Points to Ponder                                                                                             

Mekeitz/Chanukah 5776


And it was at the of 2 years (41:1) – The Midrash Rabba comments that that Mekeitz is a reference to the fact that Hashem puts an end to the darkness for once the time was complete, Pharaoh dreamed a dream. Rav Elyashiv ztl. explained that Yosef thought that the time had passed. After all, Pharaoh underwent 2 birthdays and nothing. He thought that the butler would have saved him and for naught. Still, at the time that a person least expects it, the result can be fast – Vayirutzuhu min Habor for when the time comes, Hashem does not delay even a moment.


And Pharaoh dreamed (41:1) – Rav Shlomo Heiman ztl. noted that there are many in the Torah who dream. However, while the others dream dreams of destiny, Pharaoh dreams of cows. This is a fulfillment of the Chazal that dreams come from Hirhurei HaLev. Yosef’s lev was built on the notion that he must be the master over creation.


Why should you appear satiated (42:1)The Yalkut Shimoni notes that Yaakov told his children that they should not be ostentatious or stand out especially in moments of national famine  as it brings on Ayin Hara. Rav Altusky ztl. asked what the power of the Ayin Hara was? After all, it does not come from a Talmid Chacham so it is not Tzaddik Gozer? He answers that through Ayin HaRa there is a Kitrug that is unleashed on a person. Left alone, it does not mean much but in context to other occasional failings, it has the power to wreak havoc on a life as the final straw. That is, when a person raises an Ayin Hara, the person is acting in a way that is counter the way that Hashem acts. That’s why it creates the Kitrug despite the source of the Kitrug. Rav Schachter  Shlita would often mention to us that the demonstrative style is the opposite of Hashem. He is a Keil Mistater and we should be as well. Rav Pam ztl. added that this is especially true when we deal with Chanukah – while we light the candles openly, we need not also leave the windows open to the living or dining room long after the candles go out. The opposite message of Chanukah comes through if we do.


Yosef commanded to return the money of each man to his sack (42:25) – Why did Yosef return the money? The Gerrer Rebbe Shlita explained that the brothers knew that a little bribe went a long way in the corrupt world around them. Unfortunately, that bribe was received and returned suggesting to the brothers that Tzafnas Paneiach was not a regular world leader at that time.  Thus, in his returning the money he was giving them a message that their general plan of engaging corruption was not going to work this time. That is why he returned the money – to tell them he wasn’t for sale. That’s why when the brothers find the money in their sacks that is precisely when they get scared.


And prepare the meat (43:16) – The Talmud (chullin 91) notes that Yosef commanded them to take the Gid HaNasheh out in front of the brothers. Why is the first time that the mitzvah of Gid Hanasheh is mentioned, is it in context of Yosef’s observance? Rav Shmuel Brazil Shlita suggests that in the same way that there are 365 Lavin there are 365 solar days and the Zohar notes that the Lav of Tisha B’av is Gid HaNasheh. It follows that Yosef, who is always prepared to handle trouble, no matter what comes his way, is the ideal one to face the Gid HaNashe and to utilize its challenge for his betterment and that of the Jewish people.


For the Egyptians would not break bread with him as it was an abomination to the Egyptians (43:32) – The amazing concept that an Egyptian citizen found it abominable to eat with the viceroy with whom they could get ahead. Why did this not bother Yosef? Rabbi Lamm Shlita once explained that as opposed to the American Jew who would have been miserable about the situation, Yosef did not feel that he was alone when he was not connected to the Egyptian culture or people. Instead, he felt ever more connected to Hashem and it helped him in the trying moments.


Shir Shel Yom of Chanukah – The late, great Mr. Sam Halpern z”l  and his brother Arie z”l escaped from the lager in World War II, they ran into a field, and with the gunfire of the SS guards ringing in their ears, took refuge in haystacks, each to their own hiding place to enhance the possibility of at least one of the family surviving. These stacks of hay were not the safe haven that we might assume. The Nazis either seized or murdered quite a number of escapees by ramming their bayonets into the loosely piled hay. Both Arie and Sam independently related that throughout the time that they remained in that dark place, and long after the gunfire subsided, they recited Mizmor Shir Chanukat haBayit l’David. Over and over. Again and again.
My friend, Dr. Harris Saltzburg who reminded me of Sam’s story, also added  that one cannot help but think of Arie and Sam in those haystacks in a field in Poland. Homeless, running for their lives. Cold, shivering with fright, in their lager stripes, endlessly pleading with HaShem, “...What gain would there be if I died and went down to the grave? Can dust thank you? Can it declare your truth? Hear Lord, and be gracious to me; Lord, be my help. You have turned my sorrow into dancing. You have removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, so that my soul may sing to You and not be silent. Lord my God, forever will I thank You. The Chanukah message so strong – never give in and remember to be thankful each and every day.

Haftorah:  In the infamous Haftorah of Shabbos Chanukah, we find Yehoshua Kohein Gadol in unfitting clothes which prevent the image of the Menorah from being experienced until they are removed. Why? Rav Dr. Benny Lau Shlita explained that Yehoshua’s children were maligned because they had intermarried. He quotes Rav Uziel ztl. who noted that while the clothes are changed in the Nevuah, the person is not removed. He interprets that one needs to work hard to keep the kesher with the families. Although not agreed to by all, Rav Uziel encourages the conversion of the non-Jewish spouse so as not to write off lines of the Jewish people. 

Points to Ponder

Vayeishev 5776


Yaakov settled in the land of his father’s sojourns in the land of Canaan (37:1) – Rashi notes that Yaakov sought to dwell in peace. Why was this such a great sin that required the wrath of Yosef’s sale  to be upon him? Rav Noach Weinberg ztl. cited a Tachchuma (Vayigash 9) that explains that Yaakov thought that he needed to go through Sheol – Geheinom since his tradition that he would go straight to Olam HaBa if his sons remained alive during his lifetime and now that was lost. In essence, Yaakov wanted to fulfill his life’s mission. He thought he had done so with the birth of Binyamin but quickly learned that his life’s mission was not full until there was Tikkun for the world of idolatry surrounding him. (See the Beis HaLevi later who makes the same point of Yaakov’s fear when he discusses the issue of Yaakov’s mourning and refusal to accept the consolation over Yosef)

And he dreamed another dream  (37:9) – Rav Aharon Soloveitchik  ztl. explained that the brothers were upset with Yosef because he added a dream to the dream of his father. The second dream – the one about material success, was not part of the family tradition. However, the truth of the matter was that Yaakov Avinu’s dream really consisted of two parts: the ladder in Yaakov’s dream was standing on the earth and its top reached into the heavens. Yosef broke his father’s dream into its two component parts, but in truth both parts were already contained within Yaakov’s dream. Rav Schachter  Shlita added that while starting with the overtly expressed ideas of the tradition, there are also implicit ideas that Rebbeim also convey that the second generation might need to state  overtly. This was the case with Rabbi Eliezer HaGadol who at the same time never said anything he did not hear from his teachers but also offered original ideas that were not heard since the days of Maamad Har Sinai. It was also seemingly true of the adherents to the Brisker method who both were strong to the Halacha and yet Rav Solovetichik ztl. was able to develop ideas in philosophy and Aggada as well. The halacha guides us as to how to act, while the agada guides us as to how to think. In every generation we have to present our age-old Torah traditions in a language that will be understood by the masses.

Go to seek the welfare of your brothers and bring back word to me (37:14) – Normally we assume that one heading to perform a Mitzva shall have no harm befall him. It is the reason why Yaakov told Yosef to come back too. Why then, was Yosef able to be victimized so tragically in the context of fulfilling the Mitzva of Kibbud Av? The Beis HaLevi explains that when Yosef did not find his brothers in Shechem, and chose to deviate from his father’s command to bring the message back – by going to Dosan, he was not fulfilling Kibbud Av and was able to be victimized by the misfortune.

And a man found him and behold he was lost in the field (37:15) – Rav Shmuel Brazil Shlita noted that Yosef was lost in finding his mission in life. For as long as one has not reached his potential in the world – repairing the torn fabric that he uniquely is supposed to repair, then he is a To’eh. For each of us needs to reveal the emet of ourselves. This only comes when the Ish asks himself “Mah Tivakesh” wherein h asks himself what do YOU uniquely seek out as a chance to do. This is the obligation every Jew must ask himself daily.


Yehuda said “What value does it make if we kill our brother and cover his blood (37:26)– If the Shevatim had determined that Yosef was deserving of the death penalty, how could Yehuda renege on the verdict? Rav Nosson Tzvi Wachtfogel ztl. explained that Yehuda was the Melech of the people, and the melech has the heart of the people in his mind. If he sensed the heart of Yosef, then he must have erred in his verdict and sought to set it aside. This idea is based on the fact that the verdict presupposed that Yosef was not one of the Shevatim. Yet, if Yehuda felt that tug of brotherhood to him, his legitimacy as a member of Klal Yisrael was open to debate and the verdict needed to be set aside and explored. 


At that time, Yehuda was lowered by his brothers (38:1) – Rashi explains that the brothers lowered his status when they saw the pain that Yaakov was in. Rav Moshe Tzvi  Neriah ztl. notes that Yehudah get lowered but ultimately in Mekeitz and Vayigash, is the leader of the brothers. When does he regain his royal status? Kli Yakar suggests that it was Yehuda who broke the ties noting that the brothers had chosen to kill Yosef without checking with him as king first. They thought he was merely wimping out by selling Yosef and didn’t want to admit it. Rav Neriah  ztl. adds that after the Tamar episode where, even faced with personal embarrassment, Yehuda is not afraid to admit, the brothers saw the strength of Yehuda, they took him back – not only as equal but as leader. Yehuda runs with that and not only stands up for himself, in Vayigash he is prepared to step forward to lead his nation.


And it was on that day that he came to the house to do his job and there was no one of the men of the home at home (39:11) – Rashi notes that Yosef would have given in to the desires of the wife of Potiphar but he saw the image of his father in the reflection and refused her advances. Rav Chaim Shmuellevitz ztl. explains that Yosef fought off her advances with the argument that Hashem reveals himself to the Avos unannounced. He might do the same to Yosef. How then, could Yosef give in and appear before Hashem in a Tamai state. It was, explains Rav Chaim, as if Yosef expected that after sin the relationship with Hashem would be the same with a minor problem of Tumas Keri. That is a fallacy. Relationships change when we mess up. If we knew that first, we’d be more careful. At the same time, we cannot allow for one to think that there is no room for restoration and repairing that which has been destroyed.


Haftorah: And I established from your sons to prophets and from your young men to be Nezirim (Amos 2:11) – It seems that Nezirus is a primarily a young boys club. The reason, explains Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky ztl., is that drinking and ignoring familial responsibility are part of being young boys. The message of the Sotah and the one who sees it are that drunkedness and casting off family are not ways to proceed in life. In fact, he adds that this is why these sections of the Torah appear where they do, after Bamidbar. The reason is that once Bnei Yisrael establish their encampments and homes, it is the time to strengthen the family bond that makes the nation strong.