell Eisav "va'eichar ad atah" - "And I lingered until now"? ANSWER: Many years had lapsed since Yaakov and Eisav had last met, and now Yaakov endeavored to find favor in his eyes. Yaakov thought that Eisav could question the messengers: "If Yaakov is such a good friend of mine, why has he not bothered to contact me all these years?" He therefore instructed them to tell Eisav that the reason why "va'eichar ad atah" - " 'I lingered until now' - and did not come to meet you earlier - was because I was a poor shepherd, working with the herds of our uncle Lavan. I was sure you would be disappointed and hurt to hear of my poverty I was experiencing. However, now that 'I have oxen, and donkeys,' I am contacting you and informing you of the good news, because I am sure you will be pleased by my success, and that 'I may find favor in your eyes.' "
"We came to your brother, to Eisav, and moreover, he is heading toward you with an army of 400 men." (32:7) QUESTION: Why did Eisav take so many people with him?
ANSWER: Eisav always tried to seem very scrupulous in the mitzvah of honoring one's father. He knew very well that Yitzchak would be greatly disappointed with him and very angry if he would kill Yaakov. Therefore, he took a large crowd of people so that he could have an excuse for Yitzchak. He would tell him that it was not he who killed Yaakov: "My friends were very upset because of what Yaakov did to me; as soon as they saw him, they went out of control, and I was unable to stop them from killing him."
"Yaakov was greatly afraid and worried." (32:8) QUESTION: Rashi explains that he was afraid of getting killed and worried "That he might kill others." Who are the others Yaakov was afraid he would kill? ANSWER: When the Romans wanted to destroy the Beit Hamikdash, they sent armies headed by Niron Kaisar, who was a descendant of Eisav. During the war he had a change of mind and converted to Judaism. The famous Talmudic sage Rabbi Meir was one of his descendants (Gittin 56a). Due to an incident between him and Rabban Gamliel, Rabbi Meir was not referred to by name, but was known as "acheirim" - "others" (Horiyot 13b). Yaakov was worried that if he killed Eisav, then his descendant "acheirim" Rabbi Meir - would be prevented from coming to this world.
"And he said, 'If Eisav comes to the first camp and destroys it, then the other camp which is left shall escape.' " (32:9) QUESTION: How was Yaakov sure that the other camp would survive? ANSWER: Eisav planned to kill Yaakov for taking away the berachot. Rivkah was very worried and instructed Yaakov to run away, saying, "Why should I lose the two of you on one day?" (27:45) From the way she expressed herself, Yaakov deduced that he and Eisav would probably perish on the very same day. Thus, he divided his people into two camps and distanced them a day apart. His reasoning was that if Eisav would destroy the first camp with Yaakov in their midst, he would also perish on that day. Thus, the second camp would survive.
"Rescue me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Eisav." (32:12) QUESTION: Yaakov's only brother was Eisav; why did he specify "The hand of my brother, the hand of Eisav"? ANSWER: Yaakov had two fears; physical and spiritual. Firstly, if Eisav and his army attacked him, he might be overpowered and killed. Secondly, if he became friendly with him, Eisav would be a bad influence on Yaakov's family. Therefore, he prayed, "Rescue me from the hand of my brother," that he should not harm them spiritually, through becoming a "brother" and good friend of the family. Also, he prayed that the vicious "hand" of Eisav should not attack and, G-d forbid, physically harm the family.
The Gemara (Berachot 30b) says that when one is in the midst of prayer, even if the king greets him and inquires about his wellbeing or even if a snake is wound round his heel, he should not interrupt his prayers. In view of the abovementioned, this halacha can be explained as a metaphor. Throughout the long galut (exile), the Jewish people are confronted with basically two types of experiences: Sometimes we experience a seemingly benevolent government which expresses interest in our welfare and grants us equal rights. In other instances, governments encircle the Jewish people like a snake. We are oppressed, put in ghettos, and suffer from the many restrictions placed upon us. Our wise Sages are teaching us that, regardless how the situation appears, we should not make any break in our prayers. At all times we must continue to pray to Hashem that he liberate us from galut immediately.
"For I fear him." (32:12) QUESTION: The word "oto" - "him" - seems extra? ANSWER: Originally Yitzchak wanted to give the berachot to Eisav. In order to obtain the berachot, Yaakov disguised himself as Eisav. He did this so well that Yitzchak was convinced that Yaakov was really "him" (Eisav) and gave the berachot. Thereafter, Eisav bore a grudge against Yaakov and looked for an opportunity to kill him.
Now the time had arrived for Yaakov to meet Eisav face to face. He prayed to Hashem saying, "Please save me, I am afraid...he may take revenge for 'oto,' (him). Because I obtained the berachot by pretending to be 'him.' "
"Lest he come and strike me down, mother and children." (32:12) QUESTION: Yaakov, having four wives, should have expressed his concern in the plural: "imahot" - "mothers?" ANSWER: Many people calculated that since Lavan had two daughters, Leah and Rachel, and his sister Rivkah had two sons, Eisav and Yaakov, the older son Eisav would marry the older daughter Leah, and the younger Yaakov - would marry Rachel. For many years Leah cried her eyes out that this not happen, and Hashem accepted her plea (see Rashi 29:17). Yaakov was afraid that Eisav might carry a special grudge against Leah for not wanting to marry him. Therefore, he worried that Eisav might come and smite "the mother" - Leah.
"And he took from what came to his hand...a present for Eisav his brother." (32:14) QUESTION: The words "from what came to his hand" seem extra? ANSWER: The prophet Eliyahu confronted the false prophets who worshipped idols. To prove their falsehood, he challenged them to offer an ox as a sacrifice to their idol, and he would bring an ox as a sacrifice to Hashem. The true G-d would send down a fire to the altar which would consume the sacrifice. An ox selected for the false prophets ran away and refused to be used for this purpose. Eliyahu ran after him, and when he caught up with him, the ox complained, "Why should I be used as a sacrifice for idol worship while the other ox is for Hashem?" Eliyahu comforted him by telling him, "Through the both of you, Hashem's name will be sanctified." He then took the ox in his hand and handed him over to the false prophets (see Rashi to 1 Kings, 18:26). A similar occurrence took place now. When Yaakov began preparing the many animals for the gift to Eisav, they all objected and refused to go. Yaakov had to take them with his hand and persuade them to go.
He promised them participation in a kiddush Hashem, for when Mashiach comes, Eisav will return to the Jewish people the entire gift with interest.
When Eisav met Yaakov he refused the gift saying, "My brother, let yours be yours" (33:9). Why was the wicked Eisav suddenly so generous? Eisav knew that this gift was something which would be his only temporarily and need to be returned when Mashiach comes (see Bereishit Rabbah 78:12). Therefore, he said to Yaakov, "Since in reality this is destined to be yours, keep it and don't cause me the hardship of having to care for it and pay it back at a later date with interest."
"And his eleven children." (32:23) QUESTION: Rashi asks, "Where was Dinah?" and gives the answer that she was hidden in a box and, therefore, is not counted. How does Rashi know that the reference to eleven children does not include the daughter Dinah; maybe it does not include one of the sons? ANSWER: One of the reasons why the Beit Hamikdash was built in Jerusalem on the land of Binyamin is that he was not born when Yaakov met Eisav and, thus, did not bow down to Eisav (Yalkut Meam Loez, Devarim 33:12). When Yaakov met Eisav, he had eleven sons and one daughter. If we should say that the eleven children included Dinah and one of the sons was hidden in the box, then that child would deserve that the Beit Hamikdash be built on his land more than Binyamin; because he was already born and did not bow to Eisav, while Binyamin was not even born at the time. Therefore, Rashi knew that the missing child had to be Dinah, who did not get a share of Eretz Yisrael.
"And Yaakov was left alone." (32:25) QUESTION: Rashi says that Yaakov forgot "pachim katanim" - "small jars" - and he returned to pick them up. Which small jars did Yaakov forget?
ANSWER: In Eretz Yisrael, if a Jew should notice spots on the walls of his house, he is to contact a Kohen, who comes and examines the house to see if the house is defiled. He first instructs the person to remove all items from the house and only afterwards, when the house is emptied of all its contents, does he declare the house defiled. The reason is that the Torah does not want the contents of the house to become defiled and unfit for use. From this halacha, the Zohar learns a very interesting lesson: If Hashem was concerned that even small jars should not become defiled and unfit for use, how much more so should a talmid chacham have concern over himself and not endanger himself by walking alone. He should always have two people accompanying him. When Rashi taught his students the story of Yaakov remaining alone and being attacked by the angel of Eisav, a question was raised: Why was Yaakov alone? Rashi told his students that obviously Yaakov momentarily forgot the lesson of the Zohar which a talmid chacham has to derive from Hashem's concern even over small jars. Consequently, he went out alone and was in great danger.
"And Yaakov was left alone; and a man wrestled with him, until the break of the dawn. And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh." (32:25-26) QUESTION: Why did the angel wrestle with Yaakov and not with Avraham or Yitzchak? ANSWER: The world stands upon three pillars: Torah study, service of Hashem (prayer), and acts of kindness. Each of the three patriarchs was the prototype of one of these pillars. Avraham excelled in chesed - kindness. Yitzchak was associated with prayer, as the pasuk states: "Vayeitzei Yitzchak lasuach basadeh" - "And Yitzchak went out to meditate in the field" (24:63). Yaakov was "ish tam yosheiv ohalim" - "a sincere man, dwelling in tents" (25:27). He spent his time in the "tents" of Torah. The "man" who wrestled with Yaakov was the angel of Eisav. He was the adversary of the Jewish people, and striving to bring about, G-d forbid, their immediate destruction. Of the three patriarchs, he had little fear of Avraham, because the continuity of the Jewish people (Yiddishkeit) cannot be contingent on acts of kindness such as building hospitals for the sick and homes for the aged. Nor can the posterity of the Jewish people (Yiddishkeit) be assured through people reciting their prayers on a daily basis. The secret of our existence is the study of Torah and teaching it to our children as soon as they are of age to understand it. Thus, by obstructing the study of Torah,
the representative of Eisav hoped to jeopardize the continuity of the Jewish people. This battle is a never ending one, and even when unable to topple Yaakov himself, Eisav tries to "wrestle" with "kaf yereicho" - "the hollow of his thigh" - which represents the children and future generations of Yaakov. When the Torah enumerates the family of Yaakov, it calls them "yotzei yereicho" - "[who] came out of his thighs" (46:26).
"And the sun rose up for him." (32:32) QUESTION: Hashem made the sun rise earlier in order to heal Yaakov's injury (Rashi). Why was this necessary? ANSWER: Everyday, before the sun or the moon begin to serve the world, they immerse in the fiery river of Dinur (Yalkut Shimoni Isaiah 68). The Shelah explains that it is because the non-Jewish world worships the sun and the moon, and through this immersion they are cleansed from any effect of the idol worship. The sun is known to possess healing powers. However, Yaakov would have refused to benefit from it because it is worshipped as an idol, and according to halacha, it is forbidden to derive any pleasure from something used for idol worship. (Yoreh Dei'ah 142, 155). Therefore, for the sake of Yaakov's healing, Hashem made the sun rise earlier. While the non-Jewish world was still asleep and had not yet worshiped the sun that day, Yaakov benefited from the sun's healing powers.
"Eisav ran to meet Yaakov and embraced him." (33:4) QUESTION: Rashi says that there is a halacha that Eisav hates Yaakov. What does Eisav's hatred of Yaakov have to do with halacha? ANSWER: From the fact that a non-Jew hates a Jew, a new halacha was formulated. If two Jews are eating a meal, one eating meat and the other dairy, they are not to share one table because they may exchange some of their food. However, a Jew and a non-Jew are permitted to share a table, even if one is eating meat and the other is eating dairy. The reason is that the non-Jew hates the Jew and there will not be any exchange of food between them.
"Eisav lifted his eyes and saw the women and children. He said, 'Who are these to you?' And Yaakov replied, 'The children which G-d has graciously given to your servant.' " (33:5) QUESTION: Eisav asked about the women and the children. Why did Yaakov reply only about the children? ANSWER: The angels Yaakov sent to Eisav, described Yaakov as extremely pious; even in the house of Lavan he observed the 613 mitzvot. When Eisav met Yaakov and saw his wives, he said to Yaakov, "I heard that you were very observant in the house of Lavan. If that is true, I wonder - 'Mi Eleh Lach'? - Why, after you already married Leah, did you allow yourself to marry her sister Rachel?" (The word "Eileh" can be rearranged to spell "Leah.") Yaakov replied, "We have a halacha that 'A convert to Judaism is considered like a newborn child' (Yevamot 22b). Before marrying, I had to convert Leah and Rachel. Consequently, my two wives are 'hayeladim' - the newborn children which Hashem was kind enough to grant me - and thus, I did not violate any law."
"And Eisav said, 'I have a lot,' and Yaakov said, 'Please accept my gift ... because I have everything.' " (33:9-11) QUESTION: Why did Eisav say, "I have a lot" while Yaakov said, "I have everything"? ANSWER: Yaakov was a righteous person, and Eisav was wicked. The wicked are never fully satisfied. Therefore, Eisav said, "I have a lot." He was insinuating that though he did have much wealth, he was not content because he did not have it all. The nature of a tzaddik is to be happy with whatever he has and not desire more. Therefore Yaakov said, "Whatever I have is what Hashem gave me, and to me it is everything - I do not need any more."
"The flock are weak; if they are overdriven one day they will die." (33:13)
QUESTION: Why didn't Yaakov accept Eisav's offer to accompany him, and travel together at a slower pace? ANSWER: The Patriarchs observed the Torah, and thus Yaakov was a Shomer Shabbat to the fullest degree. Eisav, being a non-Jew, was forbidden to observe Shabbat and could be put to death should he do so (Sanhedrin 58b). Yaakov told Eisav, "When Shabbat comes I will have to rest for a day together with my entire camp, and you must continue on since you are forbidden to observe Shabbat. Sunday, I will have to go very quickly and cover two days of travel in one, in order to catch up with you. I am therefore afraid, that since my flock are weak and I will overdrive them 'yom echad' 'on the first day of the week' (Sunday) - they will all die on me, and I will be left with nothing."
"And Yaakov came complete (see Rashi) to the city of Shechem." (33:18) QUESTION: What does "coming complete" mean? ANSWER: The word "shalom" is an acronym for "sheim" - name - "lashon" - language - and "malbush" - garment. The Torah is attesting that though Yaakov associated with Lavan for twenty years, it did not have any affect upon him. He did not modernize and adopt a new name. He did not stop speaking his native tongue, Lashon HaKodesh-Hebrew, nor did he change his style of clothing according to the popular trend of Lavan's society, in the streets of Charan.
"And there went out Dinah, the daughter of Leah, whom she bore to Yaakov, to look upon the daughters of the land." (34:1) QUESTION: Why is Dinah referred to as "bat Leah" "daughter of Leah"? ANSWER: Having become pregnant for the seventh time, Leah was worried that this could cause embarrassment to her sister Rachel. She knew that Yaakov was destined to father twelve tribes. Since she already had six sons, and the two maids, Bilha and Zilpa, had two sons each, if she were to have a seventh son, Rachel would seem less worthy than the maids. Therefore, she prayed that her sister be spared embarrassment.
At the time of her prayers, Rachel, too, was pregnant and was carrying a girl. In response to her prayers, Hashem miraculously transferred the girl in Rachel's womb to Leah, and the boy carried by Leah to Rachel (Niddah 31a, Maharsha). Thus Rachel gave birth to Yosef, and Leah to Dinah. Consequently, the Torah emphasizes that Dinah was the daughter of Leah, because without her prayers, Leah would never have given birth to her.
"Shimon and Levi, Dinah's brothers, took each man his sword." (34:25) QUESTION: The word "ish" - "[each] man" - seems superfluous? ANSWER: At the time when this episode took place, Shimon and Levi were thirteen years old. The reference to them as "ish" is to teach that at the age of thirteen, one becomes a full fledged member of Klal Yisrael and obligated to observe all the mitzvot of the Torah (Avot 5:22, Bartenura). The Rosh in his Responsa (Klal 16a) writes that the age of thirteen for Bar Mitzvah is not based on a Biblical source, but is like all measurements, a Halacha LeMoshe MiSinai - an instruction given to Moshe when he was on Mt. Sinai.
The difference between the two views on Bar Mitzvah is relevant to Noachides. At what age are they obligated to perform their mitzvot? If it is derived from the case of Shimon and Levi, the number 13 would apply to a Noachide. However, if it is considered an instruction which was given to Moshe, this would not apply to a Noachide. Because, things which are learned through Halacha LeMoshe MiSinai are only for Israelites and not Noachides. Therefore, as soon as the Noachide shows signs of understanding and responsibility he is obligated to perform his mitzvot (Talmudic Encyclopedia, vol. 3, pg. 361).
The fact that a source for Bar Mitzvah is derived from Shimon and Levi imparts another very important lesson: As soon as one becomes thirteen years of age, one is expected to have mesirat nefesh (i.e., the highest degree of dedication) to defend and protect the integrity and sanctity of Klal Yisrael as well as each and every Jew.
"They came upon the city confidently and killed every male." (34:25) QUESTION: Why were Shimon and Levi confident that they would succeed? ANSWER: Shechem wanted very much to marry Dinah. The sons of Yaakov agreed to the marriage on the condition that all the men of the city undergo a brit and be circumcised like Jews. Shimon and Levi knew very well that if they would attack non-Jews, the residents of all cities around them would make an uproar and come to their rescue. Once they were circumcised, the entire world would consider them as members of the Jewish population and look aside when Jews were being killed. This sad truth was Shimon and Levi's source of confidence.
"And the fear of Hashem was on the cities, and they did not chase after the children of Yaakov." (35:5) QUESTION: Why is the term "chitat" used and not "yirat," the more commonly used term for fear? ANSWER: The word "Chitas" - "fear" - is also an acronym for Chumash, Tehillim and Tanya. The previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, urged that every day of the week, every Jew should study the portion of Chumash for the day of the week (Sunday till Sheini, Monday till Shlishi), a portion of Tehillim according to the day of the month (the Tehillim is divided for the 30 days of the Hebrew month), and a portion of Tanya as it is divided for each day of the year. This is a great segulah for everyone materially and spiritually. In 1843 the Tzemach Tzedek (the third Lubavitcher Rebbe) sent his son Rabbi Shmuel to Petersburg to discuss some communal concerns. Prior to his departure he told him that his mother, Devorah Leah, appeared to him and told him that she had the zechut to visit the holy palace of the Ba'al Shem Tov in heaven. She sought his blessing to alleviate the difficulties confronting her son from the adversaries of Chassidic teachings. The Ba'al Shem Tov told her that through learning the holy seforim Chumash, Tehillim and Tanya, all difficulties and "barriers" would be nullified. This pasuk alludes to this: "Vayehi Chitas" - when one learns Chumash, Tehillim and Tanya, then - no one will chase after the children of Yaakov to do them any harm materially or spiritually.
"When her labor was at its worst, the midwife said to her, 'Don't be afraid. This one will also be a son for you.' " (35:17) QUESTION: What was Rachel's fear and how did the midwife comfort her? ANSWER: When Chava persuaded Adam to eat the forbidden fruits of the Tree of Knowledge, she was cursed to experience difficulties during childbirth. Since then, it has become common for all women to experience pain while giving birth. According to the Gemara (Niddah 31a), the pains at the birth of a girl are more severe than those of a boy. Rachel knew that Yaakov would be the father of the twelve tribes. When she gave birth to her first son, she named him Yosef, saying, "May Hashem give me another son" (30:24). Thus, she expressed the hope to be a mother to two tribes. As she was giving birth, her exceptionally strong pains frightened her. She was unaware that this was because she was going to die during childbirth. She feared she was giving birth to a daughter and was being denied the merit of giving birth to the twelfth of the tribes. The midwife comforted her by telling her not to fear: "Your interpretation of the pains is incorrect. You are indeed giving birth to a son, and the excruciating pains you are experiencing are unrelated to the gender of the child."
"As she was expiring, she called him 'the son of my agony,' and his father called him 'Binyamin.' " (35:18) QUESTION: Why, when Rachel was in such a condition, did Yaakov argue with her over the name to be given to the newborn child? ANSWER: Rachel felt that her life in this world was ending, and she worried about what would happen to her child if he grew up without the care of a mother. As Yaakov was sitting at her bedside, she expressed her feelings: "I am very concerned about my child. I pray that when I am gone from this world and in my heavenly abode, his behavior should not cause me pain and agony." Yaakov, wanting to comfort his dying wife, told her not to worry. He promised her that he would take extra care of him and assured her that he would be a "ben yamin" - "a right son," one who would conduct himself as is right for his family, and a source of "nachas" to his mother in Gan Eden.
"And Timnah was Elifaz's concubine, and she bore him Amalek." (36:12) QUESTION: Why was she called "Timnah"? ANSWER: The Gemara says that Rabbi Meir carefully studied and analyzed the names of people (Yoma 83b). Giving a name to a person is not just a matter of whim; it is a form of prophecy (see Likkutei Sichot, vol. 7, pg. 308). In retrospect, one often sees how the name fits the character of the person. Sometimes the name even indicates an event which may happen in the future. The purpose of having children is to assure the continuity of the family. Timnah gave birth to Elifaz, who was the father of Amalek. Hashem promised that, "I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under the heaven" (Shemot 17:14). The root of the word "Timnah" is "Mena", which means "to prevent" (See 30:2). This name suited her very well because her wicked grandchild prevented her from enjoying posterity.
"These are the children of Reuel, the son of Eisav, chief Nachas." (36:17) QUESTION: Why, when we wish a person "nachas" from his children and grandchildren, do we emphasize Yiddishe or chassidishe nachas? ANSWER: Eisav had a grandchild named "Nachas." Therefore, when wishing someone "nachas," we accentuate that we are not referring, G-d forbid, to the type of Nachas Eisav had. We are referring to real "nachas," the kind which is derived from children and grandchildren who grow up in a Yiddish and chassidish way.
And You Shall Speak of Them
A Compilation of Selected Torah Insights, Thought-Provoking Ideas, Homilies And Explanations of Torah Passages
"And Yaakov dwelt in the land of his father's sojournings in the land of Canaan." (37:1)
QUESTION: "Yaakov desired to dwell in peace, but there sprang upon him the troubles of Yosef" (Rashi). Why did Yaakov now think that he then merited to dwell in peace? ANSWER: When Hashem made the covenant with Avraham, He told him, "Your children will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and they will be in servitude for 400 years" (15:13). If the exile of Egypt is calculated from the birth of Yitzchak, the total is 400 years. However, if we calculate from the time of the covenant, the exile was to be 430 years (see Shemot 12:40). Yaakov thought that Hashem's words to Avraham, "your children," referred to Yitzchak and Yishmael. In addition, he and Eisav, too, would share the exile. Consequently, he and his father Yitzchak would each suffer approximately 108 years (a total of 215 years) and Yishmael and Eisav, too, would suffer for 215 years, with a sum total of 430 years. Yaakov married Rachel at the age of 84, and when he was 91, Yosef was born. Since Yosef was 17 years old at this time, Yaakov was now 108 years old. Therefore, Yaakov thought that he had completely paid his share of the debt of exile and now desired to dwell in peace.
"And he dreamt another dream [about the sun, moon and stars bowing to him] and he told it to his brothers." (37:9) QUESTION: Yosef's brothers hated him after he told them the first dream. Why did he continue to antagonize them by relating his other dream? ANSWER: The Gemara (Berachot 55b) states that we dream at night what we think about during the day. In relating the first dream, Yosef told his brothers about the material success and wealth he anticipated. Though they all worked together in the field, he would become richer, and they would bow to him. When the brothers heard this, they hated him because they figured that the dream depicted what he thought about during the day. Yosef was eager to prove to his brothers that the first dream was an act of heaven and not related to his daytime thinking. Therefore, he told them of the second dream, which was about an impossibility (how could his mother who died bow to him?). He hoped they would believe that just as he did not think about this during the day, he also did not think about the contents of the first dream during the day.
The brothers realized that his dreams were valid and that they were a signal from heaven; therefore, upon hearing the second dream, they became jealous of him.
"He related the dream to his father and brothers; His father scolded him saying, 'What is this dream that you dreamt!?' " (37:10) QUESTION: It would have been sufficient to say, "What is this dream!?" What is the reason for the apparently superfluous words "asher chalamta" - "that you dreamt"? ANSWER: A story is told of a man who came to shul one morning and told his friend that he had dreamt that he was becoming the Rebbe of a group of chassidim. His friend said to him, "You fool! If the chassidim would have dreamt that you were becoming their Rebbe, the dream would have some meaning. But if it was you and not they, of what significance is it?" Yaakov knew very well that Yosef's dreams had profound meaning, and he was also keenly aware of his brothers' jealousy and hatred towards him. In an attempt to defuse their animosity, he said to Yosef, "Of what meaning could this dream be, asher chalamta - if you were the one who dreamt? Had your brothers or I dreamt that you would rule over us, then we would be worried and concerned. If you, however, dreamt of ruling over us and we did not, then obviously your dream was an expression of your own foolish thoughts and of no significance!"
"And a man found him, and, behold, he was wandering in the field. And the man asked him, saying: What do you seek?" (37:15) QUESTION: Rashi comments: "This is Gavriel."In the previous parshah, when Yaakov remained alone, "a man" "ish" - wrestled with him. Rashi comments that this was Samael, the angel of Eisav (32:25). What influenced Rashi here to interpret the word "ish" in such a different way in regard to Yosef? ANSWER: By carefully analyzing the two incidents, one can easily draw a conclusion as to who the "ish" was. In both episodes, a righteous person, either Yaakov or Yosef, remained lonely and desolate. When one is in such a situation, and a person comes to one's aid undoubtedly he is a good angel the angel Gavriel. However, when he attacks and exploits the other's
situation, he is definitely not a good angel, but rather a representative of Eisav.
"Reuven heard and he saved him from their hands." (37:21) QUESTION: What was it that Reuven heard that made him decide to save Yosef from the hands of the brothers? ANSWER: The preceding pasuk relates that the brothers said, "Let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits, and we will say an evil beast ate him up, and - We will see what will become of his dreams." Rashi says, that Rabbi Yitzchak interpreted these words not as a saying of the brothers, but as Ruach Hakodesh. Hashem was saying "You are planning to kill him; we shall see what will be with his dreams. Will your plan be realized and he will be dead, or will My words be fulfilled and his dreams reach fruition?" The brothers did not hear this Holy voice, but Reuven did. Thus, he immediately decided that he was obligated to save Yosef and bring him back to Yaakov.
"Yehudah said... 'what will we gain if we slay our brother?' " (37:26) QUESTION: What was Yehudah alluding to with the word "Betza" - "gain"? ANSWER: The word (betza) is an acronym for "Boker" (morning), "Tzaharayim" (afternoon), and "Arvis" (evening). These are the three times a day when a Jew is required to pray to Hashem. Yehudah told his brothers, "If we kill our brother, Yosef, our hands will be covered with blood and no longer will we be able to pray to Hashem."
The letters of the word "Betza" are also the second letters of the names of our Patriarchs Avraham, Yitzchok, Yaakov. Yehudah told his brothers, "If we commit the crime of killing our brother, we will be detaching ourselves from the ways of our ancestors Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov and lose the merits they afford their descendants."
"And Yehudah said to his brothers: 'What [money - Targum Onkelos] will we gain if we slay our brother?' " (37:26) QUESTION: The Gemara (Sanhedrin 6b) draws a parallel between the word (betza) in this pasuk, and the word (botzei'a) in the pasuk: "Ubotzei'a beireich ni'eitz Hashem" "The brazen robber says a blessing; he has mocked G-d" (Psalms 10:3) and thus concludes that he who blesses Yehudah is committing blasphemy. Why should Yehudah not be praised for sparing the life of Yosef? ANSWER: Of course, were it not for Yehudah's intervention, the brothers could have, G-d forbid, killed Yosef. For this noble act, he deserves credit. However, our Sages do not approve the rationale he used to convince his brothers. Saying "What money will we gain if we slay our brother?" is tantamount to the popular adage "Crime does not pay." The Torah does not accept this philosophy, and considers it erroneous. Crimes should never be committed, even if there are financial benefits. Thus, the Torah is pleased with Yehudah's actions, but displeased with those who praise his reasoning.
"Come, and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, but let not our hand be upon him." (37:27) QUESTION: The words "veyadeinu al tehi bo" - "but let not our hand be upon him" - seem superfluous? ANSWER: The seventh of the Ten Commandments is "You shall not steal," which refers to kidnapping. According to halacha, one who kidnaps is not put to death unless he makes the person he kidnapped work for him, and then sells him (Rambam, Geneivah 9:2). In order to prevent the punishment of death, the brothers plotted to sell him to the Ishmaelites, and said "let not our hand be upon him - we should not make him to do any work for us and thus avoid being liable for the death penalty."
"Come, and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, but let not our hand be upon him; for our brother, he is our flesh." (37:27) QUESTION: What is meant by the words "he is our flesh"?
ANSWER: According to Gemara (Niddah 31a), there are three partners in the formation of man: Through Hashem, he receives a soul; through the father, the bones, nails, and brain; and through the mother, the skin and flesh. When Leah was pregnant for the seventh time, after having already given birth to six sons, she "passed judgment on herself: 'If this one will be a male, then my sister Rachel will not even be like one of the maidservants' [who had each given birth to two sons]" (Rashi 30:21). Miraculously, the male she carried was transferred to Rachel, and she gave birth to the female Rachel was carrying (Niddah 31b, Maharsha). Since Yosef was originally carried by Leah, a common denominator shared by the majority of the brothers was that they were his brothers from the same mother. Thus, they all received their flesh from the same source.
"Let us sell him to the Ishmaelites....A group of Midianite businessmen passed; they pulled Yosef out of the pit and sold him to the Ishmaelites....and the Midianites sold him to Egypt to Potifar....Potifar bought him from the Ishmaelites." (37:27-28, 36, 39:1) QUESTION: In reality, to whom was he sold, and who sold him to Potifar? ANSWER: The first strangers who approached the pit were the Ishmaelites. They usually dealt in kerosene and grease and had no knowledge in slave dealings. Afterwards a group of Midianite business brokers passed by. (When one wants to buy or sell something, he contacts a business broker who negotiates the purchase or the sale and shares in the profit.) The Midianites appraised Yosef and, upon their advice, the Ishmaelites bought him for twenty silver pieces. The title for Yosef was made out to the Ishmaelites, who were the real buyers. The Midianites made an agreement with the Ishmaelites that they would undertake to sell him and share in the profits. Upon arrival in Egypt the Midianites arranged a sale to Potifar. In order to legalize the sale, it was necessary to make a title change. Thus, the Ishmaelites, who held the original title, transferred it to Potifar.
"They sold Yosef to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver." (37:28)
QUESTION: With the money they bought themselves shoes (Targum Yonatan Ben Uziel). Why shoes? ANSWER: The Gemara (Berachot 35b) states that it is forbidden to derive any pleasure from this world without reciting a berachah. Therefore, when one buys a new garment, one recites a shehecheyanu. After receiving the money, the brothers were in a dilemma because they would have to make a berachah before enjoying any new thing they would buy. However, making a berachah over an item attained through wrongdoing is tantamount to blaspheming Hashem (Psalms 10:3). Nevertheless, there is a halacha in the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 223:6) that on new shoes one need not make a berachah of shehecheyanu. Therefore, to circumvent the problem of a berachah, they had no other alternative but to buy shoes with the money.
"And he returned to his brothers and said, 'The child is not here and where shall I go?' And they took Yosef's shirt and slaughtered a goatling and dipped the shirt in the blood." (37:30-31) QUESTION: Why did they wait to dip Yosef's shirt in blood until Reuven's return, instead of doing it immediately when they took off his shirt? ANSWER: Every day one of the brothers would be home to assist Yaakov with his needs. On the day Yosef met his brothers in the field, it was Reuven's turn to be with Yaakov. As soon as the brothers saw Yosef, they conspired to slay him. Reuven, being the oldest, realized his responsibility to save him. He instructed his brothers to throw him into the pit and not to place a hand upon him. When Reuven came home, undoubtedly, his father asked him if he had met Yosef and how he was. Reuven told him that they had met and that all was well with him. Originally, the brothers did not want to lie to their father by telling him that Yosef had been killed by a beast. Should Yaakov ask them about Yosef, they planned to merely say, "We are not our brother's keeper; we did not see him and we have no knowledge of his whereabouts; possibly he was devoured by a beast." However, when Reuven returned and saw Yosef missing from the pit, he exclaimed, "If the lad is not here, how will I be able to face my father? I
have already told him that I have seen him and that all was well with him. Father will definitely suspect that we killed him and hold me responsible!" To help Reuven out of his dilemma, the brothers then fabricated an alibi that after they had seen Yosef, he had gone, and that apparently he had been killed by a wild beast. They said further, "The shirt we found substantiates this."
" 'Recognize please if this is your son's shirt.' He recognized it and said, 'It is the shirt of my son; a savage beast devoured him! Yosef has surely been torn to bits!' " (37:32-33) QUESTION: How did Yaakov know an animal killed Yosef and not a person? ANSWER: Pharaoh wanted to destroy the Jewish people, so he ordered the midwives to kill all the newborn male children. When he reprimanded them for not following his orders, they replied that the Jewish women are unique, "Ki Chayos Hena" The Gemara (Sotah 11b) explains their answer to mean that the Jewish people are likened to "chayot" - animals - Yosef to an ox, Yehudah to a lion, Yissachar to donkey, etc., and in general, the Jewish people as a whole are referred to as a lioness. Just as an animal does not need help in giving birth, so the Jewish mothers. When the brothers asked Yaakov "Is this your son's shirt?" it puzzled him very much that they did not refer to him by his name, "Yosef." This brought him to the conclusion that the brothers really hated Yosef, to the extent that they would not even mention his name. Not wanting to accuse them openly, he said "a wild animal," alluding that his children, who are likened to different animals, must have killed him. He supported his theory by the fact that "they tore up Yosef's [name]" - and did not use it when talking about him.
"He flatly refused [the request of Potifar's wife]." (39:8) QUESTION: Why is the cantillation (trop) on the word "Vayemoein" a shalshelet? ANSWER: When Yosef came home, Potifar's wife tried to persuade him to violate the Torah. Before his eyes was the image of his father warning, "If
you commit a sin your name will not be mentioned on the Kohen Gadol's breastplate (Choshen)." So he flatly refused. The cantillation of shalshelet indicates that the word should be sounded with a three-tiered tremolo tone. Accordingly, the word "Vayemoein" is an acronym for the three reasons Yosef turned down Potifar's wife: "Vayar Yosef Mareh Aviv Negdo" - "Yosef saw his father's image in front of him." "Vayomer Yaakov Michoshen Atoh Nimchaks" - "Yaakov said, 'Your name will be omitted from the breastplate.' " "Vayar Yosef Mitamei Es Nafshoi" - "Yosef was afraid he might defile his soul."
" 'How then can I perpetrate this great evil and sinn against G-d?' And it came to pass, as she spoke to Yosef day by day, he would not listen to her to lie beside her, to be with her." (39:9-10) QUESTION: On the words "lishkav etzlah" - "to lie with her" - Rashi comments "even without intercourse." On the words "liheyot ima" - "to be with her" - Rashi comments: "In the world to come." 1. What would she accomplish if he would just lie beside her? 2. How did Potifar's wife expect to be with Yosef in Olam Haba if they would commit a sin? 3. Yosef told her: "How can I do this great evil?" He should have said: "I cannot do any evil!" 4. "Vechatati Leilokim" - "and I sinned against G-d" - is in past tense. Should he not have said "Ve'echeta Leilokim" - "I will sin against G-d" - in the future tense? ANSWER: Potifar's wife knew very well that Yosef was a great tzaddik, and had never in his life violated Torah law. Consequently, among all the mitzvot he performed, he was lacking the fulfillment of the mitzvah of teshuvah. Therefore, she encouraged Yosef to do one aveira (transgression) through her and immediately afterwards do teshuvah. Hence, he would be
fully deserving Olam Haba, and she, too, would have Olam Haba as reward for her assistance. Yosef's reply was twofold: 1. "Why do such a great evil as adultery for the purpose of fulfilling afterwards the mitzvah of teshuvah?" 2. "In reality, I already sinned at a much earlier stage in my life. The reason I am now in Egypt is because I spoke lashon harah - slander about my brothers (Rashi 37:2). Thus, to commit an additional sin would be purposeless."
"He left his garment with her and fled and went outside." (39:12) QUESTION: The word "vayeitzei" seems extra. It should have just said "and he fled outside"? ANSWER: As Yosef entered the house of Potifar, he had a vision of his father standing before him. This prevented him from doing anything contrary to the Torah, and he quickly ran out of the house. The pasuk alludes to this with the word "Vayetzei," which is the acronym of "Vayar Yosef Tzuras Aviv" - "Yosef saw the countenance of his father."
"The butler of the king of Egypt and the baker sinned against their lord the king of Egypt." (40:1) QUESTION: It seems strange that the baker and the butler should both sin against Pharaoh at the same time. Moreover, a fly in a cup of wine which is placed on the king's hand is much more disgusting than a pebble in a slice of bread in the basket. Why, then, was the baker punished more harshly than the butler? ANSWER: The butler and the baker both worked for Pharaoh and hated each other. Once, they got into a fight and each one thought of a vicious plan to get the other one into serious trouble with the king. When the butler was not watching, the baker put a fly into Pharaoh's cup of wine. When the baker was off guard, the butler put a pebble into dough from which bread was to be baked for Pharaoh. To drag the king into their personal quarrel and use him as a means to gain vengeance against each other was a very serious offense. Moreover, since
the baker's act would actually have had a worse effect on Pharaoh, he was the one put to death.
"Here, also, I have done nothing for them to have put me in the pit." (40:15) QUESTION: The words "for them to have put me in the pit" seem superfluous. Would it not be sufficient for him to say "I have done nothing"? ANSWER: It is quite common for an inmate to constantly claim that he is innocent. However, his words are unconvincing because most prisoners are actually guilty. Yosef wanted to impress the butler that he was unique among the others in the dungeon and that he truly had committed no crime. He related his ordeal with his brothers and their desire to kill him. They threw him into a pit filled with snakes and scorpions. Normally anyone would have been bitten to death, but the all-merciful G-d in heaven intervened and miraculously saved him. (See Rashi 37:24) Eventually, he was taken from the pit and brought to Egypt. Thus, he told the butler, "The episode of the pit, which occurred some time ago, should prove now that I am a totally innocent person and not one to violate any laws of Torah or society."
"The butler was returned to his position, and the baker was hung in accordance with Yosef's interpretation." (40:22-23) QUESTION: What clue in their dreams led Yosef to this interpretation? ANSWER: Yosef carefully studied their words. The butler said, "The cup of Pharaoh was in my hand; I took the grapes; I squeezed them; I placed the cup on Pharaoh's palm" (40:11). Yosef saw that the butler dreamt about doing things. Since one can only do things if he is alive, Yosef saw in his dream a sign of life. The baker told Yosef, "On my head were baskets full of baked goods and a bird was eating from the baskets." The dream was totally lacking human activity. He did not say who baked the goods, who put the baskets on his
head, nor did he do anything to chase the bird away. Moreover, a bird is usually afraid of a person and will not come near food which a person holds. Yosef said to the baker, "You were carrying a basket of baked goods and a bird was eating from them; obviously the bird did not consider you alive. Consequently, your dream indicates that Pharaoh will soon put you to death."
"The butler did not remember Yosef, and he forgot him." (40:23) QUESTION: If he did not remember him, obviously he forgot him! Why the two expressions of forgetting: "velo zachar" and "vayishkacheihu"? ANSWER: Yosef originally asked the butler to mention him to Pharaoh. The ungrateful butler, whose life was saved through Yosef's interpretation, did not return the favor to Yosef. In addition, the Torah tells us that Yosef immediately regretted asking the butler to do him a favor. He forgot about the butler entirely and put all his faith in Hashem. Thus, each one forgot about the other.
And You Shall Speak of Them
A Compilation of Selected Torah Insights, Thought-Provoking Ideas, Homilies And Explanations of Torah Passages
"Behold, seven ears of corn came up upon one stalk healthy and good, and behold, seven thin ears sprung up after them." (41:5-6) QUESTION: Why were only the seven good ears of corn on one stalk? ANSWER: Yosef interpreted the dream to mean that there would be seven years of abundance and seven years of famine. When Yaakov came to Egypt, the seven good years were over and they were finishing the second year of famine. When he stood before Pharaoh, he blessed him, and at that time the Nile river rose and irrigated the fields and the famine stopped. The five years of
famine were only deferred, however, until after Yaakov passed away (Tosefta Sotah 10:3). Seventeen years later, when Yaakov died, there were five additional years of famine. "The seven good ears of corn upon one stalk" allude to the seven years of abundance, which were consecutive. The seven years of famine were not consecutive; therefore, the thin ears of corn were not upon one stalk.
"Now Pharaoh must seek out a man with wisdom and insight and place him in charge over Egypt." (41:33) QUESTION: Pharaoh only asked Yosef to interpret his dreams. Why did Yosef offer him advice as well? ANSWER: Yosef's advice had a connection with his interpretation of the dream. According to the Gemara (Rosh Hashana 16a), the world is judged in four periods during a year. On Rosh Hashana people are judged regarding what should happen to them during the coming year. On Pesach, the harvest is judged as to whether there should be abundance or famine. Pharaoh's dream took place on Rosh Hashana. Yosef interpreted it to mean good years and years of famine. Consequently, the harvest in Egypt would be plentiful in the coming seven years, and afterwards there would be a famine due to the land's poor produce. Pharaoh asked Yosef, "If your interpretation is correct, why did I dream about this on Rosh Hashana, and not on Pesach when the harvest is judged?" Yosef's reply to Pharaoh was "and now" - "If you are wondering why your dream took place now, on Rosh Hashana, and not Pesach, the reason is that through your dream a person will be elevated to a very high position - and this was decreed today, on Rosh Hashana, when people's destinies are decided."
"Pharaoh said to his servants 'Can there be found another such person who has G-d's spirit in him?' " (41:38) QUESTION: What convinced Pharaoh that Yosef's interpretation was correct? ANSWER: When Pharaoh related his dream, he attempted to trick Yosef to see if his interpretations were authentic or merely guess work.
The pasuk relates that he dreamt that ""he was standing on the river" (41:1). However, when he related his dream to Yosef he said "In my dream I am standing upon the bank of the river" (41:17). Yosef interpreted each and every detail of the dream but did not explain the significance of where Pharaoh was standing. He told Pharaoh, "Hashem revealed no interpretation for your standing upon the bank of the river. Possibly, this did not appear in your dream."
In Psalms, Assaf states, "As a testimony for Yosef he imposed it, when he went out over the land of Egypt, I heard a language unknown to me" (81:6). In view of above-mentioned, the passage can be explained to mean that Yosef proved his authenticity to Pharaoh when he told him, "You are telling me about 'sefat' - the river bank. However 'lo yadati' - I do not have any knowledge - with which to interpret this detail which 'eshma' - I am hearing from you."
"He gave him Asenat daughter of Potiphera the priest of On as a wife." (41:45) QUESTION: Why would a tzaddik like Yosef marry the daughter of a priest? ANSWER: When Dinah the daughter of Yaakov married Shechem, she gave birth to Asenat. Fearing that his sons would kill her, Yaakov sent her away. Before sending her off, he made her a necklace on which he wrote that she was his granddaughter and that whoever married her would become part of his family. She later ended up in Egypt and was raised in the home of Potiphera and was considered as his daughter. When Yosef was appointed the viceroy of Egypt, he traveled throughout the country. All the girls heard of his handsome appearance and came out to get a glimpse of him. They all threw presents at him, hoping that he would accept and marry them. Asenat threw her necklace. When Yosef read its contents, he decided to marry her.
"And Yosef called the name of the first-born Menasheh, 'for G-d has made me forget all my toil, and all my father's house.' " (41:51)
QUESTION: Why was Yosef grateful for forgetting his father's house? ANSWER: A visitor once entered a presumably kosher restaurant. Unimpressed with the religiosity of the personnel, he began to inquire about the kashrut standards. The proprietor confidently pointed to a picture on the wall, of a Jew with a long beard and peiyot. He said to the visitor: "You see that man up there? He was my father!" The visitor replied: "If you were hanging on the wall, and your father was behind the counter, I would not ask any questions. But since your father is hanging on the wall, and you are behind the counter, I have good reason to question the kashrut." There are many whose only attachment to Yiddishkeit is through nostalgia. They remember their mother's candle lighting, they recall their father's long beard and peiyot, and they reminisce about their parents' Shabbat table. They proudly tell their children about it, but unfortunately, they do not emulate or practice this way of life. Living among the Egyptians, Yosef was in danger of becoming totally assimilated and adapting to the social life of the upper class. Fortunately, he remained tenacious in his Torah observance. Thus, it was unnecessary for him to nostalgically tell his children about his parents' observance. He conducted his home life in exactly the same way as his father had done and was able to "forget" his father's house and show his family his own home as a living example.
"The seven years of abundance ended...and the seven years of famine began to come as Yosef had said." (41:53-54) QUESTION: Why does it state "as Yosef said" regarding the seven years of famine, but not in relation to the seven years of abundance? ANSWER: The non-Jewish world hates the Jew and envies his success. Thanks to Yosef, the people in Egypt experienced great affluence, but they did not want to give credit to a Jew. When the troubles started, suddenly everyone began accusing the Jews of causing the Egyptians' suffering. Alas, this is a recurrent pattern in Jewish history .
"The people cried to Pharaoh for bread, and Pharaoh said, 'Go to Yosef; do as he says.' " (41:55)
QUESTION: Rashi explains that the people were upset because Yosef was demanding that they circumcise themselves. Why would Yosef want the Egyptians to be circumcised? ANSWER: When Hashem originally gave the mitzvah of circumcision to Avraham, He told him that it includes "a person born in your household or purchased with money" (17:13). When Pharaoh appointed Yosef as the viceroy, he declared that he was in control of the entire country and that all the needs of the people would be provided through him (see Rashi 41:40). Pharaoh put everyone under his rulership, to the extent that, "Without you no one shall lift his hand or his foot in the land of Egypt" (41:44). Thus, they became "kinyan kaspo" - "his acquisitions" - and therefore he was obligated to see to it that they be circumcised.
Alternatively, circumcision is the sign of a Jew. Yosef was afraid that as the Jewish people became acclimated in Egypt, they would want to assimilate and not be circumcised in order not to be recognized as Jews. He therefore decided to make circumcision the practice of the land and thus, Jews, would also feel comfortable performing this mitzvah.
"And Yaakov saw that there was food in Egypt." (42:1) QUESTION: The Sages interpret the word shever as if it was spelled with a "Sin" - sever - which means hope (Rashi). What special hope did Yaakov see in Egypt? ANSWER: In accordance with Yosef's interpretation of Pharaoh's dreams, Egypt stored away food for the years of famine, and from many lands people were coming to Egypt to purchase food. This amazed Yaakov, and he thought to himself, "It is very strange that nonJews should be so kind and share their food with others in a time of famine. On the other hand, Jews are known to be a merciful and generous people. Perhaps there is in Egypt some spark of holiness - a Jew. Perhaps my lost son Yosef is in Egypt and is involved with the entire operation."
"Yosef recognized his brothers but they did not recognize him." (42:8)
QUESTION: Yaakov and Yosef looked exactly alike (Rashi 37:3). Why didn't they recognize him as their lost brother since he resembled their father? ANSWER: It is true that Yaakov and Yosef looked alike, but there was a big age difference. Yosef was now only 39 years old. Yaakov married at the age of 84 and was now 130 years old. The brothers had never seen their father as a young man. Therefore, though now Yosef's countenance was exactly the same as Yaakov's when he was 39 years old, he did not now resemble their father, now 90 years older.
"Yosef recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him." (42:8) QUESTION: How is it possible that none of the brothers recognized him? ANSWER: Yosef's brothers were shepherds by profession. They were out in the fields with their cattle and had very little to do with the world at large. This was the most suitable profession for one who wanted to remain religious and avoid any challenges or threats to his Torah observance. When the brothers came to Egypt, they met Yosef, who looked like one of them: beard, peiyot, and religious garb. They were sure that it would be impossible for a truly religious person like themselves to live in Egypt and rise to glory. Positive that Yosef remained strong in his faith, they assumed that this man was not religious, but rather someone who merely chose to dress religiously - not, therefore, their brother Yosef.
"He took Shimon from them and arrested him before their eyes." (42:24) QUESTION: He was arrested only "before their eyes," but as soon as they left, Yosef took him out of prison and gave him food and drink (Rashi). Since Yosef treated Shimon so well, why did he arrest him? ANSWER: Yosef wanted very much that the brothers should bring Binyamin to Egypt. However, he was afraid that if all the brothers would go back to Yaakov, they would take a person off the street, bring him to Egypt,
and present him as Binyamin. Yosef hardly knew Binyamin, and thus he would not know if it was really him or not. Therefore, after insisting that the brothers come back with Binyamin, he took Shimon and arrested him before their eyes. His plan was that when the brothers returned, he would ask Shimon to identify the person they presented to him as their brother Binyamin. Since in reality, Shimon did not do anything wrong, there was no reason to keep him under arrest. Consequently, as soon as the brothers left, Yosef took him out of prison and treated him royally.
"Their father Yaakov said to them, 'You are making me lose my children; Yosef is gone, Shimon is gone, and now you want to take away Binyamin; upon me are all these things.' " (42:36) QUESTION: The words "upon me are all these things" seem superfluous. What was Yaakov alluding to? ANSWER: When Yitzchak wanted to give the berachot to Eisav, Rivkah insisted that Yaakov disguise himself and obtain the berachot. Yaakov refused, saying, "I am afraid that if my father realizes I am fooling him, he may become angry and curse me." His mother replied, "You have nothing to fear because - your curse be on me, my son" (27:13). Rivkah's approach is somewhat difficult to comprehend. Instead of taking the curse upon herself, which is a very serious matter, she should have assured Yaakov "Your father will not curse you!" Indeed, Rivkah did not consider a curse from Yitzchak very lightly, and she meant something else entirely. She was telling Yaakov that she saw through Ruach Hakodesh - Divine inspiration - that during his lifetime he would suffer only from three curses. These three things are hinted to in the word "Alai." The "Ayin" stands for Eisav. The "Lamed" is for Lavan, and the "Yud" is for Yosef. She was saying, "Since I foresee no other serious tribulations or curses destined for you, you can go ahead with confidence and obtain the berachot from your father." After Yosef's disappearance, Yaakov cherished Binyamin because he was the only child remaining from Rachel. Suddenly, he saw Binyamin's life in danger and feared losing him, too. Therefore, he said to his children, "You want to bring upon me a new curse. I cannot understand what is happening because, 'Alai Hayu Kulanah' - my mother told me that the only problems I would suffer would be the ones involving Eisav, Lavan and Yosef, which
have already all come upon me?!" (Yaakov's encounter with Shimon turned out to be only momentary, and thus his mother's prophecy was accurate.
"Behold, every man's money was in the mouth of his sack, our money in full weight; We have brought it again in our hands. And other money have we brought down in our hands to buy food: We do not know who placed our money in our sacks." (43:21- 22) QUESTION: Why was it necessary for the brothers to say that they brought other money to buy food? Moreover, should not the statement "We do not know who put our money in our sacks" come first? ANSWER: In ancient times, every country would put its own insignia on its currency and the value was based on the weight of the gold and silver. From many lands people came to Egypt to purchase food. The Egyptians would weigh the currency and sell to them accordingly. The brothers related that when they opened their sacks, they found money, "Bemishkalo" - which weighed exactly the same as the money they had given for their purchase. However, the emblems engraved on the coins were not the same because, "We brought other coins with different emblems when we came to buy food. Therefore, we are puzzled and do not know who put silver of the same weight as our money in our sacks."
"[The man in charge of Yosef's household] told them, 'Do not fear...I received your money.' " (43:23) QUESTION: The man in charge was Menasheh. Why did he lie? ANSWER: Hashem told Avraham that the Jewish people would be slaves for 400 years in Egypt and afterwards, they would go out with great wealth. According to the Zohar, the reason for the famine was to increase the wealth of Egypt, for the Jews were destined to eventually receive this wealth. (See Yalkut Reuveini) Bearing this in mind, Menasheh told his uncles, "Whatever money I took in until now by selling grain to the entire world is in reality your money. Since all the money I receive from sales will ultimately be yours in the future, why should I bother now to take your money and later need to return it to you?"
"And portions were taken from before him to them; but Binyamin's portion was greater than the portions of all of them, five times as much. And they drank and were merry with him." (43:34) QUESTION: Rashi comments: "Since the day that they had sold him they did not drink wine, nor did he (Yosef) drink wine; but on that day they did drink."Yosef recognized his brothers. Therefore, he had good reason to drink and be merry. However, since the brothers did not know who he was, why did they indulge in drinking? ANSWER: The major problem between the brothers and Yosef was jealousy. Due to their jealousy of his aspirations to rise above them, they went as far as selling him as a slave. When the brothers were invited to a meal in Yosef's house, Yosef put them to a test to see if they had overcome their negative trait. He gave Binyamin five times as many presents as he gave them, and waited to see how they would react. The brothers had already learned their lesson and showed no signs of jealousy whatsoever. When a person strives to improve his ways and overcomes his failings, he is very happy. Proud of their victory over jealousy, they permitted themselves to indulge in wine to celebrate their improved character.
"And they drank and were merry with him." (43:34) QUESTION: Even kosher wine, when handled by a non-Jew, is considered "stam yeinam" and may not be consumed by a Jew. How did the brothers allow themselves to drink wine with Yosef, whose true identity was not revealed to them? ANSWER: The Maharsha (Shabbat 139b) says they did it out of fear of the government. What, however, was their fear? When the brothers appeared in Egypt before Yosef, he accused them of being spies. They categorically denied this, and claimed that their visit to Egypt was strictly personal. It is well known that "nichnas yayin, yatza sod" - When wine enters the person and he becomes intoxicated, his tongue becomes loose, and he reveals all secrets (Eiruvin 65a). Therefore, when the brothers were served wine, they decided to drink it in order to prove to Yosef that they were not
spies. Had they refused to drink, he would have claimed that their reluctance was fear of becoming intoxicated and revealing self-incrimanting information, and thus his spying accusation would have been substantiated.
"They had left the city, had not gone far out of the city, and Yosef said to his house steward, 'Get up, chase after the men.' " (44:4) QUESTION: Why does the Torah emphasize "lo hirchiku" "[They] had not gone far"? ANSWER: One who travels to another city is required to recite Tefillat Haderech. This prayer has the power to shield a person from unpleasant occurrences. The prayer should be recited with a berachah when one is out of the city, and the total length of the trip will be at least approximately 2 1/2 miles (Orach Chaim 110). Yosef, therefore, told his house steward, "Chase after them immediately, before they can have the merit of Tefillat Haderech to protect them."
"Behold, the money which we found in our sacks we brought back to you from the land of Canaan; how then could we have stolen from your master's house silver or gold?" (44:8) QUESTION: Yosef's goblet was of unlimited value. There was nothing like it in the entire world. How does the fact that they returned the purchase money for the food prove that they would not steal something of such tremendous value? ANSWER: When the steward of Yosef's house caught up with the brothers, he told them that the goblet was one which Yosef used for divination. "If Jews were permitted to divinate," he explained, "I would understand why you were tempted to take the goblet. However, since you are forbidden to divinate, then you are just plain thieves and deserve to be punished severely." The brothers responded, "On the contrary! If we were permitted to divinate, it would be a great iniquity for us to steal such a valuable thing from your master, and it would make sense for you to suspect us. However, it is forbidden for us to divinate, so to suspect that we stole it just for its silver value is foolish, because we already returned much more than that in food money."
"Anyone among your servants with whom it is found shall die." (44:9) QUESTION: 1. According to Torah law, the punishment for a thief is not death. Why did the brothers select death as punishment? 2. Why did they relinquish their self-esteem and refer to themselves as "servants"? ANSWER: The brothers told the prosecutor: "It is far from us to commit such a crime. Behold, we returned the money we found; how then should we steal silver and gold from your house? Since the purchase money was again found in our sacks, we are obviously being framed. There is someone among your servants who has a vendetta against us, or who is anti-semitic. A righteous country like Egypt, which helps the world endure the famine, should not tolerate such people. "Therefore, 'he with whom it is found' - 'mei'avadecha' - 'from your servants' - who is out to get innocent people into trouble, he should be put to death. "If an investigation will show that we are indeed the thieves, then we will be slaves in accordance with the laws of our Torah." The prosecutor accepted this offer and agreed that if one of the brothers stole it, he should remain as a slave.
"And he said: 'Also now let it be according to your words; he with whom it is found, he shall be my slave; and you shall be blameless.' " (44:10) QUESTION: Yosef's steward (Menasheh) seems to be contradicting himself. By saying "chedivreichem ken hu," it seems that he accepts their offer that the thief be killed and they all be slaves, and yet he concludes: "he with whom it is found, he shall be my slave; and you shall be blameless"? ANSWER: A shrewd thief will always try to create an impression of honesty to avoid being suspected of wrongdoing. If one wants to steal something very valuable, first he will steal something of less value and return it. Afterwards, when he steals the extremely valuable item, no suspicion is cast on him.
The brothers pleaded: "It is far from your servants to do such a thing. Behold, we returned the money we found in our sacks. How is it that we would steal gold and silver from your house?" Menasheh said to them: "Chedivreichem ken hu," - "Be aware that your own words are a source of proof that you did indeed commit the robbery! Most likely, everything was premeditated. The reason you returned the purchase money was to establish credibility, so that you would not be accused when you commited the major theft of stealing the goblet which is of unlimited value. "However, I do not agree with you in regard to your extremely harsh verdict. Only the one that is the thief will remain my servant, and all the others will be free to leave."
"There are 146 verses in this parshah, numerically corresponding to Yechizkiyahu... and the parshah contains 2025 words." QUESTION: At the end of every parshah there is a Masoretic note regarding the number of verses. This is the only parshah where there is also a note regarding the number of words why? ANSWER: The Torah relates that when Yosef was appointed viceroy they drove him throughout the land of Egypt in a royal chariot. All the people came out to greet him and proclaimed before him "avreich" (41:43). The word "Avreich" consists of two words: "Av" - elder in wisdom and "Rach" young in years. When the Torah is read in public, should it be read together as one word or two? This Masoretic note provides an answer to this question: There are 2025 words in the Parshat Mikeitz. If "avreich" is read as two words, the total is 2026. Hence, it should be read together as one word.
And You Shall Speak of Them
A Compilation of Selected Torah Insights, Thought-Provoking Ideas, Homilies And Explanations of Torah Passages
"And Yehudah came near him, and said: 'Oh my lord, please let your servant speak a word... for you are as Pharaoh.' " (44:18) QUESTION: What did Yehudah tell Yosef? ANSWER: According to the Midrash Rabbah (93:6), Yehudah argued on behalf of Binyamin: "In our laws it is written that a person without money for restitution should be sold as a slave (Shemot 22:2). However, Binyamin is from a wealthy family and can pay." One may rightfully wonder, of what significance would the Torah laws be to Yosef? Yehudah explained to Yosef, "Our Torah is Divine Knowledge. It appears strange that it would prescribe slavery for one who stole. Who would want to bring a thief into his home? Obviously, the Torah feels that when a person steals, it is necessary to know what caused him to stoop so low. If he is merely a kleptomaniac, of course, he cannot be let loose in society. But if he steals out of need, society must help him 'get up on his feet' and rehabilitate himself. Therefore, in the home of his master, where he will be treated properly, he will make amends and become an asset to humanity. "Since Binyamin comes from a very wealthy family, there is no rationale to explain the alleged robbery, only the fact that he is mentally ill and a kleptomaniac. Therefore, it makes no sense that you should employ such a person."
Alternatively, Yehudah asked to speak to Yosef in secrecy because he thought that Yosef did not know Lashon HaKodesh - Hebrew - otherwise there would be no need for an interpreter. Hence, he said to Yosef: "You are the same as Pharaoh; since the two of you do not know Lashon HaKodesh, consequently, neither you nor Pharaoh have a right to the throne because according to the laws of Egypt, a king can only be a person who knows all the languages. Obviously, you do not respect the laws of your own land. "When a visitor to a city commits a crime, he should be judged either by the laws of that city or by the laws of the city from which he comes. Since you do not respect your own laws, then follow ours. According to our laws, one can be sold as a slave for robbery only if the money produced by the sale is equal to the amount stolen (Kiddushin 18a). "If your allegation is correct, and this cup is priceless, the income from the sale will not cover the robbery, and therefore he cannot be sold. If, on the other hand, it is of very limited value, then according to our laws, one who is capable of paying for the items stolen cannot be sold."
"And Yehudah came up to him." (44:18) QUESTION: According to the Midrash Rabbah (93:6), Yehudah was ready to go to war with Yosef, and he felt more responsible than the other brothers because "he guaranteed the safe return of Binyamin." Yehudah and his brothers were very strong, but greatly outnumbered. Why did Yehudah want to wage war? ANSWER: Yehudah told Yosef, "We are Jews, and Binyamin is a young member of our people. When even one Jew is in danger spiritually, it is incumbent on all Jews to do everything in their power to save him and return him safely to his father - Hashem - and the Torah. Remaining in Egypt would spell assimilation for Binyamin; therefore, we will do anything, and even endanger ourselves, to save our brother."
"And Yehudah came up to him and said...." (44:18) QUESTION: Yehudah himself originally offered that all the brothers and Binyamin would be slaves for the theft of the goblet. Yosef refused this, because it was not fair. Why was Yehudah now complaining? ANSWER: Yehudah believed that every event is an act of individual Divine Providence (hashgachah pratit). After the missing goblet was found in Binyamin's sack, Yehudah said, "G-d has found the sin of your servants" (44:16). By this he meant, "None of us are thieves; however, Hashem is punishing us for what we did to Yosef. We are ready to accept His punishment and all of us (including Binyamin who allegedly took the goblet) will become slaves." When Yosef said he would take only Binyamin as a slave, Yehudah understood that this was not a punishment for selling Yosef, but merely a false accusation and libel against Binyamin. Consequently, he demanded that Binyamin be released immediately.
"My lord asked his servants, saying, 'Have you a father or brother?' " (44:19)
QUESTION: Binyamin was accused of stealing a magical silver goblet. How did Yehudah hope to defend him with this statement? ANSWER: Yehudah said to Yosef, "Even if your allegations about Binyamin are correct - which they are not - I don't understand why you are making such an issue over an ordinary goblet." Yosef responded, "This is a priceless magical goblet; through it I can see the past and future. Therefore, Binyamin committed a major crime and deserves slavery." Yehudah said to Yosef, "This is not true! The goblet is an ordinary one with no special value." He proved this by reminding Yosef, "You asked us if we have a father or a brother. If you have a magical goblet, why did you have to ask us questions? Could you not have known all about us by looking into your magical goblet?!"
"His soul is bound up with his soul." (44:30) QUESTION: How did their souls become connected? ANSWER: The word "keshurah" - "bound" - has the numerical value of 611, which is the same numerical value as the word "Torah". Yaakov taught Binyomin Torah and through their Torah study, their souls became connected. Torah is the unifying language of the Jews of past, present and future generations.
"It will happen that when he sees the youth is missing he will die." (44:31) QUESTION: At that time, Binyamin already had ten children. Why wasn't Yehudah worried that the children would die if they did not see their father returning home? ANSWER: Yehudah was well aware that according to human nature, a parent worries more about his children than children do about their parents. For example, often, a child will be late in coming home and not think of calling his parents who are "pulling their hair out" with worry. On the other hand, a parent will always do everything for his child, even if he is not happy with the way the child is behaving and growing up.
Therefore, Yehudah was afraid that Yaakov might not be able to live without Binyamin, although the children would adjust to the situation.
"Yosef said to his brothers, 'I am Yosef; is my father still alive?' " (45:3) QUESTION: The first time the brothers came to Egypt, Yosef asked them about his father. At their second arrival he again asked about his father. Why did he ask the question a third time? ANSWER: When Yosef revealed himself to his brothers, he knew that they would be reluctant to believe him. He therefore gave them certain signs to prove who he was. This time Yosef was not asking his brothers, but saying in effect, "From my question you can realize that I am really your missing brother. Whenever we meet I only ask about my father and not about my mother, because I know that she died many years ago. If I were a stranger and pretending, I would ask about both my father and my mother."
"Yosef said, 'I am Yosef; is my father still alive?' The brothers became frightened of him and were unable to answer." (45:3) QUESTION: Why were the brothers unable to answer Yosef's simple question? ANSWER: When Yehudah defended Binyamin before Yosef, he asked that he be released out of mercy. Yehudah explained to Yosef that the brothers had an elderly father and that they were afraid that when he saw that his son did not return, he might die of grief. Yosef, upon hearing this, said to Yehudah and his brothers, "ani Yosef " - "I am Yosef," - "I am your brother Yosef whom you sold 22 years ago" "ha'od avi chai" - "Is my father still alive? - Think how much pain and grief you caused him by keeping my sale a secret and not telling him my whereabouts. You plead to me to have mercy; why didn't you have mercy on your father?" The brothers, upon hearing this, were unable to answer, because they could not justify the aggravation they had caused their father.
"The brothers were unable to answer him because they were frightened of his face." (45:3) QUESTION: Why does it say "nivhalu mipanav" - "his face frightened them"? It should have simply said "nivhalu mimeno" - "they were frightened of him"? ANSWER: Yosef's countenance was identical to Yaakov's. When the brothers met Yosef, the Torah says that he recognized them, but they did not recognize him (42:8). Why didn't they recognize him through his exact resemblance to Yaakov? Yosef did not want his brothers to recognize him. Therefore, when he spoke to them, he covered his face with a veil (as is customary in many Arabic countries), and the brothers were unable to observe his face. Upon revealing himself, he uncovered his face and said to them, "I am Yosef." Knowing that Yosef looked identical to Yaakov, they became frightened when they saw that the face of the man speaking to them resembled exactly that of their father, Yaakov.
"I am Yosef your brother whom you sold to Egypt." (45:4) QUESTION: The brothers were already saddened and brokenhearted. Why did Yosef add to their pain and mention the sale? ANSWER: Yosef did this without malice. On the contrary, he mentioned it in order to comfort and reassure them. Yosef understood that his brothers would have anxiety regarding him. In their minds, there would be the fear that his Torah identity was weakened by the temptations of Egypt. He therefore said, "Be assured that I am totally loyal to Torah and mitzvot; I am the very same Yosef that I was before, and my adherence to Torah did not change since you sold me to Egypt."
"Hurry - go up to my father and say to him, 'So said your son Yosef: Gd has made me master of all Egypt.' " (45:9) QUESTION: The words "bincha Yosef" - "your son Yosef" seem superfluous. Why did he not simply instruct them, "Tell father I said..."?
ANSWER: When the brothers returned home after the sale of Yosef, they showed a garment to their father and said "Please examine it; is it your son's shirt?" Yaakov sensed in their words a frightening hatred and animosity. The mere fact that they did not mention Yosef by name and referred to him as "bincha" - "your son" - conveyed to him their attitude to Yosef. Yaakov in pain and anguish cried out, "This is indeed my son's shirt, and tarof toraf Yosef!" - "[An evil beast devoured him and] Yosef has been torn to bits!" (37:32-33). The word "Yosef" seems superfluous. "He was torn to bits" would be sufficient. Yaakov was telling his children, "From your words I see that you have 'torn up' the name 'Yosef.' You hate him to the extent that you are unable to even mention his name." Yosef, therefore, instructed his brothers, when they returned to Yaakov, that they should specifically say the words "bincha Yosef" - "your son, Yosef." Thus, Yaakov would see that the hatred they bore against Yosef had been erased. Yaakov, upon hearing their message, exclaimed in joy: "Rav; od Yosef b'ni chai" - "I am extremely grateful and jubilant because I perceive that the 'name' of my son Yosef still exists and that my children say it with respect and love" (45:28).
"Hurry - go up to my father and say to him, 'So said your son Yosef: Gd has made me master of all Egypt.' " (45:9) QUESTION: Yosef was in very a high position and free to do whatever he wanted. Why didn't he contact his father and tell him his whereabouts earlier? ANSWER: Yosef's brothers committed a heinous crime against him. Due to jealousy they caused their half-brother to be sold as a slave to Egyptians. Yosef, however, did not bear any hatred against his brothers. On the contrary, he felt very bad for them and feared that they might be punished by Hashem if they did not do teshuvah. Therefore, he took upon himself to help his brothers repent. The highest level of teshuvah occurs when the one who transgressed is faced with an identical situation and is able to resist (Rambam, Teshuvah 2:1). Yosef, therefore, waited till the entire scenario would be repeated. When the brothers came to Egypt, he insisted that they bring down their half-brother Binyamin. At the meal he showed favoritism to Binyamin by
giving him a bigger gift, hoping to arouse jealousy in their hearts. Afterwards, he plotted that Binyamin be accused of stealing the magical goblet. Binyamin was found guilty and sentenced to remain in Egypt as a slave. The brothers did not agree that Binyamin should be punished for the alleged crime and fought vehemently for his release. When Yosef saw his brothers' refined character, he was convinced that they did teshuvah whole-heartedly. Consequently, he revealed himself to them and asked that they inform Yaakov of his whereabouts.
"Behold! Your eyes see, as do the eyes of my brother Binyamin, that it is my mouth that is speaking to you." (45:12) QUESTION: Rashi explains that Yosef told his brothers, "You can believe that I am your brother because I am now speaking to you in Lashon Hakodesh - Hebrew."Great men and kings speak many languages fluently, including Lashon Hakodesh. How did Yosef's knowledge of Lashon Hakodesh prove his relationship to his brothers? Furthermore, Yosef held long conversations with his brothers when they came to Egypt and a person can usually be identified through his voice. Why didn't the brothers recognize Yosef all this time? ANSWER: You can only recognize someone through his voice in the language you are accustomed to hearing him speak. When the person speaks another language, his accent is different and it is difficult to identify him. Throughout the entire time, Yosef never spoke Lashon Hakodesh to his brothers. They spoke Lashon Hakodesh and he answered them in Egyptian. Now, for the first time, he spoke to them in Lashon Hakodesh. He therefore said to them, "If you listen carefully to my voice, you will recognize that I am Yosef, because I sound the same as I did many years ago when I regularly spoke to you Lashon Hakodesh."
"And you shall tell my father of all my glory in Egypt." (45:13) QUESTION: How could a tzaddik like Yosef speak in a manner of personal pride?
ANSWER: When Yosef was brought down to Egypt, he was sold to Potifar as a slave. One day, Potifar's wife approached him to violate Torah law. Suddenly, the countenance of his father appeared before him, and Yosef flatly refused her. She retaliated by slandering him to her husband, and Yosef was incarcerated. In prison he met the butler and the baker, and interpreted their dreams. Afterwards, Pharaoh dreamed, and at the recommendation of the butler, Yosef was brought in to interpret the dream. Pharaoh was greatly impressed by him and appointed him viceroy. Had Yosef yielded to Potifar's wife, the entire sequence of events would not have taken place and he would not have risen to glory. Consequently, he told his brothers to relate, that "le'avi" - "thanks to my father, who appeared to me in Egypt" - "et kal kevodi" - "I merited all my glory." Thus he praised his father, not himself.
"He kissed all his brothers and cried upon them." (45:15) QUESTION: The word "aleihem" - "upon them" - appears superfluous? ANSWER: In the Musaf prayer of Yom Kippur, there is a section dedicated to the Asarah Harugei Malchut - ten Torah giants who were killed due to a heavenly decree. The Roman King called them and inquired, "What is the law regarding one who kidnaps a person and sells him as a slave?" They answered, "According to Biblical law, the perpetrator should be put to death." "If so," the King said sternly, "this punishment should have been meted out to the brothers who kidnapped Yosef and sold him into captivity!" The Rabbis were unable to offer an explanation, and the King declared, "Ten eminent sages will be put to death in place of those who participated in the kidnapping and selling of Yosef." When Yosef revealed himself to his brothers, he kissed them all and was moved to tears. Moreover, he also cried because of "aleihem", which is an acronym for "Asidim L'hiyos Harugei Malchus" - "There will be ten martyrs." He saw through Ruach Hakodesh - divine inspiration - that in the future ten great sages would be slain by the Roman government, due to his being sold.
"The news was heard in Pharaoh's house, saying, 'Yosef's brothers have come!' And it was pleasing in the eyes of Pharaoh and in the eyes of his servants." (45:16)
QUESTION: Why were Pharaoh and his servants so happy that Yosef's brothers had arrived? ANSWER: After Pharaoh dreamed his strange dreams, the butler told him that in jail he had met a young Jewish boy who was also a slave. Rashi explains, that the butler cautioned Pharaoh that though he might find the boy to be a genius, in the laws of Egypt it is written that one who is a slave cannot become a king and is not permitted to wear royal garb. Pharaoh was so impressed with Yosef that he decided to violate the laws of Egypt. Despite the protest of the people, he permitted Yosef to dress royally and appointed him viceroy. When Pharaoh and his servants heard that Yosef's brothers arrived, they were very happy, because it then became known that Yosef was a member of a royal family. His great-grandfather, Avraham, was crowned as leader by the nations of the world (Rashi, 14:17), and his grandfather, Yitzchak, was also very famous and had dealings with Avimelech the king of the Philistines. Thus, they were no longer ashamed for dressing Yosef royally and appointing him a ruler over Egypt.
Alternatively, Pharaoh knew that Yosef was a stranger in the land of Egypt. Usually, when someone is alone without his family, he is not in the best of spirits and does not perform to his maximum ability. Pharaoh figured that once Yosef had found his family he would cheer up and do even more for Egypt than previously. Therefore, to make Yosef feel comfortable, he offered to let him invite his brothers to move to Egypt, realizing that in the long run the land of Egypt would benefit from Yosef's resulting good disposition.
"To Binyamin he gave 300 pieces of silver." (45:22) QUESTION: Why did he give 300 pieces of silver only to Binyamin and not to any of the other brothers? ANSWER: According to an opinion in the Gemara (Gittin 43a), when one sells a Jew as a slave to a non-Jew, he is fined to redeem him for up to 100 times his value. In the Torah we find a slave to be valued at 30 silver pieces (Shemot 21:32). Since Yosef was sold as a slave to an Egyptian family, it would cost as much as 3000 silver pieces to redeem him.
Since 10 brothers played a part in his becoming a slave, each one would have to pay 300 silver pieces. Consequently, when each of the brothers was deprived of 300 silver pieces, it was as though they paid their fine. Binyamin took no part whatsoever in the selling, so Yosef gave him 300 silver pieces.
"To his father he sent as follows: ten male donkeys...and ten female donkeys." (45:23) QUESTION: The word "kezot" - "as follows" - seems extra? ANSWER: When Pharaoh heard of Yosef's family and his patriarchal father Yaakov, he was greatly impressed. He immediately ordered Yosef to arrange for their quick transport from Canaan to Egypt and as a gift, he told him to load their animals with grain. Seeing Pharaoh's inspiration, Yosef, too, decided to send a gift to his father "kezot" - in a similar quantity. Since Pharaoh loaded the brothers' 10 donkeys with grain, he, too, sent his own gift of 10 laden male and 10 laden female donkeys. Pharaoh only loaded 10 donkeys although Yosef had 11 brothers, because when Shimon was arrested, the brothers took his donkey with food back to Yaakov. Thus, on the second trip down to Egypt together with Binyamin, there were only 10 brothers riding 10 donkeys.
"Ten donkeys laden with the best of Egypt." (45:23) QUESTION: Rashi explains that he sent him "yayin yashan" - "old wine." Why old wine? ANSWER: The words "yayin yashan" add up to the numerical value of 430. Yosef was alluding that the Egyptian exile, counting from the Brit Bein Habetarim (at which time Avraham was first told of it), would last for a total of 430 years (Shemot 12:40).
"And they told him, saying: 'Yosef is yet alive, and that he is ruler over all the land of Egypt.' " (45:26) QUESTION: Undoubtedly, the blow which disrupted Yaakov's tranquil life and left him lachrymose was the
notification of the tragedy that befell his prodigy and most cherished son, Yosef. Thus, we can well imagine the exaltation and pleasure he experienced upon hearing the words "od Yosef chai" - "Yosef is yet alive." Why did they add that "he is ruler over all the land of Egypt"? Surely for a father who yearned so deeply for his lost son, no position, regardless of its greatness, could be of any bearing. The only important thing was Yosef's life; his position was insignificant? ANSWER: The sons of Yaakov understood very well the feeling of their father. They realized, that to merely say "Yosef is yet alive" would not convey much. Many a Yosef who is torn away from Jewish surroundings can be said to live - technically speaking - but not within the Jewish interpretation of that word. Many descendants of Yaakov live in an Egypt Mitzraim (which can be pronounced "meitzarim" - the limitations and boundaries of the mundane dominating society), but the price of that living is often death, Jewishly speaking. The sons of Yaakov therefore hastened to add that "he is ruler over all the land of Egypt" - "Egypt is not ruler over Yosef - Yosef is ruler over the land of Egypt. He did not permit the environment to influence him."
"And they told him all the words of Yosef which he had said to them...and the spirit of Yaakov their father revived." (45:27) QUESTION: What more did they tell Yaakov that he then believed them? ANSWER: Yaakov was accustomed to mentioning Hashem's name when he spoke (Rashi, 27:21). He would say, "Baruch Hashem" or "im yirtze Hashem," and give Him credit for everything. Yaakov also taught Yosef to speak the same way. When Yosef spoke to his brothers he said: "Hurry, go to my father and say to him 'So says your son Yosef: Hashem made me a ruler over Egypt.' " However, when the brothers returned they told Yaakov that Yosef instructed them to convey a message that "Yosef is alive and he rules over the entire Egypt." Yaakov listened carefully and could not believe that Yosef was alive because this was not Yosef's way of speaking. Afterwards, when they said to him - "all the words of Yosef [exactly the way] he spoke to them," that Hashem made him ruler, then Yaakov recognized Yosef's style of speaking and believed that Yosef was alive.
"They told him, saying, 'Yosef is yet alive and he is the ruler over all the land of Egypt.' Yaakov's heart became faint because he did not believe them. Then they told him all the words of Yosef and he saw the wagons; the spirit of Yaakov revived and he said, 'It is enough. My son Yosef is yet alive.' " (45:26-28) QUESTION: 1. The word "leimor" means to say - tell - to someone else. What did they want Yaakov to say? 2. The word "od" - "yet" - seems superfluous. The text should merely read - "they told him Yosef is alive"? 3. When Yaakov spoke of Yosef, he called him "my son." Why didn't the brothers say, "Yosef your son" or "Yosef our brother"? ANSWER: When the brothers returned from Egypt after finding Yosef alive, they were afraid to tell Yaakov. They feared that if they said outright that Yosef was alive, Yaakov might, G-d forbid, become ill from the shock. To prepare Yaakov, they told him a story: "In Egypt, we saw something very strange. We always thought that our brother was the only Yosef in the world. However, in Egypt we met the viceroy who is in control of the entire country, and it was amazing to learn that his name was also 'Yosef.' We are extremely puzzled; can you tell us something which would explain this phenomenon?" The dialogue recorded in the Torah goes as follows: "vayagidu lo" - "they told him the entire story" - "leimor" - "and asked him to tell them how to explain the fact that" - "od Yosef chai" - "there is another person alive with the name 'Yosef,' " and "Hu mosheil bechal Eretz Mitzraim" - "he rules over the entire land of Egypt." Yaakov listened carefully, and his heart became faint because he was unable to believe that there was an Egyptian with the Hebrew name of "Yosef." While the brothers continued talking about the "Yosef " they met, Yaakov noticed the wagons that Yosef sent. He immediately proclaimed to his children "Rav" - "Enough - you should know that 'od Yosef' - 'the other Yosef' - whom you are telling me of, is no one else than 'b'ni' - 'my son.' I now realize that 'chai' - 'he is alive' - and I will make every effort to see him before I die."
"He saw the wagons Yosef sent... and the spirit of Yaakov revived." (45:27) QUESTION: What about the wagons impressed Yaakov so much? ANSWER: According to Da'at Zekeinim Miba'alei Hatosafot, before Yaakov parted with Yosef he was teaching him about the offerings the nesi'im - heads of Tribes - would bring for the chanukat hamishkan dedication of the Tabernacle. At the end of Parshat Naso there is a detailed description of the offerings of the 12 nesi'im. Each one brought an identical gift. The only exception involved the wagons. Though each nasi was wealthy in his own right, each shared the expense of a wagon with a partner. When Yaakov taught this subject to Yosef, he explained to him that thus the nesi'im demonstrated unity (see Sforno). When Yaakov saw the wagons, he understood that Yosef was sending him the message "Though my brothers seemingly wronged me, I am united with them and carry no grudge against them." This revived Yaakov's spirit and made him proud of his son.
"My son Yosef is alive; I will go to see him before I die." (45:28) QUESTION: Why the apparently superfluous words "od" "still" - and "beterem amut" - "before I die"? It would be sufficient to say "my son Yosef is alive; I will go to see him." ANSWER: Yosef lived together with his father till the age of 17, when his jealous brothers sold him to Egypt. Then, for 13 years, he experienced many ordeals and at the age of 30 he became the viceroy. From the age of 30 until his death at the age of 110, he was blessed with comfort, honor, and glory. The word "od" has the numerical value of 80. Yaakov was hinting that though Yosef suffered much, he could look forward to living 80 more years of significant accomplishment and tranquility. Similarly, "beterem" in mispar katan (single numerals - 2,9,2,4) is 17. Yaakov declared prophetically that he would again be with Yosef for a period of 17 years before he left this world.
"[Hashem said,] 'I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will surely bring you up again.' " (46:4) QUESTION: It would be adequate to say, "Anochi a'elcha" "I will bring you up." The words "gam aloh" appear superfluous? ANSWER: On the remez level of Torah interpretation there is a system known as "at-bash." The letter "Tav" is exchanged for an "Alef", the "Shin" for a "Beis" etc. Thus, the letters of the word "gam" (Gimmel-Mem) are interchanged with the letters "Reish" and "Yud", and the letters of "aloh" (Ayin-Lamed-Heh) with the letters "Tzadik- Chaf- Zayin". Hashem told Yaakov, "Do not fear to go down to Egypt; I will descend with you and bring you up after your children will be there "Gam" (Reih-Yud), a total of 210 years. From the 210 years they will only be enslaved for 116 years (See Shemot 6:16, Rashi). In the 117th year, equaling "Tzadik-ChafZayin" there will be "aloh" - the coming up from Egypt.
Hashem also assured Yaakov that He would alleviate their bondage, because "Imo anochi betzarah" - "I am with him in distress" (Psalms 91:15). The word "imo" is equal to 116. During the 116 years that they would endure the anguish of Egyptian bondage, Hashem Himself would be there with them, and this would be a source of spiritual courage and strength.
"And they said to Pharaoh: 'We have come to sojourn in the land; for there is no grazing for your servants' flocks, for the famine is severe in the land of Canaan.' " (47:4) QUESTION: Why did they not tell him that they came to Egypt because they had no food for themselves to eat? ANSWER: The brothers wanted to convey to Pharaoh how intense the famine was in Canaan. They told him: "Grass is usually reserved for the flock. People consume fruits and vegetables. The situation is so critical in Canaan that people are eating grass, and thus there is no grazing left for the flock."
"Pharaoh said to Yaakov, 'How many are the days of the years of your life?' Yaakov answered Pharaoh, 'The days of the years of my sojourns
have been a hundred and thirty years. Few and bad have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not reached the life spans of my forefathers in the days of their sojourns.' " (47:8-9) QUESTION: Why was Pharaoh so impolite as to ask Yaakov his age? ANSWER: In Egypt there was very little rain, and they relied heavily on the Nile river which would overflow and irrigate the fields. During the years of famine, the Nile river did not overflow and, thus, the fields did not produce. When Yaakov arrived, the Nile began to overflow and the famine ended. Pharaoh was, therefore, thrilled with Yaakov's arrival. At the same time he was also was concerned, because Yaakov looked very old, and he feared that the blessing would not last long. Thus, out of anxiety, he asked Yaakov his age. Yaakov understood Pharaoh's thoughts and therefore told him, "Do not worry: though I look very old, in reality I am quite young and have many more years ahead of me before reaching the life span of my parents."
"Yosef said to the people, 'I have bought you today and your land for Pharaoh.' " (47:23) QUESTION: Shouldn't the wording in the pasuk be "I bought you and your land today for Pharaoh?" ANSWER: When Yosef was appointed by Pharaoh as the viceroy of Egypt, he was placed in charge and told that he could do whatever he wanted, except that Pharaoh would be higher in rank. When the famine started in Egypt, the people used their savings to buy food. Yosef turned over this money to Pharaoh's coffers (47:14). When the people ran out of money, they offered Yosef their livestock for food. As the famine worsened, again they approached Yosef and begged him to give them food for their bodies and land. Thus they and their land would become Pharaoh's possession. The Torah tells us, "Yosef bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh because the Egyptians sold their land and the land now became Pharaoh's" (47:20). Since Yosef was in full command and had the power to do whatever he wanted, he also bought the people - but not for Pharaoh. Yosef decided that he would buy the people for himself, so that they would become his
property. Therefore, Yosef said to the Egyptians, "Behold I have bought you today (for myself) and your land (I bought) for Pharaoh."
When the Egyptians felt intense hunger, they came to Pharaoh demanding bread. Pharaoh advised them to go to Yosef and do whatever he commanded. Rashi explains that the people complained to Pharaoh that Yosef insisted that they be circumcised. Pharaoh told them to listen to him (41:55). Why would Yosef make such a strange request of the faminestricken people? According to halacha, when a Jew buys a non-Jew as a slave, he is required to have him circumcised. Pharaoh, therefore told them, "Since Yosef had permission to do whatever he wanted, and bought only your land for me but kept you (the people) for himself as slaves, he was right in requesting that you be circumcised."
And You Shall Speak of Them
A Compilation of Selected Torah Insights, Thought-Provoking Ideas, Homilies And Explanations of Torah Passages
"And Yaakov lived." (47:28) QUESTION: Why does the parshah which discusses the death of Yaakov start with the words "And Yaakov lived"? ANSWER: The word "vayechi" - "And he lived" - has the numerical value of 34. Yaakov was in this world a total of 147 years. Of these, "he lived" and enjoyed most 34 years: the 17 years from the birth of Yosef till the time he was sold to Egypt, and another 17 years when he was in Egypt reunited with his cherished son Yosef.
"Yaakov lived in Egypt 17 years." (47:28) QUESTION: We already know that Yaakov was 130 years old when he arrived in Egypt. We also know that he died there at the age of 147. Why is it necessary to state that he lived in Egypt for 17 years?
ANSWER: When the Tzemach Tzedek (Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the 3rd Lubavitcher Rebbe) was a young boy, his teacher taught him this pasuk and explained it to mean that the best years in Yaakov's life were the 17 years he lived in Egypt. (The word "tov" means good and has the numerical value of 17.) When he came home he asked his grandfather, the Alter Rebbe (Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi), "How can we say that Yaakov's best years were the years he lived in the sinful land of Egypt?" The Alter Rebbe explained: Before Yaakov arrived in Egypt, he sent Yehudah to build a Yeshivah so that the children of Yaakov would have a place to devote themselves to Torah study. When a Jew learns Torah, he becomes closer to Hashem. Therefore, since the family of Yaakov learned Torah, even in the sinful land of Egypt, "Vayechi Yaakov" - Jacob's life was vibrantly 'alive,' full and rewarding.
"And he called to his son Yosef and said to him: 'Please place your hand under my thigh.' " (47:29) QUESTION: Why did Yaakov want Yosef to place his hand under his thigh? ANSWER: During Yaakov's sojourn in Egypt, Yosef generously supported him and the entire family. As he lay on his death bed, he began to worry about the future relationship between Yosef and his brothers. Yaakov thought that though Yosef was a great tzaddik, his mortal feelings might prevail. Possibly, after his demise, Yosef might not treat his brothers so nicely because of what had occurred to him. Out of concern for his children's welfare, Yaakov said to Yosef, please put "yadecha" - "your hand" (your generous support) - "tachat yereichi" - "under my thigh - my family who will survive me and live together with you in Egypt." When the Torah enumerates the family of Yaakov that descended to Egypt, they are referred to as "yotzei yereicho" - "the people who emanated from his thigh" (46:26).
Upon returning from Yaakov's funeral, the brothers feared that Yosef would have resentful memories of his past suffering, which would lead to hostile thoughts. Therefore, they sent a messenger to Yosef saying, "Your father commanded before he died, 'Please forgive the evil your brothers did to you'
" (50:15-17). Many ask, "When did Yaakov express this request?" (See Rashi.) According to the above, perhaps the brothers derived it from the request Yaakov made of Yosef regarding the welfare of his brothers.
"I will do as you have said." (47:30) QUESTION: Since he said "e'eseh chidvarecha" - "I will do as you say" - "anochi" - "I" - is superfluous? ANSWER: Yaakov summoned his son Yosef and asked him to promise that his bodily remains would not be left in Egypt. This idea intrigued Yosef to the extent that he immediately told his father "anochi" - "I too" - "e'eseh chidvarecha" - "will do for myself the same as you wish me to do for you." Indeed, at the end of our parshah we read that Yosef took an oath of the children of Israel saying, "G-d will surely redeem you, and you shall carry up my bones from here" (50:25).
"Behold, your father is sick." (48:1) QUESTION: 1. The word "hinei" - "behold" - seems extra. The text should simply read "your father is sick." 2. Why is the word "Choleh" written without a "Vav"? ANSWER: According to the Gemara (Bava Metzia 87a), up to this time no one was ever sick before dying. When the time would come to leave this world, a person would sneeze and suddenly die without any prior illness. Yaakov prayed to Hashem that this order be changed because it is proper that a person first become ill so that he will know he is about to die and he will be able to give his children and family a message before leaving the world. Therefore, the messenger told Yosef "Hinei" - "Behold, it is a surprising thing" - "your father is very sick." The word "Choleh" - "sick" - is written without a "Vav" because it is the acronym for Chutz L'derech Hateva (beyond the laws of nature). The
messenger told Yosef, "What is happening to your father is not in accordance to the usual laws of nature."
When someone sneezes, it is customary to say to him, "Tzu Gezunt," indicating that the sneeze should be for healthy purposes and not, G-d forbid, the reverse. Why do some people have a custom to pull their ear when they sneeze? Death came to the world because Adam failed to listen to Hashem and sinned. Prior to Yaakov's sickness, when the time would come for a person to leave the world, he would sneeze and his soul would depart. Therefore, when a person sneezes, he pulls his ear as a reminder that he must "listen" to Hashem so that he will not be punished, G-d forbid, with the opposite of life.
"And Yisrael strengthened himself and sat up in bed." (48:2) QUESTION: How did Yaakov get this extra strength? ANSWER: When a ben gilo (one born under the same planetary influence) visits a sick person, he takes away a 60th of the illness (Nedarim 39b). When Yaakov became ill, the pasuk says "Yosef was told, 'Behold your father is sick.' " The word "Hineh", which seems extra, has the numerical value of 60, which indicates that Yaakov was seriously ill and had all the 60 parts of illness. Yosef resembled Yaakov in many ways (Rashi, 37:2); therefore, when he came to visit, Yaakov suddenly felt stronger because Yosef took away one 60th of the illness. The Torah alludes to this by saying that Yaakov strengthened himself and was able to sit up in bed. The word "hamittah" - "the bed" - has the numerical value of 59.
"And Yisrael saw Yosef's sons, and said: 'Who are these?' And Yosef said to his father: 'They are my sons, whom G-d has given me here.' " (48:8-9)
QUESTION: How is it possible that Yaakov did not recognize his own grandchildren? ANSWER: The Torah states that Yaakov saw "b'nei Yosef" - "the sons of Yosef." It would appear more precise to state: "And Yaakov saw Ephraim and Menasheh." Rashi explains that Yaakov was concerned about their descendants Yeravam Ben Nevat, and Yeihu Ben Nimshi. The word "b'nei" is an acronym of these names (Yeravam Ben Nevat, Yaihu Ben Nimshi). Yosef placated his father by telling him: "Why only look at the wicked ones? Why not focus on Ephraim's righteous descendant, the successor to Moshe Rabbeinu, who will bring the Jewish people to Eretz Yisrael. His name is Yehoshua Bin Nun, for whom "b'nei" is also an acronym."
"And Yisrael said to Yosef: 'I had not thought to see your face; and, lo, G-d has let me see also your seed.' " (48:11) QUESTION: The word "oti" seems superfluous; grammatically, instead of saying "hera oti Elokim," Yaakov could have said "herani Elokim." What was he alluding to? ANSWER: Yaakov told Yosef: "Upon learning that you were in Egypt and had achieved great fame, many thoughts went through my mind about your loyalty to Judaism and spiritual situation. I began to doubt if your appearance would be the same as when we last saw each other, and I feared that your children had probably assimilated, resembling the young Egyptian boys with whom they associate. Not only do I see your face the way I would wish it to be, but looking at your children, I see in them a replica of myself. Thus, 'hera oti Elokim' - G-d caused me to appear - 'et zarecha' - through your children - due to their similarity to my appearance. They, too, look like young chassidishe bachurim, filled with Yiddish taste and spirit."
"Let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth." (48:16) QUESTION: Yaakov blessed them to multiply as the fish of the ocean (Rashi). What was his motive in comparing them to fish? ANSWER: Once the Roman government issued a decree forbidding Torah study. Papus ben Yehudah saw Rabbi Akiva conducting Torah classes and
asked him, "Do you not fear punishment by law?" Rabbi Akiva answered with a parable: A fox was strolling along the riverbank and noticed fish swimming swiftly from place to place. He asked, "Why are you running?" They replied, "We are afraid of the net that people set up to catch us." The fox slyly said, "Perhaps it would be wise to ascend to the shore and live together with me as my parents lived with your parents." The fish responded, "You speak foolishly; if we are afraid in our native habitat, our fear will be even greater on land, where death will be certain." Similarly, Torah is our source of life and may save us. Without it we will definitely perish (Berachot 61b). Yaakov was instructing his children to always remember that just as a fish cannot live without water, so a Jew cannot exist without Torah; and he blessed them to "swim like a fish" in the "Yam Hatalmud" - the ocean of Torah study.
The life of a fish depends in a large measure on its vitality and ability to swim upstream. If it permits itself to be swept along by the current of the rapids or the tide it will be scuttled and squashed. It is only because the Creator has endowed the fish with the precious instinct of self-preservation, whereby it is able to swim upstream against the forces of the billowing waves, that it can thrive and survive. Yaakov blessed his children to be capable and willing to swim upstream and resist the temptation of running with the herd and swimming with the tide.
"He blessed Yosef saying... 'The angel who redeemed me from all evil should bless the lads [Menasheh and Ephraim].' " (48:15-16) QUESTION: The pasuk begins with Yaakov's berachah to Yosef and ends saying that he blessed Menasheh and Ephraim. What was the berachah for Yosef? ANSWER: Yaakov's berachah to Yosef was that his children, Ephraim and Menasheh should be tzaddikim. When children conduct themselves in a proper way, the parents'"nachas" is the greatest berachah they can wish for.
"He held up his father's hand to remove it from Ephraim's head his father refused and said I know." (48:17, 19)
QUESTION: When Yosef brought Ephraim and Menasheh to Yaakov to receive his blessings he positioned them so that Yaakov's right hand should rest on Menasheh and his left hand on Ephraim. Yaakov, however, guided his hands so that the left would rest on Menasheh and the right on Ephraim. Yosef made an attempt to change his father's hands around, which he resisted.The Midrash Rabbah (97:4) says that when Yosef held his father's right hand to remove it from the head of Ephraim, Yaakov said to him, "I want you to know that I am very strong and I conquered an angel. Therefore, do not attempt to move my hands." Why did Yaakov insist that his right hand be on Ephraim, and why did he have to prove his strength from the fact that he conquered an angel? ANSWER: In Egypt, Ephraim was occupied primarily with the study of Torah. Yosef was notified of Yaakov's illness by Ephraim, who frequently visited the home of Yaakov to study (Rashi 48:1). Though Menasheh indeed studied Torah, he also assisted Yosef and headed his household (Targum Yonatan ben Uziel 43:16). He also acted as the interpreter between Yosef and his brothers (Rashi 43:23). Thus, Menasheh can be credited for performing the mitzvah of kibud av (honoring one's father) in an outstanding way. Yosef therefore thought that Menasheh should receive the "right-handed" berachah due to his exemplary fulfillment of kibud av. Yaakov sensed this and told Yosef "The question in your mind is similar to an issue which took place many years ago and which was long resolved. While I was the prototype of one who dwelled in the tent of Torah, my brother Eisav excelled in the mitzvah of kibud av. As you well know, my father Yitzchak gave the berachot to me. The angel who fought with me was the angel of Eisav. He endeavored to defeat me for taking away the berachot, but I was victorious, and he eventually conceded that the berachot belonged to me. This proves that Torah surpasses all. Your son Ephraim is totally immersed in Torah study; therefore, he deserves the "right-handed" berachah.
"...which I took from the hand of the Amorite with my sword and my bow." (48:22) QUESTION: The Targum Onkelos writes "with my prayer and supplication." How does this fit the words "becharbi u'vekashti" - "with my sword and my bow"?
ANSWER: In the Torah, the letters are not written with vowels. Thus, the words can be read as "Bochar Bi U'bakashasi". Yaakov was telling Yosef, he was giving him the city of Shechem, which Hashem gave him because "He chose me" and "my prayerful supplication."
"Assemble yourselves, and I will tell you what will befall you in the end of days." (49:1) QUESTION: Rashi writes that Yaakov wanted to reveal to them the keitz when the Galut - exile - would end, but the Shechinah left him. In lieu of saying the Shechinah withdrew, he should have said that the knowledge of the 'keitz' - the end of the exile - was withdrawn from him? ANSWER: Hashem is known by many names, and each name represents a form of revelation. Sins have an effect on specific names of Hashem, and thus particular forms of revelation to the Jewish people. When Moshe was told to go to the Jewish people and tell them that Hashem was preparing to take them out of Egypt, Moshe asked, "Should they ask me what is your name, what should I tell them?" Hashem replied, "You should tell them that 'I will be' - sent me to you" (Shemot 3:14). One of His names is, "Alef-Heh-Yud-Heh" which has the numerical value of 21. When the brothers sinned by selling Yosef, their actions affected Hashem's revelation to us through this name. Nine brothers participated in selling Yosef, and the Shechinah joined with them in the vow not to reveal this to Yaakov (Rashi 37:33). Because a total of ten had a part in the sale which affected the name Alef-Heh-Yud-Heh (which has the numerical value of 21), the Jews remained in Egypt 210 years. Yaakov was only aware that nine of his children took part in the sale of Yosef, but he did not know of the Shechinah's part in the act. Therefore, Rashi says ".Bikesh L'Galos Es Hakeitz" His purpose of gathering his children together was to tell them that at the conclusion of 189 years (9 x 21 = 189), on the "kietz" - 190th year - the Egyptian exile would come to an end. However, Yaakov miscalculated, because "Nistalkah mimenu shechinah" - he did not know that the Shechinah had a part in the sale, and therefore they would have to be in Egypt a total of 210 years.
"Assemble yourselves, and I will tell you what will befall you in the end of days." (49:1)
QUESTION: Yaakov gathered together his children and wanted to reveal the time of the coming of Mashiach. Suddenly, the Shechinah left him. He began to worry, "Maybe there is some fault in my children." They immediately responded, "Shema Yisrael, you believe in only one G-d and so do we." Happily Yaakov exclaimed "Blessed be the name of His glorious kingdom for ever and ever" (Pesachim 56a). What did Yaakov mean with his response "Baruch Sheim..."? ANSWER: When a Jew finds himself in a troublesome situation, he often cries out "Shema Yisrael." Yaakov was not surprised to hear his sons pronounce "Shema Yisrael" when they stood around his death bed. However, Yaakov used the opportunity to convey an important legacy: "Do not only express your absolute faith in Hashem in times of anxiety and distress, but at all times and forever and ever, I pray you will remember to bless His glorious kingdom."
"Assemble yourselves, and I will tell you what will befall you in the end of days." (49:1) QUESTION: Yaakov wanted to reveal to his children the time of Mashiach's coming. However, the Shechinah departed from him, and he began to speak about another matter (Rashi). If it was proper to reveal the coming of the Mashiach, why did the Shechinah leave him? If it was prohibited, why did Yaakov want to do this? ANSWER: The Gemara (Shabbat 30b) states that the Shechinah reveals itself to a person only when he is in a joyous and happy spirit, not saddened and grieving. If Yaakov was ready to reveal the time of the coming of Mashiach, obviously it was permissible. However, as he was about to reveal it, he saw chevlei Mashiach - the extreme pains and suffering that the Jewish people will endure in the future, prior to the revelation of Mashiach. This caused Yaakov much grief and thus the Shechinah withdrew from him.
QUESTION: The Gemara Sanhedrin (97a) says that Mashiach will come "behesach hada'at" - when Jewish people are distracted from thinking about redemption. Had Yaakov
revealed the time of Mashiach's revelation, would not the Jewish people eagerly await him and not cease thinking about him? ANSWER: Obviously "hesach hada'at" does not mean not being mindful of Mashiach. If it did, how could we justify Jews saying daily "Every day I anticipate his coming," which is based on Maimonides' Thirteen Principles of Faith? Therefore, we must concludes that 'hesach hada'at' means a state of mind when our limited comprehension and understanding will not be able to find a rationale or worthiness of the generation for Mashiach to reveal himself. Nevertheless, the merit of our strong emunah and faith in the revelation of Mashiach will cause his speedy coming.
"Assemble yourselves and I will tell you what will befall you in the end of days. Assemble and hear, sons of Yaakov." (49:1-2) QUESTION: The word "Yikra" with an "Alef" means "calling." The text should read "Yikreh" with a "Heh", which means "happen?" ANSWER: Yaakov called his children and told them he would tell them "Asher Yikra," what should be the "call" to the Jewish people in the end of days, so they can merit the coming of Mashiach. The rallying cry should be "Hikavtzu" - "gather together in unity" - and "V'Shimu" - "listen and learn the teachings of Torah." Through this we will merit the revelation of Mashiach.
"Naftali is a deer let loose, He who delivers goodly words." (49:21) QUESTION: What are Naftali's "goodly words"? ANSWER: The prophet Malachi says in the name of Hashem: "Behold I am sending you Eliyahu the prophet to announce the coming of The Great Day the revelation of Mashiach." In his prophecy, the name Eliyahu is spelled without a "vav," because our ancestor Yaakov took the "vav" from Eliyahu as a pledge that he will herald the coming of Mashiach (Vayikra 26:42, Rashi). In our pasuk, the word "Ayalah" can be rearranged to spell the word "Eliyah" ("Eliyahu" without the "vav"). The word "Naftali" can be
rearranged to spell the word "tefillin". Thus Yaakov, wanting to reveal to his children the time of Mashiach's coming, told them that, through the fulfillment of the mitzvah of tefillin, we will merit Eliyahu's coming, and he will convey the "goodly words" we all anticipate - the coming of Mashiach.
Incidentally, this pasuk may also serve as a source for a Bar Mitzvah boy giving a drashah on the day of his Bar Mitzvah. Namely, the word "shafer" "goodly words" - has the numerical value of 580, which is the same as the word "tefillin". This indicates that when one becomes responsible to fulfill the Torah obligation of tefillin, he should deliver "goodly words."
"Yosef is a fruitful son." (49:22) QUESTION: Why did Yaakov use the term "porat" for Yosef? ANSWER: The word "porat" can be read as "parot" - "cows" - and can be rearranged to spell "poter" - "interpreter." Consequently, Yaakov described Yosef with the term "porat" alluding to Pharaoh's dream about cows and his interpretation, which earned him fame and glory.
"And he blessed them; every one according to his blessing he blessed them." (49:28) QUESTION: Superficially, the words of Yaakov to Reuven, Shimon and Levi are rebukes rather than blessings? ANSWER: Man is mortal and thus subject to failure. He must work to overcome personal imperfection. Often, a person does not realize, or refuses to acknowledge, his shortcomings, and therefore there is no striving for change or transformation. The greatest blessing is knowledge of personal weaknesses. Yaakov made his children aware of their flaws and encouraged correction, so his admonishment was indeed a great blessing.
"And Pharaoh said, 'Go up and bury your father, as he made you swear.' " (50:6)
QUESTION: Rashi explains that Pharaoh told Yosef, "Were it not for the promise, I would not have permitted you to go." However, Pharaoh did not tell Yosef to violate his promise because he was afraid that Yosef might tell him that he would also break the promise he made to him (not to reveal that he knew the language of Lashon Hakodesh - Hebrew - and Pharaoh did not).Pharaoh knew Yosef was a G-d fearing man; why did he fear that if he forced Yosef to break one promise, Yosef would also break another? ANSWER: There was a law in Egypt that a king had to know all languages. When Pharaoh met Yosef, he became frightened, because Yosef, in addition to knowing all the languages, also knew Lashon Hakodesh, which Pharaoh did not know. Pharaoh made Yosef promise that he would not reveal to anyone that he knew Lashon Hakodesh and in return, he would appoint him to the position of viceroy, though he was once a slave. Pharaoh was hesitant to tell Yosef to break his promise, because he feared that Yosef might say to him, "If I have to break a promise, I would rather break my promise to you, and thus, I will become king. As king I will no longer need your permission to be able to fulfill my promise to my father."
"Your father commanded before he died saying: 'Thus shall you say to Yosef: O please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin.' " (50:16-17) QUESTION: When did Yaakov tell them to ask for forgiveness? ANSWER: The sale of Yosef into slavery was a terrible thing. Fortunately the brothers' evil act ultimately benefited him. Through a remarkable sequence of events, Yosef emerged as viceroy of Egypt. Indeed, the brothers felt regret. However, since Yosef benefited from their iniquity, they thought an apology unnecessary. When Yaakov became ill, he called Yosef and apologized for burying his mother on the road to Bethlehem and not in the Cave of Machpeilah. When the Jewish people were exiled by Nevuzaradon, they passed Rachel's grave. She pleaded before Hashem to help them, and received a promise: "Your children will return to their boundaries" (Jeremiah 51:16).
Yaakov's behavior served as a message to his children and future generations to ask forgiveness, even if the initial suffering later results in goodness and blessing.
"Do not be afraid, am I like G-d?!" (50:19) QUESTION: Yosef should have said, "Do not be afraid, I will do you no harm!" Why did he say that he was not like Gd? ANSWER: The brothers originally wronged Yosef, but Hashem converted it to good. Yosef said to his brothers, "If I should want to repay you, I would also have to do a bad thing which would later turn into good. The only one who can do this is Hashem. I am not like G-d, and therefore, you have no reason to fear me."
"And Yosef dwelt in Egypt." (50:22) QUESTION: In the Gemara (Pesachim 119a) Rabbi Chama says that Yosef hid three treasures in Egypt. One was revealed to Korach, the second to Antoninas, and the third is hidden for tzaddikim till Mashiach comes.Why hasn't any archeologist searched for the third treasure? ANSWER: Possibly, the words of Rabbi Chama are an allegory. He is not referring to monetary treasures, but three invaluable lessons to be learnt from the life of Yosef: 1. No one can interfere with a person's destiny. Yosef dreamt of leadership and Hashem wanted him to be a ruler in Egypt. Despite his brothers' efforts to destroy him by throwing him into the pit and selling him as a slave and his subsequent arrest in Egypt, ultimately he became the ruler of the land. Korach declared war against Moshe and Aharon, hoping that Elitzafan the nasi of their tribe would be demoted, so that he could take over. Moshe, Aharon and Elitzafan were all destined to leadership and Korach's actions only brought about his own downfall.
2. It is a myth that the only way to succeed in the secular world is by compromising on Torah and Yiddishkeit. Yosef proved this erroneous. He rose to the highest position in the government of Egypt, yet remained a tzaddik from beginning to end. The closest confidant of Antoninas king of Rome, was Rebbe (Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi). Regardless of his closeness to the king, he remained a tzaddik and attained the title of Rabbeinu Hakadosh - Our Holy Teacher. 3. Though, unfortunately, at times brothers quarrel, their animosity and hatred is not everlasting. Eventually, they make up and love each other. This was evident with Yosef and his brothers. While in the beginning "vayisne'u oto" (37:4) - "they hated him" - at the end he forgave them and they lived in harmony. This will also be experienced in the Messianic Era. Throughout history there has been much strife and fragmentation in the Jewish community. Prior to Mashiach's coming, however, all Jews will do teshuvah (see Rambam, Teshuvah 5:7) and be tzaddikim. The Rambam in the concluding halacha of the Mishneh Torah writes that "in that time" (when Mashiach will come) there will be no more jealousy and rivalry, and the entire world will be involved in comprehending G-dliness.
"Also the children of Mochir, the son of Menasheh, were born upon Yosef's knees." (50:23) QUESTION: Yosef was the sandek at the brit of his great grandchildren (Targum Yonatan Ben Uziel). Why did Yosef not follow the custom not to have the same person as a sandek at the brit of two brothers (Yoreh Deah 265:11)? ANSWER: The reason for this custom is that being a sandek is equivalent to offering the incense (ketoret) in the Beit Hamikdash. The incense each day was offered by a Kohen who had not previously done it (Yoma 26a). Exempted from this rule was the Kohen Gadol, who was at liberty to offer the incense on whatever day he wished (Rambam, Klei Hamikdosh 5:12).
Based on this analogy, while it is customary to limit the honor of sandek to one person per family, it would not apply to a very prominent person ("adam chashuv") such as the spiritual leader of a community. Since Yosef was a viceroy, and he ruled over the entire country of Egypt (32:6), it was perfectly acceptable for him to be the sandek at the britim of his great-grandchildren born to Mochir the son of Menasheh.
"Yosef said to his brothers, 'I will die; G-d will remember you and take you up from this land.' " (50:24) QUESTION: What is the reason for the double expression of the word "remember" - "pakod yifkod"? ANSWER: Egypt had both a physical and spiritual effect on the Jewish people. They were enslaved physically and forced to do strenuous labor. In addition, they sank spiritually to the lowest level. Yosef told his brothers, "Ultimately Hashem will liberate you from Egypt; you will be freed physically and elevated spiritually." Thus, with this double expression, Yosef alluded to both the physical and spiritual redemption. When the true redeemer, Moshe, arrived he would make reference to the two-fold redemption by conveying Hashem's message starting with the words "pakod pakadeti" (Shemot 3:15, Midrash Rabbah 3:8). Ultimately, Moshe freed the Jewish people from the physical bondage of Egypt and also gave them the Torah, which elevated them to the highest spiritual level.
"Yosef died at the age of 110 years." (50:26) QUESTION: Yosef died 10 years earlier because he heard the brothers referring to Yaakov as "avdecha" - "your servant" - and he did not protest (Pirkei d'Rebbe Eliezer 39). If one carefully checks how many times the brothers used the expression "avdecha" in their conversations with Yosef, one will find only five times? ANSWER: When Yosef spoke to his brothers he pretended not to understand Lashon Hakodesh - Hebrew. The brothers did not speak Egyptian, and therefore it was necessary for Menasheh to act as interpreter. Thus, whenever the brothers referred to Yaakov in Lashon Hakodesh as "your servant," he then heard Menasheh repeat it to him in Egyptian.
Consequently, Yosef actually heard his father being referred to as "your servant" 10 times.
"And Yosef died at the age of 110 years." (50:26) QUESTION: A few pesukim earlier it is written "vayechi Yosef mei'ah va'eser shanim" - "Yosef lived 110 years." Why does the Torah repeat that Yosef died at the age of 110? ANSWER: When Yosef was 30 years old, he was appointed viceroy over the land of Egypt. Pharaoh changed the name of "Yosef" to "Tzafnat Panei'ach." However, nowhere do we find that Yosef used this name. Moreover, in the same pasuk it is written, "vayeitzei Yosef al eretz Mitzraim" - "And Yosef went out over the land of Egypt" (41:45). Yosef knew very well that one of the things that would help him maintain his identity and keep him close to Yiddishkeit was his original Jewish name. Therefore, despite Pharaoh's giving him an Egyptian name, he made every effort to be called "Yosef." The Torah emphasizes that up to the very last day of his life, he lived and died with his Jewish name - "Yosef."
To show that Torah has no end, it is customary to connect the last pasuk with the first pasuk. The first word of the first pasuk in this Chumash is "Berieshis" which can be read as an abbreviation for "B'ra Shem Yisroel Tikreh" - "give your child a Jewish name." All Jews should know and use their beautiful Jewish names.
"And the days of David drew near that he should die." (Haftorah, Vayechi) QUESTION: What is the connection between the passing of David and Parshat Vayechi? ANSWER: Originally, King David was destined to die at the time of his birth. The 70 years he lived were a gift from Yaakov and Yosef. Yaakov lived 147 years, while his father Yitzchak lived 180 years, and Yosef lived only 110 years, while his father Yaakov lived 147 years.
Thus, Yaakov lived 33 years less than his father, and Yosef lived 37 years less than his father. These 70 years were given as a gift to King David so that he might live and be King of Israel. Therefore, it is most appropriate to read about the passing of David in the week we learn of the passing of Yaakov and Yosef.
According to another opinion, Adam gave 70 years to King David reducing his own life from 1000 years to 930 years. Thus, Chumash Bereishit, which starts with the life of Adam, is concluded with the Haftorah of the passing of King David, because in reality this was the culmination of Adam's lifespan.
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